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This morning Cllr. Richard Watts leader of Islington Council along with the boroughs two Labour MPs, the CWU and Islington pensioners Focum delivered a giant postcard to the Post Office's headquarters in opposition to the company's plans to close its branch at Highbury Corner.

Islington Labour along with the Communication Workers Union have opposed these plans that will see this busy part of the borough lose a well-used branch causing inconvenience to local residents and businesses, especially older and disabled people.

Cllr. Watts said:

‘We’re here today to show the Post Office the strength of local feeling against their plans to close the Crown branch at Highbury Corner. Closure would be hugely inconvenient for a number of our residents and businesses and we won’t give up the fight until the branch is saved.’  

Islington Council has offered support to the Post Office to help keep the branch open, including helping to find a temporary home for the Post Office while the new site is being built and pledging £750,000 to transform Highbury Corner and create a new station square after the relocation has been made. However to date this offer has not been accepted.

You can help our campaign by signing our petition against the closure here

 

 

 

 

Taking the Fight to Post Office HQ

  This morning Cllr. Richard Watts leader of Islington Council along with the boroughs two Labour MPs, the CWU and Islington pensioners Focum delivered a giant postcard to the Post Office's...

Richard

Leader’s New Year Message
Cllr Richard Watts

I get lots of people coming to my advice surgeries, even more so since becoming Leader of the Council in October. What has really struck me this year is the new faces, people who've never needed help before but suddenly don't know where to turn. One lady told me she'd worked all her life but with her hours suddenly cut back she'd been forced to go to a foodbank because she couldn't afford to pay the latest massive gas bill and feed her family. Another came, at breaking point because Atos had told him he was 'fit for work' when he knew he wasn't. He was terrified he would lose his home as a result.

Nobody should spend this Christmas forced to choose between heating or eating. Nobody should be worrying that this will be their last Christmas in the home they've lived in for years, because they can't afford to stay there.

We're doing everything we can as a Council to help people manage the rising cost of living and stand up for those affected by the government's cuts. Things like saving families £500 per year per child with free, nutritious school meals for all our primary school children - a policy that's now going to be partially rolled out across the country because Islington has shown it works. Keeping our council housing rents as low as possible and taking the Mayor of London to court because he's trying to increase rents in the borough. Paying the London Living Wage to all our staff. And with fuel prices rocketing and the private companies reporting ever bigger profits, we've even started generating our own power. 700 homes in Bunhill are already enjoying cheaper, greener energy from the Bunhill Energy Centre. Soon at least 500 more homes will see the same benefit with a ground breaking project that takes waste heat from London Underground tunnels and pipes it into the heat network to warm local homes.

I wish I could say that our actions meant nobody needed to come to our advice surgeries in desperation. But with a fourth year of this Government attacking some of the most vulnerable people in society, this sadly isn't a Christmas wish I'm going to see fulfilled.

What I can promise in 2014 is this Labour Council will continue standing up for our community and even as our budgets continue to be slashed by the Government, we'll keep prioritising spending what we have on making a difference in tough times.

We'll keep up the fight to save our vital public services, from our post offices and  fire stations to our much loved local Whittington Hospital. We'll keep tackling the unemployment crisis by working with businesses to create jobs and setting up a new Employment Commission to better help people get skills and support. And we'll keep building the new genuinely affordable council housing Islington desperately needs - the borough's biggest house building programme for 30 years.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

Christmas Message From Cllr. Watts

Leader’s New Year Message Cllr Richard Watts I get lots of people coming to my advice surgeries, even more so since becoming Leader of the Council in October. What has...

No one should be paid less than they can live on and as a Council we are committed to playing our role in making sure they don’t have to.

Islington’s Labour Council is proud to be one of the UK’s first Councils be accredited as a Living Wage employer. We pay all our council workers the London Living Wage or more and it’s great that most of the council’s contractors have now also signed-up to become Living Wage employers.

It is extremely disappointing, however, that a minority of private companies, particularly those responsible for delivering social care, still do not pay their staff a Living wage.

Islington’s carers do an incredibly important job. Carers work long hours in challenging circumstances caring for our neighbours, family and friends. Society should value their hard work and dedication. The very least they deserve is to be paid a London Living wage.

This letter was published in this week’s Islington Gazette

Cllr. Alice Perry

Proud Islington’s Labour Council is a Living Wage employer

No one should be paid less than they can live on and as a Council we are committed to playing our role in making sure they don’t have to. Islington’s...

Islington Council Leader, Cllr Richard Watts, has condemned the ‘complacent, dismissive’ response the Minister of State for Disabled People has given to Islington’s declaration of no confidence in Atos.

In October, Islington became the first local authority in the country to directly challenge the Government over Atos’ poor performance in determining eligibility for benefits.

Cllr Richard Watts wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith with details of the wrong decisions Atos are making and the damaging impact on some of Islington’s most vulnerable residents.

The response from Mike Penning MP dismisses these concerns and insists that “when a Tribunal overturns a DWP decision it is not necessarily because that decision was wrong”.

Speaking at an International Day of Disabled People event in Islington Assembly Hall, Cllr Richard Watts tore up the letter in disgust and said: “I’m extremely angry about what was a complacent response by the government to a very real issue. Almost 90 per cent of the people we have supported have been successful in appealing Atos’ decisions, which suggests a massive problem with the quality of work”.

“We want the Minister of State for Disabled People to respond properly – not just send us PR spin”

“We’ll keep gathering even more evidence of the wrong decisions Atos are making and sending it to the government until they sit up and listen”

If you have been affected by an Atos decision and want to share your story with us, please email info@islington-labour.org.uk

Atos fight continues: Council Leader condemns ‘complacent’ government response

Islington Council Leader, Cllr Richard Watts, has condemned the ‘complacent, dismissive’ response the Minister of State for Disabled People has given to Islington’s declaration of no confidence in Atos. In...

Islington Labour Leader, Cllr Richard Watts, publicly moved a vote of ‘no confidence’ in Atos at a Council Executive meeting last night (Thursday 17 October) and slammed their ‘demeaning and demoralising’ tests to determine if disabled people are fit to work.

An Islington Council scrutiny investigation into Atos, the Government contractor running Work Capability Assessments for local residents on disability benefits, raised serious concerns about their performance. 

Across London 45 per cent of all appeals against Atos ESA ‘fit for work’ decisions are successful.  Within Islington, almost 90 per cent of the 108 ESA appeals made by local residents and assisted by the council were successful.

Cllr Richard Watts, Leader of the Council said: “Atos’ performance in Islington has been shocking.  Our disabled residents deserve better so I’m calling on the Government to take urgent action.”

“We’re hearing that assessors are ignoring evidence of sickness or disability and don’t always have the medical knowledge to judge whether someone is fit for work.  They seem to be making life changing decisions by ticking boxes on a computer screen”.

In a letter to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, Cllr Watts writes “The wrong decisions Atos are making have important, even life-changing consequences for some of our most vulnerable residents while the appeals process puts many who are seriously ill under unnecessary stress and uncertainty.”

This action by Islington’s Labour Council is believed to be the first time a council has made a direct challenge to Government over Atos’ poor performance in determining eligibility for benefits. 

Read more about the action in the Islington Tribune

 

(Picture shows Cllr Richard Watts, Leader of Islington Council and Cllr Janet Burgess, Executive Member for Health & Wellbeing signing the letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) 

Islington Council Leader declares ‘no confidence’ in ATOS

Islington Labour Leader, Cllr Richard Watts, publicly moved a vote of ‘no confidence’ in Atos at a Council Executive meeting last night (Thursday 17 October) and slammed their ‘demeaning and...

The safety of cyclists on Islington's roads is a matter of life and death which the council takes extremely seriously. So, at last night's council meeting, amid ongoing concern following a spate of fatal accidents in the capital, I announced a new three-part package of measures to be introduced by summer next year:

1)    The council will send all its own Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers on the one-day Safe Urban Driving (SUD) training course, which includes spending half a day on a bike to get a cyclist’s view of the road and experience what it’s like riding in a lorry’s blind spot.

2)    The council will, when procuring any major new contract that involves the use of HGVs in the borough, require that the drivers of these vehicles complete the SUD training (or equivalent).

3)    The council will use the Construction Management Plan for any major new development in the borough to urge the developer to ensure that any HGV drivers used on the development complete the SUD training (or equivalent). 

The new rules will apply to vehicles weighing 3.5 tonnes or more, contracts over £100,000 in value and developments of 10 units or more. We will expect contractors and developers to satisfy the conditions within a reasonable timeframe and at no additional cost to the council. Existing council contract managers will monitor implementation alongside the council’s public protection team.

 The new policy, using a range of levers at the council’s disposal, enjoys the backing of Islington Cyclists’ Action Group and the London Cycling Campaign. It builds on the council’s existing efforts to protect cyclists in the borough, including through:

  • engineering improvements at known accident hotspots
  • cycle safety training and educational work
  • lobbying Transport for London (TfL) to make roundabouts and gyratories at King’s Cross, Archway, Nag’s Head, Highbury Corner and Old Street safer. 

Only 6 per cent of Islington’s roads are under the control of TfL, but these roads account for 47 per cent of all traffic accidents, including those involving cyclists. 

We can never eliminate all risk on our roads, but by acting now on our fleet, procurement and planning policies we are doing what we can to minimise it, not only for people on bikes, but for pedestrians and drivers too.

 

Cllr Andy Hull, Executive Member for Finance and Performance

Safer Lorries, Safer Cycling

The safety of cyclists on Islington's roads is a matter of life and death which the council takes extremely seriously. So, at last night's council meeting, amid ongoing concern following...

Islington Council has become the first council in the country to take action to overturn the Tory-led government’s planning policy which will have a devastating effect on Islington’s economy. The council has made an Article 4 direction to effectively overturn some of the permitted development rights introduced by the government on 30 May.

Cllr James Murray, Executive Member for Housing & Development said: “In Islington we’ve got firm plans for stopping too many betting shops and payday lenders, for protecting local jobs, and for building affordable housing. But the government’s changes are undermining what we’re trying to do by allowing developers to bypass these plans in a reckless free-for-all.

The government’s changes mean we won’t be able to stop our high streets being flooded with payday loan companies – and any office space can be converted into poor quality private homes with no affordable housing at all.

There’s a real danger that small offices across the borough will be lost to private housing, and tower blocks will have as many flats as possible crammed into them. Archway Tower is already being lined up to have a large number of small, sub-standard bedsits squashed into it, with no affordable housing.

This is not right for Islington and so we have decided to challenge the government. We have started the legal process to try and overturn the government’s changes.

Islington Council is challenging the government’s permitted development rights in two ways: by issuing an ‘Article 4 direction’ to bring some of these powers back under council control, meaning that a planning application will be required; and by seeking a judicial review of the ‘office to residential’ rule and the way in which the government decision was made on granting exemptions.

The threat is not just to empty office accommodation in Islington: the high value of residential property means that office-owners may be tempted to end the leases of existing businesses so the offices can be converted. This will push up office rents and price out small businesses or charities – and having fewer businesses means fewer jobs. Under the government’s revised General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) local residents and councils are powerless to object to, prevent, or impose conditions on certain types of development including:

* The change of existing shops, dentists, pubs and other uses over to a betting shop or pay day loan business;

* The change of any office building into housing.

 

Neither of these types of conversion now need planning permission – meaning that residents’ rights to be notified in advance and to raise any objection are swept away.

Several other councils have expressed an interest in joining Islington’s potential legal action.

Islington’s housing chief challenges government over damaging plans that give developers a ‘free for all’

Islington Council has become the first council in the country to take action to overturn the Tory-led government’s planning policy which will have a devastating effect on Islington’s economy. The...

Cllr-Richard-Watts

Cllr Richard Watts announced his intention to focus on “jobs, housing and the cost of living” as he was elected as Leader of Islington Labour Group on Monday 7 October. 

Cllr Richard Watts said: “I’m honoured to have been elected to do this job and lead the fight to make our borough a fairer place.  We’ve got an unemployment crisis in Islington with more kids growing up in a household where no adult works than anywhere else in the country.  We’ve got to tackle this so I’ll be setting up an Employment Commission that brings together local businesses, colleges, unions, the voluntary sector and other key partners to focus our efforts on reducing unemployment and helping local people get the skills and support they need to fill the vacancies that exist."

“These are tough times for people in Islington with massive Tory-led government cuts hitting hard.  We’re on the side of our community and will continue taking action to help families on low income with the cost of living – universal free school meals, building homes at social rent and more communal power stations, like the one in Bunhill, to cut fuel costs and provide cheaper, greener heat.”

"I'll also be showing Leadership from the top by cutting my own salary by £5,000".

Cllr Richard Watts will be formally appointed as Leader of Islington Council at the next Council Meeting on Thursday 10 October.  His election follows Cllr Catherine West’s decision to stand down as Leader to focus on winning Hornsey & Wood Green for Labour in 2015.

About Cllr Richard Watts: Cllr Richard Watts is 38 and has lived in Islington for 15 years, representing Tollington ward in the north of Islington since 2006.  He has two children aged 5 and 2.  He served as Executive Member for Children & Families from May 2010 and Executive Member for Finance & Performance from May 2013.  Before becoming a full time member of the Council’s Executive, Richard ran the Children’s Food Campaign, a national campaign to improve children’s diets.  Previously he worked for a number of different campaigns and a consultancy organisation, which led to some work in Kosovo helping develop the political party that formed out of the KLA guerrilla army.  He graduated with a degree in politics from Durham University and before this worked in the Pretty Polly tights factory in Nottinghamshire.  He is a governor of City and Islington College.

Cllr Richard Watts elected as new Leader of Islington Council

Cllr Richard Watts announced his intention to focus on “jobs, housing and the cost of living” as he was elected as Leader of Islington Labour Group on Monday 7 October. 

joe

By Cllr Joe Caluori, Executive Member for Children & Families  Back in July I wrote about Michael Gove’s move to take a plot of land from the Council on which we plan to build 82 family homes, so that two private companies can start a Free School on the site – a school which we neither want nor need.

The consortium who are planning to open the Free School are currently conducting a flawed ‘consultation’. It seems that the only people they are contacting to ask for responses are people who have previously registered on their website as supporters! They don’t provide much information for people to base their responses on, and there are only five questions to respond to. 

But you can make your voice heard by going to their website http://www.whitehallparkschool.co.uk/consultation/

A few points you might like to consider when responding:

- There is no evidence of parent led demand for a Free School – this bid seems to be led by the interests of two private education companies, not the wishes of a large number of local parents.

- Unlike other Boroughs, Islington does not have a shortage of school places. In fact 99.35% of Islington residents applying this year have been offered a place at one of their preferred schools. Our place planning shows that future need for places will be in the South of the Borough, not in the North, where there is the least need for places in the future.

- This Free School will mean less money to invest in Islington’s schools. We stand to lose £3M which we were planning to use for school repairs. That means windows, roofs and other basic improvements.

- The old Ashmount school building is not fit for use as a school.  We rebuilt the school down the road because the old building was beyond repair and would cost millions to bring up to any kind of acceptable standard. It has no disabled access and is freezing in the winter and boiling hot in the summer.

- This Free School will lower educational standards. Islington is currently the fourth best local authority in the country in terms of the number of good or outstanding schools we have. But Free Schools can employ unqualified teachers, and to the best of my knowledge this consortium have not yet even found a head teacher or wider leadership team for their school. 

Make sure you get your response in by the 28th October, when the consultation closes, and ask friends to make their voices heard too, especially local parents.

Please come and join Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, Cllr Richard Watts, the new Leader of Islington Council and myself, Cllr Joe Caluori, Lead Member for Children and Families at a public meeting to oppose the Free School at 7pm Thursday 24th October at Church Hall, Christ Church, Crouch End Hill, N8.

The meeting has been organised by Support Our Local Schools (SOLS) an alliance of local parents, teachers, governors and residents in Islington and Haringey.

We decided to rebuild Ashmount School at our own expense so local children could be educated in a modern, safe and attractive new building with amazing facilities. It was part of a wider plan to provide family homes and invest in the local area.

It is completely unfair that the Government can deprive 82 families of new homes and take £3M from our schools repairs budget to allow two companies to set up a Free School for which we have no use.

We need family homes, not this Free School. Make your voice heard.

Say no to the Islington Free School

By Cllr Joe Caluori, Executive Member for Children & Families  Back in July I wrote about Michael Gove’s move to take a plot of land from the Council on which...

claudiawebbe

I welcome this opportunity to talk about the scourge of betting shops in our borough. I feel particularly strongly about this, partly because I have campaigned on the issue for some time and partly because they are a particular issue in my ward and in Islington as a whole. Unless people live in an area like ours, which has seven or eight betting shops on one high street, they cannot understand the blight that the proliferation of these places represents.

We have seen a huge rise in the number of betting shops over the past decade, particularly in inner London. I think that there are now 62 in Islington, which is well above the national average.  In my ward alone there are 14 betting shops within 0.7 miles of each other – this is outrageous and no one can claim is necessary.

However they are not just betting shops, and in many cases, they are the equivalent of casinos, with highly addictive fixed-odds betting terminals that prey on the poorest in our borough. Often, there are many of these in one shop and their predatory nature suck vulnerable people into addiction and despair.

Betting shops put nothing back into our community. The pattern of new betting shops opening within the M25 shows that they have targeted the poorest areas with the highest unemployment and poverty. There are three times the number of betting shops in Newham as there are in Richmond. What could be more predatory than that? The people who can least afford to bet are being tempted by four or five betting shops in a row. Furthermore, hundreds of public order offences are committed outside betting shops every week, contributing to low-level social disorder.

As a local authority we’ve done what we can to stop their proliferation and I’d like to commend Councillor Murray for the work he has done on this and the firm plans he has set out. But the government’s changes are undermining what we’re trying to do by allowing developers to bypass these plans in a reckless free-for-all.

Their further deregulation of the planning system earlier this year which allows more use classes to change into betting shops without planning permission is going to have damaging repercussions in our borough.

This council motion makes some important points and I agree that now is the time, following the trigger of the Portas report, for government to take note and give local authorities more power over their high streets.   Putting betting shops into a separate ‘Use class’ of their own” would be a good start  and would help local authorities like ours to end the scourge of predatory betting shops in some of the poorest communities in our country.

Why Islington is fighting to end the scourge of predatory betting shops

I welcome this opportunity to talk about the scourge of betting shops in our borough. I feel particularly strongly about this, partly because I have campaigned on the issue for...

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