Another lesson for Cameron from Wandsworth

I mentioned Wandsworth’s great results in the Audit Commission’s place survey in a post last week.

Over the weekend a short article by the council Leader, Edward Lister, appeared on the ConservativeHome website. (I’ve included the whole article at the end of this post.)

Obviously, I’m not going to disagree with his article – he’s basically my boss, and I’m not that stupid – but I would go further. Towards the end of the article Edward says:

…we should show above all that we are in tune with what people want in their lives – and relate this to a new understanding of what the public sector is for.

David Cameron will be elected with a mandate for radical change, and should use it. The UK has seen an unremitting tide of centralisation over the past 12 years and it’s time for it to be reversed.

Now many will point to the Thatcher government as centralising, but it tended to prescribe rather than control – councils were required to work in certain ways or prevented from undertaking certain actions – but in many ways it made little difference; it was remarkable, for example, how many Direct Service Organisations ‘won’ compulsory competitive tenders in old Labour authorities.

The Blair and Brown centralisation has been much more directive while wearing the clothes of localism. Labour’s new localism may have involved delegating powers, but it would come with an array of targets and quotas that meant local government was little more than an agency of central government and often given extra duties without sufficient extra resources.

The Conservative government needs to push power as close to the people as it can be. We currently have a state in which power is wielded in Whitehall, leaving people dependent on, and dismissive of, a remote and disinterested ‘state’.

If people are to have faith in politics again, then politics needs to mean something. The easiest and best way is to empower local councils so their decisions, reflecting the will of their communities, can show what real politics is about – effecting positive change.

And Wandsworth has been more of an exception than the rule in this. The Conservative council has a clear mission to provide quality services with low tax, and has been incredibly successful in delivering this. But in the majority of councils where everything is driven by central targets and Whitehall diktat and it’s easy to see why people take the view that it doesn’t matter who you vote for.

To be sure, it would be a brave decision for the Cameron government to give real power back to local councils. It doesn’t just mean, in some cases, giving power to Labour and Liberal Democrat councils, it also means giving councils freedom to do things differently and sometimes make mistakes. But that would also be part of creating political accountability at a local level. Having real power exercised locally will mean that people will start to see how important their vote really is, and that it can make a difference.

The full ConservativeHome article:

Cllr Edward Lister: Lessons from Wandsworth for David Cameron

There’s lessons for David Cameron in this week’s survey results on people’s attitudes to their local authority and the place where they live.

In Wandsworth’s case the Government’s Place Survey gave us approval ratings to die for – top in the country on value for money (73 per cent) and top again for satisfaction with the council (75 per cent).

In London average satisfaction scores fell – down to 49 per cent. So what is Wandsworth doing that is different?

Well we do have the clear advantage of the UK’s lowest council tax – but that’s only one component. When residents are judging us on value for money they are influenced by their overriding perception of what the authority is about.

How was I treated last time I dealt with the town hall? Does the council share my concerns on quality of life issues? And how does it look after the local area?

The Wandsworth formula has been finely tuned over the years. Through a rigorous process of scrutiny and challenge that stretches into every corner of municipal activity we make sure we get the last pound of value from every service.

And like any sound business we don’t just do this once – it is a constant process of review which keeps asking why things are done the way are – and whether they could be done differently.

Wandsworth has a young and fast-changing population. Most people are here because they want to be here. It’s our job to identify with the aspirations of our residents and protect the character and quality of the place where they have chosen to live.

A Cameron government will have its work cut out getting the public finances in order – it will have to move very quickly to demonstrate that it knows how to get real value from all that hard earned taxpayers’ money.

Cutting waste and insisting on value for money from public services will be a popular strategy to start with. But it needs to go deeper if it is to generate and sustain voters’ trust in the longer term.

As Conservatives we should show above all that we are in tune with what people want in their lives – and relate this to a new understanding of what the public sector is for.

It’s about saying to the public ‘we are there for you’ – and meaning it.

Eccles Road report to council

Over the past few months I’ve blogged about the disruption suffered by residents of Eccles Road because of the sewer work being undertaken by Thames Water. The previous posts were: Eccles Road’s Jack and Jill waterworks, Eccles Road waterworks and Eccles Road and traffic.

The report, which is on the council’s website, is a bit slow in coming, largely due to the need to suspend much of the council’s routine activity during the European election purdah.

And, to be fair, the report probably doesn’t satisfy many of the residents. The council is heavily restricted when it comes to works by utility companies, and this comes across quite clearly in the paper. Utility companies have the right to access their infrastructure to carry out work. There is little the council can do about it and, once done, any legal action is a matter for residents and their legal advisors.

One issue that is within the council’s control are parking permits, but here the council will not offer a refund, since a permit is not a guarantee of a parking space and the works only obstructed a small portion of the zone. I know this will disappoint residents.

On a more positive note the council has undertaken a traffic survey since the works were completed to assess the traffic levels and speeds on the road now the road has been re-opened. The data from those surveys is still being analysed. I am currently arranging a meeting with residents and council officers to discuss the potential for road closure.

Crime briefing, 18 – 25 June

The map below details crimes reported in Wandsworth between 18 and 25 June.

With the hot weather always remember to make sure your doors and windows are closed and secure whenever your leave your home, and even if you are not going to be in the room for a lengthy period, burglars look for opportunities and they don’t get much better than an seeing some tasty goods through an open window.

If you have any information on any of these crimes you can get in touch with the local police on 020 7350 1122 or via Crimestoppers (anonymously, if you wish) on 0800 555 111.

The map is hosted by Google, and occasionally will have problems loading. If the map does not load, or will not load the flags, try refreshing the page or following the link directly under the map; I always check the map after publishing, so if it does not load for you it is likely to be a temporary problem with Google. As usual there are some health warnings following the map.

You can click on the individual markers for more information.

  1. Yellow flags represent burglaries and red flags represent street crime reported in the period.
  2. The briefing only contains details of burglaries and robberies. Other crimes are not included.
  3. You can see more detail by following the link to the Google website.
  4. The flags are not placed precisely (it would be irresponsible to advertise victims of burglary) but instead are spaced roughly equally on the roads they took place. The idea is to give a visual representation of the spread and range of crime in Wandsworth, rather than pinpointing crime locations.
  5. While I try to ensure the data is accurate it is reliant on the information I receive, and I’m only human, so it may be mistakes have crept in. Please let me know if you think you’ve spotted one.

Major Jo Norton

I was saddened to hear yesterday of the death of Jo Norton on Saturday.

Jo was a real stalwart of Salvation Army in Wandsworth and had most recently been one of the driving forces in the establishment of street pastor schemes in Wandsworth.

I will confess to having been sceptical of the schemes when they were first proposed, but their success and rapid expansion in Wandsworth are a testament to the hard work and determination of Jo.

My thoughts are with her friends and family.

Tweets for week ending 2009-06-28

  • Farewell, @localguardian, I will miss your Twitterfeed of news & spam but I'm going to give my heart to @Wandsworth_news instead. #
  • Ordnance Survey's choice for Michael Martin replacement? A thoughtful looking Electoral Commission Chief Exec. #
  • I don't suppose anyone cares, but today I'm a martyr to my back. #
  • I feel I should make more effort with facebook. Will this do as a status update? #fb #
  • Brown didn't call after everyone resigned. No-one has tipped me for Speaker. Maybe, just maybe, I was being saved for deputy mayor. #
  • I wish @jesscousins would stop spreading scandalous lies about me. I'm absolutely fine. Nothing wrong with me. Might go weightlifting later. in reply to jesscousins #
  • Even more spam from @TotalPolitics, clearly their unsubscribe is actually a link to a 'yes, I'd love to waste time on surveys' database. #
  • Well, I suppose this means John Bercow won't be defecting to Labour after all. #
  • My rule, would I say this out loud right now?: @vikkichowney rule of thumb: "can my Mum read this?" #hpt09? (via @deejackson) #
  • Do any of these Plymouth Twitter ban stories have quotes from ordinary residents rather than the Labour press release? #
  • My Twitter scepticism has attracted the attention of all sorts of SEO experts. Greetings new followers, hope you'll be unfollowing soon. #
  • Damn right: "If you live in SW11 you live in Battersea, not Clapham!" (via @robertbrook) #
  • Wandsworth… comes top… of the resident satisfaction tables in the Place Survey. (via @DanDrillsma) #
  • I'm sorry, but why is everyone getting excited about Plymouth having the same Internet access policy as almost every other council? #
  • FREE wine tasting at The Lavender tomorrow from 6pm-all welcome (via @TheWineBox) #
  • Nostalgic chat with @IdleSi made me look up my 1st web-enabled phone: a Nokia 7110 with Matrix slider. #
  • Battersea riverside open air opera, free tomorrow evening: (via @wandbc) #
  • Meetings. Meetings. Meetings. Perhaps we should take democracy out, to a park, or a bar with a nice outdoor seating area. #
  • If an argument was needed for #fixreplies, this is it: Open transparent inspirational leadership (via @bureauista) #
  • How many #fix hashtags are needed today? #fixblock #fixfollow #fixunfollow. Can't not chuck in #fixreplies. Any others? #
  • Three meetings back to back tonight. Heading towards them I see most sane people are already in the pub. #
  • Going to be scrutinised for the first time this municipal year. Have a feeling it's going to be a fun one! #
  • Just finished a lengthy scrutiny. Some high quality discussion. #
  • There's all sorts wrong with this. Is the abbatoir correctly licensed for a start: Pub in Tooting (via @ingridk) #
  • Oh God. At the end of the day the mirror shows my hair has gone Tory boy. The marketing text from my hairdresser was right – I must go back. #
  • Reminded by @russelltanner's 1st blog of a colleague who is soon to blog & was born with a surname for blogging, but no, mustn't spoil it… #
  • Now have a sleeping baby on my lap. Can't imagine how life can get any better. #
  • I've realised that I rarely follow new people since Twitter changed their reply settings, so am trying to be a bit more 'promiscuous'. #
  • Can anyone help me solve this equation: MassiveInbox + LotsOfEmail + OutstandingTasks – AnyTime = ? #
  • Email inbox now cleared (apart from the pesky email that just arrived) now just a 6" pile in the physical inbox. Thanks for the tips! #
  • I know everyone complains about how hot the Tube gets, but they should try this bus (admittedly, it is basically a green house on wheels) #
  • Using council computers to check into Twitter. It's not blocked here, but I'm forced to use IE6, which I think is much much worse. #
  • Much as I think such stats are meaningless I'm only 4 followers off 500… I wonder which spammer will be 500. #
  • Late notice, but if you are in SW11 and fancy some riverside open air opera then you should head down to Battersea Reach from 7.30pm #
  • Anyone else having problems blocking? Just tried to get rid of some spammers but seems iffy, good old, totally unreliable Twitter. #
  • AudioBoo: A windy OpenAirOperaBoo from Battersea Reach #
  • Please, everyone, take a moment and spare a thought for Macaulay Culkin. #
  • Is this good or bad for Britain's Got Talent dance acts? #MichaelJackson #
  • I worry that Twitter has made me think that people really do care about what I get up to during the week. #
  • Incidentally that last tweet was more rhetorical musing that fishing for sympathy. Which was lucky because I didn't get much. #
  • Little 'uns woken up… That's my spurt of work/Twittering brought to an end. Although I'm quite excited about watching In The Night Garden. #
  • Mini Me has decided he's hungry (he has just woken). Not manly to say, but I'm finding the sight of a baby feeding himself very cute. #
  • Noticed what looks like a #g2g Twitterfall in @sharonodea's yfrog pic… Wondering whether to spam it… Would that be bad? #
  • Derek Jacobi is the narrator of In The Night Garden. That just seems wrong. It would have been like asking John Gielgud to voice Penfold. #
  • Tired after a long week? Have a nice sit down and a cup of tea in a Habitat chair #g2g

    (More seriously, when are things kicking off?) #

  • Been very voyeuristic with #g2g, watching but not contributing. Have followed lots, so now I'm a stalker too. #
  • So disappointed Mardy Fish has been knocked out. Fellow northerners will know why… #
  • Has Milburn realised that there are better things to do with life than being an MP? Or is this part of the steady drip of anti-Brown moves? #
  • Seeing people Twitter about applying for conference passes makes me wonder: are there any Tweet-ups organised? #
  • Finally, after months of stagnation, my @cnps progresses to 23 #
  • Just got MiniMe to sleep (3 hours later than usual) in his own room for the 1st time. I'm putting odds he'll be in our bed by 3am. #fb #
  • 1999: Saturday = getting bladdered in the West End. 2009: Saturday = looking at self-catering in Cleethorpes. Rock and roll. #
  • I've gone an entire day without TV, but seeing Glastonbury Tweets makes me want to put it on. Do I use the midnight technicality? #
  • Just caught about five seconds of Big Brother while flicking through channels. I felt my IQ drop, I knew putting the TV on was a mistake. #
  • Wow, the commentary team at Glastonbury are really adding something aren't they? #
  • Oooo, just spotted a West Wing on More 4. Sadly turned out to be a Jamie Oliver ad when I switched to it. #
  • Holy Cow! Flight Control update available. Peer-to-peer multi-player. Must. Stop. Hyper-ventilating. #
  • So sorry to hear of the passing of Jo Norton from @WandsworthSP, my thoughts are with friends and family. in reply to WandsworthSP #
  • Got fed up of waiting for Apple to release the fixed @Tweetie for iPhone, so am experimenting. Any iPhone clients I just HAVE to try? #
  • Any other iPhone Twitter recommendations? Perhaps I should just buy them all and find out for myself. #
  • Not a seconds buyer's remorse with the new iPhone, but feel almost suicidal over £1.19 on Tweetflip. #
  • I've eaten far too much cheese. It's time for bed. I'll tell you about the nightmares in the morning. #

Weekly report, week ending 26 June

It will be a short on this week, for a few reasons.  First, a lot of my time has been spent on those routine meetings that take up a lot of time.  Second, I have managed to injure my back, which severely restricted my movement, especially at the beginning of the week. Please direct all sympathy via the comments (and even as I type that I know I’ll get none)!

Having said that there are a few parts of the week that really stand out.

Lessingham Avenue
Unfortunately this stuck out for all the wrong reasons and last night’s news that Maleha Masud has passed away  highlights the seriousness of the incident.  The police are leading on the investigation, but all the local partners are working hard not just to bring the perpetrators to justice, but also to provide reassurance to the local community although obviously, first and foremost, our thoughts and sympathies are with the Masud family.

Community Advice Day
I also popped along to the Community Advice Day the council hosted, mainly to thank those officers within my portfolio manning the stands, but I also took the time to have a look around. It was impressive to see so many stands, not only from the council, but also from our partners offering advice. They were certainly kept busy and there was a steady stream of visitors while I was there.

Regeneration and Community Safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee
This was another big part of the week. I wrote a couple of blog posts about two of the issues that came up: Tooting crime and Wandsworth’s casino policy. Given that this gives me a chance to say a little more it was a fascinating meeting, and councillors on the committee did a fantastic job of scrutinising the items on the agenda – Wandsworth has some very talented and able councillors, at all levels and (much as I would like to pretend otherwise) on both sides of the political divide.

There’s plenty I missed. I’m really sorry I couldn’t get along to the unveiling of our first green plaque, for Clement Attlee, in Portinscale Road this morning. And will, unfortunately, be missing tomorrow’s commemoration of Armed Forces Day in Battersea Park tomorrow – have a great time if you go along.

Clapham Junction hotel – developers appeal to the Mayor

One of the applicant's drawings of the proposed hotel on Falcon Road
One of the applicant's drawings of the proposed hotel on Falcon Road

Although the application for the hotel was rejected last night the developers are now appealing to the Mayor.

Any applicant has the right to appeal a decision, which will normally go to the planning inspectorate.  This is unusual in that it’s not, technically, an appeal, but instead a request that the Mayor takes responsibility for the decision (and presumably, having taken responsibility, approves it).

I’ll also confess I don’t really understand the motives.  The usual justification for asking the Mayor to rule on an application is because it impacts on his wider London strategies.  It’s hard to argue that London is in desperate need for more hotel capacity.

You can argue that Wandsworth needs more capacity – but that’s a Wandsworth, not a London, matter.

Another reason might be that the application has implications for more than one borough.  Again, it’s hard to see how, the site is some miles from the nearest border with Lambeth, and the size means it’s unlikely to have any effect on any of our neighbours.

I would hope this doesn’t get anywhere with the Mayor.  The developers best way forward is to work with the council to come up with an acceptable scheme, rather than touting the application around in the hope someone will eventually say yes.

Open air opera at Battersea Reach

Last night saw an incredibly successful event organised by Wandsworth Town Centre Partnership (with support from St George). I made some fairly feeble attempts at recording elements – an AudioBoo:

And a video, although distance and the light mean phone cameras are not going to produce great results it does give a good impression of the set-up and the size of the audience.

Although the event was a real success what struck me the most was the potential Battersea’s riverside has. I never really think about Battersea having a destination riverside, Wandsworth has a huge length of accessible river, which is very picturesque – but something I’ve always walked or run, rather than actually gone to as a destination in itself.

Hopefully the success of the event last night will mean that more will be made of the river and more people who shared my misconception, will re-think the Thames at Battersea.

Crime in Tooting (and Balham, Earlsfield and Furzedown)

Another good discussion from last night’s committee was on crime in Tooting (which, for the police, includes Balham, Earlsfield and Furzedown). It was the first time the committee has had a geographically based crime paper, in the past it has concentrated on crime by type.

Let me start by setting the context that Wandsworth is the safest place in inner London, and is significantly safer than many outer London boroughs. Crime in Wandsworth is low and has been falling (although there is some evidence that fall may have bottomed out, and the recession is having an affect on patterns and volumes of crime).

Rather than try and precis the report, I’d suggest if you live in Tooting or are even interested in crime you take the time to have a read of Paper 09-472 Crime in Tooting. Yes, it’s a council report, and yes, that means it’s quite dry. But it is full interesting information.

For example, I think there has always been a perceived wisdom that Tooting suffers higher crime than the rest of the borough, when in fact the rate of crime is consistently lower than Wandsworth’s already low rate.

There are also a few maps illustrating how the occurrence of different crime types is spread (or not spread, in some cases) across Tooting. Unfortunately, Ordnance Survey’s restrictive copyright means I can’t reproduce them here.

And, importantly, it highlights some of the work the council, police and other partners are doing to reduce crime. Like I said, it’s well worth a read and I’d be interested in your reaction, thoughts and comments.