January Update from Councillor Matt Harmer
This isn't a full bulletin (you'll be relieved to hear) but just an update on a couple of things.
* Cuts on the way *
These bulletins usually concentrate on completely local issues, and I think that’s how things should be. There are plenty of blogs, websites and so on for wider political discourse. But it would be wrong not to talk about the difficult financial decisions that all councillors will be forced to take shortly.
If you live in Hounslow, you should have received a budget consultation leaflet through your door. If you haven’t, let me know or go to http://tinyurl.com/HounslowBudget2011
You’ll see there some background into what is happening. Only about 15% of the money we spend comes from your council tax – most comes from central government (still from taxation, I appreciate, but not locally-derived). The autumn’s Comprehensive Spending Review reduced the funding to local authorities by fairly drastic amounts, in our case £60m over four years. In the next financial year, starting in April 2011, we have to spend around £20 million less.
Now, some of this can be done by cutting back costs and other efficiency savings. But we would not be telling the truth if we didn’t make it clear that there will be consequences on services. The consultation process is part of that. One of the things we need to decide is whether we want to concentrate on universal services or targeted services.
To explain what that means. There are some things that the council does that pretty much everyone benefits from. Rubbish and recycling services, say, or street lighting. And there are some that only a tiny number of people directly benefit from (I say directly and that’s something we’ll return to). An example of this would be services for, say, young people who have been taken into care because of abusive families.
What should we concentrate on? Some councils have gone to fortnightly rubbish collections and are turning street lights off at 1am in order to continue spending on those vulnerable teenagers I mentioned. Others have decided that the services to go should be the ones that directly benefit the fewest people. But we also have to ask what the cost could be of NOT helping those vulnerable people. If they are forced into continued chaotic lives then it’s highly likely that the costs to society will be higher if nothing is done for them. One resident writes with an example: the cost of keeping a young person in a Youth Offender's Institution is approximately £140,000 each year. If the lost of the Youth Service leads to more than six additional young people being imprisoned then the full saving assumed has been wiped out.
There’s no right answer to this conundrum, though it will often form the foundation of an individual’s political philosophy. There are 35 Labour councillors on Hounslow and as the majority group on the Council it falls on us to make these decisions. We will all make our cases and come to a decision, and I am determined to see that the responses we get inform this decision. The decisions we make will inevitably be unpopular; it’s our job to explain why we’ve made the decisions that we have. And please keep an eye on www.ruthcadbury.com for more updates – Ruth’s a much better blogger than I.
We’re also working hard to make the Council a better organisation. There are many excellent people working there but the structure of the organisation can be improved. This will reduce a little the impact of the cuts we have to make and will make the Council a much more responsive and proactive body.
So, please, get involved. And if you want to make a more detailed submission then please do so. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org but please copy me in. The official deadline is 24th January – though for good ideas, there’s no deadline.
* Treetime *
Anyone like trees? Yes, I thought so. And I may be able to get you some in your road. I’ll explain.
Residents of Hamilton Road where surprised last month to see little pictures of trees sprayed on the pavement. It transpired that Hamilton Road had been selected by someone at the council to be a recipient of the Mayor of London’s Street Tree programme. Trouble is, no-one had properly asked the residents of that street how they felt about that. If you know Hamilton Road you’ll know that it already has trees – quite big ones, actually.
I emailed the 12 homes I have contact details for, and the response was mostly negative. And so there’ll be no new trees. Now, I can only assume that the budget for Trees remains – and I stress that this comes from a London-wide Mayoral budget and not Hounslow – and so, if you think that most people in your road would like some new trees then please let me know. They’ll be young and small for the time being, but they do grow, of course. I don’t know what species they are – surely not lime trees, which aren’t ideal to park under when they grow.
* You have mail? *
It’s plain that there was a gap in the consultation process there and we still have to improve on that. People living on and around Brook Road South who only had the notification of potential new double yellow lines from laminated letters on lampposts will agree with that (they’re all being rethought, if you live in that area).
I’m keen to find out if we can make better use of email. More and more people are making use of the internet to request council services and so we should be getting a good database of email addresses that relate to property addresses. So it should be possible to target emails to residents who may be affected by, say, a planning application or a change to recycling collections caused by bad weather. I know that no-one wants half a dozen email a day from the council but I think it’s an idea worth investigating. If you have an opinion on this, let me know (extra points for any hand-written replies to 153 Ealing Rd TW8 0LF).
* Greener and greener *
Anyone walking past my house will know that gardening is not really a priority. The trouble with it as a hobby is that it doesn’t stay done, it needs constant re-doing. But there’s some news of an interesting initiative for those who like the idea of shovels, trowels and manure.
Hounslow Homes, who manage our council homes, is working with a charity called ‘The Greening Campaign’ who help motivate people to reduce their energy consumption, lower their personal and community carbon footprint, and ultimately save money. They have provisionally selected the Haverfield community to be one of our four pilot communities and are looking at opportunities for finding spaces to grow food (and other things, I imagine) and also work at fostering a better community to help with problems like financial inclusion – helping people at risk from loan sharks and unable to work because they can’t open a bank account.
I’m expecting more information on this in the coming weeks and I’ll happily pass on any requests to get involved.
* Thames Water get together *
Many of us will remember the disturbance caused by the water main that sprung leaks last year, putting parts of the High Street under water.
Thames Water has started a six-month, £6m project to reline the major trunk main. This’ll mean working on and digging up parts of Twickenham Road, London Road, Half Acre, Boston Manor Road, Windmill Road, New Road, Ealing Road and Netley Road.
On Monday 10 January, Thames Water and the London Borough of Hounslow will be holding a drop-in session for people who were affected by the recent water bursts and who want to know more about what is happening. The drop-in will take place at the Holiday Inn, Brentford, and will run from 5pm until 8pm. I hope to make it along so maybe see you there. More importantly, Thames Water representatives will be there. No-one is enthusiastic about roadworks but if it’s necessary to prevent major bursts and leaks then we have to do it.
* Can I help? *
As a councillor, my first task is to try and assist residents with problems. Please get in touch if you think I can help, either by emailing email@example.com or calling 020 8560 7033.
In the meantime, thanks for reading.
153 Ealing Rd
Brentford, Middlesex TW8 0LF
020 8560 7033
January 10, 2011