January 2013

Dear Friend,
 
Well, it’s the start of another new year, and I hope you had a chance to recharge your batteries with friends and family. It was good to have a short break, but now that we’re back to reality I thought I’d let you know some of the things going on at the moment. The St Helier saga never seems to get any better, but I also have details about good work being done by other organisations that might be of interest to you.
 
St Helier saga goes from bad to worse
You might remember that in my last newsletter about the Save St Helier campaign I mentioned that the threat to shut St Helier’s A&E, maternity, ICU, children’s unit, renal units and 390 in-patient beds had been put on hold because of concerns about Epsom Hospital’s finances. I said I was worried that this might put us in the same position as Lewisham, which is going to lose its A&E because of the financial woes of other hospitals. This whole process began because our local NHS has to save £370m a year, and things are obviously looking even bleaker now that we’re being forced to solve the financial difficulties of the NHS in Surrey too.
 
Well, unfortunately, it looks as though my fears were well founded. Last week, it was reported that instead of closing just one A&E in South West London, we will now lose two. The hospitals under threat are Epsom, Kingston, Croydon and St Helier. As St Helier was singled out for service closures even before this latest development, it is going to be very difficult, and we will all need to rally round if we are to persuade the Government to change tack.
 
The final decision will be taken by the Government Health Minister Jeremy Hunt, and we also have to persuade them to spend money on health services rather than more top-down reorganisations. Even the UK Statistics Authority admit David Cameron’s election pledge to increase health spending has been broken.
 
Now that the threat to St Helier has increased, it’s even more important for all of us to pull together. So please try to come to my next Save St Helier meeting. This time it’s at the House of Commons, at 7.30pm on Monday 11 February. If you want to come, please email siobhain@mmlp.org.uk or call 020 8542 4835 to book your place (I need these details for security). If you need any extra incentive to come along, I’ll also be running tours of the Houses of Parliament after the meeting has finished, so you’ll also have a chance to see behind the scenes at one of London’s most interesting tourist attractions at the same time!

Finally, if you are looking for other ways to help the campaign, click here.
 
Learn about things to do in Colliers Wood
If you live near Colliers Wood and are looking to take up a new hobby, join a new group, or start a new activity, why not come along to a special "What's going on in Colliers Wood" open day on Saturday 26 January. The event is from 11am to 5pm at the Colliers Wood Community Centre and is a chance to meet community groups or just have a chat. I’ll have a stall there, as will the Councillors for Colliers Wood, so why not pop by and say hello. There’ll be groups for young and old, so whether you’re interested in sport or music or just giving something back to your community as a volunteer, I hope you can come along.
 
Among the groups who will be there are The Colliers Wood Chorus, The Colliers Wood Ukulele Orchestra, Ballroom dancing, Dance Express, Alive ‘N’ Kicking, Little League Football, Deen City Farm, Merton Adult Education, Positive Network, Merton Vision, The Donald Hope Library, The Safer Neighbourhood Police Team and Merton Credit Union.
 
Activities for Young People
One of the questions I’m most asked is how can we give our young people something to do. Well, actually there are quite a lot of clubs and organisations out there, often run by local volunteers, but one of the big problems is that lots of young people and teenagers don’t even know about them. That’s why I have produced a Directory of Activities for Young People to give you an idea of what’s available. Of course, not everything in the Directory will interest everybody. But there might be something worth trying, like dancing, or scouts, or football. If you’d like a copy, please email me at siobhain@mmlp.org.uk with your name and address, and I’ll put one in the post. Or if you want to pick one up in person, just pop in to my office at 1 Crown Road, Morden SM4 5DD.
 
One group that just missed my deadline, but that I thought you would want to know about, is a martial TKO arts group run with the help of volunteer police officers from Merton’s police service. It’s a 7 week course in martial arts skills and techniques, and is FREE to young people between 10 and 17. It will all take place at The Hub, at the Tooting and Mitcham FC stadium, Bishopsford Road, Morden, Surrey, SM4 6BF. If you’d like to sign up or find out more, please ring Sgt Steve Murphin on 07771 673 688.
 
Finally, I’d like mention a new activities-based group for 14 to 18 year olds, the Sharks Explorer Unit in Morden. They do all sorts of things, like camping, hiking, rock climbing, abseiling, power boating, sailing and canoeing. They meet on Monday evenings 7.30-9.30pm at Bow Lane Scout Centre off Lower Morden Lane, Surrey, SM4 4AA and are always on the look out for new members. To find out more, please contact David Williams at williamsdavidm@hotmail.com. I should also thank the Holiday Inn in Colliers Wood and its owner Minaz Manji. Using donations from hotel guests and other sources, Mr Manji has set up the Embassy of Man charity, and I asked them to make a donation to buy equipment for the Sharks. I’m delighted to say they said yes!
 
Have your say on cuts to policing
As you may know, it looks like there could be some major changes to our local police force. First, Boris Johnson’s office have published proposals to end the 24 hour service at Mitcham police station. There are also proposals to close some local police offices where our Safer Neighbourhood Teams are based. Worst of all, it looks like we will see the end of the teams introduced under David Blunkett and Ken Livingstone, where every ward has a team of 1 Sergeant, 2 PCs and 3 PCSOs. Merton’s police have admitted the 1-2-3 system will be scrapped, and some neighbourhoods could be down to just one or two officers.
 
With the future of our police service up for grabs, you should try your best to come to a meeting taking place next month in Morden. Boris Johnson’s Deputy, Stephen Greenhalgh, will be answering questions from the public about policing numbers across Merton, police stations, and how he is reducing the police budget, so if you have any questions please do get along. The meeting is at the Civic Centre in Morden on 26 February, starting at 6pm. He will be joined by the Met Police’s Assistant Commissioner Simon Byrne. Merton's Council Leader, Cllr Stephen Alambritis has said the Council will not support any moves to run down Wimbledon or Mitcham police stations or reduce the number of police officers and PCSOs in the borough. Make sure you have your say too!
 
Make sorting out your finances your new year’s resolution
The month after Christmas is often a stressful one, and many people find they are suffering from a financial hangover. So this might be the month to sort out your money troubles. With the economy in such a bad state, I’m seeing people at my Advice Surgery every week complaining about very large debts, and there are things you can do to help.
 
If you feel you are getting into debt problems, the best advice I can give is do not ignore it. The best source of help is the National Debtline (click here or call 0808 808 4000). Every case is different, but be very careful not to borrow even more money, as you could be simply making your debts bigger in the long run, and if you own your home, you could end up losing it. And you should always sort out your priority debts first – these are the debts which could mean losing your home, like mortgage and rent, or that could end up with you having your gas or electricity cut off. Council Tax is important too, because if you fail to pay or to make arrangements with the Council, they will go to court and send in bailiffs, and you will also have to pay court fines, penalty charges and so on. It’s always better to call the Council than to ignore them!
 
As well as the National Debtline, you might also want to have a look at websites run by Citizens Advice and Advice UK. If you need particular help with housing, mortgage debt or problems with welfare benefits you might want to phone the free mortgage helpline run by the housing charity Shelter on 0300 330 0515 or look for advice on their website here.
 
Finally, if you are looking for help with business debts, you should contact Business Debtline here or on 0800 197 6026.
 
Barack Obama Inauguration Party
Now, if you’re a regular reader of this newsletter you’ll know I have a liking for American politics. I’ve just finished reading an amazing biography of President Franklin D Roosevelt, and have just picked up a fascinating one about President Lyndon Johnson. I’ve visited the President Clinton memorial. Oh, and for my holiday last year, I took a group of 30 fellow Labour Party members over to Cuyahoga County in Cleveland, Ohio to work on the Obama for America campaign.
 
Well, this week is Barack Obama’s second Inauguration, and on Friday 25 January, I’ll be hosting a party to celebrate. It’s from 7.30pm and will be at Christchurch Church Hall, Christchurch Road, Colliers Wood SW19 2NY. There’ll also be a big screen showing the inauguration ceremony, a great soundtrack of US music, raffle of presidential campaign memorabilia, hot dogs, burgers and a buffet of food from around the world. Our special guest is David Lammy MP, who is Barack Obama’s best British friend, having met him when they were both law students at Harvard Law School. If you fancy coming, space is limited, so you need to book a ticket in advance by emailing me at siobhain@mmlp.org.uk.
 
In the mean time, have a great 2013! And as always, if you have any ideas for a future newsletter, please do get in touch.
 
My best wishes,
Siobhain