South Acton Councillor's Report
Mik Sabiers writes January update
Even though we’re three weeks in to 2015, here’s wishing everyone a happy new year and a warm welcome to the first councillors’ report of 2015. I do hope that everyone had a nice break, for all three of us councillors it was very busy just before Christmas with not just full council but a super packed Overview and Scrutiny meeting that had a large total of call-ins of cabinet decisions by the opposition (all of which were rejected).
December’s full council meeting – housing and rubbish
Ealing’s full council before Christmas had a packed agenda. As well as the usual questions on council business, we had a petition from a member of the pubic (Mary Horesh) on the Lammas Park play centre. The opposition moved a motion on the plans for rubbish and recycling (it fell), while the main Labour motion was on dealing with the shortage of housing in the borough and reforming the rental system to try and stop soaraway rents. Ealing has also set in motion an innovative Coco model (Community owned company) tasked with building more council homes and driving up standards in the private sector through licensing.
Raising recycling rates
Both Josh and I spoke on the changes to recycling and the move to alternate weekly collections which will come in next year as we match what is happening in 94 per cent of councils across the country. The move to alternate collections (rubbish one week and recycling the next, although note food waste will be collected weekly) will also raise our recycling rates because there is still a lot to do in terms of raising awareness. It is worth noting that Ealing council has been shortlisted for the Local Government Chronicle’s awards for our ‘50% by 2020 awareness campaign’ which is driving up recycling right across the borough. We’re aiming to help people think about what they need, what they buy and what they throw away or reuse. Raising recycling will reduce landfill costs, will deliver more efficient services and make Ealing cleaner as we move away from bags to bins that foxes and other vermin will struggle to get into.
Council tax to be frozen again
The other major news from the council meeting was the announcement from Yvonne that our pledge to freeze the council tax for another year still stands. Even though we face another round of cuts from central government (since 2010 the total cuts [though to 2018] we face are £183 million). By freezing the council tax the average taxpayer will have saved £147 since 2010, we’re freezing the council tax as we know these are still tough times with wage rises minimal and pressure on family budgets. You can read the minutes of the December council meeting here: http://tinyurl.com/p992ym2 [PDF].
December’s Overview and Scrutiny and call-in aplenty
As I stated December’s Overview and Scrutiny meeting was call-in heavy, so much so that it was actually held in the Council Chamber as we had so many attendees. Call-ins are when the opposition has the opportunity to ask for greater clarification of decisions and even call for change or a decision to be rescinded, although of late there has been what seems like a bit of game playing by the opposition to call in subjects on thin ground when a simple question or two at the cabinet meeting may have sufficed. The main call-ins related to the budget strategy, as stated we have £183 million worth of cuts to make, it is not easy, but Ealing under Labour is trying its best to make sure we protect our key services while looking to make these savings. It was a long meeting to chair (we were there until 22:30 that evening) but we gave a fair hearing to the concerns of the opposition (there are too many to list so if you are really interested here’s a PDF link to the minutes, all 16 pages of them - http://tinyurl.com/pjq3fvf), but the committee rejected them all (and as I predicted in my last report there were no real proposals from the opposition on the budget). Suffice to say, Yvonne gave a sterling defence of the latest round of budget changes, and Ealing council leader Julian Bell talked of how “heartbreaking” these cuts are to make, we do however have an obligation to set a balanced budget and that we will do at February’s full council meeting. But that is a while off yet.
January’s council meetings – more call-ins and an Independent Healthcare Commission
It has however been a busy start to the year, Yvonne is still working on savings in star chambers with the cabinet, I’ve been looking at the council finances at audit committee and Josh has been out on planning visits. Both Josh and I have also been back in scrutiny, with yet another call in in at last week’s meeting – this time looking at changes to Ealing’s community centres. The proposals are out for consultation and due to come back to cabinet in April, so that call in was also rejected. The other subject on the agenda was on filming meetings. We had a good debate about the merits of filming (it may give us all a bit more order), the drawbacks (will anyone watch?) and the importance of communicating with our residents. The main issue we have is cost, but we will look further into how we not only encourage greater attendance but also reporting of the many meetings we attend. We also have full council coming up on Tuesday 27 January, the main motion is on the Independent Healthcare Commission which is to look at the impact of the closures of our local A&Es. The shocking figures regarding the North West London Healthcare Trust and A&E performance mean that an independent review of the closures and the impact they have had on our critical health services can hopefully stir central government into taking greater action to help save our NHS rather than run it into the ground. As ever, I hope to live blog the council meeting via my Twitter account so if you want an idea of what is happening just follow me @miksabiers or go https://twitter.com/miksabiers.
February is all about the budget (but don’t forget to register to vote)
In terms of what’s coming up, February is generally focused on the budget with scrutiny and cabinet both looking through the details and then full council approving it at the end of the month. Josh remains involved in planning and I also have a Boundaries Panel, and with the election coming up we will be looking at not only maximising voter turnout, but also voter registration. Make sure everyone in your household is on the register, everyone has to register individually now, but you can actually register to vote online, you just need your National Insurance number – go: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote to do it, it only takes a few minutes.
Out and about in the ward
Finally there are some updates on ward issues, we’ve got further queries from our regular Ruskin Hall surgeries, I did the last of 2014 and the first in 2015 where we have issues relating to housing, council services and funding, support, schools and more. In terms of some other developments the consultation on changes to traffic and stopping off the roads around Hillcrest Road and Kings Edwards Gardens has been concluded and we are awaiting an analysis of the results, there have also been concerns raised about the proposed redevelopment of the Chatsworth pub which is still under discussion, but there is good news that Mill Hill Road has been resurfaced. The regeneration of the South Acton estate is also continuing, with more new homes planned. All three of us will be at the Acton Gardens meeting next week where we should get an update on the latest changes. Phase 5 (Conrad and Meredith Towers) have almost completely been decanted, and Phase 6 covering Hardy Court and Charles Hocking House is progressing well (but Charles Hocking is not expected to be empty until he end of 2016). After that the regeneration plans move towards the Redbricks, so it is all change, slowly but surely but also to plan. We’ll keep you posted of changes as they are progressed. And that’s all for now, as ever all three Labour councillors are out regularly knocking on doors ahead of the general election. We’re frequently joined by Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate Dr Rupa Huq, so if you see us walking by, say hi, we’ll always try our best to help out.
Josh, Yvonne and Mik
Chair, Ealing Overview & Scrutiny Committee
Labour councillor for South Acton
m: 020 8992 5014
22nd January 2015
13th February 2014