Sunday, 29 December 2013

My 2013 review - in pictures

Here's my round-up of 2013, where we've tried (and hopefully succeeded) in making a difference locally...

Camden Labour started the year by agreeing to freeze Council Tax in Camden for 2013 and 2014, meaning that Council Tax has been frozen for the entire term of this administration. We also changed Council Tax in April so owners of properties left empty for more than 2 years would be subject to a 50% extra levy (i.e. 150%) on their annual charge.

Future of popular Armoury Gym was secured through sale to Royal Free Trust, as seen in this 'all bloke' photo, with the council using funds from sale for the repair of local schools.

Residents trusted Labour and re-elected us in Gospel Oak: Maeve McCormack was returned in March with 59% of vote in by-election in a ward which had Tory councillors in it in 2010.

Campaigning to save Belsize Fire Station from closure - the council eventually took the Mayor of London to court, but sadly just before Christmas the case was lost.

Campaigning with Mayor Jonathan Simpson on the CNJ battle-bus at the Save-the-Whittington march.

Camden led a programme to install free public wifi on our streets by mid-2014, with the first phase already in operation south of the Euston Road.

With Gospel Oak ward councillors Larraine Revah and Maeve McCormack at the Bacton Regeneration Fun Day. As part of Camden's Community Investment Programmeestate regeneration at Bacton Low Rise will provide a total of 290 high quality new homes - and the first new council homes to be built in Gospel Oak in a generation.  The regeneration is possible because the council is surrendering land previously occupied by the District Housing Office and some workshops to build these homes and new employment space.

Camden wants to extend 150% Council Tax Premium on homes left empty for more than 2 years and see a change to the law in relation to unoccupied, furnished property to prevent what the press have called "Buy-to-Leave” international investors from gaming the system and claiming empties are 'second homes' and thus avoiding the extra charge. 

Local publican Pat Logue from the Sheephaven Bay donates a £400 cheque to the QCCA Luncheon Club from the Camden Celtic Bhoys Supporters in the - see what good work the club does in the YouTube link.  

Councillors lobbied for the community mural at the former Fleet Community Centre to be saved after the sale of 32 Lawn Road. 

We had a bit of a public bust-up with the right-wing Tax Payers Alliance about their misrepresentation of senior pay - which has gone DOWN in Camden thanks to us.

Labour was campaigning with Haverstock ward at the Queen's Crescent Community Festival, we're doing a lot of work to win Haverstock back in the 2014 elections.

The unfair Bedroom Tax will hit hundreds of people in NW1 and NW5 - Camden Labour was at the forefront of campaigning to get a future Labour government to abolish it.

Camden led a ground-breaking Hackday at Google campus where we brought together council staff and data-crunchers from the private sector to come up with solutions to social problems using public data. 

The best way to tackle Camden's housing crisis is by building homes - so we have funded plans to build over 1100 council and shared ownership homes over the next 5 years - with a large proportion of them starting now.

We 'topped-out' the new Council HQ in King's Cross a £123m project in Pancras Square to provide offices for council staff - saving money on the Town Hall's running costs - and building a new public swimming pool and library for local people. Meanwhile, we will sell old public buildings to pay for this and through this build over 250 new homes at social rents. 

Prince Andrew launched Camden's initiative to put a Code Club in all of our Primary schools by July 2014

2013 saw the relaunch of Queen's Crescent Market, now run by Queen's Crescent Community Association, at the Festival (August).  Since them the market has been going strong, with a great Christmas Market to coincide with Small Business Saturday on 7th December.

Remembering Mandela in Camden...

Finally, Camden joined Islington and Southwark in establishing a borough-wide 20mph zone - effective from December.

Roll on 2014...

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Holiday reading on Camden's £80m cuts challenge 2014-18

Holiday reading on Camden's £70m cuts challenge:

Merry Christmas!

Friday, 6 December 2013

Dog attack in Gospel Oak

After a shocking incident seriously injuring a toddler in Gospel Oak reported in the local papers, there will be calls for more powers against dangerous dogs.

The precise circumstances here are unclear but Camden recently proposed to increase the sentence levels for owners of dogs which have attacked humans or other animals.  We argued that the sentencing should reflect similar crimes such as ABH and GBH, so we suggested 5 years for injury to a person and 10 years for death.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Autumn statement: schools and housing not deemed infrastructure

Autumn Statements are about perceptions - and the perception that the Coalition seeks to address with today's grandiose National Infrastructure Plan is that the government is spending money on 'bricks and mortar.' 

A closer examination of the Plan reveals some re-announced schemes (especially transport, e.g. Camden Town and Holborn, and science, e.g. Francis Crick) and a series of private sector case-studies.  There is little on other aspects of infrastructure which will help to build a better economy - more homes, and better schools, historically where spending was vired from Whitehall through Town Halls up and down the country. 

Only a small section of the Plan discusses local investment (4.15-30).  No joy here - the minor Growing Places Fund help 'unlock' schemes with government loans only totaling £500m nationally. Meanwhile the lower 'project rate' for borrowing on the Public Loans Works Board is not available for London!

This is symptomatic.  The Fabian's Rob Tinker argues:  "During the course of the government’s fiscal consolidation there has been a significant shift away from investment in the future and towards spending on the present, particularly healthcare and social security. Whereas by 2017-18 the level of public spending is expected to be back at pre-crisis levels, gross capital investment below the average for the 1990s and 2000s."

Camden's New Financial Strategy discussed tonight at our Cabinet outlines just how far council budgets for future investment have been crippled - only 1% of Camden's current investment in schools and homes comes from central government.

In the past central government would fund out programmes through schemes such as Raising the Standard for housing and Building Schools for the Future.  Today councils are forced to do all the heavy lifting - and if you can't find the money, then tough.

Due to high land values and large landholdings purchased in the 1970s Camden has considerable fixed assets worth £2.8bn, mainly consisting of council housing land and schools. 

To develop and maintain these assets the Council has developed our own capital programme - known as the Community Investment Programme - of £1bn over the period 2013/14 to 2019/20 including £215m in 2013/14.    

In total we have over 100 projects which will improve and modernise:

- 53 schools
- Over 13,000 homes
- build 2750 new/replacement homes, of which over 40% will be council homes 

The funding for the programme comes from a variety of sources but remains heavily dependent on our own capital receipts (51%), revenue contributions from the Housing Revenue Account (23%) and new borrowing (14%).  

Today central government grants provide only 1% of total funding for our identified need and grants from the Greater London Authority only 5%.  How much further could Camden's self-financed scheme go, given that many projects are near 'shovel-ready', if we weren't starved of capital by central government?