Free School Meals – Leave No Child Behind

Bellingham Cllr Alan Hall joined over 750 local councillors by signing a letter to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson calling for more support with free school meals, so that no child is left behind.

The letter, which was coordinated by the NEU’s Councillors’ Network, calls on the Government to ensure children from low-income families have access to Free School Meals (FSM).

Currently more than 1.7million children and young people in families in receipt of Universal Credit are missing out on this vital support all year round. Many of these families are surviving on less than £20.27 a day.

Budget cuts have also reduced funding available to local authorities to sustain and develop vital child and family services which relieve the burden on schools, enabling them to focus on teaching and learning. Similarly, as research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown, Government cuts to local authorities are disproportionately affecting the poorest places and the poorest groups.

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: ” No child should be going hungry during the day yet millions are. This has a huge impact on their learning and well-being. The pandemic highlighted the desperate situation many families cope with day in day out. We welcome the fact that Government acknowledged Marcus Rashford’s powerful campaign and extended the provision of Free School Meals over the school holiday period but that still leaves a great many families struggling without enough money to put food on the table.”

NEU-Local-Councillors-FSM-letter-to-Prime-Minsiter-26_02_21

No child should be left behind

Serious Cock Up By Health Secretary

Lewisham residents will know that the Secretary of State for Health can act unlawfully. We remember the Lewisham Hospital closure attempt when Jeremy Hunt’s hospital cuts were ruled illegal. Now we have a serious, costly cock up by the current incumbent.

The Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock acted unlawfully said Mr Justice Chamberlain in the High Court in a case concerning competition and contract procurement rules. The contracts included personal protective equipment, PPE, needed for the Covid 19 pandemic response. Reports estimate that the value of these contracts run into “hundreds of millions of pounds.” The court judgement mentions contracts in the billions.

The legal challenge was brought by the Good Law Project described as a not for profit organisation specialising in governance. The ruling says that the Government acted unlawfully by failing to comply with their Transparency Policy and that “there is now no dispute that, in a substantial number of cases, the Secretary of State breached his legal obligation to publish Contract Award Notices within 30 days of the award of contracts.” In response to the Judgement, Jolyon Maugham QC, Director, Good Law Project said:

“We shouldn’t be forced to rely on litigation to keep those in power honest, but in this case it’s clear that our challenge pushed Government to comply with its legal obligations. Judge Chamberlain stated that the admission of breach by Government was “secured as a result of this litigation and at a late stage of it” and “I have no doubt that this claim has speeded up compliance”. It begs the question, if we hadn’t brought this legal challenge, what other contract details would have remained hidden from view?”

The Government had argued that this was about “technical” breaches of the legal regulations on public contracts that allow agreements to be entered into without tender for reasons of extreme urgency brought about by unforeseen events. But regulation 50 of the public contracts regulations specifies that a contract award notice (CAN) must be published not later than 30 days after the contract award.

Ignorance by officials of the Transparency Policy, was no defence when the Judge ruled that “The Secretary of State acted unlawfully by failing to comply with the Transparency Policy” and that “there is now no dispute that, in a substantial number of cases, the Secretary of State breached his legal obligation to publish Contract Award Notices within 30 days of the award of contracts.”

According to the BMJ, this is important because publication is designed to “serve a vital public function and that function was no less important during a pandemic,” Mr Justice Chamberlain said. “The secretary of state spent vast quantities of public money on pandemic related procurement during 2020. The public were entitled to see who this money was going to, what it was being spent on, and how the relevant contracts were awarded.”

Compliance with the regulations would have allowed the Good Law Project “to scrutinise CANs and contract provisions, ask questions about them and raise any issues with oversight bodies such as the National Audit Office or via MPs in Parliament.”

The National Audit Office had said: “While we recognise that these were exceptional circumstances, there are standards that the public sector will always need to apply if it is to maintain public trust.”

Jolyon Maugham QC, Director, Good Law Projected concluded by saying: “This is a victory for all of us concerned with proper governance and proof of the power of litigation to hold Government to account. But there is still a long way to go before the Government’s house is in order. We have now written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care detailing what needs to be done to improve procurement processes and ensure value for British taxpayers.

In the House of Commons on 24th February, the Shadow Health Minister, Justin Madders, MP said:

“Why has the Secretary of State not come to Parliament to explain himself? Is breaking the law such a common occurrence in Government nowadays that it does not warrant an explanation from those responsible? The Government’s approach to procurement during the pandemic has been marred by a toxic mix of misspending and cronyism. We all understand that the Department was and is dealing with many pressing issues, but transparency is important, and accountability matters. Of course, we need to remember why there was such a rush to get PPE in the first place—it was because the Government had ignored the warnings and allowed stockpiles to run down. The pandemic has been used too often as an excuse for standards to slip, but it really should not need saying that transparency goes hand in hand with good government.”

The Good Law Project needs public support to continue this work. You can donate here

Building Common Ground In Bellingham

Bellingham is a co-operative focal point. The social housing is owned by Phoenix Community Housing. Phoenix are a community gateway housing association. This means that they are run by the tenants who live in their homes. This includes the money collected in rent.

Phoenix took the brave step in buying the dilapidated Fellowship Inn owned by Lewisham Council at the time. Now thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund and Phoenix, the Fellowship and Star is a community hub and still a pub.

The Fellowship & Star before the renovation – this is now a co-op owned cinema

Lewisham Music is a charity that was formed from the local authority music service and has its head quarters in the Fellowship and Star. They say:

“In a borough where opportunities for engagement with arts and culture is all too often uneven and localised on account of differences in financial means and social aspiration, we will target resources to groups and localities where there are barriers to participation. Our high quality learning opportunities will enrich lives, support social integration and cultural regeneration, and enable the fulfilment of musical potential.”

Across the playing fields in sight of the Fellowship and Star is Youth First. Youth First is a community benefit society that spun out of Lewisham Council’s youth service in September 2016. Born from the passion of both the staff and the council to create a means to sustain and ideally grow youth work in Lewisham, during a climate of continuing cuts and financial pressures across the public sector which elsewhere have served to end more traditional universal youth provision.

The Brent Knoll and Watergate Schools Co-operative Trust is a grassroots exempt charity in the borough of Lewisham, supporting children and young people with SEND and profound and complex learning and physical disabilities and their families and carers. Both schools are in Bellingham.

The London Co-operative Party Council has launched its manifesto for the London mayoral and London Assembly elections, and subsequent local elections.

Their manifesto explains that as co-operators, our understanding of how to achieve this is deeply practical. Our political philosophy does not come from abstract theories or airy idealism, but from the lessons learned by a movement of ordinary people who, 150 years ago, sought to regain control over their lives and to empower their communities by democratising the places where they shopped and worked. This is something we put into practice in Bellingham and there’s a thriving co-operative store on the high street too.

Importantly, the London Co-op Party says that local people should have a voice in regeneration plans:

“Over the past decade, many London councils have undertaken projects to expand housing supply, replace ageing housing stock, and to revitalise economic activity in neglected areas. While many such schemes have been successful, some have met with local opposition due to a perceived lack of consultation, poor outcomes in terms of affordable housing provision and resentments generated by perceived gentrification. These issues show the importance of ensuring that local redevelopment schemes not only consult, but are driven by, people in the areas affected, with a wide range of community groups, small businesses and residents able to influence the development of their area, rather than the dialogue being dominated by vocal, but not always representative, groups. This should happen at the earliest possible stage, before views become entrenched. London boroughs should put local people in charge of regeneration partnerships to make sure they deliver the things local communities really want and need rather than serving the needs of developers.

In Bellingham, we have a track record of putting local people in charge of community regeneration.

london-co-op-party-manifesto-FINAL-31-1-2021

Alan Hall is a Labour & Co-operative Councillor and a former Chair, Lewisham Co-op Party he has campaigned for co-operatives for many years see this article in the newsshopper

A version of this article appeared on the Co-op Party website here

Lewisham says “Let’s Turn Up The Heat” In British Gas Dispute As Gas Workers Return To Their Livesey Hall

Cllr Alan Hall joined British Gas workers, local trade unionists and campaigners outside the historic gas workers’ Livesey Hall in Bell Green, Lower Sydenham. He said: “Let’s turn up the heat on British Gas.” The Livesey Memorial Hall was built in the north-west corner of the South Suburban Gas Company’s principal site at Bell Green, which in 1911 employed 380 men. Much of the building work was carried out by the Gas Company workers. It is a Grade II Listed Historic landmark building. The separately Grade II Listed War Memorial commemorates those who died in the World Wars from the gas works.

Cllr Alan Hall says: “Let’s turn up the heat on British Gas”

This marked the start of a fresh four day strike on Friday 29 until Monday 1 February over ‘fire and rehire’ imposed pay cuts 15% below agreed rates and other adverse changes to their terms and conditions of work.

Speaking to Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Kwasi Kwarteng, Labour MP Stephen Doughty said he met with Centrica CEO Chris O’Shea in September, who told him the company has not issued s188 notices to staff.

Earlier that day, The Morning Star reported that Chris O’Shea, the boss of British Gas told Stephen Doughty MP that the company had not issued redundancy notices when they had.

Labour asking the questions
Solidarity from Lewisham TUC

In fact, Centrica had issued the s188 notices – essentially a legal letter that gives advance notice that an employer intends to dismiss staff – to its entire UK workforce in July, before negotiations had even started.

Unison represent some staff at Centrica, they say: “As a business Centrica has wasted billions of pounds over the past decade and continued during that time to make massive payments to investors. Its decline is not sudden and yet the business has under the smoke screen of an international pandemic decided opportunistically to attack its own loyal workforce and the trade unions that will defend the workforce. This is disgraceful behaviour. We have asked the business to rescind the S188 notice pending negotiations but they have rejected this request.”

GMB national secretary Justin Bowden said: “Either Chris O’Shea was in denial about the dysfunctional way he’s running the business, or he deliberately lied to a Member of Parliament representing their constituents. ”

“The eight days of strikes so far this month, provoked by a profitable British Gas, have led to a repair backlog of more than 150,000 homes, with 200,000 routine annual boiler service visits cancelled so far this month.”

Cllr Alan Hall has written to Centrica Board members demanding that they use their positions to “think again” and “reign in” the Chief Executive Officer.

Full Text below.

Dear Centrica Board Member,

I am writing to you today because I’m incredibly concerned about what I’m seeing in the newspapers and social media about how British Gas is treating its workforce.

British Gas is an institution. It’s a respected company and household name with millions of customers. It is incredibly disappointing to see that you intend to fire and rehire your employees on worse terms and conditions, and this in the middle of a global pandemic.

As Board members you are well rewarded, yet you are asking loyal and hardworking British Gas employees to add another 5.5-8 hours of unpaid work and travel to their working weeks. Many of your employees have children and families and caring responsibilities.

For a company that used to be seen as a great place to work, it’s understandable to see the anger from staff who want to protect their precious family time. For the sake of your own reputation, it’s time you reined in your out-of-control CEO Chris O’Shea.

I see that GMB – the union for British Gas workers – has been willing to negotiate and come to talks with you, but that you won’t take the threat of fire and rehire off the table – that hardly strikes me as an employer negotiating in good faith.

British Gas needs to think again. This is not how a reputable company should treat its workforce. It’s disgraceful.

As a Board member you have the ability to change things. Please use your position to do the right thing for hardworking British Gas employees.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Alan Hall

Report in the Newsshopper is here

Report in South London Press is here

Catford Town Centre Framework – A Masterplan?

Lewisham Council has released their plans for a £500 million redevelopment of Catford and they are asking for comments and views. The aim is to inform the proposals that will be developed and any new buildings will have to conform to these plans. Hopefully, the Council will have learnt the lessons of the ill fated, 19 storey Catford Tower that caused controversy back in 2015/16. This planning committee meeting was held in the Council Chamber because of the number of objectors attending. The local newsshopper reported this.

New homes could be built along Rushey Green above the existing shops, above the Catford shopping centre, within the Plassey Road island where Lidl and McDonalds are currently.

At this stage, Lewisham Council need to decide the total amount of new housing. Their size and height and the amount of social housing, affordable and private housing needed to make sure that Catford is a mixed community. This includes the amount of play spaces for different age groups, daylight and sunlight to existing and new buildings in the area and within the site. Equally important is the servicing and other requirements of commercial and other uses to ensure a high quality living environment. How will the rubbish be collected? Where can lorries load and unload?

The document runs to over 130 pages and the public consultation is due to be completed by Friday, 5th February. Please read the full document here:

CatfordTownCentreFramework2020-4-2900121

You can write an email to Lewisham Council with your views to planning.policy@lewisham.gov.uk

Rishi Bows To Pressure – as Lewisham Council Agree Motion on Universal Credit

As Lewisham Council were debating keeping the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, news was breaking that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak was bowing to public pressure and a “Tory backlash” resigning himself to continuing the uplift, despite warning it will cost £6billion a year according to the Mail online late Wednesday evening.

Unite campaign on Universal Credit

In November 2020, Unite the Union began a campaign to keep the £20 Universal Credit uplift. Also, Unite Community have been campaigning for a fairer social security system for all for years now. They say that the UK has one of the weakest welfare safety nets in Europe which had been cruelly exposed by the pandemic – and it would be morally and financially repugnant to end the £20 uplift. A survey carried out by Survation for Unite, revealed that 54 per cent of those polled wanted the £20 boost to Universal Credit, already claimed by six million people in the UK, to be extended beyond next April.

Steve Turner, Assistant General Secretary, Unite said: “This Survation survey provides further strong evidence as why we’re asking Unite members stand in solidarity and to call on councillors and others to join us in a coalition to force the government to retain the £20 increase, end the waiting time and extend payment to all legacy benefits.”

In the debate at Lewisham Council, Cllr Alan Hall said: “Twenty pounds is alot of money when you are on Universal Credit. It is the difference between eating or heating.”

“The £20 uplift makes economic sense. It boosts consumer spending more than other policies.”

“The number of people claiming Universal Credit in Lewisham has rocketed.”

“Lewisham Council should look at its website to ensure that the pathway to claim help with Council Tax is as easy and quick as it can be when you are on Universal Credit.”

Exclusive polling for PoliticsHome released on 21st January has revealed 62 percent of people polled are in favour of the government keeping the £20-a-week increase in Universal Credit welfare payments beyond March 2021. The public support is growing.

Lewisham Council debate Universal Credit at 1 hr 28

Full text of the motion to Lewisham Council:

Making the Universal Credit Increase Permanent
This council notes:

  • In April the Government plan to cut the benefit level for millions of claimants by
    ending of the time limited increase to the basic rate of Universal Credit (and the tax
    credit equivalent) announced by the Chancellor on 20th March as part of his
    pandemic response package.
  • The £20 a week boost reflected the reality that the level of benefits were not
    adequate to protect the swiftly increasing number of households relying on them as
    the crisis hit. Exactly because that increase was a very significant and welcome
    move to bolster low- and middle-income families living standards, its removal will
    be a huge loss.
  • Pressing ahead would see the level of unemployment support fall to its lowest realterms level since 1990-91, and it’s lowest ever relative to average earnings. Indeed,
    the basic level of out-of-work support prior to the March boost was – at £73 a week
    (£3,800 a year) – less than half the absolute poverty line.
  • The increase in benefits have had a positive effect on the lives of thousands of
    local claimants who are better able to pay for life’s essentials such as food, clothing
    and utilities.
  • The local economy has also benefited from the increase in benefit levels as
    claimants spend their money locally thereby supporting local businesses and jobs.
    This council resolves to:
  • Write to the Chancellor, Rushi Sunak and to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson
    demanding that the £20 increase to Universal Credit is made permanent and
    extended to claimants on legacy benefits.
  • Work with other local government organisations to form a coalition to pressure the
    government to make the £20 increase to Universal Credit permanent.

‘Moral Duty To Protect The NHS’

Cllr Alan Hall has written directly to the Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board, Liz Truss calling for the Government to protect the NHS in any trade deal and prohibit secret trade deals. This is after the House of Lords amended the Trade Bill with a new clause dubbed the ‘NHS Protection Amendment’.

Without the heroic sacrifices of those that work in our health service, we would have been so much worse off in this pandemic. The NHS protection amendment is a good way to say thank you to our NHS and its staff.” – Cllr Alan Hall

The letter explains that the NHS protection amendment would prohibit the sale of NHS patient data to private companies, protect the terms and conditions of employment of NHS workers, prevent US pharma companies hiking the prices of drugs sold to our NHS, and guarantee that decisions that affect our NHS are made by the relevant UK authority, not by a foreign court.

Campaigners hailed the passing of the amendment a “significant defeat” for the government and a “massive victory for people power” according to the Morning Star. Lobby group We Own It delivered a petition with more than 300,000 signatures to the Lords on the morning of the vote.

Jan Savage a member of Keep Our NHS Public’s subcommittee on free trade agreements said: “It was clear from the debate on the Trade Bill that Lords were impressively well-informed, partly because of the efforts of organisations like Trade Justice Movement, Global Justice Now, We Own It and, not least, Keep Our NHS Public members.”

However, she also warned: “The Trade Bill will return to the Commons shortly, where – infuriatingly – it is likely that the amendments will be thrown out. However, it’s clear that there is now significant support for Parliament to have a more decisive role in approving trade deals and protecting the NHS.”

We Own It are asking people to write to their MPs now.

The Conservative MPs in the House of Commons have voted down the new clause when the measure was before them in July 2020. The campaign succeeded in the House of Lords, will MPs back this now? This is a crucial vote.

Full text of the letter:

Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade and Minister for Women and Equalities
The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP

Dear Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP,

On Tuesday 19 January, the House of Commons will vote on amendments added to the Trade Bill by the House of Lords. I am writing to ask you and the Government to vote for the NHS Protection amendment.

I was appalled to hear that Conservative MPs voted against the NHS protection amendment – New Clause 17 – in July last year because the government promised to keep the NHS off the table in trade deals. If our NHS is truly off the table, MPs should have no difficulty putting NHS protection into the law. Surely, there is a moral duty to protect the NHS?

Moral duty to protect the NHS

The NHS protection amendment would prohibit the sale of NHS patient data to private companies, protect the terms and conditions of employment of NHS workers, prevent US pharma companies hiking the prices of drugs sold to our NHS, and guarantee that decisions that affect our NHS are made by the relevant UK authority, not by a foreign court.

Without the heroic sacrifices of those that work in our health service, we would have been so much worse off in this pandemic. The NHS protection amendment is a good way to say thank you to our NHS and its staff.

I would also like you to vote for the scrutiny amendment to the Trade Bill to stop trade deals being signed in secret. Our MPs should be able to scrutinise trade deals to ensure that our NHS is not being chopped up and sold off in secret.

Please vote for the NHS protection amendment and the scrutiny amendment to the Trade Bill after all, scrutiny helps make better decisions.

Cllr Alan Hall

The Story Of The Racquet At The Bridge

The future of The Bridge Leisure Centre in Lower Sydenham looks bleak. Lewisham Council’s Mayor and cabinet approved plans not to reopen the leisure centre. The report added that the site has been running at losses of over £400,000 for many years although an element of the financial losses relate to the deterioration in the quality of the building and service standards in recent years.

The meeting heard that The Bridge was originally a private sports and social club and that its layout was not designed to be a public leisure centre.

Mayor & cabinet meeting, Lewisham Council discusses The Bridge at 29 mins

The history of The Bridge and the playing fields include a time when the site was a British Petroleum – BP – employees leisure club known as the Britannic House Sports Ground. In fact, in 1932, Lensbury Club (Shell) and Britannic House (the BP Club in Sydenham) came together as the ‘Lensbury and Britannic House Associated Clubs’. There was a separation of the Clubs by the two companies in 1962, however, Shell and BP employees retained the right to be members of both. These clubs had combined memberships over 5,000 people.

According to newspaper reports at the time, the 1970 British Open Women’s squash championship was held at The Bridge and won by Australia’s Heather McKay. Of course, at this time it could only be Heather on top. She ranks among the greatest players in the history of squash. She dominated the women’s game in the 1960s and 1970s, winning 16 consecutive British Open titles between 1962 and 1977. In 2000 she was given the title ‘Legend of Australian Sport’.

Many have commented on how could such an extraordinary player and perhaps the world’s most successful athlete been so starved of publicity? No one else remained unbeaten for 19 years – as she did between 1962 and her retirement in1981. No one else beat her challengers so comprehensively.

Also, Heather played hockey, representing Australia in 1967 and 1971. More recently, she has taken up tennis, winning the world veteran’s tennis championships. A true talent.

Meanwhile, The Bridge Leisure Centre was brought by Lewisham Council in 2019 after several years leasing the building. What is to become of the site and playing fields is unknown. Local residents have started to petition the local Council saying that it is a much needed local leisure centre supporting our community for fitness and mental wellbeing. No-one disagrees that it is well used.

A petition has been started by local residents to “Save The Bridge”
Credit Coventry Telegraph and BNA
Heather McKay MBE

Councillor Alan Hall has asked that Lewisham Council contact England Squash, the English national governing body for the sport. He asked a formal Question at the full Council meeting on 20th January 2021 about the ownership of the Bridge and managed to ask this as an oral supplementary question.

The Cabinet Member responsible said: “He believed that the Council had undertaken in depth research but I am more than happy to take that forward.”

A spokesperson for England Squash said: “Sorry to hear that the council are proposing to close the Bridge Leisure Centre.”

“The squash finder they mention [in the Mayor & Cabinet report asking for permission to close the Bridge] is just this page of our website. In these situations we can provide a facility report which details the level of provision relative to the population size and demonstrates the impact of any loss of courts if that would help with these discussions locally.”

Urgent Action Needed To Tackle Homelessness Now

Cllr Alan Hall has joined housing campaigners, Shelter by writing to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling on the tory Government to take “urgent action to protect people at risk of being on the streets as a result of the pandemic.”

This follows the tragic news that a homeless person sleeping rough at Bell Green, died. In a response to a formal Council Question at Lewisham Council’s meeting held on 25th November 2020, Cllr Alan Hall asked for a review of the case to learn any lessons and for the Coroner to be contacted, if necessary. He received an undertaking that this would be done.

Cllr Alan Hall’s Question is at 57 minutes

Shelter have said that a new lockdown means we need new protections. The Government needs to provided enough support to those who are homeless or threatened by homelessness as a result of the latest lockdown as a matter of urgency.

The full text of the letter is here:

Dear Prime Minister,

Since the announcement of a new national lockdown your government are yet to lay out all the protections needed that will help those threatened by homelessness.

Over the last year, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, with a rapidly growing number of people also under threat of losing their homes.

Shelter advice services are hearing from more and more people in need of accommodation.

With more bitterly cold weather forecasted, we need you to take urgent action to protect people at risk of being on the streets as a result of the pandemic. We want you to:

• Publish clear guidance to dire councils to provide sage emergency accommodation to everyone at risk of the streets

• Provide financial support to renters to help pay off arrears built up due to COVID-19

• Scrap the benefit cap and review housing benefit rates to ensure people can pay the rent, and to prevent growing rent arrears and eviction

We need urgent action now to help those facing housing issues at this difficult time. Please do everything in your power to ensure everyone have a warm, dry and safe place to live during the pandemic.

Cllr Alan Hall

Join the campaign here