Posts Tagged ‘Libdems’

A Countdown Bus Stop for Hither Green

April 5, 2010

Transport for London (TfL) is currently consulting on the location for 2500 new countdown displays for bus stops to be rolled out across London next year.
The map of the locations for Lewisham has been published, unfortunately not one of these displays has been allocated to Hither Green Lane (click on map to enlarge).

We Lewisham Central Liberal Democrats think that there is a strong case for one of these displays to be placed on Hither Green Lane, we also think that we fit well one of the criteria chosen by TfL for eligibility, that of interchange value, especially when including walking as an alternative, a mode of transport that’s often only praised but not actually promoted through transport strategies.

In fact many waits for the bus on Hither Green Lane are either made to go to Lewisham Station for the DLR or to Lewisham Market, both places that are in reach by walk and a decision to walk could often be made if the time for the wait was known.
What instead currently happens is that people dithers in indecision indefinitely, until, often much later, the bus arrives, and many times when it does it’s overcrowded.

We also have a train station, which obviously increases the interchange value even further, as many people do take a bus after the train and this means that a countdown display would be of value also to people living beyond the immediate vicinity of the bus stop.

In both these cases a known wait would often result in reduced overcrowding on buses and an increase in pedestrian journeys, both very positive results from the point of view of transport planning, and it’s with this argument that we ask for a countdown display for Hither Green. Our proposed locations are Hither Green Lane and Springbank Road.

TfL is consulting with Councils, not individuals (click here for the consultation documents pack), but we decided that we will make a representation anyway and we also found a powerful advocate in Caroline Pidgeon AM, who is the Chair of the Transport Committee at the Greater London Assembly and will support our case.

Please add your name to our petition, and if your personal experience is one where a countdown display would clearly be of benefit then please tell us about it in the comment box so we can submit it as a sample case.

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Meet Ingrid Chetram

March 29, 2010

Ingrid Chetram is another of the Lib Dem candidates for Lewisham Central.

I was born in Guyana, South America and moved to London when I was 24. I am now the proud mother of 3 teenage sons and work for a homeless day centre in Deptford SE8.

My experiences can colourfully embroider a tapestry like none you have probably seen before:

I have 2 severely disabled brothers, both with speech impairments and one who is profoundly deaf. Therefore I have worked quite closely with Social Services and some service commissioners around care and disabled provision. They were both living with me for ten years and recently moved into registered care.

I studied Media at Goldsmiths University, have a Diploma in Person Centred Counselling and more recently a Masters Degree in Clinical and Public Health Aspects of Addictions.

My first job was as a secondary school teacher in Guyana for 8 years, then in London I worked for the NHS for 5 years and then at various Rehabilitation Centres; keyworking or counselling those who were homeless, disadvantaged, vulnerable, dependent on alcohol and or drugs, those with mental health unwellness, offenders, ex offenders, victims and perpetrators of domestic and sexual abuse and a plehtora of other issues.” I feel that with my combined personal and work experiences and being a mother of 3 growing sons in Lewisham, I can confidently represent Lewisham Central as a Councillor, as I am aware of the variety of issues affecting local life. I really want to share my knowledge and skills in assisting my fellow residents to access as much of the services as possbile and at the same time work for better and improved facilities in our borough.

Access for all campaign taken to government

March 8, 2010

Lee Green Councillor Brian Robson reports about the delivery of the petition signatures asking for better access to Hither Green Station, a much needed initiative to make a real improvement for our area, especially for people with disabilities. We able bodies sometimes forget how different the experience for the disabled can be. As this local wheelchair user testifies:

“Whenever I travel back from London I can only take the Orpington train because it’s the only one that stops at the one platform I can use. And if I’m traveling home from outside London I have to go all the way into central London just to get the Orpington train back to Hither Green. Opening up the ramps at Hither Green would make a huge difference.”

With thanks to all the Lewisham Central and Lee Green residents that in the past few weeks signed this petition outside Hither Green Station.

Fair Rents For Pensioners

January 28, 2010

Cllr Dave Edgerton started a campaign to help a number of pensioners that are charged rather extortionate rents from their registered social landlord. As he found:

Pensioners living in sheltered accommodation owned by Registered Social Landlords rents can vary between £90 and £150 a week. Often a weekly service charge is also added. Many of the pensioners have worked hard all their lives and have saved towards a pension. This is being swallowed up by the high rents. The average charge for similar housing owned by local authorities is £60 a week.

One of the Registered Social Landlords involved in the practice is Merchant Taylors, one of the twelve Great Livery Companies of the City of London, hardly in need of cash, and yet asks to its guests rents of £90 and £95 per week. In-Touch, which is the supporting people division of Hyde Housing asks up to £150 a week plus service charge.

It’s a great injustice and Cllr Dave Edgerton is right in raising the issue, he started a petition that you can sign here.

Southeastern invites Lewisham Lib Dems for talks

January 20, 2010

Lib Dems didn't reduce service because of snow. Petitioning at Hither Green Station. From left: Pete Pattison, Halina Bowen, me.

This Monday 18th January Southeastern Railways wrote to the leader of the Lewisham Lib Dem group Cllr Chris Maines, the letter had a title written in bold characters: Liberal Democrat Petition!
In the letter Southeastern proposes to meet with us for discussions, and so on Monday night me, Tam Langley and Chris Maines met and decided our platform of requests for Southeastern.

We decided on a number of issues to raise, including refunds to season ticket holders, but we also agreed on a very important central point that we need to make, that we need confidence in Southeastern’s ability to deliver a dependable service and this is only achievable if the traveling public (I hate the word “customers”) are allowed to question the company’s operational decisions. We need a voice of the stakeholders that is kept informed and has weight. Something that does not exist in the current set up.

The terms of the franchise agreement between the Department for Transport and Southeastern is such that for the next few years Southeastern will receive progressively decreasing subsidies, the subsidy was £136m last year, it will be £116 for the year starting on 1st April 2010, dropping further to £71m for 2011, then £24 for 2012 and ultimately becoming a premium to pay to the Government in the last year of the contract when Southeastern is supposed to give back £18m.

In 2009 the company made an £18.3m profit, which is a long way below the £76.8m achieved the previous year, and worryingly much of it has been achieved through large scale redundancies (link):

Operating profit* was below the exceptionally strong result for last year but broadly in line with the franchise bid. This was partly achieved through a significant cost savings programme which Southeastern started in the first half of the year, including a reduction of up to 300 positions which incurred an exceptional charge of £1.9m, procurement savings and other efficiency savings which in total are estimated to have saved nearly £10m compared to last year.

These numbers scream one word: warning!
In the good years large subsidies have been transformed into dividends for the shareholders and when the subsidies decreased workforce was instead sacrificed to provide a profit, but the margin is reducing and if this trend continues Southeastern at the end of the franchise will have neither money nor men and it may return to the Government a dead horse.
The recent decision to run a reduced timetable for adverse weather forecast is in effect a self-audit. The company showed no confidence in its own capacity to sustain the service. Where in the past an adverse weather forecast would have moved management to decide for increased trains on the track to prevent ice from forming, this time it decided for reduction of service. This went against industry standard practice and the fear is that it did so because it didn’t have the capacity to adequately respond to an adverse weather situation and knew it.

The original sin was obviously that of the Labour Government that set up an agreement that doesn’t deliver enough for the traveling public and apparently only makes it worthwhile for the franchisee if costs are cut to such a degree that the system starts to creek (although the past large dividends may say another story).
Recently Southeastern delivered increasingly poorer results both in terms of punctuality (90.8% in 2009, was 91.1% in 2008) and customer satisfaction (76% in 2009, was 79% in 2008), this affair of the reduced timetable is just the straw the broke the camel’s back.

We need a review of Southeastern’s working practice to happen transparently and with the involvement of the traveling public. We must regain confidence in our train service.

The company is due an explanation to the GLA transport committee, and crucially is due a renewal of the contract in 2012, something that it should not take for granted (link) . It’s time to put maximum pressure to bring some positive change to the way it operates.

The issue must not drop off the agenda, that’s why we Lib Dems will keep on collecting signatures on our petition that asks Southeastern to recognize the poor performance and apologize by giving the equivalent of three days of subsidies to Network Rail.
Despite the fact that service level has dropped this year shareholders will receive a dividend and managers a bonus for delivering a profit.

By signing the petition all those that have been let down can unite their voices and deliver a strong collective message to Southeastern.
Our initiative is working! The message already reached the intended ears and Southeastern now invited us to talks.

It’s of capital importance that these talks are meaningful, we must keep up the pressure now, the petition goes on.

Last week I spent twice two hours outside Hither Green Station with a campaigning table and a clipboard and collected hundreds of signatures. I spoke with many that lost days of work and even days of wages.
We must act if we don’t want to see this situation repeating and the service deteriorating. We just cannot afford it.
Sign the petition.

Sign the Southeastern Public Refund Petition

January 12, 2010

These days the Southeastern Railway website opens with a photo of a man holding an enormous watch in front of his face, the caption says “it’s time for change”. At seeing it many will think “indeed”.

There’s a widespread feeling among South East London commuters that last week suffered the consequences of the 3 days of severely reduced timetable, they feel badly let down.
As freight and high speed trains were running seemingly as normal, commuter trains operating on the same lines were few and far between and so overcrowded that one could hardly fit in, if at all. Many couldn’t go to work, self-employed lost income, countless trips had to be cancelled. Central London was almost out of reach from many areas of South East London and Kent.

It wasn’t an exceptional weather, temperatures were just below zero and only a few inches of snow fell over a few days. That’s a normal winter weather, as normal as it can be, and services should be able to stand that.

Southeastern underperformed so badly when compared to all other operators around London that measures must be taken.
That’s why the Lib Dems are now collecting signatures on a petition that aims at giving a strong message to Southeastern: put your house in order!
When a company accepts a £136m public subsidy to run a public service it must provide the service all year round, it must have measures in place to run the service in normal winter weather and since the railway is an essential and strategic service it must be prepared to make an effort even when providing the service is not easy.
Last week Southeastern threw in the towel even before the match started.

Today we ask Southeastern to return a share of that subsidy equivalent to 3 days of service (£1.1m) to Network Rail to be invested in improvements at stations served by Southeastern. It’s a practical way to compensate those that for 3 days have been inconvenienced and to publicly acknowledge that it must do better if it wants to keep on running this strategic public service.

Please either download the petition sheet, print it and collect signatures at your workplace, home or at the station or sign online. Improve your train service.

Courthill Junction timing at Christmas time

December 16, 2009

This Sunday 20th December we have an afternoon double bill of Libdem initiatives and everyone is invited to come.

The appointment is for 3pm at the trouble junction between Lewisham High Street and Courthill road SE13. There we’ll time the traffic lights and we need quite a lot of people to do this because we need someone at each traffic light of the junction plus others with stopwatches and others marking down the time.

Ideally we’ll have more than one team to double check the measurements, so please join us if you can, there’s a job for anyone, whether with the stopwatch, the clipboard or just raising a hand when the light goes red (all hands up means that the junction is safe for crossing).

This timing is a very useful exercise, it will give us a precise understanding of the way the junction works and how much time this setting provides for pedestrian crossing. The collected data will then be used by the Libdem Chair of Transport Committee at GLA Caroline Pidgeon AM to press the Mayor of London and TfL to sort out the junction and provide it with the pedestrian light we all need.
Then once the timing is done, and that shouldn’t take much more than half an hour, we all move to the nearby Jolly Farmers pub to examine the collected data and… Christmas drinks.

The video here below shows well what’s the issue with the junction, about halfway through the video there is a 20 seconds window to cross but without light you can’t know it, then a woman crosses and does it quite dangerously, as many do every day.
In the past TfL rejected calls for a pedestrian crossing with the argument that it would slow down traffic, this is surely wrong for the reason that it puts cars before safety, but also it seems that there could already be some windows of opportunity to cross in safety, only that without a green light pedestrians can’t possibly know that.

Do something fun and useful this Sunday. Join us in Courthill Road.

Courthill Road Junction campaign

December 11, 2009

One of the issues that affect many residents of Lewisham Central and users of Ladywell Pool is the devilish pedestrian crossing at the bottom of Courthill Road at the junction with Lewisham High Street. Recently a very serious accident took place there and a woman was run over by a car, she was badly hurt but fortunately survived. Do we have to wait for a fatality before a pedestrial traffic light is provided?

Here’s a video I took a few months ago, it shows how in absence of a traffic light for pedestrians it’s actually near impossible to cross in safety. Cars can come at you from 4 different directions and as it happens most people have only two eyes. I’ve been crossing that road most days for about 11 years and I still don’t know which way to look.

About halfway through the video there is a window of about 20 seconds where it is possible to cross, only that without traffic light one cannot know if it is safe or not and for how long, maybe cars are not coming from some direction not because traffic lights are holding them but because there aren’t cars from there in that moment. With so many possible ways to have incoming traffic it’s very difficult to understand that and it does happen that just as you start crossing someone speeds in front of you, you just cannot know, you can’t see their traffic light.
Then just as the traffic restarts a woman wants to cross, notice how at first she is unsure about when to start crossing, and then after she starts crossing and reaches the middle of the road cars start to move, but again she cannot know if they’re going straight or turning into Courthill Road so she has a moment of hesitation and waits in the middle of the road with cars running near her until she finally finds the moment to cross the second half of the road.
It’s crazy, that’s the normal way to cross Courthill Road.

A few months ago me and Libdem Councillors Chris Maines, Andrew Milton and Dave Edgerton went to City Hall and delivered to Mayor Boris a 600 signatures strong petition asking him to give us the traffic light we need. The petition sheets were handed in by Caroline Pidgeon AM who is the Libdem Chair of the Transport Committee of the GLA.

We were then told by TfL that they were studying possible solutions but since a few months have passed and I haven’t heard anything about it I just sent another email to TfL asking for an update and I’ll post here any reply I receive.
You can do the same by emailing to londonstreets@tfl.gov.uk and in case you have not done so yet you can add your name to our online petition, the more people sign it the bigger the pressure we can put on TfL.

Labour keeps democracy out of Council

November 27, 2009

I sat through the whole of last Full Council meeting last Wednesday and frankly, it was one of the worst meetings I ever saw. Due to the absence of a couple of opposition Councillors Labour had the majority and used it to vote to re-write the order of business, so that the first motion to be discussed was a sickeningly Stalinist Labour motion praising the Mayor for his balanced decisions!

I am not joking, they forced the Council to discuss this spectacularly ludicrous matter, end even worse, made sure to occupy all the time left available in the meeting with the discussion on this motion, so that when 10 pm came there wasn’t any time left to discuss anything else. A vote was asked to extend the meeting so that the rest of the Agenda could be discussed, all Labour Councillors voted against.

One of the points that were so effectively barred from discussion, and far more serious than what was discussed, was the motion proposed by Libdem Councillor Chris Maines and seconded by Cllr Brian Robson (read his excellent post on the subject here) about one of the matters where Lewisham Labour has an abysmal record, housing, obviously the motion was not allowed to be discussed.
Thank you Labour, this week you reminded me why I’m running for the Libdems.

Lib Dems have the best record of questioning Lewisham Council

November 16, 2009

Questions-graph-blog

When a few days ago I received a copy of the Councillors’ questions for next Council (thanks to Cllr Mike Keogh for sending them to me) I saw that one of them (Q 64) had already the answer provided, presumably because the answer could be given by the officer that attends at questions, it’s in fact a question asking how many questions has each Councillor asked this Council year and at what cost.
Unsurprisingly the question was from Tory Councillor David Britton, the cost of questions is in fact one of his biggest pet hates.

The answer puts the cost of each question at an average cost of £168.
But how are these money calculated?

I’m told by Cllr Peake that the this figure of £168 had already been given and it breaks down in £160 for officer time and £8 for printing per question.
According to his calculation on this estimate it takes 3 and half hours of work of someone paid in excess of £83k per year to answer the AVERAGE question ((£160 ÷ 3.5) x (35 x 52) = >£83k). A spectacular inefficiency if true.
Now, take a look at the questions Councillors ask and make up your own mind. Is the average difficulty of those questions such that it would take as much to give an answer? I really don’t think so.

And by the way the council would still have to maintain the knowledge and admin infrastructure, and employ the staff even if half the number of questions were asked. Heads of service have to answer questions like this as part of their normal job, and they would perform much worse if they weren’t accountable in this way. The principle that the cost of questioning the administration is a price worth paying as it’s the main driver of fairness and efficiency is hard to dispute.

But tell that to Councillor Britton.
Anyway, leaving aside his warped reasoning and the irony that’s obviously lost on him that he asked a question to know the price of a question, the answer is excellent, the Libdems have the best record of questioning the Council’s performance on your behalf.

Since April the average Libdem submitted 8.5 written question, followed by the average Green with 7.3 question, far away down the average Labour asked only 1.6 questions and the average Socialist asked only 1 question.

And the Conservatives? Well, fortunately there’s Britton asking something because if he had left it all to the other two Conservatives at Council the average would have been zero but fortunately thanks to his 2 questions they have a very honourable average of 0.67 questions that each of them three asked on behalf of their Constituents this year.
A record they will no doubt soon write about in their leaflets.

Campaigning masterclass from Obama’s top campaigner

November 13, 2009

Tam&TreeThe dynamic Libdem candidate for Lewisham Deptford Tam Langley (here in the picture just after miraculously turning a tree Libdem) has organised an extremely interesting event for 29th November.

The Obama Regional Field Director for the Democratic Party in Northern Europe (in charge of convincing a large community of American expats to vote for Obama) will be speaking on the subject “What Lewisham can learn from the Obama campaign”.

In traditional Libdem fashion the event is very inclusive with a minimum 1p entry donation and a recommended £10 donation.

I think that this event says really clearly how serious we are about gaining control of this Borough Council, we’re setting up an effective campaigning machine, and you’re very welcome to join us in this exciting moment by coming along to this meeting.

Sunday 29th November at 7pm
St Hilda’s Church Hall
Courtrai Road
Brockley SE23 1PL

Book your seat here.

Out and about with James – weekend roundup

October 26, 2009

Jamie_Billboard

This is James Jennings, who is also running for Council for Lewisham Central for the Libdems at next elections. Me and James were out leafleting last Saturday,  here he is on Hither Green Lane, standing in front of the famous forgotten billboard. I can actually remember the poster when it was new, but that was quite some years ago. I remember when the glue gave up and it became a sail that eventually broke off, I then saw what’s left fade. I think that it’s now time to change it, so I emailed a photo to the Council (without James in it). Let’s see what happens.

George-hoarding-450pxJames took instead this photo of me (badly in need of a haircut) at the bottom of George Lane where finally London & Quadrant erected a hoarding to start works on the site of the George Pub to build this mixed use development.

I want to thank Cllr Dave Edgerton for putting a lot of pressure on L&Q to remove the honeytrap that that stretch of pavement had been transformed into (see my previous post on this matter).

I still find it hard to believe that a housing association, whose purpose  is to serve the public, decided to set such an operation on the main road and just by a Job Centre, it’s bad enough being fined £500 for missing a very confusing no parking sign, but if you’re unemployed then having to fork out £500 to  get your car back can make the difference between having a roof over the head or not, especially in a recession like this one.

Last month I submitted a question at Council about it and when I read the reply I really felt quite angry, I didn’t expect Lewisham Council to just copy and paste from an email from L&Q in turn forwarding an email from the parking company (I received such email whilst dealing with L&Q directly).

At the Council meeting I used my right to a verbal supplementary question to express my astonishment at the unwillingness of the Council to engage with a major partner of theirs to make this operation cease and to be true for once the verbal response that I received was better than the written one and was told that they understood my point and would have tried to do what I suggested, i.e. contact L&Q and discuss it with them. I think that the fact that I wasn’t trying to score points but only to stop an activity which is antisocial in all but legal terms did come out.

Anyway, the honeytrap is gone now and work on site should start soon. Pity about the George pub (here in historic context), but it closed because of years of increasingly appalling management, a real pub suicide. It was sold to L&Q that received planning consent for this development and was boarded up and allowed to become a major eyesore with a parking honeytrap on the front. In my opinion the sooner they build there the better it is.

Commiserations also about another historic pub, the nearby Rising Sun, also on Rushey Green, the second pub to commit suicide within a few hundred metres. It was closed by the police because it had become a drug dealing centre and never reopened again. The pub stands in front of an enormous plot of land smack in the middle of Catford and now a developer has submitted this planning application for housing on the site.

News of the application was posted on the Hither Green Forum, I downloaded the documents and uncharacteristically I thought that it was actually quite good, and so I commented on the online forum. The comment was noticed by Micheal Stringer of the South London Press that contacted me asking me if I wanted to elaborate for the paper, and here’s the article that will make my reputation as a destroyer of pubs.

Rising-Sun-SLP

But Catford won’t go without beer, in less than a minute walk from there there is a very popular Wetherspoon, the London & Rye, and in another further minute walk the Goose and then the Ram, which is also excellent. There is also another smaller  pub near the Rising Sun that looks on its way out though, the Plough and Arrow is now sporting a sign that says that soon a hair and nails salon will soon operate from there.

To close this post “keeping it real” here’s a rare insight of Libdem party life recorded for posterity at Lewisham’s finest fish and chips place. At the excellent “Something Fishy” of Lewisham market my running mate James seeks my support for a seat at the party’s English Council.

Vince at the conference

September 21, 2009

Hear it as it is from the man who in 2003 asked the then Chancellor Gordon Brown:

Is not the brutal truth that with investment, exports and manufacturing output stagnating or falling, the growth of the British economy is sustained by consumer spending pinned against record levels of personal debt, which is secured, if at all, against house prices that the Bank of England describes as well above equilibrium level?

Just a little bit of national politics on this blog, but I think it helps to explain why I decided that I could join the Libdems.
One set of reasons is at local level, the Libdem group at Council that I know quite well and like, but it would be pretend naivity to ignore that what we do to further our local group does not reflect on the chances of success of another level of political activity. And I’m comfortable with that.

Vince Cable’s speech at the Libdem conference is an important one, he’s possibly the most popular politician in Britain today and what he said today could greatly influence the direction that this Country must take for the future. I surely hope so.

My favourite bits from his speech (link to transcipt):

The unemployed must be found productive work. We should learn from the experience of Scandinavia and other countries where the alternative to long term unemployment is a guarantee – and a requirement – to work, or for young people train or study. There is no shortage of socially useful tasks – improving homes, environmental projects, care work – which can be undertaken on the basis of voluntary sector and local government initiatives. There are also some imaginative private sector schemes like the plan to create half a million IT jobs. There must also be more apprenticeships to ensure that the next generation learns skills and trades: real, not financial, engineering.

And what has so far prevented this from being rolled out effectively? Lack of leadership and vision.

Later in the speech he also says:

We must also lead the debate on tax reform as a Liberal government did a century ago with the People’s Budget. We should aim to shift the tax burden further from income – work, savings and innovation – onto pollution – the green tax switch. Switching taxation onto financial pollution – questionable transactions of no social and economic value. And onto land values instead of penalising productive investment. But at the heart of our tax plans must be a commitment to social justice.

For me the key there is on the “land value” reference, that’s where money for productive investments are trapped.

This is so relevant to Lewisham. But we could think of Lewisham as a metaphor for much of Britain. Look at what Lewisham Central and its fringes are today, commuter corridor, a dormitory without a daytime economy to speak of.

Each day of the week during the day half of the population is at work in central London, the other half hasn’t got any money to spend, and a very small local economy it can be involved with.
There are no restaurants, they can’t survive because there are no workers to sell lunches to around and this means only half the income of restaurants of more vital areas.
Lewisham High Street that connects Lewisham Centre to Catford could be a splendid and vital boulevard, it is instead something of a fried chicken alley dotted with pound shops, pawn shops and betting shops.
Some heroic exception resists, but they are indeed exceptions, and occasionally one of them falls, it is a much rarer event that a new one opens.

And where is the root of the failure to lift it above what our Council planners think of as a “vocation” and I call instead a condition?
It’s in Gordon Brown’s big idea of ten years ago, when he decided that houses had to become surrogate pension funds, artificially inflating the figures of growth when they were instead only inflating a housing bubble that brought us where we are.
From that moment all valuable sites in Britain became the target of property developers on a mission to build as much residential as they could and Councils were frogmarched to help them and a balanced approach to planning took the backseat.

In this disfunctional central Lewisham the big focus on the redevelopment of that area has been much to the detriment of the attention that the local authority should have paid to the rest of the borough, where the people live. Because local authorities are very efficiently “streamlined”, so when they think of one thing they can’t think of another.

Vince Cable is right, we need to unlock the money invested in housing so that it ends up invested in ways that help a balanced growth, even within our towns and centres, there is so much potential and talent and expertise among us, and with this crisis much of it is at the park kicking cans.
Because where they could have set up trade and work they built houses instead.

Running!

September 7, 2009

This blog is back! And this for the reason that at the next elections I’ll be running for Council to represent Lewisham Central , the ward where I live.
I will run for the Liberal Democrats and this for a series of reasons, one of these reasons is that the Libdems have a real chance of electoral success and I want to help this change at Town Hall because I believe that this is in the public interest.

I remember very clearly the first time I thought that maybe I should run for Council, I was at Town Hall at an Overview and Scrutiny Business Panel committee meeting, it was 29th May 2007.
The issue was that the Mayor had taken a decision without giving a motivation, be it either officer’s advice or his personal take.
Some committee members wanted to ask the Mayor a written motivation, just so that we know why, fair enough one would think, after all he’s an elected representative with executive powers and that’s a scrutiny committee purposely set up by the Constitution to check on what he decides.
Only that the leading Labour member Cllr Alan Hall thought differently and there and then did something quite extraordinary.
He questioned a high ranking officer there present about the Mayor’s capability of understanding issues. Basically, he asked for a character reference. I could not believe what I was hearing and seeing.
The officer replied that the Mayor always showed a sharp mind and a clear capacity of understanding the subjects put in front of him (he could have said differently if he wanted to put his job on the line of course).
At that point Cllr Alan Hall asked the committee a vote to decide to move on to the next subject as the character reference they had just heard was enough to satisfy the necessities of Overview and Scrutiny over the Mayor’s decisions.
According to his reasoning the mere fact that the Mayor had taken a decision meant that a good decision had been taken.
Cllr Hall’s motion was seconded and all the Labour members voted in favour, they were the majority of the members present (the conservative member didn’t attend) and so the motion was approved. That decision of the Mayor remains unexplained.
(Here are the minutes of that meeting. The juicy detail of the character reference is missing but besides that the event is on record).

Can we have more of this? Can we have a Mayor taking decisions without explaining why and a Leader of the Labour group that thinks that it’s his job to protect the Mayor from scrutiny even at the cost of setting up undignified pantomimes like that of the character reference to ascertain the Mayor’s capacity to understand issues?

Of course we can’t. The way Lewisham Council is run is in many ways a farce, it wants to be unaccountable and so it’s secretive, this means that when it’s misguided it goes unchallenged. The result is that many times it spends much time and huge sums going back on bad decisions that lead nowhere.
Look at the new school, it’s seven years that they started building it and there still isn’t one brick over another.

If I had not experienced this and felt something needed to be done about it I would not run for Council. If I had confidence that the Labour group can deliver the goods in the future I would not run for Council. If I didn’t think that things can be changed through the democratic process I would not run for Council either.
If I knew of a better way to change things I would go for the better way but I am convinced that at this moment in time the most useful thing I can do for my community is to run for elections and help the Libdems to gain control.

At the 2006 elections with the Save Ladywell Pool campaign we moved public opinion to the point where the overwhelming Labour majority of 45 out of 54 Councillors was reduced to 26 out of 54, bringing for the first time in decades a degree of scrutiny and competition back to the Town Hall.

That time I was convinced that the best way I could serve my community was to clearly spell out my experience of the arrogance and incoherence of Lewisham Council. A leaflet with my personal appeal to Labour voters to switch to whoever they wanted but to stop voting Labour was delivered to 30,000 Lewisham homes in walking distance of the pool.

Many took my advice and the Council became a better Council, but the seeds of destructions are there. I have no confidence that Lewisham’s Labour leadership will behave democratically if they gained back full control of the Council. Look at what happened at that committee when Labour, by virtue of an absent Conservative Councillor, had the majority. They used it to keep a lid on the way they run things.

There are also good people in the Labour group of course, but by what I know and could observe they’re either not particularly influential within the Labour Group or on their way out altogether. In my experience those in charge today should not be Lewisham’s future.

I like the Libdem group. Cllr Andrew Milton was my first contact and I am very proud of being his friend, he’s the embodiment of British fairness and I always thought that he would be a great Mayor, unfortunately he really doesn’t want that job.
Cllr Chris Maines, the Libdem candidate for Mayor is also a very fair and highly intelligent man and one that is genuinely interested in the issues that affect people’s lives. He’s not a supporter of the Mayoral system as it is now and he would run the Borough with a very different style than Sir Bullock does.

This Mayoral system is in big need of reform and there could be constitutional changes to make it fairer and more efficient, where efficiency is not the measure of the speed of bad decisions as they flash in front of the Council the moment before they are approved by the Mayor, but a set up that allows the Council to effectively help the decision making process by reviewing the work of the officers.

In the meantime, waiting for Constitutional reform, we can have a different personality at the helm.
We need a Mayor that respects the Council to the point it actively seeks its collaboration and we also need a Council of quality to assist the Mayor.
We need a majority group at Council that debates openly and is not afraid of going off message if that’s what’s needed to take the best decision.
We need group dynamics that don’t make people afraid of being critical but that make different opinions accepted as positive elements of the debate.
We need a group that respects the community it serves, not one that promotes insulting bogus consultations that have no purpose other than pretending that the Council “listens”.

We’re so lucky we have a democracy, we need to use it and make it work to its full potential and on that front there’s a long way to go from where we are now.
There are big issues to decide on and we need a much more open way to run this Borough that what I think the current administration is capable of.

Today I was out leafleting with Cllr Duwaine Brooks, he’s got a big history and has also a history of high profile campaigning against violent crime. He was elected Councillor for Downham in a by-election in January and is now group leader at the Safer Communities Board of the Local Government Association.
You would think that he’d be seen as a great asset at Lewisham Council. The truth is that he has to ask repeatedly for the papers on community safety in order to know what’s going on.
He takes no nonsense and is not afraid of challenging officers and only because of this he is effective.
That’s what we need. A fresh start with a new attitude.
I want to see him and the rest of the group tested as leading group, running the Borough. And I want to be tested too.
That’s why I am running for Council.