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Archive for February, 2009

Feb 3,2009

According to the new Chief Executive of the (national) Local Government Association, John Ransford, councils had planned “meticulously” for three days with every resource deployed in the run up to Monday’s snow chaos with many key routes – in London at least – apparently ungritted.  Now, I know that Ransford has been appointed following his predecessor being pushed out for not being robust enough in defending local authorities’ over-exposure to Icelandic banks, but to call the planning meticulous …….

Meanwhile, Hopi Sen’s blog from the backroom asks what Mayor Boris Johnson was doing last weekend.

Feb 2,2009

The answer is probably not.  Yes, this was the worst snow London has faced in many years.  However, it was not exactly unexpected: the Met Office had been issuing severe weather warnings for several days and it was clear that London was likely to be badly hit.

Transport for London (Chairman: Mayor Boris Johnson) made the judgement very early this morning that it would be unsafe for the buses to run.  This was probably correct: an out-of-control double-decker or bendie-bus skidding down a hill is a pretty scary prospect.

However, the real issue is why were so few roads around London adequately gritted?  Even by midday some major arterial roads had still not been gritted by the relevant local borough councils.  When I was a London Council leader – admittedly more than ten years ago – I remember an annual ritual when as elected members we would be asking the Borough Engineer and his staff about the “gritting plan” for the Borough’s roads.

So Mayor Johnson – rather than appealing to heaven for no more snow (“it’s the right kind of snow, but the wrong sort of quantities”) – should be asking his mates in London Councils (now majority Conservative led) why they let Londoners down so badly.

Feb 2,2009

I have been successful in the ballot to obtain a two and a half hour debate on the adequacy of the safeguards protecting children and young people using social networking sites on the internet.

The debate will be on the afternoon of Thursday 12th February 2009 and appears on the order paper as:

Lord Harris of Haringey to call attention to the growth in the use of social networking internet sites by children and the adequacy of safeguards to protect their privacy and interests; and to move for papers.

The process was that at the beginning of the session I tabled my debate proposal and waited to see whether it would be successful in the ballot: in fact, I gather it was fourth in the ballot for 12th February but those winning the top two slots couldn’t manage the date.

I have been interested in the issue for some time and I hope the debate will cover the extent to which children and young people are encouraged to post personal information on social networking sites to an extent that damages not only their personal security but also their future job prospects.  Nearly 50% of those aged 8 to 17 living in this country are – according to OFCOM – members of an online network community.  Often the warnings given to those signing on for the first time are inadequate.  The Home Office has issued guidance to social network providers but the guidance is not mandatory and has little effect on sites run from outside the UK.

Feb 2,2009

The weather problems have made it difficult for many members of the House of Lords to get in today – those travelling long distances have not been able to find trains or – even if there were trains – get to their stations in some rural areas.  As a result, attendance is sparse and we are at a critical stage in consideration of the Banking Bill:  the Bill is in Report – the stage when traditionally most of the key votes on amendments take place.

The Bill provides a statutory framework for Government intervention in failing banks and changes the objectives of the Bank of England so as to place an obligation on it to promote financial stability.   it is clearly a vital piece of his year’s legistative programme for the Government.

There have been two votes so far today: the first was won by the Government with a margin of twenty; and the second has just resulted in a tied vote (84 content; 84 not content) so the Tory amendment was not passed and in effect the Government won.  So as the temperature drops below freezing outside, the Whips are rushing round trying to make sure that no Labour Peer who has made it in tries to go home early.

Meanwhile, the pathway in front of the House of Lords entrance is an ice-rink because of – I am told – a dispute between Westminster City Council and Parliamentary authorities as to who is responsible for gritting it.