Jennette Arnold
London assembly member for North East London — fighting your corner at City Hall

A unpublished Greater London Authority report suggests that Boris Johnson is considering a 90% cut to funding to youth and education schemes.

The fact that Boris Johnson would even consider cuts of 90% to schemes designed to help some of London’s most vulnerable young people tells you everything you need to know about his cavalier and uncaring approach to governing.

Projects to increase apprenticeships and support for people to stay on at school may seem like optional extras to Boris Johnson but for many young people they make a world of difference, helping them to get on in an increasingly competitive jobs market.

Boris Johnson may be focused on his next job in Parliament but he has a duty to responsibly see out his term working for all Londoners. These cuts however suggest more a policy of scorched earth, drastically cutting funding to important projects and leaving his successor to pick up the pieces.

Labour London Assembly Member Jennette Arnold OBE AM was left unimpressed by Mayor Boris Johnson’s apology at yesterday’s Mayor’s Question Time for his ‘oversight’ when he failed to consult with local stakeholders about the planned closure of Waltham House Police Station on Kirkdale Road, Leytonstone, Waltham Forest.

The plans to close Waltham House came to light in mid-September, and led to a backlash from local representatives and residents because of the disregard the Mayor’s Office of Police and Crime (MOPAC) and the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) gave for failing to consult them properly about the decision, and for putting financial gains above residents’ safety and confidence in policing.

When pressed on the proposed closure of Waltham House, specifically, Mr. Johnson said he was sorry “if there had been some oversight” when it came to communicating the plans. This will leave people concerned that not only was he unaware of the situation at Waltham House, but that he also fails to grasp the full extent of the frustration and upset that these plans have had on the people of Waltham Forest. Furthermore, when pressed to give an answer about plans to cut Contact Points around London, he failed to offer any reassurance, adding: “We’re reviewing them … but I’m afraid I can’t give you the answer”, which leads to concerns that more Contact Points across London could also be vulnerable.

Labour London Assembly Member for Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest, Jennette Arnold OBE AM, said:

“When it comes to the proposed plans to close Waltham House Police Station, the Mayor’s apology for failing to communicate with local residents and representatives is flimsy, unacceptable and too little too late. I am deeply concerned that this conditional apology not only suggests that he wasn’t aware of the situation at Waltham House, but also fails to grasp the seriousness of the situation. He has been elected to represent the views of Londoners, and failing to communicate with the residents of Leytonstone and Waltham Forest about this important plan to close a local police station smacks of ineptitude and arrogance.

“The Mayor has agreed to write to me formally with an explanation and to outline his plans for Waltham House, and I look forward to receiving this as soon as possible so that people’s minds can be put at rest. Rest assured, I am not impressed by the Mayor’s handling of this situation, and will be doing all I can to ensure that the people of Leytonstone get a full explanation and, more importantly, have a police service that they need in the local area.”

ENDS

Notes

Jennette Arnold OBE is a Labour London Assembly Member for Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest

A video of Mayor’s Question Time from Wednesday 22 October where Boris Johnson was asked about Waltham House by the Chair of the Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee, Joanne McCartney, can be found here.

Latest figures show that forces in Hackney face a 8% vacancy rate; Islington 8%; and Waltham Forest 11%. This leaves Hackney without 17 sergeants and 35 constables; Islington without 9 sergeants and 38 constables; and Waltham Forest without 19 sergeants and 53 constables. Figures also show a £13.7m Met underspend on police officer pay, suggesting that that vacancies have been sitting open as part of a cost saving exercise.

New figures obtained by my colleague, Labour London Assembly Member Joanne McCartney, show that in May this year (the latest period available) there were 1,209 vacancies for police sergeants and constables across the capital’s borough forces.

The high vacancy rates come on top of significant cuts in police numbers since the Government came to power, with official figures showing 171 police officers and PCSOs cut from Hackney’s streets; and 161 from Islington’s streets (although, conversely, an increase of 19 officers and PCSOs on Waltham Forest’s streets) between May 2010 and May 2014, and 4,694 from London’s streets overall. A report last year also found that the Met’s proportion of officers deemed ‘visible’ was the third lowest in England and Wales.

Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest are three of 14 London boroughs with vacancy rates of over 6%, with five facing double digit deficits, including Waltham Forest. Harrow is shown to have the highest percentage of vacancies, with 15% of its sergeant and constable posts unfilled. Waltham Forest had the highest overall number, with 72 vacancies from a force of 664.

The figures were revealed after HMIC warned that “forces across England and Wales plan to achieve most of their savings by reducing the number of police officers, PCSOs and police staff… most of the savings [of the MPS] come from reducing the size of the workforce.”

In his manifesto Boris Johnson pledged to put more officers on the beat. In reality what we have seen is a net decrease of 313 police officers and PCSOs cut from my constituency’s streets since this Government came to power. Now we learn that on top of that between 8%-11% of Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest’s sergeants and constables are missing due to unfilled vacancies, that’s 171 extra officers who should be on the streets of Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest. It is an absolute scandal that police numbers have been allowed to fall this low, these vacancies are leaving a gaping hole at the heart of the our local police force.

Whilst a small churn in the number of officers is to be expected, these are deeply concerning figures. With 52 police officer positions unfilled in Hackney; 47 unfilled in Islington; and 72 in Waltham Forest, we need to ask not only what impact that has on policing, but why the Mayor of London Boris Johnson has allowed it to happen in the first place. Either the depth of officer morale is so low they are haemorrhaging officers, or these posts are being kept open to keep costs down. Either way the Mayor should take immediate action to ensure our police force is up to strength and vacancies are filled as quickly as possible.

NOTES

I urge residents in Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest to take your chance to contribute to the consultation on the Mayor of London’s proposal to close all the capital’s tube ticket offices. If implemented the decision would not only mean the loss of every one of London’s tube ticket offices, but it would see 900 staff axed.

Boris Johnson is proposing that all ticket offices across Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest will close and hundreds of staff axed – despite the fact that, during his election campaign in 2008, Johnson pledged not to close any front counters, promising that there will always be “a manned ticket office at every station”; and despite the fact that last year almost 40% of ticket sales were conducted by staffed station counters(1).

Opponents of the cuts argue that, even without ticket offices, staff should be retained to keep travellers safe, particularly at night; to deal with more complex queries, such as refunds; and to help people unfamiliar with the tube network and those less comfortable with using ticket machines, such as London’s elders and tourists visiting the city.

The consultation, which launched on Friday 15 August, runs for 6 weeks and is co-ordinated by London TravelWatch. It can be completed at: http://www.londontravelwatch.org.uk/tubeconsultation.

Not only has Boris Johnson gone back on his manifesto promise to keep ticket offices open, but he wants to get rid of 900 staff, putting their livelihoods at risk. There is nothing wrong with modernising transport services using new technology, but it is so important for people living in and visiting my constituency that they have staffed ticket offices to help them feel safe, particularly at night; and to assist those who prefer dealing with a person and not a computer, such as elders and people with disabilities. There can be no compromise when it comes to safety and accessibility.

It also breaks my heart that people will lose their jobs and livelihoods as a result of the Mayor’s proposals.

People in Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest need a full staff team on hand to keep them safe and to help them deal with their queries and concerns as they arise. Getting rid of 900 staff members in a city with an ever-increasing population is just ludicrous. Boris’s cuts must be stopped.

I have made my feelings about the proposed closures quite clear in correspondence with the Mayor, and I now urge people across Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest to have their say using the survey, to tell Boris Johnson what they think about his broken manifesto promise to keep ticket offices open.

Notes:

(1) The latest figures from TFL, revealed through Freedom of Information requests, showed that 39.15% of ticket sales in 2013/14 were bought in ticket offices.

Today marked the day that Boris’ reckless fire stations closures and budget cuts to London’s Fire Service came into effect.

I was humbled to join local residents and campaigners at Clerkenwell Fire Station to oppose the Mayor’s cuts and reflect upon the impact that these closures will have on the safety of Londoners and on the livelihoods of many firemen and women who have lost their jobs.

Several protests took place across London, and I joined firefighters and many others at Camberwell Fire Station at 8.30am to continue my support of the campaign against Boris’ cuts, which took effect from 9am, meaning that, Londonwide, there are now 10 fewer fire stations, 14 fewer fire engines and 552 fewer firefighters than yesterday.

The full list of stations axed includes Clerkenwell and Kingsland in my constituency, as well as Belsize, Bow, Downham, Knightsbridge, Silvertown, Southwark, Westminster and Woolwich, as well as the removal of fire engines from Chingford, Leyton and Leytonstone in my constituency and Hayes, Peckham and Whitechapel.

The cuts follow a lengthy campaign to stop the Mayor’s plans which originally included over 18 fire stations and 32 fire engines. The cuts are being made to fund Boris Johnson’s penny a day cut to his share of the council tax for each household. Last year the Mayor was presented with fully-costed proposals to maintain all fire services across London, but he chose to ignore this and ignore Londoners.

Today’s demonstration, which saw hundreds of people out on the streets in protest, shows the strength of feeling amongst the local community against these cuts.

What worries me most is that Boris Johnson’s decision to close these stations and axe the fire engines and firefighters will lead to significantly increased response times to incidents across London. In some areas it will now take nearly two minutes longer for a fire engine to arrive on scene and, as we know, every second counts to save property and to save lives.

I want to pay tribute and to say a personal thank you to the firefighters who are now unemployed, despite putting their lives on the line on a daily basis to keep Londoners safe and to save Londoners’ lives. They truly are heroes and deserve to be applauded for their dedication and professionalism. It is devastating for them, their families and for local residents that many brave firemen and women have now lost their jobs.

Regrettably, Boris has not listened to local residents and is forcing these cuts through. In response to his consultation, an overwhelming 94% of Londoners said they do not support his plans, yet he went ahead with them anyway. It is also sad that he cannot swallow his pride and come down to say a personal thank you to the firefighters that have served London so well for such a long time. He should be thoroughly ashamed and, more importantly, held to account come 2016 for these reckless closures that will put Londoners’ safety at risk, including many of my constituents in Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest.

Solidarity to all firefighters across London. You truly are the unsung heroes of our city.