Three-form entry at Rhodes Avenue school?

The news story from my main website is pretty self-explanatory:

Liberal Democrats councillors have expressed fears that the crisis over a shortage of reception places for schoolchildren in Alexandra ward is now widening out to adjacent areas.

Of the 136 children (nearly double the number in 2006) who did not receive any of their parents’ four preferences for a reception place in September, 25 came from Alexandra ward, 17 from neighbouring Muswell Hill and 14 from next-door Bounds Green ward. Together, they make up over 40% of the total, whilst the cut-off distances around popular local schools such as Rhodes Avenue and Bounds Green continue to shrink. Liberal Democrats say that action must be taken to deal with the worsening shortfall.

Cllr Gail Engert, spokesperson for children, schools and families, has been pressing Haringey Council since the summer to undertake a feasibility study on expanding Rhodes Avenue to three-form entry, which could provide an extra 30 places to allow local children a choice of a local school.

Cllr Engert comments: “This situation is going from bad to worse, while Haringey Council just turns a blind eye. Expansion may have taken place at Tetherdown, Coleridge and Coldfall primaries, but this is now history and these schools are full. The Labour Council needs to act now to make sure that increasing numbers of parents around Alexandra are not let down.”

Local MP Lynne Featherstone adds: “It is heartbreaking having to deal with local families who can’t get a place at a much loved local schools for their child. Haringey seems paralysed by inaction when it comes to dealing with the problem in this part of the Muswell Hill. It’s time Haringey Council took up the Liberal Democrat plan for three-form entry at Rhodes Avenue.”

Muswell Hill Library: Labour cuts funds

Bad news on Muswell Hill Library this week – as Labour-run Haringey Council has gone back on its promises to put in more money to give the library a much needed bit of care and attention.

There were worrying signs back in July last year, when at a public meeting the Director of Libraries didn’t really seem to know what was going on with the library plans – and it has now been years and years since Labour first started talking about restoring and rennovating the building (e.g. see here).

Which brings us to this week – and Labour have gone back on plans to put in extra money for Muswell Hill Library. As my colleague Gail (Muswell Hill ward councillor) said:

Muswell Hill Library has seen years of neglect by Haringey Labour and again the only commitment is another patch-up job. I am deeply disappointed that the library will not be extended after much consultation of residents and library users.

Hornsey Central Hospital: the latest plans

Haringey PCT presented their update on Hornsey Hospital to a meeting yesterday. The good news (potentially) is that they have financial closure and the building will be built. The battle now is over what services get provided, which GPs will be based there, how local pharmacies will be impacted as they want a bit of a pharmacy on site, whether extra public transport can be provided (it is served only by one bus currently) and how all of this will be decided. Will consultation be wide and reach all users and stakeholders? And will we and our GPs be listened to?

It was an extremely robust meeting. The Better Local Healthcare Campaign group are extremely concerned that this is a privatisation of our health care. They raised the issue of the building actually being used for residential or commercial purposes. Richard Sumray, the Chair of Haringey PCT, denied this categorically and said whilst it had been in early proposals as alternatives – it had fallen as they had managed to find funding without the need for either of those proposals.

There is no doubt that there will be some private provision. That is Labour’s avowed proposition – that 15% of our health provision will come from the private sector. However, from what I could tell at the meeting, there is a fundamental commitment to this being and remaining an NHS service. I guess that we all have so little faith in what the Labour government tells us – especially because there have been so many varied incarnations of promises on Hornsey Hospital – that we are all concerned that what we are told may not be what happens.

My key issue is GP practices. The Trust is quite clear that some current GPs will have to move into the new, super-centre – otherwise it would not be viable. They deny absolutely that they are looking for a 50,000 patient list – but that they will commence with 15,000 rising to 25,000 years hence. Moreover – all practices will be able to use the new facilities – and thus a network of better health services will be provided locally.

My concern, which I raised pretty strongly, was that all the GPs and practices are really brought into the planning of this new facility. I have had reports from GPs of feeling pressured, being concerned that if they don’t move in or do what the Trust wants they will be punished financially and so on. So I asked the Chair about coercion, punishment, engagement etc with GPs and they absolutely promised that this (engagement, not punishment!) starts now. If they do work together – then this could be a real step forward. If the Trust steamrollers its way through and doesn’t listen to local people and GPs – it will be the opposite.

In terms of the concerns around local pharmacies in Crouch End being adversely affected – the Trust seems to be talking to them about them forming a collective to run the new pharmacy themselves. If this could come to fruition that would be a good way forward and an inclusive one. I haven’t heard recently from the local pharmacies – so I hope that it is as we were told at the meeting.

Lastly – transport. You couldn’t choose a worse placed site for lack of public transport. Only one bus now runs there. I have twice met with Peter Hendy, Commissioner of Transport in London on this issue – as the last thing we should be creating is more car journeys or poor access to such a facility for local people. On each occasion Peter has said – when it is a live project – let me know.

Well – with financial closure this is very live! And as my Lib Dem colleague Cllr Gail Engert (Muswell Hill) pointed out – it takes Transport for London a couple of years generally to get going on a new route (let alone the decade it took for the 603). So after the meeting I suggested to Richard that now is the moment to really push the transport aspect forward.

More generally – Richard Sumray has promised that over the coming weeks and months we will be given specifics and be consulted on this. I have over the recent weeks put out a health survey door to door (cos not everyone goes to these meetings or even hears about them) and part of the health survey is about what local people want at Hornsey Hospital. When they all come back – I will be feeding in the views to the Health Trust too.

Breast cancer screening update

Went to meet Tracy Baldwin, Chief Executive of Haringey PCT (Primary Care Trust) to discuss what has been done to get the breast cancer screening program – which was stopped because of administrative errors – started again.

Sadly Tracy was unwell and so I met her deputy – Gerry. The assurance given at the meeting was that the system has had a rigorous overhaul and that the 8,000 women identified as a top priority for screening would be seen between now and October. Overall it will take three years to get the screening program back on track, and whilst there is a small number of women whose period without screening will have been extended beyond the normal three year period – the longest period of that extension will be 10 months.

They have overhauled the way the program is run – including better quality control, so there should be no repeat of the five incidents and eighteen months it took before action was taken. They are investigating every case on an individual basis to follow through and see if there are any consequences from the suspension of the screening program.

They will publish a report on the findings of their investigations in around two weeks time. We await the report.

As I was there – I took the opportunity to try and find out what was happening on the ‘consultation’ about the Primary Health Care. A local campaigner had contacted me really upset that the promised two open meetings were being held in the summer when many people would be away, the second of which is at the Muswell Hill Assembly on the 23rd July.

Having checked with Cllr Gail Engert who chairs this Assembly, it would appear that this Assembly is focusing on health issues for the older members of our community – and that is what the Trust will talk to. This brings in an update on Hornsey Hospital – but it isn’t the promised ‘open meeting’ to discuss the future of Primary Health Care in the borough.

I will write to the Trust to get the promise of these two meetings confirmed – as I, like the campaigners, fear consultation occurring in holidays or not being carried out in a way that will engage local people properly.

It is absolutely vital that the whole community has a say – as the proposals for poly-clinics which will cater for up to 50,000 patient lists will also mean that GP practises have to move in there too. Whilst the idea may be viable and produce spanking new facilities – which we welcome – I have a sneaking suspicion that funding will be needed and that the plan is to get it from renting to GP practises. And I thought that the new GP contracts were to provide services locally. It might work if the practises could stay where they were – but pay for the fantastic clinics and diagnostics available at the poly – clinics. Anyway – that is why the consultation is vital! We all love our local GP practises and we need to be sure that what is provided adds to our facilities – not detracts from them.

New Secondary School: how the meeting went

So – the second meeting of the ‘New School Bidders’ for the competition to take control and author a new secondary school in in Haringey. If you remember, we kicked up at the first meeting because there were only six were members of the public.

This time it was a packed meeting – maybe a hundred people. I had put out an email to my lists as I am never convinced that a notice in a local paper – which is the standard Council approach – really reaches everyone. It’s a good thing that other people did promote this meeting as Haringey Council did not even get round to updating their website pages about the new school to mention the second meeting. But this time we didn’t leave it to just the Council – and got a far, far better attendance. And as a result the bidders did better and the questions were more testing.

Without going into the minutiae of the presentations – there are three outside bodies bidding and one from Haringey itself for a community school. What is so hard for everyone (outside of the fact we shouldn’t be having a competition at all) is how do you decide? They all say they will be part of the community. They all say they will abide by the code of admission and so on.

Of the bidders I thought the Haberdashers gave the best presentation – but that may be because their Chief Exec was the best presenter. She certainly gave it life and talking to a parent afterwards who has a child who may well attend the new school he certainly felt that out of the four this would be the best.

Amongst my concerns is that whilst I can understand inviting outside management in when schools are failing and they need someone to come in and take it on – this is a brand new school to be built. But regardless of what people locally might decide they want – power really still rests with Labour in Whitehall. Labour dictates that its rules and its preferences have to be followed and its hoops jumped through to have a chance of new money.

In fact, the Government laid a statutory instrument (an amendment to legislation) on 19th January which means that instead of our local Schools Organisation Committee taking the decision on who wins the bid – the decision is being taken out of local hands and will be given to the Schools Adjudicator appointed by the Secretary of State for Education. So even less local say courtesy of centralising Labour, again.

So – my offer to the meeting was to lay down some Parliamentary Questions to find out how transparent the process with the adjudicator will be. What are the criteria? Will we see the reasons for the final choice? Can there be access to the consultation submissions? And Cllr Gail Engert, my Lib Dem colleague, also got agreement (subject to confirmation) that the Schools Organisation Committee which will meet to decide its view will be open to the public. There may also now be the opportunity for a further public meeting with the Schools Adjudicator so that the local people can directly voice there opinions.

It is important that everyone submits there views to this process (it’s all we have). You can email your views to the council at bsd@haringey.gov.uk – though please also copy me in as it’s useful to get a wide spread of feedback. You can use my contact form or post comments on this blog.

A busy day

I went to the Save Community Hospitals’ lobby in Westminster Hall yesterday. In Haringey we are not so much trying to save a hospital and get a new one on the site of the old one – which wasn’t saved!

I also had Question 4 on the order paper in Foreign Affairs Questions.

Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey & Wood Green, Liberal Democrat)
What recent assessment she has made of developments in the situation in Darfur; and if she will make a statement.

Margaret Beckett (Secretary of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office)
President Bashir has now accepted UN support for AMIS—the African Union Mission in Sudan—and has allowed the first UN military personnel into Darfur. That is important, but it is only the first step. We urge the Government of Sudan, the UN and the African Union to work for full implementation of the joint support package and an urgent resumption of the political process. All sides need to observe the ceasefire, too, particularly the Government of Sudan, who have been bombing the rebels, as that is vital for progress on the humanitarian front.

Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey & Wood Green, Liberal Democrat)
I thank the Secretary of State for her reply, but has a timeline been developed for the United Nations and the African Union to be on the ground? At what point will that protection start to be provided for people in Darfur?

Margaret Beckett (Secretary of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office)
There are three stages to the deployment: first, light support, in which 180 personnel, 34 of whom have already arrived, are expected to be involved; secondly, heavy support; and, finally, the establishment of a full hybrid African Union and United Nations force. There is no specific timescale, but everyone who wishes the position in Darfur to improve is anxious that as many of those people as possible should be deployed as soon as possible, and that is something for which we are all working.

Ironically, had had to move my meeting with Secretary of State for International Development from 3pm because of the question. It’s like a ballot – so until a couple of days before you have no idea that the question you have tabled has been selected. Anyway – Hilary Benn’s office were very accommodating and moved the meeting which had been initiated by Hilary as a meet and greet me in my new role.

I went to DFID unarmed. Having heard tell that Hilary Benn doesn’t have an enemy in the world, I judged it safe. Which meant I found myself not just with Hilary as I had expected – but with four of his key aides. Five to one! The first thing you notice is that it is nothing like the Home Office – they are nice and civilised. I think in the year and a half I was on the front bench for Home Affairs – Tony McNulty (Labour’s equivalent) only said hello about twice!

Anyway – we had a chat about the Department and the work they carry out. I look forward to working with him – as we say.

Then it was straight on to Haringey Civic Centre for the presentation by the four bidders for the new school to be built in my constituency. This is one of those insane Government forced bids to bring in an Academy. Boroughs of all political persuasions have seen these privately sponsored new schools take over. I suppose the original idea was enabling the Government to intervene where schools were failing and the LEA was appalling (understandable).

However, this is about businesses really getting hold of Government funding. Listening to the four bids – from a variety of sponsors – it was clear that there was very little to guide one as to which one would deliver exactly what. The crying shame – and actually complete travesty – was the lack of real people at the meeting. There were the bidders, the councillors, some heads, the press – but only six (other) members of the community.

So one has to wonder about Haringey’s efforts to publicise the event (not much). Gail Engert (Lib Dem Education Spokesperson) asked that they consider a better-advertised second meeting. The consultation period needs to be longer and there is a problem with the timing of the decision – which is going to be in the Easter holidays. That is not good – as people can come and present to the decision making meeting – but at that time lots of people are away.

And of course – home to watch Big Brother. This has turned political as a Labour member has tabled an EDM. I am not sure that is the way forward in this case. If there is anything that has broken our laws – then it is really a police matter. However, I am not sure whether it is that clear that it would result in a successful prosecution. It is more the bullying by a gang of girls on one who is different. I can only assume they were jealous of her and because she is posh and classy (as well as non-white) they focused their nastiness on her difference.

I wonder if their punishment won’t be ending up pariahs when they come out. If only the world was that fair!!!

102 bus: good news

A London busHurrah! Transport for London is finally proposing to extend the 102 bus route by giving it a half-hourly service at night.

My Lib Dem colleague Cllr Gail Engert (Muswell Hill, my old ward!) has been campaigning for this – so congrats to Gail.

You can read more in the story on my website – including crucially how you can have your say on these plans.

Muswell Hill Library

Went to the public meeting / consultation on the plans for Muswell Hill Library on Wednesday evening. If it all came off as described and local residents concerns can be addressed – then the library could be fantastic.

It is much in need of really expensive love and attention. Patching up won’t do any longer – and it is right to develop the library into a modern, vibrant social centre. So that’s the good news.

Of course, funding it requires the building of a few probably luxury dwellings and the leasing of a space within the new library development for a restaurant. There was some concern over a restaurant – smells, noise, suitability and some calls for something more like a coffee shop with evening readings, etc etc. For those living in Avenue Mews, the fly in the ointment and for them a serious fly, is the loss of the only available parking in the street bar about eight on street spaces if the extra development happens.

The issues I raised were really about concerns over the rather vague presentation of the business plan and costs. As it was – with no idea of what bit raised what finance – it was impossible to make any judgement as to whether there was a choice at all as to what the space within the library could be let for – is any alternative to a restaurant feasible? Commercial confidentiality was given as the reason – but I didn’t feel that the figures had been really tested to any degree. So I asked Lorna Reith if she would go back to Property Services and rigorously test the figures. At this point it seemed that Property had simply said we need to sell land for development and lease a space – and that that had been taken at face value.

I also asked that whether she could take back the issue of the problems of Avenue Mews residents re parking to see if there were any other little bits of land belonging to the Council that might be rented to them. Both of these things Lorna agreed to do.

There still was a lack of detail about the plans – and Cllr Gail Engert (Lib Dem, Muswell Hill) made a very good point in terms of having asked after the last meeting for that detail yet here we all were at a second meeting and the detail was still not available.

However, all in all, it was a pretty positive meeting. And as I said at the beginning – if it all works out it could be great. If…

Haringey Council results

Well – it was very close! Massive Lib Dem gains, but not quite enough to take control of Haringey Council – Labour majority cut to just three (30-27 – no other parties have any councillors) with Lib Dems making 11 gains.

We also topped the vote across the borough – adding up the top votes in each ward – and actually now have councillors in a majority of the wards in Haringey. So – very close! Best every Lib Dem result, including our first councillors in Tottenham, many in Wood Green etc.

Lib Dem highlights:

Alexandra – 3 Lib Dem holds – Dave Beacham, Wayne Hoban and Susan Oatway re-elected

Bounds Green – 2 Lib Dem gains – Ali Demirci and John Oakes

Crouch End – 3 Lib Dem holds – Ron Aitken and David Winskill re-elected, joined by Lyn Weber

Fortis Green – 3 Lib Dem holds – Matt Davies and Martin Newton re-elected, joined by Sara Beynon

Harringay – 2 Lib Dem gains – Karen Alexander and Carolyn Baker

Highgate – 3 Lib Dem holds – Bob Hare and Neil Williams re-elected, joined by Justin Portess

Hornsey – 3 Lib Dem gains – Robert Gorrie, Errol Reid and Monica Whyte elected

Muswell Hill – 3 Lib Dem holds – Jonathan Bloch and Gail Engert re-elected, joined by Sheila Rainger (who has taken over my old council seat)

Noel Park – 2 Lib Dem gains – Catherine Harris and Fiyaz Mughal elected

Stroud Green – 1 Lib Dem hold and 2 Lib Dem gains – Laura Edge re-elected and Ed Butcher and Richard Wilson elected

Congratulations and commiseration to all candidates and helpers – both those who made it and those who didn’t, in all parties.

UPDATE: There are now further election result details on Haringey Council’s website.

Muswell Hill by-election

Leap out of bed at 4am and into strange clothing appropriate for delivering leaflets in Muswell Hill ward for polling day. “Good Morning” the leaflets say – bright and cheery on doormats for when people awake.

As dawn breaks over Muswell Hill, I race a milkman down Park Avenue North – he delivering milk, me Good Mornings. He wins. Back home at 7am to do a couple of hours of emails and then off to City Hall for the first of the Olympics Forum.

This is the bid team, led by Barbara Cassani, trying to engage with the key stakeholders in London to build the support needed for a successful bid. Although a PR exercise – I am still very impressed with her and indeed the thinking behind our Olympics bid. Will have my full support and effort. It would be tremendous if we won.

Then back to Muswell Hill LibDem committee room to start the knocking up. Knocking up, for the uninitiated, is when poor activists like me hound local residents who have said when previously canvassed that they will vote for us. So I go round for seven hours or so knocking on their doors to drive them out to the polls and to do their democratic duty.

Polls close at 9pm and its off to Haringey Civic Centre for the count. I am up in the public gallery with the team, whilst our counting agents and candidate Gail Engert is downstairs in the count itself. Craning necks to see where the crosses are on the first ballot papers to emerge, my eyesight fails and I haven’t a clue what is on them. But it doesn’t take long to know that we have a landslide victory.

What a fabulous result for us. This is my ward where I am a sitting councillor too – so extra pleasure in a result that delivers Gail a 57% majority.

The result is:

Gail Engert (Lib Dem) 1,739 (70%, +8%)

Labour 321 (13%, -6%)

Tories 278 (11%, +2%)

Greens 164 (7%, -3%)

Majority: 1,418

Turnout: 32%

Swing: 7% Lab to Lib Dem

Then everyone back to my house for champagne! I clearly drank too much of it as I am sitting typing this with what must be a hangover. I don’t drink very much and two glasses is usually more than enough – but on a night like this, I guess I must have let my hair down and had at least four.