‘CYNICAL AND HYPOCRITICAL COUNCIL’ refuses to pay LLW for fifth time

Cllr Robert Thompson26.1.15

(left, Cllr Robert Thompson)

Self-professed ‘richest borough in the universe’ Kensington and Chelsea has refused Labour’s demands to implement the London Living Wage for the fifth time of asking.

Despite massive reserves of £283m, accumulated in part from revenue ‘savings’ across the Council, a meeting of Full Council on 21 January refused once again to adopt what the Mayor of London calls ‘what you need to live on and feed your family’.

Angry scenes between Labour and Conservative Cabinet members included an arrogant statement from Cabinet Members that the Council paid all its direct staff the LLW – ignoring the fact that all low-paid Council staff have now been ‘outsourced’ to private providers in a penny-pinching exercise that has seen some employees barely scratch a living at £6.13/hr minimum wage, while some work long shifts to make up their wages. One worker told us he couldn’t afford the fares to and from work, so walked an hour at the beginning and end of a gruelling eight-hour shift of manual work so he could put food on the family table.

In bizarre scenes reminiscent of feudal times, one senior Conservative stated: ‘Well I haven’t looked this up but I bet some get paid time off to go back to their countries’ – a statement both ignorant of statutory holiday pay, and bordering on racism.

A previous demand in 2012 for a decent wage for a decent day’s work prompted the following tortured statement from the Cabinet Member for Finance: ‘It is the role of the national government, through the social security system, to top up earnings in relation to family circumstances.’

Labour Leader Cllr Emma Dent Coad, seconding the Motion, said: ‘So the Council expects the government to subsidise their contractors offering low pay, while stigmatising those who apply for welfare. A responsible Council would not allow their contractors to reap billions paying poverty wages to our people. The Council’s hypocrisy is breath-taking.’

Cllr Robert Thompson, proposing the Motion, said: ‘More than being good for business, good for families and good for society, the payment of a living wage is fundamentally a moral issue.’

NEW SCANDAL OVER ‘FLOP OPERA’ HOLLAND PARK

 THE OPERA THEY COULDN’T GIVE AWAY

Calamity Jane21.1.15

(left, it’s a stick-up)

Scandal-riddled Opera Holland Park is being ‘let off’ from making essential improvements while it is in the process of ‘potential externalisation’. The loss-making opera – the only civic-run opera in the country – is run by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea who underwrite their losses. These have amounted to a staggering £6.6m since 2001, against revenue expenditure of nearly £30m in the same period, plus capital investment of over £2m. In 2009-10 alone the opera lost the Council nearly £1m, and it is only the current modest annual sponsorship deal that brings it below that figure every year.

The latest outrage has seen the organisation refusing to implement some improvements that were proposed after an Internal Audit in 2013. Auditors gave the organisation a ‘Limited Assurance Report’, demanding that various improvements be made, including: drafting clear procedures and guidance notes; delivering transparent financial accounting; having a transparent tendering process for the residential orchestra and costume suppliers; maintaining an inventory; maintaining a hospitality register stating outcomes and registering resultant donations, plus controlling the use and number of complimentary tickets; agreeing guidance for appropriate use of purchase cards, and retaining full VAT receipts; ensuring staff are eligible to work in the UK; and regularising employee contracts.

The Audit was conducted soon after the Council failed in its first attempt in 2012 to off-load responsibility for the opera by handing it over to a controlling group to run it as a mutual. The current attempt goes a step further, by offering £5m to take it away!

Labour Group Leader Cllr Emma Dent Coad said: ‘It beggars belief that a non-viable organisation funded and run by the Council has such poor accounting and control systems. It is indefensible and frankly shocking that staff are refusing to implement proper standards demanded by Auditors because they are waiting for a further bail-out.  No voluntary organisation in receipt of Council funds would get away with such conduct. The Council must set aside their plan to give a dowry of £5m to off-load this financial black hole, let OPH have a dignified demise, and instead use these funds to protect frontline services that people need. This would also save the  ‘backroom costs’ that have reached £412,000/year, which is more than the sum the Council says it cannot find to continue to provide Play Services that enable low-income working families to work full-time.’

 

TORIES ‘INSULT TO STRUGGLING FAMILIES’

Council prioritises opera over vulnerable and homeless


th 223.11.14

Kensington and Chelsea Labour Group Councillors are appalled to learn that the Council is planning to make a one-off payment of £5m to dispose of the loss-making Opera Holland Park. In a ‘face-saving’ deal to get rid of the annual embarrassment of losing up to £1m/year on this expensive 18-year vanity project, a proposal has been concocted for a settlement to help re-form the opera into a charitable trust from 2016.

This £5m (plus a loss of interest of £150,000) is intended ‘to cover losses until 2023’, by which time it is hoped the organisation will be in profit. However, given total backroom costs of £412,000 for staffing, marketing, depreciation, and insurance, it will be an uphill struggle. And there is no discussion in the documents of how much the Council will charge the Opera to use its prime facilities in Holland Park.

These proposals come within the context of yet another year of crushing cuts in services. The disaster of the new contract for Special Educational Needs children’s transport, which put our most vulnerable children at risk, was the result of the ‘difficult decision in the face of austerity’ to save £447,000/year – a sum almost equal to the backroom costs of running the Opera. A further £415,000 is to be sliced off the Play Services budget, making it increasingly difficult for working parents to find affordable after-school and holiday childcare. And £500,000 has already been sliced from Youth Services.

Labour Group Chair Cllr Pat Mason said: ‘Giving £5m to set up an independent opera charity is unacceptable when the Council plans to slash another £13.5m from vital frontline services next year. This includes £3.9m from adult social care, £1.9m from children’s services, and £691,000 from the housing budget, including reducing services to homeless people by £150,000. Spending £5m on opera when many of our residents are deep in debt, using food banks and seeing services cut is truly scandalous.’

Public Realm spokesperson Cllr Robert Thompson said: ‘”Against the background of cuts in council services which affect the most underprivileged in our borough this proposal embodies how the ruling Conservatives prefer culture for the few rather than care for the many.”

Leader of the Labour Group Cllr Emma Dent Coad said: ‘It has never been clearer that the Council is using the language of austerity to justify ideological decisions. The self-professed ‘richest Council in the universe’ can find cash for the opera, but makes ‘tough decisions’ when it comes to vulnerable and struggling residents. Once again Kensington and Chelsea Tories have been caught squeezing the vulnerable to fund indulgence.’

LINK TO DOCUMENT GOING TO PUBLIC REALM COMMITTEE 26.11.14 

Labour Leader on BBC2’s ‘Daily Politics’

As debate about the proposed Mansion Tax continues to gather pace within certain factions in the Labour Party, Kensington and Chelsea Labour Leader Emma Dent Coad was invited to speak on BBC2’s Daily Politics programme today 3 November.

This is what she had to say:

Emma underlined the Kensington Labour Group of Councillors’ unanswered concerns for the possible unintended outcomes of such a tax as currently proposed, saying:

  • The proposed tax has been very poorly communicated, leaving the issue wide open to misunderstandings and scare-mongering. Some older residents have been kept awake thinking that their £2m home of many years will be subject to a charge of £27,000pa; this is nonsense
  • Policy should be moulded from the doorstep, not sent to the doorstep, and policy-makers must listen to residents’ concerns and reassure them that this tax will be targeted at those who can afford it
  • Any new policy must protect long-term and older residents, and also must pick up on overseas property investors who ‘buy to leave’, those who wish to stash or launder their money via K&C property, and who avoid all taxes by buying through foreign-based companies

K&C Labour’s counter-proposals include consideration of the follow:

1, carry out a full revaluation at the earliest possible opportunity.

2, create an extensive new banding formula so that those with very high value properties contribute a fair share to their local community, and those who have less with pay less, ensuring that those who buy through overseas companies cannot escape the tax

3, charge the current permitted level of 150% and lobby for up to 200%  for ‘bubble-wrap’ or buy-to-leave investors dumping their money in a high interest Royal Bank of Kensington and Chelsea

4, provide protection for tenants who, having suffered decanting due to ‘regeneration’, are now forced to pay the highest rate of Council Tax as their new homes are now overvalued.

 

 


Kensington Labour position on Mansion Tax

31.10.14

Given the huge amount of publicity on the issue, our recent statements and the article in The Times of 29.10.14 pasted below, we are re-posting below Kensington Labour’s position on the current proposals for a Mansion Tax, which we do not believe will be workable in the borough.

Times, 29.10.14

 (Click to view)

KENSINGTON LABOUR ‘MANSION TAX’ COMMENT IN THE STANDARD

Letter in Standard 25.6.1424.6.14 (letter published in The Standard, left)

Councillor Emma Dent Coad Leader of Opposition Labour Group says:

‘Kensington and Chelsea is an exceptional borough in many ways, and the way that property prices have rocketed has little to do with their intrinsic value, and more to do with a global poker game for the super-rich; at some point this game will fold and the players will move on.

‘The Council Tax system as it currently functions is anachronistic, and works as yet another effective subsidy to landlords. This is in addition to capital gains tax relief, lack of property tax, and the ease of obtaining buy to let mortgages at preferential rates based on interest only. In most other European countries the owner pays the tax, not the beleaguered rental occupier; there is a logic to this as it is the owner who profits long-term.

‘The system currently being considered by Ed Balls would have unintended consequences in Kensington and Chelsea, and we have many questions and concerns that we have already made public. We have 12,000 homes worth over £2m in the borough, and 7,000 of those have been in the same ownership since 1999; some of these are families, retired people, or others on fixed incomes. The prospect of a Mansion Tax as currently envisaged would drive out these families and long-term residents, whether owners or renters, who tell us ‘it’s my borough too’.

‘Our counter-proposal would consider a revaluation of property, and setting more Council Tax bands, so some would pay less, and others more. We are working on the detail of this, while we wait for more detail on how a proposed Mansion Tax would work.

‘It cannot be right that the Sultan of Brunei pays just £10/week more for his 16-bed mansion than our Mrs Braithwaite in North Kensington for her three-bedroom Council home.’

IT’S OFFICIAL: WESTWAY SPORTS PITCH BREACHES EU AIR POLLUTION SAFETY LEVELS

Cllr E Dent Coad at Sports Pitches, Clean Air in London Award 2014High levels of NO² discovered at sports pitch after Council denials 

13.10.14

A planning application that involved moving a sports pitch from green space to a site beside the Western Cross Route and Westway, was agreed in September 2012 only on the proviso that air pollution levels would be monitored.

Despite this commitment, made in front of concerned members of the public, the pledge was later deemed to be ‘non-binding’ and the monitoring never took place. Kensington Labour Councillors and community groups tried to get the pollution levels tested, but it is a specialist task and it proved complex and expensive to undertake.

Finally, a Citizen Science project, ‘Clean Up London Air’, led by a concerned local resident undertook the work, under the guidance of ‘Mapping for Change’ an academic project at University College London.

The month-long project, which involved a ‘guerilla monitoring exercise’ using diffusion tubes to record nitrogen dioxide levels, took place during July, and the recordings were then sent off for analysis; the results are now back.

Here are their findings for the new Westway sports pitch, for nitrogen dioxide levels.

The European legal standard

for the annual mean NO2 is                               40µg/m3

The average in July

at the Latimer Road pitch was                       52.46µg/m3

Marco Picardi from Green Westway, a local environmental campaign, undertook the monitoring project, and said:

“It’s alarming that this level of pollution is tolerated to the point whereby playing sport separated from one of Europe’s busiest roads only by a fence has become a normal activity.

‘With air pollution linked to 8.3% of all deaths in Kensington and Chelsea, we need accurate information to understand what risks we are exposed to in order to demand the changes that will improve our urban environment and make it safer.

‘It’s clear that the Westway Development Trust, Transport for London, and the Council need to act swiftly to rectify this situation and make this a safe environment for the people that use the Westway’s facilities and live in its shadow”

RBKC Labour Group Leader Cllr Emma Dent Coad, who won a Clean Air in London Award this year for her work on the subject, said:

‘This research confirms all our worst fears; air pollution near the sports pitch beside the Western Cross Route breaches EU safety levels by a wide margin. We cannot and dare not ignore this. We will be demanding immediate mitigation with green walls, as well as restating our commitment to a range of measures to improve air quality long-term, including the establishment of an Ultra Low Emission Zone in the borough. The Council cannot ignore such a serious health hazard, we need action now, and a plan for the future.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Links:

http://www.phoutcomes.info/public-health-outcomes-framework#gid/1000043/pat/6/ati/102/page/3/par/E12000007/are/E09000020

 

http://www.mappingforchange.org.uk/clean-air-citizen-science/

 

http://cleanairinlondon.org/

Leader’s Comment on arrests under Terrorism Act

Cllr Emma Dent Coad, Leader of the Opposition Labour Group in RB Kensington and Chelsea, said of the 7 October  arrests of suspects under the Terrorism Act:

‘Councillors in North Kensington work closely with local policing teams – locally, borough-wide and across the tri-borough area – on issues at all levels of severity. We have been kept fully informed about initiatives to prevent and to identify radicalisation.

‘We are confident that these initiatives and protocols are adequate and in place, and the recent arrests of suspects, at what we are told is a very early stage of planning, is testament to this.

‘We would like to congratulate the Borough Commander and our local policing teams, and to assure them that we will all pass on intelligence to the correct quarters when we hear anything of concern.’

The Anti terrorism hotline no is 0800789321.