Long weekends start on Wednesday
Unusually I’m doing my blog on Wednesday this week because I’m off to Berlin for a long weekend in the morning.
Anyway, that’s all folks, some of us have a plane to catch.
So I guess I start with by-elections. The good people of Stoke had the sense to see (it wasn’t hard) that Paul Nuttall would not be a very good idea but it all turned disappointing in Copeland. This was not a safe Labour seat as the spin doctors would have us believe, and was always likely to be vulnerable due to its dependence on the nuclear industry and fondness for Brexit, but it’s never welcome to lose a seat, still less when it’s the governing party beating the opposition.
Thursday was the day of my UNICEF fast, which went OK but fortunately the byelections declared in the early hours so I was able to drown my sorrows/ celebrate with vintage Ribena.
On Thursday morning we had puzzled over the problem of the Kew Bridge pontoon with one of the planners. It was a somewhat inconclusive meeting because someone had said that the problem was that the pontoon didn’t float: I was convinced it does and went and had a look see after: it happened to be at low tide, and I can confirm that if it didn’t float the goose poo problem that besets the pontoon would be washed (flushed) away twice daily by natural forces! We’re still looking to find a way to get rid of it, because it seems to serve no purpose, has to be maintained, and some people think it’s dangerous (I’m talking about the pontoon, not the poo, which requires no maintenance at all). Mel told me yesterday some Americans had come over to look at it. Perhaps they think it’s London Bridge (or even Tower Bridge)
Before my dose of election fever I had a session of the Audit Committee where not one but two of the ‘Big Four’ accountants are in attendance – PwC who do our internal audit and KPMG who do our statutory audit. Internal audit has two chunks – general operational review – 32 items listed ranging from management of property voids to Governance of Lampton 360, our externalised company. One instance of ‘limited assurance’ (ie should do better) was recorded around Fire Safety and Legionella where the paperwork was not up to scratch. The other chunk is counter-fraud, mostly arising from tip-offs, where 300 odd cases were investigated. Many were spurious or had no evidence, but 28 cases of fraudulent council tax reduction claims were proven, as were three right-to-buy frauds. In the latter case we saved £347700 in discounts that might have been wrongly given. Other things like Blue badge fraud would not be worth investigating if it was a pure matter of economics but they infuriate people and it was good to see that sanctions were applied to 13 people out of the 18 investigated.
Not a lot to say about the external audit – KPMG are ready for it to happen in mainly April. You might think that a meeting with two sets of external auditors, one set of council accountants and at least three councillor accountants (admittedly one of us struck off for not paying my subs) would be very boring, but in fact we had no actuaries present so as far as I can remember in my waking moments it was all jolly interesting.
Audit committee clashed with the pre planning consultation meeting so I had to miss that but the Melvinator attended and will no doubt cook up some fiendish questions for the developers when the proposals come to committee.
Friday I was off to the National Agricultural Centre near Coventry to indulge my enthusiasm for old racing cars and the other old gits who share it. One of those occasions when you feel young and could be forgiven for thinking the population is 97.7% male.
Monday morning I met with our local housing manager, mainly to talk about some work local activists have initiated trying to green up the ward. But this turned into a wide-ranging discussion about social housing and its various challenges. Council employees get a lot of stick from the public, and meeting with people who have to deal with the really difficult problems around housing, from lack of supply to anti-social behaviour, to vulnerable tenants only serve to remind me what a fantastic job many of them do, and how dedicated they are. Anyway, the good news is everyone is enthusiastic about moving this ‘greening’ forward so we might have a win on our hands.
After cycling around the ward taking my habitual photos of local beauty spots – flytips, dog poo and graffiti, I whizzed off to a school in Kingston on Credit Union business. OK, fair do’s, I crawled to Kingston.
In the evening it was licensing committee, mainly a discussion about increased charges for licensing which we are making to try and make the books more or less balance. A café owner from Chiswick presented to us, worried about the threat to his business of dramatically increased business rates (thanks to a government revaluation – there is no benefit to Hounslow L) increased costs resulting from Brexit and currency devaluation and this increase on top. He uses quite a bit of pavement for tables and our argument is that the licence cost is still only a small fraction of what he would have to pay to rent the same space.
Tuesday evening was the Housing and Environment Scrutiny Panel. I was voted onto this in the autumn and this was the first meeting I had attended. The first part of the session was about our target to provide 3000 ‘affordable’ homes and 400 social rented homes during this administration. It’s looking like we will meet and beat these targets despite the government’s attempts to hamper us, but we asked the housing people to provide a lot more detail, mainly to understand the size and types of home, and the geographic spread.
The second part was about anti-terrorism measures and hate crime. This has increased enormously since the Brexit vote and shows no sign of abating. We can do things to combat it but the public should please tell their councillors (or the police if it’s serious) if they are affected by this.
March 2, 2017