Archive | August, 2013

Random facts about Newham

30 Aug

Five interesting things I’ve learned about our borough from reading recent FOI disclosure logs:

  • The council spent £10,392.88 on hiring private detectives in 2010/2011.
  • You are more likely to get a parking ticket on Romford Road than any other road in the borough. 8,273 penalty charge notices were issued for parking offences there in 2012-13, yielding £199,782 in revenue to the council.
  • The council’s total take last year from parking tickets, including car parks, was £9,087,594.
  • Newham Council does not own any residential properties in the Thanet District Council area.
  • There are a total of 3,543 Polish nationals registered to vote in the London Borough of Newham.
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UKIP if you want to

23 Aug
Pretty in pink - Gerard Batten surrounded by his supporters in the European Parliament

Pretty in pink – Gerard Batten surrounded by his supporters in the European Parliament

Is this the end of the political road for Forest Gate’s Gerard Batten?

Wee Gerry has been an MEP since 2004 and is the only UKIP member for London. But the recent re-selection process has seen him relegated to second place on the candidates shortlist for next year’s european elections. UKIP has never had 2 MEPs in London, so second place is as good as nowhere. The final order of the list is up to a vote of the assorted fruitcakes, loonies and euro-obsessives that make up UKIP’s membership, but the recommended order is a big slap in the face for someone who runner-up in party’s leadership election just four years ago.

The London UKIP shortlist in full:

  • Paul Oakley
  • 
Gerard Batten
  • Andrew McNeilis
  • Anthony Brown
  • Elizabeth Jones
  • Lawrence Webb
  • Alastair McFarlane
  • Peter Whittle

However, losing is nothing new for Gerry Batten. He has a long history of electoral failure and is clearly immune from embarrassment. In 2008 he was UKIP’s London mayoral candidate. He finished a dismal 7th, securing just 0.93% of the vote. Even Alan Craig of the Christianist Peoples Alliance did better!

Newham voters with very long memories may also remember him from the 2002 local elections. He stood in Forest Gate North, coming bottom of the poll with a paltry 233 votes.

That, though, was a big improvement on his previous showing. In 1993 Batten contested the Park ward by-election on behalf of the Anti-Federalist League. He collected all of 75 votes.

Defeat in 2014 will just be a return to normality for Gerry.

Image

Zero hours

21 Aug

Zero hours

Unite has published a graphic showing its ‘Zero Hours Hall of Shame.’

The original was notably lacking one high profile zero hours employer, so I’ve done them a small favour and added the logo, along with the number of employees on zero hours contracts.

You’re welcome, Unite.

How much does ‘free’ really cost?

20 Aug
The headline act at Under The Stars - every night

The headline act at Under The Stars – every night

The Newham Recorder dutifully reports that a total “around 35,000 people” attended the four nights of live music Under The Stars over the past weekend.

This was the 14th outing for Newham Council’s “musical extravaganza,” which aims “to entertain residents and visitors alike.”

Despite proclaiming that this year was “the best one ever,” the mayor was in strangely defensive mood:

Some people have asked why we continue to spend money on events like this. I say it’s important to keep investing in the things residents tell us they like and make a difference to their lives.

This year 35,000 people have told us they like it. That’s why we will continue to bring the whole of Newham together. And best of all, it’s free.

Well, let’s take a moment to unpick that.

First of all, 35,000 people have told you nothing of the kind. You offered them four nights of entertainment with no tickets or admission fees and, on a warm summer weekend, they took you up on it.

As for bringing ‘the whole of Newham together,’ the total population of the borough is somewhere north of 300,000. Allowing for a number of visitors from Tower Hamlets, Redbridge, Waltham Forest and elsewhere among the crowd, barely 10% of Newham residents attended these events. While that’s a decent turnout, it’s a very long way from being ‘the whole of Newham’.

And finally no, Sir Robin, these events are not free.

There may be no tickets and no admission charge, but the cost of putting them on is met by someone. In fact it’s us, the people of Newham, through our council tax. The claim, which is repeated ad nauseam by the council and parroted by the Recorder, that events are ‘free’ makes it sound like they are provided by the mayor out of his own pocket, or funded by happy thoughts and pixie dust.

What other things that “make a difference” to the lives of Newham people could the money spent on Under The Stars have bought? A new primary school? Weekly rather than fortnightly recycling collections? More home help for vulnerable old people? Who knows.

That is the real cost of the Mayor’s ‘free’ entertainments – the things we don’t get because the money’s being spent on bread and circuses.

Sir Robin is the elected mayor and perfectly entitled to pursue his policy priorities – but he isn’t entitled to pretend they come without real costs to residents or at the expense of alternatives.

Reasons to be cheerful

19 Aug

woodgrangemarket

I spend too much time on this blog focussing on the negative and sometimes forget to talk about what’s great about living in Newham, and Forest Gate in particular. So here’s a quick list of 10 things that make me very happy to be here:

  • Wanstead Flats
  • Woodgrange Market
  • Independent coffee shops – CoffeE7 and Kaffeine
  • Number 8 Forest Gate
  • The Siam Café
  • Two great local websites – Woodgrange Web and E7 Now and Then
  • Having the Olympics (and Paralympics) on my doorstep
  • Great transport connections from Stratford
  • A community that was resilient long before the mayor appropriated the word

and…

  • The prospect of a great new pub, the Forest Tavern, opening next week

That’s just off the top of my head. If there’s anything I’ve missed let me know in comments.

Yet another thing George Galloway doesn’t do

14 Aug

Galloway and his one remaining supporter

…tolerate dissent.

Five councillors from Galloway’s Respect party have suggested that if he wants to run for London mayor he should resign as MP for Bradford West.

As the Guardian reports, Galloway’s instant response to this quite reasonable suggestion was to suspend two councillors for disloyalty and accuse all five of “conspiring to seize executive power”.

And there is further evidence that Galloway isn’t doing the job the people of Bradford elected him to do:

[Cllr Ishtiaq Ahmed] claimed Galloway spent too little time in the city. “People are always asking me: where’s George? This weekend I had more than 20 calls from constituents asking me why George is talking about London and not Bradford. As councillors we have only had one strategic meeting with him in the past year… I’m always reading on his Twitter feed about his appearances in Westminster, his Edinburgh Fringe show, his tour in Scotland – it sometimes feels as though he goes everywhere but Bradford.”

The five Respect councillors are now considering quitting the party to work as independents. One admitted:

Respect for me was just a vehicle to get elected

Words that could almost have come out of George Galloway’s own mouth!

So a word of advice to anyone thinking of voting for a Respect candidate in next year’s elections here in Newham: don’t. They are either posturing buffoons or unscrupulous careerists.

A social housing crisis in Newham?

12 Aug

According to an FOI reply delivered on 31 July the number of people waiting for a council house in Newham massively exceeds the total number of properties available. There are 17,535 social housing properties in Newham; and 24,544 households currently on the waiting list.

As the council itself admits the average waiting time for a 2-bedroom house is 13 years. Even for a bedsit the shortest waiting time is over 7 years.

Demand for social housing is extremely high in Newham and there are currently thousands of households on our housing register. The majority of people who apply will never be housed. [emphasis added]

Applicants at the back of the queue are likely to be permanently resident in the City of London cemetery long before Newham finds them a home.

So you would think that a major priority for the council would be building as many new homes for social rent as possible. But, as another FOI response (see page 23 of the linked Word document) makes very clear, that isn’t happening:

How many social homes for rent have been built in your local authority area since May 6th 2010? 6

How many social homes for rent to be built in future have, at this point in time, both planning permission and financing in place? None

Not that Newham isn’t building new homes. A council owned 500-home development on Stratford’s Leather Gardens estate, which will consist of a mixture of one and two bedroom flats, has been given the go-ahead. These will be offered to Newham residents as “affordable rented homes.”

If the scheme is successful Newham will create a local authority company tasked with acquiring or building more than 2,000 homes for “affordable rent” over the next decade.

Note that these homes will be for affordable rent, not for social rent. And they won’t be let directly by the council to households on the waiting list, but by an arms-length company operating as a private landlord.

There is a desperate need for social housing in Newham, but the council has decided instead to become “a player in the private rented sector” (to quote Councillor Andrew Baikie).

That is not a priority I would have normally associated with a Labour council.