Friday, February 22, 2008

The Last Post For Carshalton Road

The latest round of Post Offices in London to be closed was revealed on Tuesday. 169 branches were identified with 2,500 closures in total earmarked across the country.

Sutton has its share with Carshalton Road, opposite the BP Garage joining Gander Green Lane, Bishopsford Road, Mitcham Junction and Wythe Lane for the chop. The shopkeepers seem to have mixed views but I fear for the less mobile who will find the mile or so travel to the nearest alternative difficult.

Conservative Parliamentary candidate Ken Andrew has collected 2,000 signatures around Carshalton and Wallington and Philippa Stroud has been proactive in raising support in Sutton for the campaign to stop these further closures. Philippa's petition is also online, so please show your support here. There are a few weeks of consultation. Any chance of success in reversing this decision depends on your support. Please take a minute to register your protest.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Considering Cheam Baths At Their Leisure

As the Battle of Cheam Baths rages, we are no further in finding out what future the Leisure Centre has. We were told that the LibDems do not know what the future of the site is and so cannot guarantee its future. The following week we were told that it will stay open for the time being as £500,000 is being spent on it. A costly consultation report has been sat on someone's desk since December which looks into future of Leisure provision in the Borough but consideration of this report seems to be going at a leisurely pace. It was supposed to be discussed at the January Executive Meeting. Towards the end of January we were told that it would be before Easter. Looking at the document which details the timetable over the next quarter for items to be discussed by the Executive, I see that the Leisure Centre Strategy has been quietly dropped. This means that it will be the summer at the earliest before we can see what may happen.

If this site closes there will be no public provision in the west of the Borough with the east benefitting from four centres. Jonathan Pritchard discussed the situation with Boris Johnson on a recent visit. The irony was not lost that as Stratford gets new Olympic facilities paid for by residents of Cheam and beyond, this part of the Borough suffers. The amount in Olympic tax paid for by Sutton residents over the coming years would be enough to bring both Cheam Leisure Centre and Westcroft up to a decent standard.

Scrutinising Scrutiny

The Council introduced a major change to how councillors scrutinised decisions by the Executive - the Cabinet of lead councillors - and departmental performance. Previously we sat as officers queued up to give us long verbal reports and asked a few polite questions. Now the process is member-led and works more in the style of a Parliamentary Select Committee where we choose what we want to investigate and gather evidence.

I welcome the changes but we still have a long, long way to go before the process is in anyway effective. Last night was a good example when we looked at the problems caused by the Kimpton rubbish dump to nearby residents. We listened to officers before Christmas explaining about noise at the site. We had to make decisions from reports which referred to various noises measured in dBa, dBeq and dBLA90. Now come on, stay with me. Don't glaze over just yet.

I asked that the residents were allowed to speak. Couldn't possibly came the reply, they have plenty of opportunity elsewhere. When I asked that they come to the next meeting to speak as we enquired further, I was told maybe and that the decision would be made in good time. Well they were except no-one told the residents. As it happened they had found out about the meeting themselves and come along. We heard from the officers and then heard from the residents about the problems that they had to face day in and day out.

I still am not sure what we acheived. We had two sessions with officers listening to solutions to noise problems and only then did we get to ask the residents what the problem was.

Apparently Kimpton Centre was not designed to move materials around. Yet it happens and this is what causes the noise. We were told that other state of the art recycle centres had split-levels. Yet this is how the previous Oldfields Road site had until is was flogged off to Tescos and a smaller site constructed. It seems clear that this administration still treat members of the public as the enemy paying lip service to consultation. We are here to represent residents by asking searching questions not ticking Government boxes whilst pushing away those people who look to us for answers.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Punish War Memorial Vandals Properly

At the end of last year, I called for Sutton Council to lobby the Government to make criminals who vandalise War Memorials face a harsher punishment to take into account the particularly heinous nature of the crime. This followed the desecration of Carshalton War Memorial. The motion at Council received unanimous backing from councillors of all parties.

Only a month before Remembrance Sunday a callous thief ripped valuable York stone slabs from the 80 year-old landmark memorial located next to the Carshalton Ponds. Last month Samuel Ware, 22, was convicted of criminal damage at Croydon Crown Court and sentenced to two months in prison. The sentence has compounded the call for tougher sentences to be created by a legally distinct new criminal offence. As the law presently stands vandalism to war memorials is treated as conventional criminal damage.

Sutton Council wrote to the Prime Minister on 23rd November and received a standard response Number 10's 'communications unit' on 6th December. The letter said that the request had been passed to the Home Office for further consideration. As of today - three months on - no response has been received prompting accusations that this serious request has been ignored.

I am dismayed that we haven't had a response from the Home Office yet and fear our request has fallen by the wayside. People who desecrate war memorials are the scum of the earth. The violation of these monuments deserves separate recognition in the criminal law with appropriate punishments attached.

Gordon Brown loves to postulate when it comes to protecting Britishness but let's see him put his money where his mouth is. Let me know if you agree with me that he should back our call for a new criminal offence of vandalising and desecrating our war memorials.

Marxism Never Tasted So Good

The LibDems like to think of themselves as a nice bunch of people with all other politicians demonised as negative and destructive. They appear mortally wounded when attacked even on their political record. Yet they so often fail to play by the same rules. Their research, however, is usually better than a placed letter in last week's Sutton Guardian. Over to Philippa Stroud with her response to accusations that she relied on BUPA membership whilst campaigning about the NHS.

Dear Mr Editor,
Last week a Rod Vincent from Wordsworth Drive, Cheam amusingly alleged in your paper that I had private medical care membership of BUPA. He then - rather rashly - promised "...that the day I see her queue for medical attention at St Helier Hospital I will eat my copy of Das Kapital."
My husband and I have always used the NHS and our three children were born in NHS hospitals. In fact, my son has recently had his appendix out - at St Helier hospital, I have recently been an outpatient at Sutton Hospital and our GP surgery is in Mulgrave Road.
I have bought Mr Vincent a bottle of ketchup to help him fulfill his culinary promise - namely eating his copy of Das Kapital. Could I deliver this to the offices of the Sutton Guardian for Mr Vincent to pick up at his leisure?
May I suggest that Mr Vincent sign up to the Conservative NH Yes campaign on .
Kind regards
Philippa Stroud
Conservative Parliamentary Candidate
Sutton and Cheam

The silver platter may be a little too bourgeoise for Mr Vincent's taste but I'm sure a range of condiments could be rustled up to make the book more palatable. There again, I've always found Marx makes me a little nauseous.

Update: Just noticed this is my 200th post. No time to pop a cork, I've got the 201st to write before a committee meeting (which should give me the material for no. 202)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Valentine Thought From Beyond The Grave

As we come to another Valentine Day, I think of my political widow Emma. I have always thought that behind every great man, there's a woman rolling her eyes.

I saw a card today advertising a Valentine lunch which included a quotation from the late US comedian Rodney Dangerfield who said "My wife and I were happy for years...Then we met."

Anyway with a by-election, a design meeting for Stanley Park School, a meeting with the new Head of Communication at the Council and a presentation from IPSOS MORI telling me that the Cheam residents are mistaken in their somewhat dismal view of the Council, I'll redouble my efforts to celebrate the day, lest I end up as green as the Warhol-like Dangerfield here.

LibDems Fading Here

Sakina Bradbury, a councillor in Surrey, has become the third Liberal Democrat to defect to the Conservative Party in the last four months. Sakina has been a Liberal Democrat councillor for Whyteleafe ward on nearby Tandridge District Council since 2002. She decided to join the Conservatives after becoming "increasingly impressed" by the way the Conservative administration of Tandridge District Council met the needs of local residents.

I've been taking a team of Conservatives around Cheam over the last few weeks where we have knocked on a few thousand doors. There haven't been too many people that are "increasingly impressed" with the LibDem Council in Sutton. This wasn't always the case. I first moved to Sutton in 1986, the year that the LibDems took over (22 years, I know...) They had some eyecatching schemes then. Some, such as the skip service worked and were popular. Others such as the £500m gas powered dustcarts didn't and were swept under the carpet. Now, as they rest on their laurels , living off past glories as a tired administration, we see year-on-year inflation busting increases without any innovation in service provision. It is not surprising that people who were promised a vision, look elsewhere. Sakina has joined many people including Sutton residents in seeing that the Conservatives are breathing new life into local politics and I wish her well.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


The LibDem Council have just completed their six-week consultation on this year’s budget. This meaningless exercise managed just 22 responses from the 180,000 residents of the Borough.

In order to show that people were interested in what tax they paid, I was joined by four colleagues on Sutton High Street and obtained 26 responses in a mere ten minutes.

This equates to one ten-thousandth of the population and our level of Council tax hinges on this. The Council needs to consult properly or give up the pretence. If the LibDem Councillors had just taken one form each home to get a neighbour to complete it, they would have got a better response.

I addressed the Council Executive (the inner LibDem Cabinet) on Monday, insisting that they stop demeaning the idea of consultation by either doing it properly or not at all. The questions were in the mould of American-style "push polling" which is not interested in your answers but passing on political messages within the question. Take this one for example: "Do you agree that any increase in council tax should be kept below the Government's national limit of 5% even though the grant the council is receiving from the government does not cover inflation?" I was surprised that 8% of respondents answered no to this. Firstly because, I find it amazing that anyone would want to see a rise of more than 5% and secondly because this equates to 1.76 people which makes me question who the 0.76 of a person was.

We go through this dance each year, with the LibDem Council buttering us up for another above-inflation increase. The budget that has just been consulted on, shows a Council Tax increase of 4.6%. If the increase comes in any lower than this, whilst extremely welcome, it will mean that the consultation was carried out on a totally different budget. Not that the vacuous questioning contained in the questionnaire would have to be changed, just the background papers.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Weapon of Choice

With a by-election only a few weeks away, I have been spending a lot of time in Cheam recently. Many people will think of it as a wealthy village with Jeremy Vine and Harry Secombe as previous residents and home to the fictitious Railway Cuttings of Tony Hancock. Nothing much else happens in Cheam does it?

As in most parts of London, traffic spoils what is a picturesque village centre but the beautiful church spire dominates the landscape reminding passers-by that Cheam has a long history dating back to at least 1018.

The congestion is not the only modern scourge to come to Cheam. I was astounded to read of a man attacked by a machete-wielding thug on New Year's Day. It is a testament to the proliferation of such crime in London that the yellow sign appealing for help has quickly become part of the furniture on the Cheam by-pass.

Sutton Police do a great job but they need far more help from the Mayor and central government in particular. We need to tackle gang violence in London. Nearby Croydon suffers terribly from this. Fortunately Carshalton only has comparatively minor antisocial behaviour problems from groups coming from Waddon and beyond. Left unchecked, this will get worse as gangs are able to get away with more and then look beyond their current boundaries. Police bureaucracy is a perennial source of moaning but rarely gets tackled. It takes 25 minutes for a police officer to complete a foot-long form every time someone is stopped in the street, even if only to account for themselves. I'll be pushing Boris to keep talking about how he will deal with this head-on when he is Mayor for London. We have to keep the crime in Sutton in perspective. We are not a Hackney or Tower Hamlets but there is nothing wrong in demanding that we are as safe as we can be in our homes, streets and parks.

Cheam Baths in Hot Water

Residents in Cheam were shocked and disappointed to read that Cheam Baths may be earmarked for closure by the LibDem Council as part of their leisure centre strategy. Instead, residents and schoolchildren who want to use the second most popular centre in the Borough will have to travel to Sutton or even out of Borough to Merton and Epsom.

At a recent Council meeting Graham Tope, LibDem spokesman for Leisure, justified the significant recent price hikes but refused to give a cast-iron guarantee that the centre would be retained. John Kennedy said in response that Lord Tope has gone from "the Cardinal Wolsey of the LibDems to the Gordon Brittas of Leisure in Sutton."

Jonathan Pritchard, Conservative candidate for the upcoming Cheam By-election said afterwards “Local people want local leisure services, they don't want to be forced to travel across the borough or to neighbouring boroughs. The threat looming over Cheam Baths will particularly impact on local residents, Cheam schools and the leisure centre staff. The Council needs to be up-front about this instead of claiming they simply don't know.”

Cheam Leisure Centre has the second highest footfall of all the Leisure Centres in Sutton behind Westcroft. Both centres need a lot of money spending on them to bring them up to scratch but the LibDems seem to be heading for the nuclear option by replacing them with a single centre in the middle of Sutton town centre. The consultant's report has been sat on a desk since December and any decision has been pushed ever further back to Easter. This could have a significant effect on Carshalton as well as Cheam.

Britannia in Downing Street

As I was working in Westminster on Friday, I was summoned by a friend to watch a spectacle planned outside Downing Street. Simon McGee, from the Mail on Sunday met up with "Britannia" to present a petition to No. 10 demanding that the decision to drop Britannia from the 50p is reversed. You can read Simon's version of the morning here.

The Mail on Sunday have the support of 30,000 residents. Britannia couldn't get her trident past the metal detectors so Simon had to pass on the views of so many himself.

Although Britannia has featured on our coins for some 336 years, she has had some time off for short-run commerative 50p coins. However, continued erosion of our sovereignty and civic pride means that people seek to retain these comparatively small symbols of tradition and nationhood. They are right to campaign against this move by a government who truly believe that history books all start from 1997.