Jan 08 2014

Leader’s Blog: Susan Says Time for Spit and Polish in Harrow!

susan_hall_leaderWITH 2014 under way, it’s understandable that some New Year resolutions may already have lapsed – I know some of mine have! But here at Civic Centre, the one resolution we are sticking to like glue is our aim to create a cleaner, safer and fairer Harrow.

In the three months to the end of 2013, the council has disrupted the activities of a number of unscrupulous landlords through visits to “beds in sheds” developments, carried out the relaunched Week of Action initiatives and stepped up our efforts on recycling with the recruitment of two new officers to help residents. We are getting the streets clean and blitzing the ‘grotspots’ previously left untended.

The pace of activity is going to step up across the board this year. Next month, the council will highlight its work on tackling benefit cheats with anti-fraud week. The council always promotes its successful court prosecutions over fraud (you may remember a case just before Christmas which involved a man who was ordered to repay more than £5,000 in housing benefit after he pretended to be a paying guest in his own house!). Anti-fraud week will be promoted with posters carrying the image of a hand dipping into another person’s back pocket – symbolising the fact that cheating the council is effectively stealing from your neighbour. Defrauding the council is not some slightly naughty victimless crime against a faceless corporation that can afford it; by cheating us, you are undermining the council’s ability to serve the people who live in your street.

With saving money in mind, you’ll remember that it is the council’s budget meeting next month, and we will be proposing a budget with a zero per cent council tax increase. I hope you agree it is fair to try and help those who pay their way with a frozen council tax bill while equally fair to take tough action against those who try to cheat the system.

So much for fairer; now on to the cleaner and safer Harrow. Let me update you here with something completely new. I’m sure that like me, you find spitting in streets a repulsive habit. This behaviour is not only yobbish but can stain pavements, so costing our street crews time and money in deep-cleaning paving slabs.

I am about to announce a consultation on creating a by-law in Harrow to ban spitting in the street, and am talking to police colleagues about action we can take. My feeling is that people who continue to spit on the pavement are only going to stop this disgusting habit if we take action against them. I hope there will be widespread support for making it clear we find this behaviour unacceptable, and hitting the pockets of those who choose to do it may be the best way to get them to stop. If we get support from local residents I will come back to you in future blogs with updates on this.

Finally, you may have seen me in the papers or on television over the Christmas period on the subject of the possible influx of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants to the UK. Harrow has the third largest Romanian population in London (around 4,800) so the council was sought out for its views on this challenging topic.

I have two observations on this. First, we have no objection to new arrivals who come here to work, pay their taxes, obey the law and contribute – indeed, London has historically been built on waves of immigration. However, I make no apology in voicing the anxiety that a large influx of people could strain public services like health, housing and schools. Residents have made that view clear to me in both calls and emails, and I think that all too often in the past the silent majority has felt cowed when it has had a legitimate concern to raise.

The short answer is that nobody knows how many Romanians or Bulgarians will come to the UK this year. Throughout 2013, council leaders including myself have been concerned because it is impossible to determine just how many people may arrive.

As a precautionary move I have asked council officers to look into the availability of Romanian and Bulgarian translators and to update me on any increased uptake on our services, especially schools and housing. Far from engaging in inflammatory rhetoric, I think that is taking sensible action to look after all who choose to make their home in Harrow – whether born here or not.

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