Friday, May 22, 2009

Eric Secures Sutton's Support for Reservists

Until Cllr. Eric Howell intervened, Sutton Council was one of a small number of London boroughs which did not officially support employees who may want to serve in the Territorial Army as Reservists.

Eric Howell got in touch with Sutton Council's Chief Executive to get Sutton signed up to the SaBRE (Supporting Britain's Reservists & Employers) campaign as a 'supportive employer'. Only 9 out of the 32 London boroughs have failed to support SaBRE's aims. Sutton was one of them.

My colleague Eric is an ex-serviceman who fought in the Suez Crisis. He was disappointed to discover that SaBRE had written to the Liberal Democrat Leader of Sutton Council asking for support, but did not receive a response.

Eric, along with fellow councillor Cliff Carter, came into contact with SaBRE last month when they went to support Sutton's very own reservist unit at the General Officer Commanding (GOC) Trophy Challenge - a new military skills competition. Sutton's TA Unit, the 210 Transport Squadron of the Royal Logistical Corps, is based in Stonecot Hill.

Commenting Eric said: "There was a motion at the last Council Meeting referring to the Armed Forces but it neglected to mention Sutton's home-grown TA Unit, the 210 Transport Squadron. Along with several colleagues I witnessed their highly impressive skills first hand at the GOC competition last month. Sutton should be immensely proud of their achievements.

"As the borough's largest employer it's about time Sutton Council got its act together to officially sign up to the SaBRE campaign. Over 70% of other London Councils endorse this campaign to give support to our brave Reservists - why isn't Sutton one of them?"

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ivory Towers Built To Top Industry Standards

The BBC have an extraordinary story this morning. There are 4.5million people on waiting lists for social housing and around 100,000 new build homes lying unsold and empty. Housing Associations are refusing to use a government fund to buy thousands of these to plug the gap because they are not of a high enough standard. Apparently, unlike private dwellings, social housing needs to be of a minimum size and built to a higher standard.

Is it just me or are you looking at this, scratching your head too? Sutton has the second worst housing stock in London, requiring £125million to bring all of their homes to a basic liveable standard. People across the country are living in social housing that may be built to a minimum size, but have tenants packed in like sardines with children sharing rooms with their parents. Enough damp and condensation is produced in many places to solve the drought problems in the south east and mould is prevalent, bringing on asthma and other such complaints. Yet a partial solution is being knocked back by those who cannot see the wood for the trees.

Millions of people in the UK have scrimped and saved for deposits, taken on bigger and bigger mortgages as the housing market exploded, in order to get a foot on the ladder. Many had to have a size of family to suit their circumstances and size of home, rather than the other way around. The social landlords that are eschewing the empty properties are peddling an ideal that is not available to those who can just about afford their own home and is not helping those who can't either. They need to get out of their reasonably sized, ivory towers, built to an excellent environmental standard natch, and join the real world. If they have the cash, buy the homes. Take advantage of the 10 year NHBC guarantee to put right any of the faults and snags.

Cameron Gets It

David Cameron gave up on his planned Party Election Broadcast on TV this week to turn his attention to the only political issue of the week, that of MPs' expenses. Speaking directly to the camera, he detailed the action that he and the parliamentary party were taking now to tackle the disintegration of public confidence in politicians. He started the broadcast with that rarest of words in politics, sorry.

As others have reported, this approach demonstrated that at least one of the leaders actually realised the severity of the problem and was prepared to address it rather than ploughing on regardless. In stark contrast, the Labour party put out an anti-Conservative video, almost totally unrelated to the elections ahead. Sutton resident Adrian Short has highlighted the disingenuous approach of the LibDems in their election literature. It is ironic that the main proponents of greater proportional representation in elections mislead people to think that the European election is a two-horse race here, with statistics from the last General Election to back up their claims, when it is in fact a regional election. On June 4th we will be voting for a party list of candidates to represent the whole of London in the European Parliament. The LibDems may be close to the Conservatives in Sutton, but this is far from true in most other parts of the capital. This is not an election where you need to consider voting tactically. Simply put the cross next to the party that you believe represents you best. If you need help working this out, have a look at the website Vote Match.

Friday, May 15, 2009

At Least Gordon Brown Is Consistent

Several trees have been felled to cover the MPs' expenses story over the last week and there is little that I can add apart from my horror at some of the more excessive stories and my disappointment that the majority of the MPs who are working hard trying to
accomplish what they set out to do when seeking election, are being tarred with the same brush. Local councillors tend to get written off as feathering our own nests as well, despite the fact that there is no scope for expenses as far as I am aware, beyond travel for lead councillors representing the authority on official non-political business.

Gordon Brown hasn't come out of this well but he has been consistent in his slightly creepy detachment from reality. Have a look at these two videos of interviews filmed a couple of weeks apart. The first is a Channel 4 interview about the Youtube appearance and his 11th hour backtracking from a daily allowance (known in Brussels as SOSO - sign in, sod off.) The second is a more recent appearance on BBC when he was caught on the hop by David Cameron's firm line. Both times he tried to accuse the interviewer that they had their facts wrong. Both times, the interviewer was spot on.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Small Steps for Blog Power

Nine days ago, I wrote about the lack of care taken about keeping the Council Offices' front door reasonably inviting. It is a small matter but since it is often the first thing that visitors see when coming to the Council, it should demonstrate a standard of care that the Local Authority aspires to acheive across the Borough.

Someone has taken note and got the Marigolds on, scrubbing away the green stains that have built up after months of rainwater leaking from the gutter. The leak still appears to be there so I hope that a permanent repair is next. Thank you to whoever sorted this out. Now, whilst I have your attention, what can you do about this £8million of taxpayers' money that you are spending on the controversial Sutton Life Centre?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Councillor Chris Dunlop

I'm still a little dazed this evening after hearing the sad, sad news that my colleague and friend Chris Dunlop died yesterday. Chris was a councillor for Nonsuch ward and worked really hard as the sole Conservative representative, tackling issues for all constituents. He was always keen to help residents and colleagues whenever he could.

His particular interest was education. He sat on a few committees looking at standards across the borough and was passionate about his role as a governor through some difficult times at Overton Grange. Music for young people was a particular key issue for him as he campaigned for a suitable venue for schools' orchestras to play in Sutton. In his ward, he campaigned to keep decent leisure facilities in the west of the borough and recently worked closely with Philippa Stroud to set up the Friends of Cuddington Park.

The smile in his council portrait photo is true to his personality, a jovial man who would make time for people, look for the good in people but a straight speaker. His work as an IT network specialist, took him around the country. He fitted in his Council work as best as he could as well as a home life with his wife Michelle, and children, Amelia and Harry.

Chris, the shock of your untimely passing will go, but I'll miss you; the memories will remain.

The Benefits of Virtual Education

I came across a German article about 'Die Umstrittene £8million Sutton Leben Zentrum' (Controversial £8million Sutton Life Centre) the other day. However, the Germans referred to it as 'Sutton's Apocalyptic Playhouse'. Whatever your view of the centre is, the 'virtual' nature of the lessons in safety may prevent the situation in the video above.

Of course, British police are very different. I'm not sure that dropping a truncheon on his foot would have garnered the same response. Suffice to say, Sutton's LibDem councillors don't need lessons from this DEA agent in how to shoot themselves in the foot.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bid for £2,000 Sutton Speaks fund

As part of this year's 'Take Part, Take Pride' festival in Sutton, the Council are looking for bids from residents to improve their local area. The Sutton Speaks fund offers residents the chance to choose how Sutton council should use £2,000 to do work or create something special for your particular area.

You can tell the Council how you'd like them to spend this money. The festival organisers will shortlist a few ideas and invite those who have suggested them to join the Sutton Speaks event in Sutton Town Centre on Sunday 12th July when the public will vote for which will win the bid.

If you have an idea about where this money should go, you should be able to share it by emailing, visiting the website (although I couldn't see how to do this without just emailing in the first place, they might fix this), or sending in your idea to:-

Take Part, Take Pride 2009
Chief Executive's Office,
Civic Offices, St Nicholas Way,
Sutton, SM1 1EA

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Council Committee Cabin Fever

I have just put the finishing touches on the Conservative list of appointments to Council Committees for the next municipal year. It has taken me a while and I feel like sitting in a darkened room with a cold towel to recover. Each year, it is a matter of getting the right people into the right jobs whilst not being able to please everyone in the process.

Our 21 councillors cover 62 different committees, ranging from the Licensing Committee to the Carshalton Coronation Commemoration Trust. Some of these meet rarely, some of them I am not even sure what they are for. What I have seen is that if we should win the election next year, we have to cover a massive 103 different committees. Time for a shake-up I think.

Media Coverage of the Controversial £8.5million Sutton Life Centre

ITV London came to Sutton on Wednesday to cover the story of the Sutton Life Centre. Moving swiftly on from my jauntily-angled hard hat, the parents at Brookfield School said it all, when they pointed out that if the Council are going to lavish money on safety, they would rather have a lollipop lady.

Conservative Home have published an article that I wrote, which you can read here. The Evening Standard and the Metro have also covered the pet project which is costing the equivalent of 10% of all of the Council Tax raised in a year in Sutton.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

24 Hours Is A Long Time In Sutton Politics

In the US television series "24", Jack Bauer gets everything wrapped up, saving the world in just 24 hours. Back in the real world, it takes the same amount of time for LibDem councillors to realise that they shouldn't be examining their masters' decisions without having the full facts in front of them.

The Liberal Democrats took the odd decision to scrutinise how the controversial £8.5million Sutton Life Centre was going only one day after the decision was taken to build the thing. As I'd had 24 hours to read the financial information that was supplied just ahead of the council meeting, the previous evening, I asked several questions based on these papers, including why fees and surveys represented such a high proportion of the total project cost, and why Sutton Council was taking £279k in consultancy fees from its own project.

Lib Dem Cllr Myfanwy Wallace asked why I was the only councillor with this paperwork as she found it difficult to scrutinise the project without it. When I could lift my head from my hands, I exclaimed that it was a shame that she did not pipe up at the Council meeting the day before. It is extraordinary to think that councillors think it is OK to put their hands up to spend £8.5million without the full facts but not when they are asking a few questions after the event, when the builders have gone in. Although I asked about the fanciful expected visitor numbers, the rest of the session rarely lifted above whether jacket potatoes would be served in the cafe. I despair!

The part of the meeting about paperwork can be heard via the box below. The voices that you can here are Cllr Myfanwy Wallace, Cllr Roger Roberts (Chair) and Cllr Graham Tope (Lead Cllr for Community Safety, Leisure & Libraries), all LibDem:-

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Civic Pride Draining Away

It's not the most attractive photo that I have featured on my blog in the last 3 years, but it is a whole lot prettier than the top of the drainpipe with the pigeon droppings caked on.

I don't normally have this sort of morbid fascination with office rainwater drainage, but this happens to be right next to the front door to the Civic Offices. It is the first thing that visitors see, in what might be their only exposure to the Local Authority.

Sutton Council's motto is "Take Part, Take Pride." A week of community activities are being planned on this theme, where residents go on a litter pick, or show off their attractive neighbourhood. It is just a shame that the Council cannot keep to its own script.

This has been like this for months. The damp has spread. Further along the gutter leaks, dripping down the side of the building. At the back of the offices overlooking the car park, the box guttering is held together with string.

Meanwhile £2million has been diverted from the budget to maintain and repair council-owned buildings to help pay for the controversial £8.5million Sutton Life Centre.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Sutton Life Centre Forced Through

Full Council last Monday turned out to be the usual bunfight but confirmed that meetings of all 54 councillors have as much influence on council decisions as Gordon Brown does on his facial muscles.

Two main items were discussed, the future of leisure provision, where the LibDems confirmed that Cheam Baths would close by 2015 and the controversial £8.5million Sutton Life Centre. Councillor Tim Crowley, Conservative Spokesman for Finance & Value for Money requested more financial details the previous Wednesday having discovered that contractors were due to start on site, the day after the decision to build was made. What was the point of pretending to make a decision when it was clear that it had already been taken. We were told that even delaying the decision may lead to Sutton Council having to pay financial penalties to the contractors. The requested information was supplied to me and Cllr Crowley at 4.10pm, less than three hours before the start of the meeting. 52 councillors had to vote on whether to spend £8.5million (astoundingly, the equivalent of 10% of all of the Council Tax raised in the Borough), without full details of the consequences of their actions.

After a 20 minute stand-off, the LibDems forced through a vote to debate the issue, without full disclosure to all councillors. Conservative councillors questioned the need for the Centre in the first place, but majored on the fact that we didn't actually have the money to build the place, instead relying on diverting money from the reserves and schools repairs budget amongst other smash and grab raids to cover the costs. It is clear that this is another case of the LibDems spending money to justify their existence. Residents were up in arms when they were asked to pay £35 for green garden waste bags. Well, guess what, you've just had your pocket picked of £44 each for a project that many will not use. Only one LibDem councillor even bothered to mention finance in the debate.

Yes, but we'll be getting spanking new community facilities won't we? - Undoubtedly; a new library that is smaller than the one that it is replacing, youth facilities to replace the youth club that was flattened to make way for the centre, a climbing wall that is more expensive that privately-run "Craggy Island" at Oaks Park and the multimedia area to teach citizenship at three times the price of the existing facilities at nearby Sutton Junior Tennis Centre. Even Vince Cable has been to Sutton to tell us that we are in the middle of the worst recession since Sean Connery found a few hairs on his pillow. However, we seem to be splashing out residents' cash whilst they are cutting back for fear of losing their jobs. The LibDems used their majority to push the thing through, supporting it to a man. The builders are on site. Work has started on the mausoleum to the LibDem's reign in Sutton.