Thursday, 29 March 2012

London Mayor - Vote Jen1 Ken2

An extraordinary meeting of the London Green Party this week decided to recommend Ken Livingstone as second preference choice for Mayor after first choice Jenny Jones.

Livingstone spoke to around 70 members at the Party’s Headquarters on Leonard Street and fielded questions on his record and policies.

After over an hour of discussion, a vote in favour of recommending Livingstone as second choice carried with a clear majority.

Green Party Mayoral candidate Jenny Jones said: "The voting system gives Londoners a chance to make a positive Mayoral first choice for a more equal, healthier and affordable London.

“However, should I not be counted among the top two candidates after the first round, then I want a Mayor who will work with Green Party Assembly Members to deliver on pay equality, less pollution and cheaper fares.

“Ken Livingstone is far from perfect, but we know from his last time as Mayor that we can work with him to make positive changes in a way that would be impossible with either Boris Johnson or many other senior Labour politicians.”

Livingstone said: ”What we are seeing is that as we get closer to the election a broadening alliance of people wants a fairer London.

“The Green endorsement for second preferences is a key building block to winning change on May 3rd. I am very pleased that the Green Party has decided to encourage their supporters to cast their second preference votes for me.
“I look forward to working again with Green Assembly Members, including tackling air pollution, creating a fairer London, and improving pedestrian and cyclists’ safety.”

Discussions focused on the clear desire among members to help prevent a further four years of Boris Johnson’s Mayorship, and the clear differentiation between recommending the Labour Party and Livingstone as a candidate, the man himself frequently opposing Labour Party policy.

Members emphasised that the priority of the campaign was to increase the number of Green's elected to the London Assembly in order to best hold the successful Mayor candidate to account.

Members raised particular concerns over Livingstone’s record on road building, the poorly regulated financial sector and air pollution.

However, the meeting voted to support the recommendation after hearing pledges to curb top pay at City Hall, help the lowest paid workers, end cheats and evasions over air pollution used by the current Mayor and Government and financially support boroughs wanting to introduce 20mph zones.

For more information, contact Joe Williams on 0782 5511 927, @earsopen or

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Statement on Local Authority Service Cuts and Council Tax

Recent events in Brighton and Hove, where the Green party is running a minority administration on the local council, and decided to vote in favour of a Labour and Conservative amendment to their budget, abandoning the proposed rise in Council Tax of 3.5% for this year, raises the question, what would the Green party in Haringey do in similar circumstances?

Below is a statement from Haringey Green party outlining our general position on the issue of local authority service cuts:

We appreciate the difficulties faced by Brighton and Hove Green Councillors due to Labour and Conservatives combining to defeat the proposed Council tax rise. We are disappointed that the Green Councillors felt the need to vote for the amendment because it is important that the Green Party retains its reputation for sticking to its principles. Haringey Green Party therefore wants to make clear our position on cuts to local services, imposed on local authorities by the ConDem central government. Should the Green Party obtain a position of power in Haringey, it would seek to minimise the impact of central government grant reduction by raising Council Tax locally. We will also consider creative solutions for Haringey's budget to keep costs to a minimum and maintain services. If we were unable to get these policies through Haringey Council we are clear that we would not participate in any local administration.

Furthermore, some examples of creative solutions that we would consider are:

Set up a community trust to support services for vulnerable people and children which are at risk, and ask residents to contribute what they can.

Establish a local lottery to support vulnerable people’s services and local schools – the Isle of Wight (see here) did this year’s ago and made a lot of money to support local jobs.

Host a national anti-cuts conference to explore alternatives to austerity, inviting as many local council’s and groups as possible.

Explore every avenue possible for a radical party to alleviate the damage done by the cuts and raise revenue to fund services. This could include issuing local bonds and setting up a local currency.

Consider holding a referendum for a greater than 3.5% (perhaps 3.6%) council tax rise and explain to the people of Haringey that this is necessary because of the threat to local services and jobs.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Fuel Poverty in Haringey

A new report from the Assembly Health and Public Services Committee in their investigation into fuel poverty in London concludes that 13 of the 19 wards in the borough of Haringey are at significant risk of falling into fuel poverty.

These fuel poverty risk indicators provide users with a nuanced picture of the impact of various risk factors, exacerbating factors and indicators for fuel poverty, for every borough in London. The Committee's report explains how the tool could be used strategically to help organisations target specific wards that are at high risk of fuel poverty. Appendix 4 in the report set out the rationale for the risk factors present in the tool.

The fuel poverty scores measure risk of fuel poverty based on 12 indicators. The England and Wales average each year is 0. Scores below 0 are more likely to be at risk from fuel poverty according to these measures.

The indicators are:

Dwellings without central heating
Cavity walls that are uninsulated
Lofts with less than 150mm insulation

Health Deprivation & Disability domain (ID2010)
Standardised Mortality Ratio
Incapacity Benefit claimant rate

Older people
People aged 60 and over
Older people claiming pension credit

Income Support claimant rate
Child Poverty rates
Households classified 'fuel poor'

Across London, Fuel poverty affects 560,000 households. In those households, people struggle to heat their homes adequately and as a result many thousands of people live in cold homes which put them at risk of serious ill-health, educational developmental delay in children, mental health problems and, for older people in particular, excess winter deaths.

Fuel poverty is a specific type of deprivation suffered primarily by vulnerable people whose fuel costs make up a high proportion of their income and who live in energy inefficient homes. Older Londoners and young people are at a higher risk of suffering the ill effects of fuel poverty.

Darren Johnson, Councillor and London Assembly Member, said: "Everyone has the right to have a warm home and be able to pay their fuel bills. Persistently cold homes contribute to misery, ill-health and social exclusion - and the fact that the UK consistently has more winter deaths than countries with colder climates is an indication that we have got things wrong.

"We already have the technology to build zero carbon housing and this should be the standard for all new developments."

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Downhills School Govenors Sacked by Government

Six months ago I volunteered to become a local authority-appointed community governor at Downhills primary school in Tottenham, north London. Last Thursday, I tuned in to BBC radio to learn that I had been fired. Our governing body was dissolved without notice and I, a "big society" governor who is not a parent at the school, may not be allowed to set foot inside again. Many of my former colleagues have been reduced to tears: what had we done to deserve to be despatched in such a ruthless manner?

The reality is that we were victims of our own success. The secretary of state had to remove us, using his sweeping powers under the new Academies Act, because of the resistance we had put up to plans to force the school to become an academy. With our parent-led protest and threats of judicial review, we were in danger of setting a precedent for other schools opposed to a forced academy conversion.

On 8 March, shortly after the Downhills Ofsted report was published (which judged the school inadequate and put it in special measures), my fellow governors met department of education officials and were told that Michael Gove was minded to impose an academy order. Under this order a school can be forced to become an academy governed under an interim executive board (IEB).

The following Monday we wrote to Mr Gove. We said we did not rule out becoming an academy but also considered remaining a community school in local authority control a viable option. We wanted to consult the school community on both options before making a decision. In the end we conducted our own ballot, which showed that 90% of parents who responded were against academy conversion.

In our letter we presented our action plan to address the serious failings identified in the Ofsted report. We recruited an executive head from an outstanding school in Haringey to assist our deputy head, who had been praised by Ofsted. We suggested the governors ourselves should be mentored by the governors at the outstanding school.

We asked for more information about the Harris Federation– the government's preferred sponsor – and for an explanation of why they were considered right for Downhills. We requested raw data for each Harris academy showing progress in maths and English, particularly for disadvantaged children.

Instead we were dismissed without answers. The summary justice dispensed by Gove to our governing body and that of neighbouring Nightingale school indicates that he will not let anything stand in the way of his grand design. But he is making a serious mistake in treating parents and governors who question his plans with such brazen contempt.

We are not Trotskyites or political extremists – far from it. One of my colleagues is a hedge-fund trader who spends every Wednesday evening on football training classes. I am a lawyer who has spent the past five years working at a UN war-crimes tribunal. I joined Downhills governing body because I wanted to do some useful work in the local community. I knew next to nothing about education policy and had no bias against academies. My own poorly performing state secondary school became an academy years after I left, and I only wish it had changed earlier.

I have nothing against the Harris Federation, whose track record is by all accounts impressive. What I do not accept is the argument that academies are the only means of achieving a good education for our children. There are plenty of outstanding schools in local authority control. How a school is run is what's important, not whether an academy or the local authority is in charge.

What persuaded me to join the Downhills campaign were the views of the other governors, parents, staff and the local community. They had legitimate concerns and felt the school could be turned around under local authority control. Many of their arguments I disagreed with, but as the majority wanted the school to remain under a democratically elected, accountable local authority, I was persuaded they were right. At the very least I believed they were entitled to have some say on who should be in charge of the school when such dramatic changes were under consideration.

No doubt Gove's supporters will say Downhills was a failing school that needed dramatic intervention. I find that argument unconvincing. Downhills is certainly not among the worst performing schools as our key stage 1 results for 2011, which at 61% were above the national floor standard, indicate. And it cannot be right that every underperforming school needs to be converted to an academy. Where there are strong arguments for an alternative this should be properly considered. The views of parents and the local community should also be taken into account.

It seems that we will never know the answers to the questions we asked. Our dissolution and replacement with an (Interim Executive Board) IEB, highlights the academies' lack of transparency. As David Wolfe, a leading education lawyer points out, academies do not want to disclose information about how they are run and often back out of legal challenges to avoid so doing. We have league tables for primary and secondary schools and we now need them for academies too. Otherwise parents and governors can have no way of gauging whether a centrally selected "chain" academy provider is a suitable match for their school.

The big guns that have been brought in on the new IEB running Downhills will be under tremendous pressure to deliver results. No one would question their credentials – the new IEB members include "superhead" Dame Sylvia Morris, honoured for her work at a primary school in Southwark, Dan Moynihan, the CEO of the Harris Federation, as well as Robin Bosher, its primary director. But they have never been seen at the school before and we can only wonder how much they know about Tottenham, what links they have with the local community and what sort of welcome they expect from parents who have so overwhelmingly backed our campaign against forced academy conversion.

Written by Roger Sahota
First published at The Guardian here

Monday, 19 March 2012

India, Ecology and Capitalism

Great video above of Arundhati Roy speaking about contemporary India, ecology and capitalism. I first visited India in 1990, and returned in 1995. In those five years I noticed a huge change in the country, much more industrialised, much more ‘western’ in their attitude to ecological matters. Seventeen years on, I imagine I would hardly recognise the place as the pace of neoliberal reform has increased exponentially.

India does have a cultural history of being ecologically aware and I remember wondering at the fact that they recycled almost everything, litter bins were complete unnecessary, as well as having the most advanced vegetarian cuisine in the world.

What is particularly interesting to me, is that India is a democracy, so surely there is a place for a Green party of India, with so much tradition to build upon.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Boris Bikes are a Corporate Bonanza

Some love him, others mistrust him but few dispute London mayor Boris Johnson's gift for making his mark. No policy of the celebrity Conservative politician has demonstrated this more conspicuously than the 6,000 bulky, blue, Barclays-sponsored bicycles for hire he has brought to the centre of the capital.

Johnson, himself a highly recognisable cyclist, has made the scheme – Barclays Cycle Hire (BCH) – a flagship policy for what he calls his cycling revolution in the capital, proclaiming it a "glorious new form of public transport".

The bikes and the more than 400 docking stations from which users collect and return them have become familiar sights in central London since their introduction in July 2010. On Thursday the scheme will be extended eastwards to within a 15-minute walk of the Olympic Park, with a further 160 docking stations across the East End hosting a further 2,300 bikes.

Yet as his campaign to retain the mayoralty at the 3 May election intensifies, critics are questioning the success of "Boris Bikes".

Transport for London (TfL), the public body responsible for running the scheme, says 137,000 people have active membership accounts, though these include people who might not have used their membership key to hire a bike for many months.

Numbers of casual users, who hire by swiping a credit card at a docking station terminal point, varied last year between 48,379 in January and 240,000 in July. About 20,000 hires altogether are made each weekday and 13,000-15,000 at weekends.

Johnson's election campaign website boasts of "nearly 10m hires" since launch. However, a customer satisfaction survey conducted for TfL by Ipsos Mori last summer found the scheme's novelty had worn off for many of its members with cyclists becoming "more critical of the BCH offer". There was growing dissatisfaction over bike maintenance and finding docking stations full when attempting to return the cycles.

Early teething problems with the system, run for TfL by Serco, had meant that casual users could not access it until December 2010 and nearly 2,800 people were incorrectly charged during its first five months, though TfL says such problems are now long solved.

The survey also found that more than half of members are men aged 35-54, that only 71% live in London and that nearly half used the bikes for commuting, primarily instead of walking or taking the tube. It also found 93% of all Boris Bikes trips lasted less than half an hour, which is a free period after casuals and members have paid an access fee.

Jenny Jones, the Green party's London mayoral candidate and a regular cyclist, said: "Cycle hire is a brilliant idea but the London scheme has been hijacked by corporate interests."

She also said it was unambitious compared with Paris's much larger VĂ©lib scheme. She cites TfL figures to claim it has generated only 3% of the extra 1m daily cycle trips the mayor is committed to seeing by 2026, compared with 2000.

At the first mayoral election hustings both the Labour candidate Ken Livingstone and Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick attacked the cost of the scheme, which Johnson pledged in his 2008 transport manifesto would be delivered at no cost to the taxpayer through "a deal with a private company."

Yet Barclays' contribution has offset only an undisclosed fraction of TfL's outlay. When the deal was announced in May 2010 it was described by TfL as being worth "up to" £25m over five years with the sum also contributing to the "Barclays cycle superhighways" Johnson has begun introducing on some main commuter routes. The cost of installing the first phase of the scheme was £79.5m. Only £3.4m had been received from Barclays by the end of 2010.

Last July Johnson applauded Barclays' agreeing to "provide another £25m sponsorship," extending its support to 2018 and planned further expansion into west and south London next year.

But in November he said the "anticipated total operational and project cost" over the following five years for the first two phases of the scheme was £140.5m, and that over the life of the contract with Barclays there was "a potential" of £50m in sponsorship.

Johnson added: "The profiling and detail of the payment of the sponsorship is commercially sensitive." A report by the London Assembly transport committee last month criticised the process by which Barclays was selected as a sponsor as "almost totally opaque".

Johnson has enjoyed a close relationship with Barclays throughout his mayoralty, appointing the bank's now global chief executive Bob Diamond the first chair of his charitable Mayor's Fund for London in 2008. Diamond has since stepped down but Barclays Capital is a "strategic partner" of the fund.

BBC London last year reported that he had made "a personal approach" to Barclays chairman Marcus Agius about sponsoring the scheme and that other high street banks were not sounded out.

Three advertising consultants put the publicity value of the deal to Barclays, whose name and Barclays blue corporate colour adorns the bikes and docking points, at £9m-£15m a year. But Johnson and TfL have always insisted the deal is good value for money in tough economic times.

The original colour of the signage and roundels for the scheme was mint green, but was changed to Barclays blue as part of the deal. TfL has always denied that the blue paint used to mark the cycle superhighway lanes was chosen because of its similarity to the Barclays hue, saying it was settled on at least three months before Barclays came on board.

London's boroughs are now being asked to help fund the scheme's growth. Citizen journalists at MayorWatch and the Shepherd's Bush blog have disclosed that Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth and Hammersmith & Fulham are each required to provide £2m.

TfL puts annual operating costs at £15m a year, rising to £20m with phase 2. Johnson wants these to break even by 2015, but TfL is forecasting only £7m income from users by the end of this financial year. Come 3 May Londoners' votes may be swayed by whether they consider Boris Bikes to be the triumph Johnson says they are – or a taxpayer-subsidised advertising vehicle for Barclays and the Tory mayor.

Written by Dave Hill
First published at The Guardian