Monday, 25 March 2013

Future of Armoury gym secured after Royal free deal

Saved! with the Armoury and Royal Free team
The future of a popular Hampstead gym has been secured thanks to a partnership deal between Camden Council, the Royal Free Charity and the Jubilee Hall Trust (JHT).
The Armoury building in Pond Street had been identified in January as a potential 'tenant sale' as part of the Council’s Community Investment Programme, which seeks to release the value of Council assets and generate much needed funding for schools.
The Council worked with The Royal Free Charity and the Jubilee Hall Trust to broker a new partnership deal which will see a win-win situation for gym users and local residents.

In a decision set to be ratified by Camden’s Cabinet next month, The Royal Free Charity will buy the freehold for the building from Camden while at the same time granting a new lease to the JHT to continuing running the gym. The deal means the Council will be able to release funds from the building and reinvest them in repairing local schools.

Camden becomes first London council to invest in Funding Circle

Another new initiative in Camden's 2013 Budget is the start of Camden using peer-to-peer lending, via Funding Circle.  Here's the PR:

Camden Council and Funding Circle today announced the launch of the Local Business Lending Partnership, London’s first peer-to-peer business lending partnership, to stimulate local economic growth and employment through improved access to business finance.
As part of a pioneering scheme, the council will lend £100,000 to businesses based in Camden and the surrounding area using Funding Circle, the UK’s largest online marketplace where people directly lend to small businesses.
The council will join the thousands of Londoners already lending their money to small and medium sized businesses across the country.  A potential model for the future of small business lending across the capital, this pilot scheme will help realise the growth potential of Camden borough businesses that are currently being stifled by poor access to finance:
Camden Council cabinet member for finance Councillor Theo Blackwell, saidd:
“Camden is committed to finding new ways to promote business growth.  Camden businesses say that access to finance is a major issue and traditional bank lending is often slow to respond.  By lending through Funding Circle we are breaking down barriers stopping established local businesses growing and investing in the Camden and London economy." 

James Meekings, co-founder of Funding Circle said:
“This innovative partnership will see Council funds driven injected into the heart of the business community in Camden, helping to drive growth and create jobs at an important time. We hope that other London councils will be inspired to use initiatives like this and follow Camden’s example.”  
83% of Camden’s businesses have less than 10 employees, and a further 16% have between 10-249 employees. The vast majority of these businesses are in the private sector. A recent study by Funding Circle indicated the potential boost that could be provided through better access to finance, with 34% of London-based small businesses stating that they would increase staff numbers if they could obtain finance. By contrast, according to figures from the British Bankers Association, loan facilities in the capital fell by more than 20% in the last quarter of 2012, compared with the same period in 2011.
James Meekings co-founder of Funding Circle continued:  “In today’s economy, businesses need to access finance as quickly and easily as possible. This new partnership between Funding Circle and Camden Council will give businesses a faster way to access finance, freeing them to continue growing and fulfilling their potential.”
 Simon Pitkeathley, Chief Executive of Camden Town Unlimited, the organisation that represents businesses in Camden Town, said: “From our experience of supporting businesses in Camden Town and my own personal experience I know raising money through traditional routes is incredibly hard, so Camden Council’s investment is manna from heaven for Camden’s businesses.”
Launched in August 2010, Funding Circle enables businesses to access finance independent of their banks and British people to earn attractive, stable returns for the long-term. This process sidesteps the high street banks with businesses receiving finance in a matter of days compared to up to three months for a traditional bank loan. To date, more than £85 million loans have been lent to small businesses across the UK, including more than £12 million in London. To be eligible, businesses must have a minimum turnover of £100,000 and have been trading for at least two years. 
Camden is the first council in London to join Funding Circle’s Local Business Lending Partnership, and follows Lancashire County Council who launched the scheme back in November. Funding Circle expects another 10 councils to join the Local Business Lending Partnership by the end of 2013.
Funding Circle works by enabling established and creditworthy businesses to borrow money from groups of people and institutions. Once businesses pass Funding Circle’s the credit assessment processes, their loan is posted on the marketplace. From here, people choose which type of businesses to lend to, and bid the amount of money they wish to lend, and the interest rate they want to earn. Lenders can bid small amounts, from as little as £20, on lots of different businesses to spread their risk.

Camden Post Offices to be used for council services

To make sure no resident is left behind - Camden Council has unveiled proposals to team up with Post Offices across the borough to ensure people have a face-to-face service while others services are being digitised.

As part of Camden's drive to deliver services that are right first time, residents and businesses will be able to pay their bills at 17 neighbourhood Post Offices - so every resident will be no further than a mile from a payment point.

The services for making payments that will be improved include: council tax, parking, benefits, rents, business rates, leaseholder services and housing management.

The move will provide residents and businesses particularly the vulnerable and those from an ethnic minority have a greater choice of how they want to interact with the Council. It will also help people who currently have difficulty with accessing council services, such as vulnerable residents.

Digital improvements to Camden’s website will reduce the time taken to make an online payment and in total the improved customer access programme will save the Council £3.34 million per year - helping to deal with another £50m of government cuts over the next 3 years.

Camden Council is currently contacted through 1.48 million telephone calls and 220,000 visits in person, per year. Every time someone visits a council building it costs the council £13.86. A call costs £3.86 and a web transaction 32p.

The new services will allow more customers to access council services by their preferred method of contact. With more people going online as they prefer, telephone and face to face contact will be freed up for those that want and need it most, such as residents with complex needs.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Results from Gospel Oak by-election

Gospel Oak Ward, LB Camden. Lab hold. 

Lab 1272 (59.9%, +20.7), Con 419 (19.7%, -7.9), Green 134 (6.3%, -5.4), LD 132 (6.2%, -15.3), TUSC 109 (5.1%, +5.1), BNP 57 (2.7%, +2.7). Swing of 14.3% from Con to Lab since 2010. 

Top effort from Camden Labour in Gospel Oak and a dreadful result for the Tories in a ward they held from 2006 to 2010 and for the Coalition parties as a whole - 6.2% for the Lib Dems in a ward next to one where they have a seat is a bad showing.

Labour's candidate was Maeve McCormack, a school governor at St.Dominic's - a primary which Labour has invested over £2m captial works despite BSF cuts by the government - and we ran a campaign based on Police and Fire Station cuts.

The Tory campaign was notable by its absence of Tory branding and sparse reference to the Conservative Party through its literature.


Discussions about the vanishing Tory logo have appeared on Richard Osley's blog and on the BBC's This Week (from 15.00).

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

One Nation Labour needs digital reboot

My article for Labour List this week

Monday, 4 March 2013

Camden invests in tech, greenworks and construction to boost economy

Camden's 2013 Budget invests in tech, greenworks and construction to boost our local economy.

The continuation of the government cuts initiated in 2010 has meant that 2012/13 has inevitably been a challenging year both for the Council and residents, as efficiencies have been required at exactly the time when the need for essential public services has never been greater. 

As with other councils serving the most deprived areas in the country, Camden has taken the brunt of the cuts compared to more affluent areas.

We've developed a plan for these unprecedented cuts by setting a 3 year Budget to control Town Hall costs.  

This has enabled us to develop an alternative approach to support local jobs and growth in Camden, including:

  • full time nursery provision for three and four year olds at Camden nurseries to support working families back into work
  • 240 Camden Apprenticeships for 16-24 year olds
  • innovative Funding Circle peer-to-peer loan scheme for established businesses unable to access funds for growth from banks
  • free public wifi to cover most of the borough
  • funding to teach Computer Science and programming so local people can access tech jobs
  • permanent fee waiver for all community festivals up to 10,000 people
  • contract with the Post Office to provide council cashier services through local post offices branches, with plans for libraries to serve as 'contact points'
  • insulation measures for the oldest and worst properties in the private rented sector
  • extra funding to prevent homelessness as a result of the Welfare Reform Act
Through the Community Investment Programme Camden has also rebuilt its capital investment following severe government cuts, by the targeted sale and regeneration of public assets and reinvestment into local schools and council homes.  The Chester Balmore estate regeneration in Highgate will be completed following £11 million of investment, delivering the largest Passivhaus development in the UK.

This is just the start.  1100 new council homes will be built locally over the next 5 years:  the first time Camden Council has been able to build new council homes for rent for nearly 20 years. These new homes will be offered to those on the council house waiting list – bringing affordable rented homes to one of the most expensive central London boroughs.  Around 1,650 homes have been refurbished in the last year – with a further £178m to be invested in over 13,000 homes in the period up to 2016/17 through direct investment and public borrowing.

All 57 primary and secondary schools will get repairs and energy efficiency works, making good much of the government cuts to capital works to schools in 2010.

£2 million will be allocated to improve the public realm in and around Tottenham Court Road, levering in extra private sector investment around Crossrail.

Camden’s self-financed Community Investment Programme represents an additional investment of over 6% (£330m) to the entire (£5.5bn) national capital infrastructure investment total announced by the Chancellor in the Autumn statement and will bring an estimated £1bn of public and private funds into the local economy.

Our investment in school repairs of £117m represents an extra 12% on top of the national fund for free schools (£980m).   

Through a new local growth-focused procurement regime we will promote employment opportunities for local residents and use local suppliers either as prime contractor or as part of the main contract supply chain.

Camden’s 2013 Budget proposes to freeze the level of Council Tax for a further two years, providing some help and fairness for all taxpayers at a time of continuing economic uncertainty. Owners of long term empty homes in Camden will be charged 150% Council Tax and tax perks removed for second homes: together this will impact one in sixteen properties in the borough.

Senior management costs have been reduced by 20%, we are implementing the London Living Wage for private contracts and the highest to lowest pay ratio in the council is 10:1, well below the public sector average of 15:1 (or the FTSE 100 average of 262:1).       

We’ve set out these measures in our Budget because we believe that it is necessary to support growth through active policies in the economy and to ensure that local people aren’t left behind in this continuing climate austerity.