Liberal Family Courts

The London Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDA) are now a well established step improvement in how charged people are dealt with. A welcome improvement in the courts approach to children in care cases. Southwark has been part of the scheme for over 2 years now. During that time there has been 18 cases, involving 24 children through the FDA court.

The impact that we are seeing through this court process is that fewer children are remaining in care and children are more likely to remain with a birth parent or an extended family member.

The FDA court has been externally evaluated as more successful than conventional family courts and as a result they now being extended beyond London.


Tree Root Subsidence Claims

Southwark Council with so many tens of thousands of trees receives a number of lciams for subsidence caused by those trees routes every year.

The latest stats I have after submitting a Freedom of Information request:
2010   69 claims
2011   70
2012   47
2013   41
2014   34 claims – but residents have up to 6 years to make a tree subsidence claim

Average time to resolve – 12-18 months to resolve a subsidence claim which is apparently is pretty average for councils. The council logs when a claim is raised and when the claim file is ultimately closed. However this does not measure how long a claim takes to resolve. For instance, a building insurer may raise a claim, ask for initial pruning to be introduced and then the claims handlers hear nothing further from the claimant. However they are required to keep the claim open for a significant period of time in case further communication from the claimant is received.

Tree root liability claims take longer to resolve than most other types of public liability claims as various sets of technical data are generally required along with a period of movement monitoring through a growing cycle, normally 12 months.

Top 3 Reasons cases take longer than the industry average/ best practice:
1. Technical data is not complete or provided – the council must ensure that the technical data is sufficient to show the cause of the subsidence before it moves to take remedial action, especially if it relates to a tree removal. People get very upset when well loved trees have to be removed. Occasionally a further period of monitoring may be required if the monitoring results did not show significant movement or the nature of movement was inconclusive requiring additional period of monitoring. There may be another cause to subsidence movement such as leaking drains, or unusually wet or dry periods.
2. Receipt of arboriculture reports – speeding up this process would in particular improve the average time to resolve the smaller less complex claims such as boundary walls and driveways.
3. Challenge to proposed tree removal – once the process begins to fell trees, delays can arise when challenges are received to the proposed felling. In addition this can also impact the speed at which arboriculture reports can be finalised.

Fire Deaths

The London Fire Brigade does an amazing job especially considering the severe cuts it has had over the last few years.

Across the UK 1979-2007 we’ve seen a huge reduction in fire deaths per million population of 69.5%. Since then it’s fallen even further. Truly amazing. Of western countries only Canada has seen a larger decrease. Brilliant performances from fire services. This has resulted from better building regulations, better work place regulations, changes to products to make things like sofas less flammable, fewer people smoking.

Despite that our absolute UK fire deaths per million was 7.6. The best is Switzerland with 2.0 fire deaths per million population followed closely by Austria at 2.6. Both countries have huge numbers of volunteer fire fighters. So across our UK 65 million population that means we have around 122 avoidable fire deaths each year.

In the UK we have a very high ratio of professional full time fire fighters. Many other countries have the reverse with volunteer fire fighters being the most numerous. Some have suggested that in such countries, where volunteers often start in their early teens, has created a culture in society that takes fire prevention much more seriously. To provide the same cover they have a factor more of volunteers so If something does happen the chances are a volunteer is at the scene of any incident much more quickly.

In the UK 2012 we had a ratio of one fire fighter, whether full-time (28,166) or part-time (11,703), to every 1,630 other citizens. In Austria its 1 volunteer to 27 citizens. The total spend is also less relying even on so many volunteer fire fighters.

Personally knowing someone who is a serving firefighter means you’re likely to be influenced positively towards fire prevention.
That raises interesting questions about fire risk awareness, and the effectiveness of using personal influence rather than investing as we have in the UK on broadcast media and educational programmes.

Should we become an Austria or Switzerland in our approach to Fire service and prevention to reduce fire deaths?

Ward of Nation

Terrorist attacks often leave children without parents and real economic struggle on top of all the emotional turmoil and pain.

France’s minister for the family, Laurence Rossignol, has encouraged the families of children who lost a parent in the 13 November attacks to request the status of “ward of the nation”, which dates back to World War One and could entitle the child to grants and subsidies for their education and early adult life. It;s a small compensation for their loss and the sacrifices they have given for their country.

Why don’t we do that in the UK?

This would send an incredibly strong message that we all society supports them.


Making Lordship Shops All Shops

20-22 Lordship Lane were originally shops with flats above them. For a very long time they’ve bene used as offices for one of Southwark’s Community Mental Health Teams (CMHT).

Since 2005 we’ve been asking what are the plans for these offices. Breaking up the line of shops with two non shops with blank frontages doesn’t help keep Lordship Lane vibrant.

I’ve now had a Freedom of Information response back. Previously I had Southwark Council officers saying they were awaiting Maudsley people to respond. I’ve Maudsley people saying thy’ve been waiting for Southwark Council officers. You could not make this up.

So I’ve now escalated this to the Chief Executive Of Southwark Council in the hope they can resolve this. If they can’t then I’ll use my last resort of a Councillor Call for Action. Yes, Minister have nothing on this!

Bizarre Housing Policies

I was shocked to receive the news via the 35% campaigning group that Southwark is one of the worst three boroughs in London for social rented housing delivery. Only 3% of the total homes delivered in 2014/15 across Southwark were affordable and -5% of the total delivered was social rented (it is a minus figure because more have been knocked down or sold off than have been built).
Across Southwark 170 fewer social rented homes were built that were sold or demolosihed but 1,914 private homes were built. So 97% of net new homes are private. But Southwark has a target of 35% of new homes beign social housing. Plus a separate target of build 11,000 social rented housing.
Brent, Cryodon, Haringey, Havering & Waltham Fore achieved more than 40% social housing. So why can’t Southwark?
Why aren’t Southwark Labour rejecting Planning Applications without sufficient social housing?
Having sat on numerous planning committees and seen Labour councillors vote en masse to grant permission for almost everything put before them I’m completely puzzled. People purporting to be socialists defending private developers from building social housing – truly bizarre.

Primary School Come Up Trumps

I was also under the impression that the London Challenge was fab. The London Challenge was established in 2003 to tackle underperformance in London secondary schools and significant secondary school performance improvements seemed to take place. This was sos successful that it was repeated to some degree in other English cities but without the same marked results. More recent research by The Institute of Fiscal Studies suggests otherwise which I was surprised by.

This research suggests this improvement was not from Teach First and the London Challenge but the improvement in primary school results which means that London primary school children go to secondary schools with high prior attainment, which is the biggest determinant in secondary school performance.

Well done to all our primary schools. I’m sorry your huge success has been hidden by inflating the results of other interventions.

Face Fear

New Scientist has reported a fascinating study.

The theory is that people who recognise fear in people are less likely to be violent towards them. Very disappointingly anti bullying programmes and monitoring young offenders have not been found to be effective.

Birmingham University researchers divided a group of 50 boys convicted of a crime. One half were a control group. The other half completed 7-9 hours of computer based traning to better recognise facial expressions. This training resulted in significant improvements in the boys involved ability to recognise fear, anger and sadness.

This transferred into significantly less violent and severe crimes afterwards than the control group. Clearly this was only a small study but the implications are massive if further research confirms this initial finding.

Hopefully it wont be long before this experiment is scaled up to confirm the initial findings. It a real effect it could one day see a profound reduction in Southwark violent crime…

Dulwich Park Disabled Parking Chaos

Dulwich Park is looking splendid from the Heritage Lottery grant 2004-6, ongoing support and such an active friends group.

Part of this was restricting cars from using the park, sometimes at speed, using it as a short cut. Whatever possessed people to allow this in the past. Disabled people are allowed to travel at 5mph in cars to park up. For those disabled residents it’s a chance to see such a lovely park.

But things aren’t going well. The park has disabled parking spots. For people who are disabled want to park and can walk a little way. For those that can’t they’re allowed to park anywhere on the circular drive. But of course this causes confusion. The disabled parking bays are understandably parked out of sight – intended for parked cars without any occupants remaining. But when disabled people park elsewhere complete strangers harangue them.

After several complaints I’ve asked if we can move a couple of disabled bays to have proper vistas of the park. This should make the whole experience for our disabled neighbours and residents that bit more relaxing. And also ensure able body people don’t get stressed trying to enforce disabled parking bays!

Fingers crossed we can make this happen.

Never Never Land Housing

Southwark Council was created in 1965 from smaller morel local council authorities. It embarked on a hugely ambitious council housing programme. It built massive estates such as the Heygate and Aylesbury estates. Southwark Council borrowed lots of money to build them. Huge amounts.

Sadly those estates haven’t stood the test of time. Engineers have advised they’re already beyond their useful life. The Heygate estate has been demolished. Southwark Labour plan a number of phases to demolish and replace the Aylesbury estate.

Those massive loans were taken under circumstances where central government paid the debt interest. Unsurprisingly Southwark Council didn’t pay back any of those loans. It kept rolling them over. Effectively an interest only mortgage where someone else paid the interest. we now have debt for estates demolished or planned to be demolished.

Several years ago council housing finance was changed. Interest is no longer paid for by central government.

It makes sense for Southwark to change how it treats housing loans. We should ensure that each year we pay some of the principal back of the loan. For non housing loans we legally have to have a Minimum Repayment Plan (MRP). This hasn’t completely stopped some housing loan principle being paid back but it’s been voluntary and ad hoc. So debt over the last three years has been brought down by £55M to around £400M. But we should decrease it further now that interest payments are paid from actual rents collected.

Eliminating £400M of housing debt would bring council rents down by a number of pound per week.