Ham&High letters: Smoking near Royal Free, Capita, funding police pay rises, cycle hoops, 100 Avenue Road and supporting asylum seekers

The Royal Free Hospital. Picture: KEN MEARS

The Royal Free Hospital. Picture: KEN MEARS - Credit: Archant

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

End smoking near hospital

Linda Grove, Belsize Park, full address supplied, writes:

This is our neighbourhood and these are our streets.

Our children walk by the Royal Free Hospital (RFH) to school every day .

Do we want them to grow up healthy and not acquire the habit of smoking?

Then, if the answer is: “No, we don’t want our children to suffer lung debilitating cancer,” write to the chief executive of the RFH and tell them to enforce “No Smoking” everywhere on their site or by the hospital entrances on Pond Street.

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How they enforce that is up to them, but enough is enough. It’s time for action without delay. The areas by the main entrance and on the gardens on Pond Street are full on cigarette butts which need the RFH team to clear up daily so as to set an example to all who litter.

In fact, it’s all our duty to not pass by when people are puffing away next to signs that say “No Smoking”. We may find it hard to say it the first time but as long as we are polite it will be easier next time. It’s the law: “No Smoking” in public places.

The RFH Trust has a duty of care to the public, not only to patients who enters its doors, but also towards the general public who gather outside its doors by taking control those who smoke on their land.

Inside this great hospital they are treating and dealing with the grief caused by cancer so I urge them to remove all traces of smoking by giving tough love in whatever way necessary.

Why should we, the non-smokers, have our lives affected by those who want to kill themselves?

There are no excuses for no action from the management.

Residents fill coffers of Capita while services suffer with no scrutiny

Tirza Waisel, Finchley, Barnet Alliance for Public Services, #KickOutCapita campaign, full address supplied, writes:

What’s caused this shambles in relation to the story “Barnet audit chief: I wish we had looked closer into Trishul Shah fraud orders” (Ham&High) is a series of bad decisions by the Conservative councillors, followed by an attempt to save money in order to sustain the high payments to Capita.

We already paid them more than £352million.

In short: we, residents, pay Capita’s profit with the poor services we get.

Some other latest outrages include a council’s internal audit report, concealed from the public since last May, admitting the use of agency staff without due process for booking and approving payments and without DBS checks. This means some vulnerable Barnet residents are put at risk by the very council that owes them a duty of care.

Barnet social services face a cut of £800,000, including 40 empty social workers’ posts which have been frozen.

Cllr Richard Cornelius will probably defend his position of uncompromising outsourcing ideology by bragging that he got “£4.12m payment from Capita” (source: urgency committee report published November 22, 2018) to compensate us for the failing service delivery, including the defunct IT system for adult social care (MOSAIC) and also the “delays in delivering housing on council land”.

Or that the Gainshare – a method by which we paid Capita a percentage of the savings they delivered, in which the Barnet blogger Mr Reasonable found numerous miscalculations to our disadvantage – will stop.

He will not tell you that this £4m we’ll get back, plus the £2m they claim Capita saved the council, are no match to the £30m that Capita had promised to save.

This is not a victory but a capitulation of the council at a time when Capita is on its knees with shares prices falling through the floor.

This is the time to end the contracts and bring all the outsourced services back in-house under the councillors’ accountability and our democratic control.

Now is the time to make a stand. Please sign our petition you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/kick-out-capita-from-barnet-council-now

Information must not be hidden

Janet Leifer, Barnet resident and member of Barnet Alliance Public Services, full address supplied, writes:

Capita continues to deliver services for Barnet Council, but given Capita’s poor record in delivering services including financial control, how does Barnet Council monitor what Capita is doing?

At Barnet Council’s audit committee meeting the chief executive officer reported “a number of weaknesses being addressed, including strengthening financial controls and providing greater clarity around roles, responsibilities and accountability between commissioning and delivery functions”. Does this mean that council officers and Capita are not sure who is accountable and responsible for ensuring services are delivered properly?

Members of the audit committee were told of new processes that were being introduced to ensure that Capita, Barnet Council and the external auditors talked to each other about controls. Had they not been doing this in the past?

Members of the committee were given copies of a report of the external auditor (Grant Thornton) in which two of the appendices had been redacted for reasons of commercial and personal confidentiality. They were told by the chairman that it was against the law to reveal the redacted information to councillors. It was only after great persistence on the part of the majority of the committee members and a resolution passed by them that the chief executive officer conceded that they could see the full report.

How can councillors perform their duties properly if information is withheld from them?

Who is running Barnet Council?

Barbara Jacobson, Barnet, full address supplied, writes:

Your report on the meeting of Barnet Council’s audit committee (“Barnet audit chief: I wish we had looked closer…”) reveals not only poor job performance but also worryingly undemocratic practices.

It was not clear at that meeting on whose authority pages of the report into the recent fraud were redacted, but it is officers who prepare the papers for committee meetings. Does any officer, even the CEO, have the authority to redact information from papers members have the responsibility to scrutinise? The CEO has also signalled that on December 11 he will not be presenting the policy and resources committee with the three full business cases on the options for maintaining, altering or removing Capita’s control that the members voted for in July.

By whose authority does any employee ignore or override a decision by the elected members? Mr Hooten refused to answer that question. Will councillors unite across party lines on December 11, as they did on November 22, to insist that their decision be respected, or will the Tory majority continue to let the tail wag the dog?

Police pay rises must be funded

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

There is further impact on the Met’s budget because of the government’s unfunded extra demands due to police pay rises and changes to pensions.

This was announced as part of the chancellor’s October budget but there was no actual increase in police funding.

As a result of Conservative government policy so far, the Metropolitan Police have been forced to make cuts of £720m over recent years with a further £325m of cuts required by 2021.

In the last financial year, the police officers’ well deserved pay rise cost £28.1m. This equates to the cost of approximately 468 officers. This financial year, the cost to the Met of the police officers’ pay increase was £28.8m. This equates to approximately the cost of 480 officers.

The Home Office has now informed the police that they expect their pension rule changes to result in increased employer contributions, which the Met has estimated will amount to a further £43million unfunded cost in 2019-20, then £108m in 2020-21 and the years which follow. On top of this there are likely to be further costs associated with an increase in contributions to police staff’s pensions too. These costs are less clear at this stage, but the Met’s current estimate is around £9m in 2019-20, then £22m in 2020-21 and beyond.

Altogether, this approximately equates to the cost of over 850 officers in 2019/20 and over 2,150 officers from 2020/21 onwards.

It can therefore be seen that in the forthcoming police settlement for next year, the government must recognise that extra funding is needed if we are to avoid yet more massive cuts in London’s police service and even fewer officers to protect London and Londoners.

Cycle hoops were a waste of money

Bryan Diamond, Fitzjohn’s Avenue, Hampstead, writes:

A dozen cycle hoops were installed in Fitzjohn’s Avenue in August 2018 on a strip of tarmac that was laid in place of the grass verge.

It was positioned on the corner with Netherhall Gardens, without any notification to nearby residents such as myself.

It seemed to be an unlikely place, remote from shops. I wondered who was expected to use them? I have seen only one bike attached there so far.

Cllr Stephen Stark of the Hampstead Town ward (across the road from the hoops (which are in the Frognal & Fitzjohns ward) eventually obtained for me this explanation from the Camden highways manager. It read that “cycle hoops were introduced to both aid cycle parking along with eradicating the coach overriding of the verge that was taking place at this area”.

But if cycle parking for schools was expected to be encouraged, surely the schools will have their own. The Finchley coaches did park about once a month for school outings with nearside wheels off the carriageway to reduce obstruction to traffic, but the hoops did not stop this action so, in September, two conical iron bollards were installed on the edge of the pavment and the number of hoops slightly reduced.

At the end of September I obtained (again courtesy of Cllr Stark) from the highways manager information stating: “These works were undertaken by the engineering service... following... a complaint from a resident regarding the continual override of coaches and other vehicles at this location. Rather than the deterrent of a row of bollards, cycle hoops were considered a better alternative as being in the very near vicinity of schools they may realise the greater use of cycles. I can confirm that they are at present being randomly used although we are hopeful that use will increase over time.”

Despite the hope, I have not seen the hoops being used, indeed few cyclists use the steep Avenue. I think that the hoops are not in keeping with the conservation area guidelines for street furniture, and that just a couple of bollards could have been installed from the beginning, preferably of the slim type as at the Swiss Cottage Library, and without loss of grass. I wonder how much this exercise cost in total?

Residents have been betrayed

David Reed, Save Swiss Cottage Action Group, full address supplied, writes:

The anger of those of us fighting the over-development at Swiss Cottage has focused on the developer, Essential Living (Swiss Cottage) Ltd, which has made not a single concession to the local community in the five years of this battle.

And the fact that it is five years, and counting, confirms how stupid it has been. If it had come back with a more modest proposal at the start – one respecting the site and the needs and feelings of local groups – by now it could have had a building in operation and earning money, which I believe is all it cares about. Instead it faces more months of opposition and mounting costs.

But the reality is that we have been betrayed by every public body supposed to protect us from such developers, from the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, via the planning inspectorate, and down to the lowliest planning officer in Camden, and they don’t get much lower than that!

Between this motley crew, we have ended up with an appalling over-development incapable of being built except by imposing intolerable burdens on all local residents and the visitors to the leisure facilities.

The plan approved by Camden on November 15 will see hundreds of trucks a week passing through the area up and down Winchester Road, in and out of the Market Square and even around key parts of the Swiss Cottage Park, bringing noise and pollution right to the heart of the community.

Which brings us to the final public body’s stupidity. Transport for London (TfL) refused to even discuss a safer alternative, doing all the trucking access from the A41 where they inevitably arrive and leave.

TfL is still posed to convert this whole section of road to a bus-and-bike lane, yet refuses to allow the use of one lane for the trucking traffic. How stupid can you get?

Can no one help in such an awful situation?

Is Sadiq Khan, the mayor, happy to allow a local community to be bulldozed out of the way when a safer alternative is available?

I have asked, but had no reply to date, so it is back to the community to act in our own defence.

Supporting rights of asylum seekers

Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, writes:

This week I launched a new bill asking the government to end the indefinite detention of migrants and asylum seekers in the UK.

In my speech to the Commons, I argued the law needed urgent reform and proposed a 28 day maximum time-limit on detention for immigration purposes.

My bill was co-sponsored by Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative MPs and gained support from all corners of the commons. It echoed calls for a time-limit from two parliamentary inquiries, the United Nations, the Prisons Inspectorate, human rights campaigners and others.

Hampstead and Kilburn has a phenomenal record for welcoming migrants and refugees, across successive generations.

This week, I have been proud to stand in parliament to demand

that their human rights are respected.