PRESS RELEASE: Lib Dems support Christian Kitchen

The Christian Kitchen based in the Mission Grove Car Park

LOCAL LIB DEMS FIGHT TO SAVE CHRISTIAN KITCHEN FROM HEARTLESS LABOUR COUNCIL

Waltham Forest Council is demanding that the Christian Kitchen cease using the Mission Grove car park in E17 as the location for their daily soup kitchen.

The soup kitchen has rejected the allegations that their service contributes to local street drinking and anti-social behaviour and local Lib Dems and residents are supporting them.

Proximity to the Town Centre is important to a soup kitchen and Waltham Forest is taking this action without proper consultation.

The local Lib Dem Focus Team has been surveying residents about the issue and so far local residents are overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the soup kitchen where it is.

Waltham Forest Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr Bob Sullivan said:

“It is crazy that this Labour council appear to be scapegoating this long established soup kitchen and demonising their service users.

“The Christian Kitchen has been a part of the local area for many years and is there to help the most vulnerable in our society. The soup kitchen has even offered compromises to the council but they have been rejected.

“This is a heartless act by this Labour council that is clearly not supported by local people.

“It seems ‘One Nation Labour’ has not yet made the journey to Waltham Forest from Ed Miliband’s Westminster bubble.”

Liberal Democrat Alternative Budget

The following is the alternative budget proposed by the Liberal Democrats at this year’s budget setting meeting:

Table 1 New Additional Reductions

Corporate Communications

£250,000

Trade Union subsidies

£121,000

Loss of Junior members

Scrap WFN and cut advertising budget

£32,000

£100,000

Total of new additional reductions

£503,000

 

Table 2 Proposed Use of Reserves

Of £43 million earmarked reserves:

Of general balances:

Total of Proposed Use of Reserves:

£6,465,046

£1,000,000

£7,465,046

 

Table 3 – New growth

 

 
Business, Skills and Jobs

New apprenticeships & Graduate Schemes

£1,000,000

Jobs, Skills and Attainment Schemes

£750,000

Business Support/Mentoring

£750,000

Total Business and Jobs

£2,500,000

 

Children’s Services

Short Breaks and Respite Care

£170,000

Fostering & adoption

£130,000

Youth Services

£200,000

Free breakfast – Primary children

Total Children’s Services

£3,100,000

£3,600,000

 

Adult Services

Short Breaks and Respite Care

£170,000

Total Adult Services

 

Capital investment growth

Road resurfacing

£170,000

 

 

£1,000,000

 

Other Growth

Increase drain cleaning

Pest control, rats and mice

Debt Counselling Service

£200,000

£30,000

£300,000

Reduction in Youth and Sports Fees

£20,046

Reinstate Harrow Green Library

£128,000


Total Other Growth

 

£678,046

TOTAL GROWTH

£7,968,046

 

Lib Dem Councillor Bob Sullivan’s Budget Speech

Liberal Democrat Group Leader Councillor Bob Sullivan made the following speech setting out the Lib Dem alternative to the Labour Administration’s Budget.

2013 Budget – A missed opportunity

Mr Mayor, I’d like to start by thanking our officers and finance department for helping us to produce a budget that is legal and addresses the financial problems that the borough faces.

In the climate of austerity we welcome the freezing of council tax – an initial decision taken by the joint administration some years ago.

We also welcome the decision to accept the coalitions transitional grant which will keep the impact on benefit receivers to no more than 8.5% unlike other London labour councils who are passing on the full 15 to 20% cuts.

The financial future for local government and Waltham Forest looks bleak. We are not likely to get back to the free and irresponsible spending of the previous government.

Doubtless the Waltham Forest Labour Party will jump on their high horse and try to blame the coalition for every painful choice that they’ve made this year. But just a short glance at their budget reserves will show you that, despite the cuts Labour are storing up money for a pre-election spending spree.

This year this Labour council not only collected over a million pounds more than they expected from our council tax payers but they spent over two and a half million pounds less!

And what are they doing with this unexpected largess? Protecting social care? Investing more in jobs and apprenticeships? Or even cutting council tax? No! They’re investing £1 million pounds of money from local council tax payers into ‘events’.

In contrast we’ve identified savings and reserves that could help residents now, investing in jobs, education and our local infrastructure.

As Liberal Democrats we have not shied away from difficult decisions. Nationally we’ve entered coalition at a difficult time for the country and are delivering a tax cut for millions of people including halving income tax for people on the minimum wage.

Locally in 2009/10 we helped lay the groundwork for some of the difficult cuts to the council budget we knew were to come and agreed the freeze in council tax to help the hard pressed pockets of local residents.

But that makes it all the more difficult to see the Labour Party squandering the money they do have to spend.

For example, in January they spent £130,000 on fireworks.

  • Why did we need fireworks in January?  Last year it was said we had to close libraries because of the cuts – when we were spending £150,000 of taxpayers money on consultants to organise events.
  • £130,000 could fund Harrow green library for a year and yet thanks to this Labour council that money has literally gone up in smoke!
  • Maybe you should ask Residents around Harrow Green and South Chingford if they would like fireworks this year or their library back – maybe make it front page in Watham Forest News.

All is not lost – We have been fortunate that two years into this coalition government we can now see how it has helped Waltham Forest where we need it most:

  • The pupil premium is delivering 9 million pounds a year to help 9,900 pupils from low-income families in our borough.
  • Ministers have delivered tens of millions of pounds to help cope with our growing school population. The second highest capital allocation in the country.
  • Ministers have improved childcare for disadvantaged two year olds, helping an estimated 1000 struggling Waltham Forest families with funding for 15 hours free childcare a week.

This is in stark contrast to the failures at a local level of Labour’s Worknet programme and the Cathall Skills Academy, where millions of pounds that should have been spent on local jobs have been wasted or left unspent.

Savings

Moving on to our budget savings:

  • Firstly the Lib Dem Group have proposed savings by abolishing the tax payer subsidy to the trade unions. Surely it cannot be right in a time of austerity that our tax payers subsidise the Unions in this borough – given that the Unions can afford to give away millions, year after year to the Labour party
  • This would allow the Unions to hold the executive to account properly and avoid the perception that Labour councillors and union officials are in each others pockets.
  • Secondly we would cut further into our corporate communications budget because it is an extravagance to still be spending £1 million a year on this when other core services are being cut.
  • Thirdly we will look to reduce money spent on junior cabinet posts, which were introduced to help the work of the joint administration and are a luxury we no longer need, and should not afford.
  • Finally we would cut Waltham Forest News, which lost money in the last financial year despite being propped up by hundreds of thousands of pounds of council advertising. Most people know that it is really a propaganda sheet for the Labour Party and the Leader.

Reserves

The reserves, last year and this year, are too high, compared with the overall budget. On the advice of the Finance Director we haven’t specified individual reserves in the budget amendment itself, but we have looked at the full range of reserves available – up to £43 million – and have identified areas that could be used to invest in our borough.

For example on Equal Pay.  This process should have been completed years ago and maintaining a large balance here means either that the Labour Administration has failed, and needs to act on this now, or that it is storing up money for something else and trying to hide it.

As we know, most of the cuts have been front-loaded, a process the joint administration introduced.  So in order to realise the necessary savings the majority of restructuring and redundancies should have gone through the system already. We also know that most of the redundancies to date have been managed by using in year budgets and not reserves. So the restructuring reserve and the redundancy reserve are high and could be reduced by a small percentage, whilst still having a big impact on our investment in the Borough this year.

Given the cuts to the budget overall, we should also be able to cut our working balance accordingly. We said it last year and we are saying it again.  Reducing the working balance by one million pounds and investing it in borough infrastructure is a better use of funds, than to let it languish in a bank. So we have taken this 1 million pounds for investment in road improvements for the Borough.

We realise that an extra 2million is to be used for potholes and pavements and we welcome that, but we feel that resurfacing roads is also important.  Having seen the road resurfacing in parts of Leyton and Leytonstone we feel that we should put another million pounds into resurfacing 12 or more roads in the borough.

Overall our proposals would be prudent, using only 17% of our reserves this year for investment, leaving a significant financial buffer for the future. And at the same time investing in the things that matter most to our residents now, and for the longer term.  We should be building a legacy from the Olympics and investing in jobs, education and care for our most vulnerable residents. ….

Children’s Services

Last year we included an additional  £1 million for Children’s Services, to help support them at a difficult time.  This is close to the amount of the current overspend in the department this year, so in retrospect it now appears prudent.

As councillors we all know the problems that were identified by Ofsted in the council’s services for looked after children last year and that Waltham Forest was one of only 2 authorities in the country to receive the lowest rating possible for their Looked After Children’s Service.

We’re pleased that the council has given some leeway in the budget this year to help the service recover. The Service has had a difficult time, but the very good news is that the Improvement Notice issued to the Council has been lifted and our congratulations go to Alan and his team for the hard work that they did to get this notice lifted.  We look forward to getting an improved Ofsted report in the future.

However we are extremely concerned about poor performance in some of our primary schools.  We highlighted recently the Ofsted report, showing that we are the worst borough in London and one of the worst in the country, for parents wanting to send their children to a good or outstanding primary school.

Not only that but we also found that we are below the national average for our Key Stage 2 results, a decline since 2010, and again one of the worst Borough’s in London and in the country for this. It is another failure on the back of last years’ failures in Children’s Services.  Even this week we have heard that the government is to raise the test targets. So there is a lot of work to do.

Not all these issues can be fixed with more money – local leadership is important. Continually changing the cabinet member for education is not the answer.

Given the problem that has been identified, we need to do something to improve our childrens’ attainment so we’ve earmarked a large chunk of money – £3.1 million – to invest in free breakfasts for our Borough’s poorest children. This money would go direct to schools and would fund a breakfast for every single child on free school meals for the next year.

Some schools may be doing this from the pupil premium money so that the total cost may reduce.  Of course if we were in administration we’d already have been negotiating with local schools to use some of their pupil premium money to put up some match funding. With more and more children going to school without breakfast, this is an important area that will help childrens’ nutrition, concentration and therefore their attainment in school.

We would also provide funds for additional respite care services and extra fund for fostering and adoption.  Most of our fostering is out of  borough and last year Ofsted judged our adoption service as only Adequate.

Also investing money now, can save in the future on expensive outside agencies and out of borough placements.

As a Liberal Democrat I don’t believe we should accept these failures in our schools, and our childrens services.

We must send a clear signal that we are not going to put up with a poor service and will not be content with an adequate service. But we will strive to provide an outstanding service.  Something which, I am sure, we can all agree is what we should be aiming for.

Business, skills and jobs

The lack of economic development over many years has finally forced the borough to try to address this issue and thanks to pressure from us over the last year they are finally investing in apprenticeships.

But there is so much more that could be done. In fact I’d be interested to know if we have managed to meet the target of 40 apprenticeships this year?

New apprenticeships & graduate schemes – £1,000,000

It is one of the great scandals in our country that one in five young people between the ages of 16-24 is out of work, some 250,000 of those for over a year.

There have been some welcome but tentative signs that across the country this is starting to go down but it is happening all too slowly.

Here in Waltham Forest, we are still a ‘youth unemployment hotspot’, with around 1 out of every 8 young people on jobseekers allowance – twice the national average! – this isn’t good enough.

This isn’t just a problem now,  For over a decade the previous Labour Government and now this Labour council have failed to provide our residents with the skills and experience needed.  The Olympic organisers said as much. They wanted to hire more young people from Waltham Forest but they couldn’t because they didn’t have basic literacy, numeracy and trade skills.

And over the last year we’ve found out why: Because Labours jobs and skills programmes were failing to deliver.

The Coalition Government has already taken welcome steps to deal with this, through its £1 billion investment in the ‘Youth Contract’ and the apprenticeship programme, which at the last count  is nearing almost half a million apprenticeships across the country. As a result, the number of apprentices here in the borough has almost tripled since 2009 to over 1,500.

But we as a council could and should be doing more to help. With this in mind, we have set aside £1,000,000 for apprenticeships with local businesses to train our young people and to expand our graduate scheme in the council to train the social workers and council officers of tomorrow.

This money would not only give young men and women the chance to improve their skills base and start on a solid career path but it would also benefit the local economy and businesses.

Surveys by the National Audit Office suggest that while only 5% of companies in Britain employ apprentices, 86% of those that do, say it has improved their performance.

Jobs, skills and attainment schemes – £750,000

But what about the thousands of other resident who are still struggling to find work? What about those who have recently lost their job? What about the long-term unemployed or older people who have been let down for years by the council’s failed Worknet programme?

We propose increasing the council’s meagre £120,000 investment from its priorities fund in getting people back to work by putting an extra £750,000 of the Council’s reserves into helping these people find meaningful employment.

The Waltham Forest Labour Party has finally woken up to the need to invest in apprenticeships but they’re only just beginning the work needed to fix their failure on Worknet, O-regen and The Skills Academy. Why should we as a Council squirrel this money away when it could be put to good use  helping the people we represent, find work now?

With high unemployment levels in this Borough investing now has to be a priority.

Business support and mentoring – £750,000

We must also consider the businesses where people will find work. We all know how tough the current economic climate is for business, especially Small and Medium Enterprises, both here in Waltham Forest and across the country, with a lack of confidence, rising prices and squeezed profit margins.

These local enterprises are vital as they not only serve our local community but are more likely to hire people from the borough, spend their money locally and encourage social cohesion.

That is why in our budget we have again ear-marked money for business support and mentoring, a total of £750,000 to assist local business and ensure that they are shoring up their balance sheets, creating not cutting jobs, and generating wealth here in Waltham Forest.

And importantly we don’t need the government to step in, we can do it ourselves, working with social enterprises like Biz Fizz, Waltham Forest could be investing in programmes that deliver increased business start-up and survival, job creation and improved incomes for local entrepreneurs and their employees.

It’s good to see the council is taking the idea of creating jobs for local people through the Councils procurement more seriously, after they rejected our motion on it last year.

If we do it right, procuring from local businesses and promoting local jobs can help our local economy and save money. When we put our motion on procurement to full council back in April last year not even 15% of council contracts were going to local firms.

From recent pronouncements the council clearly now have a commitment to working towards giving more contracts to local people and expecting contractors to take on local people and I commend the Cabinet member for that. But as ever we will be watching to ensure that the Council deliver on its promise.

The other areas of our budget address some the other growing concerns of our residents, namely,

  • Debt counselling,
  • The chance to get our drains cleaned at least once a year,
  • A reduction in youth and sports fees to encourage participation in sports,
  • The setting up of clubs and activities for our youth,
  • The stopping of the £25 pound charge for reporting rats, a service that most residents feel should be free
  • The freezing of charges for mice.
  • And lastly the reinstatement of Harrow Green Library – Residents are baffled how this Labour administration can spend millions on freebees but can close down Harrow Green library to save £128,000 in one of the most deprived areas of the borough.

In conclusion Mr Mayor

Labour could’ve taken just a small fraction of their reserves and paid for extra apprenticeships for local young people, but instead their Worknet programme appears to have failed for it’s first two years.

They could be investing in business support and mentoring but instead blame the Government when the Labour Party here who are failing to act.

And they could be investing in our struggling Education Services but instead they’re hoarding £43 million of council tax payers money. Over taxing and under spending on our residents over the last year.

All this whilst the Coalition Government are delivering across the borough,

  • Funds for over 1700 new apprenticeships,
  • Delivering a tax cut for 95,600 people on the minimum wage and
  • delivering £9 million pounds through the Pupil Premium to help 9,900 pupils from low-income families.

When Liberal Democrats were in joint administration, this Borough went from being a failing authority to a four star authority. Two years with no Lib Dems to provide the ideas, drive and dedication and Labour have failed our primary school children, failed our unemployed and failed our residents.

It is clear that Waltham Forest Labour are out of touch.

Whilst our priorities for residents are clear in investing in jobs, infrastructure and education

Labour’s priorities are even clearer, storing up money in reserves and balances and using whats left for events and propaganda.

Mr Mayor, I ask the council to support our budget motion.

 

Labour Council continues to spend your money?

Following on from spending  £650,000 on a new entrance hall at the Town Hall, Liberal Democrat councillors have now heard that another £18,000 of ratepayers money has been forked out on new committee room tables!

The Liberal Democrats say, “When we have some of the poorest primary school results in the country, is council money being spent on the right things?”

Council Chooses Free Fireworks Over Library Funding!

At the Council’s budget meeting Liberal Democrat councillors highlighted the Council’s spending of £130,000 on fireworks in January. This money could have kept the Library at Harrow Green open for a year.

At the meeting it was said funding of Harrow Green library is a waste of money. Labour councillors also said that they liked the fireworks. This is astonishing given that Harrow Green library is situated in one of the most deprived areas of Waltham Forest.

Children and families in this area now see that their Council prefers half hour of fireworks rather than keeping open their library.

What do you think – should the Council spend money on fireworks or open Harrow Green Library?

Focus says: This is not all. The Council is planning to spend another million of tax payers money on fireworks and other events this year. Given the current financial situation is this the right priority?

Leyton Conservation Area

The Council is proposing to designate part of Leyton Town Centre as a Conservation Area. The area stretches from Buckingham Road (Coronation Gardens) along the High Road as far as Leyton Underground Station

What is a Conservation Area?

It is an area of special architectural or historic interest. The special character can include buildings, parks and open spaces, trees and landscaping, paving and street furniture etc.

This part of Leyton is of particular historical interest and includes two grade 2 statutorily listed buildings (Leyton Library and the old Leyton Torn Hall), the locally listed building at 267 High Road (formerly Barclays Bank) and the Victorian Coronation Gardens.

Extra Planning Protection

Conservation area designation gives broad protection to an area, and all features within the area are recognised as part of its character. The Council, as the local planning authority, would have extra powers to control works to protect, or improve, the character or appearance of the area.

Exhibition at Leyton Library

There will be a public exhibition in the foyer of Leyton Library from 18 February until 18 March. Council officers will be present on the following days to answer any questions:

Tuesday 19 February – between 4 and 7pm

Wednesday 28 February – between 11am and 2pm

Comments

Any comments should be received by Friday 15 March, and should be sent to:

MAIL: Jacinta Fisher, Conservation Officer, London Borough of Waltham Forest, Room GO8, Sycamore House, Town Hall, Walthamstow, E17 4JF

E-MAIL: urbandesign@walthamforest.gov.uk

TELEPHONE: for any questions call Jacinta Fisher on 020 8496 6737

PRESS RELEASE: Labour cut free rat catching service

This year the Labour council will bring an end to their free rat catching service by introducing a new charge of £25.

They are also increasing the cost of pest control in other areas, putting up the cost of dealing with mice for those on council tax benefit from £60 to £75, a 22% increase.

Lib Dems have criticised the move saying it will cause more problems than it solves.

Lib Dem Environment spokesperson Councillor Mahmood Hussain said:

“This is a false economy. A growing rat population affects everyone. For every person that is put off reporting rats by this new charge, rats will spread further and faster across the Borough.

“Mice are a growing problem for residents too and it can often take two or three visits before they are cleared from your home, landing you with a bill of hundreds of pounds.”

“Just like their u-turns over parking charges and the living wage last year, it wouldn’t cost Labour much to reverse these bad decisions and back the priorities of residents.”

Lib Dem Leader Councillor Bob Sullivan said:

“Lib Dems will be finding money in our alternative budget to show that the Labour council could cut charges for mice and keep the rat service free if they wanted to.”

PRESS RELEASE: Labour Council is letting our children down

TWO DAMNING REPORTS ON WALTHAM FOREST PRIMARY SCHOOLS

Figures released at the end of 2012 show Key Stage 2 results for Waltham Forest primary schools have been below the national average for the past two years. Whilst our results did improve in 2012, most other areas improved even more and have left us lagging behind.

According to the most recent Ofsted report, Waltham Forest and Hackney children are now the least likely in London to be able to attend to a good or outstanding primary school. With only 11 authorities out of over 150 in England performing worse, Waltham Forest is in the bottom 8% of authorities nationwide.

Across England, 2012 saw a welcome increase in the percentage of Key Stage 2 pupils receiving a Level 4 or above in English and Maths, helped by extra money delivered through the Lib Dem Pupil premium, which targets funds at the poorest pupils.

But despite extra investment delivered by Liberal Democrats in government through the pupil premium, which will deliver over £12.5 million additional money for Waltham Forest schools in 2013-14, we are still lagging behind the national average in these key indicators.

Lib Dems believe Labour should be doing more to drive up standards in our schools and making more of this new money to drive up standards for the poorest. Splashing out money on more fireworks and other events can’t hide the fact that this Labour Council is letting our children down.

Cllr Bob Sullivan said:

“Every parent in Waltham Forest should be able to say that their child attends a good or outstanding primary school. There are great schools and great teachers in our Borough but many schools do not get the help they need from this Labour Council to overcome the difficulties they face.

“Waltham Forest Labour have now had 4 different cabinet members in charge of schools in just two and a half years and we’ve lost managers and directors too.

“When we left the joint administration in 2010 our Key Stage 2 results were above the national average but two years of Labour mismanagement have meant the rest of the country has overtaken us.

“Waltham Forest Lib Dems don’t believe more academies are the answer but we do need better local leadership to deliver a better education for our Borough’s children. It can’t be right that our children are the least likely in London to be able to attend a good or outstanding primary school.”

Planning change ‘recipe for disaster’

Waltham Forest Lib Dems warn government that planning change ‘recipe for disaster’

Waltham Forest Liberal Democrats have criticised Government proposals to relax planning laws for a three-year period and labelled them a ‘recipe for disaster’. The Lib Dems successfully passed a motion at full council receiving cross-party support to oppose the changes proposed by the government.

The Government announced in the summer plans to kick start the building industry.  A public consultation was launched to extend the exemption for planning permission for home extensions of up to 6 metres.  Legislation currently allows for extensions up to 3 metres to avoid the planning process.  If the proposals became law, owners of street properties could find their rear windows flanked by six-metre extensions on both sides, plunging them into darkness for most of the day.

Developers could be allowed to by-pass planning controls to fast-track commercial and housing applications. Business premises would be able to expand by 100sq metres and industrial units by 200sq metres. Offices would be permitted to convert to residential use all without planning permission, irrespective of the impact they would have on a neighbourhood.

Waltham Forest Liberal Democrats fear the plans will potentially block out light, split communities, damage conservation policies and do nothing to encourage economic growth locally that is not achieved already.

The Government’s proposals are currently out for consultation.  Liberal Democrats at their annual conference also rejected the move overwhelmingly.

 

Liberal Democrat Planning Spokesperson, Councillor Liz Phillips, said:

“These proposals are a recipe for disaster. They have not been properly thought through.  If this is allowed to happen it could set neighbour against neighbour and split communities in Waltham Forest for years to come.

“On top of the resentment and loss of quality of life, some people’s houses will also plummet in value if they’ve got no light or a noisy factory is within a few metres of their front door.

“There is no evidence that this will do anything to promote economic growth in Waltham Forest.  The Government needs to ditch these divisive and unnecessary plans.”