My report from City Hall No. 65: 21st April to 5th June 2020
Inevitably, this report is dominated by the consequences of the Covid19 virus and the lockdown.
City Hall and the London Assembly have now started to meet virtually through various video systems, though questioning the Mayor and attending committee meetings does feel strange doing things this way. At the Assembly AGM, I was again appointed to the Police and Crime Committee and Chair of the Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee.
First and foremost though, we should continue to acknowledge the contribution of the front line key workers, who have kept the city going, often at serious risk to themselves.
Although we should support the government when it gets things right in dealing with the virus, I believe there have been serious errors and shortcomings– not least failing to act on the findings of the major pandemic exercise Operation Cygnus in October 2016.
Looking ahead, it is vital that as lockdown is eased, it does not create the opportunity for further outbreaks. The Society Of Labour Lawyers, of which I am a member, has published a report on ending the lockdown.
The Tony Blair Institute has also produced a sustainable exit strategy from the lockdown.
To complete this introduction, I found this long article very interesting, if you would like to know about the history of government In London.
This month’s London quiz:
Q The Cenotaph war memorial on Whitehall; can you name both the architect and the stone it is built from?
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
A key concern has to be the continuing impact on the economy, both locally and nationally. GLA Economics has published a report on London’s economy.
Culture is such an important part of the Camden economy and cultural venues need more support to stay afloat. We have seen quite a few post offices closures temporarily: 4 more Camden Post Offices close due to coronavirus.
I have also backed the Mayor’s call for residents to ‘Pay It Forward’ to help struggling local businesses.
2) Transport and HS2
TfL and TfL staff have been very much in the front line of the virus, with so many catching the virus and indeed tragically losing their lives.
Transport for London published advice for businesses on how to keep staff safe as they return to work.
A monumental challenge over this period is the dire financial position of TfL, due to the virus and the loss of 90% of fare income as a result. Without Government financial support, TfL was in danger of running out of cash and coming to a halt. For details on the background to TfL’s finances, please see this article.
The Government demands as the price of finance to support TfL in light of the current coronavirus crisis are emergency measures, which had to be taken with very little notice: if you wish to see them, their demands are set out here.
Commentators have reported that the bailout shows we are ‘not all in this together’. These issues are the responsibility of the Government. Sadiq did not want to impose them. but they are the price of Government finance.
The congestion charge increase to £15 a day is designed to help offset the catastrophic collapse in public transport fare income, an approximate loss of 90%. It will be the first rise in six years, and is one of the demands of the Conservative Government before providing TfL with a £1.6bn bailout , in large part a £505 million repayable loan. Without this, the transport system would have come to a halt within hours as insolvent.
Other conditions include above inflation fare rises, removal of children’s free travel, so punishing young Londoners ,and removal of the freedom pass and over 60s oyster concessions outside off peak times, see temporary suspension of free travel for older person’s freedom pass and 60+ passengers during morning peak hours, to be introduced on Monday 15th June.
As the public transport network cannot cope with both social distancing and return to pre virus usage, the risk is that more people will use cars so that also is part of the justification, to deter car use. There are contradictions in these plans, but they are imposed by the Government to control TfL finances, which have fallen off a cliff due to fare income drying up since the lockdown. The Mayor had no choice but to accept these conditions, failing which public transport would have stopped as TfL was going to run out of cash. The Government have also insisted on representation on TfL’s board.
The Government have been trying to pass the blame to the Mayor, very unfairly. I challenged the Minister for London on this.
Still, we have to make the best of it and look to a very different future for public transport: see Deputy Mayor Heidi Alexander’s article: Given the right support we can re-fashion London’s transport systems, post-lockdown and Sadiq Khan’s article : there will be no swift return to normality for TfL.
One important development is the introduction of wider pavements and more cycle lanes, for example Camden High Street pavement widening. Camden has also been awarded over £700,000 for walking and cycling upgrades.
The issue of tube noise is still a running sore: The planned closure of the Victoria Line from 23rd To 25th May was intended to accommodate rail grinding, but it didn’t quite work out that way, so I issued a Tube Noise update in April 2020 and published a letter from Heidi Alexander on tube noise.
Bus services have also been problematical:
Finally, you might be interested in this history of the Northern Line, if it is a tube line you use.
The Police and Crime Committee (PCC) has now held its first meeting since the Assembly AGM, though we have also held informal briefings before and since that.
During this period, we saw the appalling police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, leading to protests worldwide, including in London. The campaign ‘Black Lives Matter’ could not be more relevant. The risk, though, is that the huge protests could result in further spread of the virus; and whilst practically everyone protesting has been doing so peacefully, a tiny minority have engaged in violence, which cannot be acceptable, resulting in serious injuries to some police officers.
At the PCC meeting last week, I raised the problems of enforcement of the lockdown, insufficiently clear Government guidance, especially in light of the ‘Cummings’ affair; and also the use of S60 stop and search powers. I have been concerned at the apparent increase in the use of these powers especially in Camden, and I am waiting for more details from the Commissioner.
At informal briefings, I have also raised enforcement issues, the relationship of borough Safer Neighbourhood Boards with MOPAC; and the Met’s programme to replace their anti riot vehicles– I am also waiting for more details on this.
On the policing role, please see this speech from the Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Martin Hewitt.
On the positive side, the lockdown has led to a significant reduction in levels of crime; has also enabled the Met to track down ‘wanted’ offenders; and make good progress against violent crime and drug dealing.
There has also been an increase in on line fraud linked to the virus: see this new service to report suspicious emails.
4) Planning, Housing and Regeneration
I am concerned that developers are taking advantage of the lockdown to promote schemes that are not acceptable, when proper consultation cannot take place. See this letter to editors with Cllr Anne Clarke on controversial planning applications in Barnet.
I have submitted objections to Barnet over the NIMR site’s latest application to increase density.
I have been raising with the Mayor the TfL proposed developments In North Finchley and High Barnet.
Other news is that the very controversial housing development on the Pentavia site is not going ahead, as Amazon have bought the site for a new warehouse distribution centre: we will have to scrutinise their detailed plans when they come forward.
Housing costs have been problematical for many, especially private renters and landlords. Camden Council have published information and support for tenants and landlords.
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! See also the transport section above.
6) Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning (FREP) Committee
As Chair of the FREP committee, I have been in 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. (LFB).
The LFB transformation plan post Grenfell has been somewhat disrupted by the virus, and we are waiting for the revised timetable for its implementation.
In the meantime, firefighters are taking on other responsibilities, helping out by driving ambulances for the London Ambulance Service; and now also training care home staff in the use of PPE. See also my letter In the Evening Standard.
The issues over the removal of dangerous cladding remains a key issue I have been following up: there are still too many unremediated blocks. I have been raising this with the Minister.
There has been a serious fire risk issue In Burnt Oak.
Finally, MQT Fire Answers May 2020.
I was pleased to see that Camden Youth Services have been rated Outstanding.
A new learning platform will help young Londoners to explore their heritage.
And Imperial College has published new science activities to do at home and free tech support during lockdown.
8) Health (including Covid 19)
In this section of my report, I give links to a number of sources that question the Government’s response. First though, Public Health England’s report on coronavirus health inequalities, released last week, after the Government bowed to pressure and published it. The report confirmed Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are more likely to contract and die from Covid-19.
Royal College Of Nursing’s briefing on Covid-19 and London.
Ministers were warned two years ago of care homes’ exposure to pandemics.
Privatised and unprepared – the NHS supply chain:
The UK finds itself almost alone with the centralized virus contact.
Imperial College’s Neil Ferguson defends lockdown.
I was also very concerned to see that the coroner, Mary Hassell has again started to make things difficult for Jewish and Muslim bereaved, despite her previous defeat in the courts. I have made an official complaint.
9) Mayor’s report
Each month the Mayor produces a report on his activities:
Mayor’s 41st Report.
Mayor’s 42nd Report.
Mayor’s updates on coronavirus:
10) My written questions to the Mayor
MQT Answers Late April 2020.
MQT Answers May 20.
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: The Cenotaph war memorial on Whitehall; can you name both the architect and the stone it is built from?
A: Edwin Lutyens and Portland stone
Andrew Dismore AM
Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden