New rules that make it easier for local people to have their say had their first outing at last night's (4th December) Islington Council Meeting.
Unprecedented changes to the Council's constitution put forward by Islington Labour now mean that members of the public can ask questions without submitting them in advance.
The Youth Council also now have a chance to ask questions directly to their elected representatives, and five members of the Youth Council took the chance to grill councillors on issues that matter to young people in the borough.
Further changes to allow the views of local people into the heart of the Council have seen restrictions on petitions rolled back. Cllr Olly Parker (Mildmay), pictured above, submitted a petition of over 5,000 signatures to save the Buffalo Bar at Highbury Corner. The petition calls for the leaseholders and freeholders of the building, which has been home to the Buffalo Bar at Highbury Corner for almost 15 years, to work with the bar to keep it alive.
The Council Meeting also agreed to renew the Council Tax Support Scheme, which helps some of the most hard-pressed residents in the borough with the cost of council tax. The scheme also includes a £125,000 welfare provision fund that provides more support for the most vulnerable residents. Despite the savage cuts imposed on Islington by the Tory-led Government, which will see the council's funding cut in half by next year, Islington Labour has committed to provide this support and to continue the £100 older person council tax discount.
An important part of Council Meetings is the opportunity for councillors to bring motions about key issues. At last night's meeting, motions on cuts to the fire service, tax-dodging and air quality were debated.
Fire Cuts Makes Islington Less Safe -
In January 2013, the Tory Mayor of London announced plans to cut £45million from London’s fire service. Islington Labour, along with the local community and trade unions, ran a campaign against the closures and passed a motion at the Full Council Meeting in January 2013 opposing the closures.
Despite the huge opposition of the community, firefighters and evidence which showed that the closures would put Islington at risk, the Tory Mayor’s cuts were implemented in January 2014 and saw 10 fire stations closed, including Clerkenwell and Kingsland stations that serve Islington. Firefighters from Clerkenwell were the first on the scene of the 7/7 terrorist attacks.
As Islington Labour warned would happen, the latest figures released by the London Fire Brigade have shown that fire response times have increased in wards across Islington and London.
After passionate speeches from Cllr Paul Convery (Caledonian) and Cllr Alice Donovan (Clerkenwell), the motion was passed calling on the Tory Mayor to reconsider his decision to reduce the number of fire appliances and firefighters in light of the worsening response times.
Tackling Tax-Dodging Businesses, Locally and Globally -
Public services rely on funding from central government and other sources, such as the business rates that local companies pay. The Tory-led Government has imposed savage cuts on Islington, meaning that the Council's funding will be cut in half by 2016. In the face of these disproportionate and unfair cuts, collecting business rates has never been more important.
The vast majority of local firms do the right thing and pay the tax that they owe. Sadly, some businesses are going to ever more extraordinary lengths to avoid paying their tax. Some companies are inventing 'ghost tenants' to avoid paying; others are creating 'shell' companies and using liquidation rules to dodge their bills. Others are even using charities to try and get away without paying their fair share of tax.
The Council uses all the powers it has to collect the tax we are owed and will continue to pursue companies and landlords that avoid their tax.
Tax-dodging also hits developing countries across the world. Research by Christian Aid has found that the money that developing countries lose each year because of the tax arrangements of big business is very nearly one-and-a-half times what they receive in aid.
Following speeches by Cllr Andy Hull (Highbury West) and Cllr Marian Spall (Hillrise), the Council Meeting supported the motion unanimously and welcomed the campaign by Action Aid to highlight the impact tax-dodging has on public services in this country and across the world.
Air Quality -
We take air quality in Islington very seriously and are already doing much to tackle the problem - including becoming the first local authority in the country to introduce a 20mph zone on all Council managed roads and fighting a campaign asking the Tory Mayor of London to make all buses at Holloway Bus Garage hybrid models.
As a Council, we also have the greenest fleet in the country and have put in place measures to tackle engine idling.
The Tory Mayor of London has proposed that an area covering the Central London Congestion Charging zone become an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). The proposed ULEZ would be introduced in 2020 and would mean that only the cleanest vehicles would be able to drive through the zone, or older vehicles travelling in the area would have to pay a daily charge.
At last night's meeting, all Labour councillors supported a sensible amended motion that agreed any future consideration of whether to extend the proposed Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), should be evidence-led and put the impact on local residents at the heart of any decision. Sadly, this amended motion was voted against by the opposition councillor at the meeting.
In order to learn more about where the pollution in our borough comes from, an Air Quality Source Apportionment Study has been commissioned. We already know that TfL buses, coaches and HGVs are the biggest contributors to poor air quality, but a better understanding of where the hotspots are will help the Council to make the right policy choices.
A second report will also be completed in the New Year that will look at the cost-benefit analysis of any expansion of the ULEZ.
At the moment, we know that expanding the ULEZ to cover the whole borough would see 20,000 people forced to change their cars or be forced to pay a daily charge. There are also no clear modelled exemptions in the Tory Mayor's proposals for disabled residents or small businesses.
Speaking on the amended motion, Cllr Claudia Webbe, Executive Member for Environment, commented: "Until we see clear commitments from the Mayor with modelled data to support them, it would be premature to demand the current boundaries of the ULEZ be expanded and the introduction of the scheme brought forward.
"It cannot be right for us to demand that the ULEZ be expanded when we have little knowledge of how the thousands of our residents that would be affected would be supported through the change.
"That isn't the sensible thing to do, nor is it the right thing to do by our residents."
The next Council Meeting will take place on 26th February 2015, when councillors will consider the Council's budget for the year ahead.