Nice work if you can get it
Thursday was a day empty of meetings (hurrah) so I created the usual sniggers in the gym starting off my new year fitness regime.
Friday it was the Civic centre to meet with Lampton 360 HR and payroll people on Credit Union business, then an afternoon in Chiswick at the Labour Party office chatting to activists about what we will do during the year.
Saturday morning it’s a session with a nice greasy sandwich in Isleworth’s oddly spelt Nosherey café prior to a morning out in the leafy glades of Spring Grove knocking on doors and annoying the locals. Councillor Louki was bigging up his achievement of getting some large commercial bins removed from the pavement so I managed to find a few residents to have a go at him regarding potholes and what have you. There is this regularly recurring moment when somebody answers the door and thinks ‘Who is this great hulking idiot on my doorstep and why was I stupid enough to open the door?’ – it is writ large in their face. It never ceases to amaze me that, after you explain your purpose, 98.276% of people seem pleased to have been consulted (I have counted, trust me).
On Sunday morning we repeated the trick in Boston Manor Road, which is where the border between Brentford and Syon wards lies. No wall planned here, as it would unduly restrict traffic and anyway some of us live in Syon and councillorise in Brentford, or vice versa. On this occasion I resisted the sandwich temptation in Jenny’s and we talked to people up and down the road with a specific goal of understanding their views about parking and potential CPZs. As usual, views are variable and we will commence an ‘official’ consultation.
Monday afternoon I’m treated to an excellent coffee in the lap of luxury within the Kew Bridge complex – very interesting to see how they run their estate, then down back to earth in the evening where we are run through the expected impact of the newly reduced benefit cap. It seems that there are about 800 families in Hounslow who will be affected by this £3000 reduction in their income. If they were ‘just about managing’ before, they will really struggle to manage after and the council and landlords are really worried that rent and council tax – which used to be paid directly but now will be down to the individual – will be what is deferred to pay for food etc. I have yet to meet even one of those Daily Mail households who are living the life of Riley off the back of the taxpayer with the blinds drawn. But I do hear of children sent to school hungry because there is no food in the house. Frankly, this is not the kind of world I want to live in – punishing children for the supposed sins or shortcomings of their parents.
I spend most of Tuesday grappling with my tax return, which is simple enough in itself. However, maybe it’s me, but the contortions of trying to get into my self-assessment account via the Government Gateway seem to get even more challenging each year. Anyway, got there in the end and it seems they owe me, which is always a pleasant surprise.
I receive a text from our friendly neighbourhood optician to say that I need my eyes tested. I thought this requirement was strictly for referees, and particularly those who officiate at matches where Arsenal or Manchester United are involved, but it seems it applies to old gits like myself who are gradually going blind, deaf, etc so I book a session.
Wednesday afternoon I spend some muddy hours on my bike running around Osterley Park, where there is a planning application to develop various cycling facilities. Very pleasant way to spend an hour or two even if that wind is a touch biting! Later on, it’s a session of the Member Working Group on the new website. We are able to access the prototype, and it seems to be working very well: much more attractive and intuitive to use than the current website. They have to adapt or rebuild hundreds of pages of information, and seem to be making really good progress. I think people will be very pleased when it is released to the impatient world (or borough, anyway, and I bet there’s someone who’s impatient) at the end of January – though they are quick to point out that what we go live with will still have more development in the pipeline.
In the evening it’s the Labour monthly branch meeting at Isleworth Public Hall. After the usual dreary stuff – elections for a couple of posts etc – we are treated to a presentation by LBH’s very own Thomas the Tank Engine, in the form of SW Trains driver Councillor Ed Mayne. This is ostensibly on the subject of driver only operation (DOO to the cognoscenti), strikes related thereto, and safety etc considerations. There is a view amongst the audience that it is actually an excuse for Cllr Mayne to show off various pictures of himself in different uniforms. The main learning for me is the reason this fight is being carried out on Southern, rather than any of the many other rail franchises that have not gone for DOO: Southern is the only franchise where the train operator (largely the nationalised French railways via a series of companies) gets paid irrespective of how many passengers it carries or how many trains it runs. It’s known as nice work if you can get it, though you might find it a bit bizarre that UK taxpayers are paying a fee to French taxpayers for not running trains. It was also interesting to hear that the head of rail at the Department for Transport is a) paid £265000 pa, b) lives in Vienna and commutes weekly (I didn’t see him when I was there) and c) has made many disparaging remarks about trains and is thus now not allowed out on his own.
This evening it’s planning committee, including the aforementioned Osterley Park application plus the much-discussed Chiswick Curve. I am assaulted on all sides by arguments for and against, but must enter the planning committee with an open mind. Anyway, off now to mug up further on the agenda, which is quite a long one.
January 13, 2017