Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Linford returns to Ivybridge, residents returning to the driving seat

It's hard to believe that nearly a year has passed since sprint legend Linford Christie last hosted the Street Athletics project on Ivybridge, but he was back today (Monday) and it was great to see a similar turnout to last time from the estate community.

Speaking personally I enjoyed the afternoon, milling around amongst the crowd and meeting some old friends from the United Residents' Association (URA), the Isleworth Somali Association, Residents of Worton Estate (ROWE), Hounslow Homes and from the estate in general. The new Mayor was there in attendance, as was Councillor Sampson (apologies to her colleagues if they were there also, but if they were I missed them).

I hope this event, now in its second year, becomes a permanent fixture. It brings people together from across the estate community in a way that nothing else seems quite able to do. Over the past year or so there has been a real estate identity actively taking shape which completely transcends any cultural differences and I really do hope that this is not jeopardised in any way by the recent changes in political management. More than ever it is vitally important that residents take control and direct events on the estate themselves.

Later in the evening I spent a useful couple of hours at a meeting in Osterley discussing the launch of a new cross-party (and non-party) residents' initiative which I believe will have a seismic impact over the next few years and beyond upon the way the local authority engages with the community it exists to serve. I can't say any more about this particular project until it formally goes "live", as it will over the next few weeks, but it is one that I am excited by because of its almost limitless potential. More on this anon.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Serving our community from "the other side"

One of the plus points of being an ex-councillor is that one is able once again to function as an "ordinary" community activist without placing the groups and organisations with which we associate into a compromising position.

Back in 1998, shortly after I had been elected to the London Borough of Hounslow, the old Three Estates Residents' Association (TERA), of which I had been Secretary, came under an enormous amount of political pressure to relieve me of my office. This pressure, in the tradition of its originators, went on to manifest itself in the form of threats that essential funding would be withdrawn. Whilst this was of course blatant political posturing of the most appalling kind, it did have in its favour a vaguely plausible point, to wit that as an elected councillor I could have been perceived to have had a conflict of interests.

Now that that conflict no longer exists, I and I'm sure many of my colleagues will avail ourselves of the opportunity to become actively involved in the work of our community from the "inside" once again.

Today my wife Caroline, who for those who didn't know was one of the three elected members for Syon ward prior to the recent local elections, took advantage of two separate opportunities to do just that. The first involved a visit to the allotments in Park Road, where she is now a member of the allotment committee. Several ICG members and other well-known members of the wider community hold plots on Park Road, and the site is becoming very well organised. Allotment holders did not receive a very good deal under the last Labour administration, and although things may well be different this time around it is wise to be prepared just in case.

Later in the evening she was an invited guest at a Social to celebrate the launch of a new Rivers and Byways Leaflet held on the Cathja Project barge in Old Isleworth. The outgoing councillors (that's us!) were specifically thanked in an address by a representative on The Isleworth Society (TIS) for all the help and assistance we had given to them and Cathja during our time as members of the local authority.

There is always a huge amount of work to be done outside of the jurisdiction of a councillor, and it is pleasing to be able to get involved with some of that work once again as lay participants rather than from a perceived political perspective.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Defend Council Housing in Hounslow

This report from the House of Commons Council Housing Group, chaired by Austin Mitchell MP, slams "the grim failure of current housing policy reliant on the private market (which) reinforces the case for government to invest in first class council housing"

During the recent local election campaign our Labour opponents quite shamelessly, and shamefully, peddled the deliberate untruth that the Community Group had intentions to privatise the local authority's housing stock, even persuading one malcontent on the Ivybridge estate to circulate a leaflet completely inventing a meeting at which such a plan was alleged to have been discussed.

The facts, of course, are a little different. The "half-way privatisation" in the form of the Arm's Length Management Organisation (ALMO), Hounslow Homes, took place under the previous Labour administration, and when I chaired the Hounslow Homes Management Review in 2006/7 every self-interested tentacle of the local Labour octopus was deployed to resist any attempt by me to take the service back in-house.

Under the coalition administration the first local authority New Build (made possible by a long belated change in legislation) was authorised by the Executive at my behest in my capacity as Lead Member for Housing.

It will be interesting to see just how enthusiastically the new administration resists the trend towards selling off local authority housing stock.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Another armchair expert?

I've been following the World Cup over the past few days, largely from the comfort of a local social club at which I am a member.

Like many I like to pitch my wits against the "experts", and sometimes the bookies. I find myself in general agreement with the informed wisdom that Spain and Brazil are the teams to beat. I was at our timeshare in Portugal (note to Steve C. for future reference - not a holiday home!) when Spain defeated England in a friendly last year and watched it on the big screen in the bar. Whilst we played quite well, Spain were a class apart.

Before Germany's emphatic 4-0 defeat of Australia last night most participants had made a cautious start to their respective World Cup campaigns. Nine goals from seven games left me wishing I'd invested heavily in the "Under 2.5 Goals" market at the start of each match, where odds of just below Evens are usually available.

Of the team performances so far, only Germany and South Korea have truly impressed. France were lacklustre and unimaginative against Uruguay, Argentina seemed to settle for a one goal lead against Nigeria after a blistering first five minutes, Greece were dire and Serbia - who I'd thought may be a potential dark horse - were not much better. Australia were a day late in almost every tackle and England, it seems, were determined to maintain the proud national tradition of unspeakable goalkeeping howlers during strategically important matches.

In the opening fixture Mexico were interesting and industrious without being spectacular, but I feel the already entertaining South African side will improve further as their campaign progresses.

I still think England will qualify for the next stage. Nothing I saw from either Slovenia or Algeria suggests that we or the USA have anything to fear from them. The big difficulty we may have created for ourselves by conceding two points against the Americans is that we now have to outscore them against the two other teams in the group if we are to avoid Germany in the next round.

We've still, of course, to see what some other teams have to offer. Brazil, Spain, Italy, Holland and Portugal have yet to kick a ball. Of these I fear the Portuguese may struggle in the absurdly nicknamed "Group of Death", which includes both the Brazilians and the Ivory Coast.

Meanwhile those who prefer to keep faith with England may be interested to know that the odds of us winning the tournament have now pushed out as far as 17/2 with certain bookies. Bearing in mind there is no good reason why last night's disappointment should render us any less likely to qualify for the knockout stages, the patriotic punter might consider it worth a dabble.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Moving forward with confidence and optimism

THE first Committee meeting of the Independent Community Group (ICG) after the recent local elections was held last night at a private venue in Twickenham (we just fancied a change of scenery) and I have to say I was thoroughly heartened by the positivity and enthusiasm that was demonstrated by all those who were present.

It would have been easy to have been down following our electoral reverse in all six of the seats that we held in Isleworth and Syon wards, but instead there was a recognition that the result had been entirely outside of our control, along with an acceptance that notwithstanding this fact there were aspects of our campaign that could have been improved upon and a determination, without any blame or finger-pointing whatsoever, that in the event of the ICG participating in any future elections we can and will be more professional and more sophisticated in the way in which we do things.

A lot of thought and deliberation was given to the question of the coalition of which we had been a part between 2006 and 2010 and the wisdom of our participation in it. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Most if not all shared my view that our involvement in the coalition had not adversely affected us in voting terms, other than for the fact that our erstwhile partners had quite ruthlessly, and in my view dispicably, tried to squeeze us at the election and to create a political environment in which the Labour/Conservative hegemony was restored and in which there was no place for a community alternative. It was an astounding but nonetheless quite self-evident fact that our partners had been calculatedly willing to risk a return to a Labour administration - which, of course, is what happened - in preference to permitting the return of community candidates. I was quite surprised to discover that amongst those present my own regret at our not having been tougher and a tad less trusting in our dealings, especially over the last year or so of the coalition, was not only shared but surpassed by most if not all of my colleagues.

An internal reshuffle saw Ian Speed (above left) being promoted to Chair and Andy Sibley
(right), having been formally co-opted to the Committee, taking over the role of Vice Chair. The meeting expressed its gratitude to Jon Hardy for his leadership as the outgoing Chair.

The social event held at the same venue after the Committee meeting was pleasingly well attended, and reports were received from the first meeting of the new Isleworth & Brentford Area Committee (IBAC), which is now being chaired by Councillor Matt Harmer. It is no secret that we had feared the role of the public, which in our view remains inadequate even after four years of coalition administration, would be further diminshed under Labour "control", but thus far the signals would appear to be mixed.

As I expected we have ruled nothing in or out with regard to our future strategy, and in particular in respect to whether or not we contest elections. But we will ensure that our electoral machine is polished and ready, maybe involving ourselves in by-elections as a means of keeping ourselves fresh, a bit like an air force that is perpetually on red alert but hopes it will never be used in anger. It was understood that our very presence as an organised body might have the effect of altering the attitudes of others towards the
community in a positive way.

We expect one or two people to fall by the wayside, having been accustomed to us playing a certain role and now seeing us in a different and to them unfamiliar position. Those who walk away with honour and in a dignified manner will not be thought the worse of. But the emphasis over the coming years will be to consolidate, to build, and to become better organised and more efficient still. We will look to extend our operation into areas previously unconsidered, and to take a more holistic and borough-wide view of all that we do.

All in all quite a constructive night out, and a very big thank you to everyone whose contribution enables us to look forward with optimism and confidence.