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.

LABOUR WELCOMES NEW SCHOOL

Kensington Academy on opening day 15 September 2014

Kensington Academy on opening day 15 September 2014

Labour councillors in North Kensington welcomed the Kensington Aldridge Academy and its first pupils as the school opened its doors on 15 September. A large group of parents and their excited children joined senior staff at 8.25 am to become the first group of Year 7 students to be educated at the Academy.

Councillor Judith Blakeman recollects the very difficult campaign to get a new secondary school opened in North Kensington. She said: “my former colleague, Steve Hoier, recognised many years ago that demographic changes meant that we needed a new secondary school in North Kensington at the start of the new Millennium. He campaigned vigorously for a new school and the baton was picked up by the rest of the Labour Group when Steve left the Council”.

In the face of an unequivocal demand, the ruling Conservative Group persistently came up with excuses why they should not provide the school: there was no evidence of need; there was nowhere to build a new school; there was no money to build one. Then instead, they built a new Academy in Chelsea. Welcome though that was, it did not meet the massive demand for secondary school places in North Kensington.

Councillors spoke of parents in tears in their surgeries because their children had been allocated to under-performing schools far away from the borough. One group set up arrangements to home-school their children because they were so disgusted with the schools offered to them. Two generations of children had their life chances damaged by having to travel for up to four hours a day to get their secondary education. Groups of primary school friends were separated for years.

Cllr Judith Blakeman with Family and Children's Services Committee members Cllr Harrison Littler and Cllr Beinazir Lasharie, during a visit

Cllr Judith Blakeman with Family and Children’s Services Committee members Cllr Harrison Littler and Cllr Beinazir Lasharie, during a visit

Eventually Kensington and Chelsea Council capitulated, realising that otherwise it would lose the £17 million that the Labour government’s Building Schools for the Future programme was offering for the project.

Yesterday the new Academy was being praised to the skies by its new students. One young man said: “I am thrilled with my new school and I will deal with anyone who damages or vandalises it”. Notting Dale ward councillor Judith Blakeman attended the school’s assembly on the second day and visited classes with the Academy Principal, David Benson. She said: “this new Academy has surpassed all our expectations. It is warm, friendly and welcoming and the facilities on offer are fantastic. I am confident that at last North Kensington children will receive the high quality education they deserve. It is particularly gratifying that so many of the pupils come from the Lancaster West Estate, where residents have been extremely patient with all the disruption that building the school has caused for them”.

‘SHUT UP’ – senior Tory responds to desperate parents

‘SHUT UP, YOU’RE NOT ELECTED’

Tory Whip shouts at shocked parents of SEN children as ‘predictable and disastrous’ outcome of Triborough project affects transport for vulnerable

 11.6.14 036 - Copy25.7.14

Parents and carers of children with Special Educational Needs were shocked last night to be told to ‘SHUT UP’ by the Kensington and Chelsea Tory Whip at a public meeting.

K&C Opposition Labour Group (left) had called an Extraordinary Council Meeting to debate the continuation of a contract that delivers a transport service for children with special educational needs. The service has been a huge concern to parents, carers and teachers of affected children since it began in April this year.

Children who are picked up from home and taken to school or daycare, then returned back later in the day, have been suffering from poorly trained escorts, drivers with no knowledge of the area, disfunctioning vehicles, and overlong journeys that are causing huge distress to the children affected, especially in the current hot weather.

Labour Group Whip and Disabilities Champion Cllr Judith Blakeman stated: ‘This is child abuse’.

Responding to dozens of complaints, the Council reported to committee on 9 July that full instructions on the various needs of the children had been handed over, that drivers had undertaken practice runs of the routes they needed to take, and that all risks had been considered and dealt with. The report stated that the shortcomings of the initial stages of the contract had been addressed, and that they were confident matters had improved.

However, parents and carers report that the problems continue, and are demanding that the Council breaks the contract without delay, and engages the previous contractor while starting the process from scratch.

One child, who has had a particularly poor experience, had a severe fit on returning home two weeks ago, and could have died without immediate hospital treatment. Three families have stated that they will report the Council to the Ombudsman if the Council refuses to withdraw the contract.

Cllr Judith Blakeman stated: ‘This is the worst scandal I’ve seen in 32 years on the Council’.

Labour Leader Cllr Emma Dent Coad said: ‘This is precisely the kind of situation that concerned us with the 2010 announcement of Triborough working across Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea. The lack of democratic accountability could not be more pronounced; there was no mandate for Triborough and assurances on sovereignty and accountabilty given at the time have vaporised. It was a cost-cutting measure from the outset, and NOT a way to pursue any kind of ‘value for money’. The current situation was entirely predictable and is disastrous to our most vulnerable residents.’

‘RBKC Council has £267m in usable Reserves, accepts a loss of cc£1m/year for the running of Opera Holland Park, and is set to agree improvements to Leighton House Museum costing £2.6m, a loan to the National Army Museum of £2.5m, artwork for Kensington Academy costing £150,000, and a sculpture for Holland Park Academy costing £120,000. Yet they tell us they cannot afford £500k for transporting vulnerable children. This tells us everything we need to know about their priorities.’

The Motion to break the contract was outvoted by the Tories, though it was noted that those who have SEN children themselves were absent from the meeting; one Tory abstained.