Wandsworth Tories make cuts to stay and play

There was a very disappointing outcome to the meeting on Thursday. We wanted to provide a full write-up so everyone, especially users, can understand what happened, and what happens next.

Tooting Triangle is a lovely little area of Tooting Common which contains a particularly challenging playground, an amateur boxing club, an artificial sports pitch and a “1 o’clock club” building. The 1 o’clock club is a much loved institution in these parts and has been providing various services for very young (0-6 years old) children in some shape or form for over 30 years.

The Tories have failed to properly maintain this area. The 1 o’clock club is liable to flooding because the drainage on the sports pitch doesn’t work. However, they have managed to do one thing right – the stay and play at the 1 o’clock club.

Currently, there are three stay and plays per week. Parents and carers bring their young children to play for 2 hours in sessions led by trained council staff. The parents and carers stick around and get involved in the fun. There’s paint and mud and fruits and vegetables and every parent and carer we’ve ever spoken to says it is a truly excellent service. There are even some parents who went to the stay and play as kids themselves, and now the next generation gets to enjoy it.

So it came as a shock, and a massive disappointment, when the Tories gave us 8 days’ notice that they were going to gut this service. After decades of underinvestment by the Tories in the Triangle, they have a new plan. This plan involves leasing the buildings to a private company for 25 years at a cheap rent, and in exchange the company is going to spend their own money to redevelop the Triangle. Most of this plan is very welcome – fresh investment in the boxing club and the artificial sports pitch will be great.

But this plan also has its downsides – a series of cuts to stay and play:

  1. Instead of being open to 0-5 year old children, it would only be open to 2-5 year olds.
  2. Instead of being led by qualified staff, there would be no staff.
  3. Instead of being free for all, it would be charged, with some concessions.

We, the Labour Party, were amazed. The council deserves credit for establishing the stay and play in its current form. We set out to find out why the Tories were butchering this much-loved service.

Amazingly, there was zero consultation. The parents had not been told. We local councillors had not been told. Not even the staff at the stay and play had been told!

It was clear they were trying to hide it. This lack of consultation was not an oversight, it was a deliberate attempt to keep it quiet for as long as possible so as to rush it through committee before anyone realised what was going on.

Luckily, we spotted it. We immediately mobilised and informed the parents, carers and staff. We handed out leaflets and organised a campaign. Within just two days over half the users had sent an email to the leader of the council asking him to keep the stay and play as it is.

The committee meeting happened on Thursday. We organised people to speak to the committee who defended the stay and play with articulate passion.

The Labour Party proposed a small amendment to the plan: we asked the Tories to continue providing the stay and play. We were happy to agree to the rest of the development plan, just, please, don’t ruin the stay and play.

The Tories would not agree to that.

They gave one small concession to continue “baby play”. But, during questions, it emerged that the new provider runs similar centres elsewhere in London, and in none of those centres does it offer services for 0-18 month olds. It has no experience of delivering baby play.

At this point we are pretty sure that the new provider’s version of stay and play will be nowhere near as good as the council’s current service.

So why have the Tories done this? The real reason is their own poor management of the council.

Wandsworth Tories, and in particular Councillor Guy Senior who is their cabinet member for finance, were so incompetent last year that they overspent by £22.25 million. That is not a small sum of money – that’s about half your Council Tax.

On top of the incompetence of the local Tory party, the Tory central government has cut the budgets of every council in England year after year after year. Northamptonshire Council (which is also run by Tories) has actually gone bankrupt. The Tory government has cut Wandsworth Council’s budget so much that they have to find £28 million of savings this year, another £14 million the year after, and another £10 million the year after that. A total of £48 million in three years. The reason for this? No reason. Austerity is a political choice – a cruel and unnecessary choice.

So because of Wandsworth Tories’ incompetence, and central Tory cruelty, our local stay and play has been cut and replaced by a much worse service to save money. Ultimately, it is the kids who suffer.

In terms of next steps, we will continue to campaign to save the stay and play. It’s not a done deal yet. If you want to get involved please email us at cllr.h.denfield@wandsworth.gov.uk, cllr.c.fraser@wandsworth.gov.uk and cllr.f.anderson@wandsworth.gov.uk.

Council meeting this Thursday – Proposals on Tooting Triangle Stay and Play

Wandsworth council are planning to close the Tooting Triangle children’s centre, a decision which will be taken at a meeting this Thursday evening of the Finance and Corporate Resources Committee.

As local councillors, they have not consulted us on this, and neither have they discussed this with parents or carers who use the centre.

The proposals state that the boxing club and football pitch are going to be run by a sports company, with the inclusion of a community cafe, but the children’s centre is being added to this plan and will lose the stay and play sessions as a result.

The council-run three stay and play sessions every week are hugely popular, and many parents and carers tell us that they are a lifesaver. The staff are fantastic and provide activities, a chance to learn and play and a place for local people from across Tooting Bec and Balham to make friends, support one another and learn about other services and activities. In short, it is a vital community asset which we cannot afford to lose.

The new cafe will not have any provision for 0-2 year olds and won’t have staff to run stay and play sessions.

As ward councillors, we have requested time at the meeting to represent you, but if you’re able to attend, or would like to have your say on this valuable service, please contact Clare at: cllr.c.fraser@wandsworth.gov.uk

In advance of the committee we will also share all your comments with members of the committee so that they can see how vital this provision is.

Thanks, Clare, Hector and Fleur

Road works on Byrne Road and Culverden Road

If you have been along Byrne Road or Culverden Road recently you will have noticed the road surface is in a bit of a state. Clare took these photos and got in touch with the council to find out what was going on and had this reply:

On the second day of works in Byrne Road, the removal of the road surface had revealed the Gas Main trench that holds the delivery line along the entire length of Byrne Road.

Once the surface was up and open, this trench was found to be ‘defective’ from the time it was reinstated – and is not adequate to carry the new road surface without subsiding.

This trench feature had been implemented as far back as the early 1980s in likelihood – and was not found to be present in our recent ‘road core sample tests’ prior to these works – nor is there any official record of the trench in statutory utility company plans available to us. The presence of the trench and its current condition were completely unexpected. The Gas Company must now remedy the structural condition of their infrastructure such that we may then complete reconstruction of the road surface over top of it.

The process of the required remedial works has been actioned, and once the surfacing works have been reprogrammed, residents will be updated.

This letter was delivered by the council to households in the area.

The most recent update from the council states:

Byrne Rd/Culverden Rd SW12 a temporary running surface is available pending the proper reinstatement of a gas trench which is preventing completion of carriageway resurfacing works 02/11/2018 to 09/11/2018. Engineer: J. Chana 0208 871 7279.

  

If you smell gas or see a water leak, please do not assume that someone else has phoned it in. Please do not report these to the council, instead call the following free phone numbers to report leaks directly to the companies responsible for fixing them:

Water: 0800 714 614 Gas: 0800 111 999

Hector’s maiden speech

This speech was given at the full council meeting on 17 October 2018:

Mx Mayor, I call for this meeting to be adjourned for 30 seconds to reflect on the way Brexit is being tackled.

It was a pleasure and an honour to be elected by the people of Bedford ward in May, and I am exceptionally grateful for this opportunity to represent them. It is also an honour to follow in the footsteps of Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP, and the incredible work she is doing to draw international attention to the Rohingya genocide.

When campaigning, Brexit was a subject that came up on the doorstep a lot, and so I propose this motion to reflect on the current approach to Brexit.

The referendum of 2016 was a momentous event. The last two years have been eventful, to say the least. We have an exit day: 29 March 2019. But before that, I think we should have a say on the final deal, and I personally believe that a People’s Vote is the best way to do this.

Why do I support this campaign? Simply because we all have new information. In the 2 years, 3 months and 24 days since the referendum we have been inundated with new information. It gushes out of news outlets like a burst dam, faster than even the former foreign secretary can think of enough cricket metaphors.

Everyone in the UK should be given an honorary degree in Brexit studies. It is overwhelming how much more we now know.

And it’s not just the quantity of the information, it’s the quality too. We’re not dealing with hypotheticals any more. The issues that have arisen during the negotiations are the real issues, the decisions made by businesses are real decisions, and the movement in the economy is real movement.

In light of all this new, high quality information, it is not just reasonable, but positively sensible to re-evaluate our collective decision. Re-evaluation does not necessarily mean reaching a different conclusion. It simply means looking at the choices again in the context of new evidence.

And we have new choices too! In 2016 it was just remain or leave, shortly we will know exactly what sort of deal or deals are on offer. Unfortunately, the referendum gave us no clue about how we all feel about the different ways of leaving. If leaving the EU is confirmed then everyone, leavers and remainers, deserve the right to express their preference for the type of exit we make.

A People’s Vote would not be disrespectful of the referendum. On the contrary, the referendum has been respected every day since it happened. We triggered Article 50, we had a general election, David Davis was even going to produce 58 impact reports, and even though he never got round to it, it’s the thought that counts.

Time and again we hear people say that the politicians just aren’t listening. A People’s Vote would be the very definition of listening. 20 councils including the GLA have already passed motions supporting a People’s Vote. Just this morning a Lib Dem, a Labour and a Tory walked into a bar, and asked for more time to hold a People’s Vote.

The campaign already has over 700,000 supporters, and a million followers on social media. Mighty oaks grow from tiny acorns. This campaign is already a young tree. The more of us who lend our voice, the more chance it has to grow into reality.

Ultimately, for democracy to work, people need information to work with. We have more information, better information, real information to work with now. A People’s Vote is the right thing to do and the democratic thing to do.

I am proud to serve as a councillor for Bedford ward, where our diverse community reflects the best of modern London. I’ll work hard to protect local jobs and businesses, and to protect the rights of our EU friends and neighbours.

Clare’s maiden speech during a debate on the standard of children’s services in Wandsworth

At this week’s full council meeting, both Clare and Hector gave their maiden speeches. See  below for the full text of Clare’s speech and a photo of her in action during the debate:

Thank you for allowing for me to make my maiden speech this evening.

I’ll begin, as is customary with a few words about Bedford ward, a ward name which confuses many, but which comprises parts of Tooting Bec and Balham. I would like to extend my thanks to residents of Bedford ward for voting for me in May, it is my great honour to represent the ward.  I would also like to note my thanks to Cllr Fleur Anderson and Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP. Since Rosena’s election to Bedford ward in 2014, she has gone on to become the Labour MP for Tooting. With such great work in the ward, they set the bar high for me for the next four years. I am also delighted to be joined at this election by my fellow new councillor, Hector Denfield meaning that for the first time since 1990, Bedford ward is represented by 3 Labour councillors.

In Bedford ward we are lucky to have the Common which sits at the heart of our community, a special place enjoyed by residents of all ages and backgrounds. The café in the middle of Tooting Common on a Saturday morning is representative of many of these residents, whether they have completed parkrun, are walking their dog, or just enjoying a cup of tea.  We are equally lucky to have Tooting Bec lido at the edges of the Common, the largest outdoor lido in the UK.

Locally, we have several excellent primary schools: Ravenstone, Rutherford, and St Anselm’s, who provide a high-standard of education for local children. However, many parents have shared with me their concerns about the funding of schools, and what this might mean for the future of their children’s’ education. My fear is that the great start these children are provided with in early life currently, may deteriorate in future as a result of funding cuts which are punishing the youngest members in our society.

Focusing on the subject of tonight’s motion, it is the early standard of care in a child’s life, which concerns me the most. My work in the education sector has shown me that it is those early years in a child’s life which are formative in their later development. In a borough such as Wandsworth, you would imagine that shouldn’t be a problem, however, the pinnacle of how Wandsworth operates as a borough is seen acutely through the lens of its children’s services. Councillors opposite often celebrate Wandsworth for being sound in its financial management, but to prevent its children’s services from sliding backwards to an inadequate rating, have dipped into the council’s reserves to the tune of £37 million. Even the best spin doctor could not portray that as sound financial management.

In my short time on the council and the Education and Children’s Services committee, I’m yet to see real conviction in the political leaders of this council. There is instead a refusal to set long-term targets which commit to closing the department’s funding deficit as soon as possible and putting an end to rewards for failure.

I want more than anyone for those services to be rated good or higher. I hope this is the case at the next full re-inspection, however doing so will only be achieved through robust forward planning, and not through the piecemeal approach we see from the political leaders of this council where accountability for these decisions ultimately rests.

I conclude by noting that as a councillor, I will be a representative for all residents. Bedford ward is a great place to live and during my time here I want to make it even better. I want to help empower residents to have their voices heard and ensure that all children growing up in my ward are given the best possible start in life.

 

 

 

Universal Credit Roll Out Must Stop

The Universal Credit roll out has felt like a very slow Tsunami making its way towards Wandsworth. We’ve heard the warnings and with a growing sense of doom, we have seen the result of the switch to Universal Credit in other areas of the country. But the roll out has continued regardless.

Welfare reform on this scale could have had positive benefits with simplifying a complicated system of multiple benefits into one payment. However there are some structural flaws with the system that must be fixed now, before more people suffer because of an administrative change.

We’ve seen Food Bank use and homelessness increase elsewhere. The Trussell Trust – who run 400 foodbanks – have reported a 52% increase in use of the Foodbank in areas with Universal Credit compared to those where it hasn’t yet been rolled out. The charities Mind and Macmillan Cancer Care are amongst many who have raised major concerns about the impact of UC for people with disabilities.

Even the Work and Pensions secretary admits it isn’t working as reported in the Times today (6th October), ‘Ministers are becoming increasingly alarmed about the rollout of universal credit after Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, confirmed privately to colleagues that millions of families would lose £200 a month under the new system. Ms McVey told cabinet colleagues that half of lone parents and about two thirds of working-age couples with children would lose the equivalent of £2,400 a year.’

The problems are: the gap in payments of an average of 5 weeks at the start, compounded by the switch from fortnightly to monthly payments, having to be entirely online and needing IT support to do this, administrative problems and – here’s the real body blow – the resulting benefit is not enough to live on, especially for people with disabilities and their families.

Local voluntary organisations have been working together to lobby the council to be ready for the roll out. I have been going to the on-going meetings between the Job Centres, Wandsworth Council, South West London Law Centre, Foodbank, Citizens Advice Wandsworth, Advising Communities and local charities as a result. But getting the basic data has been a real problem – to measure and be able to prevent increasing debt and homelessness we have to know what the situation is to start with.

The move towards being entirely online for people on low incomes is very hard. The forms need IT literacy, residents living in Wandsworth temporary accommodation do not have broadband become Wandsworth Council (despite ‘temporary’ being usually for many months and sometime for years), they need a good level of English to use. The responsibility for following up on setting up the new account, making and attending appointments and getting in paperwork has changed to being the claimant’s responsibility. Many people have not had this early explained and are losing out. All of these can be resolved – but some claimants need a lot more support in the early stages.

In Wandsworth Food Bank use has increased since the introduction of Universal credit. More people are going to the Legal Advice Centres – the voluntary sector is picking up the pieces of poor policy and a refusal to stop and rethink. Here is the excellent annual report from the Wandsworth Foodbank with more background, stories of impact and recommendations.

An estimated 10% of people on Universal Credit need additional support with different parts of the process like help with IT, form filling and budgeting. But if at the end of the day the money is not enough this isn’t going to solve the fundamental problem of Universal Credit

The roll out of UC in Wandsworth will continue next year to families with more than two children, and this tidal wave will be sweeping across many families who will need extra support. The Council, Job Centres and voluntary organisations must work much more effectively to be able to see what the impact is and where more action needs to be taken.

Better yet, the Government should judge the success of UC by its impact, and make the changes needed – with no gap in payments, fixing the admin problems and reviewing the benefit amounts.

The National Audit Office’s report on UC found that it is not delivering on value for money and they won’t be able to measure whether it is increasing the number of people who are in work – the two key reasons for the switch.

There is more coming – as a new wave of people being ‘migrated’ to Universal Credit is coming, and from April 2019 will also include families with more than 2 children. Change is very urgent.

Its time to stop the roll out and fix the problems.

Sign the petition to Wandsworth Council here: https://www.change.org/p/wandsworth-council-act-now-to-support-local-people-at-risk-of-debt-and-homelessness

Read the Trussell Trust report here: https://www.trusselltrust.org/what-we-do/research-advocacy/universal-credit-and-foodbank-use/

Watch the video: https://labour.org.uk/issues/universalcredit/

Come and see us at one of our surgeries!

As we’re now mid-way into September and the new academic year, we wanted to let you know about our new schedule. As of this month, our surgery timetable is as follows:

2nd Saturday of every month 11.00am – 12.00noon at St Anselm’s Church New Hall. The entrance is on Tooting Bec Road opposite Tooting Bec tube station.

4th Saturday of every month, 10am – 11am at the Newlands Estate community room at the entrance to Barringer Square, Franciscan Road. It is opposite 109 Franciscan Road.

Up until Christmas, here’s where you can find us:

22 September          Newlands

13 October              St Anselm’s

27 October              Newlands

10 November           St Anselm’s

24 November           Newlands

8 December            St Anselm’s

22 December          Newlands

No appointment is needed to attend any of our surgeries, and we are of course available over email at other times. As a reminder, our emails are:

Fleur Anderson: cllr.f.anderson@wandsworth.gov.uk

Hector Denfield: cllr.h.denfield@wandsworth.gov.uk

Clare Fraser: cllr.c.fraser@wandsworth.gov.uk

There’s lots going in in the ward at the moment with planning applications being submitted for Tooting Bec Lodge, the planning application for new homes overlooking Ravenstone School has been re-submitted and we’re also continuing to put pressure on Network Rail to clean up the railway bridge and its surroundings on Bedford Hill. More on all of those subjects from us shortly.

 

 

Tooting Bec Lido summer season – our meeting with the council

Last week we met with council officers and the Cabinet Member with responsibility for leisure facilities in Wandsworth to raise our concerns regarding various aspects of the running of Tooting Bec Lido this summer.

We love the Lido and feel so lucky to have it in our ward. It’s a facility enjoyed not just by people in Tooting, or even Wandsworth, but people travel from far and wide to enjoy a dip in the 90 metres of fresh water. Rumour has it that Brad Pitt has even been there to film a scene!

Our concerns were that many people who visited the Lido this summer did not have the experience they expected, and many may have been left disappointed as a result of this. When being asked to pay £7.50, you can understand why.

That is why we called for this meeting, to discuss:

  • The persistently long queues
  • IT failures which caused the card payments system to crash
  • Cleanliness of the facility
  • Maintenance issues
  • Access to the paddling pool

The main themes to arise during our discussion were the need for better communication and planning, and we reinforced the need for better expectation management of the queue. Although it’s not possible to predict exactly how long people may be queuing for, it’s safe to say that once the queue reaches a certain point (somewhere near the end of the fence), it will be around an hour’s wait. Even if this isn’t completely accurate, it helps those who haven’t been before to know what the wait time might be. It is this aspect of communication (and not just on Twitter and social media) that we reinforced. A point which we noted was equally important when problems arise such as the occasions when the card machine wasn’t working. We noted that over, rather than under communication was preferable in these situations, especially given the distance to the nearest cash point. On the issue of the card machine, this apparently occurred due to overheating, and so we hope that more robust IT infrastructure is put in place before next summer to avoid this happening again! We noted to the council that if people were not told that they couldn’t pay by card, they were unlikely to return given the distance to the nearest cash point, something which will have resulted in a loss of money.

We also indicated that it would be useful, perhaps through a sign to be put up at busy times, to indicate what items could and couldn’t be taken into the lido, something which may cut down the time taken for security officers to inspect and remove items from bags. Although there is a small sign there noting no alcohol, this could definitely be more prominent and provide more details than it does currently.

It was useful to reflect that the standard of cleanliness had picked up over the course of the summer, something which we had noted that Places for People needed to do something about . This was following several complaints by  users of the lido about the cleanliness of the cubicles and changing rooms.

It was admitted that the maintenance of the Lido could have been handled better by Places for People. Examples of this include the paddling pool and the various equipment repairs which were, and are still needed (we’re still in discussions about the work needed on the pump). We’re hoping that these are all brought up to the standard they should be now that demand is less.

Although the heatwave may have passed, it is our hope that the points we highlighted at this meeting will mean a smoother and less problematic summer season next year and beyond – something we’ll certainly be keeping an eye on. Despite it not being sunny, the Lido now seems to be suffering with too much rain(!) and the pump house not working as it should be mean the showers have been unavailable for a lot of this week. Once more, a loss of power to the reception means the card payment facility is down again. We hope that these problems will be remedied soon and will be keeping the pressure on to make sure they are.

Bike hangars in Wandsworth

map of bike hangars in Wandsworth and Lambeth

click the image to enlarge it

Some people have asked about installing bike hangars in their street which is a great idea and one we support a lot. I think everyone can agree that cycling is a generally positive activity and in a city like London where too many cars lead to poor air quality and clogged roads, cycling should be encouraged.

When we looked into this issue it came as quite a shock how poor Wandsworth Tories have been on this issue and how little is done by the Tories to support cycling in Wandsworth.

We made the image above as a quick and easy comparison. In Wandsworth we only got our first bike hangar in 2017, and as of today we have a grand total of just 4. Compare this to Lambeth which has over 220, and Waltham Forest with 225!

In addition to being a good for the environment and the fitness and wellbeing of people in Wandsworth, bike hangars could also make excellent economic sense for the council. A bike hangar takes up roughly the same amount of space as a car parking bay. Renting a space in the bike hangar costs £72 a year, and a hangar can fit 6 bikes, so in total a hangar generates the council £432 a year. In contrast, a resident’s car parking permit costs only £166. The bike hanger produces 160% more profit using the same amount of space!

At the moment all the £72 rental fee goes to a third party company in exchange for admin, maintenance and cleaning of the hangars, so the hangars do not make any money for Wandsworth Council. We have spoken with them and they are looking at a self-management option. Alternatively, instead of seeking a profit, Wandsworth could follow in the footsteps of Waltham Forest who only charge £20 a year to rent a space and Lambeth who charge £42.

So if you would like a bike hangar on your street, please go to https://cyclehoop.force.com/RentalsCommunity/resultsmap?postalCode= and click the “suggest a location” link at the bottom of the page. We will continue to push the council to install more hangars in areas where they make sense, rather than having to wait for residents to request them. After all, if you build it, they will come!

Upcoming consultation on traffic calming for Dr Johnson Avenue

You may remember a proposal by Wandsworth Council in early 2016 to do the following:

  1. close Dr Johnson Avenue to traffic; and
  2. ban vehicles from turning right from Tooting Bec Road into Elmbourne Road.

The response rate was high for a council consultation – over 3,200 people submitted their thoughts. In the end, 70% of respondents rejected the idea. The council’s write up of that process is here: http://www.wandsworth.gov.uk/news/article/13315/dr_johnson_avenue_will_remain_open

In the very near future, Wandsworth Council will be running a new consultation with two new proposals for traffic calming on Dr Johnson Avenue:

Option 1 – installing, in the midpoint of Dr Johnson Avenue, a raised table flush with the pavement and green verge. This is designed to reduce the speed of vehicles and serve as a crossing point for pedestrians. This will include access to the south-west footpath via some steps and an Equality Act 2010-compliant facility for disabled access.

At either end of Dr Johnson Avenue the road layout would be redesigned and two more raised tables would be installed, provided Transport for London agree to this.

Option 2 – similar to option 1, but with two additional raised tables, taking the total to five overall.

There are additional nuances such as the type of materials used and the length of the raised tables. A “raised table” looks like this one outside Tooting Bec tube station at the entrance to Stapleton Road:

Or this example in Walthamstow:

The consultation is not yet open but we will keep you posted when it does.