Friday, 28 September 2012

Camden joins campaign for GCSE re-grading

Camden Council is joining more than 150 organisations to call for re-grading of the recent GCSE exams, after the announcement that this year’s English exams were marked harder than in previous years.

Camden schools’ GCSE marks have improved by 8% in the last three years, from 51% in 2009 to 59% in 2012 gaining five or more A* to C grades, including English and maths. Camden schools have also continued to exceed the Government’s minimum target for all secondary schools to have 40% students achieving the benchmark five or more A*-C grade GSCEs including English and Maths.

But a recent Camden scrutiny panel noted that progress in schools was dented because of this unfair change, meaning that around 110 children on the C-to-D boarderline had their chances to get into 6th form or apprenticeships damaged.

Camden along with 35 other councils, six teaching associations and unions and 113 schools have proposed a Judicial Review of the examinations regulator OfQual, and the exam boards AQA and Edexel. The legal action is designed to bring about an immediate re-grading of English GCSE exams taken in June 2012.

Labour's Angela Mason, Cabinet member for children, said:  Action has already been taken with the re-grading of exams in Wales, and we will continue to fight – through the courts if necessary - for similar action for Camden’s young people.”

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Contractor failures delay UCL Academy building and Swiss Cottage special school

Here's a statement on the continued delay to the opening of Camden's new university-sponsored Academy:

Camden Council has reacted with anger to the news that BAM has admitted that there will be a further delay to the completion of the UCL Academy which means that the school can’t move into the buildings on Adelaide Road after half term as planned. Even this date was a full half term later than the academy was meant to move in. No new date has been proposed by the contractor but it is reporting the current delay as being five weeks.

The opening of Swiss Cottage special school has also been delayed by at least another week. On Monday BAM revealed that key safety tests would not be completed in time. If the contractor meets the revised timeline it has set, the new opening date for the special school will be Monday 8 October.

BAM has blamed the delays at both buildings on the collapse of its subcontractor.

Camden is working with BAM to make arrangements for the schools and ensure the buildings are finished as swiftly as possible. At the same time, Camden maintains that the delay is entirely BAM’s responsibility. It manages the contract. The subcontractors employed by BAM are the responsibility of BAM to manage and supervise.

Councillor Angela Mason, Cabinet member for children, said:

“Camden has done everything possible to raise problems early and press for transparency about the delays – BAM has made promises at the highest level, which have repeatedly been broken.

“The original building programme was ambitious, and we appreciate that the contractors were working to a challenging timetable. However, we feel that the company has managed the delay badly by refusing to acknowledge, and deal with the problems, earlier on.

“The further delay to UCL Academy has forced children to be in temporary accommodation for nearly half of their first year of A levels. The delay to Swiss Cottage special school is completely unacceptable for this very vulnerable group of children and also a wholly unnecessary situation. Whilst officers questioned continually whether BAM’s programme was achievable, BAM would not confirm that dates would be missed in time to make suitable alternative arrangements. I’m angry that we have been so badly let down by the contractor and that young people have been put in this position.”


·         The legal relationship between Camden and BAM is governed by a complex Building Schools for the Future (BSF) contract structure, significantly restricting Camden’s direct management of the project.

·         The contract requires BAM to provide suitable interim accommodation for the schools at their own expense if the buildings are not ready on time. In the case of Swiss Cottage special school, BAM has failed to do this and Camden has had to make alternative arrangements in cooperation with the school.

·         Camden will act to recoup all expenditure it has incurred as a result of the delays from BAM.

UCL Academy Year 7 is in temporary classrooms at Brondesbury Park. The sixth form students are learning from laboratories hired from Birkbeck College. BAM’s aim is to extend these arrangements to cover the period of the delay; the availability has yet to be confirmed.

During the past 2 weeks Swiss Cottage children have been taught in leisure centres, voluntary sector venues, including Pirates’ Castle and Rollercoasters, amongst others. Camden wishes to recognise the fantastic efforts that Swiss Cottage School staff have made to provide education for children with special educational needs in extraordinary circumstances in venues in and around the borough.

Friday, 14 September 2012

National debt up 25% under Tories, in Camden 20 year low

UK National debt - risen by 25% since 2010.


Camden's debt - 20 year low

Source:  Camden Council Treasury Management Annual Report 2012/13 

Camden Graph of Doom

Camden Graph of Doom
The chart above illustrates the long-term pressures Camden council is under -and the pressure the increasing burden of statutory services will place on decisions to fund other services, e.g. parks, libraries, swimming pools, roads, community organisations, seniors' luncheon clubs etc.

The red line represents estimated Budget, while the bars represent the costs of childrens' services and care.  Any gap in between is the Budget for anything else.  Already squeezed, there will be no money for the at all by 2025.

Simply put, if current spending projections are accurate and if councils statutory responsibilities are the same then within the near future statutory services and social care costs will swallow up most local council spending leaving very little for other services to the community.

Council officers give this caveat:  "The following graph is an indicative chart of the possible future levels of funding and demand.  This contains a number of broad assumptions about future demographic pressures and levels of government funding. This is for illustrative purposes of what would happen if the Council took no action to manage pressures."

The Local Government Association explain these pressures in more detail in its financial modelling (this - in my view - is the best, and most readable, account so far of local government pressures).

To ensure we have enough money to respond to these challenges, the council has to control costs - changes to the way we work, digitisation, re-prioritisation of spending, controlling costs.  We also need to think about how we investment money in services which both help people and save money in the end.

How public services operate will have to change.  More transactions will have to be done over the phone or online.  The many different places public services are delivered from will have to change.  Community libraries, for example, will be expected to be places where other council services will be delivered from - giving them a public service hub function.   

Compared to the somewhat rushed budget handed to us by the new government in 2010, we now have more time to look at what how and what we spend, and fully understand what drives costs in all services.  Through this lens what we had to do in 2010 - cut luncheon clubs for 'low needs' pensioners, might instead be seen as an essential preventative service which lowers costs - in the long run - for more acute services (fewer trips and falls, reduced isolation).

Taken together to save community service people love, we need to modernise as well as adopt a new 'investment' approach to Budget-setting.  More soon.  

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Progress on regeneration in Gospel Oak - Sept 2012

Camden's rebuilding of our capital programme will reach every area in the borough - here's an update on the Community Investment Programme in Gospel Oak ward:

32 Lawn Road/Fleet Road
What: The Lawn road site includes a small, single storey community building, which accommodates the Fleet Community Centre run by the Queen’s Crescent Community Association. The greater part of the site is occupied by a two-storey building located behind the Fleet Road Community Centre, which comprises a car park on the ground floor; seven industrial units on the first floor and a disused open air play area at roof level.

Update:  In April 2012 the cabinet approved the proposal to dispose of 32 Lawn Road. It was agreed that one third of sale proceeds from the disposal of 32 Lawn Road will be used to fund regeneration initiatives in Gospel Oak. It is envisaged the property will be marketed around the end of the first quarter 2013. For further information visit the Camden Council website.

Kiln place estate
What: A meeting with the Kiln Place tenants and residents’ association reviewed a number of potential development sites on the periphery of the estate and identified those where residents agreed development would resolve problems on their estate in addition to providing new homes.

Update: Initial feasibility studies have shown there is a potential to build 17 new homes including the conversion of three block entrances into flats or maisonettes. Consultation with residents will continue as feasibility studies are expanded to produce design, development and procurement options.

Lamble Street and Mansfield Road
What: There are small sites at both ends of 17 -79 Mansfield Road and also at the end of Lamble Street.

Update: Feasibility studies for Mansfield Road and Lamble Street have been undertaken and consultation with residents is continuing. Detailed design is needed to take the proposals up to the planning application stage.

Bacton low rise
What: The condition of this estate is generally poor - the estate is repeatedly vandalised, the heating needs replacing, the windows are failing and leaking roofs and patios have caused severe damp problems in residents’ homes.

Update: The consultation on the proposed designs for Bacton Low Rise has included a number of community events and drop-in sessions to give local residents the chance to look at models and plans and have their say. This included a Development Forum, the feedback from which has given the Council’s Development Control service an early opportunity to understand the main issues which residents and other stakeholders feel should be explored as part of the planning application.  The architects are now preparing detailed designs for a planning application to be made in October subject to Cabinet approval in September.

Bacton Tower
What: This 22 storey block of 120 flats has a partial warm air heating system which is in need of renewal and large single glazed sliding doors leading onto private balconies, as a result residents’ homes are poorly heated and thermally inefficient.

Update: The cost of upgrading/renewing heating and replacing the balcony doors are under investigation, to indicate the level of funding to be raised from small sites sale or development. Further consultation with residents is to be undertaken. Next steps are subject to a stock condition survey and Better Homes programme setting.

Waxham and Ludham
What: These blocks need new heating, improved insulation, plumbing, new windows and lifts. Consultants have been commissioned to analyse the structure and concrete to determine the possibility of adding additional floors to the existing building.

Update: A broad options appraisal process to examine a range of options for Waxham and Ludham has been commissioned.

What: The estate needs plumbing, heating, waste stacks and underground sewerage pipes to be replaced. This disruptive work will be considered as part of the options to refurbish or redevelop the estate.

Update: A housing needs survey has been undertaken for the 230 residents on the estate. The aim of this was to show the extent of disrepair and identify residents’ initial views about the options for the refurbishment or redevelopment of their estate. Residents have been informed of the findings. Consultation is on-going with the residents.

16-39 Lamble Street and 1-12 Barrington Close
What: Residents have reported problems with the heating system, condensation, and concrete and roof defects, which are under investigation.

Update: The next stage is for initial technical studies to be commissioned and presented to residents and ward members for their consideration. Residents of Lamble Street, Barrington Close and Barrington Court have selected architects to undertake feasibility studies of the neighbouring small sites and are holding further meetings with the Council to discuss works needed to their estates. A brief for detailed design is needed to take these proposals up to planning application.

1-12 and 13- 62 Barrington Court
What: A housing needs survey was carried out and received a 65% response rate that revealed problems with windows, damp, lifts and anti-social behaviour by intruders. The residents’ responses were also evenly split between refurbishment and renewal of the estate.

Update: A brief for detailed design has been commissioned and is being undertaken by architects in order to prepare a business case and scheme design for a planning submission (subject to Cabinet approval).

St Dominic’s RC Primary School
What: Alterations and upgrading to the school building are being carried out to support the headteacher and governors in their improvement plan for the school.  The project is being managed by consultants appointed by the Diocese of Westminster on behalf of the school.  Works include improvements to classroom sizes and relative positions, re-provision of the nursery and co-location with reception in a foundation stage area and renewal of unsuitable and inadequate toilets.

Update: The first phase of work is planned to be carried out over this summer and will reconfigure the ground floor classrooms, offices and entrance area and include enabling works for the next phase.  The first phase works are designed to bring early benefits for the school and demonstrate that a planned whole-school improvement programme is underway.  The next phase of works will continue through to 2013 and include further remodelling to other areas and small extensions to the building.

Fleet Primary School
What: The school will receive CIP investment to carry out a number of essential works to the school.

Update: During 2012 we will be replacing all the windows and doing repairs around the window frames, replacing the boiler, insulating the school, renewing some doors and carrying out other repairs at the school. In addition we are rewiring the site services officer’s house and replacing the boiler.

Bill Clinton's DNC speech 2012

The Whole Nine Yards.

Best read in conjunction with this piece in the New Yorker.