Posts Tagged ‘London Borough of Hounslow’

14 December Borough Council Meeting

December 15, 2010

Here is the agenda for last night
And, here is my brief summary of what happened and what was discussed.

There were some announcements about the coalition general things from various Lead Members.

Then various petitions were presented and/or discussed.  This is a relatively new feature at Borough Council Meetings and thus far I am impressed with it.

Annual Review of the Council’s Complaints Procedures
Again the report confirmed that the establishment of the Members Panel to determine Stage 3 Complaints has been a major success.  I remember the shambles I inherited in 2006 so proud that it has turned around so much.

The Hounslow-Ramallah Town Twinning Association
I hope that people will watch the discussion on the webcast.  Here is the report.  I do not think most residents will be impressed that we spent time on this matter.  As is typical for most Labour Councillors, Councillor Corina Smart disgracefully refused to answer most questions put to her.

Amendment To The Scheme Of Members Allowances
Here.  Labour decided that the Chair of the Licensing Committee should receive a Special Responsibility Allowance of £6,400 – up from £500.  Whilst there was no whip on Conservative Members, the vast majority opposed the increase and none supported it.  What I found most frustrating was the refusal of the recipient of this increase, Councillor Tom Bruce, to state why he believed it was necessary.  I have once voted for an increase in Special Responsibility Allowances but got on my feet to justify it at the time (2007).  I also made reference to it in a leaflet that went out in Feltham North.

I tabled the following question to Councillor Theo Dennison, Executive Member for Finance and Performance

“At the most recent Local Elections, Labour promised a fresh war on waste and a Council Tax cut for all residents.  Does this mean that there will be a cut in each of the next four budgets?”

He confirmed that there would not be Council Tax decreased for each of the next four years.  What he refused to do was explain what the election promise meant in terms of Council Tax – will be it a one-off decrease or an overall decrease?  He merely said that the promise was clear.

Almost as clear as the promise from Labour that could have been read as 500 more police before the election but now amount to an additional 100 overalls.

Councillor Robert Oulds asked Councillor Sachin Gupta, Executive Member for Education the following question:

“The consultation for the School Place Planning Strategy 2010-2020 ran until 3 December 2010.  Breaking the information down by the five areas of the Borough, how many responses have been received?”

The only thing I learnt from Councillor Gupta was that he now realises that there is a need for more primary school places, having recently questioned whether we need anymore in the West Area of the Borough.

Councillor Colin Botterill asked Councillor Theo Dennison the following:

“Breaking the information down by financial year, what is the forecast of cashable savings that will be delivered by the Savings and Transformation Programme?”

I need to listen to the webcast as Councillor Dennison gave figures.  I think Councillor Dennison has confused the In Year Savings (much of it Salami Slicing) with the Savings and Transformation Programme.  He has previously had difficulty with forecasting and now he seems to struggle with how money is banked and aligned to what?

The first of the tabled motions (agenda item 14) discussed something Hounslow are unable to influence.  Could this have anything to do with the next motion?  Probably, as we ran out of time.

Meeting ended at around 10:30pm

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School Place Planning Strategy 2010-2020

November 29, 2010

Here is a page linking to the School Place Planning Strategy and in that various documents for download.

If, after reading the above, you wish to provide feedback, here is the eForm.

The deadline is 3 December and I would urge residents to participate.

Is LBH abolishing electronic contact with its residents?

November 11, 2010

Of course it is not but the question is no more ridiculous that the hidden accusations against me during my time as Deputy Leader, namely that I was abolishing telephone contact for residents.

I was at the Heart of Hounslow the other day and looked at some of the Council communication (Carer Information) on the Notice Board. 

As you will see, a telephone number is at the bottom.  But not a single page on the Council’s website is mentioned, nor an email address given.

Some information does exist on the web.  Here is one page.  Why not included in the communication?  Unfortunately, it is typical of the change approach I have seen since the Change of Administration.

I make no apology for being a fan of eForms and the internet more generally.  I always recommend to residents that when they are making a request for a service that they look to see whether it can be done online.  Here is a link to a number of the Council’s eForms.

Over the years, I have met people who have brought concerns to my attention and it has always been easier to resolve matters when there are reference numbers (automatically generated when using an eForm) and/or an audit trail.  It is much harder when there has been a reliance on conversation alone, especially if a resident and the relevant officer at the Council do not agree what was discussed.

If used correctly, the internet puts more control in the hands of the individual.  That is why I like it, in my role as a Councillor, so much.

Beyond the above, the private sector has changed the way it interacts with its customers as channel shifting to the internet reduces its cost base and at the same time enhances the customer service experience.  From flights, trains, events, etc people now want to get things done efficiently over the internet.  A Local Authority should be no different and a lot of progress was made during my time as Deputy Leader and the Lead Member for Customer Services.

Going back to the above photographs, were a page on the website offered, it is likely that the information required would be answered through self-serve.  This is win-win because that resident has not had to spend money on a telephone call and the Officer they would have been speaking with can instead deal with other enquiries from those that really do need a conversation over the phone.

Of course, I do not want the minority of residents without access to modern access channels to be left behind or excluded which is why new investment was made in the telephone services during my time.

Internally, on more than one occasion, Councillors have been invited to events either through the internal (paper) mail or by sending an email.  The modern and efficient way is through using the calendar function on the email system as all the recipients need to do is click accept or decline.

Going backwards is not an option and I hope I do not see more examples of the above.  Never has the need to be efficient in terms of processes and contact been so great.

Local election results

May 11, 2010

As I have said on a previous posting, the big surprise in London was that the Labour vote did not collapse despite many predicting that it would.

One of the outcomes of this, and the Local Elections being held the same day as the General, is that Labour did very well in London Local Government.  They now have control of Hounslow, Ealing, Harrow and Brent amongst others.  In Hounslow, Conservatives did not lose a single seat – in 2006 there were 23 Conservative Councillors returned and this figure increased to 25 last week.  However, every single other Independent and Lib Dem lost their seats and were taken by Labour.

I am thrilled that we have added Liz Mammatt and Colin Botterill to our Group.  Liz is simply one of the best people I have ever met.  Genuine, very hardworking and kind.  Colin is keen as mustard and I predict a big impression in both Feltham West and on the Council.

The Council lost some very good and intelligent people such as Peter Hills, Linda Nakamura, Phil Andrews, Paul Fisher, Genevieve Hibbs, Jon Hardy, Shirley Fisher, Caroline Andrews & John Connelly.  All except Genevieve lost their seats at the election (she stood down before and looked really well last Thursday, which was great to see as she has had health problems).  Every single one of these people worked so hard for their residents and on the Council and I will miss them.  Andrew Dakers, John Howliston & Drew Morgan-Watts are no longer Councillors.  The latter two stood down.  Drew is a very nice guy and John made a big impression in Bedfont and clearly had a personal following.  Andrew Dakers, like me, stood in both elections.  I was able to win in one and he was not so fortunate.  Again his conduct was so impressive and he can rest for a period in the knowledge that he made an impressive mark at the Council.

One of the less pleasant features of politics is that you sometimes see people you like losing their seats, not necessarily from the same Group or Party.  The six who lost in Isleworth and Syon were especially gracious in defeat.  They will always have my respect, reinforced by such dignified behaviour in what are difficult circumstances.  Former Councillors, Shivcharn Gill and Sukhbir Dhaliwal (who stood in Feltham North) were always very courteous to me and I wish them the best for the future.  I would like to thank my three Labour opponents in Feltham North for standing on the platform for the formal declaration of the results.  This was my third election in Feltham North and the first time I have experienced the Labour candidates standing on the platform for the declaration.  I wish them all the best.

A number of people have contacted me expressing surprise at the local election results, especially considering the performance regarding Council Tax, improved local parks and massive removal of graffiti.  Naturally, I am really sad that we cannot continue the work that we started, as we never promised we would crack everything in four years.  Peter Thompson was simply a superb Leader of the Council and so well suited to the position.  It was a privilege to have been his Deputy in administration for four years and for two years in opposition before that.

Some have expressed concerns that the days of Council Tax increases will return.  But we should all take comfort in promises made in most wards by Labour at the election.  They will deliver:

  1. Action on crime with 100 uniformed officers on the streets in this area and CCT in crime hotspots.
  2. Extra cash for local schools to improve standards and new school places to give parents a better choice.
  3. A new business partnership with local businesses and housing associations and build 2,500 affordable homes to rent or buy.
  4. A 24/7 team of Grime busters to tackle graffiti, litter and dumped rubbish-and a direct dial telephone number for immediate action.
  5. A fresh war on waste and a council tax cut for all residents.

If they deliver all the above, and do not compromise recent improvements or front line services at the same time, I think that we can all be very pleased.  There are people who say that some of the above are impossible to deliver.  My view is that the promises have been made so Labour deserves the chance to deliver.  I congratulate Labour and wish them well in delivering the above.  When I get some spare time, I will scan the web to see if any other new administration has made such exciting promises?

Council Tax frozen for a 4th time

March 3, 2010

I cannot begin to describe how proud I am that this administration has managed to achieve four zero increases -in its share of the Council Tax – in a row.  It was an unprecedented meeting for me and other Councillors in that there was a period when the Council could not agree a budget.  But one was eventually agreed and it included no increase for the Council Taxpayer in Hounslow.  A recorded vote took place the second time so all residents will be able to see how their Councillor voted.

All of the above has been managed at a time of massive reductions in graffiti, major new investments in leisure, parks & open space, the most major increase in the profile of planning enforcement of any Council, one of the biggest turnaround in complaints management of any Council and the list could go on.  There is lots more to do but if I had been offered this in 2006 when Labour were removed from being the administration, I would have taken it with both hands (and feet).

No longer is the London Borough of Hounslow London’s forgotten Borough.

Update: Here is the release from Cllrs Thompson & Andrews.

Hounslow’s highways to benefit from £267million PFI bid success

November 30, 2009

This is great news.

As I have been saying for the past few years, only when the work starts will residents really see the improvements that they want and deserve.

Freedom of the Borough

November 29, 2009

This was granted not just once but three times on Thursday.  Possibly one of the most memorable Council occasions I have ever been part of.  I was amongst the bravest and most decent people in this Country.

Very few things are more moving than hearing read out the names  of those who have lost their lives.  It is also worth remembering (as many of us did on the day), that there are others who are not killed but are maimed and can bear very serious physical and/or mental scars.  In accepting the Freedom on behalf of the regiment, the Major referred to these people and he said that as a family those people would be looked after – those words meant a lot to us all.

I was also proud of the speeches that were made by various people, especially the Leader of the Council (Peter Thompson) and the Mayor (Paul Lynch).  Well done to Councillor Jagdish Sharma who seconded the various reports.

A bit like the Freddie Mercury event, we had an example of the boat being pushed out and I am really glad that it was.

I was obviously unable to take pictures in the Chamber but took a few later on.  How wonderful it was to see so many Union Flags being flown by those who came to cheer:

Here is the band setting up:

Fullers were big supporters and put on drinks for the boys (one of the pleasures they missed whilst in Afghanistan).  I have tried to keep away from alcohol this week because I have had some bad mouth ulcers but I was determined to toast the Regiment and the two VCs.  Well done to Fullers for this extremely kind gift:

An amazing week in a brilliant Borough!

Update: Here are some more pictures.

Reward and Recognition Ceremony

November 20, 2009

Last night, I attended the annual Reward and Recognition Ceremony at the Council, where many of its High Achievers are acknowledged for what they do. It is the fourth one I have attended and I said a few words during the second half. I was keen to make the point that it was important to reflect on where we are and compare this to the baseline of May 2006 (when this current Council – run by the current administration – began). I gave a few highlights from each area of the Council:

  • The Performance Improvement Programme (PIP).  It was this Change Programme that has enabled the Council to freeze Council Tax throughout this period and at the same time improve so many services.  No change programme is perfect but if there is a more successful one in Local Government, please let me know;
  • Finance.  It was the expertise from this area that kept us on track – in financial terms – during the PIP;
  • Planning Enforcement.  I do not think that this function has as high a profile anywhere in the country as it does in the London Borough of Hounslow;
  • Community Environment Team.  A perpetually difficult role and sometimes perpetually impossible job.  They get a lot of casework from me and it is important that I acknowledge the great job that they do.  I was thrilled that the Officer responsible for the West Area in the Borough was nominated for the Members Award for Excellence award.  A very nice man who genuinely gives his all;
  • Leisure. Again, the turnaround with the local parks has been astonishing.  I am quick to point out on my blog where I do not think standards are good enough so no one should really question my objectivity.  But overall the turnaround in areas such as this has been massive;
  • Adult Social Care.  One of the best examples of an area that has managed to constantly deliver better value for money whilst not impacting front line services;
  • Housing. Hounslow leads London in raising the profile of Houses in Multiple Occupation.  We now have an Additional Licensing Scheme that will deliver better standards in some wards that would have been seen otherwise;
  • Children’s Services and Lifelong Learning.  Brilliant news about the recent Ofsted Inspection.  And, superb news about the massive improvements at Feltham Community College;
  • Corporate Services.  We have seen a massive turnaround in the area of Complaints Management and have been very successful in resolving complaints earlier – Officers in Committee Services, Customer Services and Legal Services have all played a massive part;
  • IT. The Council, thanks to a brilliantly run project that was recently closed, now has a purpose built Data Centre and this matters because it has removed a large amount of risk from the Council – a risk that could impact on all service areas and the clients they serve. Again, I was thrilled to see someone I have got to know very well receive the Individual Award for Outstanding Performance – really well deserved and I am so happy about it.  The word ‘Extra Mile’ was used frequently last night and it applies to him as much as anyone else.

Of course, the danger with highlighting areas is that there is a real danger of missing people out.  There are lots of other areas that do vital work – Highways, Registration Service, Democratic Services, Trading Standards and others who have some brilliant people.

This is certainly not a case of believing my own hype as I acknowledge that there is a long way to go (there always will be and there always should be) but I certainly was pleased to celebrate last night (and to have a couple of drinks in Feltham with my father afterwards).   I bat for my constituents and never hesitate to complain when I feel a constituent is let down but at the same time, I am objective.  I would certainly have taken where we are had that been offered to me in May 2009.  The Officers present last night have made such a positive difference.

The turnaround over the past three and a half years has been massive. Value for Money, Pride, Civic Pride, Best Practice, Tough Decisions, Meaning Business.  No longer is Hounslow London’s Forgotten Borough.

Cllrs Paul Lynch & Barbara Harris

May 19, 2009

The above are the new Mayor & Deputy Mayor of the London Borough of Hounslow.  I am in no doubt that they will do a brilliant job for the Borough.

The Mayoralty is one of the things I am very proud of since 2006.  Felicity Barwood recovered the position in Hounslow compared to what it had become.  Ever since it has gone from strength to strength.

I will Paul & Barbara – both of whom are good friends of mine – the very best for the year.

My new pet hate

May 10, 2009

When people justify themselves with nothing more than “it was within the rules!”.  A number of MPs from all parties are doing it over the recent controversy with MP expenses/allowances etc.

It is one of the biggest beef that I have with Alan Keen.  Questions that have been asked, over a number of years, about his second property.  I realise that the public are unstandably angry about some of the things that have been claimed for by MPs but I have said for a number of years that the second home issue is the one that needs resolving most urgently.  I completely understand that MPs from most parts of the UK, especially constituencies outside of the M25, need somewhere to live in London.  I do not see why we as taxpayers cannot fund the purchase of a few hundred dwellings for MPs to live in whilst in London, BUT put an end to the prospect of MPs building a nest egg for their future.  The properties will rightly be an asset of the taxpayer and a recognition of the fact that accommodation is required.  THIS SHOULD NOT APPLY TO LONDON MPs! If elected as MP, I will continue to live in F&H and will do what any other London commuter would do e.g. use a bus, tube, train, my own car or even a taxi (if one is needed after a very later night debate, for example).  I am pleased that the Conservatives have announced that those living in Greater London / 20 miles / within reasonable distance would not be able to claim for its proposed Transparent Parliamentary Allowance.

One of Mr Keen’s Southall supporters recently claimed in the Chronicle that the increase in my Special Responsibility Allowance for being Deputy Leader of the London Borough of Hounslow was  no different to the fact that there has been no explanation from Mr Keen.

Here is the text of my response, which was not published:

“Sir,

I was not surprised to read the letter from Southall resident, P Haling, claiming that I am throwing stones because I have reminded Alan Keen MP that he needs to follow through on a public assurance he gave in 2005 to explain why he needs his constituents to fund a second property in order to fulfil his role.

P Haling could not be more wrong to draw a parallel between this and the increase in my Special Responsibility Allowance for being Deputy Leader of the Council, indeed his attempt strengthens my point, as I informed my Feltham North constituents of this increase in a Half Year Report and I explained that the increase was used to fund a 20% reduction in my hours at my place of work.  The comparison between Alan Keen and I could not be more striking on this matter.  I followed through by explaining my position as soon as was possible.  After nearly four years of giving his assurance, Mr Keen has not done so!

Yours Faithfully,

Mark Bowen
Parliamentary Candidate for Feltham & Heston
Helen Avenue, Feltham”

I understand that the electorate may not always agree or like explanations, but it is incumbent upon all politicians to explain themselves and say say more to justify themselves than “it is within the rules”.

How about applying ethics?