Archive for December, 2011

Labour wins Feltham and Heston by-election

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Labour candidate Seema Malhotra has secured victory in the Feltham and Heston by-election with a majority of 6,203 over the Conservatives, a swing of 8.56%.

Following the result, Seema said Prime Minister David Cameron should see it as a “wake-up call”.

“This result shows that this Tory-led Government is totally out-of-touch with families, business, with young people and with pensioners too,” she said.

The turnout of 28.7% was the lowest in a by-election in 11 years. This has been attributed to the short campaign, the weather and the run-up to Christmas.

Seema praised her predecessor Alan Keen, saying: “This is an election no-one wanted. Alan is a great loss to our community and it will be a privilege to follow his work.”

Results

Seema Malhotra (Labour) 12,639 (54.42%, +10.79%)

Mark Bowen (Conservative) 6,436 (27.71%, -6.32%)

Roger Crouch (Liberal Democrat) 1,364 (5.87%, -7.87%)

Andrew Charalambous (UKIP) 1,276 (5.49%, +3.45%)

David Furness (BNP) 540 (2.33%, -1.21%)

Daniel Goldsmith (Green) 426 (1.83%, +0.74%)

Roger Cooper (Eng Dem) 322 (1.39%)

George Hallam (London People) 128 (0.55%)

David Bishop (BP Elvis) 93 (0.40%)

Lab maj 6,203 (26.71%)

8.56% swing Conservative to Labour

Electorate 80,813; Turnout 23,224 (28.74%, -31.13%)

Hounslow Labour council – honouring pledges

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

In the first year and a half leading the borough, the Labour council has achieved much for borough residents – despite the Tory-led government’s continuing attacks on public services and those who work for them. Despite facing a cut of £60m in funds from government, Labour leading in Hounslow are delivering on its pledges and supporting the most vulnerable in the community.

The Labour-led council has:

  • Managed to keep all childrens’ centres, youth clubs and all 11 libraries open.
  • Cut councillors’ allowances and appointed the new council chief executive on substantially less money than her predecessor.
  • Started to transform and modernise council processes and procure services jointly with other borough to get economies of scale.
  • Launched Hounslow Together, a partnership between the public, private and voluntary sectors working in Hounslow, to better serve the people of Hounslow.

DELIVERING ON PLEDGES

Action on crime

Hounslow’s Labour Group pledged to take action on crime with 100 uniformed officers on the streets and CCTV in crime hot spots. It has delivered:

  • 10 additional police officers recruited, part-funded by the council, providing additional uniformed police presence on the streets of Hounslow.
  • Over 100 council and Hounslow Homes Staff have been issued with new uniforms and 250 key frontline staff have been given community safety training.
  • Community safety training for the council’s cleansing staff is to be delivered by the police over the next few months.
  • Mobile CCTV cameras have been routinely deployed to crime hot spots as part of an intelligence-led operational approach.
  • In September 2011, the council signed up to the ‘Borough Beat Scheme’, a national initiative run in London by the Metropolitan Police, providing employees with an opportunity to become special constables.
  • Thanks to close working and good intelligence, Hounslow was spared the disturbances faced by other boroughs in the summer.

Local Schools

Hounslow’s Labour Group pledged to invest extra cash into schools to improve standards and provide new school places to give parents a better choice.

  • Although schools spending has been taken out of the council’s control and the council has received an effective cut, there have been record breaking GCSE results in 2011 – a 5% rise in A*-C (!3% higher than the national average. There has also been an improvement in A Level results – with 77% receiving A*-C grades.
  • Hounslow Council created 330 Reception places and 60 Year 1 places for this September, with another 90 Reception places due for January 2012.
  • Over 80% of primary and 66% of secondary applicants got a place at their first choice school.
  • The scrapping of the last Labour government”s ‘Building Schools for the Future’ (BSF) programme in Hounslow halted the replacement of five schools, including a Special School. The Labour council is now consulting on the expansion of four schools and hoping to use benefit from PFI funding which replaced BSF.
  • An additional £1.8bn has been identified to meet growing special needs pressures in education, after the government slashed the last Labour government’s Area Based Grant, which supported vulnerable children.

Jobs and the local economy

Hounslow’s Labour group pledged a new partnership to create jobs:

  • The Labour council set up a new economic business forum of large employers to encourage more investment and growth in the borough and create good quality jobs for local people.
  • The Labour council has supported small businesses in Hounslow and Brentford Town Centres and through funding for Hounslow Chamber of Commerce.
  • The Skills and Training Employment Partnership aims to get more local residents into training and employment.
  • 1,263 Hounslow residents started an apprenticeship in the year 2010-11, at a time when youth unemployment tripled.
  • The Labour council has introduced ‘stop and shop’ parking in vulnerable shopping parades to encourage business.

Housing

Hounslow’s Labour group pledged to build 2,500 affordable homes to rent or buy:

  • More than 600 affordable homes have been completed since May 2010. The Labour council hopes to deliver at least 450 new affordable homes before May 2015. With the Tory-led government halving the grants for new homes, the council’s original 2,500 target will be extremely challenging.
  • The Labour council is on track to bring 50 privately owned empty homes back into use for families in housing need.
  • The New Homes Bonus is now being directed to projects with a significant housing benefit to help meet the shortfall in the funding required for the delivery of affordable housing.

Environment

Hounslow’s Labour group pledged a 24/7 team of Grimebusters to tackle graffiti, litter and dumped rubbish and a direct dial number for immediate action. It has delivered:

  • A 24-hour response service has been in operation since April 2011 to report enviro-crimes. The service and number has been advertised on cleansing vehicles, crew badges, in Hounslow Matters magazine amd on the internet. Since April there have been over 450 calls to this number.
  • Hounslow Town Centre is currently being jet-washed and a ‘don’t litter’ campaign will be launched in Hounslow High Street this winter.
  • Since April 2011, 41 fixed penalty notices have been issued by the Community Environment Team for offences associated with local environmental quality such as dumped waste.
  • In 2013 work will start to replace the carriageway, footway, street lighting and other hardware as part of a £190m PFI project covering every borough road.
  • After more than 10 years of campaigning against Runway 3, the Labour Party and the Tory-led government have acknowledged the noise impact on our communities and promised that Runway 3 will not be built. The Labour council is now campaigning to keep the all-important runway alternation and night flight regimes in place.

Using taxpayers’ money wisely

Hounslow’s Labour group pledged a fresh war on waste and a council tax cut.

  • Despite cuts to council funding last year, the council managed to freeze council tax for the fifth year in a row. With inflation at 5%, this represents a real terms saving of £55 at band D for residents.
  • The council is above the annual target for Council Tax collection, with a best ever first-half performance.
  • In order to have a modern local authority with a more professional approach to it processes, the council has set up a ‘transformation programme’ based on property assets, commissioning and procurement, fees and charges, better customer access and service innovation through technology and back office support. This programme will also deliver a healthy proportion of the savings required over the four years of the council as unnecessary expenditure is curtailed.
  • The Labour council has taken action to reduce unnecessary spending on agency and temporary staff and the council publishes all expenditure above £500 on the council’s website – with greater transparency there is increased financial accountability.
  • More than 10 buildings are being vacated as part of a modernisation programme – remaining buildings are being better used and office-based staff are relocating to the Civic Centre where better use is being made of the space.

In addition to its pledges, Hounslow’s Labour group has achieve much more in its first 18 months back at the helm:

Town centres

  • In early 2012 the Labour council will launch the ‘Masterplan for Hounslow Town Centre’ to attract investment in new shops, offices and restaurants that will make it into the attractive destination that local people deserve.
  • The Labour council has employed a Town Centre Manager, covering Hounslow and Brentford, who is providing strategic leadership for the way forward for these key town centres.
  • Hounslow and Brentford were awarded £3-4m for street and shop-front improvements, promotional events and support for high street businesses.
  • The council is meeting businesses and developers and starting to identify those keen to invest in Hounslow Town Centre.
  • The council has met Ballymore to discuss their plans to develop their extensive landholdings along and behind Brentford High Street.

Supporting people

  • Caring for the most vulnerable in the community and ensuring they can make choices in their lives is a major priority. Key services for adult social care, and for children, have been judged as ‘excellent’ by government inspectors.
  • Supporting those in debt. Knowing the Tory-led government policies are going to increase financial misery for borough residents, the council has for the first time brought together council and other services which support those struggling with rising prices and cuts to income. The Labour council has significantly increased funding the the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and is developing a ‘single point of information’ to ensure the best advice and support is available to people when they need it.
  • Providing new opportunities for community and voluntary organisations of and for local people  with Innovation Grants of up to £10,000 and a Small Grants Pot for local celebrations and events.

Leisure and sport

  • 11 new and refurbished playgrounds have been opened thanks to the last Labour government’s Playbuilders’ scheme. In addition, disabled children now have a new specialist playground at Redlees park in Isleworth.
  • The ageing Heston Leisure Centre is to be replaced with a brand new leisure centre and pool on the same site.
  • The Osterley Sports Hall & Athletics Track opened and a new athletics club for the borough has been started there.
  • Hogarth House (pictured) re-opened to the public and Boston Manor House stabilisation work is complete.
  • The council has a dedicated Olympics Officer, supporting a 2012 project board to ensure the borough is best placed to make the most of the London Olympics and there is a lasting sporting legacy here.
  • Lampton Park Conference Centre, our flagship space at the Civic Centre, has been re-launched as a premier venue for weddings and major events.

Labour was elected to lead Hounslow in May 2010 (Labour won 35 council seats, the Conservatives 25, with no Liberal Democrats or Independents).

Opinion – The sensible alternative to cuts

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

Heather Wetzel (pictured above right, at Tent City)  argues that the Labour party should look to fundamentally change the tax system and shift taxes from wages and production onto unearned natural resource wealth

There is a strong argument for a tax reform that will result in the whole population sharing the natural resource wealth we all create and which will bring about the efficient use of land and other natural resources.

The Labour Party today ignores the economic and social damage the current tax system does and will continue to do until there is a proper understanding by politicians, their advisers and academics that there is fundamental flaw with their economic analysis that urgently needs to be corrected.

In our borough, we don’t have to look far to see the number of empty or underused properties that are much needed for homes and jobs.  Alpha Lavalls, The Baltic Exchange, Wilson and Kyle, the New England pub, the never used new office block at the corner of Great West Road/Boston Manor Road (built on the site of the former Park Baptist Chapel), and so on. They stay idle or underused (some for many years) simply because of land speculation – and there is no incentive to get these land owners to bring their sites into full use.  This is the case across the whole of the UK.  

Yet we have homeless families and individuals; we have people unable to invest in a new business because they cannot afford the high rents charged by commercial property owners; we have children playing on streets because they have no play areas near them where they can safely play; we have new homes being built on green land thus destroying our environment; elsewhere we have such developments built in places that mean long-distance commuting, which adds to environment and social problems; we have a real need for more investment in our health services, in education, in new homes, in social support networks and so on.  Around a quarter of food grown is actually destroyed or fed to livestock by farmers (because supermarkets won’t accept knobbly carrots for example) and that is before shops and consumers add to this terrible waste.  White goods are deliberately built to have a short life span.  Long distance lorries travel half empty whilst causing pollution and using valuable fuel.  It is cheaper for a family to travel a distance by car instead of using a train or bus.  The list of waste we create and the damage we cause through the misuse of our natural resources is ever-growing.

By taxing the economic rental value of our natural resources, they will be used sparingly and efficiently and other policy reforms such as investing in renewable energy, good planning and reducing pollution will have a real chance of succeeding.

Land and other natural resource wealth is created by all of us – not by those that claim to own the products of nature.  The wealth that comes from our collective use of all land and other natural resources is in fact created by the collective public and private investments and consumption that we all pay for either directly or indirectly.  It is an economic fact that as a country increases its productivity, so the value and therefore the price of the land and other natural resources will rise.   

If business rates and council tax were abolished and an annual Land Value Tax (LVT) was applied to every site according to its optimum permitted use, there would be an immediate financial incentive for owners of land to use it efficiently and we would all benefit because:  

  • LVT cannot be avoided 
  • LVT is transparent, flexible and cheap to collect
  • LVT stimulates economic development in a positive way 
  • LVT can be used as a tool for rationing the use of all natural resource
  • LVT does not penalise employees or employers or capitalists
  • LVT is transparent in identifying the subject of the tax
  • LVT acts as an incentive to bring sites in our towns and cities into full use thus reducing the need for urban sprawl and the destruction of green and natural land
  • LVT captures at least some of the wealth we all create 
  • LVT is fairer for tenants and other non-property owners ( private and commercial ) who gain no share of the land wealth they also help create
  • LVT will help protect the environment and avoid urban sprawl by bringing unused and underused sites into full productive use 
  • LVT takes the opportunity of land speculation out of investments and allows the positive use farming subsidies to encourage traditional, small scale and organic farming as viable environmentally friendly ways of farming.

For more information, go to www.labourland.org or contact Heather Wetzel on heather.wetzel@labourland.org  

Heather Wetzel is a member of Isleworth and Brentford branch.

Why I joined Labour – Anita Soley

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Socialism is in my DNA.  My mother, with whom my relationship was less than cordial, nevertheless transmitted social and Socialist values to me, which she inherited from her own parents.  My grandparents lived in Berlin until they had to flee Nazism.  Before that, my grandfather, a doctor, pioneered social health clinics in Berlin, and they both sheltered Rosa Luxemburg for a while during her unsuccessful flight from persecution and murder by right-wing militarists.

So when someone long ago called at my door in Fulham, canvassing, I readily agreed to join the local Labour Party.  My first husband came to live in the borough, and ended up being a councillor, then an MP, and now a working peer.  As for me, I prefer being a foot soldier, campaigning on doorsteps, and helping out generally, although I have at times been chair or secretary of my local branch.  I have acquired some good like-minded friendships in the process.

I’m an optimist, but that was hard to maintain in the Thatcher years, and even harder now with this government without a mandate, destroying the progress towards social justice for which the last Labour government, for all its mistakes, deserves credit.

Anita Soley, member of Chiswick branch of Brentford and Isleworth CLP