Weekly Update From Councillor Guy Lambert
Intractable housing issues and border confusion
Friday morning I make the 217 metre trip to the local housing office to discuss a difficult case relating to somebody in temporary housing. It’s a helpful meeting, the housing officer highly professional and trying to find solutions, but all housing problems seem to be intractable, mainly because of the lack of supply as the council swims against the tide of increased ‘right to buy’ discounts with its feet tied behind it by financial restrictions and George Osborne’s cunning plans. (I see poor old George has spent the last week slumming it in Davos talking to HSBC execs whose bacon he saved for a ‘high five figure’ fee whilst his mate Dave does likewise with PwC). NB: if anyone wants to offer me a high five figure fee to talk I will go anywhere, anytime. Actually, a low two-figure fee would do it, but not two fingers, please.
Saturday morning we have a good turnout on Chiswick High Road for our stall outside Waterstones suggesting that Theresa May and her chums should wake up to the fact that the NHS is tottering for lack of funds and provide some of what they promised. The reception is positive and we get many signatures on our petition. I always find it fun to see the strategies people adopt when they see people bearing leaflets from the straightforward ‘thank you’ or ‘no thanks’ through ‘who are you? – Labour – NO thanks’ to short form blindness.
In the afternoon we have a meeting with Labour members in the Civic Centre to consult and explain the council budget situation. Amongst a number of surprising things that emerge from the discussions, I learn that council tax amounts to only about 11% of the council’s income and that the ‘Rate Support Grant’ – the main way that we receive funding from central government, has been cut by 84% since 2010. It’s also instructive that leafy Tory Surrey is planning a referendum on putting the Council Tax up by 15%, despite having (I think) had far less draconian cuts in government funding.
Sunday afternoon Myra and I go door knocking up Windmill Road. Slightly confusing because it’s border country, with one side of the road in Ealing and one in Hounslow. Someone tells me that his bins are collected by Ealing but he pays council tax to Hounslow (sounds a result for LBH!) but he complains about a bump in the road. Is it our road or Ealing’s – research required.
On Monday evening I cycle up to the Civic Centre for a couple of training sessions. The first bit is about keeping safe as councillors. As I have said many times before, the vast majority of people we come across are a pleasure to meet, but there is a tiny minority who are different, and we have to bear in mind that there may be somebody out there who has a grudge they want to take out on a councillor – there was a stark reminder last year that care is needed if you’re a politician. But the main event of the evening was to learn about the council’s work in safeguarding children: this is a major activity of which most of us have little knowledge. It turns out that the council has no less than 30,000 contacts every year from people who have concerns about child safeguarding and there are currently nearly 300 children being looked after by the council: many more are looked after by their parents but with support from Social Services.
Tuesday my bike goes in for its ‘first service’ and comes out nicer than ever so I can proceed to the big house in Lampton Road again for our member panel on the new website (coming to an internet near you very soon). I play around on the trial site and am generally very pleased with what I find, though the translation into Haitian Creole seems to me to leave something to be desired. It’s crucial that it works because we really need to encourage (and support) people to transact online – it saves them time and the council money. We discuss those who don’t have internet access (not very many) and those who are uncomfortable with using it (very many more) and I suggest we have some specific PCs in libraries which point directly at the website so the wary or unfamiliar have an easier route, supported perhaps by staff (we’ll come back to libraries).
Later in the evening we have a licensing panel for a banqueting suite in the heart of Hounslow (actually from the outside it looks like a small shop and was previously an estate agents). The noise suppression team from the council are looking to restrict the hours of opening following complaints, but nobody from the banqueting place turns up so we have to postpone the hearing and get an early night. This allows me to visit the Waterman’s centre where an inaugural meeting is taking place of a proposed ‘Brentford and Hounslow against the Third Runway’ group. This is modelled to some extent on CHATR (the Chiswick version) and HACAN (the cross-London version) and both groups are in attendance to help with the birth of ‘our’ group, as is our tireless MP. I suppress my idea to suggest the Group is called Brentford, Osterley, Isleworth Noise Guerillas (or BOING) and a more appropriate name will emerge in due course. Opinion about the airport is split as the LBH resident survey shows but I think people round here haven’t really understood what a big difference it will make to noise: if the government goes ahead with the barmy plan to make the M4 8 lanes all the way from Heathrow to the Chiswick flyover with a tunnel coming up in Carville Hall Park I think our Brilliant residents might get a severe shock!
Wednesday night is (Labour) party night so we have the unalloyed joy of an evening in Chiswick High Road debating various motions about the NHS, Heathrow and Brexit, and hearing various updates from party officers and our MP.
Looking forward (I think) to a couple of lively meetings tonight and tomorrow: Tonight, the Isleworth and Brentford Area Forum at the Free Church, tomorrow the public meeting about major developments in Brentford (Morrisons, Police Station, Watermans) in St Paul’s Church. Both are at 7.30 and all are welcome – you don’t have to be regular churchgoers, though I seem to be becoming one – and they’re important for our future, especially the meeting tomorrow.
See the front page of BrentfordTW8.com for the latest on the Brentford Library saga.
January 27, 2017