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Alison Cork: To flourish, the retail sector in London needs the chance to adapt

Alison Cork is an entrepreneur specialising in home interiors, and a television presenter. She was among those shortlisted to be the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.

Far from being paved with gold, the shopping streets of London currently tell a tale of retail woe. Empty units, an unhealthy balance (literally) of fast food outlets, and most depressingly for me, a lack of spark and originality in the brands on offer. High street retail should be an exciting process of discovery and consumer courtship, but more often than not it is now a repetitive and uninspiring affair.

Rent, rates and online retail are normally quoted as the reasons for this malaise, all of which play their part, but I don’t feel that this paints a wholly balanced picture.

All businesses have to face competition, whether they are online or physical retail, and to say that online retail should pay supplementary taxes to counteract their supposed advantage seems a counter-intuitive way to deal with the problem (I’m not referring here to the well known behemoths of online retail who seem particularly adept at paying tiny amounts of tax – this should definitely be addressed). I’m saying that we should be looking positively to reinvent the high street, rather than penalizing online shopping,  which appears to be succeeding in serving up speed and convenience to the consumer.

Part of the solution I feel lies in how we use physical retail space and the way in which increasingly we spend our leisure time. Shopping is now less about the mechanics of purchasing an item at the till and carrying it home, and more about having an enjoyable leisure experience discovering new product and services, whilst relaxing and socializing. Physical retail needs to respond to this, particularly the large stores which have such enormous overheads and considerable square footage to monetize.

A few years ago my own homeward brand won a retail competition to run a concession in House of Fraser on Oxford Street for two weeks. Whilst it was a great opportunity and one we hugely enjoyed, I remember feeling a deep sense of foreboding that there were many days when the sales staff seemed to outnumber the customers passing through, and I could only wonder at the electricity bill. Fast forward a few years and we know what happened to HoF. And they are not alone, retail profit warnings generally recently reached a seven-year high, so something needs to be done and quickly.

However, I do believe that large stores could reinvent themselves and provide the lifestyle experience people now want. Increasingly we are working for ourselves, demanding flexible working hours and arrangements, and wanting low overhead workspace, hence the growing success of shared workspace businesses such as Wework.

Why not combine this demand with the more fluid lifestyle people now lead, and build more co-working spaces into large retail units? Places like Pret A Manger already double as mobile offices for many people, but this would be taking the concept to its next logical step and providing a more comprehensive yet still flexible workspace. It would also facilitate networking amongst the self-employed, something I know to be very important from the work we do at Make It Your Business. This approach could also be adapted to help the elderly, providing a more formal place to meet people and socialise, counteracting another big challenge – that of modern-day loneliness.

Add in a bigger choice of eateries, other services such as child care, fun interactive brand experiences harnessing technology and efficient, cost-effective home delivery of purchases (so we can continue our retail experience hands free so to speak) and the overall result might be that we spend more time exposed to the retail proposition and end up spending more. All of a sudden, House of Fraser sounds a bit more interesting and relevant to our everyday needs and changing work/life habits. Physical retail needs to become multi functioning and go beyond its somewhat linear offering.

This is perhaps a solution for the larger stores, but what is the solution to my other point about wanting retail to be a journey of discovery of new product and brands? I think it lies in the other type of shopping street we have in London, the traditional high street of what is often 20th century construct, a parade of shops with retail outlets on the ground floor and more often than not, offices on the first floor and above.

Currently, the ground floor typically would be classified as retail, as it has a street frontage, but it is this very advantage which makes it expensive and beyond the reach of many new and more niche retailers. Why don’t we amend or allow more flexibility around our building classification to allow first floor and above also to be divided into smaller retail units (as opposed to office units), which could give rise to a honeycomb of exciting, new and niche brands getting the high street exposure they need. It would also give back the consumer that sense of discovery, originality and authenticity that I think they crave and miss. Take a walk down somewhere like South Molton Street and imagine how much more enticing it would be if every building was three floors of retail discovery. I know I’d be there like a shot.

London has the potential to be the best retail destination in the world. We certainly have the creative spirit to deliver on that. Let’s match that with some creative retail thinking and policy making.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

UK government downplays suggestion it will seek Brexit delay

The British government is downplaying a report that its chief Brexit negotiator said lawmakers will have to choose between backing Prime Minister Theresa May’s unpopular divorce deal and a delay to the U.K.’s exit from the European Union.

Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-f4b4cd287cf54818b50a220f295123e9 UK government downplays suggestion it will seek Brexit delay London fox-news/world/world-regions/united-kingdom fox-news/world/world-regions/europe fox-news/world fnc/world fnc ead47c1d-1ac0-5b18-a185-96afdc1b0c64 Associated Press article

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Shaun Bailey: London just isn’t working for everyone. We need a Mayor who will help it to do so.

Shaun Bailey is a member of the London Assembly and the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London

One of the things that strikes me as I go around meeting Londoners is just how much of our beautiful city we don’t see on our tellies or in our newspapers.

London is – without a doubt – the global city the world knows and loves, but for most of us it’s just ‘home’. Yes, it’s the place of the Palace of Westminster, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Square Mile, but it’s also home to quiet neighbourhood parks, local chippies, crowded train platforms, and backed-up roundabouts that do our heads in.

Most of us living in London just don’t experience the city the world reads about. Other than a long commute to work, most of our day-to-day doesn’t reach much beyond our hood. The London experience of someone living in Harrow can be significantly different to someone living in Romford. The same goes for Sutton and Walthamstow. Or Bexley and Barnet, for that matter.

London sure felt like a small place when I was growing up. I had the estates around Ladbroke Grove and not much beyond that. We’d wander up and down the Grand Union Canal and take the Number 7 bus to Oxford Circus every once in a while, but my ends were my world. I didn’t know much about the City, or the historic redevelopment of Canary Wharf. And South London? You might as well have been talking about another country.

No, my concerns back then were closer to home. And it’s the same principle that applies to local elections now. Our concerns aren’t in Europe, or America. They’re local. They’re at the end of our road. Londoners are worried about the dire state of crime, housing and air quality. The upcoming election is about the cost and quality of our daily lives.

Since Sadiq Khan’s election, London has become more dangerous, commuting to work has become more expensive, and homes have become harder to find and even harder to afford. It’s these everyday concerns that have made Londoners anxious for their futures.

Violent crime now haunts every borough in Greater London. Knife crime is at its highest for a decade. Gangs are out of control. Londoners are worried about their personal security, and the safety of their children. Everyday it feels like we read about yet another young life lost to knife attacks.

London is also growing and that’s putting intense pressure on our transport services. Despite what was promised, tube fares have gone up for 4.5 million Londoners, while ridership has gone down. Bus routes are being cut and tube improvements are being cancelled. The Elizabeth Line is now two years behind schedule and billions over budget. All told, Transport for London is losing nearly a billion pounds per year, meaning Londoners will be paying the bill for Sadiq Khan’s poor leadership for years to come.

As a result, the city’s volume of road traffic is up and our road congestion is worse. Our air is far too dirty. The millions of trees that were promised aren’t being planted. Asthmatics like me are finding it harder to function, and the health of our youth and our elderly are being impacted.

In short, Londoners are finding it harder to get by and get around. They’re finding it harder to find a home and raise a family. The cost of living is up, and quality of life down. While those with the means are rightly enjoying all that London has to offer, most ordinary Londoners on ordinary wages are struggling.

Put simply, London just isn’t working for everyone. And Khan doesn’t have a plan to make it work. Instead of getting on with solving London’s problems, Khan is satisfied with shifting the blame. Because Khan never takes responsibility. Ever. In Khan’s world, his lack of delivery is always someone else’s fault.

That’s just not good enough for the people of Barnet. Or Harrow. Or Romford. Or Bexley. Or whatever piece of this wonderful city you call home. If London doesn’t work for all of us, then that’s on the Mayor, and no-one else.

And it’s on me, too, as I develop my plan for London. I look forward to sharing it with you over the coming months.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Stephen Greenhalgh: The Conservatives need a stronger crime-fighting agenda for the capital

Stephen Greenhalgh was the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime in London, and has also served as Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

After yet another bloody weekend in the capital, Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced another in his long line of timid pilot projects.  This one to tag, using the Global Positioning System, only 100 habitual knife-crime criminals in just four London boroughs when they leave prison in order to reduce their re-offending. In The Times, Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has called for collective action to prevent violent crime from “scarring our society, terrorising our communities, and, most devastatingly, destroying the lives of our next generation.”

The Home Secretary has made a commitment to do everything in his power to give those on the front line of the fight, the tools they need to end the bloodshed. He has backed this up with the announcement of the knife crime prevention orders in response to the police wanting more powers to help them divert young people away from the dangers of knife crime.

So why is the London Mayor not using GPS tagging in combination with these new civil orders? Perhaps the Home Secretary can put this to the Mayor, in the cross-party serious violence taskforce that he is convening today. This is yet another example of the Mayor focusing on PR rather than the measures that will do something to stem the bloodshed on London’s streets. GPS tagging has been around for years and should be rolled out far more widely – not just to reduce re-offending but also with preventative measures such as these new knife crime prevention orders, gang injunctions, and criminal behaviour orders. With the murder rate and knife crime at a 10 year high, Londoners deserve a Mayor who prioritises the prevention of knife crime.

However, we also need more police officers in our capital city. This Home Secretary has risen to the challenge and is providing the biggest increase in police budgets since 2010. Police and Crime Commissioners all over the country are planning to recruit thousands more officers. However, the Mayor of London has let police officers fall to below 30,000 from at or around 32,000 when Mayor Johnson left office in 2016.  This is despite receiving a flat cash settlement from the Home Office. The Mayor needs to have a budget plan to increase officer numbers dramatically and this will not emerge with more pointless PR. Under Mayor Johnson we had a plan to release under-utilised police buildings, reduce overhead, and reform the policing model to keep police officer numbers high in spite of having £100 million less to spend each year.

Finally, if we are going to stem this mindless violence, our candidate for Mayor, Shaun Bailey, should pledge to bring in the technology developed by British scientists that allows frontline officers to carry scanners which enable them to detect knives and guns beneath clothing. These portable scanners can differentiate knives from everyday items such as keys. A widespread roll-out of this technology will give the police another tool that will enable the Met to ramp up intelligence-led and targeted stop and search so that we can get the knives off the streets of our capital city.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The Latest: UK, Switzerland sign post-Brexit trade deal

The Latest on Britain’s plans to leave the European Union (all times local): 11:20 a.m.

Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-17404130d5944807b987dc0afe994e61 The Latest: UK, Switzerland sign post-Brexit trade deal London fox-news/world/world-regions/united-kingdom fox-news/world/world-regions/europe fox-news/world fnc/world fnc bc62866a-d56e-5238-9742-930759ad7e06 Associated Press article

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

British economy slows down sharply amid acute Brexit unease

Official figures show that the British economy slowed sharply in the last three months of 2018 as uncertainties over Brexit intensified. Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Chimps use branch to make ladder, escape Belfast Zoo

Zookeepers say a group of chimpanzees used branches weakened by a storm to make a ladder and escape from their enclosure at the Belfast Zoo. Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

WATCH: Bailey says London is now more dangerous than when he grew up

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Andrew Wood: Are school budgets being cut?

Cllr Andrew Wood is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Tower Hamlets Council  and a councillor for Canary Wharf Ward.

Teaching unions and the Labour Party routinely claim that school budgets are being cut. It is true that many schools are going through difficult times, especially if they have declining pupil numbers. But the complexity of school funding has allowed an overly simplistic narrative to emerge, implying that all or most school budgets are being cut. This is not true and can be contradicted if detailed analysis is available per school. Unfortunately that information is not easily accessible.

Rising pension costs, higher national minimum wages, staff wage increases, changes in pupil numbers, and general inflation are all factors making budgeting for headteachers and school governors more difficult. Understandably they want more cash. But to understand changes in school finances we need to do it at school level as that is what local parents are concerned about.

With major changes coming in school funding across England due to the National Funding Formula, this subject is going to get more complex rather than less. It will result in good news in a number of areas. However in those areas like mine with high levels of pupil funding it will be easy to present national changes as involving rich areas benefiting at the expense of the poor – which is incorrect.

In the meantime, the complexity has made it easier for misleading information to circulate.

James Cleverly MP has already got Sir David Norgrove, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority to look at national claims made by the School Cuts campaign website. Sir David said “We believe the headline statement that “91% of schools face funding cuts” risks giving a misleading impression of future changes in school budgets. The method of calculation may also give a misleading impression of the scale of change for some particular schools.” He also said, “It was not however possible to reproduce the exact figures published on the website, as the underlying data are not publicly available and the methodology is not wholly clear.”

But when it is possible to look at detailed local school data, we can also find stories giving a misleading impression.

For example, in Tower Hamlets, the Labour Group issued a press release recently which said, “New analysis from the National Education Union (NEU) of schools funding allocations show the Government has broken its promise that there would be “a cash increase for every school in every region” – with 31 schools in Tower Hamlets alone having seen their funding cut in 2018/19.”

I looked at the claim in detail as they related to Schools block funding allocations  – the data from which the NEU made their claim. I found that of the 31 schools listed 29 schools had a reduction in pupil numbers year on year, as schools are funded on a per pupil basis. This means their budgets are reduced (as the budget moves with the child) but their budgets fell by less than the % fall in pupil numbers.

Labour, by saying they should not have budget cuts, are in effect saying children cannot move schools – or if they do, they cannot take their budget with them, hardly fair. We also have an issue with declining birth rates in Tower Hamlets meaning fewer children entering school.

One school had converted into an academy school and was compensated for the change in business rates. Labour presented this as a budget cut; it was not. Another did see its budget fall by 0.1 per cent, more than its fall in pupil numbers, due to a big fall in the number of pupils learning English as an additional language.

Separately in a recent by-election leaflet Labour claimed that seven local schools were suffering from ‘deep Tory cuts’. In fact only one had a budget reduction last year, caused entirely by fewer school pupils. Their press release actually contradicted their own election leaflets as six of the schools they claimed suffered from budget cuts were not in their press release as suffering from budget cuts… They did not mention the other 58 local schools with funding increases.

Between 2017/18 and 2018/19 total block funding for all primary and secondary schools in Tower Hamlets had increased by 2.4 per cent. Total pupil numbers were up 1.3 per cent. In this one year funding increased in line with inflation and by more than pupil numbers. Most people would not call this a cut. And as long as increased pupil numbers do not create the need for extra staff, they do not have a major financial impact.

But schools with declining pupil numbers do suffer as it is not always easy to reduce staffing and overhead costs in proportion to reductions in pupil numbers.

The Tower Hamlets Labour Group also claimed that the National Funding Formula changes would result in a £24 million cut to Tower Hamlets schools over the next 10 years. They supplied no backup to this claim.

They also did not mention that Tower Hamlets gets £5,893 per year per primary school pupil, the highest rate in the country. York by contrast only gets £3,548 per pupil, the lowest in the country. That is a 66 per cent gap but the gap between teacher’s pay in Inner London and outside London is 21 per cent. London is an expensive city, but it is not clear that it is 66 per cent more expensive then York.

And these numbers do not include Pupil Premium which is worth an extra £1,320 for primary school pupils in receipt of free school meals. It is how the government ensures poorer pupils get extra funding.

But doing the detailed analysis to refute the Labour claims required a knowledge of school funding, downloading lots of spreadsheets, and scarce time which not everybody will have. It is time that somebody centralised this kind of analysis down to an individual school level, making it easy to access and comprehend. It should not be done by the unions themselves for obvious reasons.

The Department of Education should produce some kind of analysis of the information it already holds using data tools like Tableau especially while we transition to the National Funding Formula. Until this is done it will allow special interest groups to distort the reality of school funding. School budgets have got more difficult to manage and some areas have seen real terms cuts, but I suspect that the reality is not as bad as people’s perceptions. It would then be possible to have an adult discussion about what to do about it.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Gareth Bacon: Khan pushed up Council Tax – but he fails to give priority to fighting crime

Gareth Bacon is the Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly.

Sadiq Khan is fast approaching the last year of his term in office. What has he achieved so far? He is consistently behind his own affordable housing targets. He has driven TfL into financial crisis. Violent crime continues to be on our front pages on a daily basis. Crossrail will open at least 18 months late and nearly £2 billion over budget. Meanwhile, he has increased the number of bureaucrats at City Hall by a staggering 37 per cent and spent a large amount of time and resources attempting to overturn Brexit.

London’s Mayor is overseeing an administration typified by virtue signalling, financial incompetence, and wasteful spending. For example, it is laughable that when London faces such significant challenges in crime, housing, and transport a Mayor could choose – as Sadiq Khan did – to spend over £400,000 on a beach party and £10 million for police officers to take a test designed to assign their personality a colour. To give another example, he has decided to freeze TfL fares for his term in office – a choice that will cost TfL £640 million, and a policy that TfL has identified in their latest business plan as impossible to continue with if he is re-elected.

Sadiq Khan presented his draft budget for the next financial year to the London Assembly last week, and we are concerned that some of his proposed spending decisions do not stack up with the real priorities of Londoners.

Crime is a top issue for Londoners and Khan should be taking every possible action as Mayor of London to tackle this epidemic. Violent crime in London has been on the rise for some time now: the murder rate has increased by 23.3 percent over the past two years and knife crime has increased by 32.1 percent over the past three years.

The Mayor has endlessly claimed that violent crime is a direct result of government cuts to police budgets and that he has done everything in his power to keep police numbers as high as possible.

But this simply isn’t true.

The reality is that the Mayor has choices available to him, but has made the wrong ones. Characteristically, in his draft budget, Khan has yet again prioritised PR over police officers and show over substance.

In response to Sadiq Khan’s draft budget, the GLA Conservatives submitted a balanced and fully costed amendment which cuts waste and inefficiency at City Hall, whilst reducing some of his more bloated budgets back down to the levels they were at when he first entered office. With our plan, Khan could fund 1,378 extra police officers funded by savings of nearly £83 million in other areas. On top of this, our proposal would provide enough extra money to freeze the non-policing tax precept, (which Khan intends to increase by 2.99 per cent) – a real terms tax cut for millions of Londoners.

Amongst other proposals, we have suggested that the Mayor could reduce his vastly increased staffing budget, withdraw the £13 million annual contribution that he gives to London and Partners (the Mayor’s PR company), and reduce the amount that TfL pays for employees to work on union duties, which has increased from £4.9 million to £10.8 million over the course of his mayoralty.

There is a cross-party consensus in the Assembly that the Metropolitan Police needs more resources and we do not disagree. However, in spite of this, the Labour, Green, and Lib Dem Assembly Members collectively dismissed our amendment and voted it down. We are disappointed that opposition parties decided to oppose extra police officers for London, but we hope that the Mayor reconsiders and includes our proposals before he finalises his budget at the end of February.

Sadiq Khan’s term of office has so far been characterised by a great deal of boasting but very little in the way of real achievement. It is dismal record from a man who last week publicly described himself as “a brilliant Mayor.” In reality, this is a Mayor who has taken his eye off the ball. This is a Mayor who isn’t listening to Londoners about their priorities. This is a Mayor who is more interested in pontificating about Brexit – an issue over which he has no control – than concentrating on the day job.

It is time he started focusing on what Londoners expect their Mayor to be doing. He can start by accepting our amendment and putting another 1,400 bobbies on the beat.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com