A West End Labour survey has today found that residents overwhelmingly oppose plans to build more tall buildings in Westminster. More than 80% of respondents believe that Westminster Council is wrong to want to develop more skyscrapers and tall buildings. Residents cited the following concerns:
- Tall buildings and skyscrapers pose a threat to Westminster's unique character. Tall buildings block out light; block out historic views and would be at odds with the character of Westminster's historic neighbourhoods.
- Tall buildings won't tackle London's housing crisis. They are likely to be unaffordable and used as 'deposit boxes' by wealthy oligarchs.
- The Council does not listen to residents and its consultations are by and large meaningless. Many pointed to a feeling that the planning system is dysfunctional, as it only meets commercial not resident needs.
- "We want well-thought-through plans for affordable not luxury housing, that meets local needs and fits in with the existing character of neighbourhoods."
- "The character of Westminster is unique. It will be ruined by a lot of skyscrapers".
- "Westminster Council have a history of not taking account of concerns raised by residents."
- "I have never been consulted by Westminster."
Pancho Lewis, of West End Labour, said: "Residents are fed up of not being listened to by the Council. They feel like this is another instance where the Council is bringing forward plans which are totally out of sync with the vision they have for the city. The Council should listen to them and put residents in the driving seat - not impose ideas from above."
Ibrahim Dogus, Labour's candidate for the Cities of London and Westminster said:
"The people of Westminster deserve a Member of Parliament who will take on board their concerns and fight for them. We need real and lasting solutions to the city's housing crisis. What we do not need is the continuing erosion of London's character, ignoring the people who live here in favour of luxury property developers."
Westminster Labour is now calling for the Council to change the consultation questions. Rather than ask residents whether they want tall buildings, Labour is calling on the Council to begin with these questions: "What vision do you have for Westminster's future? How should planning policy match that vision?"
I am beyond proud to announce that I have been selected as the Labour Party candidate for the Westminster and London Cities constituency. I understand that as a Conservative safe seat, this constituency is supposed to be ‘unwinnable’. But I want to give it a real try. I want to see if we can make a difference.
The Labour Party recently won historic victories in local elections in this constituency. The incumbent MP Mark Field shows little interest in his constituents. Turnouts are typically low but were higher for the EU membership referendum which saw a majority of residents vote to remain. Labour does not normally run a big campaign for the constituency.
Even still, I know that the chances are not great. But I say it is worth a try. In going for this and showing our determination we can boost Labour elsewhere. If we do it properly and campaign to make a difference at the financial, political and cultural heart of our country, we send a powerful message.
What’s more, in my neighbouring constituency of Westminster North, Karen Buck MP is campaigning for re-election. Karen has done tremendous things for her constituency and we want our campaign to reinforce her chances of continuing the important work she has done for her community.
I have a lot of energy and determination to bring to this campaign. I came to this country when I was 14 years old following my family who were refugees. At 15 I started working as a waiter and at the age of 23, I set up my own business. Now I own three restaurants in South London and have started my own beer company.
I have a strong background as a community organiser, being involved in community politics since I was 19. I have started many organisations that have helped and raised funds for communities. Through hard work and determination I have already made a difference but I know I could do so much more as an MP.
So, please come and support me if you can. Together we can make a difference. I am going to need a lot of volunteers for my campaign. I am planning to throw everything I have at this constituency. If you cannot give your time, your money would help as well! We are looking for all the support we can get to make this happen. This Saturday, May 6th, there are three campaigning events all starting at 11am
outside the White Ferry House pub, 1 Sutherland Street, SW1V 4LD
outside in the Curzon Soho cinema, 99 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 5DY
outside the Regency Cafe, 17-19 Regency Street, SW1P 4BY
You can reach me on Twitter: @ibrahim_Dogus, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or on: 07525185288. I need all the volunteers I can get to help!
Thank you for making it this far with me. It is thanks to so many of you that we have been able to achieve what we have done so far. Together we can do even more!
My sincerest thanks,
The increase to national insurance contributions in this year’s budget is yet another Tory assault on small businesses and entrepreneurs, writes Ibrahim Dogus
This week’s budget has proven to be the disaster for innovative, small businesses that many had feared. Once again, this government has demonstrated its complete disregard for small and medium sized enterprises and its corresponding enthusiasm for faceless, giant corporations. Under the new budget, business rates have increased dramatically, while the much-vaunted business rate relief has been miniscule. Moreover, the self-employed have been asked to contribute far more to the state coffers without any increase in protections or rights. Both measures are set to stifle the small, innovative businesses which drive our economy and keep our communities vibrant.
Next year, the self-employed people’s contributions to national insurance will increase from nine per cent of their earnings to 10 per cent to rise to 11 per cent in 2019. With this increase, however, come no extra guarantees, security or protections for the self-employed. No holiday, no sick pay. The self-employed and small businesses generally have little to no protection against serious issues such as late-paid invoices or the looming insecurity of Brexit. Yet the government, without doing anything to mitigate this precarious situation, wants to squeeze them further.
Business rates as well are set to rise dramatically, despite repeated warnings of the catastrophic effect this will have on small businesses, potentially putting many out of business. The government claims to be offering expanded business relief to counter balance this, yet the relief to be provided is so miniscule as to be meaningless in the face of this rate hike. The government says that it will raise more revenue by doing this but ultimately it could well prove to be counter-productive. By wiping out small businesses, the government will be robbing itself of this source of revenue. Frankly, the logic of this action at its very base is flawed – why go to the trouble of creating a relief from business rates, making more of the red tape the Tories hate so much, when you are going to raise rates way beyond the level of relief anyway? The irrationality of it all is mind boggling.
The only ones to benefit from all these changes are the faceless, large companies slowly eradicating our high streets. In particular, online companies, such as Amazon, will benefit from this as they do not have shop fronts and so will not be paying these hikes. These changes are a further step towards a Britain where high streets, instead of vibrant community hubs, will simply have sporadic delivery company outlets serving giant online stores, in between boarded-up shop fronts. We are already far more isolated from our neighbours and our communities than ever before. Post-credit crunch Britain, ravaged by years of neoliberal failures does not need any more assaults on the cohesion of its communities.
This national insurance contribution increase, a breach of the Tories’ election manifesto, should put to bed once and for all the confusing idea that the Conservative party is somehow a friend to small business. Even Tory backbenchers reportedly complained about the increases, seen as an attack on the ‘white van man’, in the way it punishes the self-employed and entrepreneurs, alongside a potential rise in registration fees for new diesel vehicles. Now is the time for the Labour party to make it patently clear that it is and long has been this country’s true friend to small businesses that underpin communities. While this might not be on the same scale as the shambles that was George Osborne’s 2012 budget catastrophe, Philip Hammond’s contribution is certainly a sterling effort in that direction.
Philip Hammond’s devastating business rate hikes should put to bed the myth that the Tories are the party of small businesses, argues Ibrahim Dogus
The news of catastrophic business rate hikes should put to bed once and for all the myth that the Tory party is somehow a friend to small and medium enterprises. Small and medium-sized businesses across the country are facing closure thanks to rate hikes so extreme that they may no longer be able to turn a profit. Businesses in London are seeing a rise of 42 per cent on average, varying depending on area. Businesses in Southwold in Suffolk, at the most extreme end of the rate hikes, will be seeing an increase of 152 per cent this April.
Who profits from this? Large chains who can squeeze out smaller business, local governments and the treasury. We risk seeing the few remaining high streets in this country that provide a home to small businesses completely transformed into identikit soulless replicas of one another. Small businesses are part of the bedrock of vibrant, healthy communities. They are one of the ways that people come together organically and get to know each other in our increasingly isolated society. Moreover, they make things more interesting, introducing variety into our towns, cities and villages, making them interesting and enjoyable places to be.
The current government delayed the upcoming rate hike by two years, saying a radical overhaul of the system would be introduced, one that would support small businesses. But the rate increase looming in April will do anything but help. Despite an increase to the threshold for exemptions from paying business rates, in London, for example almost two-thirds of small business in central London will not be eligible.
As part of this overhaul, the government promised a review of business rates in 2015. This review paid far more attention to the interests of local government who ultimately profit considerably from the new arrangement than to small businesses. The result of this approach is clearly reflected in government policy now.
In addition to this, the government still has not announced the multiplier that will be used in calculating the new business rates. This means that many businesses do not know exactly what figure they should expect come April. Consequently, not only are many businesses bracing for a crippling increase, they cannot budget for it exactly.
The tragedy in all of this is that the Tory party would like us to think it is the party that supports small business and the Labour party is inherently anti-business. The reality could not be further from the truth. The Labour party is the natural friend of small business, in particular. Labour is all about communities. It is with this philosophy in mind that we established SME4Labour, a group that seeks to create better links between small businesses and the Labour party.
This government has shown its door is always open to big business but when it comes to the small businesses that are the backbone of our economy and the beating heart of our communities, it does not want to know. It is about time we changed that and so I invite you to come and take part in the activities of SME4Labour to help us forge strong links between the Labour party and the small business community. Small businesses need Labour now more than ever.
And it goes both ways: Labour needs small businesses. If Labour is to really prove to people it has the antidote to failed austerity politics and a government that seems to care only about the interests of big business, it must show how closely it is willing to engage with small business. Right now, Labour is failing to make the impact it should be in such a drastic environment. The Tory party continues to score own goal after own goal, at the expense of 90 per cent of this country’s population. It is time Labour led the way in taking back control.
Labour is the natural friend of small businesses but the uncertainty of Brexit demands the country do more for SMEs
Labour has in the past been tacitly and even directly accused of being inherently anti-business. The party has been accused of being out of touch with the communities of modern Britain. Both suggestions are patently false. But these suggestions are sadly widespread. And they were, I believe, partly what prompted people’s surprised reactions when we founded SME for Labour. These perceptions are something the Labour Party can and should work against – and there is no better time than this week with the Budget due on Wednesday.
I am myself an owner of a small business. I am also a proud Labour member. And I see nothing incompatible there, in fact, to me it seems like a natural combination. I started work at 14 and have slowly built up a modest business empire through hard work and an approach based on fairness and trust. After years of hard work, I now run several restaurants and have just launched my own beer, called Bira.
Throughout my life, I have seen the importance of SMEs to communities. I have seen that they are an integral component of any living, breathing community. I have also seen that social justice, or a lack of it, affects the health of communities, and vice versa. A just society needs SMEs and SMEs need a just society. For me, it is with the philosophy of the Labour movement that we can make the sort of society that I believe all of us deep down want to see and live in.
Labour’s entire political programme relies on a prosperous, growing economy. We want social justice. We want opportunities for all. We want social mobility. We want world-class public services, in health, education, criminal justice and transport. And we understand that these things cannot happen unless we have a growing economy, fair distribution of wealth between the nations and regions of the UK, and investment in training, skills and jobs. Labour is the party for all of those who want to be better off, who want to see their families and communities do well and prosper.
SMEs are the glue that holds communities together. They give character to our cities, towns and villages. Without them, every high street would be a clone of every other high street, and we would have lost something very special that makes us who we are. Family businesses sometimes stretching back over a century provide us with a reference point for sustainable, ethical business practices, and give continuity to communities. More and more we see our society as one where people stay at home, locked indoors, where people do not know their neighbours and do not feel engaged. Labour is the party that can reverse this.
Healthy communities are not ones obsessed with the past, however. Real communities are ones that grow and develop, ones that acknowledge their past and draw on it but allow the following generations to express themselves. Driving the growth of SMEs and the health of our economy are innovators and entrepreneurs, people who take risks, people who think differently. We can and should support people with new, bright ideas to contribute to our economy. The current government stands in the way of the growth of small businesses, choosing instead to prioritise massive multi-nationals that do not contribute anything substantive to their communities, who exploit and cut corners wherever possible.
With the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, sadly, we need the contribution of SMEs more than ever. SMEs employ over 15 million people, or two-thirds of all jobs in the private sector. The government’s continued inability to deliver any clear strategy on Brexit is wreaking havoc on our economy and we have no idea what Brexit, when it comes, will bring.
Some are predicting growth, others further downturn. Whatever happens, we need to be supporting our SMEs so that they remain robust and dynamic. Labour is the natural friend of SMEs but the links could be stronger and more formal. This is part of what we are trying to do. The Small Business Saturday events, started by Labour a few years ago, gave Labour a chance to engage with SMEs in our constituencies. MPs, mayors and councillors had the chance to talk with the businesses in their patches. It is a wonderful initiative, and we give it our full support.
But I want this level of dialogue and engagement to be more than a single day. I want it all year round. I want it to be normal. I want our branch meetings to be stuffed full with small business men and women, with the self-employed, with entrepreneurs taking risks with exciting new ventures.
I want to see Labour MPs elected with a background in SMEs, in family- run firms, and in entrepreneurship. If Labour is truly to represent the communities we serve, then the PLP must reflect small businesses.
We’ve made an impressive start. SMEs for Labour has grown fast, reflecting the genuine interest within the party. We’ve won the endorsements of senior Labour figures, including our leader Jeremy Corbyn, the deputy leader Tom Watson, and the shadow chancellor John McDonnell. There is still more we can do, however, to build on the natural affinity between Labour and SMEs and to boost Labour’s electability.
As part of Labour’s campaign to help give working people a fairer deal, the Westminster Labour Group have called on Westminster Council to join 15 other London local authorities and the Greater London Authority in committing to pay the London Living Wage to all their staff and contractors. The Labour Group has submitted a motion to Full Council on May 3rd that would require the Council to ensure that in any new contracts the Council ensures its contractors pay staff working for Westminster at least the London Living Wage. At present a number of major contracts including for residential care homes (Sanctuary Care) and facilities management (Amey) see contracted staff being paid below the London Living Wage for the work they do on behalf of Westminster Council.
Labour in Westminster, both Karen Buck MP and local councillors, are committed to fighting for fairness at work both locally and nationally. Labour believes the London Living Wage can improve the lives of low paid workers and help enhance the quality of service provided to the public, as well as improving staff recruitment and retention. At the coming General Election on June 8th the Labour Party is campaigning to introduce a £10 minimum wage by 2020 to help tackle poverty pay across the country.
Westminster Labour Group have also recently organised a local petition calling on Westminster Council to demand that staff at the Council’s residential care homes, currently sub-contracted to Sanctuary Care, pay the London Living Wage to their staff (over 40% are not). Please sign here the petition herehttp://petitions.westminster.gov.uk/livingwagecare/
Labour Group Leader Councillor Adam Hug said “At a time when many other councils are committing to treating their staff fairly, Westminster is still taking on contracted staff at well below the London Living Wage. This injustice must stop. Not only is this unfair to those who look after our elderly, clean our buildings and do many other jobs for the Council, it means Westminster will lose out to other councils who treat their staff better, hurting the service provided to residents.”
Labour’s Living Wage Motion for Full Council
The Council notes that a number of its major contractors do not pay the London Living Wage to staff who work on Westminster’s behalf.
It notes the dramatically increased rates of in-work poverty and foodbank use in Westminster and across the country.
It also notes that a number of other London Boroughs such as Camden and Islington are committed to paying the London Living Wage to both their staff and their contractors, with 15 London Authorities and the GLA accredited by the Living Wage Foundation.
The Council believes that low pay is damaging to both workers and the quality of service provision.
It also believes that paying the London Living Wage or above can help improve service quality, staff recruitment and retention.
It also believes that if Westminster does not pay its staff and contractors at least the London Living Wage it will face increasing competition for staff from boroughs that do.
The Council resolves to develop a pay and contracts policy that ensures all directly employed staff and all staff employed by contractors for work in Westminster receive at least the London Living Wage.
It also resolves to enter into discussions with its existing long-term contractors to improve conditions for contracted staff who are currently being paid below the London Living Wage.
At the recent Westminster Fairer Housing Conference, organised by Karen Buck and Westminster Labour group, the deep worries about the behaviour of housing associations in Westminster was the main concern for many attendees, as reported by this article in the Guardian. Many housing associations have been increasingly focused on housebuilding, often for private sale and for homes that stretch reasonable definitions of affordability beyond breaking point, egged on by a Conservative government that slashed investment in new homes after the election in 2010.
Now, as part of a dodgy accounting trick to remove housing association debt from the government balance sheet, the 2016 Housing Act has removed a whole range of protections that had been in place to try and ensure housing associations serve the best interests of their residents. Even under the old rules housing associations had been selling off hundreds of social homes in Westminster and not replacing them here, but deregulation will make the problem even worse by removing the need for the regulator to approve sales, even to private companies and with tenants still living in those homes. The housing associations will now be free to spend the money from sales of properties funded by government grant on whatever they want. They will also no longer need approval to change their constitutions and boards, making it easier for them to become even more commercial in the way they behave.
Despite multiple Tory U-turns on making it compulsory, there is still pressure on housing associations to ‘voluntarily’ apply a ‘pay to stay scheme’ for families with total household incomes before tax of over £40,000. Karen Buck and Cllr Adam Hug have recently called on the Valuation Office Agency to reject proposals by Genesis Housing to hike rents for secure tenants by between 20-50% and there are fears that deregulation will lead to further rent hikes.
Nationally Labour are opposed to the Tories’ pernicious 2016 Housing Act, which also threatens huge damage to Westminster’s Council homes. Locally Labour are calling for Westminster Council to set up a preferred provider system so that housing associations that treat residents poorly or sell off social homes without replacing them are not eligible for Section 106 contracts as part of private housing schemes and are not able to partner with the council on joint projects.
Housing association residents are mobilising to hold their associations to account, so that they comply with their original missions to provide decent homes for those on lower incomes. Labour stands with them both nationally and here in Westminster.
Labour demand information on Westminster Council plans to charge homeless families £12 a week to store possessions
Labour Councillors have called on Westminster Council to release all the internal emails and reports about a letter which was sent to households in temporary accommodation telling them their possessions could be destroyed if they did not pay a weekly storage charge.
The letter stated that from 1st May, households in temporary accommodation would be charged £12 a week for each crate of items the council holds in storage. The council does not charge for this service under its existing policy. The letter to families in temporary accommodation said that if payment was not received by 1st May then the possessions would be destroyed. The letter added one storage container would normally hold one flat’s worth of possessions.
The Council claims the letter was sent by mistake.
In a letter to Council Chief Executive, Charlie Parker, Queen’s Park Labour Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg said:
“Please can I have copies of all the letters, emails, background papers and other written material relating to the Council’s proposals to charge homeless families £12 per week per box of possessions in storage or the contents will be destroyed. I understand that these proposals have now been withdrawn but would like to understand how such a mean and nasty proposal could ever be conceived by the Council.”