National coalition

I’ve taken advantage of the weekend to re read the Lib Dem / Tory national coalition agreement.

Clear that it is an amalgam of both parties manifesto pledges and serious compromising took place to agree this document.

My favourite bits – blimey so many big national policies I’ve cmapiang ed for so delighted.

Favourite, so to speak extras, that I hadn’t expected to see – sustainable communities act will be implemented aimed at helpng local communities remain local, promoting anaerobic digestion of waste to reduce landfill, restorative justice.

What you do like or hate in this agreement?

Democracy commission

Upon taking over the lead of Southwark Council Labour decided to set up a democracy commission. They feel council assembly is rather dull. I tend t agree with them on that.

The majority of the decision making powers  is with what was called the Excecutive and now Cabinet of 10 councillors. Saying council assembly is dull is a pretty natural conclusion of power not reciding with council assembly.

Saying that a few ideas that the Lib Dems have proposed to increase interest: 

·   Lobby government about the Localism Bill which plans to free up local authorities from centrally controlled rules.

·   Petitions and deputations – reduce the number of signatures needed to present a petition to full council from 3000 to 500 for a borough wide issue and 100 for a ward issue.  Allow petitioners to present instead of councillors.  Allow deputations to ask questions of the Cabinet.

·   Questions and Motions – allow more time for members’ questions with the possibility for two supplementals. Introduce half an hour of public questions from the gallery.  Allow more urgent questions to the Leader from councillors so that more topical issues can be discussed.

·   Publicity and information – make the paperwork in the gallery more helpful with a simple leaflet explaining procedure, format and order and have a member of constitutional staff in the gallery as people arrive to explain the process. Actively invite community groups/TRAs/residents to come and ask questions.

·   Place statutory reports and constitutional items at end of meetings to make sure the early part of the meeting is focused on the parts which the public find most interesting.

·   Hold council assembly in different locations across the borough and publicising it better to help ensure greater public attendance.  

·   Have a joint meeting with Southwark Youth Council and let them have a role in agenda setting.

Also to allow community councils to feed in to full council more formally. For example if there is an issue to be debated at full council, ensure views from community councils are include.

What do you think would attract you to attend full council assembly?

Voter registration

This years voter registration forms are being sent out.

Please do ensure you register to vote and re register to vote. Don’t lose your hard won vote!

Simple to re register either by phone, internet or by post. Only takes 60 seconds…..and yes next may we do have elections or at least a referendum about whether to change or parliamentary voting system to be fairer via Alternative Voting system.

Audit Commission delight

I was delighted to hear about the soon demise of the Audit Commission.

I’m saddened for those honest hard working public servants who will be without jobs but the organisation itself really didn’t deserve to survive.

My experiences of the Audit Commission was worse than that of a monopoly supplier. You had to use them for external audits of local authorities. They publicly decide how to rank you so you need to stay on their good side. Any complaints they were judge and jury.They decide the pricing. Every year they increased their pricing but spinned it cleverly. They refused to share project plans. I tried resorting to a FOI for the project plan but the response said it wouldn’t be in the public interest to share it!

One laughable problem was how to treat particular assets. Audit Commission didn’t like the way Southwark did one part. So Southwark every year for three years had to pay for the foremost expert to explain to the audit Commission the rules he’d created.

Thankfully Southwark Council will be able to use proper external auditors. Professional organisations that deliver to a stated plan and is able to stick to it. This really can’t come soon enough. This year Southwark’s most senior managers will be discussing fine details of the last financial year until 9 months into the new financial year due to the slowness of the Audit Commission. With a private auditor you’d expect around 3 months not 9.

Speed cameras

Oh bloody hell.

The tory side of the national coalition has won out on speed cameras. We all know that they work. People slow down. Point speed cameras have an impact but average speed cameras are fantastic. Average speed cameras result in 99%+ speed limit adherence over the area they cover.

Well documented that speed limit adherence saves lives. Its not just well documented but peer reviewed research papers have proven it. Many are peevish about how safe they are and speed limits should’nt apply to people that drive as they do. Well everyone feels safe until that crash.

The revenue from speeding fines goes direct to the treasury and does’nt touch the sides of the enforcing authority the treasury then allocates funds to run cameras as per politician decisions. This was a silly change made by labour that urgently needs to be reversed.

Tory minsters have stated they’re ‘ending the war on motorists’. With this they mean they’re reducing the funds allocated to run speed cameras. So when we see more children killed, more multiple pile ups you know exactly which person is responsible – tory Secretary of State for Transport Phil Hammond. Of course speeding in our country is considered by most as ok until they’ve had the impact on family or circle of friends of a crash. Hopefully this selfish attitude will change as our country becomes more mature over speed as it did over drink driving all those years ago.

In a sane world local authorities would keep speed cameras fines and have to fund the cameras themselves. If residents think their council is overly zealous in enforcing the LAW about speed they vote them out. It’s called democracy.

In the mean time many local authorities are closing shop on speed cameras – Swindon, Oxford are some of the first.

Lambeth’s cooperative council

Lambeth Council is currently flying a kite about being a cooperative council. I’ve looked on their website and I really could’nt find anything to explain what that meant. Lots of mealy mouthed stuff about involving lots more people in making decisions – more consultation and lobbying – buts councils are duty bound to do this already.

I thought cooperatives were organisations where the owners are customers who make a capital investment in the organisation for a fixed rate of return. That this investment was limited to ensure no one person or group become dominant.

Then I read elsewhere that it will be a kind of John Lewis partnership Lambeth cooperative Council. That means the employees own the company and take profits between them. Do we want a council run for profit. Nope.

I can’t see these models working for a council. Apart from any legal constraint, and I can see lots of them, any council that is run for the loudest group of residents wont be run for all the communities a council covers. Sounds like more of the same. But it has earned some great headlines.

If I’ve missed the point please do get in touch.


I was delighted when Nick Clegg announced that the refereundum on Alternative Votes would be held 11 May next year and even the exact wording.

To make this happen an act is before parliament. It also includes reducing the number of MP’s by 50 ensuring a work equitable size in terms of voters in each parliamentary constituency. This should’nt affect Southwark as we now have pretty average constituencies.

I’m amazed Labour are planning to vote against this. Clearly not a decision based on principle. AV will result in fewer safe seats. Their was a broad correlation between how safe a seat was and the degree of expenses scandal. AV would see all MP’s take more interest in their voters which can only be a good thing.

Under AV every MP would have 50% of the voters expressing a preference for them. This should give more power to MP’s and take away from central control. An MP could legitimately express stronger dissent on issues that matter to their constituents. This should make a stronger connection locally or face electoral defeat at the next election.

Reducing the number of seats. I’ve always thought it rather bizarre that not enough space for all MP’s to sit at the same time in the houses of parliament. In the past before telephones, internet, TV, radio, and ubiquitous cars, I could imagine that physically bigger constituencies were a problem and therefore they were kept smaller. But in this day and age their is no excuse for a Welsh or Scottish voter to have more say in how the country is run than a voter in East Dulwich. Clearly the odd exception when islands involved!

The other very attractive merits of AV for me is that voters can vote more clearly how they want. So we should see much less need to vote tactically.

Overall these changes should be really good for democracy.

Compulsory retirement at 65

Lib Dem Employment Relations Minister Ed Davey has announced the end of the default retirement age. This is the age employers can make people retire even if they don’t want to.

I can’t personally at my age imagine wanting to work beyond 65. I have so many interests that I’m unable to pursue due to work, family and councillor commitments. And all going well I’ll have enough pension to not need to work. But for many people they do want to work beyond 65 for a whole host of good reasons but currently they don’t normally get to choose. Ending this age discrimination is really good news.

It will take employers time to adjust and initially I suspect few employees will take up this new choice but one of the last allowed acts of discrimiation will end.

Charter School

I’ve been asked to sign a petition about the Charter School taking more time to consult about becoming a new style Academy. Unfortunately the petition doesn’t seem focused on this point about a proper consultation so didn’t feel I could sign it although sympathise hugely with the consultation point. Hopefully I can get a joint letter with local councillors asking the school to consult locally before taking any such decision.

From the Dept of Education website Charter School is listed along with several other schools in the Southwark Councl area as being an outstanding school expressing an interest. No other schools in Southwark that are not outstnaidng have expressed an interest. Last I heard 30 schools are proceeding out of the 1,500 schools expressing any interest.

IF a school decides to become an Academy they can do so at any point in the school year. I suspect this is allowed because so few schools have expressed an interest and even less so far are taking up this interest yet and the tory minister needs progress before September 2011.

Boris robs pedestrians of crossings

Under London Mayor Boris Johnson, Transport for London is looking to remove pedestrian crossings and traffic lights. Where he can’t remove them he’s having them reviewed to reduce the amount of pedestrian green time. At other sites he’s having a count down to rush pedestrians along. You never see countdowns for cars do you.

One set of traffic light removals that have a pedestrian phase will sever a designated cycle path – junction of Southwark Bridge Road with Union Street.

Three sets of pelican crossings along Tooley Street will be removed. Apparently he hates having to stop at these when he’s cycling to or from the Mayoral penthouse – people talk to him – so they’re going.

Why is this happening? Transport for London has stated they want to facilitate traffic movement. Perhaps they’ve forgotten anyone driving a vehicle has to get out and walk at some point.

Instead Transport for London should be putting the traffic signals data on the web. Bags of community spirited residents would then think how to squeeze more out of the existing lights for everyone. For example the junction of Denmark Hill with Coldbarbour Lane and Daneville. The Daneville arm is one -way east bound. It should be green for pedestrians whenever red for traffic. But no, only green once in a blue moon.

I suspect the root cause of all this comes from Boris being a headbanging cyclist. The short that charge around. I’ve seen him ignore red lights and cycling along one way streets the wrong way. Such cyclists are a tiny minority but boy do they give the majority a bad name and crucially they don’t respect people walking or see the need for special softer facilities for cyclists.

Hopefully Boris wont last beyond the next election and TfL can then work on what’s best for ALL Londoners.