Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Digital Innovator of the Year 2014

Pleased to be named LGIU Digital Innovator for 2014 at last night's awards ceremony in Westminster.  Camden got this award because of our Digital Strategy, the highlights of which include:

Monday, 17 February 2014

Ed backs Camden's 200% levy on long-term furnished empty homes

Welcome news from Ed Miliband that councils like Camden could be allowed to double the amount of extra Council Tax on empty properties, aimed at 'buy-to-leave' investors.  Camden Labour has been leading the way arguing for this for while now because we've seen the success of lifting the levy to 150% - long term empty furnished homes are down by 40% in just a a year.

Ed argues in the Evening Standard that Labour "will give councils proper powers to tackle “buy-to-leave”. We will consult on allowing councils to double the amount of additional council tax they can charge on empty properties, and close loopholes which mean homes are not considered empty if they are furnished with just a single table and chair."

Our approach is popular and brings more fairness to the overheated housing market and the outdated Council Tax system.  It has even been backed by the Mayor of London - but noticeably not by the Camden Conservatives.

Camden Lib Dems: "lets topple Labour"

While Nick Clegg makes overtures to Labour in order to stay in power, the Camden Lib Dems have other ideas.

In an interview for the Kilburn Times they explain that target a Labour-held ward in order to make Camden a hung council, implying they'd want to run Camden with the Conservatives once again.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

On Public Art

After this week's depressingly small-minded New Journal story about council investment in public art in King's Cross, here's what I think. I won't go into the omissions from the article which made it appear more sensationalist than need be - that's another discussion with the hacks but here's what I think:   

Camden has a long history of supporting public art in Camden, from Henry Moore's pieces on our housing estates to the amazing Camden Council murals committee that for 30 years funded community art, to mosaics you can find all over our public buildings, to the present day where the council takes an enlightened view to street art.

The new HQ in Pancras Square will have three works (one external and two internal in public area) using local and locally-trained artists and will involve community consultation. 

The investment is capital, not revenue (services) and - like the new leisure complex, public library and building - come at no extra cost to the taxpayer.  The installations support our creative economy and are for the public - making the building for the people (using our moto) and not a bland office block for officers.  They follow in the tradition of other public-funded art in the borough.  

Even though it might be more cost-conscious initially to paint everything in monotone grey, this wouldn't be very aesthetically pleasing to the public and note that the outside piece will appreciate in value for the taxpayer so is an asset for the future as well.  

There will always be those who question whether it is right or the 'right time' to invest in public art or arts organisations, especially during a recession/austerity, but we have a history of asking for public art in private developments, e.g. Regents Place (meaning less s106 elsewhere) and have spend regeneration money on public art in our parks and major projects, like Swiss Cottage.  

In my own ward we went the extra mile to save the mural at the old Fleet Community Centre, at some cost, because people wanted public art to be saved.

So: instead of snubbing a new benefit maybe the naturally cynical should welcome one?

Friday, 7 February 2014

Camden sets out how Town Hall will adapt to digital changes

Here at Camden we've been doing some thinking about technology and the council and we've developed this document on how we respond to digital change and are asking local people for their views on, until 27th February.

Highlights include:

• Delivering an easy to use online Camden Resident and Business Account available 24/7 via the web and mobile devices
• Joining up Council data and services to deliver a one Council approach that is more responsive and efficient
• Putting investment into Coding Clubs for young people
• Ensuring that no one gets left behind by investing in our public IT facilities so they are modern and accessible
• Expanding public WiFi services across the Borough
• Making it much simpler for our residents to access Council data online so we can be held to account
• Nurturing a digital Borough where assets and infrastructure are linked up, via the internet, to deliver cheaper and radically new services
• Becoming a digital by default Council by removing a 22km mountain of paper and having a mobile workforce
• Putting next generation business intelligence and analytical tools across all front line services to drive high performance
• Creating a Digital Innovation Fund to invest in the acceleration of new ideas and digital solutions that deliver better Council services and ensure no one gets left behind.

See a write up here.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Chart: decrease in like-for-like government funding in Camden council budgets from 2010

Camden and RADA secure future of Drill Hall

Camden Council will help to secure the future of the Drill Hall, a historic community arts venue in Bloomsbury in a proposed deal with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).

In the deal, RADA will be able to buy a 125-year lease for the grade-II listed Drill Hall on Chenies Street from freeholders Camden.

RADA are current leaseholders of the venue - which is now known as RADA Studios - and granting the long-term lease will help to attract funding to refurbish the theatre and teaching space, and to create hostel accommodation for first year students.

Funds raised by the sale of the lease will contribute towards the improvements of homes, schools, and community facilities in the borough through Camden’s Community Investment Programme (CIP). 

Originally built in 1882 for the Territorial Army, in the early 1900s Drill Hall hosted the Ballet Russe, and Gang Shows during the war years.

During the 1980s Central Arts Ltd took over the management of the building and it underwent a revamp to be used as a community arts centre, with rehearsal and performance spaces, and significant outreach and educational programmes. During this time the venue gained an international reputation for being at the forefront of experimental and gay theatre.

RADA moved into the premises in 2012 and has maintained the use of the building for teaching and performance uses including TV and radio recordings, auditions for West End musicals and community classes.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Camden empty homes levy gains support

Camden's call to tax long-term furnished empty homes property is steadily gaining support.

Following coverage in the London press on the Mayor of London's support for Camden raising Council Tax to 150% on long term empty homes and desire to extend it, see here as well, the Guardian investigated the notorious Bishop's Avenue.

Think tank Civitas has also called on the government to introduce Australian-style rules to ensure that foreign property buyers invest in their properties.

Labour MP Clive Betts today echoed our call for more local flexibility - Camden is asking the government for the ability to increase the levy to 200% for empty furnished properties vacant for one year and help to close loopholes where these properties are classified as 'second homes.'

The Government has taken the step of issuing a response to the Guardian article, focusing on the new homes bonus.  

The Government regard the current 50% rate of empty homes premium as appropriate. Camden’s response is that a higher rate (100%) is appropriate in our setting.  While we welcome additional funding through new homes bonus it is hard to plan medium term when even this funding has been reduced and it is slightly disingenuous for Ministers to claim to be rewarding authorities when they have just reduced the size of the reward.