Monday, 14 July 2014

Camden to boost low pay

Labour-run Camden has just announced plans to ensure that the lowest paid Council workers receive a fairer level of pay, while ensuring that the gap between lowest and highest paid remains at a ratio of less than 1:10.

As part of the introduction of new pay, terms and conditions arrangements in April 2013, a longer-term commitment was given by the Council that work would be undertaken to revise the bottom pay zone.

Recognising the importance and value of good employment conditions in delivering quality public services, the Council is immediately set to increase the lowest pay band for staff from £16,413 to £18,297.

These changes will take effect from 1 January 2015.

In addition, by 2018 every member of staff delivering public services to the residents and business of Camden will have a Minimum Earnings Guarantee of at least £20,000 per annum.

The move sees cleaners, kitchen assistants and school crossing patrol officers receiving an increase in their salary.

Labour councillors and the new Green Councillor passed this motion - opposed by the Camden Tories.

Camden workfare pledge
This council is committed to ensuring high workforce standards and therefore expresses its concern at the inflexible Coalition Department of Work and Pensions concept of 'workfare', which requires job seekers to work almost a full week in return for benefits.  
Camden council as an employer has developed an active labour market programme to promote employability including a successful approach to local apprenticeships - with a commitment to create 1000 apprenticeships over our term to help young people and women 
find high quality work in Camden and elsewhere.  We are committed to the London Living Wage to combat poverty pay and are campaigning against zero-hours contracts.  
This council is concerned that there is no evidence workfare assists job seekers in finding work and in fact working a 30-hour week makes that more difficult; that workfare is replacing paid work; and that workfare stigmatises benefits claimants and locks them further into poverty.  Workfare also runs counter to the movement to introduce paid internships in the private sector.
This council believes that work should pay and therefore opposes the introduction of schemes which force job seekers into unpaid work or face losing their benefits.
 This council pledges not to use any workfare placements and will also encourage contractors not to use the schemes.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Cowan is right to call-in Tory land deals with low affordable homes %

The new administration is totally right to ask for a review of these sites. I'm not sure how the 'spite' accusation is stood up. 
The new Labour administration in Hammersmith and Fulham, led by Steve Cowan, is totally right to ask for a review of development sites signed off by the outgoing Tory administration there, despite the public attacks in him by some sore loser local Tories (see also this).

To be fair to Steve - he's been arguing about the kind of deals struck by the Tories in developments like Earl's Court for some time, via his blog The Cowan Report.  This is because he knows elsewhere in London Labour authorities have been striking better deals with more social benefit to existing residents (rather than just the kind of residents the Tories would like to see).

King's Cross development was negotiated with new businesses
and 42% affordable housing.

Take the King's Cross development in Camden - negotiated by the Labour council in 2006 and signed off by the Labour Mayor of London - contains 42% affordable housing (700+ units) - new shared ownership homes and student accommodation - a public swimming pool, new primary school, new public library, community space as well as business and private residential (see the full s106 here).

Camden's Community Investment Programme is using council land to spur regeneration and raise money by building private homes - but we are also building over 1100 new council homes and repairing 13,000 flats, 54 schools and building new community facilities.

It's not just Hammersmith and Fulham.  The iconic Battersea Power Station in Wandsworth, proposes only 1300 homes with no affordable homes.  The massive Mount Pleasant site in Clerkenwell, with a 12% affordable housing scheme currently on the table in front of Boris Johnson, who was challenged about this when he made a secret visit there last week.

Now deals where there is a smaller percentage of affordable than a borough's policy sets out are regularly negotiated.  Camden's development at Liddell Road, West Hampstead contains no affordable housing, for example - but Camden council is using the proceeds to fund a new primary school local people need and the council is under an obligation to provide.

At first look the Conservatives seem to have given the developers are very good deal indeed, considering the high residential value captured here - but what we don't see is the social benefit they claim to have gained.

So we ask:

(a) why was there no need for affordable housing, given London's housing crisis?

(b) what solid community gains there were negotiated from developers which would make up for this (e.g. new schools, public libraries etc) and what the reasons were for this trade-off?  

These are legitimate questions: affordable housing is Londoner's number one concern.

Look at the King's Cross development in Camden, negotiated by the Labour council there - 42% affordable housing - and shared ownership homes - a public swimming pool, new primary school, new public library, community space as well as business and private residential. 
The new administration is totally right to ask for a review of these sites. I'm not sure how the 'spite' accusation is stood up. 
Look at the King's Cross development in Camden, negotiated by the Labour council there - 42% affordable housing - and shared ownership homes - a public swimming pool, new primary school, new public library, community space as well as business and private residential.
At first look the Conservatives seem to have given the developers are pretty good deal, considering the high residential value captured here.
At first look the Conservatives seem to have given the developers are pretty good deal, considering the high residential value captured here.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Taxi for the Lib Dem! Why the Lib Dems lost in Camden

The demise of the Camden Lib Dems at the 2014 Camden poll seemed to catch their councillors and activists by surprise, but their thumping was long-expected.

Lib Dems decimated in Camden
The editorial in the New Journal captures at lot of their misfortune, but here's my take:

1.  Believing their own hype.  The political culture of the Liberal Democrats is based around the creation of local 'super-heros' who will fix your potholes or gesture out late rubbish collections with pointy fingers, and promoting this impression in their Focus leaflets.  All good work for those  Most councillors from other parties find the suggestion that Lib Dems work harder on casework or are 'more connected' locally very patronising and wrong - and is not something ever shown objectively in casework figures.  If there was a difference then there would be a substantial personal vote at election times - yet sampling the ballots and the results themselves show that this didn't materialise when it mattered.  That didn't stop the Camden Lib Dems believing their own hype and self-promoted local celebrity rather than thinking more profoundly about their local offer and message. After hubris comes nemesis (a.k.a. pride comes before a fall) as they say in Greek tragedies. 

2.  They talked to the same people maybe a bit too much.  Labour mounted a massive operation for months on the doorstep - at time speaking to over 3000 a month. This is vital in Camden where there is so much churn that you don't just get your views from the same people on the same community groups, important as they are.  The Lib Dems even struggled to find enough candidates to stand, even roping in partners of sitting councillors to make up numbers.  Their party was hollow.

3.  Nothing to say on the 'big issue' - housing.  Affordable housing and cheaper rents are the top concern of Camden residents.  Neither the Liberal Democrats nor the Conservatives had any real policies on the housing crisis and by lacking them appeared sectional and out-of-touch to everyday concerns.  Labour pledged to build 6000 homes, take action on private landlords and empty homes.  What we said locally was backed up by Ed Miliband, while the Lib Dem leadership seemed to have given up on London from the beginning of the campaign.  (As an aside, the Conservatives failed to make inroads - and Labour made real gains in Tory targets Fortune Green Belsize, Swiss Cottage and even Hampstead Town - because they also lacked policy spectrum on housing beyond traditional channels such as repairs and leaseholder charging).   

4.  Nick Clegg alienated progressives - but it wasn't just him.  Contrary to the public 'Clegg Out' calls by local Lib Dems following last week's defeat, Nick Clegg unpopularity goes beyond his own person - although he is of course symbolic.  Blair is right in his analysis but I'd go further: the Lib Dems essentially fought the 2010 election from the left of Labour - specifically and deliberately doing this in a number of areas, including North London.  But people aren't just angry at the Lib Dems because of their deal with the Conservatives, nor their welshing on policies like tuition fees.  There's also a general sense that the Lib Dems in power have made a series of catastrophic decisions which has set back the progressive cause a generation.  Their amateur-night handling of the PR referendum and Lords Reform blew once in quarter-century opportunities to change the nature of British politics - in both instances it was apparent that they had been comprehensively played by the Conservatives.  The trust issue with the electorate isn't just linked to Clegg but Laws, Cable, Alexander in fact anyone who could credibly be leader.  Dissatisfaction with compromises played a part, for sure, but there was also the question of competence... and that's a real killer.

5.  A bit too much Labour-hatred.  The success of the Lib Dems in North London over the last decade was partly a result of their progressive appeal, yet their very political language in 2014 was a turn-off to the very voters they attracted before. In the Kilburn Times, for example, they pledged to 'topple' Labour, implying they were up for a new Coalition with the Conservatives. This is not where people were at, and in doing so (via leaflets as well) they gave clear signals to the electorate that a vote for the Lib Dems was a vote for the Coalition in Westminster.  As the CNJ argues: maybe a bit more distance and independence would have been wise.    

6.  North-west frontier tactic didn't work.  Trying to create an artificial divide between people living in the three wards in the north west of Camden (erroneously dubbed the 'north west frontier') and the rest, was rejected by the NW6 electorate.  Claiming that the area was neglected by street cleaning services couldn't be stood up by the facts and the charge that all services were being relocated to King's Cross also didn't hold any water. Camdeners voted for parties with Camden-wide policies.   

7.  The writing was on the wall in 2012.  The London Assembly list results in Camden in the 2012 Mayoral elections placed the Lib Dems in 4th place to the Greens
. The warning signs were there to see but rarely picked up in the national or local press - and certainly not by the Lib Dems themselves.  

That's quite a lot to fix there...

Monday, 19 May 2014

Using animation and Youtube to make political manifestos come alive (two examples from Camden)

Founder of influential SBTV Jamal Edwards recently criticised politicians for not getting YouTube - he's right (I think this is partly because most politicians still associate digital content with fixed computers, rather than mobiles and tablets).

Political campaigns obviously prefer face-to-face over other means but it's hard to believe that in 2014 most parties are still messaging to residents using leaflets alone.

Camden Labour's whiteboard animation (above) I created using Videoscribe has attracted a lot of interest.  

The thoughts behind it were:

  • Audience - the animation was aimed at younger progressive voters - perhaps who had already voted before but aren't committed to any particular party.  
  • It had to be positive in tone - attacks just turn people off.
  • It had to be educational - lots of people don't know what goes on in Town Halls or how big their area is and the range of services delivered: if people don;t thing something matters they won't vote.
  • It's about Camden rather than politics - so national issues shouldn't really feature. 

I'm not saying what we did is perfect - one criticism is that the animation is too long - it's early days on this but at least we've had a stab! 

For the more, ahem, mature audience, Fortune Green candidate Richard Olszewski has also done this excellent take on our pledges (here's Bob Dylan's original) .

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Odd Camden Tory manifesto 'writes-off' 7 wards and 80k+ voters

While I'm not expect to agree with the content in the new Camden Conservative Manifesto, the one really odd thing is how they have self-selected wards they want to see councillors in - before the Camden electorate has even made a decision!

Camden council is made up of 18 wards, yet on page 28 of their document they cite only 11 wards "with Conservative councillors" excluding Kilburn, Highgate (where they had a councillor in 2008), Kentish Town, Haverstock, Cantelowes, Somers Town and Kings Cross: over 80,000 voters!  

Obviously political parties will have their target seats and know where they are competitive or not, but I've never seen such an obvious write-off before the starting-gun has been fired.  

The omitted wards by-and-large have the largest concentrations of council and social housing in the borough, a factor which might explain the lack of emphasis on affordable homes in the Tory manifesto.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Affordable homes and rents the big battleground issues for 2014 Camden elections

Housing will prove to be the big battleground in the 2014 polls to see who runs Camden council, as we can now see from the manifestos of the main parties locally.

Labour's manifesto launch on 30th April contains a new pledge to build 6000 council, social and private homes in the next 4 years - achieved by regeneration programmes on estates and private developments.

Affordable housing is by far the most pressing concern for local people - topping crime, childcare costs and the environment, according to Camden council's own research.

The manifesto also reaffirms Camden Labour policy not to auction to council homes to fund repairs and:
  • ƒoppose Tory-Liberal Democrat market rents and fixed-term tenancies for council housing
  • campaign for the Tory-Liberal Democrat Government to abolish their ‘bedroom tax’
  • improve repairs for council housing to get the best value for tenants and leaseholders
  • ƒbuild over 500 shared ownership homes to support people of all incomes to live in Camden
The launch of Labour's London-wide local election campaign has focused on reform of private rents, another key area of concern to local people.  Judging by the hyperbolic Tory response from SW1, he seems to have hit a nerve. 

Ed Miliband said: "the next Labour government will legislate to make three year tenancies the standard in the British private rented sector to giving people who rent the certainty they need. These new longer-term tenancies will limit the amount that rents can rise by each year." 
The Tory-Lib Dem administration 2006-2010
auctioned 70 council homes they had voided,
with many of them 'flipped' shortly
afterwards by property speculators 

The Camden Conservatives have taken a much different approach - and are pressing ahead with even more housing sales, picking up from where their previous administration with the Liberal Democrats left off. 

Specifically they propose to "sell freeholds of street properties that have over 50% leaseholders in them", a policy controversially advocated by right-wing think tank Policy Exchange which has argued that some areas are too 'expensive' for council or social housing and that sales could fund building elsewhere in the country. 

The Conservative manifesto is notable also because it advocates more right-to-buy of council stock with no mention of building replacement homes - in fact there is no mention of house building at all in their manifesto - repeating the mistakes of the 1980s.   

The Conservative policy of selling homes without local builds is social cleansing by stealth and follows previous high-profile comments on people being forced to move out of the borough because of welfare changes. 

  • On the news that up to 750 families could be forced to move from Camden because of welfare changes Andrew Mennear is quoted as saying that "London isn’t everything" - (Camden New Journal, Thursday 7 February, 2013).  
  • Councillor Claire-Louise Leyland, leader of Camden Conservatives, on the number of Camden tenants in arrears due to the Bedroom Tax going up by 11%, said in the Ham&High: “If they [tenants] knew they were going to fall into arrears, why didn’t they move?"  
The Camden Conservatives have also taken issue with the 150% levy on long-term empty homes, a policy put in place by Camden Labour to deter owners of properties leaving them vacant for long periods of time.

The dividing lines on May 22 could not be starker.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

How MPs voted on HS2 today

Majority (Aye)
Minority (No)
220 (+2 tell)
26 (+1 tell)
10 (+1 tell)

That would be no Lib Dem MPs voting against HS2.