Big Dog Bob Crow’s Olympic Fears

17 05 2011

So the big dog (as young people say) Bob Crow appeared at Transport Committee and as predicted ran the show. But in fairness he could have been tougher on Boris, in fact he surprised me when he said he didn’t begrudge the fact that Boris won’t sit down with him and other unions to negotiate, but he did say he wanted “his ear” twice a year.

But an interesting line he came out with was his concerns about the situation at Stratford International and the safety issues there in the run up to the Games.

His quotes below speak for themselves really, but if true it is poor and worrying that safety plans cannot be drawn up and practiced there until only a matter of months before London 2012.

Mr Crow said: “An area of concern should be the Olympics, with health and safety. But certainly in the Stratford area where the Olympics are, there are going to be grave problems. There is nobody for us to talk to where we usually have Network Rail, London Underground or Docklands Railway.

“The landlord of Stratford International – no-one knows who it is at this moment in time apart from National Express who operate out of Stratford. There you are going to have Eurostar, Southeastern DLR and whoever is going to get the the new train operating company franchise. One thing is for sure is that it won’t be National Express, who have been told that they won’t even be part of it. So we don’t even know who is going to be running Stratford station until April of next year, just three months before the Olympics starts.

“Now I have got to say to you, where is the safety plan? The fire brigade is considering whether there will be a temporary station in the Olympic Park and stadium itself. What we would like to see for example, because you have the Westfield shopping centre about to open up, with 10,000 employees and the only access to it is from Stratford Station, so we would like to see a mock evacuation of the Olympic stadium to see where people go.

“But who is going to take control of Stratford International? It’s not a London Underground station, not a DLR, it is not Eurostar. Network Rail offered to be the landlord until after the Olympics but they were told no. It is absolutely amazing that we can’t sit down with people until next April because we don’t know who the train operating company will be until then.

“Who is bringing everybody together? We have written to Seb Coe and asked for a meeting with all the people concerned and so far we have had no response.”


Another cup final tomorrow…

16 05 2011

Tomorrow’s Transport Committee meeting at City Hall promises to be an absolute humdinger, with some of the biggest issues of Boris Johnson’s mayoralty coming to a head. I expect the City Hall regulars will spot a lot of new faces in the crowd especially as he will inevitably get a kicking.

The Mayor has been blighted by problems on the Tube, ones that could cost him the election next year.

Attending the meeting tomorrow will be the PPP arbiter Chris Bolt, who will be grilled on the demise of Tube Lines and its absorption into Transport for London.

Boris will see the destruction of the PPP as one of the best things he did as Mayor, but time will tell whether the cost of this to the taxpayer, around £400 million, will be good value.

The Jubilee Line upgrade has been a disaster, not just the delays but the problems the upgrades have caused when it should be running, and TfL will have to ensure the Northern and Piccadilly Lines are much more successful. I wonder what Mr Bolt will say on all this.

But the man who most will want to hear from will be Bob Crow, who will have a lot to say on a lot of things. Mr Crow, who I saw absolutely hammer MPs on a select committee last year, will not hold back on Boris and many of the AMs will be encouraging him.

There is absolutely no doubt that Boris’ record on strikes is poor, which is probably what you would expect with a Tory Mayor. He doesn’t like them and they don’t like him.

But what has really damaged him has been his decision to refuse to sit town with the unions to thrash out deals (West Wing truckers style – if you remember that episode). The recent slanging match with MPs on this issue has further damaged his reputation.

Tomorrow is going to be a must-watch meeting, and I don’t often say that about City Hall committees.

Missing sex offenders

3 05 2011

Does anyone know where some of London’s sex offenders have gone? No, neither does the Met in some cases.

Read all about it in my story HERE

Boris and Arnie’s romantic bike ride.

31 03 2011

I really have nothing else to add to what the Mayor of London has been up to today.

Oh, apart from Arnie’s view that Boris is great and green:

Is 20p okay to claim on expenses?

31 03 2011

I understand that City Hall could impose a minimum expense limit on senior staff and politicians after it was revealed some have been claiming for items costing as little as 20 pence.

Several assembly members and GLA employees have questioned whether it is right that people on often very high salaries should be able to make such small claims.

Measures to be considered could include a ban on claims below a level of around £5 or if those already claiming for a publicly funded season ticket or travelcard can legitimately ask for additional travel expenses.

Documents released by the GLA show that between November 2010 and January 2011 travel claims included one for 20 pence made by Assistant Director of Health and Communities, Helen Keenan.

Another travel claim was made for 80 pence by the Mayor’s Arts Advisor Munira Mirza, who earns £82,000 a year.

In the last year several senior staff and politicians have claimed for single oyster journeys, and members of the GLA’s Standards Committee have asked officers to go away and review the current procedures and guidance on claim levels.

The current expenses system at City Hall has no low-limit and any changes would have to be agreed by the whole London Assembly.

Group Performance Manager at the GLA, Tom Middleton said: “One of the issues that has come up is claiming for very small amounts and the costs that are incurred through the system of processing it.

“There have been examples where senior staff are claiming quite minor amounts on occasion.”

When asked if a de minimis” level of £5 was worth considering, he said: That could be a route to go down, yes.

“I know that the rest of the staff, middle management included, just do not claim. If we have a couple of pounds here or there we just don’t have minor expenses. It is a fact.

“Other organisations do have guidance on what is appropriate.”

Liberal Democrat leader at City Hall, Caroline Pidgeon, has backed the decision to consider whether it was right to use taxpayers’ money to pay such small claims.

“I think there is a point here when it comes to staff who are paid a lot and whether this is something members could also employ. I personally wouldn’t claim,” she said.

But others are concerned that people could be left out-of-pocket or would claim more because of a minimum expense claim level.

Deputy Mayor of London for Communities, Richard Barnes said: “We can’t just add anything under £5 people must just swallow it themselves.

“We don’t know what every individual’s financial circumstances are. They may be maintaining three or four different families and be behind on their mortgage payments. We can’t make those kind of assumptions about why some reclaim and some don’t. But £1.50 for somebody may be a huge amount. Salary levels do not tell the whole story.

“I would oppose any de minimis level. You have to remember this is out-of-pocket expenses.”

Conservative assembly member Victoria Borwick added: “If we said the minimum was £5, people would genuinely say I’d rather have five pennies rather than one. I would be concerned you would up the unintended cost.”

Forget it Orient

16 03 2011

London 2012 bosses have today branded plans for Leyton Orient to move to a 15,000 seater football stadium in the Olympic Park as “inconceivable”.

Chair of the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC), Baroness Ford, says Orient’s chairman Barry Hearn has failed to understand that his proposals would damage the legacy of the games and the park could not support two football clubs.

Mr Hearn believes that the OPLC’s recent decision to recommend that the Olympic Stadium should go to West Ham United after London 2012 would lead to the eventual extinction of Leyton Orient.

To battle this he wants to sell-off the club’s Brisbane Road ground to help fund a new £35 million new stadium at Eton Manor in the Olympic Park, or move into the Olympic site’s 2012 hockey stadium, which is due to be taken down after the games.

Eton Manor will have temporary swimming training pools during the Olympics and wheelchair tennis during the Paralympics, before becoming the site of a new hockey facility, which will replace the 2012 one and also cater for up to 15,000 spectators.

But speaking to members of the London Assembly on Wednesday, Baroness Ford said that she believed that the Eton Manor site is not “up for grabs”.

“I personally think that it is inconceivable to put two football stadia in the Olympic Park. I mean, this is much needed open space for recreational and employment space, and housing. And I have made that point to the chairman of Leyton Orient. This isn’t land that is up for grabs, nor earmarked for anything else. It is very clearly earmarked in the master plan for specific legacy purposes set out long ago.

“The chairman of Leyton Orient is not quite clear on the use of Eton Manor. In terms of the planning consent there is an obligation to deliver a certain quantity of metropolitan open land in the Olympic Park. That northern part of the park is part of that.

“The hockey complex will be reconfigured in legacy and there is no question of a hockey stadium being left there.”

Earlier this month Barry Hearn said this idea was the only way to ensure that West Ham’s move to the Olympic stadium would not cripple the League One club, which he predicts will reduce Orient’s revenue by at least £1.5 million a year.

The Leyton Orient chairman is also still considering using funds raised from its successful FA cup run as a war chest to challenge the OPLC’s backing of West Ham in the courts.

But he has admitted he would drop any legal action if people like the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, local councils or the OPLC itself helped Orient move to Eton Manor or into the hockey stadium.

“To compete we would have to move out of the area completely or be housed in the Olympic Park itself,” Mr Hearn said recently.

“That way we could have the same facilities and transport links that West Ham would have and then there would be a level playing field for us to compete on. There are options such as moving into the hockey stadium or building a new venue at Eton Manor playing fields.”

During a meeting of the full London Assembly, Baroness Ford also told politicians that official confirmation that West Ham will take over the Olympic Stadium is being held up, especially as the OPLC is still to hear if rival bidder Spurs want to appeal their decision.

“Because we are still in the negotiations with West Ham and Newham (council), and because Tottenham Hotspur have not yet said whether they or not they will review the decision we are not at liberty to put out much information yet.”

Ford and OPLC chairman Andrew Altman also confirmed that they would probably decide to close the park completely after the games and spend at least a year making it ready for use by the public from 2013 at the earliest, with key venues like the Olympic Stadium and Aquatics Centre open to the public no earlier than 2014.

IPSA ‘luxury’ spending uncovered

7 03 2011

Haven’t really mentioned that I write pretty regularly for PoliticsHome now. Well I do and am really enjoying it.

Glad to see that my story on IPSA furniture spending  here has been picked up by my friends at the Standard here and the Telegraph here

Some Keith Vaz-style spending on furniture by the expenses-police really has had me and the office giggling. Hope you will too.