Pickles urged to intervene and stop the appointment.
Westminster City Council is advertising for a new £125,000 a year Director of Communications at the same time as it is making £12 million of cuts to services to children and the elderly and axing its entire £350,000 a year Arts and Culture programme.
Labour Councillors have called on Local Government Minister Eric Pickles to intervene to stop the appointment. Labour say that, at a time of economic austerity, there is no justification for spending £125,000 of Council Tax payers’ money on another expensive bureaucrat, especially when the Council’s £3 million a year Communications Department already employs;
* Deputy Head of Communications – £90,000
* Head of Media Relations – £82,000
* Head of Strategy – £78,000
* Head of Policy and Partnerships – £72,000
* Senior Communications Manager – £61,000
Minister told to ‘get tough’ with Westminster Council as number of families with children in B&B accommodation for more than 6 weeks is set to increase to over 150.
Labour Councillors have called on Housing Minister Mark Prisk MP to ‘get tough’ with Westminster Council after Housing officers predicted that the number of Westminster families with children currently in Bed & Breakfast accommodation for more than 6 weeks will increase from the current number of 120 to over 150 over the coming weeks and months.
In November 2012, Mr Prisk told Westminster North MP Karen Buck that placing families with children in B&B accommodation was “unacceptable and unlawful”. Overall, there are currently over 2,300 Westminster families in Temporary Accommodation.
West End actors Samantha Bond, Alistair McGowan, Nickolas Grace and Abigail Thaw have joined the fight to save Westminster Council’s £350,000 arts and culture budget from the axe, by signing an on-line petition which now has over 600 signatures.
Other well known figures in the arts who have signed the petition are actors Peter Polycarpou, Saskia Reeves, Paula Wilcox, Ian McShane and Ralf Little, together with former ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ judge Arlene Philips, theatre director Philip Hedley and author and actress Barbara Ewing.
The petition calls on Westminster City Council to reject proposals to cut the entire £350,000 a year budget for Arts and Culture over the next two years: http://petitions.westminster.gov.uk/artsandculture/
The current programme is designed to give the most vulnerable residents of Westminster – the young, those with disabilities and the elderly – an opportunity to improve their lives through the arts and through culture. The cut of £350,000 represents 0.04% of the Council’s spending.
Labour Councillors say that Westminster residents could save up to £182 a year if the Council were to join the collective energy switching scheme operated by Oldham Council on behalf of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA). The AGMA scheme is already up and running and has produced impressive results to date.
In summary, the Council should join the AGMA scheme for the following reasons;
* Impressive early results: Oldham’s residents who chose to switch following the auction saved between £156 and £182 depending on fuel types and billing methods.
* An early start: Because an auction has already been run and materials are in place meaning that the processes and structures are already established. The next auction is expected to take place in March or April meaning that residents will realise savings sooner. This is important given the recent fuel price rises.
* Free to join: The scheme does not require a joining fee payable by the Council. Instead, Oldham Council encourage participating authorities make a voluntary contribution to its Co-operative fund.
As Westminster Conservatives axe the Council’s entire £350,000 a year arts and culture budget, Labour Councillors representing the Harrow Road, Queen’s Park, Westbourne and Church Street Wards have decided to spend £8,060 from their Ward Budgets towards a constructive youth engagement project for young people in the four wards, run by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
The musical project will include those at risk of becoming involved in gangs and other negative behaviours and will enable young people to improve their life skills around social interaction, team work, communication, and empathy with others, through a creative workshop process. The young people involved in the project will work towards a final performance to showcase their achievements alongside members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Throughout this February half-term the RPO will be bringing together young people (12-19) from across the four wards of Westminster – Harrow Road, Queen’s Park, Westbourne & Church Street.
Plans to axe the entire £350,000 budget on Arts and Culture are being considered by Westminster Conservatives. A report to the Council’s Budget Task Group says;
“The £350,000 currently spent annually on commissioning arts and culture programmes has been reviewed and it is planned to cease this funding over a two year financial period”
The Council plans to cut the Arts and Culture programme by £150,000 in 2013/14 and by a further £200,000 in 2014/15 and are part of the Council’s wider cuts programme that will see £12 million axed in 2013/14 and a further £18 million the following year. The £30 million to be cut over the next two years is in addition to the £60 million that has been cut over the past two years.
Examples of the programme that are currently funded by the Council and which will be affected by the axing of financial support are;
* Soho Theatre – Creative writing and literacy skills programme with the Soho Young Company with the offer of Work Experience for Westminster school students from aged 15, Front of House shadowing scheme with a chance of permanent employment at Soho Theatre.
Westminster City Council is on track to spend nearly £14 million on temporary agency staff by the end of 2012/2013.
According to Council figures, in the first nine months of the year, up until the end of December 2012, the Council had spent £10,329,000 on temporary agency staff, including;
* 1 costing between £140k – £150k
* 1 costing between £130k – £140k
* 9 costing between £100k – £120k
* 5 costing between £90k – £100k
* 4 costing between £80k – £90k
In addition, of the ‘Top Twenty’ temporary agency staff employed by the Council by length of time, the average time with the Council is 2.51 years with four staff over three years.
Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour Group, said;
“Spending nearly £14 million a year on temporary agency staff at a time when the Council is planning another £10 million of service cuts is the height of irresponsibility. There are huge savings to be made by reducing the Council’s reliance on expensive agency staff.
Westminster City Council has received £13 million from the New Homes Bonus since April 2011 but not one penny of that money has been spent on building new homes in Westminster.
According to Council officers, the Council received the following in New Homes Bonus over the past three years;
* April 11 – £1.6 million
* April 12 – £5.1 million
* April 13 – £6.3 million
Total – £13 million
* There are 120 Westminster families who have been in Bed & Breakfast accommodation for more than 6 weeks which, according to Housing Minister, Mark Prisk MP, is “unacceptable and unlawful”.
* There are over 1,000 Westminster Council tenants who the Council says are living in overcrowded conditions.
* Just one affordable flat has been built in Westminster out of the nearly 400 luxury flats that have been given planning permission for change of use from office use to residential in the past year.
Only one woman on the 12 person Commission; no place for West End churches or restaurants.
Labour’s Westminster Councillors have criticized the omission of West End workers and small businesses from Westminster Council’s ‘West End Commission’.
Labour say that, at a time of growing unemployment and economic problems, tens of thousands of West End musicians, actors, waiters and kitchen staff, croupiers and shop workers, as well as small businesses, have all been ignored by the Council and have been denied a seat on the West End Commission.
West End churches and restaurants have also been denied a place on the West End Commission and there is only one woman on the 12-person Commission.
Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour Group, said;
“The membership of the Commission needs to be drawn as widely as possible so that it includes the tens of thousands of hard working people who drive the West End economy, either as workers or small businesses. In addition to the great and the good, we want to see the West End musicians and actors represented on the Commission. We want to see the casino croupiers and the restaurant waiters with a seat at the top table in their own right. Why are the tens of thousands of West End shop workers not represented, given the massive contribution they make to the West End economy? Why have small businesses been ignored? And, given their vital contribution to the anti-parking charges campaign, why have the West End churches been totally forgotten by the Council?”
Labour Westminster Councillors have launched an on-line petition calling on Westminster Council to introduce 20 mph speed limit on residential streets in order to increase safety for pedestrians.
The Petition reads:
“We the undersigned petition Westminster City Council to increase safety for pedestrians by introducing a 20mph speed limit on appropriate streets in Westminster”
And can be signed at http://petitions.westminster.gov.uk/20mphlimit/
Labour Councillors say that a 20 mph speed limit can:
* Increase road safety, by reducing the risk and severity of collisions
* Get more people walking, and create more social streets
* Cut pollution from exhaust fumes
* Smooth traffic-flow, by reducing stop-start driving
* Reduce traffic noise.
Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour Group, said; “This is a common sense and practical measure that can improve the lives of everyone. Implementing a 20 mph speed limit can be done without the use of costly and complex traffic calming measures. If someone is hit by a car at 35 mph, their chance of survival is 50%. If someone is hit at 20 mph, their chance of survival increases to 97%.”