Unnecessary 6% Council Tax Increase

Southwark Labour will be raising the basic level of Southwark council tax by 6% this year, which is the maximum they are legally allowed to without triggering a local referendum.

Council Tax is a totally regressive form of taxation.

The Liberal Democrat opposition produced an alternative budget which allows for the same increase in spending, but delivered through efficiency savings rather than a council tax increase.

It is a legal requirement that all budgets and amendments must be examined and signed off by the independent finance council officer as being ‘legal, balanced and implementable’. That means the savings found by Southwark Liberal Democrats to cover the increase spending on services have been established as accurate and deliverable. They have proposed cutting the number of Council spin-doctors, stopping production of the self-promoting magazine ‘Southwark Life’, and ending ‘Golden Goodbyes’ to Cabinet members who decide to resign months in advance.

Other sources of revenue have been found by providing more flexibility on annual leave to council staff and incentivising staff to take cheaper options on travel and hotels.

I would support raising council tax if it really was necessary but the first step should always be to look at how savings can be made. The Finance Chief has signed off that our plans to deliver the same front-line services without raising council tax are sound and implementable.

This is the second year in a row that Southwark Labour have taken the lazy option of increasing council tax to the max, rather than looking at Lib Dem ways of being smarter with people’s money. People are struggling. When there are proven ways to avoid increasing the cost of living above and beyond inflation and wage increases, then the council should take it.

Southwark Beat The Street

Beat The Street is a concept to get people choosing to walk much more – often powered by child pester power.

The idea is to make walking locally – whether to school or some other destination such as a libraries, cinemas, etc – into a game. Effectively a much more compelling logging of walking that simple Step counting.

Because of the set up costs for a new area, rolling out Beat the Street across small populations apparently isn’t viable. Typically, the average cost of Beat the Street works out at around £1 per head of population, but this formula only ‘works’ for populations above 75,000. This is why they usually encourage people to try to scope a project across a whole Borough, rather than one smaller ward or area such as East Dulwich.

I’ve been give a rough estimate, to roll Beat the Street out across Southwark would be around £250,000 and that this could see around 14% of the population (of 302,000) would be actively engaged: 42,300 people. This works out around £6 per active participant.

I need to see if it would be worth trying to get a group of stakeholders from across the Southwark together to see if there is an appetite for a Borough-wide project. Typically Beat the Street has been funded through the Public Health and Transport departments of Local Authorities, sometimes with additional support from local companies who want to fund this as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility.

Would you take part?

National Park City

Finally after four years of saying no Southwark Labour have joined Southwark Lib Dems and even Southwark Conservatives to support the Greater London National Park City campaign.

The campaign aims to create a joined-up network of parks, water and open spaces across the capital for East Dulwich, Southwark and London residents to enjoy.

“A city where people and nature are better connected. A city that is rich with wildlife and every child benefits from exploring, playing and learning outdoors. A city where we all enjoy high-quality green spaces, the air is clean to breathe, it’s a pleasure to swim in its rivers and green homes are affordable. Together we can make London a greener, healthier and fairer place to live. Together we can make London a National Park City.”

Bizarrely Labour councillors such as Charlie Smith in our own East Dulwich ward have refused to engage in this idea – until now. So well done to everyone who helped put enough pressure on Charlie and his peers to U turn on this and accept that East Dulwich deserve a greener place to live.

Universal Traffic Lights

Southwark has many traffic lights. Across London 6,452 traffic signals and TfL is responsible for all of them. 1,390 of these crossings have ZERO pedestrian facilities. Legislation was passed 1995 that they all had to be safer for all residents especially those with disabilities. This has been interpreted as just the 5,049 with traffic lights. But after 22 years we still have some of those traffic signals not compliant with that legislation. Fortunately none in Southwark.


Picturehouse Picket Line

On Saturday after promising a cinema trip to one of my children I crossed the BECTU picket line outside the East Dulwich Picturehouse.  I felt seriously conflicted but my promise to my child outweighed my intense discomfort at crossing a picket line.

Looking into the material provided by both side of this dispute I feel less discomforted. But this could change if the sacked Ritzy Picturehouse employees win the employment tribunal the BECTU union states they are pursuing for wrongful dismissal – the employer says they were sacked for encouraging people to cyber attack the company (http://www.screendaily.com/territories/uk-ireland/ritzy-staff-dismissed-in-latest-picturehouse-bectu-flare-up/5119140.article)

The only difference between the two sides – apart from these dismissals – appears to be BECTU union recognition. The argument about paying the London Living Wage the employer makes a cogent argument that they pay this, and sick/maternity/paternity/etc pay.

I would encourage any customer or members of the East Dulwich Picturehouse to look at both sides online arguments here:

BECTU – http://www.picturehouselivingwage.com/

Picturehouse – https://www.picturehouses.com/pay

You can then take a considered view of where you stand as I believe this dispute is likely to go on for a number of years and customers will face repeated picket lines. I sincerely hope I’m wrong and both sides reach an agreement.

Southwark Council IT Chaos

At a recent Southwark Council Audit, Governance and Standards Committee we heard what external auditors had found during various audits including one on IT Network Security.

For the first time ever in my 10 year of chairing or vice charing these committees we heard that an area of the council had “No Assurance”. This means the area is in a complete pickle and no confidence it will get sorted out any time soon.

Please see page 45 of the agenda pack:


The area is IT Network Security. The key findings stated were:

  • The council has deployed and is using operating systems that are no longer supported by the developer.
  • There are not adequate arrangements in place to apply operating system security and firmware patches to its IT servers.
  • The council’s corporate risk register does not accurately record the risk of an information security breach or the consequences.
  • A disproportionately high number of users have been granted elevated access rights, which includes domain administrator access.
  • The Council does not have procedures in place to identify unusual or suspicious activity, nor are existing network perimeter security controls reviewed on a routine basis.
  • Vulnerabilities, including the absence of a de-militarized zone between the Council’s IT network and the PSN, have been included within the design of the council’s IT network.
  • Firewall rules, both internal and external, are not subject to a routine review in order to determine their adequacy.
  • Anti-malware signatures are not updated on all Council devices.
  • The design and configuration of the council’s IT network perimeter security controls are inherently insecure and do not meet the requirements of either the PSN or of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS). A prolonged lack of effective management has only served to undermine the existing controls, such as they are, and require that the council will need to take drastic action in order to secure its IT network.

Utter IT security chaos placing Direct debits, employee ban accounts details, etc at risk.

Scrap the rubbish tax, LibDems demand

The Council’s tax on residents who want to get rid of their bulky waste items must be scrapped, Liberal Democrat councillors have demanded.

Following government figures which show that Southwark has the fourth worst level of flytipping in England, Liberal Democrats have called for the Council to make reporting flytips easier and for more regular clean-ups of streets and estates.

One year ago Southwark Labour councillors introduced a new £16 charge for all residents who wanted to have their bulky waste items collected from their home. Using the Council’s own figures, flytipping on Southwark’s streets has increased by 10%.

Liberal Democrat councillors have also highlighted how:

  • the new bulky waste collection service can only be ordered online and only by those residents with a debit or credit card. This excludes a large number of Southwark residents without access to the internet or a bank account
  • the Council has removed recycling points from public areas such as supermarket car parks because of the level of flytipping.

At a council meeting last month, Southwark Liberal Democrats called on the Labour administration to scrap the bulky waste collection fee, make it easier to order bulky waste collections and count all flytipping incidents. Labour councillors changed the order of business deliberately though so that the motion could not be debated.

 Liberal Democrat Environment Spokesperson, Councillor Rosie Shimell, said:

“Southwark now has the fourth worst level of flytipping in the whole of England and Labour’s new bulky waste tax is just making things worse.

“Everyone can see that Southwark’s streets and estates are getting dirtier. Despite our warnings though, ruling Labour councillors don’t seem to make the connection between their new fee and increased flytipping.

“Liberal Democrats are fighting residents’ corner and are calling on Labour to drop their £16 waste tax.”

Burglary Prevention

I’ve spent some time trying to find one definitive place for burglary prevention advice – the best I’ve found so far is this website    http://thecrimepreventionwebsite.com/ and its Home Security Survey.

You can also ask your Police Safer Neighbourhood Team for a free crime prevention visit but they wont give you such a comprehensive survey of your home.

Locally we still have free SeletaDNA Property marking kits. The Police promote Smartwater but it has a shelf life so far from ideal.

Banham locks and alarms have a good reputation http://www.banham.co.uk/ I love the fact we just have one key for all external locks both the yale equivalent and deadlocks. You need both on front and rear door. Classic is rear door forced entry.
Also ensure hinge bolts, Manchester and London bars to protect the door frame week points where the hinges and locks are – easy DIY jobs that even I’ve done.

Double or even triple glazing is best. In SE22 we have real issue of single pane sash windows being forced or smashed. If you need to keep single glazing sash then good window locks and a laminate or plastic coating can be added so that the pane can’t be smashed easily.

If you have any side or rear access make sure it is gated and locked.

The Met Police also have a book of scams that is a useful read – http://www.met.police.uk/docs/little_book_scam.pdf

Free Public Wifi – Long Overdue

In many parts of London free public wifi has been available for years. Shoppers and visitors take this as a given – it has become for many a public utility.

Provided for free and funded via advertising banners and or charging beyond typically 30 minutes of use.

Southwark hasn’t done this yet. I’ve asked council officers how we could join the digital age. Apparently it only needs £25,000 to fund a Project Manager to make this happen – I’ll work to try and ensure this happens

Three Thousand Not Represented

Southwark Council pays for its employees union reps to have time off to undertake their duties properly. Holding an employer to account for H&S, fair treatment of members, etc. is a critical union function. Wage rates are set centrally.

Roughly1,500 union members work for Southwark Council:

Union Mar-13 Mar-14 Nov-15
Unite/Amicus Sect 35 35 22
GMB/Apex 74 67 94
GMB/ATU 40 33 32
TGWU 1 0
UCATT 99 94 112
Unison 1459 1481 1240
Grand Total 1707 1711 1500

The council funds union representatives by £142,901 FY14/15. Compared to the wage bill this seems good value.

It does beg the question who represents the other 3,000 council employees to the councils management. No staff council, employee consultative forum, or similar exists as many modern organisations have. I personally think it’s a shame the remaining 3,000 employees don’t have direct representation about the changes Southwark Council goes through. That the only choice they have is joining a union or not being represented.