Defending livelihoods & chilling out at Paddington Rec

The big issue last week came from the hugely disappointing announcement from the Post Office proposing to close up to 1 in 5 of London’s local branches. Clearly this will affect the elderly, young families and those on benefits disproportionately more then anyone else in our communities.

One group who would be be effected by the proposals are the many small Asian family businesses, many of whom stand to lose their livelihoods. Those running post offices and those benefitting from the trade the post office attracts to the typical high street could be decimated if the proposals go ahead.

I will be raising these and other issues with Post Office Ltd, urging them to reconsider. I encourage anyone worried about the impact of losing these vital local services to do the same.

On a more cheery note, it was heartening to see the potential impact that the Mayor and government’s joint investment in London’s youth provision could have. Last week l visited one of the training sessions of the London Tigers at Paddington Rec – where l once played sport and stayed out of trouble after school.

l bumped into Muhammad, who now goes to my old school. He told me proudly that the school had won the schools’ football championship last year and that he was a member of the winning team.

It was much the same in my time when my year’s team won the championship several years running and it was all down to the dedication of our PE teachers giving boys like me their time and energy. The £80 million now going to youth services will keep more young people like Muhammed off the streets and away from the lure of gangs.

Facing issues at the doorstep, but sharing joys on Edgware Road

Knocking on doors around London it is quiet clear what the issues are for Londoners: crime, transport and housing – but not necessarily in that order. Added to this, particularly in West London, is the expansion of Heathrow Airport proposals which has been attracting huge public meetings in a lot of town halls. Amidst all these meetings and door knocking, I managed to see the African Nations Cup final with an excited Egyptian audience!

It is clear that the fear of crime is the issue when discussing it with folk on their doorsteps, and while it can be shown clearly that crime rates are going down, it is fear of it which is driving most people, particularly when we have young people hanging around. So in this respect the Youth Offer made by Mayor Ken Livingstone appears to going down well.

Public transport can clearly be better but its also clear people have noticed the difference public investment is making on our buses, tube and rail service. And finally the issue which has been too often been ignored but the Mayor intends to make a huge impact on during a third term – the availability of affordable housing. Too often I hear on the doorstep stories of overcrowding and the inability of young adults to leave home and set up another home nearby. So not surprisingly the investment programme of 50,000 homes over next 4 years goes down well.

And then we have the proposed expansion of Heathrow. This is clearly causing alarm and the business and environmental arguments of the Government aren’t getting through to residents who feel they will suffer a reduction in their quality of life. Let’s hope the Environment Committee report from the London Assembly can contribute to the debate when it is launched next week.

And finally it’s not all door knocking and meetings! I managed to switch off while watching the African Nations Cup final in the Nile Cafe in the company of Egyptians while smoking a shisha. The Egyptians were clearly the better team against the Cameroon and it was a deserved win for them. So I went to bed with the Edgware Road in my neighbourhood celebrating well into the night. Let’s just hope the six times winners of the Cup fare much better in the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.

£25 Congestion Charge for Chelsea Tractors

This month, the Mayor gave the green light to the proposed scheme on emissions related congestion charging. The scheme aims to discourage the use of the highest CO2 emitting cars from entering the zone.

Under the new rules, from 27th October 2008 there will be a £25 charge for cars that emit 226 grams of CO2 or more per km. Among the cars that fall into this category are SUVs or so-called “˜Chelsea tractors’. The proposals are good news for owners of smaller cars with low CO2 emissions that meet the Euro 4 standard for air quality. TfL, on behalf of the Mayor, has proposed a 100% discount on the Congestion charge for such cars. I certainly welcome the proposal to increase congestion charge for gas guzzling 4x4s, as I have always believed them to pose a serious threat to the environment as well as pedestrian and child safety. Driving a Chelsea tractor in a city environment is completely unnecessary and I am hoping that this move will lead to more people opting for smaller and more eco-friendly cars.

Reasons to not forget the London Assembly elections

It’s been heartening to see the national press focus on the contest for London’s mayoralty, but we should not forget that on the same day the political make-up of the London Assembly will also be decided.

If, as we hope, Ken is re-elected on 1 May he will need 9 Assembly Members to vote through his budget, strategies and initiatives. At present he relies on a red/green alliance of seven Labour members and two Greens in the face of Lib Dem/Tory opposition. Without this support in the Assembly, Ken’s annual budget would be blocked and along with it funding for more police, to tackle climate change and to improve public transport.

The role of assembly members, of which 25 will be elected on the 1 May (14 to represent constituencies and 11 by a proportional party list system) is to scrutinise the activities of the Mayor and hold him to account. We will ignore the Assembly elections at our peril. Support for Ken must go hand in hand with support for Labour on the Assembly. This is the only way to guarantee that he will get the support he needs to push through measures to improve the lives of all Londoners. The danger is that an Assembly with a Tory-Lib Dem majority will make life very difficult for the Mayor and block the progressive consensus that has developed in the last eight years.

Finally, and most importantly, it is the Assembly elections which could easily see the BNP elected. At the last GLA elections in 2004, the BNP came within 5,000 votes of getting gaining a seat on the Assembly. That is the equivalent of just a handful of votes in each ward in London. An improved performance this time round would be a disaster for London, undermining our multi-cultural and diverse capital in the lead up to the 2012 Olympics. It is worth remembering that, because of the proportional electoral system, every vote, no matter who it’s for, will increase the number of votes the BNP need to be successful. So use your votes: to stop the BNP and ensure our progressive Mayor can push through his programme, and vote for the Assembly Members and the party who share his values and his vision for our great city.

Lower Emissions Zone – Good News for Central Londoners

Having been born and raised in West Central London and living near the Edgware Road, I have always been concerned about the high levels of air pollution rates in my local area. Each year, since 2000, Edgware Road and Baker Street have featured on the list of most polluted London sites.

As a concerned resident and Deputy Chair of the Assembly Environment Committee, I more than welcome the introduction of London’s Low Emission Zone (LEZ). This scheme will see the most polluting vehicles being charged for driving in London.  From February onwards, diesel-engined lorries of over 1200 tonnes in weight that fail to meet the required emissions standard will be charged to enter Greater London. From summer 2008, buses, coaches and all lorries over 3,5 tonnes will be included in the scheme. Large vans and minibuses will be covered by the LEZ from October 2010. Air pollution has many negative effects on people’s health. In London, which has the worst air pollution in the UK, an estimated 1000 premature deaths and a similar number of hospital emissions occurred as a result in 2005. The fact that 75% of Londoners support the introduction of the LEZ shows that most Londoners recognise something needs to be done to improve the air quality in our city.

For further information about the LEZ scheme you can consult the information leaflet on:

Murad spearheads campaign to get Twenty20 at 2012

With last year’s successful Twenty20 World Cup tournament, twenty over cricket is rapidly increasing in popularity. I believe this version of cricket lends itself well to being a demonstration sport in the London 2012 Olympics. Back in 1900 cricket was introduced as an Olympic sport at the Paris games but subsequently dropped for whatever reason.  It would be great if the return of the Olympic cricket competition would be staged at the London Olympics, at the home of the sport.

With London being the home to both Lords and the Oval, the contest can be held with no additional construction costs to the ODA, LOCOG and both national and local government.

Staging cricket at the 2012 Olympics would, no doubt, attract large numbers of South Asian TV viewers who normally are unlikely to watch the Olympics but tune in to see the cricket. Indeed with over 120 cricket-playing nations are recognised by ICC, it will have a truly global appeal.

If you agree with Murad, and feel this is a good idea, please register your support on the Web Survey.

Murad calls on Tubelines to pay cleaners the £7.20 London Living Wage

The London Assembly has called on Tube Lines to lift cleaners out of poverty. A motion tabled by Murad demanded that cleaners working on the tube network all be paid a minimum of £7.20 an hour; the London Living Wage.

Whilst the administrator of tube infrastructure company Metronet is committed to paying at least the London Living Wage, cleaners contracted to work for the other infrastructure company Tube Lines are paid just £5.52 an hour, well below the minimum needed to live free of poverty in London.

The London Assembly supported Murad’s motion urging Tube Lines to follow Metronet’s example and raise pay rates for cleaners.

Murad urged Tube Lines to end poverty pay for their staff:

"Cleaners on the tube provide a valuable service and deserve a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Every Londoner knows our city is an expensive place to live and, like everyone else, cleaners cannot be expected to meet the costs of living here on rates of pay barely above the national minimum wage. How can Tube Lines justify a cleaner on the Jubilee line being paid nearly two pounds an hour less than a cleaner working on the District Line."

The full text of the motion reads as follows:

"This Assembly supports the promotion of the London Living Wage, which on account primarily of housing costs represents a viable minimum wage level in London some £2 greater than the national minimum wage. We note that it is to be extended to cleaners working directly or through contractors for the Metronet Consortium and urge Tube Lines to follow a similar course."

Murad disputes London Assembly report about crime on buses

Murad and John Biggs, another Labour Assembly Member on the Assembly’s Transport Committee, have spoken out against the Committee’s report into crime on buses. Murad and John say that while they welcome the committee’s work, they have “serious doubts” about the motives of its Chair.

Murad said: “While this is a valuable piece of work we strongly dispute many of its findings. Both John and myself saw the same evidence as the Chair and we feel that in some places it has been wishfully interpreted to suit his existing prejudices.”

John and Murad produced their own minority report rubbishing many of the committee’s findings:

* The latest figures show that crime rates on buses have fallen to below 2004/05 levels
* There is no evidence of a correlation between recorded crime levels and the introduction of free travel for under-16s
* Anecdotal references to “rowdy behaviour” on certain bus routes are not linked to recorded criminal behaviour
* The table of “least safe routes” is meaningless without comparing the lengths of the routes or the number of passengers they carry

Murad continued: “While one crime on our bus network is one too many, we feel there is little to be gained from scaremongering and reinforcing urban myths. The latest figures from TfL, which the committee chose not to cite, show that in the first half of 2007/08 there were just 15 crimes per million passenger journeys.

“Free travel has been a huge benefit to London’s youngsters, especially for those from low income families. Some members of the committee are on record as opposing this policy and it should be no great surprise that they tried to use this scrutiny report to back up their opposition. The investigation found no evidence to fit their agenda.

“We would like to reiterate our support for free bus travel for young people and strongly welcome the introduction of photocards which will reinforce that with the right to free travel comes responsibilities.”

You can read the report here, our minority report is listed as appendix 1.

Get your free low energy light bulb this weekend!

Murad is urging all Londoners to take part in the Mayor’s light bulb amnesty this weekend and make a step to start saving the planet.

DIY store B&Q and British Gas have joined with the Mayor to offer all Londoners free low energy light bulbs in exchange for older bulbs. Londoners can take a traditional light bulb from their home to any of the 28 B&Q stores across London and receive a free energy efficient light bulb from British Gas.

It is estimated that if all London households switched to energy efficient bulbs the capital’s carbon emissions would be reduced by half a million tons and Londoners could save up to £139million in energy bills.

Murad said “˜I hope this will encourage more people to take that important first step in making changes to their lifestyle which will benefit the environment. Using low energy bulbs is a really simple way for everyone to save energy and cut down emissions ““ and it saves people money too not only on energy bills but also on light bulbs as the low energy versions last much longer than conventional bulbs.’

The free bulbs are available from 11th January to 13th January and the offer is limited to two free bulbs per household.

Murad urges Londoners to recycle Christmas Trees

Today, Murad urged Londoners to recycle their Christmas Trees and other rubbish leftovers from the festive season. He launched the Recycle for London campaign by feeding the 22m Christmas Tree at Trafalgar Square to a chipping machine.

 An estimated 976,000 Christmas trees and 124m cards will be thrown away in London instead of being recycled. To make recycling easy 26 boroughs are offering to collect the trees and other festive rubbish from home, while the remaining 17 councils have set up drop-off points for Christmas trees.

Murad said: “While London’s recycling rate is improving, we could all be doing much more to help increase it even further.

“I hope today’s recycling of the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree will encourage Londoners to make a greener start to 2008. The post-festive season is a great time to begin new habits.”

London residents and businesses can find out more about recycling services in their area by visiting the Recycle for London website, call 0845 331 3131 or text RECYCLE and a full postcode to 63131.