Ham&High letters: Elections, police cuts, antisemitism and housing repairs

Vote to get council back under control of residents. Picture: RUI VIERA/PA

Vote to get council back under control of residents. Picture: RUI VIERA/PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Letters, contributions and comments sent in from Ham&High readers this week.

Remember Capita at Barnet’s ballot box

Gerard Sagar, Park Hall Road writes:

Everyone who can vote in the Barnet elections should take this opportunity to get the council back under the control of the residents and out of the clutches of Capita/Conservative councillors in Barnet. They have abdicated their responsibility to represent the public and are happy to sit back and let Capita run the town hall. That isn’t how public services should be run, and it is failing.

Before Capita’s share price collapsed in February, Labour councillors had the foresight to demand contingency plans to protect council services from the risk of Capita falling apart.

This week, Capita has announced losses of more than half a billion pounds and a major restructuring to save the company.

Surely the Conservatives must be asking Capita how this will affect Barnet, and they should then tell the public? It is worrying that if a new contingency plan is drawn up it is likely to be Capita themselves who write it.

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So much goes wrong in Barnet and it’s often because the councillors leave the running of the council to various private contractors and consultants. The Barnet Conservatives have forgotten how to take decisions and they certainly don’t take responsibility.

At the last elections the council even took away the democratic right to vote for hundreds of residents with mistakes in electoral registers.

People were turned away from polling stations even though they had voting cards.

At these council elections, there is a chance to stop the rot at Barnet Council. People should take it.

Library needs political support for work

Kathryn Dean, secretary to the Friends of Muswell Hill Library committee, writes:

An open letter to Haringey council election candidates:

I am writing to you on behalf of the Friends of Muswell Hill Library to ask you to support measures to improve this important and very popular public service at the heart of Muswell Hill. You may know that, until recently, the future location of the library was in question.

Now that the matter has been resolved in favour of remaining on the present site, it is necessary to consider how measures to bring the library into the 21st century might be implemented. These measures relate to the need for disabled access, library users’ toilets and a public room for meetings, events and exhibitions. At present there are two main obstacles to the implementation of these measures: spatial and financial. With good will and imaginative thinking, we believe that these obstacles could be overcome.

• Spatial: there is space available on council land which adjoins the library on Avenue Mews. This land is in poor condition and is used as an unplanned car parking space. Over the years, various schemes have been proposed for the better use of this space. Friends of Muswell Hill Library (FoMHL) are now asking that the council allocate part of this land for the building of an extension to the library when finance is available.

• Finance: the council itself could investigate innovative ways of funding the project. Or, on the assumption that local authority spending will be seriously constrained for some time to come, it could consider that finance might be secured through a variety of means such as co-operatives or community trusts.

The result of the public consultation on the library’s location showed how much the present building is loved by the Muswell Hill community. As an important public good, the library and its building need to be handed on to future generations in good working condition. We believe that the proposed modest extension is a necessary part of ensuring that this happens.

Remainers will be heard on May 3

Sarah O’Keefe, Agincourt Road, Open Britain, Hampstead, writes:

Whatever your view on local politics, if you consider Brexit to be a disaster for Britain, you can send a message to the government and make your voice heard on May 3.

Around 75 per cent of Camden voters opted to remain inside the European Union in June 2016. During our street campaigns, we are hearing about the anxieties of Camden residents. 15pc of staff at the Royal Free Hospital are EU nationals, many of whom are worrying about their future here in the UK. Similarly 15pc of social care staff are also from Europe - the people who care for our elderly family members. If their jobs are threatened by Brexit, ultimately it is the voters who will lose these valuable services if a hard Brexit goes ahead.

At a national level, the Labour Party on the whole does not support The People’s Vote (a ‘say’ in the final deal, including the option to remain in the EU). The Tory government is pressing ahead with a hard Brexit. There are, however, some clear pro-Europe parties, including The Movement, the Lib Dems and The Green Party. Open Britain is a cross-party group with members from all political parties. It’s really important that people read candidates’ manifestos carefully before casting their vote. In this election we want the government to hear the message: local people are not happy about Brexit.

Mayor is not to blame for cuts

Andrew Dismore, London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden, writes:

Jessica Learmond-Criqui’s wild allegations against the mayor cannot go unanswered and it is time she got her facts right.

She accuses the mayor of issuing a ‘diktat’ to take officers away from Hampstead. Arrant nonsense.

Decisions re the deployment of officers are operational matters for the metropolitan police chain of command to decide, and it is blindingly obvious that the mayor could not, even if he wanted to, micromanage the postings of individual officers in each of the hundreds of wards that make up London.

She also overlooks the fact that the mayor has increased his share of the council tax by 4.99 per cent as part of his £110 million additional funding for the Met this year – the biggest ever additional contribution from City Hall towards the Met’s budget. This will deliver 1,000 more officers for the Met than would otherwise be possible. All that tax increase is going either to the Met or the London Fire Brigade, post Grenfell.

The problem remains that we now have about 30,000 officers across the Met, compared to the 36,000 when we had a Labour government, never mind the loss of police staff and PCSOs. This cut is due to the decisions of the Conservative government to cut £600m so far, with a further £400m cuts to come over the next three years, combined with their failure to underfund the Met. The same applies for their refusal even to countenance the costs of policing football being met by the football clubs (another £10 million across London ) and the decisions of the previous Conservative mayor to freeze and then cut the council tax, meaning that cumulatively there is now far less for the police. That scale of loss cannot now be made up by the mayor’s precept.

Why does Ms Learmond-Criqui completely fail to acknowledge where the real problem lies - With the Conservative government that has cut the Met’s funding by 40pc?

Instead she demands the mayor holds a referendum to increase the council tax by even more than the 4.99pc he decided upon and which was endorsed by the London Assembly. She overlooks the fact that the reason officer numbers are under strain is due to the Conservative government’s chronic underfunding of the Met. She overlooks the inconvenient small print detail that the gearing of the funding split between central government and the mayor’s police precept is such that any additional increase would have to be well into double figures to make any significant difference – and this at a time when most Londoners are feeling the pinch of austerity and high housing costs. She overlooks the fact that a referendum would cost millions better spent on police officers; and she overlooks the fact that whenever such referendums have been held elsewhere, unsurprisingly they have always failed.

Critics of Israeli government deny its right to exist

David Rose, full address supplied, writes:

The Barnet Labour Party members claim that they are “seriously worried about the current climate in the Labour Party where criticism of the actions of the state of Israel is too often conflated with antisemitism.”

However, their letter fails to recognise that many in the Labour Party do not distinguish between being critical of the actions of the current government of Israel and the very existence of the State of Israel. Israel, unlike any other country in the Middle East, is a very vibrant democracy with a fiercely independent judiciary and a robust media (much to the discomfort of its prime minister). To conflate criticism of the current government of Israel with criticism of the state of Israel is precisely to undermine Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

Unlike, the Barnet Labour Party members, I see no contradiction between being a Zionist and being a critic of the current government of Israel. However, the denial uniquely of Israel’s right to self-determination while supporting it for other peoples and countries is antisemitism. This feeling is compounded when the current Leader of the Labour Party sees nothing wrong in offering support to groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah which seek tto destroy the State of Israel and its people and is even disowned by Israel’s own Labor Party (a long term ally of the UK Labour Party).

So if people in the Labour Party want to claim that they “they are firm opponents of all forms of racism”, it is time they realised that it is its current Leader and his apologists who are the cause of the problem and so the proponents of racism and intolerance and not the State of Israel.

Police cuts part of austerity agenda

Jim Roland, Golders Gardens, Golders Green, writes:

It does seem inappropriate for Jessica Learmond-Criqui to blame local police cuts so one-sidedly on Mayor Sadiq Khan, especially so close to local elections. She writes accredited as chairman of Frognal and Fitzjohns SNT panel. Aren’t these panels meant to be non-party political?

We know that police cuts are ultimately part of central government’s austerity drive. However Sadiq Khan recently made the maximum increase allowed to his share of council tax, devoting this gain to police and fire brigade funds.

Furthermore, central government is still saving billions for controversial vanity projects like HS2 and the Stonehenge Tunnel. This in contrast to Sadiq Khan, who prudently scrapped the Garden Bridge.

Ms Learmond-Criqui’s demand for a referendum on police cuts should be directed not so much at Sadiq Khan, and more to the prime minister.

Horrifying attack in Gladstone Park

Katharine Bligh, name and address supplied, writes:

Much has been written lately in both the national and local press and social media about unspecified, and therefore probably false, allegations of antisemitism within the Labour Party.

This distracts from and obscures the very real and horrifying act of antisemitism last Sunday week when swastikas were daubed all over a bus shelter by Gladstone Park in neighbouring Brent.

Local residents were very quick to erase them and held an impromptu vigil of protest.

Note that a Labour councillor and local Labour Party members were there too (where were the Conservatives?)

They are now trying to discover the perpetrators of this foul act which bears the hallmark of some extreme right wing group.

This is a hate crime and should be treated as such. Sadly it will not be the last as we see right wing groups and governments on the rise across Europe and the UK.

Faced with such a threat it is surely absolutely vital that all false allegations of antisemitism should be withdrawn and no more similar accusations should be made by unidentified accusers and without concrete evidence.

Moreover, anyone so accused MUST be considered innocent unless or until it is proved otherwise according to the rules of natural justice.

Despair over housing disrepair

Stephen Stark, Conservative candidate, Hampstead Town ward, writes:

Following the tragic fire at Daleham Gardens where one person lost their life and survivors have been rendered homeless, I asked Camden Council for a list of all the residential properties which they own in Hampstead Town ward, details of the fire protection measures, details of when the properties were last checked and any works which were recommended.

Unfortunately this information was not available and at time of writing it has not been provided to me although I have been promised the same in the next few days. Surely something as important as this should be readily available and set out with dates of inspections and works carried out or recommended.

I met with a Camden Council tenant living in a one bedroom flat in a Camden Council owned property. She is a single mother with two children. The flat and building are in a poor condition. She explained that Camden Council had neglected the building and her flat for years and there were concerns about failures of safety and fire risks. I raised this with Camden Council Housing whose officer carried out an inspection of the property and flat. It proved to be the the case that corrective works were immediately required such was the seriousness of the situation.

Why does it take me to instigate this and how many other properties are in a similar state of disrepair? The question needs to be whether Labour controlled Camden Council are slum landlords if they are not maintaining their properties and cannot readily account for their properties and their maintenance and fire protection measures.