Saturday, October 24, 2020

Newham Council adds voice to #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign to address holiday hunger facing thousands of school children this half term

Newham Council has today confirmed its support for the #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign, announcing additional money to ensure no child goes hungry during this half term break. 

Cabinet Member for Education, Cllr Zulfiqar Ali said: “We share the huge disappointment expressed by England footballer Marcus Rashford following the government’s vote against plans that would have shielded children from hunger this half term.

“Responsibility for this decision lies solely with the government. It’s an absolute outrage that it has turned its back on our most vulnerable families already hit by poverty and low incomes, through a callous disregard for the impact this will have on the needs of children at this most difficult time.

“Food poverty is already a huge priority for the Council and that’s why, in addition to the existing free schools meals programme, we support thousands of local children through our universal Eat for Free food scheme during the school term.

“As well as this, we have been addressing food poverty as part of our response to Covid-19, through the establishment of the borough-wide Newham Food Alliance. Working with more than 30 voluntary sector organisations, we have been feeding thousands of low income families throughout the pandemic.

“We have also invested additional money to ensure that children and families can access food during this half term break. The additional provision includes extended opening hours for families to access food and increasing food supplies to meet growing demand.”

Residents can find more information about the Newham Food Alliance and order food here or call 07790 975 086 Monday to Friday between 9am and midday to secure food parcels.

Newham’s Eat for Free scheme offers free school meals to ALL primary school aged children, not just those in Key Stage 1 or who meet eligibility criteria. This means that 28,000 local primary school children have the option of a free school meal should they want one.

Newham Council has already this year invested £364,000 in the Newham Food Alliance, which sees the council working arm-in-arm with more than 30 voluntary organisations to ensure that Newham’s poorest residents do not go hungry. The council’s support helps towards logistical support, coordination and dedicated Newham Food alliance vehicles to distribute food to hubs around the borough to where it is needed most.

Thousands of Newham families benefit from the Food Alliance, and there is surplus food stock available to help meet any surge in demand.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Update on ONS Covid19 infection survey

 On 11 October I posted here

on my experience as a volunteer taking part in the study being run by the Office for National Statistic (ONS)

The survey is being run by the US based multi National

It had taken a number of attempts to try and organise an initial visit for swab and blood tests. 

Finally, I had these tests on Saturday 10 October but had to wait until Wednesday 21 October to receive a letter (via Royal Mail - not email or text?) to tell me that the swab test was negative. I understand (and hope) that if it was positive the survey would have contacted me by telephone before this but I must admit I am not full of confidence that this would have happened in a timely manner. 

IQVIA do not send you the results of your blood test back, which is a shame. It would have been very interesting to find out if I had Covid-19 in the past. I know that if you had it this would not mean you are not totally immune to catching Covid-19 again. 

I had volunteered to have weekly swab tests and monthly blood tests. Since I was told my next swab test would be a week later I waited until the following Saturday but heard nothing so I rang the IQVIA call centre. I was unable to speak to anyone so left a message. 

No-one got back to me then on Wednesday a lady rang to arrange an appointment for a swab test the following day. She could not meet me at my workplace (which is also in Newham) so I agreed to come home on Thursday at 1.30pm from work for the test. She rang about 2.15pm to say she could find my address but was nearby. I gave her directions and left my MS teams meeting that I was chairing on Pensions and waited outside. She gave me a swab kit and then waited while I did the test indoors (I am getting quite used to them now). I handed her back the test kit, she asked some basic health questions then went off. 

So, it is a bit of a saga but I hope a worthwhile exercise. I wish it was better organised and that instead of a "for profit" multinational running this exercise it was being organised by our local NHS/public health team. While we are not perfect at least noone is making (I assume) huge profits from the Covid-19 emergency. I would still encourage anyone who is invited to take part in the survey to do so. 

Will update further as and when.  

Thursday, October 22, 2020

"UNISON calls on government to pull back from scrapping Union Learning Fund"


UNISON is calling on the government to pull back from its plan to scrap the Union Learning Fund in England, saying that the decision makes no sense.

The announcement that the fund would be scrapped came as the economy struggles to bounce back from the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, and as the Department of Education’s own findings revealed that the proportion of employers not providing any training at all increased from 34% in 2017 to 39% in 2019; and the proportion of employees not getting any training increased from 38% in 2017 to 40% in 2019.

In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, the devolved governments remain supportive of the fund. So do employers in England – including Tesco, Heathrow, British Steel, Arla Foods and Müller Milk, who have already given support to the TUC-led campaign to defend union learning.

For 20 years, the fund has been getting working people into skills training they’d otherwise have no access to, with courses directly relevant to the workplace, tailored to workers and supported by funding from the government.

Workplace learning is a massive success. Not just for employers – 77% say that union learning has a positive impact – but for the economy too. It is a success that delivers a return of £12.30 for every pound invested.

Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, explained: “Lifelong learning has a key role to play in helping us close the UK’s productivity gap with our competitors. Workplace learning is a big part of this – and union learning has proven to be brilliantly effective.

“It’s a unique way of switching people onto learning that cannot be replaced. It depends on the trust and support of a workmate who has been trained as a specialist learning rep. If the funding goes it will be a tremendous loss, harming business and the economy just when training and skills are needed for our economic recovery.”

UNISON members who take part in skills training not only widen their own horizons but improve the public services that they deliver as well.

For example, in Newcastle City branch, union learning rep Linda Slasor and branch education co-ordinator Wendy Aitman have established learning zones across the city council, allowing many traditionally excluded workers to improve their IT skills.

Ms Aitman explains: “For the most part, the learners haven’t been on a computer before and might not even have used a mouse before, so we get them started so they can access things like our weekly update for members and the council’s update for staff – a lot of them have been fascinated to see their payslips online.”

From digital to diplomas, from maths to mental health, the workers getting our country through the pandemic deserve the opportunity to access education. Now’s the time to invest in learners in our NHS and our care homes, in our police forces and our schools, in our local communities and everywhere else – not to scrap a scheme that makes it all happen.

Roger McKenzie, UNISON assistant general secretary with responsibility for organising, said: “The Union Learning Fund has made a massive contribution to raising basic skills levels across the country and, through that, makes a massive economic contribution.

“It’s not all about pounds, shillings and pence though. Many UNISON members have been able to read a bedtime story to their children or grandchildren for the very first time because of the Union Learning Fund. The government needs to change its mind and continue funding this vital work.”

Teresa Donegan, head of learning and organising at UNISON, says: “UNISON has always had a proud tradition of providing learning opportunities for our members. The Union Learning Fund allowed us to extend our reach to non-members as well, meaning that we could help thousands more public services workers improve their skills and knowledge.

“In councils, schools, hospitals, call centres and universities – to name only a few of the plethora of workplaces the Union Learning Fund reaches – union members and non-members alike have benefited.

“Subjects as fundamental as English, maths and IT open doors that may have remained locked since a worker left school.”

Sign the petition here -

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Have Your Say! Newham Consultation on Changes to Allocation Policy


Dear Resident 

The London Borough of Newham is proposing to make some changes to the Housing Allocations Policy and we want to hear your views.

You can have your say by clicking here:

Over 27,000 households are waiting for social housing in Newham. Only a small number of houses become available each year and we want to make sure they go to the residents who need them most.
We do this through the Housing Allocations Policy. This outlines who is allowed on the list, how they are prioritised and how the council allocates housing.

The proposals

We want to make some changes to this allocations policy to make sure it is fair. Full details of the proposed changes can be found here but in summary, the four main changes being proposed are:

1. Who can join the waiting list: currently you can join the waiting list if you have lived in Newham for two years, if you work in Newham or if you have family in Newham. We propose changing this so you can only join the list if you live in Newham for three years. There are some exceptions to the three-year rule.

2. Waiting time: We propose changing the way time on the waiting list contributes to your priority when you bid on properties. Waiting time before a housing need arises will not count.

3. Removing the advantage given to people in employment: currently households in employment have a higher priority when they bid for a property. We propose removing the priority given to people in employment, so that priority is based on housing need and time on the waiting list.

4. Creating a new category based on overcrowding: we propose giving a higher priority to households who are overcrowded plus one other reasonable preference (housing need). We define severe overcrowding as being short of two or more bedrooms.

The consultation

The consultation is open until Monday 4th January 2021. The council will consider the responses it receives. Recommendations will then be made to Cabinet members to help them make a decision. We expect this to happen in March 2021.

The London Borough of Newham have appointed independent research agency Savanta to host this consultation and collect feedback from residents.

You can participate in the consultation by clicking here.

You can also request a postal version of the questionnaire by contacting or 0800 304 7488.

With kind regards,


Darren Levy
Director of Housing

London Borough of Newham
Newham Dockside
1000 Dockside Road
E16 2QU

Keep up to date with the most up to date safety information about the Coronavirus on the Newham Council website ( or call the Covid-19 helpline on 020 7273 9711 (1-7pm, 7 days a week)

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

"End our Cladding Scandal: Developers make £5.2 billion in profits while leaseholders face huge bills for safety works"

Need I say any more? Except many leaseholders are not only facing massive bills for the removal of dangerous cladding but also to make good other shoddy and incomplete safety work. While the government as the ultimate regulator of building standards should take responsibility so should the developers and the new home warranty insurers. 

Hat tip Inside Housing (fire wall)


Monday, October 19, 2020

Christina McAnea for UNISON General Secretary: "A great result for Jacinda and New Zealand’s Labour Party"


"A great result for Jacinda and New Zealand’s Labour Party. Her brilliant leadership has shown how important it is to have women in power"

Christina McAnea

(Christina is in my view the best candidate but also she is the only woman standing to be the first female General Secretary of the largest union in the UK which has 1.3 million members of whom 1 million are women. 

There has Never been a female General Secretary of any of the biggest 5 trade unions in this country. Never...)

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Cllr Frederick (Frank) Matthews - my Great Grandfather


There is a lot of really nasty and unpleasant stuff on the internet and social media but there is also many positive things. 

This week I was contacted by a long lost relative Graham via this blog who had searched the internet for his great uncle (Frederick John Matthews - my maternal grandfather or "Taid"  in Welsh) and found my post on his military service

Today Graham sent me a fantastic email with photos and scans of our family history and also of my Great Grandfather, Frederick (Frank) James Matthews who was also a Councillor for many years in South Wales. I had no idea that apart from my Father (who was a Councillor for Buckley District Council, North Wales in the 1950s) that anyone else in my family had served in this way.

The newspaper report above has a picture of Frank at the opening ceremony of the construction of a much needed fresh water reservoir in 1912 (October 16!). I am not sure who exactly is Frank in the picture but assume it is the big chap with the big white beard. 

UPDATE: No, the chap with big white beard was the chief engineer, Frank is as above in new college (definitely a Matthews)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Protest outside Warehouse K - Oppose the hostile environment and there is no place for hate in our borough

Yesterday evening I walked from Newham Dockside along Royal Docks to join Councillor colleagues and local residents protesting outside the historic Warehouse K which is the site of a proposed Immigration detention centre.  

Local Newham Councillors have set up a campaign group - Newham Against the Immigration Centre

We joined a protest organised by the Newham Branch of the SUTR. Local Cllr Dr Rohit Das Gupta was the first speaker. He described how the local ward Councillors had met via zoom today with the developers to make clear their opposition to the proposal. 

As well as a wide range of local residents and activists, Cllr James Beckles, Cllr Shaban Mohammed, Cllr Anam Islam, Cllr Belgica Guaña and Cllr Suga Thekkeppurayil (final speaker) were there supporting the protest. 

Councillors who are on the Strategic planning committee would not be able to attend since by law they have to remain completely neutral until they have heard the actual planning application. The application for a change of use into a 24/7 detention centre with 35 custody cells is thought to be heard next month. 

There was a wide range of speakers addressing the protest. I spoke as Newham Deputy Mayor and made it clear that we are opposed to this "prison" being built in Newham and we will do everything we can do to stop it.  I also pointed out that this warehouse was built in 1855 for imported tobacco and therefore in all likelihood produce from American slave plantations was stored here and now the Home Office is proposing to jail migrants in the same building. This is an outrage. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Socialist & Labour West Ham Cllr George Coe "He tried to leave the world a little better than he found it"


During the summer I had a wonderful email from Plaistow resident and local historian, Alan Regin, connected to a post I wrote on this blog following the general election in 2015

On election day 2015 an UNISON colleague of mine was acting as a Labour polling agent outside an Ilford polling station and had been given a copy of an early West Ham "Labour" election pamphlet from 1897, which they sent to me knowing I was a local Councillor. 

This leaflet mentioned the "Social Democratic and Trade Unionist" candidate "G.Coe" who I googled and checked what records I had to hand but was unable to find any further information about. 

Alan had seen this post and he sent me a photograph of  a "George Coe" headstone in the West Ham Cemetery. It seems that George had indeed been elected in 1897 and remained a Councillor until 1900. 

He died at the young age of 40 in 1910. 

What is particularly noticeable about his gravestone is the wonderful epitaph "this testimonial was erected by a few friends as a token of their respect for his devotion both to his public & private duties". He tried to leave the world a little better than he found it".

I hope to go and pay my respects to George with Alan and modern day Councillor colleagues in the near future.