With the Christmas hangovers barely worn off today sees the start of Woolworths closure programme.  Wandsworth’s stores all close in the New Year, and will leave a big hole in the town centres they are leaving, and a bigger hole in the lives of the employees who are losing their jobs.

Shortly before Christmas Edward Lister, the council leader, announced the council’s programme to help the borough’s businesses and residents through the recession.  A lot of these schemes are within my portfolio, and quite a few see their first airing at the Regeneration and Community Safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee early in the new year so I’ll highlight them here in the coming days.  However, it’s worth just flagging up one of the leader’s comments:

Wandsworth ‘s council tax is the lowest in the country. We are committed to keeping our bills affordable for local people. When household budgets are stretched, a low tax can make a real difference.

And this is key.  In Wandsworth the average band D council tax is £681 per year.  Nationally the average is £1,370 – this means you are nearly £700 a year better off just for living in Wandsworth.  When times are hard, that makes a lot of difference.

I made one last trip into Clapham Junction town centre today and was amazed at how busy it was.  Asda was heaving, there was a steady flow of bag-laden shoppers coming from St John’s and Northcote Roads and there was the traditional queue of people outside Doves.  Perhaps the economy isn’t all that bad.

But then I remembered a conversation I had earlier today.  It was started with the news that Whittard were on the verge of administration.  And then progressed to who was next.

The scary thing, looking back, was the sense of grim resignation.  The unspoken assumption was that there would be a next.  And there would be more to follow.

Given that our economy is so reliant on consumer confidence it is scary that there seems to be a widespread assumption that the new year is going to be bleak – because it can easily be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If the Putney map shows how little crime there is, the Tooting map shows how crime often clusters around a specific area or set of roads. As usual, health warnings follow the map.
The map is hosted by Google, and occasionally will not load, or will not load the flags. If it does not display correctly, try refreshing the page or following the link directly under the map.

View Larger Map

  1. Yellow flags represent burglaries and red flags represent street crime reported between 9 and 16 December, 2008.
  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 Tooting, rather than pinpointing crime locations.
  5. This map is only for the Tooting parliamentary consitutuency – which is different to the police’s Tooting sector.
  6. 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.

Since my council cabinet role doesn’t just cover Shaftesbury or Battersea I’ve prepared a similar crime map for Putney (and Tooting, which will follow later today). Below is the map, one thing I think it illustrates is how little crime there actually is – just seven burglaries and four robberies. As usual the health warnings follow the map.
The map is hosted by Google, and occasionally will not load, or will not load the flags. If it does not display correctly, try refreshing the page or following the link directly under the map.

View Larger Map

  1. Yellow flags represent burglaries and red flags represent street crime reported between 9 and 16 December, 2008.
  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 Putney, rather than pinpointing crime locations.
  5. This map is only for the Putney parliamentary consitutuency – which is different to the police’s Putney sector.
  6. 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.

The latest crime briefing has been published by the Community Safety Division, and below is my attempt at mapping the data.  This will be the last briefing until the New Year and, as usual, the health warnings follow the map.
The map is hosted by Google, and occasionally will not load, or will not load the flags. If it does not display correctly, try refreshing the page or following the link directly under the map.

View Larger Map

  1. Yellow flags represent burglaries and red flags represent street crime reported between 9 and 16 December, 2008.
  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 Battersea, rather than pinpointing crime locations.
  5. This map is only for the Battersea parliamentary consitutuency – which is different to the police’s Battersea sector.
  6. 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.

What will make you feel safer?  400 more politicians or 700 more police?I missed the news yesterday that the government has u-turned on having directly elected members on police authorities.

I cannot deny that I think this particular u-turn is good news – just the other day I  highlighted the petition on the Number 10 website against it.  But I’m also a bit shocked by Jacqui Smith’s comments.

Apparently her decision was motivated by her desire to avoid ‘politicising’ the police.  This shows a remarkable lack of self-awareness by the Home Secretary, since I can’t think of any government who have been more responsible for politicising the police than the one in which she serves.

She even tries to pin the blame for this on Boris Johnson and Damien Green.  Boris, she claims, was wrong to have no confidence in Sir Ian Blair.  Given the number of times Sir Ian was in the news for the wrong reasons I would have thought the Mayor’s lack of confidence entirely rational.  And then to suggest that Damien Green somehow provoked the police into arresting him by receiving a Home Office leak beggars belief.

Above all I’m shocked by her comments because she is just plain wrong about politics; she seems to think that politics are somehow bad or sordid and should be avoided wherever possible.  Now this might be because she is a rare self-loathing politician, or, more likely, she wants to keep policing power centralised in the Home Office.

In fact, politics are about matching public resources to public priorities.  The police are no different.  They have to follow the priorities set down for them, whether by legislation or government policy.  The problem is that these priorities are set far too far away from the people who will have their own views on what they should be;  on one street it might be anti-social behaviour, on one estate it might be a spate of car crime.  People want and need a way of having a dialogue with the police to express these priorities and hear what the police are doing, and a way of passing judgement on what they see happening.

And some of the best people at communicating with their communities are their local politicians, it’s what they do – they listen to their residents, the act on their behalf, and then they are answerable at the ballot box.

The Home Secretary shouldn’t be worrying about politicisation of the police force, she’s already part of that.  What she should be worried about is that the politicisation she’s overseen is one of increasing centralist control, and she’s not doing anything to move power back towards the people.

The Garrett Business Park Business Improvement District (BID) vote was counted yesterday.  One of the powers a BID has is to charge an extra levy on business rates to be invested within the district.

The proposal came about after a lot of hard work from the business association and Angela Graham, one of the local councillors.  Having visited the business park I could see why they wanted the BID to help them invest in the crumbling roads they had to use, so wasn’t surprised when the vote was successful.

However, I was astounded by the margin of victory for the ‘yes’ vote – a 68% turnout with a 90% yes vote.  These are businesses, facing recession, voting for more taxation!

But, of course, what they have actually voted for is the right – for the first time – to see their business rates benefiting them.  Up until now they’ve been paying into the national pot which is unfairly distributed to Labour’s friends in the north.

It’s a fairly common complaint I hear from businesses that business rates keep going up – and I have to explain that although the government makes Wandsworth collect them we don’t get to set them.  It’s a ridiculous situation that really needs to be changed.  Here in Wandsworth we give residents low council tax and excellent services, we should be allowed to offer the same to businesses.