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Last Sunday (1st September) the Islington Labour Councillors for St Peter’s ward staffed a stall at the Angel Canal Festival to talk to local people about some of the important issues in the area. This annual event is always a wonderful family occasion and celebration of Regent’s Canal and London’s industrial heritage. The festival is based around the City Road Lock, Basin and towpath alongside the Regents Canal.

Our petition this year was to make the canal and towpath safer.

The petition calls for the Canal and River Trust (CaRT) to introduce cycle calming measures on the towpath that force speeding cyclists to slow down, to enforce their license conditions against the small minority of boaters that cause a nuisance, either with noisy smelly generators, or by holding noisy late-night parties and events that disturb residents and other boaters, and to keep the bins emptied. The response to the petition was very positive, and over 100 local people signed.

City Road Basin is one of the largest open spaces in Islington and Regent’s Canal is an important leisure space. Our whole community should be able to share and enjoy it.

We had a visit from the chief executive of the CaRT, and we had an interesting and useful discussion with him about ways in which we can work together between the Council, the Police and the Trust to try and resolve some of the towpath issues, but we also stressed to them that residents want to see a real difference in the levels of nuisance and disturbance that they experience from the minority of disruptive boaters, and other disruptive persons that are currently being attracted to the canal.

You can find out more about our campaign here http://cllrmartinklute.blogspot.co.uk/

Councillors Alice Perry, Martin Klute and Gary Doolan

Angel Canal Festival

Last Sunday (1st September) the Islington Labour Councillors for St Peter’s ward staffed a stall at the Angel Canal Festival to talk to local people about some of the important issues...

Islington records some of the UK’s highest figures for smart phone street robberies. The hot weather has coincided with a spike in mobile phone snatches.  

In Caledonian Road on Monday a youth on a bicycle snatched my sister’s phone. Fortunately, the robber then dropped it and she managed to grab it before he did.

She was a bit shaken by the incident.

I can sympathise – a similar thing happened to me a few weeks ago in Drayton Park by the Emirates Stadium.

Two young men on a motorbike drove up on the pavement behind me and tried to grab my phone.

My instinctive reaction was to tighten my grip and shout at them to go away. My reaction seemed to come as a shock and after a bit of a tussle they rode away, leaving behind both me and my phone.

I felt silly as I knew I had failed to follow the advice the council and police have been issuing. This advice includes:

• If you use your phone in busy, public places, be aware of what is happening all around you at all times.

• Be extra vigilant when leaving public transport or stepping outside to make a call.

• If possible, avoid texting or using the internet while walking, and if using phone try to keep away from the edge of the road.

• Register your phone IMEI number for free on immobilise.com – this makes it much more likely stolen property will be returned.

Police also advise: “If you do have your phone stolen, remember don’t fight back.”

Take care of yourself and your phone.

Thieves eye your phone

Islington records some of the UK’s highest figures for smart phone street robberies. The hot weather has coincided with a spike in mobile phone snatches.   In Caledonian Road on Monday a...

It has emerged this week that plans by the Tory Mayor of London’s Fire Brigade that Islington is set to lose three vital fire appliances that currently serve the borough.

Under the new proposals the Fire Commissioner has announced he will be removing 27 pumping appliances from around London in preparation for possible industrial action.

If the plans go ahead Islington will face the prospect of going through another period of hot weather with a reduced fire provision which will significantly increase response times in the event of an emergency - and with no timescale for when they will be returned.

Cllr. Catherine West Leader of Islington Council said:

 “This is a dangerous plan. We're already fighting the prospect of losing two fire stations that serve our borough; now to lose three appliances on top of this is completely unacceptable.

Going into the bank holiday weekend and with the prospect of more good weather on the way this will again put Islington residents at risk” 

 Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn said:

 “Islington residents will pay the price for the Mayor of London’s failure to manage the fire service. The removal of three appliances could cost lives.

 There has been no public consultation on this and I share the anger of local people”

Islington Labour Condemns The Removal of Fire Engines

It has emerged this week that plans by the Tory Mayor of London’s Fire Brigade that Islington is set to lose three vital fire appliances that currently serve the borough....

Joe

The Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove seems hell-bent on making a gift of the old Ashmount School site to two private education companies, so they can open the ‘Islington Free School’ in the north of the Borough. Worryingly, the first we heard of this was when the Department for Education (DfE) published a list of new Free Schools on their website, and to our horror we saw the ‘Islington Free School’ on that list.  It seems incredible to me that the DfE would approve a bid for a Free School on a major site in our Borough without even bothering to pick up the phone and ask us what we think about it.  So much for localism.

So why are we so worried about this?  If the DfE allow a Free School to open on that site, they will make a gift of a strategically important plot of land to these private companies.

We already had plans for that site, and by taking it from us, Michael Gove will be taking £3 million out of our finances which would have been used for repairs and improvements to our existing family of schools, and taking a plot of land on which we were planning to build 100 new homes, 80% of which would be available for social rent.

Coming hot on the heels of the announcement in the Comprehensive Spending Review that Islington is likely to face £50 million of further cuts, with our School Support Grant cut by as much as 20 per cent, this Free School debacle seems like the final insult. 

We are calling on Michael Gove to see sense and put a stop to this ‘Free School’.  In Islington we have 18,000 people on our housing waiting list, many of whom are living in badly overcrowded conditions.  What we need most right now are more family homes, not this Free School.

Why Michael Gove must stop 'Islington Free School'

The Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove seems hell-bent on making a gift of the old Ashmount School site to two private education companies, so they can open the...

robertkhan

Last year the government brought forward draconian cuts to the legal aid budget, the effects of which are already being seen with people unable to get advice and help for their legal problems.  In the last few months the Government has since announced further deep cuts to civil legal aid – including to areas such as judicial review which is the one area where organisations and interest groups can challenge decisions made by the government itself.

But along with this they are now also proposing to introduce a series of changes to criminal legal aid. This includes a £220 million annual cut in funding and a proposal to introduce ‘price competitive tendering’ for defence work. In the eighties we had the Conservative government introduce CCT for services and this is a similar type of policy, driven purely by cost. Under this system firms of defence solicitors will have to bid for government contracts for work and the lowest bidder wins, subject only to a minimum threshold quality of service.

This sector is dominated by high street firms who – if they want to bid – will have to scale up their operations to cover entire counties. And in London for example firms would have to expand their operations to cover areas of ten or more boroughs. And they will have to do this from within only three months from the date of any bid.

The result is that many firms will find themselves in serious difficulty with their ongoing viability seriously threatened. But this actually seems to be the government’s intention as they want ‘new entrants’ into the market. Eddie Stobart have already said they want to enter this market (yes, they’re a road haulage firm) and there are rumours about Serco and Capita being ready to move in. The outcome will be a relentless drive to cut all costs.

Added to this, the Government propose to flatten the fee structure so that these firms will get the same fee for handling a not guilty plea as a guilty plea. So now there will be a financial incentive on these firms to chase profits for shareholders rather than focus on the quality of service that they provide. The result of this is bound to be miscarriages of justice and people being convicted for crimes they haven’t committed. The original proposals also had a clause which would mean that people accused of offences would no longer be able to choose their own solicitor to represent them. This would mean that the Government funded police and prosecution services would bring cases against people – and the Government would then effectively choose who should represent them as well.

This inequality of arms could not be in the best interests of justice.

After a strong campaign led by the Law Society – supported by other legal interest groups – and through a broad based campaign by MPs across the political spectrum the Lord Chancellor signalled on Monday that he was now willing to listen, announcing to the Justice Select Committee that he would remove the requirement for the Government to choose the accused person’s solicitor and would allow client choice to continue. He also signalled “an intention” to consider alternative proposals. Let’s hope the Government keeps on listening, because if the original proposals are eventually implemented, the consequences for access to justice and the rule of law could be incalculable.

Robert Khan is an Islington councillor and a non-practicing barrister

This article first appeared on www.labourlist.org

What do the government’s legal aid changes mean for justice?

Last year the government brought forward draconian cuts to the legal aid budget, the effects of which are already being seen with people unable to get advice and help for...

 Alice

I am really please to see the launch of Islington Private Tenants, the association for people in Islington who rent from a private landlord or letting agent. 

Private renting is at an all time high, with record numbers of people in London’s private rental sector. Around 26% of people in Islington rent privately. Islington Private Tenants is formed to give a voice to private tenants, who have sometimes been forgotten by politicians.

Back in Feburary 2012 I wrote the following blog about this for Labourlist:

The UK is in the grips of an urgent housing crisis. New home building has ground to a halt. Council housing is in scarce supply, with remaining stock in danger of being sold off at cut prices. High house prices and the giant deposits that go with them have made home ownership a distant, barely attainable dream to most people in their 20s and early 30s. Instead of being able to save for a mortgage, we end up spending significant proportions of our salary on rent.

Like most of friends my age, I rent my flat from a private landlord. In 2001, just 10.1% of English households rented from private landlords. Thanks to the rise of to buy-to-let landlords mortgages, this has now risen to 16.5% and as high as 23% in London.

Often when Labour talks about housing policy, we talk about social housing. With hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need on housing waiting, it isn’t hard to see why.

However, it is extremely welcome that the London Mayoral election campaign is drawing attention to the urgent need for better regulation of the private rental sector. Slum landlords are on the rise and exploiting tenants across the UK. Councillors from the London Borough of Newham recently discovered tenants living in cramped, Dickensian conditions, renting garages and walk in refrigerators.

For me and my friends, issues arising from private tenancy tend to involve things like problems getting back a full deposit, high annual rent increases or long delays getting broken things fixed. But we all know some housing horror stories.

From a campaigning point of view, it can be very difficult to engage with voters who live in the private rental sector. I live above a shop on a busy high-street. No one from any party has ever canvassed me.

It is comparatively easy to canvass the local housing estate, where there are generally lots of Labour voters happy to open their door to talk to you. Trying to canvass the flats above shops can be a nightmare. Not only do the buzzers often not work, it can be hard to even find the entry phone. There might be one bell for 20 flats. Many front doors don’t have letter boxes. No one ever seems to be in. And don’t get me started on gated communities.

Often private rental tenants have short-term contracts. They move after six months or a year. If you go through all this effort to canvass them in September, there is the risk they might move before an election in May. In my block of flats, we are the only household registered to vote.  Yes, it’s easy to see why we’ve never been canvassed.

We recently got chatting to one of our neighbours. (I know! Talking to your neighbours – not something you always do in London.) It turned out our neighbour was actually a member of the Labour Party. He was a postgraduate student and hadn’t transferred his membership to his new address. He hadn’t got around to registering to vote yet. Now he had met other activists he was happy to deliver some leaflets and come out campaigning. His flat was above the high street in a prime spot for a big “Vote Labour” poster. (The 2010 election saw a highly competitive / ridiculous local “poster war” between Labour and the Liberal Democrats – I would have loved to have put a giant poster up in his window.)

If Labour is to win back power, every vote counts. The harder we work (and the more people we speak to) can be the difference between winning and losing. It might be more challenging to reach young people living in the private rental sector, particularly through traditional campaigning, but with social media and PR campaigns Labour can meaningfully engage with this key demographic. Coupled with the right policies concerning the issues that really matter to us, this is a winning combination.

Standing up for private renters in Islington

I am really please to see the launch of Islington Private Tenants, the association for people in Islington who rent from a private landlord or letting agent.  Private renting is at an...

West-Catherine

Despite the brutal cuts imposed by the Tory-led Government, Sure Start stands as one of the great legacies of the last Labour Government.

The excellent report by Labour MPs Frank Field and Graham Allen showing the vital importance of investing in children as early as possible was supposed to cement a cross-party consensus.  Coalition Ministers welcomed the report, yet with timing that would be comic if the consequences weren’t so awful, Sure Start funding was then un-ringfenced and has been remorselessly slashed every year.

Before I became a Councillor I served as Chair of the Advisory Committee of one of the early Sure Start centres – Mitford in North Islington.  At the time I also had a very young child and needed no persuading of the importance of decent and affordable childcare.  It was a life-line for me and my daughter got so much out of her time there.  I also saw that however important the Mitford centre was for me, there were some families for whom its services quite simply made the difference between them coping or not.

The life chances many children enjoy have been fundamentally changed and improved by Sure Start.  Labour ministers realised that children thrive, in part, because their family thrives. Living in poverty, as almost half of Islington families do, is stressful and a bit of extra help and support when parents really need it can make a big difference.

In the decade since these early Sure Start centres opened, early years services in Islington have become much more sophisticated.  Sure Start centres are now at the centre of a web of services run by the Council, NHS, voluntary organisations and schools.  Each centre has family support staff who provide help to vulnerable families.  This means every family in need can access a dedicated support worker able to understand their needs and ensure they get the right services. 

Each Children’s Centre is expected to contact every low income family in the area, knocking on their door if necessary, to ensure they are aware of its services.  We measure how well each centre is running this outreach and the extent to which they are engaging harder to reach families.

Crucially, Islington’s sixteen Sure Start centres all still provide universal services to every family in the community, regardless of their background.  Raising small kids is hard for everyone and meeting other parents can help provide valuable peer support.  So each Sure Start centre provides targeted services to families with specific needs, nursery care with fees on a sliding scale according to income and sessions like baby bounce (singing) and chatterpillars (reading and talking) for all families.

I believe Sure Start is crucial so despite being hit hard by this government’s cuts, we have kept all of our sixteen centres open.  But we’ve had to find savings and whilst we’ve protected the frontline, we’ve removed a layer of management at the centres so they work together in clusters to organise their outreach.   This wasn’t painless because we lost some high quality and dedicated staff, but it saved the equivalent amount of money as closing a centre, without anything like the same loss of services.  We have also stopped subsidising nursery places for the most affluent families in the borough, although the high quality of the Children’s Centre nurseries still means we have substantial waiting lists.

Finally, and crucially, the Labour Government invested in high quality new buildings for Sure Start centres.  In 2008 the Mitford Centre moved out of the Second World War era huts it has occupied for thirty years and into a new purpose-built centre.  No more were staff and children having to cope with cold, leaking rooms and computers could actually be used – the power supply in the old buildings wasn’t up to the strain!  Michael Gove likes to pretend that the quality of buildings for children doesn’t matter, which is why he’s slashed new build after new build; but he couldn’t be more wrong.  Having high quality buildings is important to running high quality services and it helps encourage more parents to use them.

The pressures on public spending mean that we will have to keep looking at ways of making Sure Start centre run as efficiently as possible.  In Islington protecting these vital services is a priority and we’ve been able to find savings so far that don’t affect the quality of the service too much, but I fear for the future if massive further Government cuts are imposed.      

A Labour Government set up Sure Start Children’s Centres because we understood that public spending needs to be focussed on preventing social problems in the first place not managing the consequences.  There can be no better investment in our society than protecting and enhancing the network of Sure Start centres.

(this article was first published in the Labour Friends of Sure Start 'Sure Start, Sure Future' pamphlet, July 2013)

The future of Sure Start

Despite the brutal cuts imposed by the Tory-led Government, Sure Start stands as one of the great legacies of the last Labour Government. The excellent report by Labour MPs Frank...

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Cllr Alice Perry’s speech to Full Council on 28th June  Islington’s Local Plan support Islington Labour’s commitments to fairness. Our local plan helps us build new social housing, protect and support our local shops and high streets, and will provide more employment opportunities for local people. 

With so many Islington families on the housing waiting list and with many people living in extremely overcrowded homes, the plan’s commitment to building 6,000 new homes is very welcome indeed.

New housing is important, but so too is greenspace. This Islington Fairness Commission noted that “despite having the least green space of any London Borough, Islington does have high quality green spaces available to the community, including 227 parks, gardens and open spaces…The Commission notes the importance of community assets such as public spaces in bringing people together. The smallest of spaces, used effectively, can really enliven densely built-up places.”

Parks and open spaces enhance our mental and physical wellbeing. It is great news that the plan includes the promise of five hectares of new or improved open public space.

We all know our local high streets are struggling so it’s fantastic that the plan includes more protection for small shops and local businesses. New developments will also be required to provide small shops within them.

We will also be able to place additional planning restrictions on new betting shops and pay day loan companies. Sadly the Tory-Lib Dem government’s recent changes to “permitted development” rights makes this harder. So much for localism.

As Islington’s Local Plan demonstrates, there are many ways Councillors can make a radical and positive impact on the communities we serve.

As Labour Councillors we can champion progressive planning policies that prioritise delivering more affordable family housing. We can ask that new developments employ local people as apprentices. We can use the section 106 money from developments to fund community projects and urban regeneration.

We can use licensing to tackle obesity, alcoholism and anti-social behaviour. For example, Islington’s Local Plan allows us to restrict takeaways and fast-food chains from opening near schools.

Our licensing team can work with trading standards to tackling rogue landlords. We can use our public health brief to address health inequalities and hold Clinical Commissioning Groups to account. Through progressive energy policies we can work to alleviate fuel poverty and lower our carbon emissions.

Islington Labour leads by example and pay all our workers the living wage. Many of our contractors do now the same.

Times are hard. We all know this. Islington has to cope with £140 million cuts every year.

Our budget has been cut nearly halved since the Tory-Lib Dem government came to power. These cuts are almost beyond comprehension.

But despite all this, local government can make a real and lasting positive difference to the communities we serve. Islington’s Local Plan embodies this. It shows that even in tough times, Islington Labour is on your side.

Islington’s Local Plan supports Islington Labour’s commitments to fairness.

Cllr Alice Perry’s speech to Full Council on 28th June  Islington’s Local Plan support Islington Labour’s commitments to fairness. Our local plan helps us build new social housing, protect and support our...

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Cllr. Groucutt’s speech on legal aid cuts at full council on the 27th June.

Mr Mayor, we all assume that in our most desperate moments the British Criminal Justice System will be there for us.  We all assume that we will have the right to a fair trial, be considered  innocent until proven guilty, and that all are equal before the law.  These are phrases we hear time and again, phrases that I believed meant something because surely, Mr Mayor, justice for all is the cornerstone of a decent society?

But sadly Mr Mayor, if the Government’s ill-considered proposals go through these basic beliefs that we all hold true will be at risk.  There’ll be no access to free legal aid if people want to challenge an unlawful Government decision.  In Islington, we’ve seen local cases brought in relation to the bedroom tax and the benefit cap, crucial issues for our borough where we’ve been hit harder than almost anywhere else in the country.  Yet, if these changes go through, ordinary people in Islington will see that door to justice closed to them.

If you’re accused of a criminal offence, forget about choosing your own lawyer as that choice will be gone.  You might even end up with truckers firm ‘Eddie Stobart’ handling your case!  A stark survey by the Bar Council revealed that more than 70% of people think these government cuts are more likely to see people convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.  I fear we’ll see more miscarriages of justice with people being found guilty because of poorly prepared cases and innocent people being pressured into pleading guilty.  That isn’t just a personal tragedy for those people – it’s also a false economy because it only leads to higher costs in appeal cases and in locking people up who shouldn’t be in prison.

These changes will also see legal aid restricted to people who can prove they have been in the UK continuously for at least 12 months.  If you don’t have a passport, maybe because you can’t afford one, you risk being turned away when you desperately need help.  Imagine a vulnerable, homeless resident pleading for urgent, critical legal advice but without the documents that tick the right boxes.  Imagine a woman and her children with No Recourse to Public Funds suffering from domestic violence but unable to get out of an abusive relationship because she can’t get the help of legal aid.  And imagine a newly arrived family, at the mercy of unscrupulous private landlords and living in appalling conditions, with no power to do anything about it.

Mr Mayor, a fair society is one where everyone can access good quality legal advice, not just those with the most money like David Cameron and his ‘Cabinet of Millionaires’.  Legal aid is a vital pillar of the welfare state – and we can afford it.  The civil legal aid bill has already been cut by a massive £350m per annum.  The current system costs less than 0.5% of annual government spending.  That’s less than half of one per cent to defend our basic freedoms, tackle injustice and stand up for the rights of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. 

I believe that’s a price worth paying.

Mr Mayor, I am pleased that Cllr Greg Foxsmith will be seconding this motion and want to thank the work he, Cllr Catherine West, our two MPs Jeremy Corbyn MP and Emily Thornberry MP, the Islington Law Centre and local community groups have been doing to oppose these dangerous, ill-thought out plans.

I hope this Chamber can stand united tonight and send a message to this Government that basic justice is not for sale and must never be the preserve of only the rich and the privileged.

Why We Should Fight For Legal Aid

Cllr. Groucutt’s speech on legal aid cuts at full council on the 27th June. Mr Mayor, we all assume that in our most desperate moments the British Criminal Justice System...

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Speech given by Cllr. Claudia Webbe at Full Council on 27th June.

Mr Mayor, Wednesday’s Comprehensive spending review showed us that this coalition government just doesn’t get it. While Osborne and his lib dem counterparts were patting themselves on the back for a job well done, millions of public sector workers were left wondering if they will be 1 of 144,000 due to lose their jobs as announced in the chancellor’s plans. 

But the coalition government’s contempt for public services doesn’t stop there. Not being satisfied with slashing local government department by 60% forcing councils like ours to make £120million worth of savings – they have now forced another 10% of cuts on us which is another £17million worth of cuts.

There are over 200,000 people in Islington that this council serves – that’s 200,000 people in our borough who the tory government are letting down. Current statistics show that of the 50 worst hit councils in the country, 42 are labour run authorities. This isn’t about the coalition striving for efficiency or bringing the deficit down Mr Mayor, this is their political game-playing at its worst.  

The disregard to Local government and the public sector shown by this government speaks volumes – they fail to understand the vital role that local authorities perform and as a result are jeopardising the future of our youngest residents.

As a school governor I welcomed the news the Pupil Premium will be protected. But this was followed by the announcement that it will be distributed using a new national funding formula from, which is likely to have an adverse impact on London authorities. As usual it’s the Tories giving with one hand taking with the other.

The Chancellor failed to mention in his speech that the Education Services Grant for central education costs will be cut by £200m that’s over 20% in the next 3 years. This 20% cut equates to an estimated cut of £500k for Islington, £500k that we cannot afford.

Colleagues, even worse news was that the capital funding envelope includes provision for up to 180 new free schools, setting a worrying precedent for setting up schools outside of local authority regulation. Mr Mayor I ask -  Why do we need these costly and unnecessary developments at the same time the government is taking half a million from our own schools? Osborne and Gove should concentrate their efforts in protecting the budgets for the hard working schools that already exist in our borough.

The CSR had scarcely any welcome news for the people of Islington. Chancellor Osborne and his coalition government have shown that their inability to reduce the deficit has once again hits inner city authorities like ours the hardest.

The Chancellor’s Spending Review Saw Islington Again Lose Out

Speech given by Cllr. Claudia Webbe at Full Council on 27th June. Mr Mayor, Wednesday’s Comprehensive spending review showed us that this coalition government just doesn’t get it. While Osborne...

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