Friday, 31 October 2008

Lib Dem hold in Kentish Town

In next-door Camden, Liberal Democrat Nick Russell held Kentish town in a by-election last night. It's Camden Lib Dems' second by-election win in just a few weeks, so great news. The Greens, who almost won it last time (in another by-election) seem to be in decline in this ward.

The figures: Lib Dems 939, Labour 863, Greens 518, Cons 171, Others 83.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Repairs to Northwood Road bridge

You might have noticed the poor state of the Parkland Walk bridge that sits on our Highgate patch. It's the one that runs over Northwood Road. Over the spring and summer, it developed some alarming - and growing - cracks in the structure. It was then shored up to make it safe, as you can see in the pic I took of my fellow Highgate councillor Bob Hare there a few weeks ago.

We've been pushing to make sure that safety and repair works are done. The Council is going out to tender on repairs, partially rebuilding one of the wing walls and reinforcing the whole structure.

This may mean the closure of the road for a period. It's necessary work, though I would question whether it was wise to allow heavy plant and equipment to run over the bridge when the Parkland Walk was having improvement works - around the time the cracks appeared.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Haringey People and the vanishing Lib Dem councillor

A further thought on the Haringey People, and its tendency to showcase pictures of Labour cabinet members and the local Labour MP, of which I was reminded as a result of this - see earlier post.

Here's what happens when a Liberal Democrat councillor strays in front of the Haringey People lens. My council colleague Gail Engert (Muswell Hill) is the person in pink in the top photo - as taken by Cllr Martin Newton (Fortis Green).

Michael Aspel was giving an award to Priory Park a couple of years ago, in Gail's Muswell Hill patch. However, in the Haringey People version (lower pic), Gail has mysteriously vanished.

Would you believe it.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Smoke and mirrors over Icelandic deposits

Here's one thing about the Icelandic deposits disaster that caught my attention last week - and it illustrates the whole, sorry approach to the release of information by the Labour council. It's the following extract from a statement issued by the Council (but only after sustained pressure from Lib Dem leader Robert Gorrie) which attempts to set out where the money went:

"The total amount of money which the Council has invested in Icelandic banks is £37 million. This money is spread across three banks:
Landsbanki in which the Council has £15.2 million
Glitnir Bank in which the Council has £2 million
Heritable Bank, a UK registered bank, in which the Council has £19.8 million."

There's been outrage that deposits were made in any Icelandic banks long after the warning signs were there over the safety of these deposits. But you might also be wondering why "Heritable Bank - a UK registered bank" is listed.
It's because it is a subsidiary of Landsbanki, and for practical purposes, the same bank. This means that the council had £35 million with the same outfit. And the council might be in trouble over this, as it isn't supposed to have more than £20 million in one bank.

It's a revealing insight into the Council's mindset and it's a pity the Council's statement deliberately chose to obfuscate on this point. It hardly inspires confidence that the Council is coming clean with all the facts. It is also totally pointless, as anyone could glean this simple information elsewhere.

I raised it in the council chamber last week, and asked how the Council had so much cash with one outfit. The council leader said he had been asking himself the same question.
Not very reassuring.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The Importance of Being Alan - Labour councillor’s verdict on 'incompetence' of cabinet member (a different one this time)

Independent-minded Alan Stanton has rightly rounded on his fellow Labour councillor and cabinet member, Brian Haley.

Brian is in charge of (among other things) parking. Alan is righty angry about the continued failure of Haringey Labour to ensure that their road markings (and therefore any parking tickets issued under them) comply with the rules.

Says Alan:

“Plainly, Cllr Haley hasn't grasped that - to misquote Lady Bracknell - having a couple of wrongly painted traffic lines may be regarded as a misfortune; to have hundreds and hundreds of wrong signs and lines looks like incompetence. Worse still, having the wrong signs and lines; knowing about it; and doing nothing for months and months is incompetence on stilts

Full missive here.

Monday, 20 October 2008

'Adding value' with the Daily Telegraph

With the kitchen duly installed, but awaiting its flooring, I've finally found a really good use for the nation's most popular broadsheet daily (see pic).

It wasn't my own. I recycled one office copy - and a second came into my possession, courtesy of British Airways, at the weekend.
BA are also furnishing their customers with the Daily Mail - but it's not as good when it comes to covering a kitchen floor.

Charitable status for the Tottenham Carnival

One small piece of good news from last week's Full Council, amidst the disasters around Icelandic banks, the Ally Pally and Woodside House - another written answer to a Liberal Democrat councillor reveals that the Tottenham Carnival is now run by a registered charity - it has been for the last couple of months.

When I was Lib Dem leader last year, myself and colleagues became somewhat concerned about the current set up. In order to ensure the Carnival's future success and growth, we felt it wasn't satisfactory, given its close financial and organisational relationship with the Council, that the Carnival was neither a charity, nor incorporated in any way.

So, to ensure that everything was put on a proper footing, I took the issue up. And I think the Council must have made clear that current arrangements had to change, as an application for charitable status was then set in motion.

Now that charitable status has been granted by the Charity Commission, this should hopefully ensure absolute confidence in the governance structures.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Labour propaganda and the Haringey People

Proof, though it's not really needed, that the Council's awful and expensive magazine, Haringey People, is allowed by Council officers to be used as a flagrant propaganda rag for the local Labour party.

In a written question to last week's Full Council, my colleague John Oakes asked how many times, since the 2005 general election, our two local MPs had appeared in it.
The unsurprising answer? David Lammy (Labour) - 8. Lynne Featherstone (Liberal Democrat) - 0.
As you may have seen, the magazine is also full of rather tendentious headlines next to pictures of Labour cabinet members, trumpeting their many achievements. Last time I checked. the total bill for the People was a whopping £350K per year.
In view of other pressing financial problems, perhaps Labour will finally consider cutting expenditure on this awful waste of money, as we've been urging.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

A distressing 24-hours ends happily

A sleepless night. I came home from work yesterday to find my cat was missing. Jack is always waiting for me diligently when I arrive home. He still hadn't returned when I came back from my council surgery at eight o'clock.

I had some electrical safety work done at home yesterday as part of a new kitchen installation (I’m lucky to be alive, allegedly) and when the kitchen fitter returned this morning, he said he had not seen Jack since yesterday lunchtime.

I leafleted the surrounding houses late last night and two neighbours came to tell me this morning they had not seen him. As I was leaving for work in an agitated state, the kitchen fitter suddenly remembered that the electrician had lifted a floorboard to lay a new cable. We lifted the board, and out came Jack, who casually strolled over to his bowl and started on last night's dinner.

I learned two things. First, Jack is rightly held in very high regard in my neck-of-the-woods, and second, NEVER turn your back when you lift a floorboard with a cat in the house!

Picture: Jack, entertaining on a much better day, July 2008

Sub-stations and picture captions

My council colleague and Lib Dem Deputy Leader Richard Wilson has been campaigning to improve safety at a sub-station in his ward. I know, as I took a picture of him there a couple of weeks ago (top right).

Quite rightly, the Hornsey Journal today has the story on their website, with a caption, see below.

I haven’t seen Richard since the Full Council meeting on Monday, but if this really is him, he's clearly been having a very worrying week!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Labour cabinet member’s “desperate and pathetic” statement – Labour councillor

"Desperate and pathetic" - that’s the view from Labour’s Alan Stanton on Charles Adje’s wretched defence of his conduct over the Ally Pally Licence at Monday's Full Council. It is incredible that he has not been forced to resign.

You can read Alan’’s full comments on his own site here. Follow the update link at the bottom, but here are some telling pointers:

“The Council meeting was his opportunity to give a full and clear account of events… Instead, Cllr Adje chose to blur the issues… I don't know the truth of what happened. But if I'd been chair of the Alexandra Palace Board and this happened "on my watch" - I'd have accepted responsibility as the politician in charge. Whingeing that you didn't ask and weren't told, really isn't good enough - especially when huge sums of public money are at stake.

“For some people, taking personal responsibility is a quaint old-fashioned idea. Even so, at the Council meeting, I was hoping to hear some sort of apology from Cllr Adje. Not to me or other councillors. But, at least, a teensy faint 'Sorry' to the people of Haringey. It didn't come.

“Regrets? He's had a few. But then again, too few to mention…”

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Furnival House - listing puts plans in doubt

Great news earlier today, as we heard that Furnival House in Highgate (see earlier post) has been given listed building status by English Heritage. All credit to local residents and my council colleague Rachel Allison in working with them to make this happen.

It puts in doubt controversial planning proposals to turn former nurses quarters into just 15 flats. This has never happened in our patch before, but I think any planning permission will now have to comply with the listed designation.

KFC banners broke council rules - says council

Haringey has finally been forced to admit that they are almost certainly in breach of their own planning rules when it comes to the flogging of ad-space on their horrible lamppost banners. It took over a month to get an answer to my simple questions.

It turns out these double-sided banners probably require something called ‘advertising planning consent’ – there to stop precisely these sorts of visual monstrosities from advertisements just appearing on our streets. The Council hasn’t provided details of the process of consent used to permit the recent and controversial Kentucky Fried Chicken banners. I think we can safely assume there wasn’t any.

Haringey has been flogging both sides of the banners – against the rules:

“As it is not clear that the purely commercial banners can be mounted without planning permission, we have instructed the company which runs this scheme to only sell one side of banners commercially in future. Existing double sided commercial banners will run until the end of their agreements and will then be removed or replaced by banners with at least one side of council messaging.”

I could do without the council messaging as well. And with any luck, this will discourage future advertisers. But Haringey should not be proposing to leave existing banners in place until their contracts end.

It’s a bit rich to ask the public to follow planning rules when the Council doesn’t bother itself.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Labour councillor tells own cabinet member to resign

Something of an update from my last post - Labour councillor Alan Stanton has this afternoon called on Labour colleague Charles Adje to resign as the borough's Cabinet member for Finance, over the Ally Pally licence fiasco.

He has alerted me to this in a comment on the my last post. Alan's full views are here, but he says: "As anyone who has met Cllr Adje knows, he can be both charming and graceful. In his own and the Borough's interest he should now go gracefully."

I don't remember such open dissent within Labour in my time on the Council. But it's the right call.

PS: Also earlier today, Labour has put on hold costly and controversial plans to relocate the Civic Centre in Woodside House (see earlier posts). The costs to date? £250,000.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Labour councillor critical of Ally Pally finance boss

Tomorrow is Haringey’s first Full Council for a while. A lot has happened since the last one. High on people’s minds will be two financial headaches of major proportions.

First is £37 million of Haringey taxpayers’ money currently missing in Iceland. Second, the Council is having to stomach multi-million pound losses for the granting of a licence to Firoka at Alexandra Palace on outrageously favourable terms.

Labour’s current finance boss, Charles Adje, has managed to preside over the Ally Pally disaster while moving seamlessly between two different jobs.
Firstly, he cooked up the licence concept while Ally Pally Board Chair. Secondly, he took no action to put a stop to it when he became council finance boss a year later, and has blamed his own colleagues on the Ally Pally Board.

His Labour colleague Alan Stanton last week posted some very telling comments about Cllr Adje on his site here. I’m grateful to Alan for pointing his readers at my response in the Ham & High to Cllr Adje’s ridiculous claims that he could not be held responsible for what Alan rightly describes as a mess.

Though not stating it categorically, Alan also seems to favour Charles’s resignation. As a Labour insider, he will know far more about the behind-the-scenes issues that seem to produce these terrible decisions and the culture that allows such ill-equipped councillors to operate in this way.

Planning problems on the Heath fringes

My council colleague Rachel and I went to Grange Road in Highgate this morning to look at problems with major house renovations, and also what are called 'tear downs', in planning jargon - houses either pulled down, with large basements often installed underneath. I have blogged about the problems here.

Haringey doesn't see the problem, as this recent answer to a written council question I tabled shows:

"The permissions granted for replacement of existing dwellings in these roads to the north of Hampstead Lane for the most part have a more localised impact on the particular road or avenue, rather than on the wider fringes of Hampstead Heath. Only the ends of these roads can be seen from either Highgate Golf Course or Hampstead Lane."

Pic: Cllr Rachel Allison in Grange Road.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Iceland: Haringey taxpayers most exposed

If you live in Haringey, you might have glanced, in your paper this morning, at long lists of councils whose money has disappeared down a black hole in Iceland this week. You might have been relieved that you didn't see Haringey listed as being exposed.

If you were relieved, your faith in Haringey was entirely mistaken.

It turns out that on a per capita basis, Haringey taxpayers appear to be the most exposed in Britain. Haringey's potential losses of £37 million could mean liabilities heading for £400 for each and every household.
The reason you may not have heard is that throughout much of yesterday - and virtually alone among local authorities - Haringey refused to reveal to their own taxpayers, or anyone else, the gravity of the situation.
Lib Dem Leader Robert Gorrie was refused clear answers when he asked if Haringey was involved. The Council admitted it was, but refused to reveal the numbers and were only told that the sums were 'manageable' - a far cry from the vast liabilities that have now been exposed.
The media got wind of the situation in Haringey yesterday, and asked for a spokeserson from the Council to appear on London Tonight to explain the situation. While Kent County Council, with far less per capita exposure, took to the airwaves, Haringey Labour bosses refused. It was left to Robert Gorrie to go on the media and explain local concerns. The Council was eventually cornered into issuing a statement in the afternoon.
Some typically shameful shenanigans, but still just one detail in the huge number of issues that this situation raises. Why did Haringey still have so much money in Icelandic deposits, when private individuals, and some councils, have been taking their money out of Icelandic banks for weeks? Have council guidelines on the maximum amounts on deposit at any one bank been ignored? Will we get any of our money back? How will this huge sum affect council services?
If Labour claim this is just the way of things, or that they can lose £37 million pounds without a major impact on front line services, don't believe a word of it.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Alexandra by-election: Liberal Democrat hold!

My colleague Nigel Scott has tonight held Haringey's Alexandra ward for the Lib Dems, with a thumping majority. The result:

Lib Dems (Nigel Scott) - 1,460
Labour - 772
Cons - 443
Green - 221
Other - 27

More later, but the team is now off to celebrate...

Alexandra by-election: It's polling day!

I’m on duty at the Alexandra by-election today, where my colleague Nigel Scott is bidding for a council seat and working hard to win.

Labour, who came second last time. have put out some very puzzling leaflets, with several contradictory claims. The latest one claims the (incumbent) Lib Dems 'can't win' but that we think we have the area "sewn up". Very Odd. I think most voters will see through it.

Over breakfast, I also learned that Haringey is one of the Councils with cash in the failed Icelandic bank. Unlike other councils, which are coming clean on their Icelandic deposits, true to form, Haringey wont answer questions on how much local tax payers are exposed. Thus far, they've even refused to tell their own councillors.

I will be at the Alexandra count, and I’m hoping to get the result out on the blog later.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Labour rebel weighs in on Civic Centre move

As a follow up to my last piece on moving Haringey's Civic Centre, I was looking for a pic of Woodside house, Haringey's soon-to-be Civic HQ.

I can do no better than this lovely shot from my iconoclastic Labour colleague, Alan Stanton on his Flikr site. If you're not tempted to click through, Alan accuses the Labour council of playing "bullsh*t bingo" in justification for its refurbishment of Woodside House:

"Woodside House is planned as Haringey's new "sustainable civic building". Naturally, it will contribute "to the council's carbon reduction targets" and, of course, have "a new state-of-the-art council chamber and meetings suite, open and fully accessible to local people for meetings of all kinds". Not too bad for BSB [Bullsh*t bingo]. But surely this building must be 'iconic' too? Though I was really hoping for 'out-of-the-box', matrix, 'policy-led' and 'achieving excellence'."

Alan's bingo jibes are bang on target. And when it comes to going against his Labour colleagues, he's in danger of a 'full house' of his own.

Friday, 3 October 2008

More worries over cost of Civic Centre move

The Muswell Hill and Highgate Pensioners Action Group, has written to all Haringey councillors expressing concern about plans to move Haringey's Civic Centre to Woodside House (see earlier post).

They rightly bemoan the lack of consultation and the as-yet-unknown costs to local taxpayers.

Here’s the bulk of their concerns:

Apart from a brief article in the [Haringey] People, residents do not feel informed about the justifications in replacing the existing Civic Centre, that has a good Council Chamber and itself appears to be a good building of its period.

Likewise, residents in our areas have not had sufficient access to the plans. These should have been in ALL libraries, with a longer time for consultation. The time for comments finishes Sept 26th. Most members have no internet access.

Has projected costing for the new Civic centre been published? Residents have been told that money is not available for repair of Muswell Hill Library, a valued resource in this area. They begrudge a large sum being spent where they feel proper justification has not been made.