A Better Deal for Newham’s Taxpayers

Newham Green Party are thrilled to see action following our 2 year campaign against Newham’s LOBO loans

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We are thrilled by Newham Council’s announcement that Barclays are turning 55% of its Lender Option Borrower Option, or LOBO, loans (worth £248 million) into a normal fixed-rate loan. It is estimated that this deal will save Newham Council £1.6 million this coming year!

The move follows years of campaigning by our team, alongside Debt Resistance UK and members of the public who uncovered the toxic debt, totaling 90% of the council’s debt portfolio. The interest payments alone equal 80% of Council tax paid from 2014 to 2015.

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Debt Resistance UK’s profile of Newham

We are excited to finally see positive movement on this issue. This should rescue us from over a million pounds of cuts to local services and jobs this year. Newham taxpayers’ deserve to see their money spent on local services, not bank debts from mis-sold financial products.

However, we are concerned that the other 45% of the council’s LOBO loans remain unchallenged, and that full details of this new deal with Barclays have not been released. We can’t be sure that this announcement isn’t just a rewording of last year’s changes initiated by Barclays for all of their LOBOs contracts in the UK.

Rachel Collinson, Membership Officer of Newham Green Party, and Elisabeth Whitebread, the Green Party candidate in the 2016 Forest Gate North by-election, have worked closely with Debt Resistance UK since investigations started in 2014.

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Speaking on behalf of Newham Green Party, Rachel Collinson said “This is a brilliant first step to reduce Newham’s debt problems. However, we will continue to campaign for further action to reduce debt expenditure from the LOBO investments with RBS.
Residents, local businesses and Council workers should not be penalised for these banks mis-selling loans to councils.”

Newham Green Party’s campaign started in 2014, following discussions with Joel Benjamin of Debt Resistance about investigating Newham’s LOBO loans.
In 2015 Ms Collinson submitted letters to Newham Council regarding the LOBO loan debt, with little in the way of constructive response. This was followed with a request to the auditors to take the Council to court over illegal spending.
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In 2016 Green Party and Debt Resistance activists attended various Council meetings; providing investigation reports, and offers of no win, no fee legal advice to provide the council with a low cost solution.

In addition to the nearly 900 people who signed our petition, we would like to thank all our volunteers, members and supporters, and Newham Councillors Rokhsana Fiaz, John Gray and John Whitworth for their input and questions at some of the Council and audit meetings – often against strong resistance from other Newham Councillors.

In an email to their supporters, Ludovica Rogers of Debt Resistance UK said:

We hope this deal goes beyond a simple PR stunt for Barclays and Newham council and that risk and high costs for taxpayers associated with LOBO loans are being effectively removed. Until Newham Council put the terms of this deal negotiated in secret into the public realm, we can’t comment, in particular on loan breakage costs, interest rates and loan restructuring fees.

Debt Resistance UK would like to thank the hundreds of Newham residents who have signed the LOBOs petition and kept up public pressure on Robin Wales administration, alongside efforts of Newham LOBO loan objector Rachel Collinson

They join us in our disappointment at the poor conduct of Finance Director Lester Hudson and Mayor Robin Wales – “whose financial competence must now be called into direct question.”

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Cllr Hudson speaks at Council Meeting, July 2016. Photo by Debt Resistance UK

We will continue to work with the brilliant Debt Resistance UK team on monitoring the council’s new deal and how the savings are put to use.

Please get in touch if you’d like to join this campaign, and sign the petition to continue the pressure on the remaining RBS loans.

Siân Berry launches the Greens’ East London manifesto

Friday saw the official launch of the Green Party manifesto for East London (pdf), ahead of the Mayoral and London Assembly elections on Thursday 5th May. Support for Green policies is at an all-time high, with a particularly strong presence in East London, and we are aiming to increase the numbers of Greens on the London Assembly from the current two.

Green Party Mayoral candidate, Siân Berry, and local candidate, Rachel Collinson, were joined by local Green Party members outside of the proposed Bishopsgate Goodsyard site.

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Rachel Collinson, who is also the Newham Green Party Chair, said: “The Bishopsgate Goodsyard development controversy perfectly illustrates what is wrong with London’s urban planning system. Boris Johnson has repeatedly ignored the wishes of local residents and Councils. The Green Party’s Jenny Jones AM challenged the Mayor on the decision, and it has now been deferred until after the Mayoral election!

R&S“The Green Party have a strong record of supporting communities, and holding those in power to account. If elected to the assembly I will work with residents to ensure local concerns continue to be heard.”

The Green Party have already highlighted their flagship policies on housing, transport, policing, the living wage and air pollution during this campaign. The manifesto provides more detail on each of these areas and gives examples of what Siân a Green Mayor and Green London Assembly Members would do for East London. Such as…

200,000 new homes across London, for ALL Londoners – with 50% to be built by smaller developers, communities and housing associations to provide truly affordable housing across the city. In East London the party will take a stand against the proliferation of luxury developments for the super-wealthy, such as Bishopsgate Goodsyard and the Newham Council Masterplan to replace the social Carpenter’s Estate with private developer blocks, and fight for the development of genuinely affordable housing for Londoners.

Celebrating and supporting London’s diversity – including rethinking the flawed and discriminatory Prevent strategy, creating a new City Hall position for monitoring policy impacts on London’s older residents, and making sure London remains a leader in LGBT+ rights and culture.

Ending the air pollution crisis – bringing pollution below legal limits by 2020 at the latest. In East London, we will continue to resist the proposed Enderby Wharf Cruise Terminal in Greenwich and the Silvertown Tunnel at Blackwall which would increase pollution across several boroughs that are already dangerously polluted. Also, we’d close London City Airport and use the land for homes and up to 16,000 more jobs.

The London Living Wage for all – currently one in five working Londoners are still paid less, many of whom live in Newham and surrounding boroughs. Siân also pledges to create 150,000 high­ quality apprenticeships, and improving conditions and opportunities for part-time workers.

This comes just a week after Siân and Rachel were joined by fellow Green Party candidates Shahrar Ali and Benali Hamdache to launch the Manifesto for Londoners from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds (pdf) in Newham’s Queens Market.

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Rachel Collinson – A Greener London is possible

You might have noticed we have the London Mayoral and Assembly elections coming up in May.  This weekend we held the official launch of local candidate, and Newham Green Party Chair, Rachel Collinson, who is running as the candidate for City and East.

Assembly Member Baroness Jenny Jones presided over the launch, which took place in Shoreditch, by the proposed site of the controversial £800 million development of Bishopsgate Goodsyard. This proposal has been rejected by local residents as well as Tower Hamlets and Hackney Councils, and has also been opposed by the Green Party.

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Rachel said “The controversy surrounding the planned development of Bishopsgate Goodsyard is a perfect illustration of what is wrong with London’s urban planning system. Boris Johnson is ignoring the wishes of local residents and both Tower Hamlets and Hackney Councils. A strong Green Party voice within the London General Assembly is crucial for redressing the mayor’s follies.”

We currently have 2 Green Party members of the London Assembly, Baroness Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson AM, who have worked hard to provide Londoners with civil partnerships, the Living Wage and a huge increase in the cycling budget, as well as helped design the new Low Emissions Zones. Just imagine what we could accomplish with even more Green members on the Assembly!

Green Party supporters were out in force, and we were joined by members from the boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Hackney, and Tower Hamlets and the Young Greens from Queen Mary University. We had a fantastic turn out, and the weather was on our side – only raining after we’d finished our tour of the area and outdoor activities!

Jenny Jones AM, who has served on the Assembly since it was established in 2000, said “It’s great to see so many local Green Party members turning out to support the City and East campaign launch. East London has a vibrant and growing community of dedicated Green Party supporters, and if the enthusiasm on display here today is anything to go by, you can be sure they’ll be making their voices heard loud and clear in the run-up to the London Assembly elections in May!”

If you’d like to make your voice heard too, we’ve launched a crowdfunder campaign this week, to help us pay for the election deposit and campaign materials.

Rachel Collinson, is determined to provide a voice to the people of East London who share our vision to create an inclusive, prosperous, safe area for people to lead productive, well connected lives.

To do this, we need to raise money for our election campaign. This money will go directly to help us stand our candidates and ensuring our vision for a fairer future is delivered to every constituent. By building a Green voice in East London, we can capitalise on the current Green surge and work towards Green success throughout London.

Green Party members of the London Assembly have achieved great things, please help Rachel to carry on their work for a fairer, healthier London for all.

Support Rachel’s campaign

Newham to lose 286 affordable properties to ‘estate regeneration’

New figures obtained from the GLA (pdf) by Darren Johnson, Green Party Assembly Member, show that estate regeneration schemes in London are set to cost Newham up to 286 socially-rented homes, and leave the borough with a newly-built ‘affordable’ stock of just 77.

According to figures from the London Development Database, this would result in a housing market where the stock of ‘affordable’ rented homes make up just over 5% of the Borough’s rentable properties.

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Rachel Collinson (second from right) of Newham Green Party protests with campaigners from Boleyn Dev 100 and FocusE15 Mothers

Separate figures published by the Mayor of London, requested by Darren, also reveal that estate regeneration in the Mayor’s Housing Zones will lead to a net increase in all types of homes that is 3,099 lower than the Mayor has claimed, due to demolitions of existing homes. The Mayor has not yet provided a breakdown for types of affordable homes.

At the announcement of these figures, Darren Johnson AM said:

Under the cover of tired stereotypes about sink estates, the Mayor is whittling away at homes that are genuinely affordable to Londoners. He then tries to deceive by talking about new homes being built, without mentioning all those he is knocking down. With a few exceptions, estate regeneration has been a complete disaster in London and has made our housing crisis worse.
It’s time he called a stop to the demolitions and got behind community-led plans to renovate estates, with infill development where it makes sense and demolition where it’s absolutely necessary.

Across London there is expected to be a net loss of 1,389 affordable homes, and more dramatically the net loss of 7,326 social rented homes. These are schemes with planning permission, but that have not yet started or been completed.

R-CollinsonSmlRachel Collinson, Green Party Spokesperson and London 2016 GLA candidate for City and East constituency, said “Many of the 24,000 Newham residents left hanging on the council housing waiting list are rightly angry about the lack of social housing available to them. The fact that Newham is set to lose hundreds more social rented homes – the joint fault of our Labour council and Tory London mayor – will make this even worse. A Green mayor would ensure that our existing council housing stock is not destroyed but renovated and extended.”

#FairFares for London transport

Rachel Collinson outside Pontoon Dock station Today Rachel Collinson, our local representative for the upcoming GLA election, joined Newham Greens members out around the borough to leaflet and talk to commuters about TfL’s latest fare changes, and how we hope to make a difference with our own #FairFares policy if we can secure a bigger presence on the Greater London Assembly, and perhaps even our first Green Mayor of London!
(The GLA and Mayoral election is run on PR vote, we usually get a much better result than at more traditional FPTP elections for MPs and local councillors. We came third in 2010, so we think Sian is really in with a shot!)

Rachel Collinson leafletting in Stratford
We had a lovely (if a bit chilly!) morning with volunteers around Newham, watching the sun rise on a beautiful day.

Sun rising over Thames Barrier Park

In fact, it was so nice that Rachel and a few more volunteers headed back out to meet people on their homeward journeys in the Royal Docks and at London City Airport station this evening.

We heard stories and feedback about all sorts of transport concerns, as well as about a lot of other local issues. Interesting and helpful conversations were had around the borough, whether it was 7 AM or PM, and we’d like to thank everyone who came to volunteer or stopped for a chat – the time was truly appreciated!

Rachel Collinson with volunteer Ed at London City Airport

In case you missed our volunteers today, what could #FairFares mean for you? Well, you can find the full lowdown at Sian Berry’s website, but here are the parts we’re most excited by:

  1. Simplify the zone pricing structure, leading to fairer charges London-wide.
  2. Single zone with a fairer flat-rate fare for all of London by 2025. Prices would start to get cheaper from 2016, with 2 of the current zones removed in 2017.
  3. Our “ONE Ticket” policy means that you pay 1 charge for your complete journey, not each time you change bus/train/tube as part of it.
  4. Lower rates for the daily pay-as-you-go caps, so part-time workers can gain from the savings too.
  5. Integrating TfL’s cycle hire scheme, taxis and riverboats into the Oyster system for easier payments on the go.

FairFares policy transition timeline

Leader Knows Best

R-CollinsonSmlNewham Green Party Chair, Rachel Collinson, reports back from Newham Council’s August meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to follow up on concerns around recent council budget decisions.

“I know how this vote is going to go. If the motion was ‘the earth is flat’ councillors Rokhsana, Seyi, Kay and Susan would vote 4-2 for it,” thunders Lester Hudson, as he eyes the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting.
 
I’m so offended and shocked by this that I can’t help snorting, despite being in the public gallery.

Hudson continues as though nothing has happened. “If the motion was ‘Geoffrey Boycott is useless at cricket’ they would vote 4-2 for it.” Nobody’s laughing this time. His tirade continues: “I sincerely hope this time, common sense will prevail, but I doubt it.”

There is general uproar, and the female councillors who have been the subject of these personal attacks are rightly livid. (Later on I realise that John Gray – also a member of the rebellion against the Robin Wales regime – is spared the vitriol. Could it be that the Y chromosome is a safeguard?)NewhamLogo

A chap to my left passes me a sheet of lined A4 notepaper, with “Attendance Sheet” scrawled at the top. There is a name and one signature on it so far. I pass it on without signing.

A few minutes later, an unnamed lady shouts “Has everybody signed the attendance sheet?”

“I’ve never been asked this before as a member of the public in a council meeting,” I say, annoyed. “It doesn’t say on it how the data will be used, so I didn’t.”

“I just need to know who is here,” she replies.

Well, that much is obvious.

This meeting has been called because Newham Council’s Cabinet have seemingly approved a dubious investment proposal without oversight of the Investment and Accounts Committee. Councillors heard about it in passing and were horrified. They have decided to ask the Mayor to reconsider spending £500,000 without due process.

Council Officers will not let members of the public (or even certain councillors) see more details of what’s proposed. All we know so far is that the Cabinet are attempting to reduce payments to the council’s pension fund – which already has a £238 million deficit – using a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’. We understand that the council is using some of their buildings as security on a risky investment. How do we know it’s risky? Because their financial advisors are warning them against it.

It seems common sense to me that if the proposal were common sense, then the Cabinet would not resort to bending the rules to avoid scrutiny.

What I am seeing in action here is the Labour belief that Leader Knows Best, and democracy is merely a frustrating blot on the master plan. The belief that the people ought to shut up and take their medicine. The belief that is shown up at its worst in the Executive Mayoral system.

This is further confirmed when a member of the public stands up and questions whether the chair should be asking loaded questions of his own committee. The offender, Anthony McAlmont, says that members of the public are not allowed to speak, despite having allowed an earlier question. For some reason this breach of meeting protocol goes unnoticed by the Legal advisor present.

Newham Town Hall in East HamI hear the words ‘p&%$-up’ and ‘brewery’ emanate loudly from elsewhere in the public gallery.

With dogged persistence, the female Councillors draft a resolution that no more money should be spent until the investment and accounts committee has had a chance to review the proposal in more detail. In the end, the meeting vote is 5-1 for this motion.

Hudson warns this is a waste of time. What does he know that we don’t?

During this fiasco, I am reminded of the botched Labour leadership elections. You can vote for anything, as long as it’s the right choice.

As if to reinforce this, the Mayor rejects the motion day after.

It would be easy to despair right now. But I’m seeing a new movement emerging amongst the people of Newham. I see it in the snowballing, hopeful tweets about Jeremy Corbyn. I see it in the growing bravery of left-wing councillors against their bullying leaders. I see it in the swelling numbers of Newham Green Party.

And it’s almost reassuring to observe some councillors in utter denial of this growing trend. It means we will win, and soon.

If you’re interested in helping the Green Party challenge Labour’s one party state in Newham, do sign up here. (NB: We have a No Purge Promise™)

 

This post originally appeared as a guest post on ForestGate.net on August 27th 2015.

Please mind the gap between the rich and the poor

Tackling the gap between rich and poor has become a major political issue in Newham as almost 1 in 2 households in the borough are now poor, new research shows.

Rachel Collinson for West Ham
Rachel Collinson for West Ham

Rachel Collinson, Green Party candidate for West Ham, says:

“We can no longer ignore the inequalities in Newham; they are shocking, unfair and unacceptable. It is a reflection the impact of the recession but also ineffective Labour policies which are not tackling the root causes of poverty. We believe everyone in Newham should have decent housing and fair working conditions and the Greens are the only party who you can be confident will tackle poverty in Newham”

Ahead of the General Election, a group of leading academics completed an audit of the political parties’ manifestos to assess the impact of their policies on UK and global poverty. The Green Party came out on top. We in the Green Party pride ourselves on our record of consistently proposing innovative policies to address long-standing public policy challenges.

povertyThe audit highlights that the Green Party policies are likely to make a lasting difference, as they are far-sighted and seek to address the structural causes of problems, like housing. Such policies are expected to make a big difference to people’s lives, especially to deprived boroughs like Newham.

In sharp contrast, Labour and Conservative parties fail to outline a robust strategy to address poverty, and promote flourishing, at home and abroad. However its not just their plans, its also their actions. Earlier this month we saw the House of Lords reject a ”Good Samaritan’ food donation plan for Britain. With an estimated 13 million people in poverty in the UK, we can’t ignore it.

Isabelle Anderson for Stratford and New TOwn
Isabelle Anderson for Stratford and New Town

Isabelle Anderson, Green Party candidate for the Stratford and New Town by-election says:

“As a young family with a modest income we struggle with the spiralling cost of housing. I believe that Newham Council should be working harder to provide decent affordable homes for all. Newham Council’s failure to provide sufficient social housing pushes vulnerable people out of London and breaks up families and communities. By electing me as your councillor for Stratford and New Town you will ensure that Labour’s unwillingness to stand up for the vulnerable and the marginalised will not go unchallenged.”

“The Green Party offers a real alternative – a party that fights inequality and prioritises the needs of the many above the profit of the few. If I am elected I will campaign for social housing; for measures to improve the toxic air quality that kills 4000 Londoners a year; and for community initiatives that will address social issues such as crime, inequality, unemployment and poverty, and improve wellbeing.”

Research from the University of Oxford reveals the number of households in poverty has jumped by 60% since 1980, meaning that now almost three in 10 are poor. London has always been a city of extremes but the extent to which it has become polarised between rich and poor is laid bare in research released yesterday. Analysis of Census data reveals a 60% increase in poor households and a 33% increase in wealthy households. This has come at a time – 1980 to 2010 – when the number of middle-income households went down by 27%.

For further information: