Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Anyone But Ken talks to Richard Barnes

In the third of our series of interviews with prospective Conservative Party mayoral candidates we've spoken to London Assembly Member, Richard Barnes. As with all our interviewees, we'd like to thank Richard for taking the time out to answer our questions.

As you’d probably agree, whoever is the Mayor of London should have affinity with the city. So what do you most like about living in London?

The people. They have an amazing vibrancy and creativity. Coupled with the sense of history makes London the best capital city in the world.

What is your earliest memory of living in London?

I moved to London in my late twenties from Oslo and the first striking memory is of the one bedroom flat we rented with a landlady who could strip wallpaper with her acid tongue!

Which part of London is your favourite?

St James’ Park is my personal favourite. The beautiful wide-open space within the heart of the City is simply a stunning place to go and reflect.

What do you consider to be the worst thing done to London and Londoners during Livingstone Administration?

There are so many policies and initiatives to choose from, actually selecting just one is difficult. A number of items immediately spring to mind:
  • Congestion Charging: increased costs and the unwanted Western extension to the zone.
  • West London Tram Project: £27 million pounds spent without a track being laid in anger.
  • 2012 Memorandum of Understanding: This potentially leaves Londoners with an unlimited liability to pay for any overspend on delivering the Olympics in 2012.
  • Increased public transport fares.
  • Proposals to register pedal cycles.
If pushed for an answer I would have to say the year on year inflation busting increases to the GLA precept. Increases over and above inflation are severely affecting those on low and fixed incomes the worst.

In June 2000, the GLA precept for a Band D property was £122.98 yet by April 2006 this has increased a staggering 134.6% to £288.61 with little to no visible increase in the level of service provided to Londoners from Transport for London, the Metropolitan Police or the London Fire Brigade. One must ask why Transport for London in 2005/06 spent £78 million of Londoners money on advertising what is effectively a public transport monopoly. The mind boggles at the number of additional police officers or firemen this could fund, actually making a visible and perceptible difference to Londoners quality of life.

First and foremost the future increases to the GLA precept needs to be brought under control and the tiers of management, bureaucracy and waste at each functional body needs to be identified and removed to ensure that the Mayor can confidently sit back and say that Londoners are receiving value for money.

As has been commented on ConservativeHome. Should the Mayor be spending large sums of taxpayers money promoting himself? What would you do instead?

The simple answer is no, the Mayor should not use his office or indeed taxpayers money promoting himself, unless something exceptional has been achieved by implementing a policy that has benefited London.

A good Mayor should be judged on the benefits they bring, not on the calibre of their press team and as such I would look at why the current Mayor requires 16 full time press officers.

Is it fitting for the representative of London’s electorate to spend time on South American politics?

The only foreign policy the Mayor of London should have is promoting London. As Mayor of London, a City with such a diverse nature forging good relationships with different countries from all around the world is an essential part of the job, however when this takes up large amounts of officer time or indeed taxpayers money a balance should be struck between what is relationship building and shameless self promotion.

The recent visit of Hugo Chavez to City Hall was nothing more than a cheap publicity stunt and claims that the Government of Venezuela would provide oil at a discounted rate was an empty promise that will raise expectation, grab a few headlines and fail to materialise.

London is one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. As such, should the Mayor be seen on the same platform as extremists?

The current Mayor is an extremist and is not one to shy away from controversy once sharing a platform with members of the IRA during his time at the GLC and moved onto Sheikh Al-Qaradawi during a meeting at City Hall during 2005. Personally I would never share a platform with anyone who condoned suicide bombings, the beating of females and execution of homosexuals.

Engaging in dialogue with people of differing views is paramount to building bridges between different groups but not when their views are clearly abhorrent to Londoners.

Should the Mayor be extending the Congestion Charge zone?

No. I do not support the Western extension of the Congestion Charge zone, any further expansions across London or a new scheme around Heathrow Airport. I can see the theoretical benefits of reducing congestion within the capital to reduce emissions and dangerous levels of air pollution but since the introduction of the current central zone independent reports have shown that traffic speeds in London have reduced, air quality is poorer and many small businesses have been forced to relocate or close due to a decrease in trade.

Any new Mayor must tackle the problem of congestion as a priority but by using a balanced view. Cars are part and parcel of our way of life and to most people their only way of travelling. Sensible options should be investigated such as re-phasing traffic lights controlled by Transport for London, removing inappropriate bus lanes to enable better flow of traffic, altering the charge times and ensuring that any potential road pricing system does not “tax” those on lower incomes off the roads would be better placed to improve congestion and air quality.

Any potential road pricing schemes must stand up to scrutiny. They must be there to solve the problem of congestion and air quality and should not be what the current Congestion Charge is: a further stealth tax imposed by the current anti-car Mayor.

It’s been reported that London has the most expensive public transport system in the world. Is that something to be proud of?

No, it is not something to be proud of, and needs to be tackled if we are to encourage a greater use of buses, trains and the underground network. Public transport has to be a viable and safe alternative to car usage and this can be achieved without spending £78 million of taxpayer money on advertising the Transport for London “brand” as is the current policy of the Mayor and his Transport for London cronies.

Current Mayoral policy of free travel to children under 16 (extending to under 18 in education from 1st September 2006) costing an estimated £75 million in lost revenue is simply an unaffordable luxury which if scrapped would allow fares to be frozen or reduced. Gimmicks such as this hit taxpayers hard in the pocket.

Should there be greater balance struck between contemporary high rise architecture and the iconic views of the London skyline?

Yes, there is the need for greater balance. The Mayor is in thrall to developers. “Human” cities need to retain a perspective – glass canyons destroy it.

Is Neighbourhood Policing and the greater use of uniformed civilians the solution to London’s crime and anti-social behaviour problems?

The Safer Neighbourhood initiative is a groundbreaking policy that has yet to show any visible results. Personally I see no problem with the use of Police Community Support Officers by the Metropolitan Police Service as long as their recruitment is not at the expense of warranted police officers. In an ideal world with unlimited resources I am sure everyone would like to see just warranted police officers in their neighbourhood but the reality is that with clear direction and targets Safer Neighbourhood Teams can compliment the work of officers already based within the Boroughs.

The idea of having dedicated police teams within every ward I am sure over time will deliver results. Whether these results will be cost effective remains to be seen and I believe that the teams should be target driven, providing a visible police presence whilst at the same time addressing issues brought to their attention. There is little point to visible patrols if they do not tackle crime and anti-social behaviour within their areas and I would like to see the Police Community Support Officers designated with additional powers by the Commissioner to allow them to be more effective in their roles.

I have undertaken research into the teams and have received feedback, both positive and negative from residents of several Boroughs of London and the responses vary dramatically. Many people do not know who their teams are, how they can contact them and what their role within the community is when it comes to tackling crime and anti-social behaviour.

Greater engagement with residents outside normal working hours, late night patrols and local crime indicator targets must be introduced to allow residents to gauge the success of their teams.

Should the Mayor have veto powers over local authority planning decisions?

No – The Mayor must work in partnership with the Boroughs to arrive at a fair and balanced solution to any potential planning issues.

The Mayor has recently rejected the construction of the desalination plant that formed part of the 2012 Olympic bid he supported. How do think London should deal with the problem of clean water shortages?

Thames Water needs to invest more towards fixing leakage from their pipes. I would also grant permission for a desalination plant to provide reserve capacity.

Should threats to withdraw funding for local council be used as a means to an end by the Mayor’s office?

No, it should not be used as a means to an end. The current Mayor has in the past withheld funding from the London Borough of Barnet as a way of voicing his opposition to their decision to remove road humps following consultation with local residents and has recently threatened to withhold funding from the newly elected Conservative controlled London Borough of Ealing following their announcement to suspend two bus lanes following a campaign by residents concerned by the congestion and associated pollution.

Both of these councils have shown that they listen to the residents they consult but this holds no weight with the Mayor who only wishes to pursue his own agenda regardless of local feeling.

Following a lengthy standoff the Mayor did provide funding to Barnet leaving him with egg on his face. To be Mayor of a great city means that there is no place for a personal agenda’s and feeble attempts to influence local authority decisions that fall outside the remit of the Mayor’s Office.

Finally, what would you aim to do in the first 90 days of gaining office that would make an immediate improvement in the quality of life for Londoners?

In the first 90 days I would of course move into my office and remove from post all of the GLC hangers on that follow the Mayor at every turn and then review every spending contract entered into by the current Mayor.
  • Review funding of the Metropolitan Police to recognise that the key priority of the Metropolitan Police Service is to arrest criminals and protect the public. Making actual police officers more visible and available to the public is a key factor in improving satisfaction with the service. A single instance of what is deemed poor interaction with the police should be seen as a failure.
  • Stop the self-promotion of Transport for London and utilise funding towards fare reductions/discounts or improvements in security. I would also seek to immediately appoint an independent Chairman of the Transport for London Board.
  • Review the work of the London Development Agency. What contracts they have entered into, ongoing projects and grant giving since June 2000. I would also produce a set of key strategic priorities for the Agency to ensure that all of London benefits from the money made available.
  • Revise the Core GLA budget with the objective of a “lean, mean effective organisation” run on similar lines to a private sector organisation.
  • Re-examine the Memorandum of Understanding with the Government and endeavour to put a cap on London’s share of the cost of the Olympics in the event of cost overruns.

1 comment:

Fred Titmus said...

Mr Barnes, (if you are there...)

As you seem to agree that the benefits of the Congestion Charge are non-existent, will you commit to removing it in it entirety?