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.