Thursday, October 06, 2016

Councillor report to West Ham Labour Party branch meeting

Report for Ward Meeting 6 October 2016

Apologises for the lateness of this report and not attending all of this meeting but after presenting my report and answering any questions, I will go to the Forest Gate North ward meeting where I am the Vice Chair.

Instead of just listing issues and events I have attended in a chronological order (as  I have done in the past)  I have tried this time to report back on “themes” which I think are important and of interest to members. Please let me know what you think about this new format?

Casework
Housing issues continue to dominate casework from surgeries, emails and telephone calls (and even Facebook and twitter). Residents have contacted me about overcrowding, homelessness, pending evictions, urgent health applications, allocations policy, anti-social behaviour, and disrepair. Also planning, parking, council tax benefit, LOBOs, the privatisation of council services and specific complaints about other Council services.

I have managed to help residents get legal advice in order to prevent/suspend evictions and forced moves for Newham homeless families to Birmingham; I have undertaken (with other ward Councillors and residents) housing estate inspections, parking meetings with residents and officers and will be attending a Newham Council Local Development meeting in support of residents over a serious and long running planning dispute.

Council Meetings
I have continued to press the case (with other Councillors) for the Council to take action against the deception and rip off of the Council by the so called LOBO loans by the Banks. We have over £500 million of these toxic 50 year plus loans which were sold to us by the Banks at the same time that some of their staff (who have since been criminally convicted) were fixing interest rates that were detrimental against us. There are also allegations of secret “kickback” payments between various Banks and Council financial advisors over such loans, and we are trying to find out if this affected Newham. In the last financial year the “fair value” (redemption cost) of these loans rose from £1 billion to £1.25 billion. A number of concerned Councillors are trying to get the Executive to agree to meet financial and legal experts who have even offered a possible “no win-no fee” arrangement for Newham to sue the Banks and stop us being ripped off.

I have also submitted a written report to Cabinet and members (copy available) on my concerns about this year’s budget and the proposed privatisation of Council services, lack of social housing, Mayoral advisers' allowances, air quality, Council tax increase, lack of youth club provision and welfare rights' advice. 

I will be contacting Executive members about the level of Council tax benefit that Newham residents on low incomes receive, exemptions and what appears to be an excessive level of Court summons and use of Bailiffs. Other Labour Councils act very differently.

Other Council related work
Early this year I was part of a Greek Solidarity Campaign delegation (self-funded) to Athens. 

The delegation included Labour Party & UNISON activists, David Lammy MP and Jon Lansman. The theme was local government and trade unions. We visited Solidarity centres, and make-shift refugee shelters in the port, met Greek Government ministers and various MPs at Parliament and ministry buildings, Greek Mayors and Councillors at local town halls, national and public sector trade unions. I have written a report on what was a fascinating but at times a very distressing visit (copy available).

Party work
I was involved in the successful campaign to elect, Anam Islam, as Councillor in Forest Gate North and the (unsuccessful) campaign to “Remain” in the European Union. While I fully accept the result for Brexit I am very angry at the frankly appalling local campaign in Newham and that we had the lowest vote in London to “Remain” for a Labour authority. We only had 52% for 'remain' compared to over 75% in Lambeth, Hackney and Haringey.

I have also campaigned in the successful London Mayoral/GLA campaign for Sadiq Khan and the Hackney Mayor by election.

Recent Suspensions/Expulsions of members
While I have been horrified at some of the completely vile and unacceptable abuse on social media (by all sides) during the recent leadership campaign, I am aware of individual West Ham CLP cases where members have been suspended or even expelled on evidence which I find, to say the least, unconvincing.

I also think this is unfair since I know that serious and substantiated allegations of violent, abusive, sexist and racist behaviour has been made against members in the recent past to the Party yet it has so far failed to act.

Re-election of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn.
I congratulate Jeremy on his victory. He has clearly earned the right to lead the Party into the next General Election. I hope that the Party will now pull together behind him and that we will do everything we can to defeat the Tories in 2020 (or sooner). I am concerned about the proposed boundary changes and that the historic name for a parliament seat “West Ham” is also at risk.

John Gray
West Ham Ward Councillor
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