Monday, 14 November 2011
The MP tweeted last night in support of an article about the positive economic impact of Rolls Royce (one of the UK’s biggest exporters of military parts and equipment).
The Press Release from the Labour party about the economic/ business speech which Umunna is giving today also singles out BAE Systems – the UK’s biggest arms exporter. It says that the UK Government should buy more of its weapons from British firms like BAE.
Astonishingly this is described as Labour "calling on the Government to use its consumer power to reward companies doing the right thing"
Rolls Royce and BAE were the two firms which David Cameron was heavily criticised for taking to the Middle East, when weapons sold by the UK were being used to suppress civilians in Libya.
As well as being deeply saddening that Labour, even in opposition, appear to be repeating the mistakes of being in Government about cosying up to arms companies, this is also both a policy mistake and a political mistake.
The arms industry already receives around £700 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies every year. This is partly through the funding of research and development. Future generations will look back in amazement, unable to understand why, when faced with the threat of runaway climate change and financial meltdown, we subsidised jobs in the arms industry instead of putting money into renewable energy and other technologies to tackle the environmental and economic threats.
But this is also a political mistake. Three years ago, along with others at Campaign Against Arms Trade, I drew public attention to the involvement of Clarion events, an events company who promote exhibitions like the Baby Show, in arms fayres – where British companies promote their products around the world.
When people on MumsNet heard about Clarion’s involvement they were outraged and several got in contact with me. I went on the Radio 2 Jeremy Vine Programme to discuss it. MumsNet eventually boycotted the Baby Show being absolutely clear in their feelings toward the commercial arms trade.
MumsNet was a group which Labour were particularly keen to target at the last election. They still are given David Cameron’s unpopularity with women, and the disproportionate impact of the cuts on women.
Monday, 7 November 2011
Green mayoral candidate Jenny Jones joined with me and other local people, including members of Lambeth and Southwark Green parties on Friday, for a flashride in Camberwell.
Together we staged a “go slow” of cyclists calling for a 20mph speed limit and safer streets along the new Cycle Superhighway 5.
This new Cycle Superhighway will run from Lewisham to Victoria along busy roads like Peckham High Street and Camberwell New Road with traffic driving past at up to 30mph, making it dangerous and frightening particularly for inexperienced cyclists. Many cyclists and potential cyclists are too frightened and daunted by the prospect of getting on a bike in the Capital.
It marked the start of the Green campaign in Lambeth and Southwark, which aims to highlight issues around inclusion and local transport.
Our research has found that the boroughs get one of the rawest deals in London when it comes to transport, with large numbers of local people excluded, pushed out or discouraged from using parts of the transport system through fears about safety or inaccessibility. Notably:
• Lambeth and Southwark account for half of the ten most dangerous locations in London for cyclists.
• Of the 32 boroughs in London Lambeth has the second highest casualty rate for both pedestrians and cyclists. Southwark has the fourth highest overall casualty rate.
• Of the 8 tube stations in Lambeth only 1 (Brixton) is wheelchair accessible. A freedom of information request that I submitted uncovered that the lifts at Brixton station have been out of order for 164 days since 2006.
• Eight out of eleven overground stations in Southwark could soon be impacted by cuts leaving them unstaffed and “no go areas” for many travellers. This is likely to make it the hardest hit area in the whole country if the proposals go ahead.
• Both Lambeth and Southwark’s Taxicard schemes, providing subsidised door-to-door transport for people with mobility impairments, have been slashed by 33% and 25% respectively. ( Details of Lambeth Taxicard cuts here. Details of Southwark Taxicard cuts here )
There is an apartheid that runs throughout our transport system which excludes whole sections of London, and nowhere is this more true than in Lambeth and Southwark - and the situation is getting worse not better.
During the election campaign, Greens in Lambeth and Southwark will highlight the different features of the exclusion, and put forward proposals to tackle it.
Monday, 31 October 2011
All are very welcome to come and hear what Jenny has to say, as well as meet her and ask questions about anything relating to her work or the London campaign.
We'll be meeting from 7.00pm upstairs at The Priory Arms, 83 Lansdowne Way, Stockwell, SW8 2PB
This will also be our Lambeth AGM, so a great opportunity to come for the first time if you haven't been to a meeting before, and meet other local members.
Tuesday, 25 October 2011
Among the small number of Labour rebels was Kate Hoey, MP for Vauxhall, who voted in favour of a referendum. Tessa Jowell, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood however voted with the Prime Minister and the majority of the Labour party, against a referendum.
Perhaps of greatest interest though is that Chuka Umunna, MP for Streatham, also toed his party's - and the Conservative - line, and voted against a referendum. This appears to contradict a pledge he made during the election campaign last year.
There didn't appear to be anything in his election literature about the issue one way or another. But like all candidates, it is likely that he was asked questions on the doorstep about it. And a promise was apparently made on the subject to Mark Wallace, a campaigner and blogger.
Through the medium of Twitter, in recent days Wallace has been asking Umunna publicly if he would honour what he said to him during the election - or at least clarify where he stands.
I asked Wallace what Umunna had actually said to him. He replied that Umunna had made a pledge to back an EU referendum face to face with him, on the doorstep. Umunna, he said, stated that he preferred an in/out referendum to settle the issue once and for all. In addition, Umunna had even promised to write to Gordon Brown on the matter.
This appears to contradict how Umunna voted last night.
In the end, in the absence of any written evidence, it may come down to one person's word against another's. But there are some big issues of concern here. The first is that Umunna has failed to make clear what his position is on a referendum. His constituents should know, and they should have been told long before last night's vote. It is not as if this is a minor issue.
The second is that even when asked publicly, he has failed to respond. There is an issue of accountability here. Umunna has voluntarily chosen to use social media to communicate with constituents and others. He has fallen silent on this issue. Why? Is it because he believes one thing, but has voted another for reasons of advancement within his own party? These are the kinds of questions that will now be asked.
Even at this point it would have been very quick and easy to make his position clear. He has not done so.
It should be noted too, that Umunna had the opportunity to express support for a progressive amendment to last night's House of Commons motion, tabled by Green MP Caroline Lucas. This backed a referendum on the basis of democracy and that it is right for people to be given a choice. He did not take that either.
You can read the full debate and the way all MPs voted in Hansard here
Wednesday, 19 October 2011
Others have not been so lucky. Cyclist casualties across the UK rose by 7% last year, up from 104 in 2009 to 111 in 2010. Transport for London may well face a charge of corporate manslaughter over the death of Min Joo Lee earlier this year.
It has now come to light that Lambeth and Southwark between them account for half of the ten most dangerous locations for cyclists in the capital. The new information came to light after a question to the Mayor of London.
The locations with the highest number of cycle collisions in the London area between 2008 and 2010 are:
1. St. George's Road/London Road/ Elephant & Castle Junction (Southwark)
2. Clapham Road/ Kennington Park Road/ Camberwell Road Junction (Lambeth)
3. Strand/Northumberland Avenue/Whitehall Junction (Westminster)
4. Waterloo Road/ Stamford St/ York Road Junction (Lambeth)
5. Mansion House St/Princes St/ Threadneedle St Junction (City of London)
6. Elephant & Castle/Newington Butts Roundabout (Southwark)
7. Hyde Park Corner (Westminster)
8. Millbank/Lambeth Bridge Junction (Westminster)
9. Clerkenwell Road/Farringdon Road Junction (Islington)
10. Albert Embankment/Kennington Lane/ Wandsworth Road Junction (Lambeth)
Transport for London say they are taking some action around these areas to improve cycle lanes, cycle superhighways and road layouts. Green Assembly Members have made significant progress in ensuring a tripling of the budget for cycling and walking, They have also put forward everything from the cycle hire scheme to a costed plan for lower bus fares.
But more needs to be done such as reducing the speed limit on many more roads in the capital to 20 mph - including main roads - which as well as lowering casualty rates and saving lives would improve traffic flow and lower carbon emissions. The London Cycling Campaign's "Going Dutch" proposals would provide clear space to cyclists on every main road. As part of this transport funding for boroughs could even be made conditional on providing clear space (where possible) on certain roads such as those leading to schools.
More needs to be done, urgently. As we have seen today - and now most days in the capital - these are issues of life and death.
Tuesday, 18 October 2011
But besides roads, civil partnerships, climate change, economic equality and protecting small business, what have the Greens ever done for London?
2000 Civil Partnerships
At the first ever Mayor’s Question Time assembly member Darren Johnson called on the Mayor to introduce a registration scheme for same-sex partners.
What happened next? A successful scheme was introduced, paving the way for civil partnerships legislation at national level.
2001 Thames Gateway Bridge
Greens began campaigning against Ken Livingstone’s plans for a new six-lane road bridge. As a price for supporting the Mayor’s 2005 budget the Greens called for the mayor to fund the objectors in order that the environmental case could be properly presented at the public inquiry.
What happened next? The public inquiry failed to give the go ahead for the bridge and the new Mayor Boris Johnson then abandoned it altogether.
2003 Climate change budget
Greens criticized Mayor Ken Livingstone’s budget for devoting just £300,000 per year to making London’s homes and buildings greener.
What happened next? In a series of budget deals with the then Mayor, Green AMs got the climate change budget at the London Development Agency increased to £8 million per year.
2004 Living Wage
As part of a budget deal Greens called on the Mayor to establish a Living Wage unit to tackle poverty pay in the capital.
What happened next? The GLA and a growing number of public and private sector bodies now pay the London Living Wage as a minimum.
2005 Leaking water mains
An investigation led by Darren highlighted the fact that a third of London’s drinking water was lost through leaking mains pipes.
What happened next? Following pressure from the Assembly Thames Water began a major mains replacement programme.
2006 Cycling budget
Green AM Jenny Jones commissioned a report which led to the setting of a target to increase cycling by 400% through the introduction of cycle hire, cycling superhighways and cycling hubs in outer London.
What happened next? The Green AMs secured budget commitments from Ken Livingstone which led to a tripling of the budget for cycling and walking.
2008 Opposing Heathrow expansion
Darren Johnson led the Environment Committee investigation into Heathrow expansion. The report showed that the economic benefits were exaggerated and the environmental impacts understated.
What happened next? In 2010 the new Government abandoned Heathrow expansion, the Assembly’s all-party report playing an important role in establishing a broad political consensus.
2009 Road safety
Green AM Jenny Jones fought the closure of the Metropolitan Police Commercial Vehicle Education Unit, which instructs HGV drivers on road sharing and awareness of vulnerable road users.
What happened next? This unit has now been reinstated within the traffic police section.
2010 Protecting small shops
For the Assembly’s Planning and Housing Committee, Green AM Jenny Jones led an investigation looking at what could be done to protect London’s small shops.
What happened next? Mayor Boris Johnson agreed to put policies for the protection of small shops in his new London Plan, the overall planning document for London.
Imagine what a few more Green Assembly Members could achieve in 2012...
Thursday, 13 October 2011
It found Southwark and Lambeth to have the 9th and 11th most expensive rental prices (for two bedroom homes) in England, with average monthly rental prices of £1,407 and £1,321 respectively.
The most interesting findings come though in terms of affordability. Average London
rents for two bedroom homes take up 60% of a Londoner’s median take-home pay, a rate
which is close to double that seen in most other regions. Southwark comes in at number 10 in the most unaffordable places with 63% of average take-home pay spent on rent, and Lambeth at number 12 with 59%. This earned them a classification of 'extremely unaffordable'.
Given yesterday's unemployment figures, the ongoing rise in rental prices lack of social and other housing alternatives the picture looks very bleak indeed. There was a good report on the human cost on Radio 4 this morning.
The latest figures show that during 2010-11 Lambeth’s head earned £215,963 (this is excluding pension contributions, which were an additional £30,976, giving a total annual salary of £246,939) moving from fourth to third place among the 32 London boroughs. The Green Party analysis (based on each council’s 2010/11 Statement of Accounts) found that the average pay of council chief executives across London in fact fell by 4% during the same period.
In the previous financial year (2009-10) three chief executives of London councils were paid more than Derrick Anderson. In the face of cuts, many council heads cut their salaries. Lambeth’s did not. Anderson subsequently became the third highest paid council chief executive in London during 2010-2011, only marginally behind those of Tory run Hammersmith and Fulham (£225,785) and Kensington & Chelsea (£220,976).
In April this year, Anderson finally announced that he would take a pay cut for 2011-12 and waive his entitlement to a bonus. This was strange as Lambeth had previously claimed he received “no performance related pay or bonuses”.
The figures came to light through London-wide analysis by the London Green party. The amount earned by Anderson in 2010-11 is over 17 times the minimum wage earned by some of Lambeth council sub contractors and over 13 times the Living Wage which the council pays its direct employees.
Lambeth has still to pay a Living Wage to all those who work on behalf of the council. Green councillor Rebecca Thackeray campaigned in 2009 to get Lambeth to adopt a Living Wage for all who carry out work for the council. This was opposed by Labour councillors who only accepted that Lambeth’s direct employees should received a ‘Living Wage’.
Last month Lambeth came second from bottom in a league table of all councils in England, measuring the severity of cuts to disabled people’s services. This included a 22% cut to adult care and support.
It is a stark contrast that whilst Lambeth has some of the highest executive pay in the whole country, it is imposing some of the most severe of cuts for its most vulnerable residents.
People in Lambeth will wonder why, in one of the most deprived boroughs in the country, where the cuts are so deep, Lambeth’s head took so long to take a cut in his own pay, whilst many of his contemporaries did so across London.
But the priority must be for Lambeth council to increase the pay of all those it employs as other councils have done, so everyone gets a Living Wage. It isn’t just Lambeth’s chief executive and Lambeth residents who are being treated in different ways. The staff who implement vital council services are also subject to double standards.
Key figures for all boroughs in London are as follows:
Borough Staff paid more than £150k* Chief exec remuneration* No. of times higher than living wage
Barking and Dagenham 3 £162,087 10
Barnet 9 £200,976 12
Bexley 3 £199,248 12
Brent 2 £203,853 12
Bromley 3 £177,135 11
Camden 6 £204,961 12
City of London 1 £142,000 9
Croydon 4 £204,520 12
Ealing 1 £183,854 11
Enfield 1 £194,693 12
Greenwich 5 £189,667 11
Hackney 5 £177,956 11
Hammersmith and Fulham 5 £225,785 14
Haringey 2 £189,890 11
Harrow 2 £195,965 12
Havering 1 £180,213 11
Hillingdon 1 £183,250 11
Hounslow 1 £156,901 9
Islington 1 £210,000 13
Kensington & Chelsea 2 £220,976 13
Kingston 1 £179,000 11
Lambeth 5 £215,963 13
Lewisham 1 £192,387 12
Merton 1 £200,390 12
Newham 5 £188,022 11
Redbridge 1 £181,542 11
Richmond 1 £178,744 11
Southwark 5 £182,089 11
Sutton 1 £156,195 9
Tower Hamlets 2 £186,528 11
Waltham Forest 2 £180,000 11
Wandsworth 9 £191,122 12
Westminster 3 £200,543 12
London total / average 95 £188,983 11
* Total remuneration including expenses, excluding pension contributions.
Wednesday, 12 October 2011
The good work that this might do will be undermined however by the fact that central Government and these same councillors between them are pushing ahead with cutting youth services in Lambeth. This is already having a serious affect on youth centres around the borough, and will do so on young people and communities for years to come.
This includes Knight's Youth Centre in Clapham/ Streatham, which I remember from 40 years ago when I was growing up. As reported in the print edition of Tuesday's South London Press (not online at the moment) the Centre gets 200 children through the doors each week (mainly from the Clapham Park Estate) but is already having to cut staff and services. It is £85,000 short on the funding it needs for this year alone (about half its budget). A vital mentoring and apprenticeship programme looks as if it may have to close, which would be a tragedy, as this trains up children to be youth workers themselves.
The Centre is applying for a small amount of money from the NatWest community fund, and it will get the grant if enough people vote for it. You can do so here (You have until 23rd October to vote).
It's a cross-party event, and our mayoral candidate Jenny Jones will be there. Over 400 hundred people have already signed up to say they're coming, and hundreds more are expected on the day. Blackfriars bridge falls in Southwark, which is part of the Lambeth and Southwark constituency for the GLA elections.
London Cycling Campaign has produced excellent images showing how the junction at the northside of Blackfriars Bridge can be dramatically improved for both pedestrians and cyclists.
Two cyclists have been killed on the bridge in recent years, and several serious crashes have been reported already this year.
It’s estimated that LCC’s new cycling-safe design would add only 1% to the cost of the three-year Blackfriars development, but could save lives and prevent serious injuries.
The Blackfriars Bridge flashride meets at 5.45pm by Doggett's pub on the southside, in Southwark.
It is scandalous that whilst we will be holding the Paralympics in London next year, so much of London's transport system is inaccessible - most notably the tube. As part of the GLA campaign, we will be highlighting this issue as much as we can in Lambeth and Southwark. In many respects there is a system of apartheid in place, where whole areas are only accessible to one part of London's population.
Transport for All, based in Brixton, would like the Government to:
- Reject proposals in the McNulty Review to cut staff at train stations, who provide essential assistance to disabled and older passengers. (Southwark will be particularly hard hit in this respect)
- Change the law to ensure that all buses and coaches are equipped with the audio-visual equipment that makes them accessible to blind and deaf people
- Increase funding for stepfree programme as way of kickstarting economy. At present, almost half of disabled people say their choice of job is restricted due to inaccessible transport and nearly a quarter have had to turn doen a job because of transport.
- Protect bus routes which are so essential to avoid isolation and maintain activity and independence, especially for older people.
Tuesday, 11 October 2011
The lowering of the speed limit on residential roads in Lambeth, is something for which we have been campaigning for several years now. Last year, George Graham and others brought the ‘20s plenty’ campaign to Lambeth and organised a public meeting in Herne Hill. We have found widespread support – even from motorists who recognise that a 20 limit helps traffic flow.
Over 7 million people in the UK now live in areas where the speed limit has been dropped – showing that the campaign is both realistic and achievable. Several studies have shown that it doesn’t just reduce road casualties, but improves air quality, and encourages walking and cycling.
We have now launched an online petition to show that there is public support in Lambeth for such a move. Please sign it here and pass it around your friends, neighbours and networks.
Friday, 7 October 2011
The findings are contained in a report published last month by Demos, in partnership with disability charity Scope.
As we know there is a 28 per cent cut over a four year period to local authority budgets from central Government. Councils across the country have made decisions about what they are going to axe.
Disabled people are disproportionately reliant on public services, and the new report Coping with the Cuts, throws light on how the government cuts to local authority budgets are affecting disabled people’s services across the country.
Data came from hundreds of FOI requests which revealed the disparities between the level of budgetary cuts local authorities were making to their social care budgets, and the changes being made to the front line of care and support. Some councils had very large care cuts – up to 22 per cent - but were not raising service user charges, or tightening eligibility criteria. They weren’t closing any services either. On the other hand, some councils were increasing care funding by up to 10 per cent, but reported closures, restrictions in eligibility and large increases in charges for things like meals on wheels and respite.
The results are presented graphically, but a crucial finding is how disabled people in Lambeth are being particularly affected. Of particular note is the 22% budget cut in support for disabled adult care and support. Lambeth has also increased the cost of using specialist transport by 67 per cent and reduced the number of annual trips that can be made by a disabled person under the taxicard scheme from 144 to 96.
Monday, 12 September 2011
The Boundary Commission Review, due for public consumption at midnight, has already been leaked on the net and is being discussed widely. Under the proposals it appears as if Battersea, Streatham, Tooting and Vauxhall constituencies would be abolished and several new constituencies created instead, which would take in parts of both Wandsworth and Lambeth.
Three new constituencies are being proposed that each contain parts of the two boroughs. In addition a fourth new constituency would be created comprised of remaining wards in Lambeth.
Streatham and Tooting Constituency
The first is 'Streatham and Tooting' which would take four wards in from each borough. These are not specified by name, but look likely to be Tooting, Graveney, Furzedown and Bedford from the Wandsworth side, and Steatham Hill, St Leonard's, Streatham Wells and Streatham South from Lambeth.
Battersea and Vauxhall Constituency
The next is 'Battersea and Vauxhall'. Again, this would take four wards from each borough, and again they are not specified in the leaked Boundary Review.
Clapham Common constituency
The third is a new Clapham Common constituency, which would be slightly different in that it will take in just three Lambeth wards (probably Thornton, Clapham Common and Clapham Town) and five Wandsworth wards.
A fourth constituency would also be created made up of the remaining eight Lambeth wards in the central part of the borough.
Predictably, jokes are already being cracked about which of Miliband's MPs would get the Labour nomination to fight the Streatham and Tooting seat - Chuka (Umunna) or (Sadiq) Khan. It's quite possible that Sadiq could fight Streatham and Tooting, whilst Chuka ends up fighting Brixton. But there is likely to be some healthy competition for the Labour nomination in Brixton, given that Tessa Jowell's seat would also go.
But that is to get ahead of the game... There will now be a 12-week consultation period on the proposals, and later a vote in the House of Commons. Given the many changes throughout the country, a lot of MPs may yet have a change of heart on whether scaling down their number in the House of Commons is such a good idea after all.
Lambeth Ward map available here and Wandsworth ward map here
The Government is considering proposals in a report by businessman Sir Roy McNulty, which recommends cuts of £1 billion across the national network. This was highlighted last week by the TSSA union and reported in the Evening Standard as well as the South London Press.
The TSSA union drew up a “hit list” of 675 ticket offices to be closed nationwide. As there are no platform staff at these stations, they will be left unmanned.
Two stations in Lambeth could be affected: Brixton and Gipsy Hill. But the situation is even worse in Southwark, where eight out of eleven stations in the borough could be impacted, making Southwark stations ‘no-go’ areas for many travelers.
Southwark stations facing cuts: East Dulwich, Elephant and Castle, North Dulwich, Nunhead, Queen's Road Peckham, South Bermondsey, Sydenham Hill and West Dulwich are all listed as part of the “hit list” of 675 ticket offices to be closed nationwide. Only Denmark Hill, Peckham Rye and London Bridge would escape.
This is a case of rail users being kicked when they are down. Fares are already due to increase by 25% over the next three years, meaning lower safety levels at a much higher price. And it will be some of the most vulnerable members of our community who are most affected. With the huge increase in the cost of living, and cuts to benefits and services, more and more have no option but to rely a public transport system which is accessible and affordable.
At a time when the economy is struggling to maintain any momentum at all, as other countries in the world are recognising, we need more investment in transport infrastructure, not less. Indeed, cuts to station staff would be a false economy. Redundancies and the resulting increase in vandalism and other crimes, not to mention the detrimental impact upon rail use itself, call into question any hypothetical savings.
Friday, 9 September 2011
This is an initiative that I was involved in founding a few years ago. It brings together teaching unions such as the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, religious groups, identifiably secular organisations like the British Humanist Association, as well as a range of individuals like author Philip Pullman, former education minister Polly Toynbee, former Minister for Education Baroness Blackstone and the former Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway.
The idea is to make faith schools more inclusive by bringing an end to their discrimination in both employment and admissions. Accord has a good databank of independent evidence on faith schools, but in summary they are more likely to have homophobic bullying, and take fewer children with Special Educational Needs and fewer eligible for free school meals.
The Accord Coalition also seeks an end to the legal requirement for all maintained schools (faith schools and others) to hold an act of collective worship each day. A BBC survey showed this week that not only do most parents not want their children to have to take part in this, but also that most schools aren’t holding them regularly.
I did an interview with Nicky Campbell on Radio 5 live on the subject on Tuesday. You can listen to a snippet here.
Tuesday, 6 September 2011
The attraction to the limelight of both Livingstone and Johnson is well known. Indeed, Lembit Opik, who was unsuccessful in his bid to be the Lib Dem candidate stood on an explicitly ‘celebrity’ platform, arguing that his party needed someone of similar status.
“Boris and Ken are celebrity politicians. I fear the party doesn't grasp the implications of this”...he told the Standard, as he conceded defeat. His point? Paddick is a celebrity of sorts, but the Lib Dems needed a bigger one.
But the choice of celebrity politicians with which Londoners are now faced, should be of concern for a different reason entirely. As we have seen with Boris Johnson over the last few years, celebrity can be compensation for some very uncreative, and poor policy-making. It also appears to contribute to a lack of accountability. It makes it easier for policians to charm their way out of difficult situations, without addressing the issues that really matter.
As Green mayoral candidate Jenny Jones has pointed out, what London needs is not more of the same, but fresh ideas for the economic and social climate which London now faces. If celebrity was ever affordable in easier times, it certainly isn't now that the stakes are so much higher.
As the cuts bite, times get tougher, and the election approaches, the importance of the choice between policy and celebrity will become even clearer.
Monday, 5 September 2011
The new playground is based on water play, which if implemented correctly can produce activities which children of varying abilities can enjoy together.
The new play area is located 20 yards from another playground which is designed only for able-bodied children. Like most playgrounds in the borough, this has few (if any) accessible activities for children with impairments.
The idea of the new water play area located next to it was that it would provide an additional space with facilities that disabled children could access, but which would also be inclusive, so young people of all abilities could play together.
Accordingly, the new project brought together a number of funding streams and cost in excess of £250,000 including around £60,000 of Aiming High money for disabled children.
The project has been plagued by problems from the beginning, with allegations of mismanagement. Lambeth has already apologised for some of the events.
But now the play area has finally been completed it is being publicly celebrated as a great resource which can be accessed by all children in the area. Rather than being inclusive and accessible however, most of the area and activities are completely inaccessible to children and parents who use wheelchairs, and have impairments to their mobility. This is a moumental failing, given that it was funded and created to be quite the opposite. What in effect has been created is another segregated play area, despite the funding for disabled children.
There are for example three new sand play areas, but these have foot high rims all the way around making it impossible for a wheelchair user to access them. When I asked how these were inclusive and accessible, I was told that the have special bottoms under the sand, made of material that provides a firm base for wheelchairs and buggies. At present however no wheelchair or buggy can utilise them to discover whether they work.
The central activity for the water play are water pumps, which children use to dispense the water which then flows down channels. They are fundamental to the play activity. The pumps however are all too high for children in wheelchairs to use. Observation showed that they were even too high for some small children to use (the playground is designed for children up to 12 years of age). One has a large rock placed underneath it for children to climb on, but this means a wheelchair user cannot get near it.
When it comes to the central feature of the area - the channels down which the water flows, and in which children are supposed to play - all have been made too narrow for wheelchairs to fit. Even if wheelchairs could fit many of the channels have high rims which can not be crossed. The sides are also far too steep. This all has implications for many other children with physical impairments. It is only really agile, able-bodied children, who can climb down into them. This is a tragic, as wider, less steep, accessible channels might have provided an inclusive play environment throughout the area.
The exclusion continues across the other play activities. I was told that some activities were designed so that able-bodied and children with impairments could play together. However in many activities there is little, if any, chance of collaboration. Many tasks are clearly for the sole use of able-bodied children, with no realistic possibility of collaborative play. For example, this water mill over which water can be poured, is on the side of some rocks behind a wooden barrier, under which water can't even be transferred from one child to another. It would be hard to find a more inaccesible area in the whole playground in which to place the activity.
Other activities are also located behind wooden rails, presumably placed there for safety. Whilst safety is crucial, the decision to place key play activities on the other side of these barriers is extremely puzzling in an environment which is supposed to be inclusive.
One redeeming feature is a ramp (in addition to many steps) which children can climb, at least to approach (if not use) some of the activities. But even with that, I was told, only half has been made usable for wheelchairs or buggies. 50% of the surface is too uneven. There is therefore only one way up and down for wheelchair users, whilst able-bodied children have an additional ramp all to themselves. Rather than an oversight, this I was told, was deliberate, in order to provide a challenging play environment for able-bodied children. It is important that able-bodied children have challenging play environments. However, the decision to create such a thing on a ramp has to be questionned, particularly given the predominance of steps and rocky terrain throughout most of the rest of the play area.
The list of problems and barriers goes on and on. The most serious concern however are the exposed edges which run throughout the playground, next to drops and sheer inclines of between a foot and several feet. Whilst in some areas wooden rails are used innapropriately and unnecessarily, in other areas it appears there are no safeguards at all. If a wheelchair user puts a wheel over the edge in many places, they are likely to have a serious accident (possibly a fatal one, particularly if a powered wheelchair user). This is compounded by the fact that some edges are already cracking and breaking. (This one moved when applied with pressure) The issue of safety was highlighted last year but the concerns were apparently dismissed.
Some parents I have talked too are incensed. Children I have talked too are extremely disappointed. And it comes at a time when Lambeth Council has announced that it has signed up to the Every Disabled Child Matters Disabled Children’s Local Authority Charter.
As it currently stands, the play area is a monumental and expensive failure in its aim of providing accessible and inclusive play.
A lot of information has still to emerge. I have been told that much of the Aiming High money for disabled children was used to refurbish the toilets in the adjacent playground.
Along with parents and children, I have now met twice with representatives from Lambeth council and others who organised the project. It seems that there are a number of reasons for the failings – not least mis-management and a lack of proper consultation. I will continue to press for a full explanation about what has brought this situation about, and assurances that the same things do not happen again in the future, elsewhere.
The immediate task however is to try and do something to rectify the situation, and ensure changes are made to make as much of the play area as accessible as possible, within the constraints of what has now been created. Some of the failings are so large and inbuilt - such as the inaccessible water channels - that it may take huge upheaval and large expense to put things right. There are also the immediate safety concerns which must urgently be addressed.
Along with representatives from Lambeth, I have been with parents and children to visit the playground, highlighting the (dozens of) problems, and making suggestions for what changes might be made.
Now that the project is completed and the budget all spent, this will be a challenge. But inaction is simply not an option when such a sizeable number of children and parents have been so let down. Whether the council has a real commitment to inclusive play will be judged not just by the project, but the way that they respond to its huge failings.
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Several people locally were interested in the possibility of setting up a local not-for-profit initiative. (Similar plans are already moving forward in Brixton )
It comes as a new report from Ernst and Young suggests that falling solar costs and rising fossil fuel prices could make large-scale solar PV installations cost-competitive without government support within a decade.
The search is on for a suitable building which can house the first 10-15kW installation in Streatham (so if you know of anywhere you think might be suitable do get in touch).
If you would like to get involved, there is an open meeting on 15th September at 7.30pm, at The Streatham Business Centre, 1 Empire Mews, Streatham, SW16 2BF where the Re-powering Streatham plan will be outlined, there will be a presentation on way similar schemes have worked in Germany, and members of the board to drive the scheme forward will be selected.
If you would like to attend, send an email to film (at) transitionstreatham.org to book your place.
Wednesday, 10 August 2011
Yesterday, some information came through on water cannon (HT to Chris, a GP National Volunteer and Scott Reading) which needs to be made widely known:
Water cannon are occasionally used in Northern Ireland, but have never been used on the British mainland.
Water cannon use high power jets at 5 to 25 bar (73-360psi) well within the threshold for serious injury. Likely direct injuries include eye injuries, bruising including to internal organs, brain injuries, and strain injuries. Indirect injuries from debris energised by the water and falls are also high. In 2010, 66-year-old Dietrich Wagner was blinded by water cannon at the Stuttgart 21 protests in Germany.
Water cannon are seriously operationally limited. Using 4000 gallons in as little as 4 minutes necessitates continuous refilling, guarding water sources and use of several units at once. Additionally, the large units have restricted mobility and manoeuvrability, and so, are nearly useless against mobile crowds in narrow streets.
At a cost of around £800k per unit the initial purchase and continuous maintenance costs of water cannon are considerable and, in light of cuts to police, unaffordable.
By their very nature, water cannon are indiscriminate and cannot be used in a precise and targeted manner without also hitting anyone in the vicinity including innocent parties. They also have a long history of repressive use against the civil rights movement in the US, and protesters in the former Soviet bloc, Africa and the Middle East.
Tuesday, 9 August 2011
To a large extent this is true. Our policing may have failed in many ways. But we have also avoided some of the heavier-handed and undesirable approaches evident in many countries around the world.
But we are now at a crossroads in London (and other parts of the country). The police were outnumbered and outmanoevered during the events of last night. So this can go one of two ways. There is talk this morning of the use of curfews, the army, watercannon and even rubber bullets. If these kinds of tactics are employed on a large scale, in the long run it will be hard to go back. It will likely end with more powers for the police, which it has been suggested have been part of the problem, not the solution. And it will further weaken the “policing by consent” approach, reinforcing the "us" and "them" divide.
Another way forward, and one far more in keeping with the British tradition of policing, is to use community power. We are already seeing it in action with the widespread clean-up initiatives taking place this morning throughout London, organised by local people. We have seen it too, with numerous stories last night of people helping one another and walking them home to ensure their safety, as well as local groups coming together to protect property non-violently (notably migrant communities). In contrast with groups employing social media to organise to loot and burn, there is a more hopeful story of groups organising to put things right.
But the two approaches are also distinct, and cannot easily be pursued at the same time. Again, we saw this last night, with police asking people to leave the streets so that they could get on with the job (which by implication did not involve local people). What might things have looked like if whole communities came out onto the streets instead in a well organised and intentional demonstration of solidarity?
The road that we now travel down will depend a great deal on how the problem is perceived. Despite the claims that this is “just criminality”, the picture that seems to be emerging is more specific. This seems to be largely (but not entirely) a phenomenon of some (and only a few) young people in a certain age range. The actions seem to be of a specific type – arson, robbery, looting and the destruction of property. And there seem to be socio-economic factors at work, including social exclusion and inequality.
The analysis is only just beginning, and the issues are complex. We shouldn’t rush in with sweeping generalisations. We should not engage in knee-jerk reactions which we will later come to regret. But neither can we afford to ignore what lies beneath. What we believe the problem to be will also shape the approach employed. Both the way we want to be policed and our beliefs about what has gone wrong, will determine our response.
It has been put well by Ally Fogg (reproduced here and hat tip to Mark Braud) who says:
Law and order is kept by a collective acceptance of mutual goals. If, as a society, we look after each other, offer everyone a share and a stake in the common weal, maintain some semblance of a Rousseauian Social Contract, then the vast majority of people will mostly stick to the rules without ever needing to see a police officer.
When people lose that sense of being looked after, no longer feel part of society, no longer feel like they have any kind of share in any kind of collective, the ties that bind begin to be broken.
Rioting, especially the type of vandalism & looting we've seen in London, is a sure sign that the social contract is unravelling around the edges. In the days and weeks and months to come, we shall see how far it has frayed.
There are few things more dangerous to a society than a populace with nothing left to lose.
What we may well be seeing is young people engaging in criminal acts due in part, or at least made far easier, by their disconnection, alienation and exclusion from society. (This is not an excuse, but to point to a potentially significant contributory factor). If this is the case, the answer is not more social exclusion, but social re-engagement and inclusion. Indeed, to fail to engage local communities and resorting primarily to heavy-handed approaches, may be inadequate in the short-term and make things far worse in the long-term.
There is no magic wand to wave. But a way forward surely lies in encouraging as much as possible the engagement and mobilisation of communities – particularly the friends, families, institutions and networks around the people at the centre of the current troubles - to address together the problems which lie at their heart.
Monday, 8 August 2011
Some politicians and commentators have gone no further than expressions of outrage, suggesting simply that what has happened isn’t supported by the overwhelming majority of people in a community, and heaping the blame on a few ‘criminals’.
But this does nothing to explain the timing, let alone make any headway in getting to the root of the problems and issues involved.
Several observations can be made, and there are concrete actions that should be taken:
1. To locate those involved in the rioting and looting ‘outside’ our communities is to wash our hands and abdicate responsibility. No one exists in a vacuum. What is taking place affects all our lives. Those directly involved also have friends, families, and surrounding networks, whose attitudes, opinions and behaviour will have a direct influence and bearing on what is going on. This is not simply about the behaviour of a handful of people, but the feelings and actions of whole communities.
2. Central are the relationships of these communities with the police, both in the broadest sense, but also in the events which were the catalyst for the rioting and looting - the shooting of Mark Duggan and the subsequent protest.
3. The Broadwater Farm riots in 1985 were triggered by the death of Cynthia Jarrett, who suffered a stroke after police officers searched her home. As we saw over her death the truth is a vital part of the healing and restoration process. A full and urgent investigation is needed into the shooting of Mark Duggan.
4. We need an urgent independent review of the wider relationship between police and local communities, and in particular of stop and search powers. I travelled through Brixton every day at the time of the Brixton riots 30 years ago, when the 'Sus' law under which anybody could be stopped and searched if officers merely suspected they might be planning to carry out a crime, were used. The Scarman report which looked into the riots eventually led to their abolition. But the impact of current laws needs to be urgently examined.
5. It is notable that the trouble has not taken place in the leafy suburbs, or the richer areas of London. The wider economic climate, in particular large rates of youth unemployment must be taken into account. The situation is made all the more worse by cuts to youth services. In Lambeth there have been cuts of £11.85m to the council’s children and youth services budget, including a £250,000 reduction to the youth offending team budget alone. This makes the possibilities of addressing the underlying problems even more remote. We need swift action to restore vital youth services.
Friday, 5 August 2011
Jonathan Bartley, who has lived in Lambeth and Southwark all his life, was also the national spokesperson for the 'Yes' campaign in the recent referendum on changing the voting system for the House of Commons. People in Lambeth and Southwark backed the change.
A regular panellist on BBC1's The Big Questions, and Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show he writes for the Guardian newspaper and is a paper reviewer for BBC Radio London.
He says: "Next year's London elections are about the kind of London we want to live in at a time of economic hardship and cuts. We have a clear choice between a city which favours the wealthiest, or one which champions equality, inclusion, sustainability and accessibility for all.
"It is shameful that one of the richest cities in the world should also be one where the gap between the richest and poorest is one of the widest. It is important to fight cuts to housing benefit, the NHS and youth services, but it is also important to propose alternatives. The Greens who have been elected to the London Assembly over the last ten years have done this successfully. I look forward to working with then, and others, to ensure we get more Greens elected in 2012 and make the alternative vision a reality."
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
The Council’s decision to outsource a £60m revenue-collection and call-centre contract to Capita, a private company based on the south coast, means dozens of local jobs will be lost.
Furthermore, next time a Lambeth resident calls the Council with a problem, they will probably end up speaking to someone who has never even set foot in the borough.
To make matters worse, Capita has a dreadful record in this area. They were in charge of housing and council tax services in Lambeth between 1997 and 2001, but the service had to be bought in-house after the council declared its service to be “unacceptable”. Are we sure they’re going to do a better job this time?
There’ll be a demonstration against the plans outside the Town Hall tomorrow, Thursday 21st July, at 6pm. Be there if you can!
Friday, 24 June 2011
Last Thursday I attended a very interesting meeting on housing policy, hosted by the London Federation of Green Parties as part of the campaign to make Jenny Jones London’s next mayor.
On the panel were speakers from housing charity Shelter, the East London Community Land Trust, and the Camden Federation of Private Tenants whose speeches were followed by an hour of lively questions.
Monday, 9 May 2011
We made great gains in many places and now have representation on 43 councils across the country. Successes ranged across councils as diverse as Bolsover, Bristol, Herefordshire, Kings Lynn, Malvern, Mid Suffolk, Norwich, Reigate, Solihull, South Hams, Stafford and St Albans.
Our biggest achievement was in Brighton & Hove where we’re now the largest party - the first time the Greens have led any council in the UK.
These results are a fantastic boost, showing that the Green message is getting through in all sorts of communities in all sorts of areas.
After thirteen years of disappointment under a Labour government, and in the context of a truly destructive Liberal-Conservative coalition, perhaps this isn’t too surprising. However, we’ve still got a huge amount of work to do here in south London to make sure that we’re seen as a realistic option in these parts too.
The elections for the London Assembly next year offer a vital opportunity. Not only do we hope to increase the Green presence on the Assembly, but we’ll also be able to test how far we’ve come in London and gauge levels of support before our own big push for councillors in 2014.
We’ll need all the support we can get to make these a success, so if you can help us – or if you’re interested in finding out more – please do get in touch.
Thursday, 24 March 2011
The demonstration, which is being organised by the TUC, will assemble from 11am at Victoria Embankment before marching through the West End to a rally in Hyde Park. A south London ‘feeder’ march will assemble in Kennington Park by Oval tube at 10.30am for music, food and campaign stalls.
Join us! The TUC has predicted a turnout of 100,000 people, based on coach bookings from other parts of the country. This is a huge opportunity to make sure the government understands how destructive these cuts will be. Yes, we have a deficit, but no, we don’t need to destroy the welfare state in order to finance it.
It will be a great day. Don't miss it!
Monday, 28 February 2011
This was completely unreasonable and undemocratic.
Some forty community groups had given prior notice that they wished to make formal deputations to the council to defend threatened services or jobs. The names and addresses of the members of these deputations had been registered by Council officials and they were scheduled to speak at the start of the Council debate. The idea that ordinary electors have a right to put their case to the Council before decisions are made is one of the fundamental principles of local democracy.
However, the Council chose to close their ears. First they vacated the Council Chamber and held their meeting in another room. For half an hour, delegations waited in the Council Antechamber, expecting to be summoned in at any minute to present their case. But eventually a Lambeth officer came out to inform them that the Council had voted to sit in closed session and not to receive them.
This is scandalous. On the most controversial issue for many years, the council opted to do its business without any input or oversight from the public who they claim to represent. This means that major changes to the way things work in this area have been made without either seeking or listening to the views of any of the users or employees of the threatened services.
For example, Lambeth will lose its hard-working park wardens, despite 3000 petitions against the measure and opposition from a local MP. The delegation from the Lambeth Parks and Green Spaces Forum, like the others, was not invited to share their views.
The Council will blame the protestors for making it unsafe to receive the delegations, but this is utterly disingenuous – the delegations weren’t just angry people off the street, they were citizens who had given their personal details and officially registered in order to present their case in standard democratic fashion. They had a right to be heard and the Council had an obligation to respect that right.
One of the thwarted delegates summed up the Council’s actions aptly in their entry to the members’ attendance book: ‘Today, democracy died’.
Saturday, 26 February 2011
On Wednesday night around 300 protesters lobbied Lambeth councillors to vote against the Labour-led budget. The demonstration was organised by a wide coalition of groups in the borough, including public service and voluntary sector workers facing redundancy, disabled people, youth workers, pensioners and others who rely on the continuation of vital services.
As the scale of the protest became clear, the councillors retreated to an adjoining room to vote through the cuts while demonstrators occupied the council chamber and held our own People’s Assembly.
It was an impressive example of people power. The scale of the demonstration and the enormous support from people passing by will have sent a potent message to the council, and perhaps also to Parliament.
But the draconian budget was passed all the same and now we face a long, hard struggle to protect vital services in the face of massively reduced budgets.
What is getting cut?
- More than 800 of the council's 3,500 jobs
- The entire park ranger service
- The school crossing patrol service, serving 24 schools
- Durning, Waterloo, Carnegie and Minet libraries, plus two mobile libraries
- Youth clubs, adventure playgrounds and the Young and Safe programme, which combats youth crime
- All but one public toilet facility
- Regeneration, management and repair on housing estates
- Adult social care and discretionary freedom passes for adults with mental health problems
- Street cleaning and repairs
- The noise nuisance service
- The Faith Engagement Programme
- Bring the failing Lambeth Living ALMO (the external housing management firm) back in house, saving millions
- Cut all senior management pay – the chief executive earns £270k a year, enough to staff an entire library!
- Reduce council fuel bills by making our schools, libraries and other buildings more energy efficient
- Reduce the millions spent on expensive private-sector consultants
- Use council reserves to reduce the impact of the front-loading of the cuts and allow time to make improvements
- Cut down on glossy PR and council spin
- Work more closely with other public sector bodies to cut admin costs
Thursday, 10 February 2011
These are dark days in Lambeth. The Council is facing an £80 million cut over three years in its funding from central government. On Monday, the cabinet presented next year’s budget for the borough. It’s brutal.
The damage includes
- Scrapping Lambeth’s excellent park ranger service
- Scrapping the school crossing patrols which current serve 24 schools
- Cutting cleaning and maintenance of our streets and estates
- Closing public toilets
- Withdrawing freedom passes for adults with mental health problems
- Reducing all council services, including parks, libraries, waste management and noise nuisance services
- The loss of up to 1,000 jobs
Labour did spectacularly well in this area in May’s local elections, primarily because this is a community that cares about old-fashioned concepts such as social justice and the imperative to care for the least well-off, and – in their ignorance in my view – many voters felt that Labour was the party most likely to meet these demands. Well, now we all need to hold Labour to account and make sure they stand up for these values.
Everyone accepts the administration is in a difficult position, but nevertheless there are choices, and the ones being made are not good ones. First, the Labour group is reverting to its characteristic unilateralism. We need the public to be involved in informed debate, yet Labour’s efforts at ‘consultation’ have been characteristically vacuous, with all key decisions being made in private.
It is a revealing insight into Labour’s attitudes locally that the only service that they’re seeking to protect is the police – sure, crime’s an issue in these parts, but aren’t jobs, schools, care services and a clean environment at least as important?
Rather than cutting vital services and precious jobs the Council could make savings by:
- Cutting senior pay for top council executives
- Reducing the millions spent on expensive private-sector consultants
- Cutting down on glossy PR and council spin
- Reducing council fuel bills by making our schools, libraries and other buildings more energy efficient
- Working more closely with other public sector bodies to cut admin costs
Social care should be prioritised. That’s our red line. The Greens would make no cuts that reduced care for older people, people with mental illnesses, children and other vulnerable people. We would also not dispose of assets such as community centres and libraries, which we will never be able to buy back. It’s better to run on a shoe-string for a while.
A broad campaign against these cuts is well underway. You can sign the petition to protect our park rangers here, and at 4pm on Friday 11th February there’ll be a sit-in protest in Herne Hill to save our lollipop men and women.
The next big demonstration will be outside the full council meeting in Brixton on the evening of 23rd February – do try to make it. Check out Lambeth Save our Services for up-to-date information.