Every year I do an annual update to council about my work as leader, and the achievements we’ve made and the challenges we face. Here’s a transcript of my speech and you can watch the whole thing on Camden’s website. It starts at 18:29, you can just click on the relevant item on the timeline on the right hand side.
Leader’s annual report 2014
Thank you Mr Mayor. Good evening everybody.
I’d just like to start my annual statement with a few thanks. First of all to Camden voters and Labour Group for giving me the honour of leading this Borough for a third year. It’s an amazing opportunity for me. Councillor Callaghan who will be my deputy again whose support and counsel is invaluable to me as is your friendship. Thank you. Camden’s amazing officers and in particular Sarah Mullen who I believe it’s her last Council meeting this evening. All of you deliver for Camden in many amazing ways and do so under ever increasing strain as a result of central government cuts so thank you very much.
And finally I’d like to thank all of the former councillors of all parties who for one reason or another are no longer in this chamber this evening. Through their own choice or that of the electorate many able and hardworking people are no longer councillors and I want to thank them for everything they’ve done for the Borough over the years and in some cases decades.
The last year has seen some incredible successes for Camden as well as some big challenges. We continue to innovate, looking for new solutions to the challenges we face. Often our policies developed in Camden are taken up nationally. Councillor Hai’s campaign for religious practice to be recognised in the coroner’s system now has national support from all parties. Councillor Jones has led the way with London’s first light segregated cycle route. And as we reach the year anniversary cycle routes have doubled and we’re planning to extend the scheme.
We’ve hiked council tax on empty homes and slashed it for foster carers. The number of empty homes has fallen and the enquiries to become foster carers has increased.
We continue to lead the way through delivery of the Camden Plan with the country’s first timewise council and all the requests for flexible working have been met. We are pioneering improvements to the private rented sector through accreditation and research into rent stabilisation and we will go further in the coming year with licensing too. We’re meeting our own tough targets on apprenticeships meaning more young people are getting on the career ladder. We’re helping women into work through innovative projects with the voluntary sector and by launching adult apprenticeships as well.
All delivered because of our values and our commitment through the Camden Plan to tackle poverty and ensure Camden remains a place for everybody.
But it isn’t always the case that where we lead others follow. Sometimes Camden’s leadership is actively penalised. Take last week’s announcement about extra borrowing to build council housing. Camden Council is building 5% of all council housing in the UK. That’s 5%, or 1 in 20 homes currently being built by councils is being built here in Camden. What’s our biggest block to bigger levels of building? The availability of land? No. The capacity of officers to deliver the programme? No. The political will of this administration? Certainly not. No, the biggest block is being able to borrow responsibly to build more. So encouraged by government we applied for £28 million of extra borrowing, all against planned schemes with a clear affordable plan to repay the money. Being the biggest house builder among councils we get one of the biggest increases in borrowing right? Wrong. While Tory-run Westminster got over £8 million we got a paltry £129,000. This will build just two additional units and it won’t buy any land for them to fit on. We have to ask how seriously this government takes house building when it won’t allow the council building the most in the country to borrow and build more. Maybe they simply don’t want to admit it’s Labour councils who are most serious about building homes.
I’ve laboured this point because it’s indicative of the dogma of Tory policy even where our action chimes with their priorities they can’t bring themselves to recognise much less support our achievements.
For example once again Camden primary schools lead the way nationally with some of the best schools and one of the narrowest gaps for attainment for 11 year-olds in the country. Do we get any recognition from Michael Gove? No. Because as one of his senior officials told one of our directors of Children’s Services, Camden is an inconvenient truth. Our collaborative approach to education where all schools including secondary schools and academies in the Borough take responsibility for all children in the Borough not just their own doesn’t fit with Gove’s marketised competition based vision for education. But I am delighted that our school leaders have reconfirmed their commitment to shun the competition in favour of collaboration and we’ll be working with them to develop a new school improvement partnership over the coming weeks and months.
I won’t be able to cover everything in my report and I hope to be able to pick up some issues in the questions, but I need to say something about HS2. In some ways we’ve reached a hiatus. The slow trudge of parliamentary process could blight our work as the threat of the scheme blights our communities. But we must keep working behind the scenes to get the best for Camden and I’m hoping that this work will continue to be cross-party in this chamber.
The major challenges we face remain financial. For our communities this isn’t just about the Council’s budget. Whatever the government says about the recovery, the cost of living continues to rise faster than wages for average and low earners and the benefit changes bite harder in areas like Camden with a higher than average cost of living. The NHS is being raided to pay for so-called integration; the Better Care Fund is increasingly regarded as anything but, we’re already seeing waiting times for both procedures and queues for A&E going up and some of the costs of increased waits will fall to us. The Borough has faced massive cuts to policing and fire services and I know that Councillor Simpson will keep up the campaign of his predecessor to ensure Camden’s safety.
But the main challenge for us as councillors remains financial. By 2017 we’ll have had half our budget for services cut. Camden has one of the highest levels of child poverty in the country and yet just seven councils face a higher cut per head of population than we do. The Tory Liberal Democrat coalition thinks that it’s fair to cut more from places like Camden than places like Richmond. The scale of the cuts mean we’ll face some very hard choices in the coming months but we have strong Labour values and a clear plan, the Camden Plan, and a strong mandate from our residents to guide us through the tough year ahead.
Tomorrow HS2 is back in the commons. The bill will be debated by MPs and they will vote on whether or not to proceed with the project. In all likelihood it will be voted through. Many MPs of all parties will rebel and vote against it. But probably not enough.
After it’s debated at ‘second reading’ tomorrow and Tuesday a committee will be established and the bill will be further debated and refined in this committee. It’s here where the public, businesses, affected communities and local authorities will be able to try to influence the project to get a better deal for their areas. In Camden this process will be vital.
Camden suffers 80% of the demolition in the first phase of HS2. The negative impacts are well documented but it’s worth revisiting some of them. We’ll lose up to 500 council homes and more. Maria Fidelis upper school needs to move. St James’ Garden’s will go. Drummond St will be cut off from passing station trade. Vent shafts will affect a nature reserve and a kilburn estate. Construction traffic will gum up the borough, spewing out additional pollution for over a decade.
But to try to influence this impact people will have to lodge a ‘petition’ in Parliament. The process itself is arcane, it has to be lodged in person and has to comply with very specific and complex instructions. So difficult is this process that Camden Council will be running workshops to help people navigate the process.
The process itself appears designed to exclude people. But that’s nothing on the fee. In order to obtain your democratic right to try to influence parliament you’ll be charged £20.
To many of us this may not be a huge barrier. But for some, people on low wages, pensioners on fixed incomes finding a spare £20 is going to be really challenging. A week’s gas bill or a pair of children’s school shoes, or even a weekly food budget. Some of the people most affected by HS2 simply won’t be able to have their say.
The parliamentary authorities argue this is to stop ‘vexatious’ petitions. But the process itself is so obscure that it is a barrier on it’s own.
Why should people then be charged for doing this? It’s nothing short of anti democratic to charge the public for access to a parliamentary process.
Frank Dobson, Glenda Jackson (Camden’s two MPs) and I wrote to Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport, to ask him to cover the costs of petitioning from the HS2 budget. It’s a £50bn budget and we think that even if everyone who responded to the environmental statement wanted to petition it would cost less than half a million pounds. We haven’t heard back yet.
I hope this basic unfairness will be raised in tomorrow’s debate.
If you are reading this from beyond Camden’s borders you could also ask your MP to raise in parliament tomorrow too. Even if your MP is going to vote in favour of HS2, they must be able to see the injustice in charging the public to petition. If you’re lobbying your MP tomorrow make sure you ask them to raise the anti-democratic nature of the petitioning fee.
I was going to blog about the TPA’s report that completely erroneously claims Camden has the most employees earning more than 100k per year of any council in the country. But my colleague, and Cabinet Member responsible for this area, Cllr Theo Blackwell got their first.
Because Camden constantly strives for efficiency I’m not going to repeat the effort. Save to say the TPA made some stupid errors that should’ve been picked up in their research and editing processes.
This really is a once in a life time opportunity.
The King’s Cross railway lands are one of the largest regeneration sites in Europe. Creating more thousands of homes and jobs, new parks and play space, shops, community facilities including a new library and shopping centre.
There will also be 20 new streets and now the public can have say in naming them. The competition is open until the end of May this year so there’s plenty of time to get the creative juices flowing.
There’s loads of history, culture and interest in the area, so loads of different things to take inspiration from. If you don’t know where to get started why not try Camden’s Archive.
Or go for a wonder round the area and soak up inspiration. Happy street naming.
Big congratulations to the members of the Euston Community particularly Robert Latham but others too that have won a significant victory against HS2 propaganda.
Below I’ve simply reproduced the press release from the forum. The misleading nature of the video and ultimately it’s withdrawal are a further waste of taxpayers’ money on this project.
Meanwhile the forum have produced their own video demonstrating some of the problem HS2 causes and failures in the compensation scheme.
HS2 withdraw their misleading You Tube Video – Local Residents Respond
HS2 Ltd has removed a video posted on You Tube relating to its Compensation Consultation “HS2: Property and Compensation for London – Midlands” after a complaint by the HS2 Euston Community Forum that it was seriously misleading. The video was liberally illustrated by shots of streets and blocks in the Euston area. However, few of these residents stood to benefit from the six compensation measures outlined in the video.
HS2 is one of the biggest construction projects since the Victorians brought the railways into London. 80% of the homes and businesses to be demolished as part of Phase 1 of HS2, are in the Euston area. Many residents and businesses will suffer substantial loss for which they are being offered no compensation:
(i) No compensation is being offered to those who will live or work next to a building site over the 10 year period that the new station will be constructed.
(ii) Many residents will find their homes blighted for the next 14 years whilst HS2 is planned, designed and constructed. The government has excluded the area from the “voluntary purchase scheme” and largely from the “advance purchase scheme”.
To rebut the misleading impression that the government is offering fair compensation, Jane Gull, a local resident, has produced her own video. The film includes an interview with local resident, Stanley Johnson (father of the London Mayor). Mohamed Salique, who has a curry house in Drummond Street, speaks for the whole community when he concludes: “If the government cannot afford fair compensation, it cannot afford HS2.”
The video is available at:
Jane Gull states:
“I made this film to give the people in the Euston area a voice. The impact HS2 on this vibrant and diverse community is devastating. All the residents and traders interviewed have a common complaint – “HS2 are not listening to us”.
Robert Latham, Chair of the HS2 Euston Community Forum states:
“The most dangerous untruths are truths slightly distorted. The HS2 video gives the wholly misleading impression that the government is offering fair compensation to those in the Euston area who will suffer serious loss in the national interest as a result of HS2. HS2 have illustrated the video with shots of the area, albeit that few residents will benefit from the six schemes which are outlined.”
Frank Dobson MP states:
“HS2 should ensure that anyone affected by HS2 is compensated fairly, fully and promptly for any loss of value or amenity arising from this project. The proposals in this consultation paper fall far short of these basic requirements. The Secretary of State for Transport has agreed to meet me so I can raise the concerns of local residents and businesses. Building a new station in a diverse, densely populated and high value area such as Euston raises unique problems which the current proposals signally fail to address. We need a new package of measures tailored to meet the particular needs of the Euston area.”
Note to Editors
1. HS2 Ltd is a company wholly owned by the Department of Transport (DfT). HS2 Ltd is responsible for developing and promoting Phase 1 the high speed rail network from London to the west Midlands. Phase 1 will cost £16.3bn. Works are planned to commence in 2017, whilst the new station at Euston will open in 2026.
2. The Consultation “High Speed Two: Property and Compensation for London – West Midland” was launched by DfT on 25 October and closed on 31 January. HS2 Ltd conducted the consultation in the Euston area.
3. The “advanced” and “voluntary” purchase schemes permit residents to require HS2 to acquire their properties at their unblighted value – in effect, the government acts as a purchaser of last resort:
(i) In rural areas, the advanced purchase scheme extends to all properties within a safeguarded area within 60m of the centre of the new line. In the Euston area, the safeguarding zone has been drawn to exclude most of the properties abutting the new line. It only includes those properties that are scheduled for demolition.
(ii) In rural areas, the voluntary purchase scheme extends to all properties within 120m of the new line. The scheme does not extend to properties south of the M25 or to Birmingham. The government has failed to provide any rational explanation for this disparate treatment. Many believe that the real reason is to appease Tory MPs in the Chilterns. An alternative suggestion is that this is a cynical ploy to deny fair compensation to urban areas to protect the questionable Benefit Cost Ratios of the project.
4. The response by the Community Groups on the HS2 Euston Community Forum to the consultation is available on www.camdencutting.co.uk or from Robert Latham (firstname.lastname@example.org). This includes 10 Case Studies illustrating those who will be left without compensation. Individuals are available for interview.
5. In January, HS2 Ltd published the video on You Tube with a link to their new website, shortly before the consultation closed. The video was produced by the DfT. On 11 February, Robert Latham complained to the DfT about the misleading nature of the video. On 13 February the video was removed from You Tube. Details of the correspondence can be obtained from Robert Latham.
In yesterday’s Guardian a story about Camden moving families out of London due to the benefits cap sparked a flurry of coverage. Not least the headline caused alarm. The true picture is rather more complex for us and other Labour authorities. Here’s an article I wrote for Labourlist explaining the challenges London councils face when families can no longer afford rent, food, transport and childcare. I also wrote to the Guardian as did others.
Camden has been criticised this morning for our approach to families affected by the housing benefit and total benefit caps. One tweeter used a thinly veiled reference to Kinnock’s criticism of Hatton’s Liverpool of the 80s. Camden, like the other London councils that are already doing this has no choice. The draconian benefit caps introduced by this government bear no relation to the costs of living in London and ultimately, families will be forced from their homes, jobs and their children from schools because of Tory dogma.
First things first. Camden has not yet moved a single person out of London. Many other London boroughs are already doing this. It’s very unlikely that all 761 families affected by the total benefit cap will need to move. But at this stage we simply don’t know how many will.
The Government has left all councils in London in an invidious position. Reckless cuts to welfare benefits are forcing the hands of local authorities in London. Communities in Camden currently face an uncertain future as the threat of housing benefit and total benefit caps loom on the horizon. This government policy is driven purely by Tory dogma.
A staggering 761 households in Camden will be affected in some way when benefits are capped at £500 per week or £350 for single people. Camden is very successful in working with people, helping them into employment, negotiating rents with landlords or finding cheaper local accommodation – steps that allow them to either stay in their homes or stay locally. But there is only so much we can do to protect some of our most vulnerable residents from this heartless Government policy.
The Department for Work and Pensions regularly roll out the line that it isn’t fair that people in receipt of welfare payments receive more than the average national salary of £26,000. However, in Camden, the average wage is £37,000 and rents reflect this.
In the private sector the average rent for a two bedroom property in Camden is £450 per week. Basic mathematics shows that if benefits in London are capped at £500 per week for a household it will be impossible for local families to continue to live in their current accommodation.
As a Council, Camden has an excellent track record of helping people into training and employment and doing this will help some of the affected households remain in Camden. Labour in Camden have also seen some success in negotiating private rents down with landlords enabling many people who’ve already been affected by the housing benefit cap to stay in our borough. But this isn’t going to be possible for everyone. The Local Housing Allowance caps, that bear no relation to high housing costs in Camden – the 4th highest rents in the country – mean that some people will be left trying to make up many hundreds of pounds per month.
The Government’s complete lack of a plan for the many families forced to move, not just in Camden but across London, means that when the cap is introduced a small number of households, those with a number of children will not be in a position to afford rents in London. Labour in Camden will do everything possible to ensure that as few people as possible have to move away from their established communities.
Rather than fall for government rhetoric that those claiming benefits are scroungers, in Camden many of those affected are working. People who carry out low paid work who would not be able to continue to do so if commuting costs are factored into their already stretched budgets. This is where the proposals create a false economy – if moved out of London by government cuts to welfare benefits it is likely that these people will not be able to continue in employment and in turn claim further welfare benefits.
The blanket cap from government is ill-conceived and will have a once in a generation impact on the lives of many across the capital. Without a central government plan that takes into account the high rental costs of the capital we face the very real threat of communities being displaced as they seek accommodation that is affordable.
Labour in Camden is setting aside £1.1 million to deal with the expected increase in homeless applications over the next financial year. This is coming from budgets that have been slashed back by government already, but Labour are committed to trying to keep as many people as possible in Camden, in their communities and in the places where they are settled and happy.
This piece was written for the CNJ published on 7 February 2013 setting out Camden Labour’s budget plans
Next week Camden Labour will publish our third budget since the 2010 elections. We’ll confirm that council tax will be frozen this year and next. There’ll be no rise until March 2015 at the earliest.
Through careful financial management Camden Labour has ensured that council tax will be frozen for the whole of this term. We have achieved this despite Local Government facing the deepest cuts in the public sector from this Tory/Lib Dem coalition.
But freezing council tax is not the whole story. The Coalition inherited growth, but under them the economy has stalled and we face the very real prospect of a ‘triple dip’ recession. It’s now left to councils like Camden to boost the economy and jobs.
This budget invests in employment and growth, helps tackle inequality and invests now to make savings in the future.
More than £3m will be pumped in to the local economy and local jobs. We’ll be helping at least 240 young people in to apprenticeships. This builds on our investment in previous years. Young people face a really tough time getting on the career ladder at the moment. We want to give them a boost.
We’re going to help businesses too. The Government has failed to get the banks to lend, and across the country jobs are being lost because businesses can’t get the capital to grow or the bridging funds to keep them going. We’ll be testing an investment model that will help business and make a financial return for Camden tax payers.
If the Tories are serious about growth, the London Mayor or Government could match fund this type of investment from councils.
This new investment will build on policies that we’ve already introduced. We’ve built our apprenticeship service year on year. We’ve introduced the London Living Wage to ensure people working to deliver council services won’t be forced to live in poverty and I want to urge other Camden employers in all sectors to follow suit. We’ve invested in extra childcare for three and four years olds that will help parents get back to work and give children a great start in life.
Policies like this are important because for too many people in Camden, work doesn’t pay. Too many people are reliant on benefits to make ends meet despite working because of the very high cost of living here. The Tory/Lib Dem coalition’s changes to the benefits system take no account of the higher cost of living in areas like Camden. And the total benefit cap will be the same whether you live in Hampstead or Huddersfield. This failure is forcing families, many with children in local schools, to move and leaving councils picking up the bill.
Camden is trying to help as many people as possible. We will invest £400,000 to alleviate the impact of council tax benefit localisation – Camden Labour is freezing council tax, while the Tories are forcing the poorest to pay – and allocate more resources to welfare advice and the social fund. But this comes at a cost to Camden Council tax payers. Money that could otherwise be invested in Jobs, or childcare or apprenticeships.
This year’s budget isn’t just about this year. We know government will make more cuts to local government. We will be investing to save the council money in future years, we will move more services online but at the same time, we’ll be partnering with the Post Office so payments can be taken, face to face, on every high street in the borough.
There will be other measures that will help individuals and communities save too, investment to cut fuel poverty, which cuts carbon emissions too, and an investment in our local festivals that bring communities together. This is on top of major investment already planned to improve our school buildings, homes and community facilities via our Community Investment Programme.
These are tough times for councils like Camden and the people who live here. The Tory/Lib Dem coalition hit local councils hard and intends to do so again. But Camden Labour is showing that there is an alternative. We can act on jobs and growth, while helping families keep household costs as low as possible.