Lib Dem Leader Criticises Ministerial Visit as “Inappropriate”

Ed Balls local visit Waltham Forest Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr John Macklin has explained his decision not to attend a high profile Government event in Waltham Forest, claiming the visit was “completely inappropriate”.

Government schools minister Ed Balls’ visit to Kelmscott School in Walthamstow came just a week after he caused anger by placing two other local schools — George Mitchell in Leyton and the new Walthamstow Academy — on a ‘hit list’ of “underperforming” schools that could face closure.  The move has been greeted with anger from both head teachers and parents.

Cllr Macklin, the Deputy Leader of Waltham Forest Council, chose not to attend the event, which he called “enormously ill-timed.”

Cllr Macklin, who is also a senior university lecturer in education, continued:

“Whilst it is welcome that the excellent progress being made at Kelsmcott is being recognised, it almost defies belief that the Minister feels it is appropriate to put the boot into local schools one week and then, days later, turn up in Waltham Forest to use the borough for a government press launch.

“His hit list has caused a lot of anger locally and has apparently been based on completely arbitrary targets that take no account of any of the highly individual circumstances that schools such as George Mitchell work under.

“When the Lib Dem education spokesman David Laws MP visited Walthamstow Academy earlier this year he was hugely impressed by the hard work being put in by the head, Fiona Cordeaux, and her staff.

“How on earth can threatening these schools with closure under such apparently random criteria help in their future development?

“Ed Balls’ announcement has unsettled teachers, staff and pupils who I’m sure will see the Minister’s decision to go ahead with this visit in the wake of such an announcement as entirely lacking in tact.”

The Ministerial visit came on the same day that Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg set out plans to give schools greater freedoms, promising to strip Ministers of their power to “meddle and micro-manage”.

Council Better Off With Lib Dems: Audit Commission

Cllr Macklin: “We want to take control of the Council in 2010 in order to ensure that this much-needed progress can continue.”

Liberal Democrat leader Cllr John Macklin has offered his congratulations to local party colleagues after the publication of a report that has recognised improvements in the running of Waltham Forest Council.

Waltham Forest Council has been rated as a ‘four star’ Council in results just announced by the Audit Commission as part of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA).

The Council’s zero star rating before 2002, when the Liberal Democrats joined the administration, meant that previous Council leaders were forced to appear before Government officials to explain their poor performance.

Waltham Forest now becomes one of only ten Councils in London to receive the accolade.

Cllr Macklin said that he was pleased at the inspection results, but immediately warned that the Council still had to “up its game”.

Cllr Macklin said:

“There has undeniably been a correlation between the growing number of Liberal Democrat councillors elected by residents in Waltham Forest, our joining of the joint administration in 2002 and the Audit Commission’s award of vastly improved ratings for the Council.

“We firmly believe that our increased representation on the Council and within the administration has raised standards.  We have started to claw back much of the ground that had been lost under previous administrations.

“However, the improvements that the Commission have recognised over the last 6 years must be seen as the start of the recovery work that is still necessary, both in terms of the way the Council is run internally and the services that we deliver on behalf of residents.

“Whilst the very nature of a coalition administration will inevitably bring disagreements and up and downs, this recognition by the Audit Commission of enormously improving standards during our involvement validates the Lib Dems decision to do our best for residents by taking part in the administration rather than by simply shouting from the sidelines.

“Like residents, we recognise that there is still plenty of work to be done in Waltham Forest and we will continue to work hard to ensure that Liberal Democrat values and residents concerns are at the top of the Council’s agenda.”
“We want to take control of the Council in 2010 in order to ensure that this much-needed progress can continue.”

WF Lib Dems Want Clampdown on Illegal Knife Sales

Cllr John Macklin with former Met Deputy Commissioner and Lib Dem Mayoral candidate Brian PaddickLIBERAL Democrats in Waltham Forest are calling for tough action to be taken against those caught selling knives to children and young people.

Local Lib Dem leader Cllr John Macklin made the call after figures uncovered by the Liberal Democrats revealed that half of all traders tested in Waltham Forest had attempted to sell knives to underage buyers.

In a test-purchasing programme carried out by Waltham Forest Trading Standards earlier this year using young volunteers, 7 out of the 14 purchases attempted resulted in sales. The cases have not yet reached court, but prosecutions are currently being considered.

The worrying statistics come on the back of nationwide figures for prosecutions that were uncovered in Parliament by Chris Huhne MP, the party’s Shadow Home Secretary.

The figures reveal that:
· Only 71 people have been successfully prosecuted for selling knives to children in the last five years
· None were sent to prison and only one was given a community sentence
· 56 people were fined, but 21 of them were given fines of less than £200

Cllr Macklin claimed that the stats revealed “a completely inadequate deterrent to unscrupulous shop keepers who flout the law to sell these weapons to children and young people.”

Cllr Macklin continued:

“Whilst it is obviously welcome that offenders are being identified and caught, the number of local traders who are apparently prepared to sell knifes to those who are underage is extremely worrying.  A culture change is needed in order that shopkeepers are all fully aware of the laws and the danger which knives, when in the wrong hands, can cause.

“Liberal Democrats will be calling for officers to carry out further test purchasing programmes in an effort to really drive this message home.”

Cllr Macklin’s Lib Dem colleague Cllr Farooq Qureshi has supported the comments of the Group Leader.  Cllr Qureshi, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for Leyton and Wanstead, also reports back on community safety activity for the Waltham Forest Lib Dems.

He said:

“Tiny fines and a lack of custodial punishment is the wrong signal to those who profit from the illegal sale of knives.

“It is far too easy for children and young people to get hold of knives. Too many are being drawn into a culture of carrying and using knives.

“Liberal Democrats believe that the courts must take a much stronger stand against those who are fuelling knife crime by illegally selling knives to children and young people.

“Cutting the supply of knives will be one of the most effective ways to reducing knife crime in the first place.”

Local Liberal Democrats Want Arcade Site Progress

High St councillors Johar Khan (left) and James O'Rourke (right) with Walthamstow parliamentary candidate Farid Ahmed

Liberal Democrats in Waltham Forest are seeking reassurances from the council regarding progress on the long awaited Walthamstow Arcade site development.

Walthamstow councillor John Macklin, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Waltham Forest Council, stressed that the Arcade development “must fit in with the local area”. 

He is also urging local traders to get involved in ensuring that the development will “compliment and not damage existing Town Centre businesses” whilst acknowledging residents concerns over the residential building that will form a centrepiece of the development.

Cllr Macklin said:

“Whilst I accept the need for the development to be high density, this doesn’t mean that it has to be exclusively achieved through height.  I have been meeting with campaigners to make it clear that the Liberal Democrats want a landmark building that will be a source of pride for residents and a focal point for a properly regenerated town centre.

“We also echo the views of the many people, in particular our younger residents, who are desperate to see a cinema return to the borough.

“However, I am acutely aware that regeneration projects, if not handled properly, can be detrimental to existing businesses.

“Regeneration is not just about big new buildings.  It should also be about enabling local people and businesses.”

“I absolutely do not want to see any new facilities simply competing for existing trade with our current shops and market traders.  They must compliment each other if the development is to be a success.

Cllr Macklin is encouraging local businesses and traders to get involved in making sure that the Town Centre is compatible with the new facilities that will arrive as part of the development. 

“We want to see local traders and businesses taking the lead in ensuring that a regenerated town centre is mutually beneficial to both new and existing businesses.

“We need imaginative ideas from business leaders to ensure that the market, as part of a modern Walthamstow Town Centre, can provide an attractive product that shoppers will want to use.

“This could be achieved, for example, through the establishment of a Business Improvement District or a more prominent role for the Market Traders Association.

“The Liberal Democrats will strongly support any such involvement from local businesses and make sure that their voice is heard in Council.  The best way to ensure that local people are satisfied with the outcome of the regeneration project is to involve them every step of the way in the decision making process and communicate progress on the site to residents more effectively.”

Fellow Liberal Democrat councillors for High Street Ward, James O’Rourke and Johar Khan, added to Cllr Macklin’s calls by claiming that, as part of the regeneration project, the council needed to have deliverable plans to bring the EMD building back into use in a way that complimented the development and provided “a worthwhile community facility for residents that will bring them back to the High Street”.

“We want to see the council work with interested parties to bring the EMD into use as soon as the Arcade development has been accepted by the Mayor of London.”

The Lib Dems efforts in encouraging greater community involvement in decision-making is the latest part of plans to increase resident participation in the running of local facilities.  Earlier this year the party called for Local Management Boards of service users to take over the running of local cultural facilities.

Lib Dem Success in Ethical Practices Bid

Cllr John Macklin:  Local Liberal Democrats are celebrating after councillors approved a motion proposing a rethink of Waltham Forest Council’s ethical investment and procurement policies.

As part of the resolution, Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr John Macklin asked officers to carry out a full evaluation of current guidelines and report back to councillors, highlighting both possible areas of concern and potential opportunities for improvement “in order that practices can be revised to reflect our desire to achieve the highest possible standards in these areas.”

The issue of the Council’s ethical investment protocols came to light in October last year when it was revealed  – after a Freedom of Information request by local Green Party members – that portions of the employees pension fund had been invested in companies with links to the military regime in Burma.  The Council, however, revealed that it was bound by a legal obligation to maximise the return to the pension fund through its investments.

Cllr Macklin immediately expressed his alarm at the revelations, promising in a letter to the Waltham Forest Guardian that he would “push the Treasury to get rid of the financial shackles placed on local government in this area”.

He told residents that the Liberal Democrats had long called for the removal of the legal ties that stopped public bodies making socially responsible investments

During the debate in the Council chamber, the Liberal Democrat leader told councillors that “socially responsible ethical investment is an idea whose time has come.”

Cllr Macklin continued:

“Legal obligations do exist that place restrictions on the Council with regards to our financial investments.  However residents must be confident that their Council is diligent in ensuring that it meets its ethical obligations to the best of its abilities whilst also supporting calls for the loosening of the ties placed on local government.

“I want officers to carry out a full evaluation of our current guidelines and report back to councillors, highlighting both possible areas of concern and potential opportunities for improvement in order that practices can be revised to reflect our desire to achieve the highest possible standards in these areas.

“This evaluation and possible revision of existing guidelines will enable Waltham Forest Council to reaffirm its commitment to the adoption of the most appropriate ethically responsible practices and to ensure that all Council partners are fully aware of the standards which we expect on behalf of our residents.

The motion was passed unanimously by councillors from all sides despite Tory Leader Cllr Matt Davis’ defence of the investment in Burma.  He claimed last year that such a policy of ethical investment would result in the Council only being able to put its money into “tofu companies”.

Huge Rise in Homeless Families in Leyton and Wanstead

Cllr Farooq Qureshi (right)LIBERAL Democrats in Leyton and Wanstead are calling for government action to tackle homelessness after figures revealed there has been a shock rise in the number of local families living in temporary accommodation.
Government figures show that there were 1925 households without a home of their own in Waltham forest in 2006/7. This is a rise of 1419 (over 280%) since 1997 when Labour came to power.
During that decade there has been an overall fall of 450,000 affordable houses for rent from social landlords, such as local councils, in England.
Cllr Farooq Qureshi (Leyton) said:

 “These are very worrying figures. They mean that nearly 2,000 local families are without a proper home.
“There has been a lamentable failure by the Government to address the housing crisis in England. Labour are strangling council housing. Gordon Brown has ensured only a handful of new council houses have been built during the past decade across the country.
“The rise in the number of people in temporary accommodation here in Waltham Forest is a prime example of Labour’s failure.
“In March, Liberal Democrats backed calls in Parliament to give councils the power and resources to build new houses. The measure was defeated by the Government whilst the Conservatives sat on their hands and refused to take part in the vote.
“Had the measures been agreed, we could start to address the housing shortage here in Waltham Forest. Instead, we will end up with more people in temporary housing and many others living in over crowded conditions.”

Lib Dems Want Action to Protect Playing Fields

Cllr Macklin: labour has to stop selling off our playing fieldsLocal Liberal Democrats have reacted angrily to the news that Labour is failing to live up to its promise to protect playing fields.

Figures uncovered by the Lib Dems show that playing fields deemed vital to local sport are being lost at a rate of one a week.

The government have been forced to reveal statistics, in response to a request by the Liberal Democrats, which show that on average 843 planning applications affecting playing fields are accepted each year.  Of those applications approved, Sport England believe that an average of 57 a year constitute a ‘threat’ to sporting provision for surrounding communities.

Liberal Democrat councillor for Chapel End, John Macklin, has led local calls for the better protection of grassroots sporting facilities within Waltham Forest, a problem highlighted by the cutting of lottery grants to sporting organisations ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games in East London.

Lib Dems on Waltham Forest Council recently unveiled proposals for the formation of a ‘Sports Academy’, comprising existing venues within the borough, which would offer specialist coaching and training in relevant skills such as physiotherapy.

Cllr Macklin said:

“It’s an absolute travesty that the nation’s playing fields legacy is being sold off under our noses.

“The mass selling off of playing fields both in our area and across the UK was supposed to be a nothing but a bad memory of the Conservative government of the 1980’s.  Instead, we have Labour MP’s admitting that they have failed to tackle the problem, as they promised to do in 1997.”

Cllr Macklin also noted that the figures released by the government did not include smaller playing fields.

“Labour announced as far back as 2002 that they were reducing the size threshold for statutory consultation on playing fields.  This has proved to be yet another broken promise.

“A real legacy of the Olympic Games in 2012 would be for our budding sportsmen and women in Waltham Forest to still have the green spaces available to be able to practice and participate in sports with their friends.

“Labour now has to stop selling off our playing fields and end the empty rhetoric and broken promises regarding its commitment to sporting activity.”

Local Lib Dems Concerned by Data Loss

Cllr Keith Rayner: ID Card scheme will be Local Liberal Democrats have expressed their concern about the recent loss of personal data records, this time from Whipps Cross hospital, and repeated their call for the Labour government to abandon plans to make people carry identity cards.

Cann Hall Cllr Keith Rayner spoke out after Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg MP published figures showing that 37 million pieces of personal information on UK citizens were lost in 2007, mostly by the Government. 

Confidential patient records from Whipps Cross hospital were found on a Hertfordshire roadside last year, sparking concern amongst Waltham Forest residents.

Cllr Rayner claimed that such a massive loss of confidential information demonstrated that the Government could not be trusted with successfully administering an ID Card scheme.

“The expensive identity cards scheme is based on the government storing large amounts of information about each one of us on a central database.  This most recent loss of data from Whipps Cross simply demonstrates yet again that, no matter how securely or professionally such information is handled, there will always be breaches of security when enormous banks of personal data are created.

“For the Government to pretend otherwise is either misleading or incredibly naïve.

“In 2007 the Government stumbled from one data loss crisis to another. The worst example came in November when the Government lost the personal details of all 25 million families with children. That has put the privacy of every family in Waltham Forest at risk.”

Local Liberal Democrats successfully led a motion last year against the Labour group on Waltham Forest Council, calling on councillors to denounce the ID Card scheme.  The proposal was passed, forcing Council Leader Clyde Loakes into an embarrassing climb down as the Council was affiliated to the ‘NO2ID’ campaign against Labour’s wishes.

Cllr Rayner promised that the Liberal Democrats would continue to lead the local fight against the plans, praising Nick Clegg’s pledge that he would refuse to sign up to any ID Card scheme.

“I am delighted that the new Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg is leading the battle to end the ID cards scheme. Liberal Democrats in Waltham Forest are right behind him.

“The scheme will be a bureaucratic nightmare. It won’t prevent illegal working. It won’t help stop crime or terrorism. If this Labour government really wants to make an impact on crime, terrorism and illegal immigration, the money it has earmarked for this scheme would be far better spent on more police and intelligence officers. That is what the Liberal Democrats would do.”

Senior Lib Dems Visit Walthamstow Academy

(l-r) Farid Ahmed, Cllr Sean Meiszner, David Laws MP, Annette Brooke MP and Cllr Peter WoollcottLiberal Democrat Education Spokesman David Laws MP was in Waltham Forest on Monday morning to pay a visit to the Walthamstow Academy.

Mr Laws, the Shadow Secretary for the Department of Children, Schools and Families, was joined by Lib Dem parliamentary colleague Annette Brooke MP in a tour of the school which saw them chat with pupils and view the new buildings that students are soon to move into.

Lib Dem Councillors for Higham Hill, Cllr Sean Meiszner and Cllr Peter Woollcott, the Chair of Waltham Forest Council’s Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee, Cllr James O’Rourke, and the party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Walthamstow, Farid Ahmed, also took part in the visit.

Mr Laws took the opportunity to talk with Principal Fiona Cordeaux about Academy schools across the UK, education in the Waltham Forest area and the progression of the school since its establishment in 2006.

Fiona Cordeaux said:

“It is a privilege to have the Shadow Secretary of State come to Walthamstow Academy to view our new facilities and hear about some of our successes.”

Councillor Sean Meiszner used the visit by the Shadow Secretary of State to raise issues affecting educational attainment in the borough.

Cllr Meiszner commented:

“I really enjoyed being able to tour the Academy and speak to pupils and staff.  This was an excellent opportunity to discuss challenges facing schools in the area and how the Academy will fit into the borough’s overall educational provision in the future”.

Waltham Forest Lib Dems Secure Local Climate Change Resolution

Cllr Bob Belam discusses local climate change action with senior Lib Dem MP Chris HuhneLocal Liberal Democrats have expressed their delight after Councillors last night backed their plans to put climate change awareness at the heart of the Council’s agenda.

The successful motion calls on Cabinet to undertake a series of initiatives aimed at ‘greening’ the way in which the Council works.  These include a commitment to greater heat and light efficiency in council buildings, renewed efforts to maximise the use of renewable energy and a borough-wide campaign to bring about a voluntary ban on the provision of free plastic shopping bags.

After a heated debate, Lib Dem councillors angrily rejected a Labour amendment to the motion that deleted 25 paragraphs of text and removed a Liberal Democrat proposal for a ‘Climate Change Impact Assessment’ to be included in all reports produced for Council.  Councillors eventually passed the Lib Dem motion unanimously.

Cllr Bob Belam, who moved the motion on behalf of the Lib Dems, said that the introduction of a ‘Climate Change Impact Assessment’ would make environmental considerations central to the work of the Council and provide for a more joined-up approach to tackling climate change.

Cllr Belam said:

“Local authorities are now rightly being put under pressure to deliver practical results with regard to the environment.  Waltham Forest residents are already playing their part through the excellent uptake of waste recycling that will save significant sums of money in landfill costs.

“The Climate Change Impact Assessment is central to our motion as it will ensure transparency regarding the Council’s commitment to addressing residents environmental concerns.  It will also put the consideration of climate change issues at the front and centre of everything the Council does.

During the debate, Cllr Belam also reassured councillors and residents that the proposals outlined in the motion would actually save taxpayers money.

“We are proposing simple but effective measures that will make the way the Council works cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

“Liberal Democrats want Council to become standard bearers for our residents, businesses and other local authorities by proving that making small changes to the way in which we live and work can make a significant difference in the fight against harmful climate change.”