Thursday, December 24, 2009

Roadworks in Croydon Road

I've just been informed by Steve O'Connell, our local Greater London Assembly member, that there will be emergency utility works on the A232 Croydon Road, commencing on 4th January for about 6 weeks. This is to repair an Extra High Voltage cable located beneath Croydon Road at the junction with Cedars Road.

Working hours will be 8am-8pm Monday to Friday with weekend working as required. The first few days of work will be noisy. Traffic Management utilising two way temporary traffic signals will be set up.

We all know how busy this road can be so the early warning is welcome. No doubt it'll affect the Beddington Lane junction at peak times so it might be advisable to stay clear as much as possible.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Council's Winter Cuts Add To Icy Chaos

Angry residents have been hitting the phones this week with complaints to the Council reaching levels last seen when a £35 per bag charge was slapped on green garden waste collections. When the first snow arrived this week, the main roads were navigable as the gritting teams had enough warning to cover the ground. Side roads were a mixed bag.

Tuesday saw rain which had cleared much of the snow, suddenly freeze after a rapid drop in temperature. This caused chaos across the Borough with the main east-west A232 at a total standstill. People reported 2 hour journeys to get from Cheam to Carshalton. Side roads were treacherous.

Now, no gritting effort is going to remove every flake of snow and trace of ice from the highways but people have got every right to be angry when the short-sighted LibDem administration slashed the winter road maintenance budget by £20,000 AFTER last February's snowfall which had a bigger effect than Copenhagen on people's driving habits, as shown in the photo. This cut was made as £16,000 of taxpayers' cash was spent on upgrading the air conditioning in the Council leader's office.

A mere ten months later, snow returns, everywhere grinds to a halt. The gritting team have been working hard throughout. Theirs is a thankless task, working around the clock to cope and keep us moving but there is more that we can do. There are plenty of residents who would be prepared to help grit their pavements. How many grit bins would £20,000 have paid for. Whether emergency bins are put out when the warnings come or permanent ones are opened ahead of the snowfall, I don't know. However if we are to trust people more rather than run everything from the warm and climate-controlled Council office, then we should help people to help themselves as well. Alternatively the LibDems could watch the roads freeze whilst they freeze the Council Tax just ahead of a difficult election campaign. Oh wait...!

Recycling Brown Jokes

People on Facebook are keeping themselves in good cheer by learning how to start each morning with a positive outlook:

  1. Open a new file on your computer.
  2. Name it 'Gordon Brown.'
  3. Send it to the Recycle Bin.
  4. Empty the Recycle Bin.
  5. Your PC will ask you 'Do you really want to get rid of Gordon Brown?'
  6. Firmly click Yes.
  7. Feel better.

Tomorrow, try Peter Mandleson. Mac users might need to make up their own fun.

Carshalton Street Lights To Be Replaced

A number of street lights in the following roads in the ward are to be replaced in January:

Sutton Grove, Carshalton Grove, Cross Road, Waterloo Road, Croft Road, Meadow Road, Corrib Drive, Byron Avenue, Florian Avenue, Orchard Way, Byron Avenue East, Cowper Avenue, Kingsley Avenue, Byron Gardens, Brookfield Avenue, Milton Avenue.

If you are affected, the contractor will be dropping a letter off to your home to let you have more details. I've reprinted the letter below for reference.

Dear Resident

Sutton has a rolling relighting programme to replace all the old and life-expired columns in the Borough and we replace some 300 columns each year to ensure that the street lighting stock is kept in good condition. The columns in your road are very old and have been identified as requiring replacement.

In most cases this work will involve removing all the existing columns in a street and replacing them with new steel columns, fitted with new lanterns. At the same time, we will upgrade the lighting to meet the current standards for the lighting of residential roads.

You may notice a few differences when the work is completed:

• The light itself will have a natural white glow rather than a yellow one, enabling objects and surroundings to be better seen.
• All new columns will be steel and their height will increase from five to six metres. The columns will be painted holly green, which is the standard Sutton colour.
• Wherever possible new columns will be placed alongside the old columns, but this may not always be possible due to lighting design requirements.

Once the work has been completed I hope you will feel that the street environment has improved and is a safer place to walk, cycle or drive along.

Progress of the works

Our company Cartledge is the Council’s street lighting contractor and we will be organising the installation of the street lights. Work is due to commence on ******** and will start with the erection of the new columns and fitting the lanterns together with the associated wiring and painting. This will take place over a two week period and the old columns will remain working. The next phase will involve the local electricity company, EDF, who will provide electrical connections to the new and disconnections to the existing columns so that there will always be adequate lighting in the road. There may be gap of between 6 and 8 weeks before EDF start their element of the works. The final stage will involve our work crews removing all the old columns and ensuring that all pavement surfaces have been correctly reinstated.

May I ask you to help us make the works run smoothly:

1. Do not park along the road where the contractor is working,
2. Do not park where there are ‘No Waiting’ cones or signs and
3. Move your vehicle if requested.

Common questions from residents:

Question The new lighting column has been put in a place that makes it difficult for me to drive in and out of my property. Can you do something about this?

Answer In most cases we can move a column one to two metres without affecting the lighting design, although this may be more difficult if it is on a property boundary or near a road junction. However, in most cases we can make minor adjustments.

Question I am concerned that the new column will flood my bedroom with unwanted light. Can you prevent this?

Answer The new lighting units will be designed to direct light out and downwards so light pollution should not be a major problem. However, if there is a problem once the lighting is in full working order, we can fit a shield to help prevent any unwanted light spillage.

Please accept in advance my apologies for any inconvenience that this work causes you. Should you have any special access needs or if you require any more information please contact me at the numbers above.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Voluntary Sector Skills Conference

Last Wednesday, I hosted a conference for the voluntary sector alongside Philippa Stroud, parliamentary candidate for Sutton & Cheam and Director of the Centre for Social Justice. Our aim was to share the knowledge and experience of friends and colleagues of ours and to listen to the concerns and views of those people who give their time so freely to help those in our society with greatest need. A wide range of organisations were represented from Citizens' Advice Bureau through to the Cassandra Learning Centre, a family-run organisation which tackles domestic violence, established after the tragic death of the daughter of the founder.

The first session was about working with the media. Many organisations hide their light under a bushel, often because they are spending the vast amount of their time working providing services and support that promotion and awareness is the first to go. However, with funding ever harder to find, a degree of promotion is important to compete against the larger better organised operations. Attracting new volunteers is only possible if people know that you are there. As well as talking through the basics of press releases and media management, we discussed other possibilities such as groups sharing someone that can do the odd press release from home that may not be able or willing to get involved in any other way. Similarly I would encourage asking for help from bigger partners such as the Sutton Centre for the Voluntary Sector (SCVS) and the Council itself.

Following on from this, Jo Hillier, head of Social Action for the Conservative Party and formerly Saatchi's, talked about raising profiles and brand management. Drawing on examples of big companies such as British Airways and Marks and Spencers, Jo told us how to spend a few moments reconsidering what our brands are. The message was clear, you do not have to be a multinational to do this. A short time on this will help work out where your support may lie for funding and volunteering, how to improve applying for tenders from the Council and other bodies and how to attract service users to your organisation if applicable.

Finally Debbie Pippard and Shaun Walsh from the Big Lottery Fund came to talk about fundraising. It's not often that a big agency like this comes into town and says that they have funds and they want to give more cash to Sutton. They already fund organisations in Sutton including SCVS but their new "Awards for All" fund is open for direct bids and they encouraged the groups present to come forward with their bids.

Philippa Stroud brought her considerable experience to bear when she spoke about the challenges that the sector face including "mission creep" as the government and commissioning organisations like the Council and PCT move smaller partners towards the direction that they want and away from the core approach that the voluntary group was set up for. I hopefully got across the point that councillors from both parties in Sutton value the work that the voluntary sector do and that the Conservatives want to build on the strong partnership that exists, sharing more skills, resources and experiences to learn from each other.

The delegates had the floor for the second half of the afternoon. Breaking up into 4 groups they discussed their concerns and then shared them with me, Philippa and Baroness Warsi, Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action.I asked them three questions looking over the next few years and the feedback had a high degree of consistency across the four groups that they were split into:

1. What are your main challenges at the moment?
  • Raising Money
  • Moving from grants to commissioning causing uncertainty
  • The bureaucracy in applying for grants
  • The time that it takes for grant applications to be processed and the money to come through.

2. Where do you see your organisation and the voluntary sector in 5 years?

  • 5 years? We rarely have the time to look beyond 1!
  • A bigger profile
  • Using the room for growth - people and resources
  • Being more user led where appropriate

3. What can the Council and Government do to help?

  • Cut down on form-filling bureaucracy
  • More recognition for the skills of the sector and the value for money that it brings
  • Create a central directory of voluntary groups in London and what they do
  • Free up resources both financial and buildings
  • Recognition that faith groups are vital to community cohesion
  • 3 year funding commitments
  • More conferences and networking opportunities

The last point reflected the massively positive feedback that we had from the event. I was a little surprised to hear that this was the first time that many had had the benefit of such an event. The Council have good intentions towards the voluntary sector and clear channels to engage with their partners in this area but it is often too easy to rely solely on partnership boards and panels rather than chatting informally or engaging in a different way to get a true reflection of concerns. I was delighted to be able to offer something that people found genuinely interesting and useful and to meet such a dedicated bunch of people. Like them, I look forward to the next one.

When I have a chance to catch up, the paperwork and summaries from each of the presentations will be made available to all. I'll post them here as well.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Tackling Issues in Carshalton Village

I have received a list of action points from council officers who are looking into the points raised at our recent walk around Carshalton village.

  1. Loading Bay in the High Street. Whilst nipping to the shops. several people were parked in these bays illegally despite there being spaces in the free parking bays. Since the shops load in the morning, I can see no reason why these can't be mixed-use bays so people don't get caught out.

  2. Planting in the High Street. The Council used to look after the planters outside the shops in Beacon Grove. Transport for London took this over. If we take this back, we can be more responsive to ensure that it is maintained well, keeping the High Street looking attractive.

  3. Promoting Business in the Village. I've long been a proponent for taking a more active role in shaping the High Street by working out what type of businesses we want to see there and going out and looking for them. The Council spends much of its time on Sutton High Street, often to the detriment of Carshalton, Wallington and other smaller business areas.

  4. The Square Car Park. Better signage and cheaper short-term parking would make this a useful resource for increasing visitor numbers to local shops. At the moment, cheap all-day parking attracts commuters.

  5. Scawen Wall. The old listed wall that runs along the southern boundary of the car park in The Square and through to Wallace Crescent with breaks, is in need of repair. The Council have not done the work because of questions over ownership of the wall. Eric and I have asked the officers to clarify this so that it can be repaired.

  6. Blocked Drains. The one benefit of the lousy weather that day was that we could see which drains were blocked. We identified four within a small area all needing cleaning or repair.

  7. Replacement railings. TfL removed the railings from outside Barclays and the pub opposite. A shopkeeper pointed out to us that the railings that had been put back outside the Coach and Horses no longer matched.

  8. Lime trees in The Square. We pointed out the fact that the Limes in this road were massive and needed cutting back. Residents have raised this especially over the summer.

  9. Mill Lane. Officers are going to look at the "concrete jungle" effect that the short pebbled paving areas create. Greenery may help break this up.

  10. Cambridge Road, Oxford Road, Harrow Road. We've asked for the junctions of these roads with Carshalton Road to be looked at to move some of the parked cars further up, clearing the entry/exits of these junctions and helping the traffic move more smoothly.

  11. Meadow Road, Croft Road. Parking on these corners restrict traffic flow. We've asked officers to see if yellow lines are wanted and would help the situation.

As ever, when the answers start to come back, they will be available to see here first.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Congratulations to Sutton's Staff

Last night, I was delighted to be able to go along to the Sutton Staff Awards which celebrated the work of the many people that work hard to provide residents with services.

I presented Kate Evans with the Employee of the Year award for Children, Young People and Learning Services. Kate manages several teams tackling School Improvement. All of the nominees deserved an award.

Rick Mayne was nominated for an award. Earlier this year, I went along to Oakleigh, the centre providing care for vulnerable older people suffering from dementia. Rick is doing phenomenal work finding unusual but simple methods for connecting with people that other centres merely manage.

The START team who work to help people remain independent in their homes was another revelation when I visited in the summer. They fully deserved their award as overall Team of the Year in the Council.

The evening was sponsored so allowing the staff to celebrate their acheivements without recourse to the taxpayer. The organisers who put in effort above and beyond, deserve a thank you too. Politicians get it in the neck when things go wrong and jump on the glory when things go well. Sutton's 3,500 council employees keep on, head down to make things work regardless.

Complete List of Winners:

Adult Social Services & Housing:
Employee of the Year: Hazel Payne
Team of the Year: Shared Lives

Children, Young People & Learning Services:
Employee of the Year: Kate Evans
Team of the Year: Family Information Service

Environment & Leisure:
Employee of the Year: Sally Blomfield
Team of the Year: The Gritting Team

Resources & Chief Executive's Group:
Employee of the Year: Neil Talbot
Team of the Year: The HR & Payroll Project for the Learning Disabilities TUPE Transfer

Environment Champion: Ben Morris
Customer Services Champion: Ania Wright
Community Engagement Champion: Richard Radford
Value for Money Champion: Emily Fahey
Life Long Learning Champion: Bill Cody

Around The Ward With The Council

Yesterday morning, Eric and I spoke to senior Council officers about issues around Carshalton in our annual ward visit. This is an opportunity to catch up on concerns that have not been picked up in the normal way or are still in progress.

As we met in Grazie Mille on the High Street, we spent a good amount of time looking at how businesses are being affected in the village centre. Cars were illegally parking in loading bays when there were spaces available in the short-term bays because of a lack of understanding of the difference. The stores on the High Street receive their deliveries on the whole early in the morning, so the loading bays are not required for the majority of the day. Why not have them as mixed use so those cars can park legally and drop into the baker, the supermarket and the newsagent or any of the shops on the High Street that tend to be the type that rely on quick turnover. Similarly parking spaces in the Square are priced as to penalise 'stop and shop' residents and benefit all-day commuters.

The downpour highlighted this blocked drain in Seymour Road. The proximity of the tree suggests that this might be a big job to tackle with the roots being, well, at the root of the problem.

I'll summarise the updates of work in progress in a future post.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

40 Coleridge Road To Be Flattened

I'm not sure that I have been so appalled at a decision taken at Development Control Committee as tonight. After the fourth time of asking a planning application to demolish a perfectly good family house to build four houses in the back garden was approved after all bar one Liberal Democrat voted it through.

There were so many reasons why I feel disillusioned by the people that have run our borough for so long tonight after they demonstrated their total inadequacy tonight.

1. Two ward councillors from both political parties, both who know the area very well, spoke robustly against the application.

2. The person who has to live next to the site complained about having to live next to a 66 metre long, 8 foot high fence and four houses.

3. The back garden currently floods. This water will now be in someone's front room.

4. If No. 38 decided to put up a fence, the sightlines from the new 4 houses would be totally obscured making the road a real hazard.

5. The houses are an over-intensification of the site. Planners refused to make the Poet's Estate an Area of Special Local Character (ASLC). This is the result.

But there are three more reasons which makes my blood boil and should cause those who supported the application and let their own experienced political colleague down to hang their head in shame:

6. In May the same committee refused to take a decision on a similar application on the same site because they did not have full details of the levels of the sloping site, the flood risk, an ecological habitat survey, landscaping to the south, security, and maintenance of the drive. Today officers stated that they still did not have enough details on four of these six issues, yet the committee decided that they no longer cared enough about investigating these.

7. Both Conservatives and LibDems have made a lot of noise about opposing back garden development. The Conservatives in opposing the application showed that they meant what they say. The LibDems in surrendering to the application in an area that they have written off politically showed that they are more interested in collecting personal data in a petition rather than believing in the very issue that they are petitioning on.

8. Probably the most ridiculous comment of the night was from Councillor Simon Wales who represents Sutton West. After declaring that the flooding issue had been dealt with to his satisfaction, he stated that he would support the application because "we have seen what happens when we go against officers' recommendation" referring to the about-turn that the council made which will ensure a tarmac recycling plant gets sited close to houses around Beddington Lane. We have some excellent planning officers who do a difficult job, often caught in the cleft stick that is our planning framework. However this comment signalled a simple derogation of duty.

Cllr Wales, you are elected to make decisions. If officers are left to decide what our borough looks like, then you are no longer required. Give your £10,000pa allowance back to the taxpayer and go and do something more worthwhile. If you decided that this application should be granted having considered the arguments then fine but simply to rubber stamp decisions which have been taken without giving you all the facts makes you redundant as an elected representative.

I have been to many planning meetings over the last 3 years where residents have left disappointed. As a member of the committee on many occasions, I know that tough decision have to be taken on occasion, this was not one of them. We just wanted an approach that was consistent with that of the committee just six months before. Tonight I saw residents leave whose area will be changed forever by the spineless, ill-informed approach of a few.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Personal Link To Armistice Day

This morning I joined the Mayor, councillors and Philippa Stroud at the Millennium Gardens in Sutton High Street for a short Remembrance Service on Armistice Day. It was well attended as has been the case over the last few years.

This follows the Civic Service in Wallington which I wrote about earlier. At that service, the vicar asked the congregation to have a brief chat with the person next to us about what Remembrance Sunday meant to them. Beyond singing an uplifting hymn, I don't really like my church services too interactive, so I raised a sceptical eyebrow. However, my friend and colleague Cllr Cliff Carter told me how he had lost two brothers in the Second World War, both served in the Navy and were missing presumed dead off the coast of Portugal. The sense of loss was clear to see; raw after nearly 70 years. Cliff would have only been a child then.

I heard stories about the war, second or third hand from family members unaware of any loss. One grandfather had been a fireman in Nottingham, extinguishing bomb damage. The other worked in the port in Rangoon. It was his duty to destroy his entire working environment so that the Japanese could not use it as a base to launch attacks. My grandmother had taken my two aunts into India. They did not know whether they would see each other again, eventually meeting some months later in India. I remember the story of the family that proudly invited my gran to shelter in their strong brick house in case of an air raid. My gran preferred to take her chances in her own home. Having dusted herself down after a bombing raid, she left her house to see the rubble of the newly-built brick house. Everyone had died.

This afternoon, my uncle shared news of members of our family that did lose their lives in that terrible time. My gran lost two brothers within a couple of weeks of each other. Her parents lost two sons. I remember when my father died twenty years ago, my personal grief was forgotten for a short time when I saw the devastation that happens when nature turns on its head and a mother realises that she will outlive her child. There were villages and towns throughout this country and the world where everyone knew someone that this happened to. Still now, this happens as can be seen from the regular processions through Wootton Bassett.

Tonight as I write this before putting away my poppy for another year, I'll spend a few moments reflecting on the short lives of my great uncles, Lieutenant Terence Callaghan who died aged 36 on the 20th June 1942 whilst serving in the Army in Burma, Reserve of Officers and Private Patrick Callaghan 7525020, who fell less than two weeks before on the 8th June 1942 aged 24, whilst serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps. They are remembered in the Rangoon Memorial (pictured above right) at the Taukkyan War Cemetery, some 35km north of Rangoon alongside 26,855 brave members of the Commonwealth Land Forces who have no grave but are commemorated in perpetuity by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Remembering Those Gone, Helping Those Alive

This morning, I joined politicians, council officers, policemen and service men at the Civic Remembrance Sunday service at the Holy Trinity Church in Wallington. This concluded with a parade along the main road to the War Memorial on Wallington Green.

There was a particular poignancy about services up and down the country with the horrific numbers of casualties in Afghanistan. It is vital that we both remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, as well as fully supporting our troops still in active service. Next Saturday, my friend and colleague Ahzaz Chowdhury is setting off to trek across the Sahara in order to raise money for Help for Heroes. This phenomenal charity has spent more than £13m supporting wounded servicemen and women in the 2 years that it has been in existence.

Az will be walking 100km in 45 degree heat and roughing it, camping in temperatures dipping to -3. If the worthwhile aim of the charity is not enough for you to part with a little of your hard-earned cash, I hope that Az's supreme effort will push you into doing that little bit extra from the comfort of your office chair. Donating is easy via his website at Just Giving.

Go on, please make the effort and help him reach his sponsorship target. Sometimes a minute's silence just isn't enough. Click here to donate.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Nudging Towards Tidier Parks

A few days ago, I posted a video which showed Volkswagen's brilliant way of encouraging people to use the stairs instead of an escalator. They have been at it again with 'The world's deepest bin', encouraging people to throw their litter away. The results speak for themselves.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Brown Moves From Anger To Denial

Sometime ago, I signed a petition on the No. 10 website asking for Gordon Brown to resign. I was reminded about this yesterday when an email told me that Gordon Brown had posted a reply to the petition. 72, 231 of us received the response:
"The Prime Minister is completely focused on restoring the economy, getting people back to work and improving standards in public services. As the Prime Minister has consistently said, he is determined to build a stronger, fairer, better Britain for all."
So refusing to address the point isn't just reserved for PMQs on a Wednesday afternoon then. A petition asking Gordon Brown 'not' to resign has attracted 72 signatures.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Recession Business Fund Plundered for Controversial £8.5m Life Centre

Outraged Sutton Conservative councillors have unearthed shocking plans from the Liberal Democrat-run Council’s finance chief to plunder 70% of money from a fund set up to help local businesses in order to plough cash into the controversial £8.5million Sutton Life Centre.

Budget papers set to go before the Council’s Executive tomorrow morning (Tuesday 3 November) show plans to take £181,000 from the £256,000 ‘Local Authority Business Growth Incentive’ Grant (LABGI) to cover start-up costs for the Sutton Life Centre. If approved, the measure will leave only 29.3% (£75,000) of the fund left to spend on measures to help Sutton businesses through the recession.

The Conservative Opposition’s Finance and Value for Money Spokesman, Councillor Tim Crowley, has slammed the Lib Dems’ finance chief by calling the raid on the LABGI fund as a betrayal to local businesses favouring pet projects over helping people through the recession.

Conservatives are also voicing their concerns that despite committing over £8million of taxpayers’ money to the Life Centre, the Lib Dem administration is allowing the cost of the project to swell and to impinge on other council budgets. The plunder on LABGI is causing particular anger among Conservatives because the fund could prevent local businesses from going under thus preventing further increases to Sutton's unemployment. Official figures show that Jobseekers’ Allowance claims in Sutton have risen by 88% over the last year.

Councillor Crowley commented: “The Council’s Lib Dem finance chief is hoping to plunder a fund set up to help local businesses so he can pay for the controversial Sutton Life Centre’s start up costs, leaving only 29.3% to be spent on its original purpose.

“With the UK economy still in recession and its impact being felt in Sutton, this is an act of betrayal because the LABGI fund should only be spent on what it is intended for - helping local businesses, not propping up vanity projects. This shows contempt for business locally - if elected next year, Conservatives will never take business for granted like this.”

Pint Sized Controversial Life Centre costs £3000

Sutton’s Liberal Democrat administration is under fire for spending the equivalent of two households’ annual council tax on a pint-sized version of the controversial £8.5million Sutton Life Centre.

Hot on the tail of our Value for Money motion at Monday night’s Full Council Meeting, forensic questioning forced the project’s supremo, LibDem councillor Graham Tope, to reveal the cost of promotional material for the Sutton Life Centre. Conservative councillors and residents in the public gallery were aghast to discover that a scale model for the infamous pet project cost the taxpayer £3000.

The costly model now features in pride of place in the Civic Offices, St. Nicholas Way, ironically situated next to a new machine designed to make paying council tax easier!

The scale of the model looks like 1:100, unfortunately even at the sum of £3,000, the scale of the cost of the model is something like 1:2,800. It’s quite incredible how far the ruling Lib Dems will go to squander local taxpayers’ money. Two Band D households’ worth of council tax has paid for this scale model and we think this sends out entirely the wrong message.

In all seriousness, the model might be small but the principle is not, town hall bosses must stop treating the public purse as a plaything. When we debated value for money on Monday, our message was clear: a Conservative-run Council will cut waste, move heaven and earth to ease the burden on household budgets, and demand that every penny of council expenditure justifies itself.

This is the Conservative model for Sutton Council and all it will cost residents is a vote.

Monday, October 19, 2009

LibDems Cave Into Tory Freeze The Tax Demand

Sutton’s Liberal Democrat administration has finally caved in to the Conservative Freeze The Tax Campaign in a shock announcement that Sutton Council will freeze the council tax for the first time in its history.

In a panic-stricken departure from its high-tax approach, Sutton’s LibDem town hall leadership has buckled under Conservative pressure to follow Boris Johnson’s example of freezing the tax burden in a time of economic hardship.

Now in a period of deflation, Conservative councillors are defying the Lib Dems’ finance boss to go one step further and to actually cut the council tax in Sutton to reflect the fact that the cost of living is going down nationwide.

Earlier this year in February, Conservative councillors launched their campaign for a tax freeze arguing that the Lib Dem Council should have made a real difference to hard-pressed local taxpayers worried about their jobs, mortgages, savings and rent.

We have welcomed the Lib Dem Council Leader’s U-turn following his comments in The Evening Standard, only a year ago, when he said that a council tax freeze was “a quick fix now with years of misery to follow” and that “this could only be achieved by cutting vital services”.

Councillor Tim Crowley, our Opposition Spokesman for Finance and Value for Money, said: “We welcome the fact that the LibDems have finally caught up with our thinking, namely that Sutton Council should move heaven and earth to ease the burden on household budgets via lower council tax.

“It is a shame that it takes a looming election for them to do so. I am delighted that the LibDem Council Leader has U-turned on his opposition to a freeze in council tax. Now if they’re really serious about easing the tax burden, they will go one step further and cut the council tax. We will campaign for a cut.”

Councillor Crowley concluded: “After sixteen years of relentless council tax increases, Sutton taxpayers will see straight through this announcement and not be taken for mugs by the ruling LibDems.”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Musical Nudge

In our recent report, 'State of Sutton: A Borough of Contradictions' the Sutton Conservative group of councillors talk a lot about Nudge Theory, a concept designed by two American academics which helps change people's behaviour by small actions that are easy to take but not laid down by diktat. This is something that the Conservatives will look at more fully when finalising our manifesto for the next election. We are committed to the carrot not the stick.

I can't promise you musical stairs around Sutton but this video is a brilliant illustration how a bit of lateral thinking makes a massive difference.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sutton In The News

One recent piece of media coverage passed by the communications team who compile a weekly report of Sutton's coverage in the news. Reports that I had fasted for a day have reached further than Sutton. I was amazed to see this in a newspaper that I was unaware of - for reasons which become apparent when you see the picture. The fantastically named Daily Jang is an Urdu paper distributed in London, Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi. I have no idea whether that means my mugshot has gone out around Pakistan. I started this blog to make Carshalton Central. Sorry to have strayed off my main path!

Anyone read Urdu?

Friday, October 09, 2009

My Small Footnote In Manchester

No WiFi meant no blogging at our party conference in Manchester, although I tried to battle network congestion to keep people updated with what was happening on Twitter. Most of my time was spent at fringe meetings pertaining to local government and meeting as many council leaders as I could to grab some great examples of how Conservative local authorities are tackling the issues that we face here in Sutton.

However, I did manage to make a contribution on the main stage, asking Shadow Leader of the House, Sir George Young what measures he would put in place to increase direct democracy and what he thought about a mechanism to recall bad MPs. He cited the example of the open primary in Totnes where any voter in that constituency could help choose the Conservative candidate. He also covered several proposals for local government which I will cover in more detail in another post, but included changing planning to make it bottom-up rather than top-down, referenda on council tax and elected police commissioners. He was keen to explore a recall mechanism to add an extra safeguard in between the more extreme automatic disqualification in the rare cases of having a criminal conviction or being made bankrupt.

Interestingly, the media kept true to form in my title as shown in the picture below. The BBC had already called David Cameron Prime Minister, Liam Fox Defence Secretary and ITV had promoted George Osborne to Chancellor. No-one in the Party is in any doubt that there is a long way to go before the election and we have more to do to demonstrate that we will be best placed to address the vital issues that we face. This is also the case locally. So when I fleetingly became the Leader of Sutton Council I allowed myself a little smile before getting back to the real world and the hard work that is required to make it more permanent.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Manchester Beckons

I'm off to Manchester in a few minutes to join the tens of thousands of Conservatives descending on the city for the last conference before the General Election. The mood is buoyant whilst realising that there is still plenty of work to be done to inform members of the public exactly what we will do in Government. Expect plenty of policy this week, such as the home protection scheme which will end the desparate situation of elderly people having to sell their home to pay for care.

People know in Sutton and across the UK that we need change. I fully expect this week that the Conservatives will demonstrate that we are ready for change.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cells Crowded in Sutton Police Station

Sutton Police Station's police cells were overflowing last Sunday, not with criminals, but with curious residents who came along to the open day organised by new Borough Commander, Guy Ferguson. An estimated 1800 visitors had a rare opportunity to see the custody suite and the CCTV system as well as exhibitions which held the interest of all ages.

Police dogs, horses and vintage cars were on display. An 'angry man' - in reality a policeman prepared to brave the unseasonal warm weather in the biggest padded suit I've ever seen - was the subject of a demonstration in subduing offenders. Children queued up to batter him with soft truncheons. Hendon training, this was not. Meanwhile, the Parks team, the Licensing team and others were around to talk about all issues, building relationships and passing on serious messages about crime awareness and prevention. From meaning to just pop in for a short time, I was enthralled for a couple of hours in seeing everything that was on display and meeting police officers who had all given up their Sunday on a voluntary basis to make the day a real success.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Carshalton Association for the Elderly

The Indian Summer that we have enjoyed over the last few weeks has greatly benefited a few local charities and voluntary organisations. The week before last saw sunny weather encouraging local Carshalton people out to support the annual Charter Fair in The Square, outside Carshalton Library.

This weekend it was the turn of the Carshalton Association for the Elderly or Cafe for short. They held a fete in the grounds of the Ecology Centre with a few stalls, tea and cakes and a jazz band. The unseasonal sunny day helped draw the crowds out allowing Cafe to raise more than £500 on the day.

Paul Kelly, Moira Butt and I went along. I was pleased to win one of the games, pushing Tom Brake MP into third place. Let's hope that is the start of a new trend.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fasting for Ramadan

Last Thursday Cllr Barry Russell and I observed a fast for Ramadan this year following Mayor Boris Johnson’s suggestion earlier this month. We then broke the fast at 7.31pm on Thursday 10th September with the ‘Iftar’ meal as a guest of the Sutton Islamic Centre in Oakhill Road, Sutton, Surrey.

Our friend and colleague Cllr Misdaq Zaidi was an excellent host, spending time explaining the roots of Islam and the significance of Ramadan. We broke their fast with water and dates as per Islamic tradition, alongside a dozen regular worshippers at the Centre.

The London Borough of Sutton has a Muslim population numbering roughly 5000. I found it very illuminating to be welcomed to the Iftar meal to break the fast. It is abundantly clear that the strong Muslim principles of community, hospitality and duty are enduring values and as conservatives we share them. I am very grateful for the copies of The Qur’an presented to us by Misdaq.

It is important that Sutton’s Muslim community feel even more engaged and involved in our public life to promote these common values. Fasting was a real challenge but one that I enjoyed. Watching colleagues eating lunch wasn't the greatest hardship; having a dry mouth for the day was. Some may dismiss this as a stunt. Others, more worryingly, may baulk against this. This misses the point. The Conservative group want to represent everyone. It is important to understand people to be able to represent them. Spending one day in their shoes gave me more understanding than a raft of 'community engagement' events.

Monday, September 07, 2009

UK Tax Handbook Continues To Bloat

The Daily Telegraph reports that the UK now has the longest tax code in the world. Tolley's, the handbook of tax legislation is now an astonishing 11,520 pages long. This is 10% longer than last year and more than double the number of pages from 12 years ago, when Gordon Brown started spinning his web of complexity.

It is hardly surprising that the Government cannot keep a handle of tax avoidance and that they cannot maximise the amount of revenue within the existing framework. The more complicated you make anything, the more people will distrust your motives and seek to get around the rules. Although it may be counter-intuitive to some, it has been known for 700 years or so that simpler rules and lower tax rates will lead to increased revenue for the Treasury. I'm not sure how much scope George Osborne will have to change the latter in the short term, but I hope he addresses the former and starts to simplify the unwieldy legislation in one of his first budgets.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

State of Sutton: A Borough of Contradictions

The London Borough of Sutton is spending £437 million of taxpayers’ money in 2009-10. Like the proverbial iceberg, many of the services are not always visible. Many services affect everyone, others affect the most vulnerable in our society. Either way, they matter, contributing to the quality of life of every resident in Sutton.

The State of Sutton: A Borough of Contradictions is one part of a once in a generation opportunity to conduct a thorough investigation of the relationship between Sutton Council, other service providers and residents. Conservative councillors in Sutton have listened to experts, politicians and residents. This is the only way to achieve the balance between a range of priorities while ensuring no-one is left behind. All but one preconceived idea was kept out of the investigation; one of the few rules that we are not prepared to be diverted from is that we must always achieve the very best value for money, making the most of every penny of tax and council income spent in the Borough.

As the Borough changes, we want residents to help manage that process ensuring that they continue to live in a place that represents their views and aspirations and one that reflects their concerns. This report is the first step in renewing the connection between politicians and residents. It is the first move in starting the debate about the changes needed in Sutton.

I'll be going through each area in turn over the next few days. In the meantime, you can read our report by clicking on the picture on the right or the link above. As ever, let me know what you think. It's your borough too.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Another Award for Scully's Blogspot

I was really chuffed to hear that I had made it as the 4th top councillor blog in the survey carried out by Iain Dale for Total Politics. Thanks to everyone who voted for me. I've been slack about posting over the last few weeks after a hard-fought by-election and my summer holiday but hopefully this will inspire me to work harder.

This blog was the 2nd highest place Conservative blog in the list. I was knocked off my overall 3rd place acheived in 2008, by a good friend, Richard Willis, who you may remember was our Parliamentary candidate in Sutton & Cheam at the last General Election. It's great to see him going from strength to strength as a councillor in Reading. He doesn't do things by halves so it's not surprising to see him hitting the top so quickly.

Update: 21st top Conservative blog and 44th top right of centre blog. Thanks again.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dead Lady's First Floor Flat Put On Flood Risk

Sutton Council recently sent a letter to a property in Cedar Road, Sutton with a booklet explaining how to clear up after a flood, how to claim on insurance, how to protect your property and about temporary housing. The Environment Agency includes such nuggets such as "wear your gloves when clearing up after a flood as water may contain sewage, chemicals and animal waste."

As you may have gleaned from the title of this article, the council-government partnership have a little to learn about target marketing. The addressee died over two years ago. The first floor flat, far from being first for the sandbags, would make a perfect mooring point should Noah need to drop in.

The only flood plain identified by the local authority is around the banks of the River Wandle in Beddington. Quite why flats in the middle of Sutton Town Centre are being targeted is beyond me. How much has this futile exercise cost?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

A Cool £16,000 for Council Leader's Air-Con

Sutton’s Liberal Democrat town hall leadership has been accused of insensitive “Emperor Nero-style largesse” after opting to spend over £16,000 on a specially tailored air conditioning system for the Council Leader’s Office. This rubs salt into the wounds of tenants of Sutton Council after they discovered that the plug has been pulled on desperately needed funding to bring tenanted properties up to the nationwide ‘Decent Homes Standard’.

Council housing in Sutton – managed by the Sutton Housing Partnership – has been labelled as amongst the worst in Britain by the Government watchdog, the Audit Commission. Housing Ministers added insult to injury last week by telling the Council that the option of £112.5million capital funding was being deferred.

After 23 years of Lib Dem administration council tenants have very little to show for it and that systematic neglect over that period has condemned tenants to more years of substandard accommodation. Conservative opposition councillors unearthed the controversial plans to spend £13,000 on the Leader’s air conditioning system, plus £3071 on ‘fees’, after they were buried in a ‘Delegated Decision Notice’.

I’m shocked and angry that the Lib Dem Council Leader is planning on billing the taxpayer for over £16,000 to pay for his luxury air conditioning after the devastating news for council tenants – frankly, it’s Emperor Nero-style largesse, while Rome burns.

This rubs salt into the wounds of tenants who have been sentenced to yet more years of living in substandard homes, missing out on Government funding because of long-term underinvestment in our council housing.

After all these years with Lib Dem council bosses in charge of housing it’s clear that tenants have very little to show for it. Argos is selling electric fans for £12.99 each; I’ll happily chip in for one to save Sutton taxpayers £16,000.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

If Only The Voters Could See

We don't have a video feed in our council meetings. This example from LibDem run Derby clearly shows why.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Door Slammed on Housing Cash

The door has been firmly slammed shut on the Sutton Housing Partnership (SHP) by the Government for much needed investment in Sutton Council's housing stock. The hammer blow comes after SHP's failure to achieve the Audit Commission's 'Decent Homes Standard' for a 'two star' status last year.

Detailed in a letter to SHP from the Homes & Communities Agency, Sutton Council will not receive a penny in capital funding needed to raise the standard of its public housing, until at least 2011/12. It is the final blow for council tenants after two decades of failure in maintaining decent homes for council tenants, by the Liberal Democrat administration, condemning tenants to more years of misery in poor quality housing.

According to figures from the National Federation of ALMOs (Arm's Length Management Organisations) Sutton's social housing is in the bottom 11% of the 69 ALMOs across the country. 50 of the 69 ALMOs set up since April 2002 have been judged as either 'excellent' or 'good' - this means Sutton has some of the worst social housing in Britain.

Conservative Opposition Housing Spokesman, Councillor Barry Russell, commented by saying: "This is a disaster for Sutton Council's tenants. Lib Dem town hall bosses have failed to maintain decent housing for council tenants over a twenty-year period. They have nowhere to hide on this issue and tenants are paying the price for their failure.

"By letting our council housing fall into such a state they have condemned Sutton Housing Partnership tenants to more years of uncertainty, living in substandard accommodation."

Just one of a number of examples of the poor state of housing was discovered by a fact-finding visit of our Housing Policy group members to June Close in Carshalton. The tenant who did not want to be named, is a working mother with two children. The photo shows her highlighting a plug socket located over a gas hob in contravention of basic safety regulations. On top of the mould in her young child's bedroom and single glazed windows, she could barely keep the flat at a habitable temperature, telling us, "It's like Russian Roulette with our heating. We had to get it fixed four times since the beginning of this year. In winter we have to sleep downstairs because the house gets so cold. There is a ice-cold draughty from the neglected windows and it's horrible when it snows. What do we pay our rent and Council Tax for? We love the area and we really don't want to move but the conditions are appalling."

The u-turn by the Government is a disaster for Sutton and its tenants. But it is one that has been compounded by a lack of attention from the council over many years. In setting up SHP, lead councillors were more interested in playing politics with the composition of the board rather than the quality of the service delivered to tenants.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Please vote for Scully's Blogspot

Click here to vote in the Total Politics Best Blogs Poll 2009 It's that time of the year again when I come with my begging bowl. I write the blog to encourage communication with residents of the ward and the borough as a whole and I thoroughly enjoy doing it. I've been lucky enough to get some wider recognition for doing so, reaching the third most popular blog written by a councillor last year in the same award. I'll be doing well to hold that with plenty of new excellent bloggers around but I would be grateful if you would take a few moments to include me when voting for your top ten political blogs. I've reproduced Iain Dale's instructions for voting below. You can click on the picture to the right to go to the instruction page as well.

It's that time of year again, when Total Politics asks you to vote for your Top 10 favourite blogs. The votes will be compiled and included in the forthcoming book, the Total Politics Guide to Blogging 2009-10, which will be published in September. This year the poll is being promoted/sponsored by LabourList and LibDemVoice as well as this blog.The rules are simple.

1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and ranks them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include ten blogs. If you include fewer than ten your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2009. Any votes received after that date will not count.

I can't help you with supplying a list of nine others to vote for. Last year, I provided a list of blogs in various categories that you might like to read, the blogroll on the right hand side of this page has a few links to others. You decide, but if you can shove me up at the top, I'd be much obliged!

Exploring Adult Social Services Part 3

The last of my three trips around the social services in Sutton comprised of three parts. Oakleigh Care Centre has radically changed in the last few years. Care for the increasing numbers of people with dementia would have been limited to having them sit in a day centre just a few years ago. The manger of Oakleigh, Rick, has channeled his energy and enthusiasm into transforming Oakleigh into a place where those suffering from dementia can retain a comparatively high level of independence and certainly a far higher level of dignity that would have been thought possible in the past. Residents have made a groundbreaking film, having been taught to use the equipment, a petting zoo had come over the weekend with sheep and goats taking over the sensory garden and Ollie the pet dog has the run of the place. Actors say never work with children or animals. Dementia specialists go for completely the opposite. I was told of a wonderful example of a resident speaking for the first time in a year when she first petted the dog.

Then to Ludlow Lodge in Wallington. Mainly an intermediate care service, the aim here is to work with residents who have come from hospital, either after an operation or a fall, to recover and regain confidence to return to their own homes. I met a lady who was being shown how to take a cup of tea from the kitchen to her seat using a trolley whilst carrying her stick. This is something that we take for granted. Now look forty years into the future and imagine coming out of hospital having had a gall bladder removed. Helping people back into their own homes is great for the person themselves and good economic sense for the council and the Health Service, meaning that beds can be used for others and scarce money can be better targeted.

Finally the Short Term and Re-ablement Team (START), based next to Ludlow Lodge. Sandra Roche who was my tour guide for the morning has introduced some brilliant entreprenurial ideas into this area. The senior management must be commended for allowing staff the freedom to innovate in this way. The START team will come into people's homes at an early stage to assess and give the support that the resident needs. Again, the aim is to reintroduce as much independence to their lives as possible, acheiving the ideal balance of improving people's lives whilst running an efficient department. IT systems are used well to ensure that team members are spending most of their time with residents rather than in the office or on the road. A body of evidence is building up to show quite how much money this is saving the authority.

I accompanied Senior Carer Lynne Locke to visit a family in Beddington. The husband had been diagnosed with a brain tumour. He was born in Burma, so we had a lot in common to talk about, including common family friends. He was at his most passionate though, when speaking about how the carers made him feel. Living through the terror of an uncertain future as well as the physical symptoms that had left him bed-bound, the carers restored a level of dignity. His direct quote, spoken with a tear in his eye, was that they made him feel like a human being again.

Now I hadn't realised that Sandra and Lynne were stars of the small screen otherwise I would have asked for an autograph, but a short film appears on the Local Government Channel website, where they talk about their excellent service in more detail. Well worth a few minutes of your time.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Exploring Adult Social Services Part 2

Earlier this week, I continued my whistlestop tour of the borough's adult services, finding out more about how voluntary groups provide such valuable support for residents. Sutton Centre for Independent Living and Learning (SCILL) and Sutton Carers were perfect examples of the fact that Local Authorities are often not the right people to provide services themselves, instead supporting others who can be more responsive.

I've met both Sam Edwards who runs SCILL and Rachael Macleod (second from right in photo) from Sutton Carers on several occasions around a table. It is only spending a bit of time away from meeting rooms, seeing their work firsthand that you can get the fullest sense of the role that their organisations play.

First up, lunch at Sherwood Cafe. Based in SCILL, it is open to the public as well as people using the centre. Star turn was Charlie who served us and who had proved to be an excellent ambassador for the service at the Take Part, Take Pride stall in Sutton High Street earlier. We discussed the changes that were happening in Adult Social Care with the Government's "Transforming Social Care" agenda. The main thrust of this is to 'personalise' services so that the elderly or those with a disability do not simply get taken from home, left in a large room in a day centre and collected at the end of the day. Instead residents have access to Direct Payments, cash that they can spend on the help and support that they want. This helps pay for personal assistants, trips and other support when it is needed rather than being imposed. Sam's team handles this work, ensuring that it serves its purpose in being flexible, whilst maintaining the integrity of the system. I was especially impressed with the small but very able and creative team who worked with residents to go beyond just supplying basic support. They acted as life coaches, encouraging visitors to SCILL to look beyond the day to day and so investigate other areas that SCILL can help with to improve the quality of their lives and to find and build a level of independence.

Then onto Sutton Carers. I don't know many Canadians, but Rachael Macleod's default excuse for being a no-nonsense kinda gal, championing her cause is that she is from Canada. If that's the case, Stephen Harper must have a queue a mile long on Parliament Hill, with people fighting for what they believe. Persuasive, comprehensive and most of all passionate about her subject, Rachael is someone you want on your side and a real asset to Sutton Carers. Having spent sometime 'speed-dating' the staff, with 10 minutes or so looking at each area, I met someone who had dropped into the centre. Disabled herself, her husband was an alcoholic. Who else can you turn to in such an instance? Where else can you go? Both professional support and a friendly ear from volunteers who had been carers are available.

There is still more to be done to ensure that everyone knows about what is on offer and what they can acheive. We can always do more to support charities like Sutton Carers However, they are both excellent services and both great examples of what can be done when council officers have the foresight to set people free from the constraints of usual outdated practice.

Hat Tip: Radio Jackie for photo.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Exploring Adult Social Services Part 1

On Friday, I went on the first of three tours of Sutton's Adult Social Services. All councillors know about waste collection, the state of our roads and policing because these are visible services that affect everyone on a day to day basis. Support for the disabled, the elderly and for carers is a vital component of the council and the biggest area of spending with 38% of our council tax going towards funding this. However, unless you use the services, have relatives or friends that use the service or volunteer yourself, it is too easy to allow this area to pass you by. So when the opportunity came to find out more, I jumped at it.

First port of call was the same first contact that residents would have, the part of the call centre that specialises in care matters. I recall almighty problems when the new 'Paris' database was implemented which records clients' details but it seems to be working really well now with full details being shared across the service. This saves an inordinate amount of time only having to ask questions once. There is nothing so demoralising as being passed from pillar to post and having to start your story yet again to another voice on the line. Some 80% of queries are resolved at this stage. The Council works well with voluntary organisations who provide a whole host of services. Often it is just a matter of explaining what is available and where they can find the right people.

Literally next to this area of first contact sits the Access Team, made up of social workers and care managers. They have the expertise to resolve the more complicated issues and direct the teams out in the field. I was impressed to see the enthusiasm of the team. I could see two main reasons for this. Firstly they felt able to make decisions and resolve issues quickly. Secondly, they were being trained up towards being fully fledged social workers giving them a goal and a deserved sense of acheivment as they progressed in gaining new skills. There were many years of collective council service in the team. It's good to see the pride in showing me the ropes.

Next stage was a trip to the Cheam Priory Centre behind Cheam Baths (!Issue alert!). Two teams of social workers serve the Borough. Cheam is home to the West Team. I spent an hour getting to grips with the way that the teams work with the added complication of safeguarding. Finally I accompanied Helen, a Care Manager on a visit to a couple's home. Having suffered a stroke eight years ago, the husband was partially paralysed and found speaking difficult. His wife was his full-time carer. They had just returned from a few days' holiday and it was clear that this was very welcome respite from the hard work involved in simply living their lives.

Helen had seen the family before and reviewed their situation to see what more support could be offered. She had already pointed them towards the Sutton Carers Centre, an essential organisation for any local carer and discussed financial support as well as alterations to the home to make it easier to continue living independently. Small things to help make it easier getting in and out of the bath make a massive difference to the quality of life. These were proud people who were coping under difficult circumstances. Within my short visit, I could see how tiring it was for them but also how they had kept a great sense of humour.

I'm looking forward to the next visits, today and Thursday. Following that, we will be able to tackle the issues far more knowledgeably when developing policy on how to change the future of Sutton.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

St Burstow Sins After All

The expenses scandal has rightly horrified and appalled members of the public. Local councillors get tarred with the same brush as being in it for ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth for the vast majority of local politicians who give up so much of their time for scant reward. Most politicians have realised that this is not a party political issue but something that MPs from all parties have been caught up in and requires a solution from all parties.

Local LibDems however have been using it as an election message in the Nonsuch by-election to get people to vote for a local councillor, not on the 23 year track record of the Liberal Democrat council, certainly not on the previous track record of the LibDen candidate who failed to turn up to a single local committee meeting in his final year as councillor representing another part of the Borough, but instead on the issue of the behaviour of MPs outside London.

Why did they not look closer to home? Paul Burstow was lauded as a saintly MP by the Telegraph because he did not claim a second home allowance. Perfectly sensible for an MP in a marginal seat with a precarious majority. However he didn't warrant further research which would have uncovered the fact that he paid his wife to do his books and then got them checked by an accountant who did his self-assessment tax return (for one example see page 91 of his online expenses. Both were paid using taxpayers' funded expenses. Nick Clegg called upon Alistair Darling to resign for doing exactly the same thing. I won't be holding my breath for the same call to come for his Chief Whip.

MPs are PAYE, with their salaries being paid after tax has been deducted. The only occasion that a Member of Parliament would need to amend their taxes as a result of their work in Parliament is if they have claimed expenses for a high value item that would still be theirs should they lose a subsequent election. They then have to pay tax on that item as if it was a benefit, over a three year period. This would mean that the folding machine bought via Paul Burstow's £10k communication allowance would be taxable (which through some deft juggling of allowances ended up as a bill to the taxpayer of £15,525, one of the highest of all the MPs), but the £643.01 paid to a company to stuff 23,815 envelopes the month before and the £22.52 spent on wine and crisps "for stuffing" would not be.

Fortunately the residents of Nonsuch aren't taken in as easy as the Liberal Democrats would wish. One resident who has switched their vote from LibDem to Conservatives this time around, wrote comments on their letter. Next to "After all it's your money that is being spent", they have added "Yes we know. You waste ours Sutton." I hope that the rest of the election campaign can focus on the issues that the candidates can actually have a direct bearing on for the residents of North Cheam and Worcester Park and in the meantime, the Westminster politicians can stop the yah-boo politics that they purport to hate and get on with cleaning up Parliament.

UPDATE: The Sutton Guardian carried a story on this in their Thursday edition. Paul Burstow explained that he needed to get the taxpayer to pay for his accountant in order to account for his expenses to the taxpayer. Two issues here. He needed the accountant to do his self-assessment tax return according to the invoices. Surely accounting for expenses just requires the occasional use of a photocopier. Secondly, he didn't account for his expenses, Parliament eventually did by putting them on the website for the Sutton Guardian and others to read after being forced into it. This is in sharp contrast to Ben Wallace MP who made all of his expenses public as far back as February 2008 .

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sutton Takes Rap On Knuckles Over Iceland

A group of MPs has criticised councils for ignoring the warning signs about the Icelandic banking system. The BBC reports that the all-party Communities and Local Government Select Committee said that complacency, lack of expertise and inaction all helped put taxpayers' money at risk. The Local Government Association defended councils saying that they had received poor advice.

Sutton lost £5.5m after investing in Heritable Bank, a UK subsidiary of Landsbanki. Lead Councillor for Resources John Drage has dismissed each of the accusations over the last year despite admitting that he himself, had taken his eye off the ball. Cllr Drage is a retired Bank of England economist, working through the collapse in Japan in the nineties. When Cllr Drage fell asleep on the job, this smacked of complacency and robbed the authority of some expertise, leading to inaction, thus fulfilling all three of the accusations included in the report. End result? Sutton taxpayers are £5.5million worse off for the time being, with the latest prediction that we will lose £1.1million and get the rest back in a few years.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Introducing Georg Braun for Nonsuch

Following the death of my colleague and friend, Chris Dunlop, the by-election to elect his replacement in Nonsuch will be held on July 2nd.

We are really lucky to have an excellent candidate, Georg Braun, who lives in the heart of the ward. He has four children who go to local school, runs his own business and lives in Hampton Road which is used as a rat-run to avoid Central Road. This all means that he has a good grasp of the issues for people in North Cheam and Worcester Park. He shares the same issues on a day to day basis.

Georg has already hit the ground running in Nonsuch. Literally in his first five minutes of campaigning for the by-election he found three severely blocked drains due to longstanding neglect by the Council and called them in. He's also signed up to our Freeze The Tax campaign at He's a local guy with local priorities. He'll make a fantastic addition to the team and a strong voice for Nonsuch. I know he'll work hard to carry on Chris Dunlop's positive approach to local politics.

Georg told the local newspapers "I'm not your typical politician but Chris showed me how important our local representatives can be. His positive approach to our area has inspired me to stand for election. I hope I can count on residents' support in continuing his legacy of making a difference.

"Nonsuch Ward - covering North Cheam and Worcester Park - is forgotten by this Council. We're almost always at the back of the queue for help from Sutton Council. Our area needs a positive new vision. A Conservative-run Council can provide it and I will be campaigning for it."

You can catch up with news from the area and his jottings from the stump throughout the campaign via his blog, changeNonsuch

Friday, June 05, 2009

Get The Euro-Results First

My fingers are slightly numb after 12 hours of ringing on doorbells. Nonetheless, Iain Dale
is hosting a results show, so it's worth logging in to see if it was all worthwhile.
I'm bound to pontificate on my blog about the result sooner or later, but you should listen to those in the know first by clicking on the link and listening to Iain and commentators across the country.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Police Called In Over LibDem Leaflet

According to the Sutton Guardian, police have been called in by a Sutton resident on a contravention of electoral law by the LibDems. Regular commenter on this blog, Adrian Short has asked the Special Crimes Unit to investigate Paul Burstow and Tom Brake over claims made in their European election literature which I commented on this morning.

You can see the whole article via the link above but I have reproduced a snippet below:-

Mr Short said: “Let me be very clear that I am not a lawyer and I am not saying that anyone has broken the law.

“However, in my reading of the law, I have formed a suspicion that the law has been broken and, as with all suspected crimes, I have reported it to the police.

“Regardless of the outcome of the legal process, I think it’s very important that people understand that, whichever party they vote for on June 4, their vote will be equally valuable and will help their preferred party to gain MEPs, entirely contrary to what the Lib Dems’ leaflets are saying.”

Bob Steel, the Sutton Green Party chairman, added: “The leaflets are deceitful and patronising.
"They will only further corrode trust in politicians, already at an all-time low.

“Lib Dems apparently have such a low view of their European performance that they devote 90 per cent of their leaflet to trying to dupe voters they are electing Tom Brake to deal with local issues like recycling.”

I agree with Bob Steel. It is disappointing that after nearly quarter of a century running the Borough, the LibDems have run out of steam to such an extent that they feel the need to prop up their remaining hopes through such means. They have asked for proportional representation for years. Now they have it, they seem to have decided that they don't want to use it after all. If politicians can't be straight with the public about something so basic, what trust can we have left in them.

European Elections - Vote Conservative

Today the polls are open to vote for your Members of the European Parliament. You might not think that this is important but there are a few good reasons why it is worth turning up to your polling station and voting Conservative.

Tim Montgomerie on Conservative Home covers it well:-

  • Vote Conservative because it's the vote that Labour fears most.
  • Vote Conservative because of David Cameron's tough response to expenses-gate.
  • Vote Conservative because the Tory MEPs are set to leave the EPP and form the largest centre right grouping in the European Parliament opposed to ever closer union.
  • Vote Conservative because Tory MEPs will vote against the EU's
    ambitions to spend our way out of recession.
  • Vote Conservative because it's the surest way of getting a referendum on Lisbon.
  • Vote Conservative because David Cameron is the only UK party leader fit to be Prime Minister.

Voting for minor parties may well salve your conscience about the shenanigans in Westminster but Gordon Brown will shrug this off as only he can, as a blip. Whilst from a party point of view, I believe that Gordon Brown is the Conservative's greatest asset, as a British taxpayer, it is time that the message gets through to his Cabinet colleagues that it is time for him to go. This country cannot afford another year of hiatus with the global economic climate as it is.

Meanwhile, the LibDems have been pushing out leaflets with their usual barcharts. They are the foremost proponents of proportional representation, yet when they campaign in an election with exactly the kind of electoral system that they want, they campaign as if it was First Past the Post. They explain that only the LibDems and Conservatives can win in Sutton, Carshalton & Wallington. The only problem with this is that this is a London-wide election. You vote for a party's slate of candidates rather than individual names (unless they are independents). The ballot paper is two foot long. Messages like this only go to confuse people further.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Battling Garden Grab in Coleridge Avenue

At the last Development Control Committee, residents from the Poets' Estate made their feelings known about the latest in a string of applications to knock down an attractive house and build four houses in the garden. You can see from the number of residents in the picture, alongside Eric and Paul Kelly, that it isn't just a few Nimbys complaining.

The application is wrong for a number of reasons. The house is situated on a tight bend. Up to eight cars coming in and out would present a real danger. There would be intolerable disturbance to number 38, next door. The garden often floods as a result of underground culverts that remain from the redirection of a brook that gave Brookfield Avenue its name. Two of the houses would be built directly on the affected area. I wouldn't fancy buying one.

Finally, this is back garden development of the worst kind. Both main local parties have talked a good game about being against such planning applications. Both parties need to put their money where their mouth is and act.

I spoke to the committee about these problems. They were being asked to make a decision without knowing about the flooding, without any details of the ground levels and so the ridge levels of the housing and without details of protective landscaping. I was able to persuade them that they really cannot take a decision with so many unknowns and they decided to defer the decision until they could clarify these issues. Eric and I will keep local residents informed about progress and the date of the next meeting.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Rogue Trader Day

I've taken my eye off the ball in keeping the blog up to date in recent days so I've some catching up to do. A couple of weeks ago, I joined Sutton's Trading Standards officers and local ward police in Carshalton to go on a tour of the area for a Rogue Trader day.

This entailed driving around the ward looking for any signs of building works and interviewing both the contractors and residents. Part of the exercise was to look out for rogue traders who prey on the vulnerable, overcharging them or creating opportunities for distraction burglaries. However, most of the time was spent on just making people aware. This allowed residents to take simple precautions so they did not fall victim to such scams. It also made contractors aware of the borough's Safer Sutton Trader Scheme, which acts as both security for residents and an advertising opportunity for contractors. We finished off at a mobile exhibition in Carshalton Village where crime prevention officers were on hand to offer advice to residents.

I certainly appreciated the time spent by council officers and police officers explaining their roles and the effect that they have. Trading Standards is a small department that often gets overlooked as a lot of their work goes unsung. Even on our short trip, the police picked up some useful intelligence that may help prevent crime in the ward. That's got to be time well spent.