Labour’s continuing leadership problems have made me think about who I would pick to succeed Blair. Hilary Benn would be my man. No enemies (that I know of) but more importantly a new sort of leader – one with a genuine manner and devoid of the Blair-style demeanour that is soooooo yesterday. That will be Cameron’s problem – he is emulating a past the country is getting fed up with. Benn could supply an ideal heritage transmuted to fit a modern agenda. Perhaps that way could lie Labour renewal. Perhaps it is not really for me to intrude on private grief – but it certainly is gripping.
More basic, four and a half hours yesterday of surgery, meeting residents individually about their particular issues. It always serves to remind me of the parade of problems and challenges that never seem to lessen. After which I had my regular meeting with Cllr George Meehan, leader of Haringey Council. I had a raft of issues to raise with him:
– an update on CPZs: there will now be a second phase of consultation, where they discount the roads that didn’t want a CPZ and go back and consult with those that did.
– Noel Park Recreation Ground delays – suffice to say that the poor children have had the summer without their play equipment replaced (it was taken away during building work of a new children’s’ centre and not replaced). I had categorical assurances from the Council about finish dates that were never met. Anyway – I now have the update which promises that the work will be finished by the end of the month.
– I raised the issue of the astronomical amounts of money paid in Housing Benefit for temporary accommodation. I have had two recent cases where the tenant has been placed in quite frankly unliveable one bedroom accommodation (with man, wife and child) at a cost of around £400 per week – and this in areas where normally even in the private market you wouldn’t pay more than £200 I reckon. I know there’s a premium because of the supposed short tenure – but inevitably a temporary placement for 20 days turns into months and sometimes year. Factor that up – and the costs are unbelievable. And it keeps the people who are meant to be helped with benefits in poverty as with that high price of rent they often can’t afford a job because they would then lose so much in housing benefits that they wouldn’t be able to afford to carry on paying the rent. There are some moves to make it possible to place tenants in the private sector – but I think this needs looking at. Some landlords are raking it – and it’s not as if they are taking a risk – as the rent is paid by the state!
– business recycling is next on my list. Businesses are largely untouched by recycling – so I have ‘called on’ George to look into it. In fact, as the Council has decided (controversially) to take back recycling under their own auspices – this is an ideal moment to push home the Lib Dem campaign to introduce business recycling into the borough. And while I was at it – I lobbied for bigger recycling boxes (again)!
– I also raised some issues about the Chocolate Factory with him – but more about that later.
– and last, but not least, I have offered (as the Council hasn’t used me yet) to lobby on behalf of the Council at Parliamentary level. As I had flagged this up on the agenda prior to our meeting, George had one ready for me – the cost of asylum seekers to this borough – or more accurately to get the Government to fund the deficit between spend and available government grant. Will do. In a borough like Haringey (and when I talk to colleagues from other parts of the country who rarely see an asylum case – you can see how uneven the destinations are) we happily have more than our share of the asylum seekers who come to London – but we should not have to bear those extra costs and pressures without full Government assistance.
Last meeting of the day is with Richard Sumray about Hornsey Hospital. Once again Richard stated his commitment to the project and the Primary Care Trust of which he is Chair is hosting a public meeting on 13th. I am stirring a campaign to coincide with this with the view to adding pressure and enthusiasm to support a bid for funding. A bid is being prepared – and I think we need to go for it big time. But we will hear the detail publicly next Wednesday.