Mayor Ken should keep his hands off our cleansing services
By Sir Simon Milton, leader of Westminster Council One of the services, residents tell me they most value is Westminster s outstanding refuse collection and cleansing service. Rain or shine, the folks who keep the City clean are hard at work coping with
By Sir Simon Milton leader
of Westminster Council
One of the services, residents tell me they most value is Westminster's outstanding refuse collection and cleansing service. Rain or shine, the folks who keep the City clean are hard at work coping with not just residential waste but the vast amount of litter generated by visitors to the city and large-scale events from state occasions to New Years Eve celebrations to the Notting Hill Carnival.
And despite the challenges, they help provide a first rate recycling service, which has seen Westminster beat the government's recycling targets last year. Standards are amazingly high and customer satisfaction levels have followed.
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A nation-wide survey by the Audit Commission has recently revealed that Westminster residents report the highest satisfaction levels of any council with these services.
So I was amazed to learn Ken Livingstone now wants to take control of these key services himself instead of the boroughs. And even more amazed that it is our own MP, Karen Buck, who is leading this power grab against the best interests of her own constituents by tabling amendments to the GLA Bill in Parliament to create a Single Waste Authority run by the Mayor.
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If she succeeds, the way that Londoners dispose of their waste will change changed radically, and for the worse.
The changes would have meant a "one-size-fits-all" approach for recycling in Greater London, with no recognition of Westminster's unique character and population - nor our excellent performance on this agenda.
A person living in a studio flat in Westminster, for example, could have been required to stack up the same number of multiple recycling boxes in their single room as a family home in the leafy suburbs.
There would be fewer waste collections a week with residents having to store perishable waste in their homes for longer leading to a growth in the rat population.
But perhaps most importantly for Westminster residents, the new waste authority will lead to substantially higher council tax - perhaps a further 5% on top of what we each already pay to the GLA through our annual bills, according to an analysis for the government by top auditors KPMG.
It is hard to think of a move that would be more unpopular or more against the best interests of Westminster residents. And to think that our own MP is leading this damaging charge is highly alarming.
We already face the prospect of the Mayor taking over control of planning powers - another move that Karen Buck has supported. Unless amended the GLA Bill will make the Mayor and not the council the decision-maker on a whole host of planning applications. Despite overwhelming opposition to this by numerous residents associations and amenity societies in her constituency, Karen Buck prefers to let Ken take decisions rather than her local councillors.
And in a week's time, we have the congestion charge extension which is going to cost her constituents £8 a day to use their car for what are relatively local journeys. It will have serious implications for hard pressed businesses on the Harrow Road, which will become one of the main congestion charge boundary roads. Yet again, Karen Buck offers her full backing to the Mayor against the best interests of her constituents.
When faced with a choice between serving her constituents or serving Ken, she chooses the Mayor every time. I can't think of a single occasion when she has had a word of criticism for the Mayor despite his well-reported excesses. You can be forgiven for asking whose side is she on. She's meant to be our Member of Parliament - not Ken's little helper.