My last post started life as this week’s weekly wrap-up, but then killed it off.
The point of the posts, which I’ve been doing since last May, was to be some sort of ‘report’. I’d started them at the suggestion of a commenter on the blog. But I just don’t think they were adding anything.
And as I got a little carried away ranting about blogging about policy, I realised that pretty much all my council work of the previous week fell into the ‘can’t talk about it’ category. They were policy meetings, or private casework, issues that may well become public, but aren’t quite ready for that yet. The weekly wrap-ups had become, frankly, pointless. They were, in effect, little more than a listing of meetings; a chore to write and dull to read. So last week’s is now the last one.
So while I may still do the occasionally look back on a Friday, it’ll only be when there’s something to say that hasn’t already been said.
I seem to have stopped taking photos this year – so the cup of tea is getting a few outings – not that photos of meetings or a fairly damp and dreary London are any more exciting.
I started the week off acting as a judge for the Local Government Information Unit’s first national councillor awards. While I’ve judged a few things in Wandsworth (most recenty the SNT award) this is the first time I’ve been part of a national award’s judging panel.
It was certainly a fascinating, and humbling, experience – and a real privilege to be asked. Seeing what councillors and local government around the country are achieving was an inspiration.
The Local Strategic Partnership is one of those bodies that exist in every local authority that no-one actually knows about.
The name gives away what it is (or should be) it’s a high level partnership of everyone involved in the local area – the council is an obvious member, but they are joined by the police, local health service, local businesses and charities to help set the overall direction of the area. The partnership in Wandsworth works remarkably well, and has certainly improved enormously since I first joined (that is a function of a change in the partners around the table, rather than my joining).
One interesting point that came up (I think from one of the health service representatives) was the amount of work we can create for local businesses when tendering contracts.
Until fairly recently it would have been illegal to consider bids on anything but price and quality, though this has relaxed recently, but is an issue that I’ve been looking at over the years. One thing I wouldn’t want to do is start putting a price on location. Is being Wandsworth based worth a £1,000 or £10,000? And what happens if a company moved mid-contract?
The key problem, though, is that Wandsworth is predominantly a small business economy and the public sector is forced to be quite restrictive. For example, we require significant financial guarantees and will look through a company’s accounts to ensure the public money we are spending is at as little risk as possible. These have certainly deterred businesses in the past and often a small company just won’t have been in existence long enough to meet these requirements.
But we can improve access for local businesses by advertising the opportunities and providing advice on how to bid and this is something we are starting to improve. We have long been accessible to local businesses (through things like the Wandsworth Business Forum, the next one being on Monday) and are always willing to advise and help a business compete for our contracts.
Nine Elms Opportunity Board
My last meeting of the week was the Nine Elms Opportunity Board. Now that the area is finally starting to develop this is becoming an exciting meeting again (for years its meetings seemed to be just to discuss what wasn’t happening).
The body was initially formed to try and maximise the benefits to local residents of the development of the Power Station site and the report from Job Centre Plus was interesting. Yesterday I highlighted the small drop in Wandsworth’s JSA claims, but apparently the movement in the market is considerably higher than this time last year. So while there were only a few job vacancies being reported at the beginning to 2009 there are plenty being reported and filled this year. Perhaps we can start being a little more confident about the end of the recession.
It’s been another week I’ve ended out of Wandsworth. This week the child in me has been excited by a trip on a sleeper train in which my knowledge of sleepers, derived entirely from Agatha Christie and Hart to Hart (a show surely due a remake) was confounded as no-one was murdered). If that wasn’t enough, it was topped by a tour around an airport – and not just the passenger side, but the driving around the runways side.
But, of course, Wandsworth is the purpose of my blog, and Wandsworth will be the purpose of the remainder of this post.
The YouTube of the Mastermind round on Wandsworth has to be the highlight of my week. Having felt a little saddened by my score, the honesty of others has made me feel a lot better about it. Indeed, one councillor, who shall remain nameless, confessed he only got four. Smugness isn’t pleasant, but I just can’t help it.
Regeneration and Community Safety
The Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday night was the major meeting I attended as a councillor this week. It wasn’t, if I’m honest, a meeting to set the world on fire. Unfortunately Tony Belton, the Labour leader couldn’t attend the meeting, and his absence brings home what an excellent opposition councillor he is – despite leading a small group, he makes sure we keep on our toes. Proof that size is not everything!
Much of the agenda was fairly uncontroversial, although some concerns were raised by the opposition councillor present, I think Labour voted with the Conservatives on all but one paper. The sole paper being on action taken to control street drinkers in Roehampton. The council has taken some very targeted action to help street drinkers where possible, but empowering the police to act where the drinkers aren’t responsive to the help offered.
This seems to have had the desired effect, although the situation needs to be monitored. However the Labour group wanted to call this an Alcohol Exclusion Zone (which it is not, since that has a strict legal definition) and therefore voted against. A slightly odd vote, I thought, since the problem has been tackled, but clearly image and spin still remain more important to Labour than substance.
Much of the rest of my time has been taken up with various community safety meetings. One of the most pleasing with a researcher who was looking into how Neighbourhood Watch worked in various boroughs, and was examining Wandsworth as an exciting example of how it could be developed.
I’ve long held a deep respect for the Community Safety team (as well as all the other council officers!) for their dedication to their work, but it’s also good to see that work recognised elsewhere and be able to give credit to them to external bodies.
I will never tire of using the same snow related photo for such posts. I want it to become a cliché for the blog, in just the same way that snow becomes the tired and clichéd news item whenever it happens in this country.
In fact, I’ve not that much Wandsworth-related to write about. I have spent most of this week working away performing what is known as a ‘peer review’ of another borough’s Community Safety partnership (which was generally impressive and has left me with a lot of ideas for Wandsworth). Less impressive was the performance of their neighbouring borough at clearing roads!
While not perfect – and it would be impossible to do everything – Wandsworth has coped admirably with the snow and ice. Yesterday, for example, it made over 1,000 of the 1,400 refuse collections that were due. To put this into context Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham suspended all their collections, while Lambeth collected from main routes only. The latest information can be found on the council’s website.
Things are getting quieter as we get close to Christmas. While we don’t have a ‘recess’ like Parliament (since we don’t sit, but meet every six weeks or so) the council carries on, there are no formal meetings over the Christmas period.
That’s not to say we do nothing. Obviously all the council staff have been working away providing their usual excellent service. And I’ve been doing various bits and pieces, but it makes for a fairly sparse end-of-week posting.
A lot of the stuff I’ve been doing is in preparation for the start of the year and the first committee meeting – discussing the agenda and reviewing and amending the reports.
I’ve also had some of my general meetings to discuss the broader issues and progress on specific projects and this morning had a fascinating session with the fire brigade on how they target their prevention work. Like crime and ill-health we are not all exposed to equal risk, so the fire brigade do a lot to target their prevention work where it will have the biggest impact.
But generally the week has been quiet from a council point of view, giving me a great opportunity to catch up, get on top of things and start preparing for 2010.
It isn’t unique to being a councillor (although it might be exacerbated by the lack of structure) but I struggle to think of the things I have been up to this week! So when I can look to my diary to remind me of what meetings and appointments I’ve had I find myself thinking “was that really this week?” So, in a slightly different format, this week’s wrap-up.
Stuff I missed
Annoyingly I missed two Christmas light switch-ons this week – Tooting last Tuesday and Northcote Road yesterday. I like to attend them where I can, partly to show support for our Town Centres, but also because it appeals to the child in me!
A prior commitment meant I also had to miss one of the regular meetings between the council and Chamber of Commerce. These are useful meetings, if only because it means we get to hear directly from local businesses. And I would have loved to hear how the season is going. We did, of course, get the good news that Wandsworth is going to benefit by £52,000 from the Department for Communities and Local Government. An early Christmas present (although probably too late to use before Christmas) that will help us with our plans, which are already fairly well advanced, to ensure Wandsworth’s high streets are blighted by the recession.
Stuff I did, but didn’t mention
I’ve had a few of the fairly ‘routine’ meetings this week. Next week sees a Full Council meeting, the last before Christmas and New Year, so we had our usual Conservative group meeting to discuss it. It has an element of smoky rooms to it, since while we’re sat talking in one room the Labour Party are having the same sort of discussions just down the corridor. And afterwards the two whips compare notes to agree the agenda of council meeting!
I also had one of my regular policy meetings with the officers in my portfolio area. Checking on how things are going (a much nicer task as the recession seems to be easing and the spate of gun crime has ended) and discussing how various projects and ideas can be taken forward. Or not, if you’re of the Yes, Minister school of government.
Finally, I was at the inaugural meeting of the national Advisory Panel on Tackling Worklessness. I was a little surprised, as a councillor from a borough with fairly low unemployment, to be asked onto a body like that. I often wonder if I’m wheeled out as a token cynic because I do like to focus and concentrate on the deliverables, if you will allow me a little jargon. But an interesting body and one I hope will be productive, not least because, as a national group made up of many fairly frontline people, so many different perspectives can be brought to bear on the problem.
Stuff I’m not going to mention
A fairly self-defeating headline. But I occasionally worry I give the impression that everything is blogged and, therefore, if it’s not on here I didn’t do it. As usual the week has been peppered with reading, emailing, casework and small meetings and discussions; none of which ever get close to a blog post. While I’d love to pretend it’s because they are important and super-secret, it’s mainly because they are quite dull!
I’m not sure why but it seems like campaigning seems to be taking up more and more time, although looking through the diary we’ve been keeping up a fairly stiff pace through the summer months. It is perhaps the onset of darker and considerably colder nights makes an evening on the doorstep seem a lot less appealing than it did in the summer months. Or it might be that the elections are starting to seem a little more real now that other candidates are falling into place – I’ve heard Martin Linton’s wife, Sara Apps-Linton, is standing as a council candidate in Shaftesbury – whether the story is accurate or not there is no doubt that we are definitely heading into election territory. If you don’t like elections and politics it might be an idea to book a long holiday!
Awards of one form or another have formed a large part of this week. I was one of the judging panel for the first Safer Neighbourhood Team awards this week, responsible for sifting through the hundreds of nominations made by members of the public, businesses, charities, pubs, councillors and children who all thought they had the borough’s best SNT.
At the risk of using cliché it was not an easy decision. I think the result changed several times during the discussions before the winner was finally decided. And while I’m not going to name the winner here, it says a lot that there is such support and recognition in the borough for the work of the SNTs.
I also attended a little session to recognise the awards that the council’s Community Safety Division have received over the past few weeks. I have often said how privileged I have been to work with some excellent council officers from all parts of my portfolio, but it’s always good to see their good work recognised externally. Since October Community Safety officers have been part of the team winning the London Region Tilley Award (a Home Office prize awarded annually) received a commendation from Ron Dobson, the London Fire Commissioner, (I understand this is the first time council staff have received such recognition) and also received commendations from Stewart Low, the Wandsworth police borough commander, for their community safety work.
That they are an award winning department is no surprise to me, and I’m incredibly proud of all that they have done for the borough.
Westfield Stratford City
While not directly related to the borough I took up an invitation to have a look around the Westfield Stratford City site this week. It is a truly massive project and (I am happy to admit) one that I hope I will never visit when finished! But however much I dislike shopping I cannot deny the regeneration benefits it will have for Newham, creating enormous employment opportunities for the area and fitting into the wider regeneration through the Olympics. Of course, a retail-led regeneration of that scale is not directly suitable for Wandsworth, not least because it would undermine the council’s five town centre strategy. But it is a example of what can be achieved between the private and public sector and while the parallels are not direct gives an indication of the sort of benefits might accrue to local residents as development begins in Nine Elms.
As an aside, it also offered an excellent view of the Olympic venues. Several are visible from the upper areas of the Westfield building site, and while the media (I think) tends to portray a negative image but when you see them you realise that they are very close to completion and that the Olympics are not very far away at all.
Housing ASB conference
Finally, I spent his morning at a conference on Anti-Social Behaviour organised by the council’s housing department. Wandsworth’s housing department is very strong when it comes to dealing with ASB from its tenants, but it is something that continues to blight many people’s lives. One aspect is understanding, a resident in a working group I took part in commented that, very often, people felt intimidated when there was no ill-will meant and sometimes a group of teenagers is just a group of teenages and not a knife-weilding gang!
It is a point we often lose sight of and I was talking to a Shaftesbury resident this afternoon about much the same subject. While the council and partners need to be (and are) tough on crime and anti-social behaviour we need to ensure that in doing so we do not criminalise and marginalise a generation just for doing what teenagers have always done – meet friends and hang about.
A few bits that I’ve not posted about separately during the week.
This week saw the (superficially) good news that Clapham Junction is to receive some funding for improvements, combined with the bad news – which we all sort of knew – that it’s the country’s second worst station. I’ve not written anything about this because I have been trying, and failing, to get some more information. It doesn’t seem like there’s much out there, just that the total pot is £50 million. Obviously any improvements to the station are good, but my fear is that the amounts suggested are nowhere near enough to make the difference needed. The major problem is congestion in the tunnel, and there’s no easy solution to that.
Wandsworth Business Forum
Thursday saw one of the regular, council organised, Business Forums. I don’t think there are many equivalents elsewhere in the country, but these serve two purposes. Part is information, they usually have a few interesting speakers and part is networking. Thursday’s event saw over 350 local businesses gather at the Wandsworth Palais for an evening largely focused on culture and the creative sector.
A great night, and I understand it continued long after I left at 9pm – and when people linger it’s usually a good sign.
Following on the culture theme; this morning I served as the token Philistine on the judging panel for Battersea Poems. There were some excellent poems submitted and going through and selecting the poems for the anthology was a lengthy process. The winners will be notified in coming days and the book should be published in time for Christmas.
As I go into the weekend I find myself almost computerless (mainly through my own fault) and using an old and slow computer means I’ll be keeping it brief!
Town Centre meetings
I had a meeting with representatives from the borough’s town centre partnerships early in the week which, I thought, was useful and generated a lot of ideas and issues for the council (and the town centres) to take away and work on.
The different character of the five town centres is one of the defining characteristics of Wandsworth and help give the borough its heart soul. There is nothing worse than an out of town shopping centre (having spent a large part of the day at Westfield, I’m glad we have never gone down that route).
It’s easy for a council to concentrate on its residents and not think about the businesses needed to serve the people who live there and provide jobs for local people. While I think we generally do a good job I know we don’t always get it right and am pleased the partnerships are prepared to tell us when we don’t!
Act of Remembrance
I took my son along to the Act of Remembrance in Battersea Park on 11 November. As always it was a moving ceremony that involved not just those affected or involved in the armed forces, but also local children. And while I do get a little annoyed at the few dog-walkers who cannot pause for a moment at 11am, it was good to see most people in the park taking a few minutes to those who have sacrificed so much for us all.
Another defining characteristic is the council’s commitment to volunteering and giving some recognition to those who have given so much to their community. One of the year’s highlights for this is the Civic Awards which seek to recognise a handful of people each year who have given, voluntarily, huge amounts over the years to the area.
Wednesday saw five awards made to those whose lifetime of commitment had made a difference. It was an opportunity for the council to say thank-you, and for the recipients, their friends and families to celebrate. And one of those nights that really shows that the council is, and should be, about so much more than just providing services.
Building Confidence in Our Community
Finally, I spent yesterday in Roehampton at a conference organised by the police (with some help from the council’s Community Safety Division) about the different factors affecting confidence in the police in the borough.
You might, superficially, think it is just a function of the police themselves – but there are so many factors that affect what people think about safety in the area. We happen to have excellent police, but many other factors seem to determine how people think. For example, many ‘communities’ within the borough have different views because their access is restricted, not deliberately, but because people haven’t thought about their situation.
There were some powerful presentations given, I was particularly touched by two ladies who discussed their experiences of interacting with the police when they were victims of domestic abuse. It is a recurrent theme for me, but it is important to realise that things are very very rarely as clear-cut as they might seem.
Regeneration and Community Safety OSC (well, cycling) I posted about the meeting the following day, so will not repeat the points. Except, rather smugly, to point out that I cycled to the meeting. I’m rather pleased that I’ve been managing to keep the cycling up – and am finding it an interesting experiment.
Last Monday was the first time I saw some really bad driving. Hitherto I’ve found other road users considerate, much to my surprise. There had been a few annoyances, but nothing major. However on Monday I found myself braking as a car turned left right in front of me and being nudged into the back of the bus by someone who didn’t want to give me any room. Perhaps worst was the driver who ostentatiously pulled into the oncoming lane to pass while pointedly accelerating then swerving rapidly to avoid a head-on collision with cars coming the other way.
My other cycling experiences have all been positive, and I’m going to carry on, but a salutary lesson that it isn’t all good!
Oxford Circus and Balham
It’s mischief and a little childish. But I really enjoyed the whole Oxford Circus and Balham episode. I think what made it sweeter, however, was that Westminster responded. As far as I’m aware the conversation was a few people with Balham connections tweeting about the crossings there. I don’t think anyone was really seriously suggesting Balham and Oxford Circus were the same.
Alertbox in Northcote Road
This morning saw a formal launch for AlertBox in Northcote Road. AlertBox is a remarkably simple system that connects retailers and allows them to alert each other to potential problems – for example if they spotted a shoplifter – and to call for help if needed.
The system already runs in Southfields and Tooting where many shopkeepers rave about it.
The installation in Northcote Road was funded by the council and Battersea Crime Prevention Panel, with the technical support coming from the Community Safety Division.
This weekend see two major events. The first is the Battersea Park fireworks on Saturday. The display has always been one of London’s best and I hope the weather holds out to make it another successful year.
The second are the Remembrance Day services on Sunday. The two ‘civic’ services are at St Mary’s in Battersea and St Mary’s Putney. But there are other services taking place across the borough.