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Archive for September, 2015

The plight of refugees

The tragedy of the refugees fleeing Syria and other troubled countries such as Eritrea is one that is very much at the forefront of our minds at the moment. The sight of thousands of displaced persons invokes strong emotions and an understandable urge to open our borders and provide sanctuary. Three residents have written to me in the past few days asking me to call on our council to take action to help. Here are some of the thoughts I have shared with them.

David Cameron has announced that Britain will take 20,000 refugees over five years and as a local council we are awaiting news of how we can play a part. Please see information on the St Albans City & District Council website: http://www.stalbans.gov.uk/advice-and-benefits/services/default.aspx

Beyond that commitment, I am  convinced that the UK government’s broader policy of helping people in situ is the right one. The size of the problem is such that for every refugee given asylum many hundreds of others will be denied it. Unless we accept that the vast majority of Syria, Lybia, Eritrea etc – in total tens of millions of people – have the right to come and live in Europe and the UK, there will always be a cut off point where some people get left behind to face the misery. Matthew Paris writing in the Times (click here for a PDF version) makes this point far better than I ever could.

Offering asylum to a tiny proportion – the lucky few, if you like – may well make us feel better about ourselves, but could easily encourage others to entrust their lives to criminal people smuggling gangs.

Of particular problem in the UK is our shortage of housing. By necessity if we accept tens of thousands of asylum seekers and put them at the top of the housing priority list then tens of thousands of other people already waiting for housing will be pushed further down. This is not a deprivation that will affect those of us who own our own property but be shouldered by the poorest who are living in often cramped, temporary accommodation.

On the other hand, by encouraging those displaced by conflict to stay put (or at least in safe havens closer to home) it will be much easier for them to rebuild their communities and their lives when the chaos eventually subsides.

And this approach is by no way an easy way out, the UK foreign aid budget is around £12 billion – in absolute terms the second largest of any nation. Divided equally by every household in the country this works out at £450. Of course not all households will pay equally, so it may be that you are already contributing over £500 a year towards alleviating suffering in countries like Syria through the tax you pay. You can be very proud of this fact.

If you want to do more I can recommend this charity, Chaired by my colleague Cllr Mary Maynard, that works with orphaned and abandoned children in an around Syria:

http://www.soschildrensvillages.org.uk/news/syria-crisis

There is also the opportunity to foster an orphaned child, although a commitment of such magnitude would be beyond the sympathies of nearly all my constituents.

No Flies on Me

The Local Services Scrutiny Committee meetings are one of my personal highlights of being a councillor, not least because they are so well chaired by Cllr Anthony Rowlands. At our first meeting the committee members discussed what should go on the work programme and last night we had a report on fly-tipping (I was delighted to have ‘my’ topic listed so early in the year). About a month or so ago I was invited to suggest the questions I would like the officer (Luke Neal – well done, good job, thank you) to go away and investigate on the committee’s behalf. You can read his findings here (scroll down for item 12).

As I thought, Bedmond Lane (in Verulam ward)  is the district’s hottest spot and I am pressing for police action in our area. (The picture below is not of a luxury ‘bathe for two’ outdoor hotel experience but of fly-tipped baths just off Bedmond Lane – perhaps you dog walk or run round there and have seen them?).

My husband and I alerted the Council’s ‘Cleaner District team’ to 72 instances of fly-tipping over 16 weeks on Bedmond Lane and surrounding areas last year: that was our attempt to get the council to see that a police sting operation is merited.

Bedmond_2015_08_11

 

In July 2014 the Council carried out joint fly-tipping operations with the police where the police would stop vehicles that appear to be carrying waste. Over four weeks 85 vehicles were stopped but no vehicles were seized and only ‘warnings’ were issued.

I also sit on the City Neighbourhoods Committee (a committee that represents the wards that don’t have a Parish Council – meets next on 22/9 and all are welcome to attend at the Council chamber, 7pm) where we have a police update each time. All councillors are asked if there are any particular issues they would like an update on. My response? FLY TIPPING.

I have asked that the police respond to the following questions on 22nd September:

  • When are the next fly-tipping operations happening in conjunction with SADC officers (see 4.19 in the Local Services Scrutiny Committee papers for 3/9/15 for more info)?
  • (When) can I accompany the police and officers on one of these operations?
  • What more do the police think they could or should be doing to deter, catch and prosecute fly-tippers – and any concrete plans?
  • When could there be an operation carried out to stop and search vans travelling down Bedmond Lane (the ‘hottest spot’ in the district for fly-tipping and it is in my ward)?

To my disappointment, cameras do not do much to catch fly-tippers so putting up more of them won’t help us. One solution that I think could have a significant impact is each of us asking everyone we are inviting to tender for work in our homes and gardens/disposing of our waste “please can I see your waste carrier licence?” If they don’t have one, don’t use them. It’s false economy to save a few quid by using someone without a licence as you would liable if the waste was traced back to you and we all pay more in council tax because of the cost of clearing it up. We could soon drive fly-tippers out of business if we all asked that question.

And PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do report all fly-tipping you see as the more data we collect the easier (I hope) it is for me to make the case for more effort to be put into deterring and catching these criminals.

What do you think?

Final thought – I’ve asked for the Council’s communications team to include a reminder of the Council’s bulky waste disposal service in the next Community Matters publication (they’ll take six items away for £25.50 – a relative bargain me thinks)

[From St Albans City & District Council website: If you spot someone in the act of dumping waste, please make a note of their vehicle details and call the police on 999 if the crime is in progress. Alternatively, call the non-emergency number 101. If you discover fly-tipped waste after the event, please call our hotline on 01727 819598 or email the details to a.cleanerdistrict@stalbans.gov.uk.If you are able to take a photo of the fly-tipping, this will provide useful evidence to help us with any prosecutions.]
Jessica Chivers


13 Jerome Drive,
St Albans,
Hertfordshire,
AL3 4LT

01727 856169

Twitter: @JC4SADC

cllr.j.chivers@stalbans.gov.uk

Disclaimer
The views expressed on this website are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Conservative Councillors' Association or the Conservative Party.