Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Shy & Retiring Councillor

Cllr Geiringer sat down at today's Civic Service on his reserved seat. It took a few seconds to take in that the piece of paper saying "Reserved" wasn't an instruction as the words "reserved" and "Geiringer" don't often feature in the same sentence. Long may this be.

The Civic Service was held at the Salvation Army Church Hall in Sutton. The service was led by some extremely talented singers and dancers and enthusiastic leaders. Nice to see a good turn out from both parties.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sporting Chic

Last weekend, Crystal Palace hosted the London Youth games. Our very own Eric (on the right), in his role as Group spokesman for Sport took Cllrs. Tim Crowley and Moira Butt along to support the Sutton contingent and a good time was had by all. Eric spent the entire two days chatting to the kids, helping with the organisation and watching some great performances.

Whilst other councillors from a Party which might better suit the orange T-shirts arrived for lunch and left shortly afterwards it was good to see some real participation by our guys which seemed to be really appreciated by the children and parents. Eric's age belies the number of hours of tennis that he plays to an incredible standard each week. His enthusiasm for all sports was apparent for all to see. Too many councillors see some of their civic duties as a chore. Looking at Eric's beaming face the next day and hearing of his pride for the competitors, I am not sure who got most out of the weekend, the children or Eric. Well done to all three.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

How to keep everyone happy

Sorry, don't read any further if you actually think the answer will be contained within. You will be surely disappointed. I had my first Council surgery yesterday with one taker which was a bonus since it hadn't been advertised. The issue raised was the long awaited 20mph zone in West Street, Carshalton. This has been on the agenda for a number of years but has failed to materialise. I noticed that on the list of items that Sutton Council produce each year to bid for funding, the 20mph zone had disappeared. It was confirmed that this was because the funding was there so no more excuses.

The existing plan, however contains speed bumps to help slow the traffic. These are all situated outside houses that are very close to the road so you can imagine those residents are not happy. There has been one fatal accident and one near-fatal accident in the last few years so something needs to be done. There is agreement in this but not in the method.

West Street is very narrow but is nonetheless an arterial road out of Carshalton. The £150k disaster of the speed bumps in Woodmansterne Road should teach us something. There are alternatives. Flashing signs, speed cameras, signals, something but let's not just get the navvies in to dump their excess tarmac without giving it just a little thought and, surprise us, just a little consultation. I shall certainly be asking everyone what they want. (Feel free to leave a comment here, though it would help to state if you were a resident or not.) Anyway, I have started you off with alternatives in my suggested sign above.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

LibDems redistributing to the rich?

At last night's Area Committee I ventured outside the comfort zone of Carshalton Central to vent my spleen on the Council's cack-handed approach to Section 106 money (sometimes called planning gain, other times called a legal bribe.) Bellway Homes built a development on Rosehill Triangle (next to the St Helier roundabout) and paid £180,000 as a sweetener for the privilege. This was meant for employment opportunities and other items within the Rosehill district. Instead some £27k was used to help fund a Borough-wide employment study. The sole benefit to Rosehill from this study was to say that St Helier hospital was a large and important employer. Now, people would be queuing up at the opportunity to state the obvious on behalf of the Council for a fraction of this cost.

The previous Area Committee demanded the money back for Rosehill. However, the report prepared for the LibDem Strategy Committee airbrushed this demand out. I'm pleased that the Carshalton LibDems agreed with me, though I don't hold out much hope for the panjandrums at Strategy to agree. Though Sutton is one of the most prosperous Boroughs in London, it is often forgotten that St Helier is one of the most deprived wards in the capital. As a result of its location, it often misses out on grants and funding that are available to wider areas of need.

As a free-marketeer supporter of a smaller government I am not keen on much redistribution of wealth at the best of times but redistributing money from St Helier to the richer areas is crazy. I hope that they pay the money back.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Knife Amnesty – Stunt or Solution?

Article written for "The House" Magazine,

This summer’s knife amnesty, the first in over ten years has polarised opinion about its efficacy. Will it have any lasting effect on violent crime? Or is it just a knee-jerk reaction to a few tragic examples highlighted by the media? Home Office figures show that the use of knives in assaults and robberies have reduced by 26% since the last amnesty. Still, knives are the weapon of choice for assailants and robbers and were used in around a third of unlawful killings in 2004-5.

The murders of Thomas ap Rhys Pryce on his doorstep, Thomas Grant and Kiyan Prince killed attempting to stop fights and fifteen year old Alex Mulumba Kamondo have shocked a nation, but who will be the people turning up to dump their weapons in an amnesty? The last exercise in 1995 yielded 40,000 weapons. In the year after the 1993 month-long Scottish amnesty, murders were down by 26%, attempted murders down 19% and weapon possession down by 23%. So we can conclude from this exercise that it had an effect, with increased publicity brought awareness and higher priority from the police brought the realisation that the criminals were taking a risk in carrying weapons.

An amnesty, however, is not enough on its own. Local and national initiatives are required to hammer home the point that if you carry a knife you are likely to be arrested and charged or even have it turned on yourself. In Croydon, a group of actors visited 14 schools including pupil referral units performing a hard-hitting drama entitled “It’s no joke.” Pupils then talked through the consequences of carrying a knife with teachers and police officers. One local Police Inspector organised a crime prevention poster competition in conjunction with Crystal Palace Football Club. The winning design will be displayed throughout Croydon during the summer.

Education and awareness needs to be backed up. Apart from the risk of becoming the victim there must be a strong deterrent and punishment for possession. Conservatives proposed changes to the Violent Crime Reduction Bill designed to raise the sentence for possession of a knife from 2 years to 5. This was opposed by Ministers.

The News of the World printed photos of Alex Mulumba Kamondo posing with gun-carrying gang members. Life on the streets is a balance of risk. Alex and his friends felt as most 15 year old boys feel: invincible. The macho act of carrying a weapon and feeling cool outweighed the risk that they felt from getting hurt or caught.

Government must give the police the tools and support that they need to do the job that is asked of them - enabling them to arrest offenders with a commonsense minimum of bureaucracy and backing it up with a sentence that resonates with offenders.

Yes, promote the amnesty. Some of those 40,000 knives could have ended up at a crime scene. But send the message loud and clear through decisive action - carrying a knife is not a way of making you feel safer and the consequences of arrest are severe.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Company Law Reform

Article written for Chartered Management Institute "Professional Manager" magazine.
The Company Law Reform Bill that was introduced in the House of Lords has since morphed into the Companies Bill as it progressed through the House of Commons committee stage. This reflected the interest and debate on the level of regulation imposed on business within the UK. What started as a reforming Bill ended up as the longest Bill ever to pass through Parliament with more than 1400 amendments. Ironic, really, for a measure designed to slash bureaucracy.

There has been a continuous battle between those who want everything corporate to be tightly regulated leash by Whitehall and laissez-faire free marketeers. But, as usual, the majority seek to find equilibrium in the middle. Business regulations have undoubtedly increased in the last nine years and business taxes are on the march as the Chancellor steers clear of overturning Middle England’s applecart.

I agree with the general thrust of the Bill in reducing red tape but have some concerns with three areas in particular. One clause lays down in some detail the duties expected of a company director. A definitive list of duties runs the real risk of being too proscriptive and inappropriate. How does the role of a director differ from a corner shop owner to that of a multinational executive? Though I do not in any way begrudge accountants and lawyers their living, I would prefer them to be able to earn this in wealth creation for their clients rather than protection from the creeping clutches of the State.

I support Shareholders’ Rights Alliance’s campaign to ensure that shareholders within a nominee account have the same rights as those with a physical share certificate. As well as righting a blatant inequality, this will help deal with my third concern: corporate social responsibility.

More and more individuals are investing in, and doing business with, companies that have a stated social and environmental policy. Ethical trusts, green fuel and Fairtrade products are becoming mainstream choices, not just expensive options attractive only to wealthier “early adopters”. This move benefits both our surroundings and neighbours, encouraging other organisations to look beyond traditional business models and appreciating that a social conscience is not mutually exclusive to profit.

Gordon Brown removed the requirement of companies to produce an operating and financial review on the grounds of cost savings. It is vital that provision is made in the bill for customers and shareholders to have access to substantive, accurate information on a company’s activities. David Cameron has set up an expert working group on corporate social responsibility to examine the ways in which this balance can be achieved. One area of interest is the introduction of lighter regulation for companies with formal responsible business practices. Over-regulation will force larger companies to relocate, leaving smaller businesses, less-able to cope with regulatory burdens. The problem will just move on, with the issue still remaining to be dealt with. Relocation of such companies can also decimate communities leaving a void behind, which can take years to fill. The near-destruction of the British motor industry has given rise to a series of smaller hi-tech companies to absorb much of the workforce but this did not happen overnight and it did not happen everywhere. Foreign companies will be unaffected by this legislation, so it will never transform the area of corporate social responsibility. Government must not be a regulator but a catalyst. It is the responsibility of legislators to protect the environment and our communities but, equally it is our responsibility to know when to stop tinkering.