Archive for the ‘Personal Politics’ Category

Vicar 1 – Government 0

July 13, 2007

Rev David Garlick, Vicar of the local St Mary’s Church scored a massive point against the over-regulation that the most disfunctional elements of the British Government just can’t stop imposing on us all.

In a stunt performance of dizzy height the Vicar led the congregation and blessed the no-smoking sign that sticks as an eyesore on the door of the 18th century’s church, next to the medieval tower. Well done!!

This is not the first time that I see local Vicars displaying excellent judgement. I will never forget when a couple of years ago at an electoral husting another local Vicar, that of St Swithun, interrupted the speech of one of the candidates at the uttering of the word “citizens”. The Vicar quickly corrected it with “subjects” reminding all present that in our democracy some have more rights than others.

__________

Update: I just bumped into the Vicar queuing at the supermarket. BBC Radio London contacted him to interview him on Monday morning.

Advertisements

Govenment against new school

July 10, 2007

This is quite surreal. It’s from tomorrow’s Mayor and Cabinet papers and it shows that the Government opposes a new school in Lewisham because it would be a “community” school.

The Secretary of State was mindful of the fact that Lewisham originally aimed to open the new school in 2009, and that the timetable had already slipped to 2010. He was also conscious of the fact that any further delay could result in additional costs for the authority. Further, the Secretary of State was conscious that further delay could have knock-on effects for the recovery of Crofton School, and was aware of the desirability of not losing momentum in that school’s recovery.

However, he was also mindful of the fact that the authority’s BSF plans have yet to be approved by the Department. Given the time-lag between the last version officials saw, and the new plan recently submitted to PfS, a full reassessment of the plan will be required, and the consequential timescale may not be extended by the Secretary of State’s decision. In addition, the Secretary of State was conscious not to fetter future discussions on the authority’s plan.

In summary, taking all the above factors into account, the Secretary of State felt that the nature of the this school as part of a hard federation would make some valuable contributions to education in Lewisham, and was content with the level of local consultation on the plans. However, the Government has made clear that it wants all new schools to open as self-governing schools, preferably working with an outside provider acting as a charitable Trust as defined under the Education and Inspections Act 2006. A local authority would therefore need to demonstrate clear reasons why a community school was better suited to their need and, in this case, the Secretary of State considered that there were insufficient arguments for the school being a community school, rather than a self-governing one.

Had the proposal been for the establishment of a new foundation school as part of this hard federation, the case for approval on diversity grounds may have been stronger, and we would encourage Lewisham to consider this option.

If you wish to discuss this letter further, please do not hesitate to contact me. Yours sincerely

David Shand
School Organisation Unit 4
School Admissions, Organisation, and Governance Division

Now that’s what I call arm-twisting.

Next time you hear anybody from central government speaking of communities or independence of local government you know what you’re listening to.

______

Update: click here to read about what happened at the meeting.

Meanwhile in Lewisham…

June 19, 2007

…with the PFI pirates mooring on the Ravensbourne at Ladywell and the consultants of Sir Bullock demanding their tithing from all of the five directorates’ budgets, many turn republican in their hearts.

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

June 13, 2007

I just received this email:


Dear Member:

This is to notify you that we have removed or disabled access to the following material as a result of a third-party notification by The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Limited claiming that this material is infringing:

Olympicman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFyop8OnUYE

Please Note: Repeat incidents of copyright infringement will result in the deletion of your account and all videos uploaded to that account. In order to avoid future strikes against your account, please delete any videos to which you do not own the rights, and refrain from uploading additional videos that infringe on the copyrights of others. For more information about YouTube’s copyright policy, please read the Copyright Tips guide.

If you elect to send us a counter notice, please go to our Help Center to access the instructions.

Please note that under Section 512(f) of the Copyright Act, any person who knowingly materially misrepresents that material or activity was removed or disabled by mistake or misidentification may be subject to liability.

Sincerely,

YouTube, Inc.

And so, Lord Coe, where’s your fair play and sense of humour? Don’t you think that we all own a piece of the Olympics? Sure we do! You’ve got all our money!

Update: I clicked on the link and the video is still there, and it had over 600 views, that’s great.

Update #2: They finally took it off.

Olympic petition and widget

June 7, 2007

Last night I designed this new widget inspired by the Olympic logo for London 2012, it serves the purpose to keep the attention high on the fabulous spiralling budget that is coming out of our pockets, all the more true if you live in London with the Olympic Council Tax increase.

But it’s not just taxpayers footing the bill. There’s thousands of grassroots organisations keeping up arts and sport for the various communities across the country and much of their public funding comes from the lottery fund. The lottery fund has already been raided to cover the first big holes in the Olympic budget and we can surely expect more of the same.

Personally I think that in principle the Olympic games are not a bad thing but as all other things that become politically and economically interesting it is all run by the usual bunch of passengers of the gravy train and it is much more a big opportunity to make money go around (them) rather than being about sport.

Only that those money are our money. Britain has become almost a tax heaven for those that have plenty and look at the coincidence, the Minister promoting the Olympic games in London was Tessa Jowell MP, whose husband is a lawyer specialised in tax avoidance that counts among his clients that wonderful example of modern capitalism Silvio Berlusconi.

There’s an online petition asking for the lottery fund not to be raided to fund the gravy for the Olympic, click on the widget to be directed to the page. If you want to do even better, copy the widget and place it on your blog.

Feeling sick

June 6, 2007

I haven’t written anything on this blog for a few days. You may wonder why. Well, it’s because I was at a committee meeting at Lewisham Council last week and it truly made me sick.

I feel better now, but it took me a few days to process the meeting.

Suffice to say that we were told that now that we have an Executive Mayor we won’t have anymore of those faceless unaccountable characters sitting in shady committee rooms easing up the dodgy deeds of overpaid incompetents. Well it turns out that we still have at least one or two of those characters. And you know, they make me feel so sick that I have to stop writing now. I’ll tell you more about it when I feel better, I have to go out for a walk.

The wrong post office

May 26, 2007

“The packet is opened here, you should stick a piece of tape” said the young woman behind the post office counter.
“Yes please, can you stick a bit of tape there?” I replied.
“You’ll have to buy it if you want to do that.”

She insisted that she didn’t have any tape to use but that rolls were on sale, she added that even if she needed a piece of tape she would have had to buy one roll.
And so I had to give in and buy a roll of tape despite needing only about two inches of it.
At first she came with a gigantic roll for £1.49, I asked if she didn’t have anything less, at that point she told me that yes, there were also smaller rolls, but that they were not adequate for the job. I insisted to see a small roll. She came back with a perfectly adequate roll for sale at 69p.
After my dealings at the counter I asked to see the manager.
I told him that all through my life I had been able to have pieces of tape applied to letters and packets without having to buy rolls.
“This is not a government office, this is a private business” he said shaking his head.
“It is a matter of courtesy to have some tape at hand to help clients” I said.
“It’s a private business” he repeated.

This happened to me today at the post office in Catford but it could have been anywhere. The world is full of mean people but this won’t stop me from trying to be nice.
Still, I won’t be going back there in a hurry.

Freedom of Information in action

May 23, 2007

 

LONDON BOROUGH OF LEWISHAM

COUNCIL MEETING – 23 MAY 2007

Question asked by: Mr M Calò

Question

The Consultation on Loampit Vale collected 28 online responses to the questionnaire that were not included in the report to the Mayor.
Had those answers been included then the outcome of the consultation would have changed substantially.

This malpractice did not came to light because of this administration’s watch on the works of Lewisham Council and its hired consultants, but because I asked for a copy of the consultation questionnaires under the Freedom of Information Act discovered that the content differed from what was reported to the Mayor and the public.

Is the Mayor disturbed by all this?

Reply

The proper use of the Freedom of Information Act by members of the public assists the running of the Local Authority. It is regrettable that all the responses to the consultation were not included in the original report. I am grateful that this oversight has come to light and I am now informed that when the 28 responses referred to above are included the results of the consultation are 50% in favour, 47% against with 3% unanswered as compared with the earlier report showing 53% in favour, 43% against and 4% unanswered. Am I disturbed by the proper use of the Freedom of Information Act – no.

I could have used my right for a supplementary question to point out that quite a number of those that answered yes contradicted themselves in the comment box so those answer should be considered invalid, instead I thanked him for acknowledging my positive contribution and encouraged him to take on board my other well-meaning advises.

He seemed to have understood what I said in spite of the fact that the microphone from the public gallery sounds like this.

Joanspotting (and Bridget too)

May 21, 2007

..those that voted in the closure motion, and then skulked off so their names didn’t appear in the main list…

There is Joan!

May 18, 2007

A couple of months ago I was wondering why that old campaigner of Joan Ruddock MP, representing Lewisham Deptford at Westminster wasn’t among the signatories of the Early Day Motion in defense of the Freedom of Information Act.

I emailed her to urge her to join but as I am not technically in her constituency (the border is just down the road, my MP is Bridget Prentice and she can’t sign because she’s in government and anyway she would never dare stepping out of line, she knows what’s good for her) the only answer I got was the following message from her secretary:

” Thank you for your email. Unfortunately there is strict Parliamentary protocol which states that MPs can only deal with enquiries from their own constituents.

I am sorry we cannot be of more help.”

But I have instead just discovered that Joan Ruddock MP did take an interest in the FoIA, in fact she actively urged Labour MPs to vote for a shameful bill exempting themselves from the effect of the FoIA.

Here’s from the email to the Labour group at Parliament urging them to show support for this disgraceful piece of legislation (click here for the full email):

If you support the principle of keeping MP’s casework confidential it would be extremely helpful if you could let us know your availability on the 18th May, ideally from 9.30 – 14.30, but certainly from 10.30-14.00. We need at least 100 MPs from all parties to be present in the event of a closure motion.
We look forward to hearing from you.


Regards,

Tony Lloyd, Angela Eagle, Kevan Jones, Ann Cryer, Joan Ruddock, Martin Salter and Don Touhig.

Today this shameful bill passed through parliament and reached the House of Lords.

It is important to remember that there is already in place a data protection Act to protect the privacy of constituents dealing with their MPs.

Well done Joan for putting yourself above mortals.

Beware of the community man!

May 15, 2007

If if looks too good to be true…

Today’s news is that the Government wants to sell community assets like swimming pools and libraries to “the community” for the nominal price of £1.

A report by our local Chief Executive of Lewisham Council, Barry Quirk, delivered to the Cabinet Minister for Communities (Saint) Ruth Kelly MP argues that “handing public assets to communities leads to better services”.

Is he really saying that just about anybody can do his job better than himself? Such an honest approach would be indeed refreshing but I don’t think that that’s really his point.

I’m rather suspicious that what this is leading up to is a huge dismissal of public services, the enrolment of well-wishing volunteers as “partners” that are given the “community” badge so that they can run the services previously run by the Council on the cheap and, on occasion, can be made to fail if supporting them is not anymore convenient without being held responsible.

Last year at Lewisham Town Hall I attended an event entitled “Consultation Day”. A consultant was being paid to run a one day workshop about well…consultations.

Interestingly to start his one day event (after paying hugely professional lip service to the Mayor, the Government and whoever gives him the bacon to bring home) he called the attention of this audience made of politicians and Council officers from various London Borough and “partners” (like me) to the basic activity of Local Government: budget cuts.

“Who can tell me what’s the Gershon formula?” he asked. A forest of arms raised up and he chose a dandy gentleman in the first row that explained that this chap Gershon had identified the way forward for local councils in a 2.5% cuts in the revenue budget year after year for the reason that there are savings on inefficiencies to be made.

So, like everybody else, year after year Lewisham Council comes out with its 2.5% cut in its budget and there goes one service or two and a few people lose their job. Much of it doesn’t really stand up as ‘efficiency saving’ but we’re always told that that’s what they are.

Now that all the possible efficiency savings have been made (but wait for the next round) and all that could be outsourced to the private sector has been outsourced, Councils are left with the problem of trying to outsource even what nobody wants. Mainly these are services that are quite expensive to run and don’t make enough money to sustain themselves. So here’s the proposal to ‘give’ libraries and swimming pools to “the community”.

I’m left wondering what does this word means? Isn’t the Council a cornerstone of the community?

We elect people to represent us and they hire professionals to run the services. What’s so wrong with it?

Why is it that they don’t want to run services anymore? If your local services are handed out to people that can’t run them and the Council is not anymore responsible for those services then we all lose and there’s nobody left to hold to account.

Barry Quirk knows this as he explained to the people at IDeA when asked to draw a parallel between basketball and local politics:

“As a five-on-five game it involves competition that is ‘up close and personal’. Local government involves larger teams, but it has the character of a contact sport – the public with the politicians, the politicians with the managers, the managers with the staff and staff with the public!”

It takes a lot of expertise and professionalism to run community services and well wishing community members may not have those qualities.

There are examples of successful not-for-profit enterprises delivering public services, but they are professional set-ups, take Greenwich Leisure for example, that started as a management buy-out of the leisure services of Greenwich Council, not a bunch of amateurs wanting to run their swimming pool.

Greenwich Leisure, as a not-for-profit company has to reinvest all surplus in the service and this gives it an edge in delivery of service when compared with for-profit companies that always look forward to creaming the profits.

If you have been a reader of this blog for a while you may remember my not-for-profit pfi petition. Well that’s pretty much the point.
I don’t know why when 2 years ago Lewisham Council had to hand out a pfi contract for Downham pool it didn’t use Greenwich Leisure but went instead for a for-profit company with a poor record in delivery of public service. Has Barry Quick changed his views since that contract?

Quirk was already Chief Executive when Lewisham Council decided to opt out of delivering sport and leisure and take on “an enabling role in seeking both public provision to the private sector, and public access to private facilities” and this new idea of giving service-loaded buildings away for one pound pretty much fits that idea too, only that it’s not private companies but “communities”.

Beware!!!

Update: read here a different perspective on the initiative that Andrew Brown posted at almost exactly the same moment when I posted this.

Another swimming pool, another election

May 4, 2007

As stated below, I was very curious to see the result of the local elections in Plymouth after that Council closed the local swimming pool Seaton Pool without a plan for a new one.

The wait didn’t disappoint, in an uneventful election night Plymouth showed one of the biggest swings of the night with the Plymouth Labour Party losing control of the Council in favour of the Conservatives.

I don’t know how big the influence of the swimming pool issue was over that election but I know that people care enough about their swimming pools to use their vote to keep them.

Keep an eye on Seaton

May 2, 2007

Here and there around the land tomorrow is election day and at least in one place they are up to much the same that me and my fellow campaigners were up to last year here in Lewisham.

When I read about it at the London Pools Campaign site I just could not refrain from writing something about it. Read it here.

National Values

April 29, 2007

It’s Sunday afternoon and until 5 minutes ago I was in bed trying hard to have a restoring afternoon sleep. I forced myself to ignore airplanes, motorcycles, tv sets and a few other background noises but as I was about to fall to the other side, the ice cream van positioned itself outside my window and blasted its signature carillon-from-hell track.
This put an end to my attempt to sleep and 5 minutes later here I am, with a cup of coffee, in front of the computer, typing the small chain of thoughts that the ice-cream-man initiated.

It was about 5 years ago that I spoke with an ice-cream-van-woman, it happened at the Italian Consulate here in London.
Visiting the Italian consulate is for me an enriching experience, it puts me in a place full of fellow Italians and all that I can appreciate that bonds us together is that we are all there to renew our passports.
It’s just people, some are funky, some are plain, some are wealthy, some are poor, some are ghastly, some are great. There at the consulate all their being Italians resolves in being in the same queue. That’s all, there are no other signs of national character can be spotted as a clue to a common identity.

In every country the Government and the media speak of national values and define this abstraction with some splendid examples of what it means to be ____________ (write here your national group). There’s always a battle to remember where soldiers were massacred but did so in good spirit, there’s some inventor of times past used to claim that all those with the same passport share his intelligence and there’s always some explorer that fulfills the role of the ambassador of our superior culture across the globe.

That day at the Italian consulate I met this ubiquitous character, the ice-cream-van-lady. Ice-creams, as you probably know, are big in Italy and when I moved to London I was surprised to see how, with these noisy, smelly and awfully decorated vans, they are also a big hit in this country. So, when proposing national values, alongside explorers and generals, please, let’s have also the ice-cream-lady/man.

This particular ice-cream-lady was a frail old woman, she sat next to me in the waiting room of the Consulate and started chatting. As Italian queues are traditionally unhurried I spent the next couple of hours listening to her.
After a few minutes I realised that she had probably already started to lose the grip on her marble as she was confiding secrets that one would only tell to a very close person that you can blindly trust.
A first feel of it came when she asked if I had any stolen goods to sell. “My husband has a junk-shop and knows some people that are always interested in helping young men in need of cash (wink)” she dropped at start of conversation.
Then she told me all about her life and it was detailed and fascinating.

Of particular interest was her ice-cream-van period and to explain the proper context of this enterprise of hers she said that “I could not get the licence for the van but then I cut a deal with the police, so they let me have the van as long as I told them everything I saw during my round”.
Since then everytime I see (or hear) the ice-cream-van I think of her. And of her trans-national values.

Feel good factor

April 22, 2007

toilet page thumbThe campaign to assert the constitutional prerogative of the Area Forum to place items on the Executive Agenda of the London Borough of Lewisham has made it into the press.

On Wednesday the local newspaper the Mercury published on page 6 a perfectly worded summary of the issue accompanied by a large photo of me peeping out of our campaigning toilet seat together with fellow campaigners Mary and Ben.

But to give me even more joy the newspaper placed a teaser on the front page right under the title. And what a front page it is, the jolliest for years. Normally the headline would be about a terrible tragedy. This time it’s about a chap that did not get hurt at all in what could have been a terrible accident. Next there’s a report on a fancy dress competition for dogs. Above, my face is coming out of a toilet seat.

The people of Lewisham this week is a smiling lot. The fair weather of these days surely plays a decisive part in the good mood, but a jolly front page delivered to each household maybe does help. And I’m on it. And proud of it.

That’s what I call empowering communities!

April 16, 2007

I’m on a big fight these days. As usual the counterpart is Lewisham Council or better, a few of those at the top of it.

The issue this time is bigger than the pool, it’s a constitutional matter.

If you have been reading this blog or my campaigning blog you already know that about a month ago I attended my local Area Forum and proposed the residents intervened there to place an item in the Mayor and Cabinet Agenda as the Constitution of the London Borough of Lewisham allows Area Fora to do.

Unfortunately, although we did something that the Constitution allows, we must now fight for this right to be respected because as you’d expect those in charge of the Town Hall are not at all happy with it.
Now, I’m taking this seriously. This is a constitutional right and, it makes a lot of sense. Lewisham is one of the few Directly Elected Executive Mayor authorities in England and the way these Councils work is very simple. There’s the Mayor with all the power and the Council is more or less redundant. To make things even less democratic the Mayor only needs the vote of one third of the Council to approve the budget.

I’ve been to quite a lot of Mayor and Cabinet meetings and they always remind me of King Solomon. Great, we have a system that to call medieval is to pay it a compliment.

So, when you realize that the Constitution includes a small line of only two words (page 121) that makes it possible for the people of Lewisham to write items of the Mayor’s Agenda it all start to make sense.

To write items on the Mayor’s Agenda means in effect telling the Mayor what he should do.

Of course he can disagree, but to do so he must write down very clearly why he doesn’t want to do as you tell him to do. No more riddles, clear explanations. Because if those explanations don’t make sense or they’re untrue then you can challenge him with a Judicial Review and his opposition would take political advantage.

Can you imagine if people really start to use this opportunity.

All you have to do is prepare a document where you ask the Mayor to agree on an action (it’s for executive decisions), head for your Area Forum that meets once every year, propose a vote, make your case. If your neighbours think that you’re making sense the Mayor will find it in front of him/her and will have to think hard if to agree or disagree.

Ever thought of something that the Council should do but doesn’t? Go on, write it down and look for your Area Forum. Are you member of a group that needs support from the Council? Tell the Mayor to give it to you. The sky is the limit. No, it’s the budget but there’s a lot of proposals that could make it.

For what I know this feature of the Constitution has been there since we have this system and that was 2001. Have you ever heard of it? I haven’t.

We’ve been flooded of a constant string of initiatives about empowering communities but nobody ever told us that we can tell the Mayor what to do next. That’s what I call empowering communities!

And when a month ago I managed to place this item on the Mayor’s Agenda I felt empowered indeed.

Only that of course the real world is a bit different because although the item has been placed there, now that the agenda has been published it’s just not there anymore.

It’s been replaced by an oral update by the Council’s solicitor.

I am not surprised that they fight back with the solicitors but as they should have known, I don’t take it sitting still and on Friday I was already campaigning.

I started a petition that’s written on a toilet seat and with it I’m collecting signatures that I plan to deliver to the Mayor together with the toilet seat and the delivery is supposed to happen this coming Wednesday. That’ll teach him. It’s a metaphor for our rights flushed away and people seem to like it, lots of looks on the street and people stopping to listen. In fact I’m tempted to make this a longer campaign, it would also help inform people of this incredible right. Unless the Council’s magazine Lewisham Life decides to publish a feature to inform the residents of their rights.

Where’s Joan?

March 23, 2007

Two weeks ago I emailed Joan Ruddock MP urging her to sign this Early Day Motion (also here) in defense of the Freedom of Information Act and I am truly surprised by the fact that she hasn’t done so yet.

I imagined that a seasoned campaigner like her would be alarmed by this wicked piece of legislation and you’d find her up in arms against the forces of reaction at work in the palaces of power. I hope that it is just a case of this matter escaping her attention.

I have to say that Joan Ruddock isn’t technically my MP as I live in Bridget Prentice’s constituency but I wrote to her for two reasons:

– the boundary of her constituency is just the end of the road from where I live (the boundary is also due to move to include where I live by the next elections);

– my MP cannot sign the Early Day Motion because she is a minister in the department that proposes this legislation.

Speaking of my personal experience, me and my associates of the Save Ladywell Pool campaign have been using the FoIA extensively and to great benefit to the public interest. With this law we could have been denied access to important documents that should have been accessible to the public in the first place but are instead kept conveniently filed in some obscure corner.

If you are a constituent of Joan Ruddock (Lewisham Deptford), please email her ( hoyleel@parliament.uk ) and ask her to add her name to this EDM and support Freedom of Information.

Wherever you live, please check if your MP has signed this EDM and in case he/she hasn’t done so yet then please urge him/her to do so.

I found this massive rabbit in may hat

March 21, 2007

And as you’d do whenever you find a massive rabbit in your hat…I pulled it.

It’s funny how sometimes we store information somewhere, we forget all about it and then they pop out just at the right moment. That’s what happened to me yesterday as I was working, overtired from baby-care and a little light-bulb flashed over my head.

It was a straight chain of thoughts and it said to me “remember that tonight there’s the Area Forum and remember that the Constitution of the London Borough of Lewisham says that Area Forums can place items in the Agenda of the Mayor and Cabinet and there’s some stuff that could be well placed there”.

Yes, I knew that already because I had read the Constitution (not all, just bits) and because Lone Ranger had also once commented on some local blog considering how nobody ever took the opportunity.

So I sat on the computer and typed:

The Mayor is asked to agree that:

– the consultation on the Loampit Vale development carried out in October 2006 was inadequate and a new consultation should be undertaken;

– the Leisure Needs Assessment that underpinned the project for the new Leisure Centre has serious shortcomings and does not provide an adequate platform for the planning of the leisure facilities in the Borough;

– a new leisure needs assessment should be commissioned and that such assessment should consider a realistic forecast of increase in population, including the new developments at the Town Centre that are forecast by the change of UDP. It should also include those parts of the neighbouring London Borough of Greenwich falling into the catchment area as well as paying attention to the impact of the transport interchange;

– any detailed project for the new leisure centre be based on this new leisure needs assessment;

– a study of the impact of the re-location of the Leisure Centre from Ladywell to Loampit Vale should be carried out;

– a survey to assess the structural condition of the Ladywell Leisure Centre be conducted by an expert surveyor;

– the refurbishment of Ladywell Pool be costed and put to consultation as an option;

– the new leisure centre should not lose facilities compared to Ladywell Leisure Centre including a pool tank of equivalent or greater size than at Ladywell and the provision of an adequate deep end of the pool for the maintenance of scuba-diving training and the eventual re-introduction of competitive diving in the Borough;

I printed 60 copies and off with my bike just in time to speak with the Chair of the meeting and the officers about this initiative.

That was granted and the rest is history. Because I think that I made a bit of history yesterday. Oh yes, this is clearly a first. Sweet.

You can read some more here.

Swimming

March 19, 2007

Ladywell Pool, Mayor Bullock says it's old and crumbling down and needs demolishingIt’s now a few days since I spoke at Mayor and Cabinet meeting and I’m still processing what’s happened.

I spoke for only about two minutes as I shared my allocated 5 minutes slot with fellow campaigner Mary. I spoke on the assessment of needs. Mary tackled the appalling consultation issue.

I was slightly nervous about the risk of forgetting important parts but I think that I managed to touch on the all of the main arguments keeping it dry and factual. Only that when closing my presentation one comment that was not about background documents or numerical considerations slipped out of my mouth. I called the planned centre “unambitious”. Of course the Cabinet Member in charge of Sport skipped on everything factual that I had said and decided to pick on my comment on their ambition and spoke at length about their great ambitions. I might have believed her if I hadn’t had detailed knowledge of what she was speaking about.

“You know that I don’t have a right to give you a reply in here” I thought throughout as the she freely told me that “the new centre will have 250 spectator seats” (the old one has 514 seats), it will have a cafe (like the old one), a creche (like the old one), a …” ah well you got the picture, she kept on reading the list of the features of this new sport centre and didn’t manage to mention one thing that there isn’t already at Ladywell and that’s because there isn’t one, unlike the opposite.

What she decided to leave unchallenged is for example that the new centre will not have windows on the swimming pool room, that it will have only 1.9 m at the deep end instead of 3.8 m of the old one (so no diving boards ever again), that it will effectively be 25% smaller than the current one (since Archimedes’ times pools are measured by the volume of water they contain) and that this pool will be squeezed into a shady courtyard surrounded by 4 housing blocks with a total of 410 flats. She also forgot to say that next door, part of the same complex there’s another block with 344 flats, the other side of the road there’s another with 600 and the industrial area in front has been declared residential so that there will be a gigantic housing development there too and that 2 minutes away from there another developer is about to build 500 more flats. All this will bring many thousands of new residents to live at such close distance from this centre that their usage will mean extreme overcrowding and probably a denial of access to many of the current users that just won’t find space there.

I had suggested that all these developments should have been factored into the assessment of the need of the area and that it is astonishing that they have been overlooked but she decided not to pick on that.

Never mind, although she skipped on it I managed to say it, it’s now in the minute of the meeting, I’m now writing it here and I will of course bring the matter forward in any way possible.

But I have a feel that what she would have really liked to tell me was something else altogether and it was about their financial acumen. In fact, from a financial point of view this plan is cunning. They sell a plot of land for residential development and they force a swimming pool in the courtyard where nothing would have been built anyway. Because there’s a swimming pool the price of flats on that and surrounding developments increase and they can sell the land for more. Then when that is built they can close the old pool and they sell that land too. Now, that’s clever.

Can it be that blinded by this very clever financial plan they can’t see that the plan for the sport centre is ugly and insufficient and altogether a damage to the community? And that it is so easily demonstrable that a case for a legal challenge on their decision is a piece of cake?

I had a swim at Ladywell pool at lunchtime yesterday and the sunlight was making the pool glorious. There were lots of noisy kids that I managed to avoid even swimming underneath them at times thanks to the generous deep end . The light, the water, the space, I loved it. I thought about how would it be if it didn’t have windows and the pool was as shallow as the bog-standard British pool where everytime you dive you risk to scratch your nose on the bottom.

But of course I am unaffected by their ambition.

I haven’t mentioned the Mayor. Well, he was there and Mary even managed to get a reaction from him. I heard him saying “I’m not interested in what you say”. I hope that he later reconsidered as what she was saying was that there is very solid ground to say that the consultation they run on this scheme could be considered unlawful and that this could put all this development scheme at risk of substantial delay at the very least.

P.S.: I should bite my tongue and not comment on the Mayor’s insistence on calling Ladywell Pool decrepit or other comments alike. I thought that on this matter pictures speak louder than words. Judge for yourself.

20/03 Update: following press coverage of the meeting and a rather stiff and silly Council’s press release on the issue I posted a comment on http://www.saveladywellpool.com/.

Edit and resubmit yourself if you want to!

March 13, 2007

The Government rejected my petition and told me to edit and resubmit!

On 23rd February I submitted this petition to the E-petition site of the Govenment:

‘We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to introduce legislation restricting access to PFI contracts for the outsourcing of services statutorily or traditionally delivered by the public sector to not for profit organisations only.’

As additional information to fit within the allowed 1000 characters I wrote:

The public sector is by nature a not for profit organization and when outsourcing parts of its activity it should do so using other not for profit organizations.

Many public facilities and services are now outsourced to companies whose core interest and expertise is profit – not provision of public services.

The reason for involving the private sector in public provision is that the private sector is more dynamic and provides better expertise in the different fields of services.

With this proposal this character of the private sector would be enhanced as, free from the need to tighten up the belt to produce profits, the management of not for profit companies can work for better purposes than the interest of the shareholders and a market where management expertise and innovation in the fields of the services that are the subject of these contracts could finally emerge.

It has now been rejected!

The motivation?

Being identical to another already existing petition.

According to the No 10 Team my petition is identical to this one:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Stop any more PFI program, and work to cancel all current PFI program.

That provide as additional information:

The goverment should stop creating any more PFI program, and stop lining the pockets of private companies from the public purse.

Are these two identical?

I’ll write some more about the subject matter of my petition during the next few days.

For now I only wanted to report on this disappointing experience. I now need to concentrate on other things and that include working, baby-care and preparing for tomorrow Mayor and Cabinet meeting so I don’t have the time to write an essay on it but will do before long.

I just say that although the Government very kindly suggests me to edit and resubmit I think that I’ll decline and do it myself without letting them telling me what I am allowed to say and what I am not allowed to. Thank you very much.

Speaking at Mayor and Cabinet

March 13, 2007

I just received this email from Lewisham Council:

Dear Mr Calò

I have spoken to the Mayor regarding your request and I am pleased to say he has agreed to allocate you 5 minutes to speak on the Loampit Vale item.

Regards

Wow! Thanks Steve.

This email refers to this Mayor and Cabinet meeting that will take place tomorrow Wednesday 14th March at 6 pm at Catford Town Hall.
I now have to make sure that in those 5 minutes I manage to explain clearly enough what’s wrong with all this.