My report from City Hall No. 64: 20th March to 20th April 2020
Clearly, a lot has changed since my last report which was written just as the coronavirus/covid19 pandemic was starting to affect our lives. Now, it dominates everything. As you would expect, this report is primarily about the virus’ impact, and how it affects much of the GLA family’s work- the health section contains much information- but I have also set out under my usual sections how the virus has impacted those services, too.
The London Assembly has not met since my last report – it was not scheduled to do so anyway, due to the expected purdah period in advance of the now postponed elections, though we are now thinking of how we can set up virtual meetings to ensure that we can scrutinise the GLA and Mayor and hold them to account.
As you will see from this report, working from home I have been able to do quite a bit on the response to the virus and giving out information on the various support schemes:
On 16 April, Camden Council announced a further £3 million support package for its residents. £1.2 million will be used to give residents with no savings or money in their current accounts, a minimum of a 3-month holiday from council tax payments. Another £1.7 million will be disbursed to residents in similar circumstances who are awaiting their first central government benefits payment to pay for groceries or rent.
Somewhat overshadowed by the lockdown was the welcome news that Sir Keir Starmer was elected as Leader of the Labour Party and Angela Rayner deputy leader. As MP for Holborn and St Pancras, Keir is well known to us, and having worked with him I have no doubt that he is the right person for the job. He has made an excellent start, in my view. He has struck the right note about the Government response to the virus and, important for this constituency in particular, has reached out to the Jewish community to rebuild our relationship and to tackle anti-Semitism.
Whilst supporting the Government in its efforts over Covid19, we should bear in mind that not everything has gone well and in due course there will have to be an inquiry into the whole issue, a subject I address in my column in the Ham and High out on 23rd April.
Finally, Assembly membership news. Two of Labour’s Londonwide list members Fiona Twycross and Tom Copley have resigned from the Assembly- Fiona to continue full time as the Deputy Mayor for Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning; and Tom as the newly appointed Deputy Mayor for Housing. Under the rules for list vacancies, the next two candidates on Labour’s list now step up, for the year to the postponed elections. They are Cllr Alison Moore AM, Barnet Councillor and former leader of Barnet Labour Group; and Murad Quereshi AM, formerly an AM and Westminster City Councillor. I look forward to working with them over the next 12 months.
This month’s London quiz:
Q Fenchurch Street, Liverpool Street, Kings Cross: what completes the set?
Contents: (please scroll down to the sections which interest you)
1) Europe, ‘Brexit’ and the economy
2) Transport and HS2
4) Planning, Housing, Regeneration
6) Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning
8) Health (including Covid 19)
9) Mayor’s report
10) Written questions to the Mayor
11) Problem solving and casework
12) Quiz answers
1) Europe, ‘Brexit’ and the Economy
The subject which has dominated the news for the last several years is now taking a back seat to the coverage of Covid 19- hardly a surprising development. However, we should not lose sight of the Government’s intention to stick to the 31st December deadline for ‘deal or no deal’ as to the UK’s future relationship with the EU. With the impact of the virus across the continent, it seems to me the prospects of an agreement by then are pretty slim, so it is not surprising that EU countries have proposed an extension- rejected by this arch Brexiteer Government, especially the under Foreign Secretary Dominic Rabb MP, who also has his hands full deputising for the Prime Minister whilst he recuperates. To my mind this is a reckless position to take and is almost designed to ensure a ‘no deal’ outcome. Our economy is going to be badly damaged enough through the virus, without heaping on the impact of a ‘no deal’ Brexit as well.
The coronavirus has impacted on local post offices in both boroughs. I have written to the post office seeking assurances that these closures are temporary and that in due course they will reopen after the virus has been controlled.
I have also publicised the new Emergency Support Fund help available for struggling local Civil Society groups.
2) Transport and HS2
TfL published a Coronavirus update as to the impact on public transport in March- not a lot has changed.
I am very concerned about the safety of transport staff, especially bus drivers, and I have called for better protection for them, and in particular for the early rollout of the plan to use the middle bus doors only, which has now happened as of Monday 20th April: during the period of these temporary arrangements where passengers enter through the middle-doors, they will not be required to touch in. Passengers should not approach the card reader near the driver’s cab. I also cannot see why the new ‘Routemaster’ buses, introduced at such exorbitant expense by Boris Johnson when he was Mayor, cannot use the rear doors which were previously shut due to fare dodging so that there remain separate entrances and exits on and off the bus.
TfL have now also adopted other measures. These include signage asking passengers not to sit in the seats near the driver’s cab, improvements to the protective screen that shields drivers, and regular announcements to reinforce the need to keep a safe space from others. TfL are also exploring what more can be done to create a completely sealed partition between drivers and passengers which allows for both communication and ventilation.
TfL have also introduced a rigorous cleaning regime to kill the virus across their services using new, anti-viral fluid in stations, depots, bus garages, trains and on buses, including drivers’ cabs.
I was pleased to see that TfL have temporarily extended the N20 Night Bus to Barnet Hospital, to help hospital staff get to and from work.
Disturbing Tube noise remains the perennial issue for many residents. During the virus reduced services, I think speed limits could be employed to combat Tube noise, which I have raised with TfL.
Whist the night tube is suspended, which gives some comfort to residents, TfL are still refusing to adopt other speed restrictions. I am taking this up with the Deputy Mayor for Transport.
There has been a lot of confusion about what the law is, concerning the lockdown and what is permitted, in large part due to the vagueness of much of the advice from Government. I have got the National Police Chief’s Council’s handy chart to explain things as best they can.
See also the latest police update on Coronavirus ( 9th April) from the Met and our BCUs.
The Ministry of Defence military assistance to COVID-19-related efforts as of 16 April, amounts to a total of nearly 3,500 military personnel deployed in support roles
4) Planning, Housing and Regeneration
I am concerned that whilst some major developers have stopped their non essential building works to help reduce the spread of the virus, (including TfL and Crossrail, for example) as requested by the Mayor, others like Redrow and their development near Colindale station have not. I believe that the ‘2 metre’ rule is not being complied with and I have raised this with Barnet Council with a view to bringing in the HSE who are the enforcement body for building site safety.
I also think it is wrong for big planning applications to proceed to consultation during the lockdown, which prevents residents from seeing the usual planning exhibitions. I have asked Barnet Council not to proceed with processing the scheme to build on the North Finchley Homebase site, for example, which the developers are pushing on with.
One interesting by product of the lockdown is the much cleaner air in the capital, due to fewer petrol and diesel vehicles. This may well inform future anti-pollution measures!
6) Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning (FREP) Committee
As Chair of the FREP committee, I have been i regular contact with both Andy Roe, the Fire Commissioner and with Fiona Twycross, Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience as to the impact on the work of the London Fire Brigade.
The LFB, with the support of the FBU, the firefighters’ union, has agreed to release 300 volunteer LFB staff to help the London Ambulance Service in several roles. Tasks firefighters will undertake whilst volunteering include using their blue light driving experience to help drive ambulances alongside paramedics or using their existing first aid skills to help administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and a use a defibrillator when responding to patients in cardiac arrest. While carrying out their LAS work firefighters will wear their LFB workwear and be provided with additional personal protective equipment, including face masks, gloves and eye protection.
This secondment is subject to any recall needed to sustain the emergency cover that the LFB provides. Despite some absences due to the virus, the Brigade is coping well. Non essential tasks have been put on hold (e.g. recruit training); and pre arranged overtime is being used to cover essential absences. Emergency attendance times to incidents have actually improved, due to there being less traffic on the roads for ‘blue light’ fire engines to negotiate. It also seems that the demand for LFB rescue and firefighting services has marginally reduced due to the lockdown, but it is too early to tell if this is a continuing trend. The LFB is of course maintaining its fortnightly inspections of tall buildings with dangerous cladding.
I have also had answers to my March MQT questions on fire brigade related topics:
The Department for Education has announced that A-Level exam results day will remain on August 13th, GCSE results on August 20th.
The Council of British Archaeology has launched a scheme for secondary school students confined to home by the virus, which may be of interest.
8) Health (including Covid 19)
It goes without saying that we must continue to recognise the bravery and unstinting service of NHS doctors, nurses, and support staff, as well as the staff of care homes. They have done incredible work under the most trying of conditions, often with no or inadequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Sadly many have paid for their dedication to their patients with their own lives. They all thoroughly deserve the applause across the nation on Thursday evenings.
I have been putting links on my website to quite a few articles and advice notes about Covid 19, and I will continue to publish updates in this way whilst the pandemic continues. I set out here some of those links for convenience:
Barnet carers centre update: need to identify themselves as carers?
Letter from Public Health England on PPE–
Advice On Pets and Coronavirus
I have also placed links on my website to some of the more interesting press articles analysing the Government’s response, or lack of it. I think it is salutary to note that amongst the major press critics of the Government have been the Mail and Telegraph, normally the biggest cheerleaders for the Conservatives. It is scandalous that the country has been let down through inadequate testing, insufficient PPE for emergency staff, and vague instructions and advice. How is it that South Korea, a country with a population and capital city size very similar to our own has lost only 250 or so of its citizens, whilst keeping their economy going without lockdown; how is it that Germany has done so much better than the UK? I believe that there needs to be a public judicial inquiry after this is all over, so that lessons can be identified and acted upon. Some of the questions to be answered are in these links:
Article from Reuters on the Government’s handling of Covid-19
‘Absolutely Wrong’: How UK’s Coronavirus Test Strategy Unravelled
Covid-19 Testing In The UK: Unpicking The Lockdown– Tony Blair Institute For Global Change
I think it is important that the Government publishes the findings of their 2016 Pandemic exercise
Why is coronavirus killing so many more people in the UK than in Ireland?
Why Ministers are finding it hard to plan for the end of Lockdown
9) Mayor’s report
Each month the Mayor produces a report on his activities: you can access his 40th report here.
Coronavirus Update from the Mayor (31 March)
Mayor’s Update on Covid-19 (8th April 2020)
Coronavirus Update from The Mayor (April 15th)
10) My written questions to the Mayor
11) Problem solving and casework
Arjun Mittra is my City Hall assistant who manages incoming correspondence, casework and my diary: Arjun.Mittra@london.gov.uk
12) Quiz answer
Q: Fenchurch Street, Liverpool Street, Kings Cross,… what completes the set?
A: Marylebone: they are stations on a Monopoly board
Andrew Dismore AM
Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden
Reproduced from an email sent by the Labour Party, promoted by Ammar Naqvi on behalf of Barnet & Camden Labour Parties both at 104 E Barnet Rd, London, Barnet EN4 8RE