Category Archives: News

Council tax to rise to a legal maximum!

austerity-1Harrow council to increase council tax by 2.99% and 2.0% in respect of the Adult Social Care Precept in 2019/20.
Can the Harrow council fulfil resident expectations of low council tax and high quality care or support? The short answer is not really – not because they are not interested in providing better services but because of severe reduction in council budgets as part of the government austerity programme.
By 2020, local authorities will have faced a reduction to core funding from the government of nearly £16 billion over the preceding decade.
How laughable was Tory Cllr Hall’s defence of her party’s economic policies at the last Harrow council meeting.
Harrow has seen its Revenue Support Grant reduced by 97% over a 7 year period, reducing the grant to £1.566m by 2019/20. This has translated into minimum cash reserves and budget gaps that the council has needed to fund over the seven year period 2015/16 to 2021/22 to achieve a balanced budget.
“Since 2013 the Government support grant to Harrow has been reduced year on year and will disappear altogether in 2021. Currently there is a funding gap of £125 million if we were to deliver services at their 2013 levels” informed Cllr Adam Swersky, portfolio holder for finance.
In briefing some from the voluntary sector, he also said that there are still further cuts in council services to be made and Harrow has to raise their council tax by the maximum permitted before having to call a local referendum.
Some of the cuts in services currently being looked at are that the only direct access by phone to the council will be to Adult and Children’s services, all others will have to be through a newly improved Harrow website. Community space, such as Parks etc will continue to rely on the user communities for support.
In reporting the briefing meeting to the Harrow Voluntary and Community Sector Forum, Bill Phillips, a forum representative, said Cllr Swersky was informed how the pressures from the revenue earning areas of the council is adversely affecting the work of some community organisations. For example,  the hitherto peppercorn rents being made fully commercial when reaching a rent review and small community based organisations like scout buildings being reassessed for full business rates.


£1.5m penalty for a rogue landlord!

finedA notorious rogue landlord must pay £1,500,000 or spend nine years behind bars after justice caught up with him at Harrow Crown Court last Friday (30 November).
The court found that Vispasp Sarkari from Harrow had flouted planning rules for more than five years – converting properties across Brent and Harrow into substandard flats without planning permission.
He defied all planning enforcement warnings by both councils to stop the use of his properties and carried on with his criminal venture raking in thousands of pounds from people desperate to have a roof over their head.
“Justice means taking the ill-gotten gains off this slumlord millionaire. This is a man who thought he couldn’t be stopped. He was wrong, and thanks to our joint work with Brent Council, Sarkari’s criminal venture is finished” said Cllr Keith Ferry, Harrow Council’s cabinet member for planning.
In sentencing Mr Sarkari, Judge Wood described the breaches as “a flagrant abuse of the Town and Country Planning legislation”.
“If you ignore planning laws or leave tenants to languish in poor conditions, then we will find you, we will take action in court, and we will win” warned Cllr Tom Miller, Brent council’s cabinet member for community safety.
Also read this and this for the convictions in 2012 and 2017.


Protest against reduced taxi journeys for disabled people

Harrow Association of Disabled People is concerned that many disabled people in the borough are affected by the reduction in taxi card journeys.
They say Harrow council provides only 40 subsidised taxi journey per year. This is the lowest of any London Borough. Hillingdon, by contrast provide 104 journeys per year.
“Harrow was ahead in reducing this discretionary provision because of its budgetary challenges and low reserves – other councils are now planning similar measures in the face of significant cuts to the council budgets” said Fern Silverio, head of service- collections & housing benefits.
The Taxicard service gives disabled people who have complex problems, and struggle to use public transport, a lifeline by paying for door-to-door taxi trips.
The council had previously said that cutting the number of permitted trips is the only way of keeping the service running at all in the face of funding cuts.
“It is time local authorities stop using austerity as an excuse to cut vital services for disabled people” says Adam Gabsi, vice chair of HAD.
“In consultation with the voluntary sector regarding social care and other community services, the council decided to stop £700,000 subsidiary to this service for budgetary reasons back in 2012 but elected to continue for the TFL grant to keep the service running” said Fern Silverio, head of service- collections & housing benefits.
“The council need to speak to the very people that they are affecting to understand what impact their decisions are having on peoples physical and mental health. Disabled people want equality, justice and the freedom to live. The Taxi card scheme helps to facilitate this and should not have been cut” he said.
Such is the strength of feelings, that on December 3rd, which is International Day of Disabled People, Harrow Association of Disabled people, Harrow Multiple Sclerosis and Harrow Mencap are having a protest march to the Civic Centre to present a petition to the Harrow Mayor.
The march assembles at the Red Brick Cafe, 38-40 High Street Wealdstone, at 10am on 3 December 2018 and Arrive at the Civic Centre around 11.30am.


Harrow council to support ‘Breaking Point Campaign’

Austerity killsMany  council  budgets  are  now  at ‘Breaking Point’ as austerity  has  caused  huge damage   to communities up and
down the UK, with devastating effects on key public services that protect the most defenceless in society – children at risk, disabled children and adults, and vulnerable older people  – and  the  services  we  all  rely  on,  like  clean  streets, libraries, and children’s centres.
Local Government Association Labour has launched petition warning local authorities are at ‘breaking point’.
Harrow has its share of devastating cuts: for example, the council has lost £55 million of central government funding as their Revenue Support Grant has been eliminated entirely.
Harrow schools are facing annual funding pressures of £77,000 for primary schools and £194,000 for secondary schools.  Since 2015, Harrow has suffered a net loss of 105 teachers in its maintained schools owing in part to recruitment and retention issues.
In recognising the overwhelming impact of austerity on the local community, the Labour motion supporting the ‘breaking point’ petition is bound to go through at the forthcoming Harrow council meeting.
Harrow council is also to condemn chief secretary to the treasury’s misleading statement that  the government is “not  making cuts to local authorities”, when all independent assessments of government spending show that this is entirely false.
The council further notes Prime Minister Theresa May’s claim that “austerity is over” despite planning a further £1.3bn of cuts to council budgets over the next year.


Harrow Council new chief executive

Sean HarrissHarrow Council has announced that Sean Harriss (photo), former Bolton and Lambeth CEO, is being recommended for appointment as the council’s new chief executive.
Cllr Graham Henson, leader of Harrow Council who led the councillor panel for appointment, said: “Sean was the panel’s agreed choice from an extremely accomplished field of candidates. We were impressed by Sean’s leadership experience in a wide variety of local government contexts and by his track record of delivering outstanding public services. We are certain he will do an excellent job here.”
Sean Harriss said: “I am truly delighted and honoured to be recommended as Harrow’s new Chief Executive. My first impressions are that Harrow has a lot going for it. It has a strong community spirit, and it’s a diverse, prosperous and high-achieving borough, where people want to get on. I want to help make that a possibility for everyone who calls Harrow home, and I very much look forward to the challenges ahead.”
Sean Harriss was brought up in Lincolnshire and studied politics at university in Nottingham. In 2007 he became chief executive of Bolton Council. In 2014 Sean was instrumental in securing devolution for the Greater Manchester region. The following year, he joined London Borough of Lambeth, a very interesting place! He’s currently CEO of the London shared service oneSource.
The new chief executive is set to take up his post on 4 February. He will take over from Tom Whiting, very able interim chief executive since Michael Lockwood left the council at the end of 2017 to become the first director general of the new Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). Tom will be leaving Harrow Council after 14 years to join the IOPC as deputy director general.


New Town Centre Library

DSC_2261dA new Town Centre Library is all set to be opened at the multiuse 20 storeys development on the site of the Harrow post office at 51 College Road Harrow.
The library will be located on the ground and mezzanine levels of Block B of the development at the Harrow Square with private residential apartments above. The shell and core of the library is due to be handed over to the Harrow Council in April 2019 on a 999 year lease at a peppercorn rent.
The new library will be Harrow’s central hub for knowledge, reading, learning, and research, located right in the heart of Harrow Town Centre.
The library will include a garden for relaxation, and a pavilion where space could be hired for family and adult learning, skills development, work and meetings.
Harrow Town Centre is undergoing enormous population growth by 40% and the library will be a vital part of the leisure and cultural infrastructure.
Additional funding is being sought above the total budget of £1.8m currently allocated for the project to accommodate the move of the library to the new site from the current Gayton Library which was  moved from Gayton Road to its current location at Garden House St John’s Road, in January 2008.
The forthcoming Harrow council cabinet meeting has been recommended to approve the library move arrangements.
We hope that the historical name ‘Gayton Library’ would be retained!


Blackman fortune could run out

Research by ’38 degrees’ campaign group suggests that Harrow East MP Bob Blackman could lose his highly marginal seat over universal credit.
bb4Mr Blackman whose majority was badly slashed by Labour at the last general election, seems to be more interested in playing his divisive politics to secure votes from the Hindu and Jewish background voters by taking side with conflicting international/ sectarian issues and pleasing far right rather than focusing on social welfare matters like universal credit which could hit hard more than 7,000 constituents in Harrow East.
“I support the policy that is universal credit and its reformist core: replacing six complex benefits with a single unified system,” he said.
Universal credit will replace six current benefits – child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance and working tax credit.
The benefit freeze takes £1.5bn from 10 million low and middle-income households. A low income couple with children will be £200 worse off. For them there is no end to austerity.
Added to this, there is still another £5bn of cuts to social security to come in this parliament, hitting the incomes of those who are already badly slapped.
Universal credit has the potential to be “catastrophic” and lead to a spiral of debt for claimants unless major flaws are addressed, according to a new report by two councils – Southwark and Croydon – among the first in the country to roll out the new regime.
The damning report claims that after 20 weeks of transferring from the legacy benefit system to universal credit the average claimant had £156 of arrears.
In Southwark alone, where 12 per cent of council tenants have moved onto universal credit, rent arrears total over £5.3m.