Caring Labour again brings unity to the Council, this time over the tragedy of street drinkers.

At the full Council meeting on 26th April 2016, Labour’s Councillor Linsey Cottington, seconded buy Labour’s Councillor Sheila Griffin, moved a motion that the pilot outreach worker for street drinkers, scheduled to end in June after only 12 months, be extended for another 12 months.

At one of the few Council debates that was not over-shadowed by political knock about, all councillors who spoke showed the sympathy, care and understanding that we would expect from our elected representatives. Perhaps everyone realised that, in the words of a song, “..there but for fortune go you or I”.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the discussion was that the Tories moved a motion, which they then used their majority to push through, to find the money to extend the project only until the end of October but they did concede that they would consider extending it further if there was no coherent strategy. The project  funds two outreach workers who have already established a rapport with the street-drinkers. As Linsey Cottington was quick to point out, this extension allows Council to learn the lessons from the project and develop a strategy for the whole of Kingston.

It is easy to condemn street-drinkers but their stories reveal how like anyone else they are. Addiction is a terrible affliction but how common it is. For every drinker on the street there are ten, twenty, thirty times that number who keep their addiction hidden. In fact it was said of a former leader of Kingston council – and how true this is we cannot say – that officers would try and get a decision in the morning because after lunch he was too often beyond rational judgement. Addiction consumes all, trampling down relationships all around, as erstwhile friends and family back away, uncomprehending, hurt, despairing and not knowing what to do.

But addiction to alcohol, that most dangerous of drugs which is pushed at us on every occasion, masks a whole raft of problems. Amongst these features mental illness. And mental illness, something that affects one person in four at some time during their life, has been for too long the subject of prejudice, ignorance, discrimination and joke. Since 2010 twenty percent of the inadequate budget devoted to mental health has been slashed away. Those ignored and rejected in their time of so much need, resort to what solace they can find: too often that includes the self-medication of drink or drugs.

Things go wrong in our lives: relationship breakdown, misfortune, stupid decisions. For many of us the pain and anguish is contained, often with the help of an extensive support network. But for many others it creates a personal disaster and emotional discontinuity in the flow of their lives. The discontinuity becomes a way of life and the everyday spirals beyond control. Suddenly they are homeless, alone and destitute.

We have ridiculously poor provision for the homeless. And even that which exists is short-term and limited. Many homeless find a bed for the night but then are sent back out on the street for the day. There are very limited toilet and washing facilities for those without funds. Getting a job is extremely difficult for those who do not have the means to make themselves presentable, nor an address through which to communicate, nor the means through which to engage in job search or employer interaction.

Food is a problem for the homeless. How, if you are on the streets, do you find the money to purchase it and how do you cook food even if you have some money? Is it a wonder that those on the street eat the unhealthiest of foods: this adds to the unhealthy life-style and to the decline in well-being.

It is easy to see why people in this situation self-medicate with drink and drugs to escape from reality and just make it to the next day. The boredom of their lives on the streets increases the attraction of drink and drugs albeit a short-term palliative. But most of all, a hard, cold, tarmac and concrete bed, with the ever present danger of robbery and attack, means alcohol and drugs are almost a pre-requisite for sleep.

If the extension is an attempt to brush this issue under the carpet in a period of tough budget decision making, then the Kingston and Surbiton Labour Party will be up in arms. The Council must start its review and strategy development now. If it fails, the remaining months will sail by and nothing but futile hand-wringing will have occurred. Use these months well. All councillors acknowledged the need to act. Let us see it happen.

Government proposes to make all schools into academies. Labour opposes in the strongest possible terms.

The Government wants every school in England to become an academy by 2022. Is this a good thing? Well read the arguments here and decide for yourselves whether you want an undemocratic school system funded centrally by the Department for Education, and overseen by 8 regional bureaucracies. Sign the petition and write to your councillors MP if you disagree with the government. Have no doubt, Labour is totally opposed.

George Osborne, in his budget speech, announced that all schools in England (Westminster does not have power over schools in Scotland and Wales) would become academies. This was followed with a White Paper from the Department for Education entitled “Educational Excellence Everywhere Cm 9230”  dated 17th March 2016  open here. Many see the announcement of this in the budget as an attempt by the Chancellor (or “Chancer” as Jeremy Corbyn called him) to deflect debate away from his financial attack on welfare for the neediest and most disadvantaged in society, whilst giving tax breaks to those least in need.

A White Paper is usually a detailed preparation for legislation and used to follow a Green Paper which details all the arguments and is open to consultation. Cm 9230 follows the current trend to dispense with detailed argument and public debate and discussion through a Green Paper, and confounds pre-legislative policy and rhetoric within a ideological assertion posing as a vision, on which there is no consultation.

Basically the White Paper says that the government will make every school in England an academy by 2022, at which point local authorities in England will no longer have any democratic oversight over any schools. All schools will be academies funded directly from Whitehall and overseen by 8 Regional (unelected) Commissioners and, presumably, their own unaccountable bureaucracy. The academies will be in chains, or Multiple Academy Trusts (MATs), which will ensure quality through the operation of market forces just like train and utility companies. Parents will no longer be elected to and have a place on governing bodies. Teacher training through “on the job learning” will be expanded. There will be a new professional body for teachers.

The justification for this is very thin and the evidence even flimsier.

It is claimed that 1 in 3 primary pupils leave that phase of their education unable to read, write and do mathematics, and we are falling behind other countries. Really?  This is a structural rather than an investment problem – if it really exists?

We are told that local authorities are bureaucracies weighing down on schools. And we all thought it was democratic control. Silly us. Still with those nice unelected Regional Commissioners there will be no bureaucracy.

It is asserted that academies must be better than local authority schools because…well because the government says so. And we thought there would be published evidence and documented inspection. Aren’t we daft? Must have gone to a local authority school!

We are urged to realise that academies will be free to determine their own curriculum so teachers will be able to follow what the MAT determines and the profession will be free. But we thought we had this massive debate about a national curriculum in the 1980s? We were told by the Tory Party that teachers could not be trusted and we needed a national curriculum (which turned out to be a national syllabus because politicians just could not restrain themselves). Doesn’t the testing and exam regime determine the curriculum anyway? Will it be a good thing to have unchecked fundamentalist MATs prescribing a creationist curriculum?

A professional body, we are prevailed upon to believe, will make teaching a respected body like doctors and lawyers. How naïve we are to think that organisations like the BMA or the Law Society are not democratic and voluntary trade unions, and teachers need a body run by the government if they are to be professionally accepted. Teachers must be too silly to be able to create their own trade unions: they need the parental hand of government to point them to the right kind of professional body.

The final, and patently spurious, argument is that we need to have an administratively uniform education system. Well who knew?  What else does this apply to: trains and utilities perhaps? And how does that fit in with the other principle that there needs to be choice?

The Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, tried to sell these changes to a teacher union as enhanced professional autonomy. She was jeered out of court. Even Tory councillors are joining Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors to condemn the proposals.

To create academies from the remaining 95% of primary schools and 50% of secondary schools, local authorities will be forced to offer schools a 125 year lease on the land at a pepper-corn rent. Now very few schools make it unchanged to their 125th anniversary! How long did the 1944 Education Act with its tripartite secondary structure remain? Structural change is always politically attractive but demographic, social and technological shifts have always been the major driving force for change in school structure and deployment.

If an academy dissolves, the Secretary of State will have the say on what is to be done with the land. Don’t hold your breath in the belief that it will go back to the local authority. So local authorities will have to give away land at a pepper-corn lease but central government can decide to sell it in 10 or 20 years’ time and pocket the proceeds.

It does seem absurd that we are in a referendum about whether we stay in the EU with a principle argument for leaving being a democratic deficit in the EU, while at the same time our own government is busying destroying local democratic accountability (without a manifesto commitment let alone a referendum!).

So what can be done?

Well sign here for a start. This petition will force a debate in Parliament before legislation is proposed.

petition for a debate in Parliament on expansion of academies – click here

Then urge your councillors and MP to oppose this undemocratic measure.

Tories on Kingston vote to scrap Searchlight Youth Centre

Adults and Children’s Committee lasted until midnight on Wednesday 16th March 2016. Amongst the items on the agenda was the future of Searchlight youth centre. Searchlight is a youth centre situated off Kingston Road opposite King Henry’s Road. It mainly serves the young people of the Cambridge Estate. You can look it up on Kingston Council website here here. Labour Councillors have opposed its closure. You can read about Labour’s opposition on this website here. There were no motions tabled by the Liberal Democrats.


The closure of Norbiton’s Searchlight Youth Centre was decided by a Tory chairman’s casting vote last evening during an often heated two and a half hour debate in the council chamber in front of a full public gallery of young people from the Norbiton estate.

An amendment put by Labour’s Cllr Linsey Cottington to keep Searchlight open until the Cambridge Road Estate Regeneration scheme was decided was narrowly defeated.

Linsey said: “The Tories have ignored the repeated pleas of local young people as well as a petition, started by a local school girl and signed by 1700 local residents, to keep open the Centre that has been serving local generations for over 30 years.

During this time Searchlight has provided a safe, friendly and nurturing centre for our children and young people.

But after this August when Searchlight closes, the Tories are telling the kids from the Cambridge Estate that they’ll have to walk over to Dickerage Sports and Community Centre, in the heart of the Tory Coombe Vale ward, for their youth centre activities.

And they’ve promised them “an even better service” in the future than the one they have now.

Having taken their centre away from them it sounds to me like jam tomorrow.”




Members vote to support junior doctors

At their February meeting, members of the CLP unanimously passed a motion in support of the junior doctors. Nothing has subsequently changed: Jeremy Hunt is still trying to insist that the junior doctors and the BMA are taking industrial action over pay, whilst the BMA has always insisted the issue is one patient safety. Hunt has also claimed, spuriously, that you are more likely to die if you are admitted into hospital on a weekend, so the issue is one of making the NHS a seven day service. The data on weekend deaths has been shown to be false. The NHS does provide a 7 day service: if you are seriously ill at the weekend, you will be offered all its help and care. What it does not provide over the weekend are routine operations. What Jeremy Hunt has failed to explain is how the same number of staff can be spread over the weekend to provide routine operations and still maintain the same level of care.

Kingston and Surbiton Constituency Labour Party believes in the fundamental principle of the NHS – that quality healthcare should be accessible by all, and free at the point of access – and believes that this would not be possible without the contributions made every day by the dedicated and highly skilled professionals who work in the health service.

We note that within this Parliamentary Constituency there are a number of sites that employ Junior Doctors and believe that these junior doctors are a vital part of the healthcare team that keeps hospitals here and across the country functioning at their best, we believe that without their efforts the NHS would be unable to function.

We also believe that it is only fair that those who are working hard to protect the health and wellbeing of the people of Kingston and Surbiton should be fairly rewarded for their efforts, with appropriate compensation and with adequate safeguards to prevent staff being required to work excessive hours.

We also note the nearly unanimous (98%) support from junior doctors balloted for strike action in response to the proposed new junior doctors’ contract, on a turnout of 76%.

We respect this result and fully support the right of junior doctors to take industrial action, and agree with the British Medical Association’s (BMA) assessment that the proposed new contract is “unsafe for patients and unfair for doctors”.

We believe that a fair and mutually agreeable deal is best reached by negotiation and not by imposition by the Secretary of State for Health.

We have no confidence in the Secretary of State for Health to resolve this issue to the satisfaction of those affected, including staff and patients within the NHS and believe his actions amount to being reckless with our NHS and puts patient care at risk in the service of the Governments self-defeating austerity programme.

We agree to contact local BMA representatives of the Junior Doctors, firstly to offer our support to them in their dispute and to further  offer support and assistance to campaign with them in order for them to get their message across to the general public where and when they feel it to be necessary.

Reflections on Kingston Council’s Budget Conversations

Kingston & Surbiton Labour Party’s Vice Chair, Liz Meerabeau, reflects on the borough’s Budget Conversations. This is an amended version of a letter which did not appear in the Surrey Comet!

The government cuts to Kingston council’s grant for 2016/17, announced only a few months before day one of the new budget, were more severe than the government had led councils to expect. This was central government transferring its financial policy of “austerity” (basically cutting public services) onto local government. Announcing new cuts just weeks before the councils April 2016 spending round, makes planning very difficult and leads to poor decision-making.

The Conservative leader of Kingston council decided to hold a “Public Conversation” on the cuts. As a local council-tax payer I found the Kingston Conversation on the budget cuts very informative, but I was concerned that the “Conversation” might be used as a cover for unpopular decisions.

Critically I thought that our council leader made some over-optimistic assumptions about the amount of council expenditure which could be saved through integrating health and social care, and through ‘well-being’ or more preventive health policies.

As a retired public health nurse I would dearly like both of these policy areas to be pursued energetically, at local and at national level, but I also know that we have been discussing them for at least forty years, with limited success. The independent think-tank for London health care, the King’s Fund, has recently warned that service reconfiguration and tight budgetary control can’t be achieved simultaneously, so we know there is no magic wand. And in relation to public health, some behaviours such as smoking have improved, but eating habits have not and nationally we have an obesity crisis.

The leader of the council, along with other Conservative run councils, lobbied the Government for fairer budgetary treatment for Kingston, and received transitional funding of £1.3 million to ameliorate the cuts. Bizarrely, transitional help went overwhelmingly to Conservative led councils and not to those with the greatest poverty and deprivation which are Labour run. This is an example of pork-barrel politics at its worst and sets a very dangerous precedent for council funding: a Conservative government trying refusing money to areas where it knows it will not win votes!

I would like to see the council joining colleagues in the Conservative-led Local Government Association in protesting against the hollowing out of local government and the services it provides, particularly to needy residents. This approach was not a feature of the “Conversation”.

Lastly, in relation to public health, I would like to see Conservative- controlled councils lobbying Government about the difficulty of achieving better nutritional health when the food industry has been allowed to influence national regulatory bodies. Better regulation of the food industry would  reinforce policies to promote nutritional well-being and save money in the health services.