Posts Tagged ‘budgets’

Lewisham Leisure mega-contract needs fresh re-thinking

May 5, 2010

Two contracts with leisure operators to run almost all the leisure centres of the borough are to expire soon and Lewisham Council is now advertising a major long term contract to run them all on a long term basis.

The London Borough of Lewisham is seeking a partner to enter into a contract to manage, operate and maintain a number of existing leisure facilities (“the existing facilities”) together with 2 possible new facilities (“the proposed facilities”). The existing facilities comprise of the following leisure facilities : The BridgeLeisure Centre and Indoor Bowls Hall (Kangley Bridge Road, Lower Sydenham, London SE26 5AQ, UNITED KINGDOM); Ladywell Leisure Centre (261 Lewisham High Street, London SE13 6NJ, UNITED KINGDOM); Wavelengths Leisure Centre (Giffin Street, Deptford, London SE8 4RJ, UNITED KINGDOM). The proposed facilities are Forest Hill Pools (Dartmouth Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 3HZ, UNITED KINGDOM) designed to replace the formerForest Hill Pools on the same site, and a new leisure facility development at Loampit Vale designed to replace the existing Ladywell Leisure Centre.

The Council proposes to award a 10-15 year contract in relation to managing, operating and maintaining the Existing Facilities with options (exercisable by the Council during this term) to require the partner to manage, operate and maintain the Proposed Facilities (such additional requirements to be performed within the 10-15 year term). It is estimated that the services in respect of the Proposed Facilities (if the option is exercised) will commence in the second year of the 10-15 year term.

Having watched closely how the leisure centres work in Lewisham I can surely say that there is a need of a serious re-thinking before committing to something like this.

The way this works now is a complete muddle, with results like the legionella bacteria crisis, when following discovery of the bacteria in the showers at Ladywell these were shut down by the contractor following an order from the Council (but allegedly without the knowledge of the Cabinet Member for Community). The result of this decision was that people couldn’t shower before swimming and therefore the water of the pool was becoming infested with other equally harmful bacteria.

The root cause was of course neglect, and at the root of that lack of funding for repair and maintenance.

This is a unique opportunity to re-organize these services so that they are maintained to the level they should be. It is also an opportunity to involve the local sport talents and clubs and develop a long term plan of sport development for the borough to make use the current local infrastructure to its full potential.

The first question to ask ourselves is how can we use these facilities at their best, and then look for the best way to run the centres to serve that plan.

Maybe Lewisham can set up its own social enterprise, 4 centres are already an economy of scale, that’s how Greenich Leisure started, they now run 70 leisure centres. Why provide profits for shareholders when we could be reinvesting in our community assets?

Because as the tender tells us there are money to reinvest, almost £2m per year:

Historic third party income levels in operating the existing facilities has been in the region of 1 940 000 GBP per annum (excluding VAT and the Council’s management fee). It is projected that income may not meet expenditure to manage, operate and maintain the facilities, thus, the contract awarded may involve a level of management fee payable by the Council. Further financial details will be provided in the tender pack and other procurement documents.

It can also be the way to keep services going and dodge those cuts that no doubt will soon hit our budgets.

Loampit Vale rescued by £20.5m of Goverment’s cash

March 5, 2010

The Mercury reports an incredible turn of events for Lewisham Town Centre, the Housing Minister John Healey has in fact announced that the Government will give £20.5m to Barratt Homes to allow the development at Loampit Vale to proceed.

The Housing Minister justified the cash to Barratts with the motivation that:

We have used the power of public investment to ensure that even in the downturn we continue to build the homes the country needs.
But I want to make the best of every taxpayer’s pound, which is why I am requiring those benefiting from this extra cash to offer local job and apprenticeship opportunities.

I really thought that there already were incentives for local jobs and apprenticeships. £20.5m sounds a bit dear for just one development.

Could it be that the Housing Minister is helping the Labour administration of Lewisham to save the face before an election with quite a bit of our money?

The negotiation for this development was a masterpiece in incompetence, this deal was signed off during recession but using a financial model developed during the housing bubble.
Even a donkey would have known that it couldn’t work.
Not Mayor Bullock though, he signed off the transfer of the most valuable plot of public land in the Borough to a developer on the back of an unrealistic deal, and if after this mess the Government would not have intervened with an unprecedented £20.5m handout to the land developer we would have remained with that hole in the ground in front of Lewisham Station for years to come.

By the way, when Loampit Vale was approved I made the prediction that Barratt would have come back with new requests in order to proceed, on that count I was right. I thought that they would have asked for more storeys to be added or a reduction in social housing. I’d have never thought that it would have been an all out handout of tens of millions in cash.

Words fail me

February 22, 2010

Lewisham Council in South London, whose chief executive Barry Quirk earns £188,000-a-year, spent £10,635 for six senior managers to visit £200-a-night Rowhill Grange Hotel & Utopia Spa in Kent to discuss ‘strategic leadership, management delivery and ongoing service improvements’.

Read more

Labour’s got to go! Labour’s got to go! Labour’s got to go!
They really think they own the Town Hall and all its content.

Playtower gets £400k to stop deterioration

February 12, 2010

The Budget Report has been approved by the Mayor, I’m reading it and will eventually comment as I digest it.

This paragraph caught my attention immediately though:

5.20 The Council owns two properties, Ladywell Playtower and Beckenham Place Park Mansion House and stable block, that appear on the English Heritage ‘at risk’ register. Neither of the these buildings have a viable Council-related use and their listing and physical condition make them difficult development propositions. Officers have met with English Heritage to discuss Beckenham Place Park and will seek to bid for funding to undertake work to avoid any further deterioration. Officers will open similar discussions on Ladywell Playtower, but given the current condition of both properties, an allocation of £0.4m is proposed to undertake work to avoid further structural deterioration of the buildings.

These are £400k in addition to the £419k (and running) for 24hr security at the building.

When last November I received the  reply to my written question at Council and discovered that £419k had been spent on security I used my right to a verbal supplementary to ask the Deputy Mayor how that cost compared to what would have been spent to keep the building in use, allocating it to a suitable tenant, when a few years back the Ladywell Gymnastics Club relocated to Bellingham.

The question was dodged altogether with one of those warped reasoning that seasoned politicians master so well and involves answering another question that was not what was asked. In this case the Deputy Mayor decided to non-answer my question by saying that since the building was closed security had to be provided. Right answer to the wrong question or wrong answer to the right question? I leave that to you.

But, in the meantime what we have is a beautiful building that’s been kept as an eyesore for years and allowed to deteriorate. The Council has been dragging its heels, and at huge cost. There is a lesson here. Don’t leave buildings empty!

Combating recession or fighting elections?

February 6, 2010

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it the case that the reason given for Labour’s decision to spend £200k on a temporary landscaping doesn’t make any sense?

Let me explain. If you read the Mayor and Cabinet item about this expenditure here’s how it’s motivated:

2.1.6 An allocation of £200k for temporary landscaping in Lewisham Town Centre to ensure that residents continue to visit the town and that demand for services and retail is maintained during the forthcoming programme of redevelopment.

There are two reasons why this doesn’t make any sense.

Reason one: if said programme of redevelopment was actually happening, the whole of the roundabout area would be dug up mercilessly for years and that little patch would be the first one on the list as that is where the centre piece of the new road layout to replace the roundabout would pass by. Only after that’s sorted the rest of the development can take place. In the light of this consideration this measure would not do anything to improve the area “during the forthcoming programme of redevelopment”.

Reason two: residents will continue to visit the Town centre regardless to what happens to that parade because they live in Lewisham and the centre is conveniently located. Lewisham Centre is not a shopping destination for people that don’t live in the borough, a point recently made by the shopping centre manager to the South London Press when interviewed about the soon to open Ann Summers outlet at Lewisham shopping centre:

“We haven’t really been too badly affected by the recent snow either, because we’re a local shopping centre and only a small number of our customers get here by car.”


In the same article we are also told that business at Lewisham Centre is going well:

a 17 per cent increase in customer spending compared with the same month last year, and a 13 per cent increase in customer footfall.


Which raises the question as to why Lewisham Council feels the urge to spend £200k to make that corner look attractive in order to sustain business at the town centre. It is hardly the case that Lewisham Council has £200k to spare.
And most oddly this budget has been found in the “Economic Recession Fund” budget, and it’s the greatest item of this list too, the whole of this package of measures sums up to £580k, the second biggest item is:

An allocation of £152k for improvements to high streets and shopping areas, which includes a grant of £52k from Communities and Local Government;

So, whilst £152k goes to combat the effect of the recession across all high streets and shopping areas of Lewisham (and £52k doesn’t even come from Lewisham Council budget), a substantially bigger sum will be spent on this item alone, the landscaping of a demolition site. To combat recession! Doh!

And what about the demolition money? We’re told that it’s the London Development Agency (LDA) that is carrying out these works, but what they forgot to tell us is that it’s Lewisham that’s paying, in fact the LDA has been holding for years about £9m that it received from Lewisham Council for works to regenerate Lewisham Centre, those money were originally part of the £15.9m Single Regeneration Budget allocated to Lewisham by the Government to redevelop the town centre and that in large part are still there unspent.
The LDA never felt any urge to demolish buildings unless redevelopment works are imminent (as the plan for an expensive “temporary” landscaping shows this is not the case here) so they’re obviously doing this at Lewisham Council’s request.

Could it be that the reason this has been decided is because elections are coming and works on site would induce people to believe that finally there is progress on the development? What a coincidence that this is happening just as an election looms.
Are these money being taken away from more useful measures to combat the recession in order to cover up a massive failure of Labour Lewisham that would no doubt damage Labour at the ballot?

Conservatives Shadow Housing Minister proposes to train Councils like dogs

January 15, 2010

Yesterday’s Times published this eye opener on Tories policies on localism and planning:

The Shadow Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, said: “Whoever wins the election, funding will be under severe strain, with the need to cut the deficit. But we’re proposing a new approach to housing finance in urban areas where, for every new home built and occupied, we will give the local council £1 for every £1 they earn in council tax. For affordable homes, this will be £1.25 for every £1.”

This money would not be extra funding, but would be taken from existing funds available to councils through government grants. “It’s a more intelligent way to change human behaviour. People will be in favour of new homes being built if it means more money for the community,” Shapps added.

He calls his proposal an “intelligent way to change human behaviour”. Peculiar, I thought this was the way they train dogs.

Central Government Grants amount to about three quarters of a Council’s budget, it pays for all essential services and to say that part of it will be lost unless people agree to large housing developments is a gross display of contempt for local democracy.
I believe that people are entitled to the services they pay taxes for, whether they agree with Mr Shapps plans for their neighbourhoods or not, and unless we reform the tax system for every new pound of Council Tax raised by Local Authorities in Britain the Government should still give about three more according to the needs for services in each local authority, not according to how many new houses they built recently.

Imagine the consequences of this policy. Towns where the economy doesn’t thrive and investment lacks would be condemned to increasingly smaller budgets and poorer services, in other places cash strapped Councils would allow unsuitable developments to happen only to get the extra cash needed to cover the gaps that the Tories plan to produce in Councils all over Britain to cover the cost of this incentive system.

According to this proposal (here’s a link to a paper that explains it well) each year between 2011 and 2015 Councils will lose an extra £250m compared to today’s projections for grants (they say that the money will be found by taking £250m per year off what would otherwise be the overall increase in formula grant to councils in each of those years), as if Councils were immune from inflation and by 2014-15 they’d have lost £1.25bn of the money they need to provide services at today’s level, just to fund the Tory system of incentives to new housing.

Open waste discussion

January 13, 2010

Lewisham Council’s Head of Environment wrote an extremely interesting guest post published today on Brockley Central.
There he outlines the thinking behind Lewisham’s waste strategy and also announces the just introduced and excellent mattresses recycling scheme:

To use the service, residents can obtain a special sticker from any local Lewisham library or from Lewisham Council’s Access Point in Laurence House, Catford. The sticker is then placed on the mattress.

The mattress will be collected on the same day as scheduled refuse and recycling collections. Residents just need to make sure the mattress, preferably with sticker attached, is placed near their refuse bin the evening before collection day.

As in his post he specifically referred to the benefits of incineration vs. landfilling vs. biomass and so on I interacted with a comment asking him about kitchen waste:

Thanks Nigel. Great initiative for the mattresses. And of course kudos for the openness.

Nigel, you are probably aware that I’ve investigated issues around recycling of kitchen waste (what the Daily Mail elegantly calls the slop bag).
According to answers I received from Council (thanks) it appears that kitchen waste amounts to about 30% of collected household waste, it costs £1.2m in gate fees at SELCHP and being largely made out of water it hampers the efficiency of the SELCHP with a loss of potential earning from the sale of energy produced on site of about £2.5m.
I had suggested that those money could be used to pay for a composting service, generating a good number of local jobs too but at last Council was told that there are contractual and legal barriers that prevent a switch from incineration to composting but no detail of what these barriers are was given.
Can you please explain what these barriers are and what proposals are you considering to deal with kitchen waste in the future?

The reply reiterates the invitation to meet and discuss the proposal I received as part of the reply to my question about it at last Council meeting:

Hi Max, I was interested in your proposals and I think (hope!) we offerred to sit down with you and talk through some of the assumptions. As for future plans on Kitchen Waste, my understanding is that we’ve shown support to Greenwich in their bid to build a AD plant in the borough (there’s a bit more detail in the waste Strategy, I think). The really big issue for Lewisham is our fragile waste infrastructure (we could really do with our own Waste Transfer Station, that would also help bump-up our recycling rates), so our future plans will need to involve close work with our neighbouring boroughs, particularly Southwark and Greenwich. But please take up the offer to come and discuss your ideas with us. Nigel

In the past hour me and Nigel got in touch and this meeting is now being arranged.

If you want to know more about my proposal just see the posts tagged SELCHP.

Nigel Tyrell also has a blog that in unofficial way talks about waste management in Lewisham:

The Love Lewisham blog is managed by Nigel Tyrell, Head of Environment for the London Borough of Lewisham. It is mainly an area for updating friends of Lewisham’s Environmental services (but I might stray away from the ‘day job’ every now and then!). I hope you find it useful. Please note that the views expressed on this site do not necessarily represent the views of the London Borough of Lewisham.

Dangers of delegation

December 4, 2009

One item approved without too much fuss by Lewisham Council last week was a scheme of delegation so that officers can take decisions without Mayoral consent.
(Documents here, item 11 and appendixes)
This was presented as a way to make the Council efficient and as a formal recognition of the status quo that only updates on an existing similar scheme already present in the Constitution.
It all sounded very reasonable, in fact it got me a bit suspicious, too reasonable, especially when you read through the documentation and discovered that Heads of Directorate have the power to authorize movements of up to £500k within their budgets without Mayoral consent and that with the consent of the Head of Resources the same amounts can be moved across Directorates’ budgets.
This Council document expressely calls this manouvers “virements” and eplains them like this:

A Virement is a transfer of a budget from the purposes for which Council originally voted in setting the budget and Council Tax to another purpose.

Am I right to see big danger here? The Council could approve a budget that has consensus and then on day two officers can start to move large sums and doing the budget they like, even if this means moving away from the budget the Council intended and possibly starving important services that are not statutory and that therefore don’t necessarily get them big brownie points with auditors.

I am not an expert on delegation schemes, only that reading this Council’s decision made me think of possible negative consequences of this scheme. Is it normal practice that officers can move up to £500k without approval at political level?
And if these large changes to the budget do take place without them leaving a mark on the papers approved by the Mayor then how can the public (or even the Overview and Scrutiny committee) ever come to know they ever happened?

Councillors’ expenses – the petition!

November 30, 2009

We the undersigned ask Lewisham Council to make the Councillors’ expenses list available online from the Council’s website with immediate effect.
We also ask Lewisham Council to produce an official statement explaining why these non-confidential papers were not published online together with the rest of the Standards Committee papers of 24th November 2009.

Click here to learn more about it and sign now.
You can also join the Facebook group.

The X files

November 28, 2009

You may have noticed an item in this week’s local press about Councillor’s expenses.

The South London Press tells us that:

“Proposals made at a Lewisham Council committee meeting could see all councillors’ claims made public in full”.

and also tells us that:

“Councillors’ expenses claims over the last year were also published in the report”

At reading this I thought, hold on, aren’t these information public already? And aren’t these two statements in contradiction with each other?

So I went on the Council’s website to look for those papers, I found the meeting report, but not the expenses’ list, those pages were missing.
How strange I thought, even given that in the News Shopper the Independent Chair of the Standards Commitee Sally Hawkins said:

“We decided it was important that the system is transparent so that people can see that what is being claimed is reasonable.”

Yes, sure people ought to see, only that it looks like your idea of transparency doesn’t involve showing us the expenses’ list. Now, that’s a very odd idea of transparency.

But despair not, because I’ve got them for you and I can here release the two missing pages with the full Councillors’ expenses list. (click here to download as pdf or click on images to enlarge)

And look! One senior Labour Councillor expenses’ list stands out like a sore thumb.
She’s Labour Councillor for Crofton Park Cllr Sylvia Scott that last year clocked up the tidy sum of £1300 in taxi fares, and this despite the fact that she doesn’t even have cabinet duties.
I bet that many or her constituents would like to know this, in fact it’s their right as this expenses’ list is public.

Could this be the reason why this list was not made available to the public on the Council’s website?

Frankly, the behaviour of Lewisham Council needs explaining here. To remove important papers from public viewing whilst making a press release glorifying their openness is ludicrous.

Don’t they understand how silly they look? And what about the misuse of the Council’s press office? Who thought of issuing this kind of patronizing nonsense as if we were kindly given some big concession when to know this was our right all along?

But the most important question is why this expenses’ list is not available from the Council’s website. Who decided that these pages should be removed?

The cost of security

November 24, 2009

I just received the replies to my questions for tomorrow’s Council meeting, here’s the first.

PUBLIC QUESTION NO. 20
LONDON BOROUGH OF LEWISHAM

COUNCIL MEETING

25 NOVEMBER 2009

Question asked by: Mr M Calò

Member to reply:    Deputy Mayor

Question

How long has the Ladywell Playtower been under 24hr security and at what cost?

Reply

24 hour security was installed at Ladywell Playtower on 12.05.06. The total cost to date is £419,401.

Stop the great train robbery

November 19, 2009

These are tumultuous days in South London, the new trains timetables have been announced and those that have realized that their trains will be soon reduced or cancelled altogether are up in arms. Trains through Hither Green have been spared from the chop, but other lines in Lewisham and beyond have not been so lucky and as the railway is a network, every cut affects the whole system.

It looks like a gap in the investments needed for large projects like the East London Line have created a knock on effect with serious repercussions for some important railway routes across South London. Responsibilty is being shuffled between the various bodies overseeing transports, with the Government blaming TfL and TfL blaming the Government, the train operators saying that they just execute orders (we heard that already, didn’t we).

The Victoria to Bellingham line that was planned to make up for the closure of the  South London Line through Peckam Rye has been cancelled, the Victoria to London Bridge via Crystal Palace (touching in our borough the stations of Sydenham, Forest Hill, Honor Oak Park and Brockley) has seen a massive reduction. Blackheath commuters have been told that they will lose half of their rush hour trains.

It’s quite obvious that the recent consultation on the South London Rail Utilisation Strategy (link) has been a very flawed process that has failed to recognize the importance of sustained good and improving public transports for the quality of life in the myriad of communities that compose London.

Something serious must be done about it, there is widespread rebellion all around. Ironically that’s the real consultation, that’s what people think, and it’s coming through only now that the “consultation” is closed.

Southeastern announcement that they’re cutting services through Blackheath after Government asked them to do so because they want instead to bump up numbers on the DLR shows that there is an urgent need of a rethink of the role of Government.

Just a few considerations of strategic nature about what a weaker public transports system would mean for South London:

  • a weakening of the transport provision would harm the London economy;
  • the planning concept of sustainable communities to allow high density residential use around transport hubs needs sustained train services, taking away convenient public transport from outer London impacts the building industry;
  • people will  switch back to car usage instead of public transport harming the environment, damaging air quality and nullifying a whole host of other policies and investments to counter precisely those trends.

We desperately need strong political leadership to intervene in this process and provide guidance for a transport strategy that helps the economy, our daily lives and supports all those other policies that transport is a key part of. London is the birthplace of the railway, we live it and breath it. Weaken it and you weaken London itself.

Besides the flagship infrastracture we need sustained services across the urban region of London, the millions of commuters that pay their ways don’t feel they’ve been subsidized at all and surely deserve better.

A proper Cafe for Mountsfield Park

November 12, 2009

Bowling-Green

Mountsfield Park is one of the biggest green spaces in Lewisham, and in the recent years has been doing a steady progress, picking itself up from the its very own dark ages of degrade of not long ago.
Quite instrumental to this renaissance is the Mountsfield Park Users Group (MPUG), a group I attended since its very start.
One of the big projects that the group has always pursued was the establishment of a cafe, which besides quenching the thirst, facilitates a better use of the park and is essential in making the park safer.

Initially there was a very ambitious project led by the Council, asking for a few millions of Lottery Funds to restore part of the park to its original glory and at the same time building a bar and social space area.
This lottery bid failed, and so whilst we waited for a new bid and alternative funding streams to be pursued we managed to establish the current bar in a container which is much better than what it sounds, is very well managed and in just a few months made a big difference to the energy of the park altogether.

This Monday, the meeting of the MPUG was attended by officers from Lewisham Council that came with the news that they decided that there wasn’t much point in insisting with the Lottery Fund and that meant that the money held by Council as match fund could be instead spent immediately on a scaled down project for a Cafe in the park.

These are almost £400k and the place where the Cafe should go is the unused bowling green, that in this screengrab from Googlemap is the square on the top right, many visitors of Mountsfield Park never noticed it actually as it is completely shielded by conifers.
The bowling club ceased activity a few years ago, just like that, members aged and the club failed to attract young members, the green is still maintained in order by the contractors Glendale.
There was some serious work done by MPUG last year to bring back into use the bowling green, and a young enthusiast came forward to lead on this project, unfortunately vandals torched the hut that is absolutely necessary for the establishment of a bowling club. As we started looking for funds to remedy the damage this was torched again,  this time the damage was too extensive to be repaired, this was a blow because a case for funds for a new hut for a club that has ceased to exist is difficult to make. Then suddenly this Monday this proposal for a Cafe to be built there in very short times came. We were told that plans for the Cafe and landscaping could be presented by this springtime and works could be finished by April 2011, it takes a few months for plans to go through planning.

The only sting in the tale is that many of the conifers that surround the bowling green will have to be felled but that’s a necessity for the creation of a safe environment.  I asked if the trees can be uprooted and moved but the costs are so high that it’s just not possible, also the trees that are uprooted and moved very often die in short anyway. So the practical solution is to cut them down and replace them with new trees elsewhere in the park.

This is an opportunity that must be grabbed, money like these come round only once every few years and at the meeting we all voted to go for it.

One thing I said at the meeting is that we must make sure that this project is used to involve residents and users, that we can make it a community building moment, not just a Cafe building one.
By chance with the Hither Green Community Hall and Arts Society we started working on a summer program of events to be held in parks and 3 weeks ago me and my friend Angelo visited the bowling green and took a few pictures of the site, at Monday’s MPUG meeting I mentioned this and how it could be used in a strategy to involve the local  community in this exciting project.

Armed police deployed without senior order

October 23, 2009

One of the things that I always loved about this country is that the police don’t carry guns. It defuses tension and avoids unnecessary danger and escalations. But now someone thinks differently. Or do they? Because alarmingly it looks like armed police has been ordered out but no senior officer or political counterpart was involved in the decision.

As today’s Times tells us :

You’d think that a decision as important as putting armed police patrols into gun crime hotspots in London might have been discussed between the top brass at the Yard and the tiller-handlers at City Hall.

But when we contacted Bojo’s office for a comment on the deployment yesterday neither the Mayor nor his staff had heard a word about it. Kit Malthouse, deputy mayor for policing, was away but it wasn’t a case that he had forgot to tell the Mayor – no-one had bothered to mention it to him either.

Meanwhile there was flat-spin pandemonium at Scotland Yard as the story emerged in Police Review and a hasty response had to be put together. Of course, we thought, this is Sir Paul Stephenson making a major operational decision without talking to the Mayor and therefore putting on a display of police independence.

Er no. SPS (as he is apparently known at the Yard) wasn’t around and neither was Tim Godwin, the Deputy Commissioner.

So if Boris and Kit haven’t got their hands on the tiller, and neither the Commissioner nor his deputy are steering the ship – just who is making these decisions?

I tend to agree with Brian Paddick that in an interview with the Today Programme makes the very sensible point that where these armed patrols are deployed police officers are more at risk because criminals won’t know if a policeman is carrying a gun or doesn’t and since most of the police around are community support officers these would be exposed to great risks, and they are neither trained for that or paid enough.

Listen to Brian Paddick here.

Today armed patrols have been deployed in various parts or London and this measure doesn’t look part of a strategy that’s been thought through well enough. Tomorrow we could have the same armed patrols around the streets of Lewisham and if Paddick’s fears were justified it could put us all in more danger rather than less.

Remember what Bob Marley used to sing?

I shot the sheriff,
but I didn’t shoot no deputy , oh no, no!
I shot the sheriff,
but I didn’t shoot no deputy , oh no, no!

Reflexes had got the better of me
And what is to be must be…

As Dave Hill reports:

Claudia Webbe, chair of the Operation Trident Advisory Group has released a letter she’s written to the Met in which she expresses her “deepest shock and horror” at the decision without consultation or notification. The letter continues:


The failure of the MPS to consult and the instigation of this deployment of armed patrols in targeted areas of London damages the trust and confidence developed over a significant period of time and the investment that we have made to develop an intelligence based, community led policing response to tackle the disproportionate effects of gun crime on Black communities.

We distance ourselves from this decision and cannot support this action by the MPS. It is unjust, unwarranted and unfair and like the random use of ‘stop and search’ will seriously damage relationships between the police and black communities.

Furthermore, this knee-jerk reaction by the MPS does not appear to be based on any common sense approach to policing and/or intelligence and works against the whole notion of “policing by consent” and will only serve to further distance communities from the police.

In the previous post I reported how our Safer Neighbourhood Team is understaffed and likely to remain so and quite possibly we’re not an exception. Looks like the much trumpeted project of substantial community based policing in London has only been implemented half way and now guns will be used to deal with the consequences.

The crime statistics for Lewisham Central are sobering, we have a well above average share of crime and today’s news should alarm us. We don’t have enough community based police to make that policing as effective as it was supposed to be and when situations deteriorate the only answer appears to be that of deploying heavily armed police on our streets without even explaining how that would make things better.
That’s not what I want for my neighbourhood, I don’t want to walk past checkpoints of armed police. This is an option that must be rejected, we need more investment for recruitment of community officers so that crime is detected early and dealt with before it goes out of hand.

Savings and pressures

October 21, 2009

There’s a big item discussed at Overview and Scrutiny committee tonight, it’s about over £4 of savings in the Council’s budget and some arising extra expenditures not considered at the time of the last budget.
In the Pressures document one item struck me:

Homeless Accommodation 16/17 year olds (Budget Pressure Risk of £800k)
5.2.4

The consequence of the Southwark judgement and how it should be applied is still being assessed. However, 16/17 year olds in Homeless Accommodation will have to be reassessed under the looked after children criteria. There are about 50 of these children. At this stage it is difficult to identify how many of this group will fall under Looked after Children and become the financial responsibility of children’s social care rather than housing. With one case costing around £50k the impact could be considerable and be as much as a £1m. A number of London Boroughs are indicating the costs will be between £800k and £1m. Some of the costs of the judgement are currently being borne by the Customer Services Directorate. The figure above reflects that the judgement requires care expenditure to be undertaken that was previously not required and there will be a net pressure on the Council’s overall budget.

Reading this made me want to understand what this Southwark Judgement is and here it is.
It’s a landmark judgement about a 17 year old who Southwark Council assisted with housing support but nothing else. As the Community Care website summarizes:

The ruling could mean that many more homeless 16 and 17-year-olds receive social care support, and not just accommodation, from councils, and a number of 18- to 21-year-olds become entitled to leaving care support.

Some fundamental questions about the level of support that a lot of young people in need receive arise.
The young person at the centre of this ruling was evicted by his mother at 17, a gigantic personal tragedy, as such he was in need of care, not old enough and lacking the stability that would allow him to make considered choices about his life. Obviously in great need of comprehensive support to surrogate his non existent family. Only that he didn’t find support other than housing. Important as it is in cases like this it’s surely not enough.
I think that savings on these kind of care are false economies, only if the person in question becomes a successful adult then social care costs will cease, but a lack of support at this stage is quite likely to inflict a damage to those chances of success.

In the post before this I mentioned the homeless hostel, its guests are a very visible component of this neck of the wood and on a daily basis the thought “what happened to you that made you like this” comes to my mind. For some of them part of the answer may be found in the Southwark Judgement and the document on discussion at tomorrow’s O&S tells us that probably in the past few years in Lewisham alone there always were about 50 young people in big need that were not supported enough.

The Kitchen Waste Budget #2 and other considerations multipost

September 27, 2009

In the Mayor and Cabinet document about waste management proposals dated 9th April 2009 (link) at paragraph 3.7 one can read that:

Unfortunately, the investment in recycling services is not sufficient to roll out a borough wide garden waste service.

Paragraph 3.20 says that:

The Council is also keen to assist people through this recession and a further way in which this can be done is through the Love Food Hate Waste campaign. The WCA showed that the dominant category in the residual waste was organic catering amounting to 29.8%, or 3.54kg per household of food waste being thrown into the refuse bin each week. For Lewisham, this equates to 405 tonnes a week costing the Council nearly £20,000 for disposal. In annual terms this is 21,060 tonnes costing over £1m. On average the food that is wasted accounts for approximately £420 per household per year / 0.8 tonnes CO2 equivalent per household – £610 for households with children. In addition there is the environmental cost in terms of food production, transportation, refrigeration and disposal, all contributing to green house gases.

And so it is, they think this costs £1m when instead it costs £4m.
In the last sentence the argument of the cost of disposal is touched but only as a general consideration about the green house gases produced.

This is a spectacular example of disjointed thinking, they own an incinerator that produces energy by combustion and by bringing there their kitchen waste they feed it with lots of water. Which of course doesn’t burn that well.

They waste millions each year and apparently they don’t even know about it.
And even going at Council to try to explain to the Mayor that the Council is missing on a major trick, as I did last week, doesn’t seems to work much.

(you may want to read my previous post the Kitchen Waste Budget)

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A consideration about the figures.

This document evaluates Lewisham’s kitchen waste as 29.8% of the total and 21,060 tonnes in weight, this clarifies how much is kitchen and how much is garden waste of that 35% of the total of the waste of Lewisam that is compostable. It looks nevertheless quite likely that this figure doesn’t include commercial waste so the total figure could be higher.

Anyway, even with 20% deduced from the £3.1m that I had calculated as loss of earnings at the incinerator we would still remain with £2.5m, with still about £1.2m of savings in gate fees at the incinerator to be added to it, that’s £3.7m that could indeed pay for a decent collection and composting service.

Another thing to be considered is that compost has a value, once all those thousands of tons of waste are converted you’re left with something that can be sold. And as previously mentioned bin lorries traveling a third lighter represent a further saving.

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Kitchen-and-rubbish

That’s my kitchen, my Italian coffee machine, a coffee cup, a small scale and on top of the scale a bowl of kitchen waste. Peels, some leftovers of pasta, some stale popcorns, half a lemon that’s gone mouldy, the usual. That bowl holds a day of compostable kitchen waste and according to my calculations that’s about 15p of tax money quite literally burnt if it would be sent to the incinerator.

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Other Countries have laws that force incinerators to charge different gate fees for different materials, this to discourage incineration of unsuitable materials like… kitchen waste.

In Britain we don’t have a law to that effect, SELCHP charges a flat fee, no matter what you bring to it.

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Another beat that the current Council’s policy misses is the collection of oil, as Cllr Milton reminded us you can bring your used oil to the recycling centre in Landmann Way, and you should, because it is illegal to pour it down the drain, but don’t do it all together because in making an effort to avoid clogging the drains you’ll clog the transport arteries of the borough.

Seriously, who’s going to Landmann Way to bring their used oil?

If a separate collection of compostables was set up maybe adding used oil to the list of materials collected would provide a further source of income for those green jobs. There are money there, but I don’t know why used oils from households are not collected, and to be fair to Lewisham Council it’s not just here, this is true for pretty much anywhere, I searched but I couldn’t find any example of a local authority collecting used oil from households.

Maybe it’s not done just because there isn’t a regular door to door collection of compostables or recyclables, like what I’m envisaging could be done with the savings on the incineration of kitchen waste.

Anyway, one thing Lewisham Council did right was to provide us with the best ever analogy to explain how much energy can be extracted out of used oil:

Just one litre (that’s about a third of what’s found in the average chip pan) of used cooking oil can be converted into LF100 to produce enough clean electricity to make 240 cups of tea.

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And finally, let me close this megapost with a straightforward personal position on incinerators, because I recognize that this proposal of mine can be seen as controversial by many. Incinerators are one of those things that many people oppose with vigour, and with arguments that I agree with.

They are ugly, they pollute and they must be phased out. They are yesterday’s news and we should all produce a lot less rubbish than we do and pretty much everything should be recycled in a way or the other, not burnt.

But the fact is that we do have an incinerator in Lewisham and it processes tens of thousands of tonnes of waste a year, the unrecyclable, non-reusable and uncompostable byproducts of the lives of those millions that live around it, it currently performs a useful function and we better make the most out of it until we find a better way to deal with waste.

But that will take many years, and as the incinerator in Lewisham holds the key to the waste management budget I don’t think that there’s a conflict between environmentally sound policies and a proposal about the incinerator that is not just “let’s shut it down” but that instead looks at ways to shift some of that budget into local green jobs.

The Kitchen Waste budget

September 25, 2009

Here’s the answer I received yesterday to a question I submitted to Lewisham Council about kitchen waste:

Question

Please provide a breakdown of the energy produced by the SELCHP divided into energy produced by incineration of kitchen waste and that of other kinds of waste. What share of this energy production belongs to Lewisham Council and what share of this energy is produced by the incineration of waste produced by Lewisham?

Reply

The total energy output of SELCP is 220,000 MWh per annum.

Lewisham waste provides approximately 23.8% of this = 52,360 MWh

From SELCHP’s waste analysis approximately 6.9% of the energy comes from putrescible kitchen waste.

Therefore energy recovered from Lewisham kitchen waste is about 3,600 MWh per year (after deduction of a contribution to the total parasitic load of running the plant) or 1.6% of the total energy output.

This isn’t the first post on this blog about this or the fist time I question the Council on the matter of the incinerator, the revenue it provides and the appropriateness of what’s fed to it, read more here and here.

We know that kitchen waste forms about 35% of the incinerated, and now we also know that it only produces 6.9% of the energy (the 35% is the figure we have for both kitchen and garden waste combined, but I think that we can safely assume that the weight of the kitchen waste in this mix represents the overwhelming majority with the garden waste being in comparison almost negligible. So, let’s live with this small approximation in the know that we’re only looking for a ballpark figure here).

Using the figure provided by DirectGov of 14.0p/kWh as the price for bulk purchase of electricity at domestic or small industrial scale in July 2009 we can put a MWh (unit of the answer) at £140 and this means that 52,360 MWh is therefore sold at approximatively £7,330,400.

Of this amount the kitchen waste, that is about 35% of the incinerated, produces only 6.9% of energy – 3,612 MWh (the answer says 3600 after deduction of a contribution to the total parasitic load of running the plant, the difference with this calculation is so marginal that I’m not even going to approximate all calculations for that) –  at £140/MWh this bring in £505,797.

The remaining 65% produces instead 93% of the energy – 48,695 MWh – at £140/MWh this bring in £6,817,300.

This means that 1% of Lewisham waste at the incinerator earns in energy produced:

–  £14k if kitchen waste;

– £104k if non kitchen waste.

For each percentage point of kitchen waste swapped for non-kitchen waste Lewisham Council would make over £90k, and given that there is enormous demand for the use of the incinerator it would be possible to take out the kitchen waste from the mix and allow non-kitchen waste from other boroughs or other clients to be incinerated instead, this would produce an extra profit for Lewisham Council of well over £3m through increased energy production.

The reduction of 35% of Lewisham’s incinerated waste would also bring a saving in gate fee at the SELCHP of  £1,211,268 for Lewisham (see here).
This would be revenue-neutral for the SELCHP (of which LBL is a partner) as the fee would be replaced that for waste from other clients.

It looks to me that there is therefore an untapped budget for composting of well over £4m available year on year to be derived from the removal of kitchen and garden waste from the incinerator (without even counting the savings of fuel for the fleet of bin lorries that would always travel with a load about one third lighter than they currently do).

These savings could be able to fund a labour intensive composting operation that would provide a large number of local jobs to collect and compost kitchen and garden waste in microsites around the Borough.

For quite some time I wondered if those savings would be able to pay for a replacement collection and composting service, I’d now say that yes, they probably do. The figures need reviewing and I welcome opinions on this proposal.

Yesterday I used my opportunity for a supplementary question to try to explain this to the Mayor, I tried my best to be clear but it’s not an easy thing to do in a Council meeting. I had with me a sheet of paper with these calculations and wanted to give it to him, I explained him “look, I found over £4m for composting in your budget”, but he wasn’t having it, no one came to take the paper to bring it to him, so I sat down and I now write it here.

Council profiteering

July 10, 2008

An update on the previous post. Thanks to a tip by the ever well informed Biccy on the Hither Green Forum I realized that the increase on CPZ tariffs was decided by none other than the Mayor of Lewisham Sir Steve Bullock in a very clear bogus budget savings exercise.

We were always told that the CPZ tariff pays for the cost of its management, not that it is supposed to fund other Council’s expenditures, this is in effect a Council tax increase.

We are always told that services like these are outsourced to external contractors because they can keep the operational costs down and deliver better value for money. We have never been told that the local authority would then intervene with some good old poaching by raising the tariffs and pocketing the difference.

And how fair is it that people living within CPZ areas pay in effect a bigger Council tax than those living outside CPZ areas. I have no objection to paying for its running, I quite like the result, what I object to is the profiteering and very sadly this time it doesn’t come from the private partners but from the Council itself.

Here’s some relevant passages from the Mayor and Cabinet papers of 5th March 2008, item 8 that show the utter hypocrisy behind this increase:

The purpose of this report is to provide the Mayor with the detail of increased parking charges. The additional income was proposed as part of the Revenue Budget Savings Proposal Report 08/09 that was considered by Mayor & Cabinet in December 2007. The proposed increases put forward will generate £500k total income, £273k to be used as part of the budget savings exercise and £250k to fund highways prudential borrowing as set out in the Highways Best Value Review…

The Revenue Budget Savings Proposal report gave a broad brush indication on how the increased income could be achieved. This income generation was to be applied in three ways. Firstly, £192k via an increase to the resident permit charge. Secondly, through an increase to the resident visitor permit charge and thirdly by applying a 15% increase to the pay & display tariff charges both on and off street.

In the light of this new element I am now stopping the petition, this is the message that I sent to the two other people that signed it during the handful of hours it was active:

Thank you for your support, I closed the petition so suddenly because I learned something I didn’t know yesterday, that the rise in tariff came out of a decision of the Mayor in what is a bogus budget saving exercise, In effect an increase of Council Tax dressed as something else. Details of this are available in the Mayor and Cabinet Papers of 5th March 2008, item 8. I still think to start a petition to introduce transparency for Council contracts but that will have to be independent from the CPZ issue.

Stop profiteering! (petition)

July 10, 2008

A yearly resident parking permit for my “controlled parking zone”(CPZ) road has just risen to £60, that’s a 41.6% increase from last year’s £35.

The fact that this unjustifiable squeeze of the public comes at a very tight economic time for all makes it all the more loathsome.

But this is not even the bitterest point, the real issue is that we can’t even know the content of the contract between the London Borough of Lewisham and the contractor because it is of course “commercially sensitive”. We can’t know why we’re being asked so much more than last year or whether they can actually impose such an increase. And if they can, why was the contract drafted so badly that there aren’t any guarantees against such arbitrary and exorbitant price increases?

I do think that we’ve been badly served and that there’s a need for something to be done about it, and this is all the more important as we know that a large and increasing number of public services are being outsourced.

It’s all very good to contain Council tax increase but that’s only relatively good news if other public services contracted out by the Council see price increases of 41.6%, an amount that can only be described as obscene.

Let’s ask Lewisham Council to re-tender the contract for CPZ in Lewisham at once and  let’s make this an opportunity for introducing a simple and transparent guarantee against this particular brand of profiteering in public services.

Let’s make it a rule that when a contractor wants to apply a higher than reasonable price increase then he also has to re-apply for the contract.

Council departments running out of money within a financial year need to ask for extra funding and following the same principle the contractor wishing to extract more money out of the public in between contracts should need to justify this as a need, not greed, with the local administration.

Let’s ask that such clause be included in future contracts!

That’s why I’m now asking you to sign this petition:

We the undersigned ask Lewisham Council to rescind the contract with the current CPZ operator because of the sudden and unreasonable 40% price increase imposed to the public in this historical moment when prices of public services ought to be more then ever under control.

We also ask that any future contract between the Council and its contractors include a clause stating that contractors wishing to increase their prices above a certain reasonable amount (amount to be made known to the public) need to re-apply for the contract.

Clic here to sign this petition.

http://www.gopetition.com/online/20424.html