Kensington and Chelsea Council

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 

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.’

 

 

 

 

Britain’s first ‘state funded public school’

Holland Park SchoolFollowing its star performance in Tatler magazine, the governors of Holland Park Academy, assisted by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, are promoting a change to its admissions policy that will ensure that the school’s catchment area serves only the most affluent residential area in London. Campaigners expect this change to exclude most if not all of the children living deprived North Kensington, and to tempt many residents around Holland park to stop using fee-paying private schooling in favour of a free education at their local Academy.

A local benefactor has paid for a sculpture by Anthony Gormley to grace the new Academy, which is reputed to have cost the Council £100m to build. The rebuild was funded by selling part of the old school’s site to a property developer and a massive development of luxury homes is currently under construction. This follows a Council decision not to require any social rented or affordable homes to be built on site, making the luxury homes particularly attractive to foreign investors.

Kensington and Chelsea Labour Group Leader Cllr Judith Blakeman said: ‘We have opposed this change. The Academy benefits just as much as the pupils do from the current diverse intake of children. This in turn promotes social cohesion across the borough and indeed some of its star pupils destined for Oxbridge have come from North Kensington. It is a discriminatory and short-sighted policy which I hope that local resident and Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove will deplore. Even his own children will be disadvantaged by this proposed change.’

Labour’s education spokesperson Cllr Robert Atkinson added: ‘It beggars belief that Holland Park Academy initiated this consultation without informing Council members, but more importantly not even telling the head teachers of the local primary schools. This smacks of a conspiracy between the Academy and the Council leadership deliberately to exclude deprived and under-privileged children from the high quality education and facilities offered by Holland Park. It is quite disgraceful that the Tory Council expects the taxpayer to fund such an exclusive school.’

RICHEST COUNCIL TURNS ITS BACK ON WORKING POOR

Councillor Robert Atkinson, Labour’s spokesperson for Children’s Services

1.11.12 New Children’s Centre strategy will not make work pay

As expected the Cabinet of RBKC voted unanimously on Halloween to privatise its OFSTED ‘Outstanding’ Rated Childcare Services.
Labour Children’s Services spokesperson Cllr Robert Atkinson attacked the hypocrisy of the wealthy Conservative Council for claiming to consult its parents and qualified staff and then ignoring the finding that more than 94% of users and staff did not wish to ‘marketise’ the service. Cllr. Atkinson commented: ‘They may have listened but they most certainly have not heard. The Council claimed to be concerned at the plight of working parents who depend upon and value the outstanding integrated childcare service of the Royal Borough but have now decided to ignore them while citing the borough’s poverty! This from a council with £180m in Reserves which spent £23 million to repave Exhibition Road with imported pink granite and £1m on an Olympic street festival that no one went to.

‘The Cabinet claimed to value both the professionalism and high standards of its loyal staff and the frantic efforts of parents to find alternative means But in reality they plan to hand over the staff to an alternative provider who will ditch the professional staff and replace them with unskilled and cheaper childminders as soon as the “TUPE” transfer of staff commitment ends.’

The meeting was attended by 50 parents, who presented a carefully prepared proposal to develop higher means tested fees to retain an integrated easily accessed service. The Council ignored the parents’ proposals and decided instead to focus on targeted services for those they crudely identify as the most needy. Parents and staff want to maintain separate local services in eight different specialist centres while the Council intends to focus staff and expertise into two centres and risk the decline of the local services

Cllr Atkinson fumed: ‘The consultation exercise was a smokescreen to divert public attention while the Council ruthlessly got on with its plans to rid itself of loyal staff. This Council, like this government, does not understand or care about the struggles of ordinary working families to pay their bills and to stay in work. By tampering with the children’s services women will be forced out of work and onto benefits. This is bad for the families, the staff, the children and ultimately for the tax payer. The result of this short termism will be more family breakdown, lower educational achievements, less social cohesion and ultimately more crime and anti social behaviour.’

‘SMOG’ WARNING FOR NORTH KENSINGTON

This week, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) warned residents in North Kensington that ground level Ozone breached safety levels as permitted under UK and European Union air pollution laws.

Ozone, a major component in the formation of air pollution smogs, destroys lung tissue, cases asthma and respiratory attacks, affects the eyes and is especially harmful to babies, young children and the elderly. The current alert has been caused by excessive traffic emissions and increased traffic due to the Olympics, the hot weather, and the inability of the government, the Mayor of London or the Council to take effective action to reduce air pollution levels.

Defra says that Ozone levels in North Kensington are High and advise that “Adults and children with lung problems, and adults with heart problems, should reduce strenuous physical exertion, particularly outdoor, and particularly if they experience symptoms. People with asthma may find they need to use their inhaler more often. Older people should also reduce physical exertion”.

Councillor Pat Mason said, “The health of 2 million Londoners and thousands of people in the Borough with asthma and respiratory problems are being put at risk because the government, the Mayor and the Council have no meaningful plans in place to reduce traffic levels and the harmful pollutants they spew out”

“A whole generation of babies and young people are being put at risk of living as asthma sufferers, and having their lungs permanently damaged while the government does nothing except issue pollution alerts and tells residents to hide inside their homes until it is over”

 

LABOUR ENJOYS 4.8% SWING IN TORY BROMPTON

A shock result in the Tory ward of Brompton, covering Knightsbridge and South Kensington, saw Conservatives lose 9.3% of their vote in one year, as some life-long Conservative supporters voted Labour for the first time. This signifies a 4.8% swing from Conservative to Labour in a single year, since the June 2011 by-election.

Labour candidate Mark Sautter met dozens of residents and business owners who are furious at the complacency of the Council and the inaction of their ward Councillors. As Mark said:

‘It’s all about local issues. We heard again and again that the Council does not listen to residents’ concerns or take them seriously. The Council paved Exhibition Road with £20m of taxpayers’ money, yet they ignore local concerns. We were totally shocked at some of the stories we heard, where residents had been turned away, ignored, or even felt insulted by Councillors.’

Mark and the Labour Action Team quickly identified several issues that were not being addressed in Brompton. These include:
· Road safety at Exhibition Road and at Pelham Street, where a pizza delivery man died
· The battle between café owners and casual seating areas near South Kensington station
· Filthy streets and paving
· Accessibility for those with mobility or visual problems
· Anti-social behaviour from clubbers
· Proposed overdevelopment of the station and its potential effect on Thurloe Square conservation area
· Very high pollution plus road racing around Knightsbridge and South Kensington
· Advice for older people in social housing, and for home owners struggling with bills

Mark added: ‘We worked in Brompton as we work in any ward. We talk, we listen, we publicise concerns and we act. This is evidently not how Brompton Councillors are used to working. It is lazy to assume that because of the area it is full of very rich people with no problems; this is far from the case and Councillors must reach out to those who need them. Complacency must end here.’

Labour Deputy Leader Cllr Emma Dent Coad, who supported Mark, said: ‘I know the area well and was genuinely shocked at some of the stories we heard. Several life-long Conservatives told us it was refreshing to be able to air their views, and that they would vote for Mark as the ‘listening candidate’. Cllr Barkhordar has a lot of work to do if he wants to impress his new constituents.’


The final result was-
Liberal Democrats Conservative Labour UKIP
101 650 103 71
(up 1.5%) (down 9.3%) (up.2%) -

‘A LIGHT TOUCH WILL NOT PROTECT OUR CHILDREN’

Labour Opposition Group appalled at Council decision not to tighten standards regime in wake of second child pornography case

After a bad-tempered Council meeting on 18 April,  Labour opposition councillors have expressed their disgust and shame at the ruling Conservative group’s decision to dilute further the Council’s standards regime rather than introduce additional protections proposed by Labour. Changes to the standards regime are required as from 1 July under the Localism Act.

In the wake of the conviction of former Conservative councillor Andrew Lamont on child and animal pornography charges, Labour argued that it was essential to introduce a more robust system in Kensington and Chelsea to address any possible similar situations.

Lamont, who was convicted and placed on the sex offenders’ register on 2 April, told the Tory Leader and Whip in November 2010 that he was facing accusations of downloading extreme pornography and that obscene magazines had been found in the house by his wife. The Council leadership kept these accusations quiet in view of his protestations of innocence. Almost a year later, Lamont resigned the day before he went to Court. In the meantime he was allowed to continue as a member of the Council, including an appointment as governor of a nursery school.

The Opposition challenged the secrecy Lamont had enjoyed, first through the standards committee and subsequently on review, but were told that the Council had followed the procedures correctly. However, they remain firmly of the view that the failure to address the situation immediately had brought the Council into disrepute.

After Lamont’s conviction, Labour restated their concerns, citing the action of the Mayor of London, who required a colleague in a similar position to resign immediately and in advance of any prosecution. Labour’s view is that more robust standards are now necessary in Kensington and Chelsea to protect vulnerable residents and children.

However, rejecting Labour attempts to tighten up the regime, Council Leader Sir Merrick Cockell insisted that a ‘sensible light touch’ is all that is needed, with Deputy Leader Cllr Nicholas Paget-Brown claiming that it was ‘not until Lamont was charged with a criminal offence that any decision could be made’.

Labour Group Leader Cllr Judith Blakeman said: ‘we are shocked that this Council, which has faced three resignations of Conservative councillors in less than two years on matters relating to child pornography, has nevertheless decide to dilute rather than strengthen its standards regime. We have to question whether the leadership understands the importance of robust child protection in this age of social media.”  Deputy Leader Cllr Emma Dent Coad said: ‘A light touch will not protect our children. The council must review these procedures, and do it now.’