Ham&High letters: Clean vehicles, council cuts, theatre name, police funding, NHS, Jeremy Corbyn, massacre of Palestinians and Town Hall design

Schoolchildren in Hampstead wear face masks to protest against pollution. Picture: JESSICA LEARMOND-

Schoolchildren in Hampstead wear face masks to protest against pollution. Picture: JESSICA LEARMOND-CRIQUI - Credit: Archant

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

Forget CS11 and invest in clean vehicles

Clara Weiss, full address supplied, writes:

Are Sadiq Khan, Adam Harrison and co really convinced that turning London into a cycle superhighway will reduce pollution when it’s a simple fact that the problem is only displaced into side streets and increased due to slow moving traffic? Or is this part of the sinister plan to socially cleanse London?

Enforcing emission free zones will only favour the rich who can afford electric cars. It will be the less rich, the poorer elderly, disabled and school children who will be forced to walk or cycle - or use the rapidly dwindling and much too expensive public transport service. The C11 and 268 bus service have already been cut by a third, conveniently accommodating the predicted increased traffic resulting from the imminent CS11 road block.

It’s all very well suggesting mothers cycle their teeny tots to school in side cars - on freezing winter days? Are drones to be used for domestic and commercial deliveries? Small businesses will fold.

Do the mayor and his cohorts cycle to work? Does Theresa May catch a tube to Westminster?

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Instead of committing a further £150M to more cycle superhighways, and spending a ludicrous £90 billion on HS2, why not instead use those funds to massively subsidise public transport and electrification of ALL vehicles? This would certainly go along way to achieving the desired result.

Army of volunteers can help council overturn damaging austerity cuts

Keith Martin, Barnet Alliance for Public Services, Friern Park, North Finchley, writes:

Richard Cornelius, leader of Barnet Council, is to be congratulated on his honesty in recognising the severity of the financial crisis facing the council.

Belated honesty but welcome nonetheless. He acknowledges at last that the gamble of 10-year contracts with Capita was a costly and foolish mistake, and has convened a special meeting on July 19 of the Policy and Resources committee to decide on courses of action to begin to restore the broken financial situation.

Among the options before the committee is ending the contracts entirely. Clearly this is the preferred option.

One of the most welcome results of this change of heart is that Barnet Council can now comply with its statutory duty under the 1964 Museums and Libraries Act, to provide a comprehensive and efficient public library service. It used to do just this, but in recent years has dismantled a once admired service, which has been replaced at great expense by a shadow of its former self. One of the many casualties of the mistaken policy of austerity cuts.

There is much to be reorganised. Housing, education, social care, public parks, roads and refuse collection, enlightened town planning and provision of sport, leisure and cultural facilities for all ages.

Barnet is blessed by a resilient core of enthusiastic volunteers who are capably led by such bodies as Barnet Age UK, Barnet Arts, artsdepot, The Bull Theatre and Chicken Shed Theatre, our church and religious communities and the public library service. Now is the opportunity for our council to join with these many stalwarts of the community.

Barnet may once more become a good example to the whole country of good financial sense, sound management, and putting the community first.

Change of theatre name a mistake

Sandy Solomon, Thanet Street, Bloomsbury, writes:

Artistic directors come and go but theatres endure; they are a fixture in the community.

I had a conversation the other day with a director about a production he saw at the Aldwych Theatre in the 1970s. We knew exactly what theatre we were talking about because, although what that theatre is staging these days may have changed, the name has remained constant. The Wyndham, the Ambassadors, the Garrick, the Lyric--theatres have histories that we share with them for our lifetimes of theatre-going.

In this community, in Kilburn, thousands of residents (up to 5,000 so far, I understand) are saying not only that they weren’t asked, but that they disapprove the Tricycle’s rather abrupt name change, a name change not to honor a distinguished actor but rather to satisfy management’s sudden desire for rebranding (fundraising campaigns were mounted under the Tricycle name; creative teams were quietly consulted, undoubtedly at great expense; the name change was announced to neighbours almost casually).

If today’s management cares at all about a substantial portion of its community they should not be dismissing residents who have contributed over the years to the theatre’s successes and helped build the theatre’s substantial reputation. The theatre management should keep the “old” name. It’s as though the Donmar decided to jettison its origin as a warehouse. The Tricycle is to Kilburn as the Donmar is to Covent Garden. You can’t casually ask a “creative team” to “confect” a new identity. Theatres belong to the communities that sustain them not to this year’s management. Or they should.

Only government can boost funding

Andrew Dismore, London assembly member, Barnet and Camden, writes:

Yet again, Jessica Learmond-Criqui suggests the mayor should hold a referendum on increasing the police precept.

And yet again, she refuses to say what level of increase she thinks should be balloted.

In my last letter, I explained that to go back to the fully funded Met we had with the last Labour government would need a police precept increase of a whopping 123 per cent. Ms Learmond-Criqui has not proposed any alternative figure.

If she thinks the people of London would vote for a tax rise of that magnitude, she is living in cloud cuckoo land. Around the country, there have been a handful of referendums on increasing local taxes to fund the police at a much lower increased rate, in single figures.

They have all failed, as did her own crowd funding initiative for extra officers in Hampstead. Why waste getting on for £10 million (the cost of 200 police officers) on a referendum, when the answer is pretty obvious to all?

In his Budget Guidance for next year, the mayor is reluctantly proposing to increase his share of council tax that goes directly to the police by 5.5pc and represents the maximum the government have indicated they will permit.

This means that the mayor would be able to raise an estimated overall total of £690m through the policing precept, with an additional £49m raised as a result of this proposed 5.5pc increase.

The mayor also intends to increase his non-policing precept for 2019-20 by a 1.99pc to provide extra funds for the London Fire Brigade which has also been the victim of government cuts.

To fund the Met properly, the government must step in. At the Police Federation conference, the home secretary said that he would make funding the police a priority in the next government budget. Yet the chancellor, in his speech in the City soon after , said there was no extra money for this, so they are not on the same page.

We will have to see where this cabinet split ends up.

Government funding as a share of the Met’s budget has fallen to the extent that London taxpayers now meet 25pc of the costs, rather than 20pc before this government came to power.

Expenditure on the police per head of the population has fallen faster in the London than in any other police force. London has seen a rapid population growth in recent years, and with savings of £720 million delivered by the Met since 2010, net revenue expenditure per head of population reduced from £423 in 2012/13 to £337 in 2016/17. It is the largest reduction nationally at 20pc, compared to six per cent across the country.

In 2010 the Metropolitan Police had 4.1 officers per 1,000 Londoners but, after these crippling government cuts to police spending, the ratio has now dropped to 3.3 officers per 1,000 – the lowest point for 20 years.

The case for extra government funding is clear for all to see, as is the mayor’s limited scope to increase funding.

I suggest that Ms Learmond-Criqui would find a better use of her campaign to turn the spotlight on the Conservative government rather than the mayor.

Home to fantastic NHS employees

Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, writes:

The 70th anniversary of the NHS has prompted country-wide celebrations, and understandably so.

This much-loved institution is there for everyone, at times of great sadness and great joy. I can only echo the tributes that have already been made. I am proud to count myself amongst the many who are demanding that this landmark sets the NHS on the sustainable path.

Hampstead and Kilburn is home to fantastic medical professionals, and I found it unsurprising that the prime minister chose the Royal Free for her announcement. It is a hospital that speaks to the public’s expectation of healthcare - free at the point of use for all who need it.

However, by choosing my constituency as the launchpad for her belated concession on spending, I have been keen to establish how she will pay for her pledge. The NHS cannot afford further years of underfunding and neglect. Under this government, patients are facing record waits for treatment, A&Es have had their worst performance on record this year and social care has long been in a precarious state.

The prime minister claimed that her recent pledge would be funded by a ‘Brexit Dividend’ - a fictional source of income – and unspecified tax hikes. On both counts, the total lack of clarity is unacceptable.

Plans for a bespoke deal with the EU are now seemingly off the table, and so the notion of an economic ‘dividend’ from Brexit appears to be grounded in total fantasy. A truer picture appears to be one of a poorer Britain, with the governor of the Bank of England saying that Brexit has already cost each household £900. Further, given this government’s record of slashing taxes for corporate giants, un-costed spending pledges are be of huge concern to those who simply can’t afford to pay more.

Labour has been clear that those with the broadest shoulders should help set the NHS on the road to recovery, and it is a shame that the government remains stubborn in the face of this clear solution. As the Health Service enters its eighth decade, there is a real opportunity to tackle the country’s public health challenges. However, this will not be possible unless the government is transparent over how it will pay.

Corbyn has ‘pulse of the country’

Theo Morgan, Sutherland Avenue, Maida Vale, writes:

How patronising and ignorant for Gary J Smith to suggest the Labour Party should ignore its loyal voters in the “depressed north” or “impoverished Wales” by focusing on prosperous pro-EU voters in the south east.

ln fact, many of these affluent southern areas voted Leave in the referendum. Labour is a national party, and so should speak for voters everywhere, whether they were in favour of Leave or Remain.

And it should also be pointed out that most trade union leaders supported a vote to remain in the EU - it was the trade unions who were crucial to the party becoming pro-EU under the leadership of Neil Kinnock, who Mr Smith so derides, thirty years ago. He may be right in suggesting that Corbyn cannot take the whole country. However, I suspect this goes far beyond a simplistic “left-right” diagnosis, and Corbyn actually has the pulse of the country in listening to the majority of voters, who opted to leave the EU. The problems facing this country require radical solutions. The vote for Brexit was in part a reaction against this stasis. There is little evidence that the 52 per cent have changed their mind.

Massacre must not be justified

Selma James, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network UK, writes:

On June 18 an open letter signed by 75 (now 92) Jewish people in the UK was sent to the (Camden-based) Board of Deputies of British Jews.

It stated: “We are appalled that the Board of Deputies (BoD) which claims to be ‘the voice of British Jews,’ has once again attempted to justify the massacre of unarmed Palestinian people by the Israeli military.”

Since the start of the Great March of Return calling for the Palestinians right to return to their ancestral homelands and an end to the 11-year siege of Gaza, at least 123 Palestinians have been killed and over 13,600 have been injured. Thousands are suffering from life-changing injuries caused by Israel’s use of illegal “dumdum” or “butterfly” bullets.

We want to make clear that the BoD doesn’t speak for us. The signatories include Sir Geoffrey Bindman, Professors Moshe Machover and Avi Shlaim, and Michael Rosen. Among the first to sign was Ronnie Kasrils, a leading anti-apartheid campaigner who was in exile in Britain for some years, and later a minister in the Mandela government. He asked to be included in what he described as a “much needed statement”.

As we say in the letter, “The BoD in recent years has been uncritical of Israel and pro-Tory, contrary to the great Jewish working-class tradition of struggling for social justice in every situation.”

In that tradition, we endorse the call by Jamal Juma, coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign: “join us in nonviolent action by taking up the Palestinian call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions until Israel respects international law and human rights.” There has been no reply or acknowledgement from the BoD (or the Jewish media) so far. The full letter and list of signatories is available here: facebook.com/AfterGazaMassacre/posts/200767647231085

Town Hall design is all Dutch to me

Richard Williams, South Hill Park Gardens, Hampstead, writes:

Can I make a correction to David Winskill’s article on Hornsey Town Hall?

If there was any Scandinavian inspiration for the design, it must surely be minor compared to HJilversum Town Hall. This Dutch design was completed just a few years earlier and the Hornsey tower in particular is based on it.