Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Communications Contract

We called in to debate at Full Council, the decision to increase spending on communications by another 50% hidden away in the small print of the new contract for Westminster Council to provide our service. Because this is now a shared service between two local authorities, normal rules for tendering do not apply.

Westminster are acknowledged as the best at what they do. We know that it is vital for any Council to inform residents and to hear back from them. However, this does not mean that contracts can be given out, unchecked by politicians. This was due to be agreed by a mechanism called a Delegated Decision Notice (DDN) which is usually reserved for smaller decisions that have to be made in a hurry. THe DDN is circulated to councillors and if no-one calls it in, an officer can give the go-ahead.

£600,000 per year is not an amount that we believe should be just waved through. Cllr Brett Young, the lead councillor for communication showed disdain and irritation for having to come before the Council to explain what he has been doing over the last year, explaining that he was puzzled why we would possibly want to discuss this.

Parents who are going to be affected by the restrictions on school transport for SEN children had left by this point, so they did not see how eager the lead councillor was to crow about where this extra money was going. He is also the lead councillor for Children, Young People and Learning Services who pushed through the cuts for children with learning difficulties earlier in the evening.

It never ceases to amaze me how this administration is visibly running out of steam. Once the public gallery empties, they resort to cheap points scoring without addressing the specific points that are up for discussion. I can handle a bit of political argy-bargy but find it extraordinary that they appear hurt and personally wounded when their policies are criticised, but think nothing of finding novel ways of blaming Maggie Thatcher, Boris Johnson for their woes and wondering why the opposition are not implementing any of their own policies, forgetting that we are not in power. Oh well, politically it suits me if they carry on in this vacuous way. As a resident who gets the bill once a year, I'm not so chuffed.

Update: Background music removed from video by popular request.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Voice for Business

As I catch up with some posting after the festivities, I've completed the first video reporting back from the last full Council meeting of the year. Cllr Tim Crowley proposed a motion that would make the formal changes necessary to allow business owners the right to ask questions at full council meetings and attend Local Committee meetings as special advisers. These are available to residents but not to people who may have a business in the area, maybe employ Sutton residents, certainly pay business rates, but don't necessarily live in the borough themselves. I had thought we had learned our lesson about taxation without representation some years ago when all of that tea went to waste.

The Lib Dems did not seem to understand the premise of the motion, instead taking it as a lead to have a debate about every aspect of business and the economy except the one matter that we raised. This was until close to the end of an interminable 56 minute session when the Lead Councillor for Resources accused us of being bureaucratic for wanting to amend the Constitution.

It was only last summer that the same councillor attempted to ride roughshod over the Council rules when defending his colleague over the Garden Waste fiasco. Now only six months later, he failed to understand that it was the Council's Constitution that was denying business owners a voice and that there was a convoluted process in place to avoid any individuals doing what they liked without any checks or balances. He also expressed concern that councillors should consider the risks and impact of any policies that they might introduce. Since he is the lead councillor responsible for the increases in Council Tax for the last three years, I can understand why he might be blissfully unaware of the need for such consideration, but I would have hoped that there would be one member of the majority party that might pull him back from the brink after a year where the Council has impacted quite spectacularly on residents.

The Council meeting overall was quite extraordinary. It was apparent to those in attendance that the administration has run out of steam. They opposed for opposition's sake. The fact that it is the Conservatives in Opposition seemed to pass them by; they still blamed Boris, Thatcher and David Cameron for things that weren't even up for discussion.

The end result of this motion was a watered-down amendment. We agreed with this because we genuinely wanted something to be done. I'm not convinced that we will see anything before the election as it was written off through the explanation that they needed to speak to businesses first. I've ranted on more than most about communication, but this is a consultation to tread water if ever I've seen one. There is no need to speak to anyone else. If businesses aren't interested in asking questions, they don't need to. They can just carry on as they are.

However, as it stands, if they do, they need to petition the Economic Development Taskforce to ask the Community Leadership Advisory Group (CLAG)to consider the matter and commission a report from the legal department which can then be considered by CLAG, recommended to the Executive and then ratified at a full Council meeting where constitutional changes tend to get pushed through once a year. The shortest time period this could happen is within the next three months. As someone who was self-employed for sixteen years, three months for a decision is no decision at all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Plenty of stories that I haven't got around to posting due to my last few days of work at Westminster, last minute Christmas shopping, tidying up before and during the family arriving and the inevitable bout of man-flu which will go down in dispatches as something akin to SARS whereas in reality it was tamed by overdosing on Lemsip.

I'll catch up in between the festivities, but in the meantime, have a fantastic Christmas

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ruskin Road Development Rejected

Councillors on Development Control Committee rejected the application to redevelop the site on the corner of Ruskin Road and Park Lane. Reasons cited were overdevelopment, impact on the highway and substandard amenity. More when I get it.

Murder at Charles Cryer Theatre

Tragic news comes to me of a fatal stabbing behind the Charles Cryer Theatre in Carshalton High Street. A car has also crashed near the Grange by Beddington Park. Police are investigating whether there was any link.

You can read a little more at the Sutton Guardian website, though the story will undoubtedly develop over time.

I'll tell you what I told them: it is always shocking to hear of crimes like this, but it is especially disturbing when it happens in your local area.

My thoughts are with the family and friends of the victim, and I wish the police speedy success in their investigation."

A 2-Ply Cheque

Since Sterling isn't valuable enough to warrant 2-ply paper anymore, a man in Suffolk paid his parking ticket in the form of a cheque written on toilet paper rather than the soft, strong and very, very long US currency in the picture. He claimed that he used stationery that reflected his feelings towards the system that he was unfortunately forced to support through his taxes.

He was issued with a summons and had to spend the day in court as a punishment because it would have cost an additional £15 for the bank to process the payment.

Radio 5 reported an older story with some parallells where a man was sent a photo of his illegally parked car with a penalty notice. The man sent a photo of a signed cheque in payment. The Police sent him a photo of some handcuffs.

Gordon Brown - Super Hero?

The last week has seen a lack of a basic knowledge of your basic range of superheroes when talking about Gordon Brown.

First, in a slip of the tongue, he returned to his movie roots of Flash Gordon when he stated that he had saved the world at last week's PMQs. This week, Harriet Harman stated that she would prefer Superman than the Joker to be Prime Minister. I could go into a thesis of a socially awkward Clark Kent, or a brooding reclusive Bruce Wayne but my favourite comparison was nothing to do with American comicbooks.

Michael Gove made a speech in the House last week where he said:

"The Prime Minister may believe, in his more modest moments, that he is Franklin D. Roosevelt, but the truth is that he is closer to a political Max Mosley: he thinks he is king of the world and he has clearly got money to burn, but all people remember is that he got a terrific spanking in German."

Friday, December 05, 2008

Carshalton CPZ Rejected By Most Residents

I promised to publish the results of the recent consultation about the options for controlled parking in the roads around Carshalton railway station.

Most residents came out against the two proposals of residents' permits or one-hour restricted parking. However, the roads immediately adjacent to the station came out in favour and so we need to work with officers to see if anything can be done to help residents there.

Colston Avenue came out with a split vote. I suspect much of the desire for change comes from the badly designed parking regime there which I am pleased is to be changed anyway. Yellow lines will stop cars from parking on the road, whilst pavement parking will remain. This will keep some parking whilst allowing traffic to flow along Colston Avenue. It will be kept under review to determine whether priority arrows need to be added or other modifications are required.

I have uploaded the spreadsheet of the road by road results which you can see here.

Cedar Close To Be Rebuilt.

The campus at Cedar Close, Carshalton is to be rebuilt, updating the accommodation there for the residents who have severe learning disabilities.

Cedar Road is off Salisbury Road - almost directly opposite my house - and the site backs onto the Carshalton War Memorial Hospital land. The plan is to build new one bedroom flats with communal areas on the north end of the hospital land before clearing the existing Cedar Close land. I assume that with the hospital site due to be sold off, this will make an attractive parcel of land for developers when the lagging economy is well and truly fiscally stimulated. Neighbours in Salisbury Road have kept a close eye on the site for many years, expecting something to happen. As someone who will be directly affected, I will not be afforded any extra influence as a councillor, so I will be appealing to my ward councillor Eric Howell to ensure that whatever is built on the vacant site, it respects the character of the area and does not add to pressure on the infrastructure of the village. Cedar Close is designated as a low density site on development plans and sits adjacent a Conservation Area.

On a separate note, the families of some of the eleven residents that live in Cedar Close have concerns about the future care of their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. At present, many of the residents share accommodation. Healthcare workers are assessing each individual to tailor the future development. However, many families are concerned that if the building is restricted to one-bedroom flats, the residents will lose the companionship of their fellow residents who have become firm friends. I cannot pretend to be an expert in this field but I will continue to speak to the families and the Council's commissioning team to ensure that the best and most appropriate facilities are available.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Dominic Grieve on the Damian Green Arrest

Dominic Grieve, Shadow Home Secretary discusses Damian Green's arrest and the search of his offices. He states that the Conservative MPs will be doing nothing to disrupt the Queen's Speech tomorrow. I suspect he won't need to. Rumour is that the red carpet is already being prepared to roll out in front of Black Rod rather than the more traditional slamming of the door in his face. The Speaker has got some explaining to do in his statement tomorrow.