Friday, January 27, 2006

London newsbriefs

London police bodies oppose arming all officers

London’s policing bodies have opposed arming all police officers. Experts have pointed out that in the US many more officers are shot, and that arming the police creates a gun culture.
Metropolitan Police chief Sir Ian Blair said: “ninety per cent of the Met remains unarmed – I want to keep it that way”.
The Metropolitan Police Federation, representing rank and file officers, says three quarters of its members “did not want to be routinely armed”. The Metropolitan Police Authority, represent political parties and community groups, said that the current level of armed officers, 10 per cent, is “appropriate for London’s protection”.
The call for routine arming has also been opposed by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

London cabbies join low pollution drive

The mayor of London has announced plans to reduce emissions from London’s taxis by one third in three years, as part of plans to make London a Low Emission Zone which is also targeting buses, coaches and lorries.
London cabbies have a choice of buying new, cleaner cabs, fitting catalytic converters or filters, or converting to liquefied petroleum gas. This is being funded by a surcharge of 20p on all taxi fares which is already in place.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone says Taxi drivers themselves are exposed to pollution and tend to operate in the most polluted areas, such as central London and Heathrow airport.
London has the worst air quality in the UK, believed to be responsible for 1,600 premature deaths a year.

Britain's worst employment blackspot

London has lowest level of employment in the country

London has been revealed as the country’s worst employment blackspot, as well as having the second highest unemployment, despite being by far the wealthiest part of Britain.
London is the only region in Britain where unemployment is now higher than in 1979.
Only 69.4 per cent of the workforce are working in the capital, the lowest in the country, against a UK average of 74.7 per cent.
In five boroughs - Newham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Haringey and Barking & Dagenham - employment is below the EU average of 63.3 per cent.
Although there are enough jobs in London, they are not being taken up for various reasons. The capital has the highest proportions of ethnic
minorities, lone parents, ex-prisoners and drug addicts, who often lack
education and skills.
Astronomical rent and house prices prevent many from taking low-paid jobs and losing benefits. Many of the best and well-paid jobs are taken by commuters from outside London.
Unemployment in London (people actively seeking work rather than just
receiving benefits) is 6.6 per cent, second only to the north-east and way above the national average of 4.7 per cent.
Unemployment is far worse for the capital’s minorities - 11.7 per cent
compared to 5.3 per cent for white Londoners. In Tower Hamlets 23.6% of
non-whites are unemployed.

Middle-Class Flight

Meanwhile an urban taskforce led by architect Lord Rogers has warned that the middle classes are abandoning inner London and other cities, threatening a “deepening racial and social divide”.
The study called for the development of more mixed communities on recycled urban land to tackle “massive inequalities”, even though Britain’s inner cities have overcome many of the problems of the 1980s and 90s caused by industrial decline.
The taskforce of architects and planners said there was increasing
“ghettoisation” between rented and private housing because new projects had low quality housing and were isolated from existing communities.
The group decided to produced their own study because recommendations they made six years ago in a government-backed report had been virtually ignored.
Lord Rogers singled out developments along the River Thames , saying “if you take a trip down the Thames, you’re absolutely amazed at the appalling design.”
One reason for this was a maze of public agencies, all with separate
The report says government funding was skewed towards new building in areas which were already over-congested, undermining existing communities – a criticism of deputy prime minister John Prescott’s “sustainable communities” plan focused on four big growth areas in southeastern England.

Off the rails!

South East Trains re-privatised

Keith Norman, head of the rail union ASLEF, says the government has “ignored its responsibilities to passengers, staff and the tax-payer” by re-privatising South East Trains.
Train operator Govia has been awarded an eight year franchise in an exercise costing the Department for Transport £3.85 million. Its first decision was to increase fares by 3% above inflation.
Norman described the move as “the politics of the madhouse and the economics of the asylum” and “a slap in the face for millions of commuters across the south-east of England”. The two years in public hands after Connex lost its franchise saw great improvements in South East Trains’ punctuality and profitability.
Norman pointed out that the Labour Party conference fully supported South East Trains staying in public hands. “Their decisions have been ignored, and the government’s real attitude towards public ownership has been revealed.
It seems the real policy is privatisation, pure and simple.”
A recent poll showed 72% of the public would like rail companies to revert to public control when franchises expire - demolishing the myth of British Rail’s appalling services.

Northern Line crisis could be end of line for tube PPP

The Northern Line, London underground’s busiest section, suffered a four-day shutdown in November as a direct result of carving the system up between ever more contractors with part-privatisation.
The crisis saw transport minister Alistair Darling, London’s mayor,
Transport for London (TfL), the head of London Underground and the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), united in calling for French contractors Alstom to be sacked.
The shutdown happened when tripcock safety brakes were declared unsafe by RMT stewards after multiple failures.
They were backed by transport commissioner Bob Kiley and London Underground chief Tim O’Toole, while Alstom denied any threat to safety.
According to RMT head Bob Crow, Alstom opposed daily testing of the
‘failsafe’ brakes because the resulting delays would incur financial
For the first time London Underground issued an ‘emergency direction’,
ordering contractors Tube Lines (Alstom’s parent company) to speed up
repairs.Since then London Underground has effectively taken over safety maintenance on the Northern Line until the problems have been resolved.
Under the labyrinthine PPP system, TfL inspectors could only take action after four stages of legal action.
Dozens of lawyers had to plough through two million-word PPP contracts and the 18 volume PFI contract between Alstom and Tube Lines.
Following the crisis Bob Kiley and transport minister Alistair Darling gave TfL the green light to end Alstom’s contract. According to Darling,“no-one can regard the present situation as anything but unbelievably unsatisfactory”.
Incredibly even parent company Tube Lines warned Alstom that their PFI
arrangement was not working, no doubt worried about its share prices.
The crisis has raised the prospect that the ill-fated part privatisation will not last until 2032 after all.
The government may now opt for a similar solution to that following the
collapse of Railtrack, and the creation of publicly owned Network Rail.

How corruption was built in to underground contracts

Public-private partnership on the tube, one of the most convoluted deals ever made, has been described as a “gold-plated cash cow” for the
The contracts came complete with generous “success fees”, involve no risks, guarantee a huge income until 2032, and frequently change hands with huge profits made.
Construction firms Jarvis and Amey were floundering when they won their contracts and were saved by the PPP contracts, which became their main profit earners. Jarvis has sold its contract to Amey, which was then bought by a Spanish company.
The Metronet consortium running six tube lines plans to subcontract train maintenance to Bombardier, making front-line engineering staff redundant and leaving separate companies running its trains, track maintenance, and train maintenance.
The RMT’s Bob Crow says London’s mayor should be able to halt further
subcontracting. “No amount of fine-tuning can transform the PPP from a
vehicle for profit without responsibility into one that delivers
improvements safely and at reasonable cost.”
Meanwhile Ken Livingstone and transport commissioner Bob Kiley have operated public services superbly.
The Docklands Light Railway extension, East London line and Oyster card
ticketing, improvements to busses, and central London traffic reduction, are all on time and within budget.

Overcrowding + Delays = Higher Profits

The contractors pay high penalties for rush hour delays in central London. But early morning delays due to late engineering incur small fines, even though they cause knock-on delays throughout the morning rush hour.
So now we know: tube users suffer delays and crowding so that contractors can boost their lucrative profits.

Targets not met? Get paid anyway!

The contractors still get paid for work, even when it is not done. New
District Line trains are a year late, but Metronet has been paid.

The Victoria Line refurbishment, station renewal and track renewal are all late - but the contractors have already been paid!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Multiculturalism works for London

by Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London

Against a backdrop of the London bombings, the scenes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the riots across French towns and cities, a furious debate on racial equality and community relations has unfolded in the media over the summer and autumn.
After the terrorist attacks in July, some commentators and newspapers urged London to abandon its policies of respect for different cultures and celebration of diversity – in favour of what some described as the ‘French model’.
The suggestion was that, London, by celebrating the contribution of
different cultures to our city, was emphasising differences rather than what people have in common and encouraging ‘segregation’. In reality the Greater London Authority’s research shows that the real trend is not of ‘segregation’ of ethnic minorities, but of increased dispersal as new communities become established over time.
It was suggested that the French model, which supposedly disregards ethnic and religious differences – to the point of banning Muslim headscarves in schools – would produce greater social cohesion. As France does not collect statistics on ethnic and religious communities, there is little evidence of whether the model allows ethnic minorities to get their fair share of jobs,resources and opportunities.
But the riots which spread across France from the end of October suggest the French model has singularly failed to integrate the 10 or more per cent of its population of Arab and African heritage – and instead confined them to vast ghettos with many times the average levels of unemployment and poverty, and the indignity of being disproportionately singled out for police identity checks when they leave their local area.
In Britain, it was stop and search operations disproportionately targeting black youths that triggered the riots which swept the country more than 20 years ago in 1981. It should not be forgotten that, at that time, much as in France today, there was not a single black or Asian member of parliament, virtually no representation on local councils, virtually no black police officers, few teachers and virtually no leading business people. London still faces great challenges. Our education system does not give black schoolboys the start in life to which they are entitled. Far too little has been done to ensure that those leading and staffing our public services and private companies properly reflect all of the city’s communities.
But, as the united response to the bombings showed, London’s model of
multiculturalism works. Its cornerstone is the simple economic reality that in the age of globalisation the world’s great cities will become more and more diverse. We want any company, anywhere in the world, looking to invest here to know that their staff will find a community to welcome them and help them be themselves.
We can celebrate our diversity and make it a great source of creativity and dynamism, or we can fight it, as in the clash of civilisations thesis, and turn our cities into zones of fear and conflict.
London’s choice is clear. We celebrate diversity. We aim to give every
community its fair stake in our city’s politics, prosperity and culture. We want every community fully represented in our police service, teaching profession, boardrooms and politics. We have no illusions about how far we still have to go to achieve social justice and racial equality – but we have no doubt that we have chosen the right path for the future.

with thanks to The Londoner, newspaper of the GLA.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A Lack of Respect

RESPECT MP George Galloway last week made a catastrophic political mistake in taking part in the Celebrity Big Brother programme on Channel Four. His declared aim was “to bring political debate to wider audience” of young people who are out of touch with political issues. But the programme makers have gagged him. Every political word he utters is edited or bleeped out.
It has to be so. Broadcasting standards authorities do not allow the expression of political opinions in programmes unless they are “completely balanced” with a right of reply for all mainstream viewpoints. Programme makers cannot achieve this except in designated discussion programmes, documentaries and well-signposted satires.
This is why in dramas and soap operas no character ever expresses an opinion on any current major news topic or takes part in any political activity. This has led to a generation of young people who have grown up thinking that getting involved in politics is not quite normal.
George Galloway is experienced enough to know that no aspect of the bourgeois state can be used against the system. He has made a fool of himself and played into the hands of those who want to discredit his campaign against the war on Iraq.
Just a few months ago his political stature was miles high after he publicly berated the US Senate Committee over the war on Iraq. Now he has undermined his own credibility by mistaking a programme chiefly about sleaze and voyeurism for a political platform.

RMT battles for Tube safety

THE RMT transport union last Monday slammed the management of London Underground for ignoring Tube safety rules in an attempt to beat strike action by station staff over the imposition of unsafe rosters.
RMT London regional organiser Bobby Law said that the system was being kept open by untrained staff and managers who were working shifts of up to 20 hours.
“Due to the intransigence of London Underground, trains full of passengers are running through closed stations, in direct contravention of safety rules.
“For instance, instead of disembarking passengers, Piccadilly lines are running through three consecutive closed stations: Caledonian Road, Holloway Road and Kings Cross,” he said.
Bobby Law also outlined one incident at Upminster Bridge on Sunday evening when an emergency alarm stopped the train halfway into the platform.
Unruly passengers began opening the doors and the driver retreated to his cab and locked himself in. Police arrived 40 minutes later with a supervisor who had been called in from his home to open the station.
“It is clear that London Underground attempts to run a network without adequate station staff is putting the public at risk. They can’t even keep their headquarters station, St James’s Park, open without using untrained staff,” said Bobby Law.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the blatant safety breaches showed management desperation.
“We will be balloting the union’s entire London Underground membership for action short of strike action over these health and safety breaches.
“However, the union appeals to London Underground, even at this late stage, to postpone the imposition of these unsafe staffing plans in order to assess all safety implications,” he said. The RMT also welcomed the announcement of a safety investigation by HM Chief Inspector of Railways into reported breaches of safety regulations by London Underground during the New Year’s Eve strike by 4,000 RMT station staff.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bus, tube and train fares surge upwards

COMMUTERS in London and throughout the country are facing above inflation-level increases in fares on just about all forms of public transport.
Train travellers are angry at rises of up to nine per cent on unregulated fares and up to 3.9 percent on regulated fares (season and saver tickets).
Passenger groups complain that services are not improving as fares rise. Trains are still unreliable and often very overcrowded.
The Rail Passengers’ Council said: “We have had loads of complaints. People are really worried about the massive price rises made by all the train companies. For lots of passengers forced to travel to work at peak times, these new price hikes will make the train unaffordable.
“At the moment people do not think they get value for their money. They see no benefits for the price they pay. Commuters are facing a monopoly where they have no choice but to travel with certain companies at certain times.” shamelessly
Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union, also criticised the private train companies. “The train operators are shamelessly using their route monopolies to maximise revenues and profits on premium routes.”
Londoners face even bigger rises for bus and tube fares. The price of a single journey by tube in central London has risen by 50 per cent to £3 while the cost of a single bus journey in London has risen to £1.50.
London mayor Ken Livingstone says the price rises are intended to encourage Londoners to get Oyster travel cards which give discounted fares. But even on these the discounted single bus journey fare is now £1 – a 25 per cent rise from 80 pence last year.
And weekly bus passes – which can be included on an Oyster card – have risen by nearly 25 per cent from £11 a week to £13.50. These increased travel costs will hit hardest those on the lowest incomes who cannot afford to travel any other way.
There is great resentment as many feel that the poorest Londoners are being taxed in this way to fund the 2012 Olympics – which will be of no benefit to them at all as they will be unable to afford the entry price to the events and will face only increased disruption, increased prices and congestion during the Olympics.