Weekly Update From Councillor Guy Lambert
Planning Inspector overturns council ban on bigger Alfa Laval sign
On Thursday we had an update on Lampton360 and its various subsidiary companies. All of these are owned 100% by the council, either directly or through the Lampton holding company. One of my concerns has been the number of entities but it’s explained that these are required for various technical reasons, most notably around restrictions on trading. Most or all of these companies are intended, after they develop, to have trading arms so that the costs to the council are partly defrayed by external revenues but the law restricts how much of their turnover can come from trading so it’s important to keep separate accounts.
We also had a rundown on the partnership between Lampton and Be Living, which is a commercial builder and a part of Willmott Dixon. We’re reassured that this partnership – which is to get the best terms for physical construction as we commence to build council properties and the like – has been developed following a full procurement exercise through the OJEU (Official Journal of the European Union) process with the selection of partner made in conjunction with external parties to ensure we get the objectively best deal. Everybody is a little frustrated that it takes so long to get building but there is now a clear pipeline of sites to develop, starting this year. There was originally a plan to buy odd properties off the market but it was concluded that this was not economically favourable: it is harder and more costly to manage scattered properties than blocks of flats or estates on one site.
On Friday I met a woman and her daughter who are having trouble convincing the Student Loan Company that the daughter is eligible for a loan. They have been in the country for many years but have had to move around a lot to escape harassment so it’s not easy to prove where they have been living. I was a bit puzzled that they turned up with a huge suitcase but when I asked them to pull out the evidence about where they had been living, I understood…
On Friday evening it was a Thai meal in the Old Packhorse in Chiswick with a bunch of Labour party colleagues – nice place, good food, good beer, lovely people.
On Saturday I had promised to go to Uxbridge to support a Labour party campaign there. We’d love to save Hillingdon from the Tories (and Boris – I dare you to sack me – Johnson) but I woke up feeling under the weather and wimped out, thinking I was door knocking Sunday in Brentford anyway. Sunday dawned with a downpour and a few people cried off. Unusually I went to the canvass in the car rather than cycling and lurked in it to see who would turn up. Nobody did so I decided I was allowed another day off.
On Monday we had good news and bad news. The good news was that it was confirmed that our unwelcome tourists – the travellers who had colonised the development site on the corner of Ealing Road and the A4 – had left the site at the firm request of the owners, bailiffs, long arm of the law etc, regrouped in the Tesco car park then departed the borough, never to darken our doors again (until the next time). The bad news is that her ladyship has heard tell of the decision of the dreaded Planning Inspector, that he/she has overturned the council’s decision to disallow an enormous illuminated sign on the Alfa Laval tower when it is redeveloped. Myra tells me they are expecting to get rent from this hoarding of £7M which might explain why they were keen to get it approved, just possibly.
In the afternoon I meet a woman caught in the Housing Benefit alleged overpayment trap. This is a syndrome we councillors encounter pretty frequently, where someone shows us some letters, often referencing ludicrous amounts of money, and expect us to be able to explain them. I find them utterly incomprehensible, and experience tells me they are frequently incorrect but they often cause terrible anxiety and this one is a case in point. We alert the benefits people in the council who in my experience are outstandingly helpful and quick to react, so I’m hoping for a speedy explanation or change of this one.
In the evening it’s the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. We reviewed the savings we have had to make in the grants made to Voluntary bodies. This is real judgment of Solomon stuff on the plates of the officers and cabinet members involved. We have no realistic option but to reduce spend, even though the needs have, if anything, increased but we can’t argue with the judgments that have been made, painful as many are. The idea is to focus on the areas of greatest need.
We are then updated on the library service: the good news is that there will be no closures of libraries and no reduction in opening hours, but despite the savings we will make from having the service in house rather than through Carillion, there will be some cost saving via staff restructuring though this is dwarfed by what we save in management charges, ICT and building maintenance. The other main topic is customer service performance: telephone answering took a hit in the third quarter last year arising from the change in waste collection and a huge increase in call volumes until it settled down, but it is on a good trend now and the new telephone system is leading to far less abandoned calls and shorter waiting times. Still a way to go but we’re getting there.
I had an email from one of my readers this week (yes, there is more than one, you are not alone) querying my use of the word segue in last week’s nonsense. A feller has to move with the times and in the 48 years since I left school I have endeavoured to use a new word or expression every year so segue is my word for 2018, following ‘salted caramel’ in 2017. Others from recent years include ‘subsidiarity’ and ‘Nintendo’ whilst others like ‘libero’ and – I hope – ‘brexit’ are just passing fads. Of course segue is a little dangerous because if you spell it in a different way – Segway – it can lead to falling over a cliff.
Anyway on Tuesday I was off to the House of Commons for a meeting of ‘Labour Together’ – a group led by Jon Cruddas MP that brings together MPs, councillors and academics to generate innovative approaches to politics, led obviously by the councillors. A chap at the front had shoulder length grey hair and I identified him as an academic, then proven by his presenting complicated slides with an American accent (him, not the slides). This was fascinating stuff but it went on a bit, meaning I missed not only the Goddards exhibition but a meeting at the Civic. However I did catch up with daughter so we could go see Darkest Hour at the cinema – pretty good I thought.
Wednesday afternoon I head out into Oxfordshire for a meeting of the heads of the five families. Don Corleone is not present, merely 5 ‘Dons’ or Chairs of the Credit unions who share a back office service company. Good meeting and we get to see how these country bumpkins live (involves a lot of mud). Busy day Thursday so I have been writing this on Wednesday night, in a break from tradition.
Councillor Guy Lambert
February 9, 2018