Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Green Garden Waste Policy Doesn't Count For Some

A couple of weeks ago, an eagle-eyed resident from Clockhouse saw a truck emblazoned with the Sutton tree logo tipping cuttings onto an overgrown area near Corrigan Rec. He took a photo of the truck as it left and reported it at a residents' meeting attended by Cllr Tim Crowley. Further investigation showed that this wasn't the first time that this had happened and that the rubbish was being dumped over the borough boundary into Banstead & Reigate.

It is not acceptable that we are lectured on fly tipping when the Council takes a different line for its own actions. Although we were told that there was nothing to worry about, the waste was hurriedly cleared up by several employees and a couple of tractors on a Sunday, presumably at double pay. Whilst the political administration continue to attempt to 'contain' the issue, Council officers seem to taken action, holding their hands up and started an investigation to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Long Journey To Kimpton

I'll write separately about last week's full council meeting where Colin Hall survived my call for his resignation via a no-confidence motion. Although he has now gone away for four weeks, the fallout from the unpopular £35 green garden waste charge continues.

The Council bought 38,000 bags. However as of the 24th, only 4,466 had been sold to 3,864 households. That's a lot of little jute bags hanging around in store. Some people have told me that they bought one reluctantly feeling that they had no choice. Others, like the constituent mentioned in the video, simply cannot or will not buy the bags. Tim Crowley got rid of some bags of rubbish for one of his constituents. She had four composters in her garden so she cannot be accused of failing to do her bit.

We know that the policy will change in September following a 'consultation'. The retreat is being carefully stage-managed throughout six weeks of summer when people are doing a lot of gardening.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I Need Your Vote

Last year, I was place 155th in the Top 500 political blogs. This year, Iain Dale is
publishing a new book including the top 100 blogs. If you have enjoyed reading my witterings, then it would be great if you would spend a few moments voting for me. I've reproduced the rules below:-
“We're asking for your votes to decide the Top 100 UK Political Blogs. Simply email your Top Ten (ranked from 1 to 10) to toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com. If you have a blog, please encourage your readers to do the same. I'll then compile the Top 100 from those that you send in. Just order them from 1 to 10. Your top blog gets 10 points and your tenth gets 1 point.
The deadline for submitting your Top 10 is Friday August 15th. Please type Top 10 in the subject line. Or you can of course leave your Top 10 in the Comments on this post.
Once all the entries are in a lucky dip draw will take place and the winner will be sent £100 worth of political books!

The rules are simple:
1. Please only vote once
2. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents are eligible or based on UK politics are eligible
3. Votes must be cast before Friday 15 August
4. Blogs chosen must be listed in the Total Politics Blog Directory.
5. You must send a list of TEN blogs, ranked. Any entry containing fewer than ten blogs will not count.
6. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name
So, once again, the email address to send your TOP TEN BLOGS to is...

Finally if you are struggling to think of ten decent blogs, I have copied some of the best below. They are in category order rather than order of preference (with one shameful exception.) They are all worth a visit so if nothing else I hope that you have a little time to discover some good writing and in Beau Bo D’or’s case some brilliant photoshopping. There are plenty more listed on the Total Politics website.

Paul Scully: http://paulscully.blogspot.com

Conservative News:
Conservative Home: www.conservativehome.com
Iain Dale: http://iaindale.blogspot.com

News, Opinion and Gossip:
Political Betting: www.politicalbetting.com
Guido Fawkes: www.order-order.com
Dizzy Thinks: http://dizzythinks.net

Beau Bo D’Or: http://www.bbdo.co.uk/blog

Benedict Brogan: http://broganblog.dailymail.co.uk
Nick Robinson: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/nickrobinson
Comment Central: http://timesonline.typepad.com/comment
Three Line Whip: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/go/category/view/Three%20Line%20Whip

Dan Hannan MEP: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/Daniel_Hannan
James Cleverly AM: http://jamescleverly.blogspot.com
John Redwood MP: http://www.johnredwoodsdiary.com
Nadine Dorries MP: http://blog.dorries.org/blog.aspx

Local Politicians:
Cllr Iain Lindley: http://www.iainlindley.co.uk
Cllr Paul Bristow: http://thebristowblog.typepad.com

Inside track:
NHS Blog Doctor: http://nhsblogdoc.blogspot.com

Sutton's Excellent Staff

I've just been sent a photo taken at an event that I attended a couple of weeks ago. The Sutton Council Excellence Awards dinner was an opportunity to recognise those council employees who had gone that bit further in delivering services to all of us in Sutton. We have 3,500 people working hard, sometimes the work is thankless, sometimes they have to provide the public face for the LibDem administration's occasional unpopular and ill-thought out decisions. It's good to say thank you.

The evening was hosted by Trevor Knight OBE, retired Head of Library Services and Helen Young, former BBC weather presenter. Also in the photo are Dean Shoesmith, Head of HR and Cryss Mennaceur, Head of Organisational Development and the person with the unenviable task of getting councillors into training sessions, somewhat akin to herding cats. I sat with the caretakers of the Civic Offices, who won a deserved award.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

One Rule for us... episode 27

Last week, the Lead Councillor for the Environment told us all via the Sutton Guardian that Sutton had the fourth lowest fly-tipping problem in London but fly-tippers were punished most severely.

On the day of publication of that issue, Cllr Tim Crowley inspected this pile of garden waste that a resident had seen dumped by a vehicle bearing the Council tree logo next to Corrigan Rec in the Clockhouse Estate. On reporting the fact that on at least two succesive Thursdays this pile had been added to, he was told variously that it was due to an attempt to save petrol and that it should not have happened and an investigation would be started. It was collected on Sunday by 7 men, 1 tractor and 2 pick-ups.

Despite this, the Lead Councillor for the Environment calmly explained to a public meeting on Wednesday that included Clockhouse residents that it was normal practice to dump the cuttings from Corrigan Rec and then pick it up the next day. This statement came shortly after he responded to a question from Clockhouse residents asking him how they should deal with green garden waste as there was no collection point within several miles of the Estate, by telling them to drive to Kimpton Road (17 mile round trip) or Beddington Lane (11.8 mile round trip).

So... Councillor tells people that they will be in real trouble if they fly-tip whilst the service that he is responsible for is fly-tipping; councillor tells Clockhouse residents to travel across South London to get rid of their rubbish, whilst council waste is tipped in a nearby field. Imagine what your neighbour would say if you chucked your waste across the fence. Have a look at what the Council Leader of Banstead and Reigate found out that the field near Hatch Lane was in fact, not in the Borough of Sutton at all.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Recycling Bins

...Quite literally. I spoke to a Sutton resident this morning who clipped the glass recycling bin in her green wheelie bin. On collection day, the green wheelie bin was emptied into the back of the truck along with the blue bin.

How many of these bins have been recycled themselves? Another example of the system becoming more complicated without adequate communication or provision?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Limes College

Yesterday I attended the reopening of the Limes College, Sutton's pupil referral unit previously known as the Loxley Centre. I joined Cllr Marion Williams who serves on the management committee. Emma Bradshaw, the headteacher and her staff had coped brilliantly through a year when the number of pupils rose from 30 to 100.

It is a challenge to take children that are failing within the mainstream system for one reason or another and giving them some sense of purpose. These are children who may not have been attending school at all or not due to obtain any qualifications whatsoever. It would be too easy to forget about them and then be forced to pick up the pieces later on. Emma and her staff have had to cope on a small site that is not designed for the numbers that attend the unit.

The photo shows the Mayor at the opening ceremony. He pulled a rope to launch several green balloons with envelopes attached containing wishes from some of the guests. The wind seemed to be taking the balloons over Sutton town centre which probably avoided more UFO sightings over Cheam.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

On The Spot

I joined Paul Martin, Chief Exec of Sutton Council and Ruth Dombey, LibDem Deputy Leader in a question and answer session with six young Sutton residents. They were spending the week finding out more about the Council and its work by shadowing councillors.

Rather than a 'Kevin & Perry' shrug of the shoulders when asked if they had any questions, we spent an hour and a half tackling issues from what Sutton is doing to encourage councillors of all ages and backgrounds through to knife crime. These 16 and 17 year olds were not spotty Tory boys or class warriors, just ordinary youngsters with an interest in their area and their future. Paul, Ruth and I got as much out of the time as they did gaining a better insight of how youth provision and policing is seen through the eyes of a teenager.

Restore Public Confidence in Council Services

I sometimes get the feeling that Sutton Council works despite councillors rather than because of them. The 3,500 people that work for the local authority deserve credit for their achievments. Sutton had a reputation for environmental initiatives. The LibDems scored a few hits in this regard despite some failures such as the £250k gas powered dustcarts that didn't work and the photo of dustmen emptying brown and green wheelie bins into the same lorry, which undermined their appeal to get people to do their bit. The introduction of fortnightly collections of the brown bins was perhaps the low tide mark that the Council needed to judge its actions by.

I'm afraid the water is well out at the moment following the introduction of the unpopular £35 per bag green garden waste. Conservatives working on the overall waste minimisation strategy warned that the charge was unjustified and required clear communication with residents if it was to be taken up. It is only now, five months after the Executive agreed to the charge that they are consulting with residents. Residents have been left with the idea at various times that the £35 charge was for as many bags as required, that the Conservatives agreed with the policy and that paying the charge would allow them to throw away as much as before until they saw the tiny green jute bags. 5000 bags have been bought to date despite the Council obtaining 38,000 bags in the expectation of them flying off the shelves. A second amenity point has had to be opened on the weekend in Beddington Lane to take the pressure of the dump at Kimpton Road, costing £5,000 per week. Despite this move, residents still face queues of up to an hour at the Kimpton dump.

The Council have had the Audit Commission in for the last fortnight or so, going through everything with a fine toothcomb for what is known as the corporate assessment. Every controversial decision has been kicked into touch until September when the inspectors will have written up their report, so we end up in the position of a consultation with a limited number of residents that will last the summer, when people need the collection service most.

We have reached the point when I hope that the Lead Councillor for the Environment, e-government and Efficiency will pass on the reins of power to someone else who can restore public confidence in this service. I have written about problems with parking services and the introduction of free laptops for councillors both of which come under his remit but it is the unpopular £35 charge and in particular the way in which it has been handled which brings me to propose a vote of no confidence at the next Council meeting on 21st July. On a number of occasions, officers have been made scapegoats and paid with their livelihoods. I hope in this instance, the person in charge of the policy takes responsibility and makes a principled resignation.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Slam On The Brakes

Last month Carshalton & Wallington MP, Tom Brake and his colleagues waved in a European Directive which tackled unfair trading. One of the proscribed activities was the selective quoting of reviews for theatre advertising. A recent Guys and Dolls revival was described as 'hilarious' despite the whole quote explaining that 'the original fifties musical was hilarious whereas the new production falls somewhat flat'.

The theatre owner would face jail if he tried that now. No such penalty for Tom Brake after his own distortion of the facts. He has been caught out for the second time by local residents trying to spin his colleagues out of the mess that they are in over the unpopular £35 green garden waste charge.

He has written to a constituent in response to a complaint about the charge, claiming that the Conservatives were in favour of the charge and ascribing Conservative spokesman, John Kennedy with the quote "The environmental charges that now face us go beyond party politics. Both main political parties have, for the first time, worked jointly on a borough policy." and added "The new strategy gives us a framework for reducing the impact of the waste we produce at home."

I don't remember if this was word for word accurate. The sentiment is correct. We have worked together to formulate a waste minimisation strategy that will reduce the amount that goes to landfill. However there have been two areas that we have consistently disagreed with the LibDems on. The unpopular £35 is one. We are also concerned about the role of the waste awareness officers that have been recruited as we are opposed to any suggestion of the introduction of 'bin police.' Cllr Kennedy has made this clear to the Council Executive and even to Tom Brake himself in a letter dated 17th May. Despite this, Tom Brake is persisting on encouraging the contrary view in a letter to another constituent dated 26th June.

I'm surprised that he seeks to quote a Conservative councillor to give him credibility rather than his own spokesman. I am less surprised that he has consistently failed to offer a view on the charge himself. Still if that is how he sees fit to conduct himself in his last two years as an MP he is unlikely to be surprised at the verdict given via the ballot box.

Never Knowingly Underpaid

Do MPs never learn? What on earth were they thinking of when a majority of 28 won the day, keeping the additional costs allowance used to fund second homes and ensuring that expenses were audited in-house?

I started to walk between Victoria Station and Parliament, partly to save money and get off the sweaty sardine tinned District Line, but also as a result of the July 7th bombing. On that day, I realised that I hardly saw the sky from the moment that I got on the train at Carshalton Beeches to my return in the evening. The day of the bombs, I was delayed on the tube for ten minutes or so. We were told that it was due to a power cut. Being the day after the announcement that we had beaten Paris to the Olympics, we joked about Jacques Chirac pulling a fuse out in retaliation. I walked through the underground entrance in the Commons and went to my office. It was sometime before I realised what had happened even though I was yards away from New Scotland Yard, MI5, MI6 and Downing Street. If I had been a bit more diligent at work instead of turning Sky News on, I could have been cooped up for the whole day without realising that London's future had changed forever.

It isn't called Westminster Village for nothing. Members can lose themselves in their ivory towers quite happily. With the economy in turmoil, fuelled by the oil crisis and credit crunch; trust in politicians at an all time low following the 'whiter than white' government's descent into rarely before seen depths of financial sleaze and taxes stealthily increasing whilst services worsen, this is patently not the time for MPs to bury their collective heads in the sand over their expenses. Politicians are being picked off one by one as the Press gets hold of stories sometimes of dubious worth. This will continue as the gossip feeds a ravenous public wanting to throw brickbats at the people that they believe are elected but do not represent their views.

Most of the news articles about expenses is utter twaddle. Journalists who should know better lump every single cost onto the MP as if it goes into his or her bank account. Staffing costs go directly to the staff who are on standard House of Commons contracts and are paid within set scales. That job in the Evening Standard for middle management wouldn't look so attractive if you had to supply furniture, telephones and computers for your team, yet these costs are often added to the gravy train account.

Yet despite this there are changes that are screaming out to be made. The Additional Costs Allowance that enables MPs to fund a second home desparately needs reform. MPs that live outside London need somewhere to stay midweek. It is not acceptable to have Members living out of a suitcase for so much of the year if we want to retain a reasonably representative group of politicians in the House. However this is also a system that enables a Member to spend £10k on a new kitchen, a married couple (Conservative) to claim rent for a flat that they had finished paying the mortgage on, another couple (Labour) to pool their expenses to pay for their nominated second home in London rather than their somewhat cheaper house in Yorkshire. Last night's vote should have seen this scrapped in favour of a more transparent system moving away from the 'John Lewis List' which is a secret list used by the Fees Office to validate the size of claims by politicians. With a patronage like this, it is hardly surprising that John Lewis claims to be 'never knowingly undersold'.

More than half of the 646 MPs including Tom Brake couldn't be bothered to turn up to vote. 172 of those that did supported the status quo. This included 33 government ministers. It was disappointing to see 20 Conservative MPs in that lobby although according to Iain Dale, only one had been elected since 1997. We have our bed-blocking old lags as well. The single UKIP MP who has had some trouble with his expenses in the past, couldn't quite make his mind up and so voted in both lobbies, thus cancelling out his own vote.

Both local LibDem MPs were a little more free with their snouts last year when voting in favour of the £10,000 Communications Allowance which rewards incumbency by allowing current MPs to spend £10k per year specifically on pushing out their 'message'.

Reaching The Fly-Tipping Point

The row surrounding the unpopular £35 green garden waste charge rumbles on with the next stage predicted by the Conservatives back when the charge was first approved. Almost one case of flytipping a day has been reported to the Council as a result of this charge.

Cllr Tony Shields spent forty minutes on a whistlestop tour of the Borough and spotted a further ten cases where the old plastic bags had been left on verges and along streets. This is despite the new scheme having been in place for a month. Tony told the Sutton Guardian

"You don’t have to be Sir Alan Sugar to work out this scheme just isn’t working. Since the plan was introduced, there’s been 20 reported instances of garden waste being fly-tipped. Just driving round Sutton for 40 minutes showed me that there are plenty more bags being dumped.

"It demonstrates the hacked-off public’s refusal to pay £35 per bag and an unwillingness to queue outside the Kimpton dump in the sweltering heat for nearly an hour – neither of which I would call fun. This is a total Lib Dem cock-up and the taxpayer is funding the cost of fly-tip collection."

Shadow Waste Spokesman John Kennedy added,

"There’s obviously going to be a large cost involved if the council diligently picks up all the flytipped waste. Who knows whether or not they have the necessary fleet get it all done. The carbon footprint impact will be huge, not to mention the time it takes to pick it all up.”

He said Liberal Democrat councillors only had themselves to blame. “We warned them from the outset that this would happen. In the warm weather, not only is fly tipping an environmental hazard, it’s also unsightly.”

LibDem spokesman Colin Hall has dismissed the charge saying that Sutton has one of the lowest rates of flytipping and that garden waste made up 5% of all flytipped waste in June. A back of an envelope calculation would suggest that according to his figures there were 100 incidents in a single month of illegally dumped waste. If this is right, it can't be dismissed that easily. What is he doing to address this costly and unsightly problem?

I am glad that he has finally relented and decided to consult residents six months after introducing the policy. Not so much Consult, Consider, Ignore but Ignore, Consider, Consult. Residents that are against the charge need to make their voices heard clearly in this period.