Liberal Democrat Leader Councillor Bob Sullivan has responded to press reports claiming that Waltham Forest Council Chief Executive Andrew Kilburn has left his post.
Bob Sullivan said:
Chief Executives are appointed to serve the whole council, not just the whims of the Leader. The council has clear procedures to deal with the appointment and departure of chief executives and so far it is not clear that these have been followed.
Nationally the coalition government is introducing a new era of openness and transparency about public sector spending..
Residents will rightly be concerned about anything that smacks of a behind the scenes stitch-up to suit the convenience of senior Labour councillors, especially if it ends up costing the local taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds.
Recent research by the Audit Commission shows that the average cost to councils of severance agreements with Chief Executives is over a quarter of a million pounds (£256,104).
Bob Sullivan is demanding that councillors and the public are told what the true situation is and has put a series of questions to the council about how the matter is being handled. He believes it is unacceptable that the council’s Labour leadership is keeping councillors and residents in the dark.
Liberal Democrat Group Leader Bob Sullivan has confirmed that the Liberal Democrats are considering challenging the result of the local election in High Street Ward. The council has admitted that it may have made an error when the votes were counted, because the number of votes recorded in the result was bigger than the number of votes actually cast.
Liberal Democrat Group Leader Councillor Bob Sullivan said:
”If a mistake at the count led to the wrong councillor being elected it is a very alarming error. The Liberal Democrats are consulting solicitors with experience in this area with a view to challenging the result. It is vital that residents can have confidence in the integrity of the local democratic process.”
Labour councillors last night voted to duck close examination of their policies by excluding Liberal Democrat councillors from six key council committees.
In a cynical move the Labour Party voted to reduce the size of each scrutiny sub-committee to just five members, each consisting of three Labour councillors and two Conservative councillors but no Liberal Democrats.
“Labour is running scared of proper scrutiny,” said Liberal Democrat Group Leader Bob Sullivan, who also used the meeting to raise questions about primary school places, the EMD cinema and the Arcade site.
“It is a bad sign that the first act of the Labour administration is to close down debate and discussion. They don’t seem to realise that residents expect councillors to work together on the many difficult challenges facing our area. Despite the problems caused by Labour’s actions the Lib Dem group will continue to speak up for local residents and fight for their interests.”
Until last night’s Annual Council Meeting seven councillors served on each scrutiny sub-committee. This would have given the Liberal Democrats one seat on each committee. A Liberal Democrat attempt to halt the change was defeated by the Labour majority.
The six scrutiny sub-committees deal with:
- Children and Young People
- Health, Adults and Older People
- Performance Improvement
- Community Safety and Housing
Waltham Forest Liberal Democrats have pledged to take immediate steps to sort out the schools places crisis if the party takes control of the council following the elections in May.
Labour has held the schools portfolio on Waltham Forest Council for over ten years. When Labour’s schools minister Ed Balls visited Walthamstow last Thursday (25 March) he blamed the council for the shortage of primary school places and refused to guarantee local schools the money they need to cope with extra pupils.
“The Secretary of State and the council’s Labour portfolio holder appear to be sniping at each other instead of taking the positive steps necessary to resolve the issue,” said local Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr John Macklin.
John Macklin today announced that a Liberal Democrat administration will:
- Be honest about the scale of the problem and publish full details of the school place forecasts, broken down by area.
- Examine what extra capacity is available in existing schools and how quickly it can be brought into use.
- Ensure developers contribute their fair share to the cost of providing new school places by negotiating effective S106 planning agreements when planning permission is granted – this recognises that pressure for new school places comes from partly from new housing developments.
- Identify what funding is required and lobby government to help meet any shortfall, so Waltham Forest is treated on a fair basis with Newham and other boroughs which have received much more funding from government.
- End uncertainty by publishing a clear plan of action which allows local residents and parents to understand what is being done to deal with the growth in the school pupil population and organise their lives accordingly.
John Macklin added:
“If it wasn’t for the questions asked by Liberal Democrat councillors, Labour would have swept this issue under the carpet until it was too late to take action. The shortage of school places is not an easy problem to solve because new schools cannot be built overnight and are expensive to build. But instead of the hand-wringing that Labour is indulging in we need clear leadership that is honest about the challenges we face.
“The actions I have set out today are just the first steps needed to get a grip on the situation.”
The scale of the problem was brought to light when Liberal Democrat councillors including James O’Rourke and Patrick Smith asked for a presentation to the Walthamstow West Community Council in February following an informal survey of headteachers in Higham Hill carried out by Lb Dem councillor Peter Woollcott.
Liberal Democrats this week persuaded the council to adopt one of their election manifesto pledges – even though polling day is six weeks away – and announced an expansion of the bulky waste service to include free collection of carpets, bathroom furniture and other household fixtures and fittings.
New Garden Clearance Scheme
At last Thursday’s council meeting Labour and Conservative councillors united to endorse the Liberal Democrat proposal to introduce a garden clearance scheme for older people and residents with disabilities.
Lib Dem councillor for Leyton Bob Sullivan hailed the decision as “the return of the Weedbusters”. He said:
“The Weedbusters project was a popular and much valued scheme to held older and disabled people who could not cope with their garden. Sadly it was axed in a previous round of Labour cuts. I am delighted that the council’s environmental performance has now improved enough that the Liberal Democrats can bring it back.”
Liberal Democrat Leader John Macklin said:
“Introducing the garden clearance service for older and disabled residents in need was going to be one of the Liberal Democrats key manifesto pledges in the forthcoming elections. I am really pleased that we have been able to win support for it six weeks early.”
Free bulky waste collection service expanded
During the debate Cabinet member Cllr Bob Belam announced his decision to expand the free bulky waste collection to include household fixtures and fittings such as carpets, bathroom suites and kitchen units.
“Residents understandably get confused when told that the council will collect their sofas and mattresses for free but not their old carpets or bathroom suites. Sadly some people also choose to fly-tip their carpets and old baths instead of disposing of them properly. This new scheme is fairer to residents and will reduce fly-tipping further,” he said.
The expanded bulky waste scheme is expected to launch in approximately two months time. The expansion of the free scheme will cost £20,000 per year. Free collection will not apply to waste generated as a result of work carried out by tradesman, who will continue to be responsible for disposing of their waste according to the law.
Local transport campaigner and Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Farooq Qureshi is pressing on with his campaign against the expansion of London City Airport and the new flight paths which affect local residents.
He has urged the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to publish details about how they will review the new flightpaths and to explain how local residents will be consulted.
In October Farooq persuaded Waltham Forest Council to oppose the expansion of London City Airport. He has welcomed the recent decision by the London Assembly to ask for a review of the decision and will be asking for an update on action by Waltham Forest Council at Thursday’s Council Meeting (25 March).
“Changes at London City Airport impact on a huge swathe of north east London, yet past consultations have been poorly publicised. We need a proper review of the changes which takes into account local people’s experience. We need to know now how the review will take place so we can make sure the consultation arrangements are acceptable and to give the council and local organisations time to prepare.”
Farooq is also calling for a review of Newham Council’s decision to give planning permission for 120,000 aircraft movements a year at London City Airport.
Farooq advises residents who suffer from disturbance from aircraft to report their complaint to the CAA so it can be properly logged. The CAA provides the following contact details:
- Noise: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0207 453 6524 or 6525.
- Breach of Air Navigation Legislation (including low flying): Write to: CAA,Aviation Regulation Enforcement, K504, CAA House, 45-59 Kingsway,LONDON, WC2B 6TE (Tel. 020 7453 6193). You can download a complaint form from here [PDF].