Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Statement on the cuts for 17 December Cabinet - Camden's cuts challenge post 10

Conservatives and the smaller state
The Coalition’s cuts to council budgets are a demonstration of their broader plans for public services. They want to roll back the state.  If it’s not recognisably the Road to Wigan Pier then it’s a journey towards a more American Republican model of smaller, limited government with greater use of charities in social policy. 

As Camden council enters its 50th year, this is in direct contrast to the approach taken by generations of Labour councillors here in this Chamber - and the wishes of residents, community groups and campaigners who want to see a council which places social justice at the heart of what it does.

I said 4 years ago that the cuts caused by the banking crisis would be borne by those who had nothing to do with it.  That is what happened and there’s more to come.  More families on low and modest incomes are poorer with less disposable income.  Those that can find work are stuck in a low wage trap.  More have had to move from the borough because of the Bedroom Tax, introduced by the Tories nationally and supported by them locally.  
Poverty is not just unfair but it’s also a waste and waste is inefficient.  Remember: the more people who suffer, the higher the demand for public services.  
The Camden Graph of Doom

Camden’s ‘graph of doom’ predicts future spending.  It estimates that if things don’t change Camden will have no money for anything other than street cleaning and recycling; adult social care and safeguarding children by 2021. 

Do you think that at the end of austerity the Conservatives will pledge to put more money back into libraries or youth centres?  No.  The Conservatives set out their stall when they promised tax cuts over public service funding.

So despite the national economic picture finally improving after the long slump caused by the banking crisis, over the next three years Camden Council faces its toughest financial challenge yet. The Council has already made £93 million in savings across the Council since 2011, while continuing to deliver quality services to local people, build new homes and get young people into work. Now, further cuts to government funding alongside other social pressures – including an ageing population and have left us with a budget gap of £70 million to find by 2017/18.

Funding cuts continue to disproportionately affect those councils with the greatest need. On the government’s own estimates, Camden faces the 8th largest spending power cut per dwelling in  2015/16 among all other local authorities nationally – and by 2017 Camden’s funding from central government will have been cut in half.

Camden Labour has tried to prioritise the money we have left for vulnerable people and what we know will help them best and help save money in the long run. We’ve focused on tackling inequality, preventing people getting in to trouble and being as efficient as we can. This means extra money in some areas like mental health prevention and domestic violence. But also means some very difficult cuts to services that we know people value.

As Labour councillors we are in a particularly difficult position implementing cuts to public services we never wanted to – but let’s be clear: the responsibility lies with George Osborne and the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition. One-term Tory austerity didn’t work because it started off by doing too much too fast, as we warned. Alistair Darling’s plan for spending restraint and investment was replaced by deep cuts in the measures in the emergency budget of 2010 and the first settlement which choked the recovery already underway.  It left no room for error, so when European economies started to suffer there was little scope to compensate.  They sole purpose of the Coalition was to deal with the deficit.  They have failed.

It's clear there is a need for public spending restraint so I also question those who only argue 'to turn the taps back on' without identifying where the money comes from.    

But while I appreciate the difficult situation they are in, I’m also critical of Labour’s front bench when it comes to local government spending.  Hilary Benn loses far too many arguments on spending around the Shadow Cabinet table to other departments: most recently over borrowing caps for council housing.  Too many senior figures take a blinkered approach to local government, and London local government in particular.

So it’s essential that we fight for a Labour government in 2015 which will protect the future of the welfare state and universal public services.  The financial formula which recognised the pressures of inner London should be restored.  Labour’s plan for decentralisation should cede Whitehall spending and powers to local authorities so we have more control over local public services and are able do more for the most vulnerable: after all, we know more about those with the most complex needs than Whitehall agencies do.

Our Plan
Here in Camden we can't sit passively by and let these cuts work themselves out.  In order balance the books decided to take a three year strategic approach to addressing the projected budget deficits. The three year strategy phases the changes so that we can make informed choices, like UNISON's Ethical Care Charter.

The Council’s experience is that reducing budgets by a set percentage across the board is not an effective way to meet these unprecedented cuts. Therefore the council has taken the opportunity to take a planned, longer term approach, looking in detail at all of the Council’s spending to consider how to provide services for less whilst still maintaining range and quality.

Our Four Investment Tests have guided our decision-making to ensure services still tackle inequality and money is spent on the things which have the greatest impact.

The new Outcomes-Based Budget approach has allowed the Council to free up some resources for reinvestment. Examples include enhanced focus on tackling domestic violence, reinvestment in childcare, and an innovative partnership fund in mental health.

We set out to make efficiency measures first.  Smaller support services and streamlined management structures are a major component of this, as well as the adopting of systems thinking.  Technology - through open IT and data analytics, will be a component in over 85% of our initiatives.

The Council is already considerably leaner than in the past. For example, the senior management pay bill has been reduced by over 20% since 2010. We will continue this by reducing further the number of management roles, reducing use of agency workers and consultants we don’t need, and reducing the cost of our support services, including finance, human resources, information technology and property.

Talking to residents
We haven’t made this plan without talking with and listening to residents.  We’ve gathered comments from over 2000 people just at this stage, in one of the largest listening exercises of its kind.

One of the strongest messages we received from residents was the importance of prioritising the money we have to protect our most vulnerable residents and avoiding the large scale privatisation neighbouring boroughs have embarked on.

Residents were also clear that they wanted to see greater value for money in outsourced repairs and street cleaning contracts negotiated by the Tory-Lib Dem administration before 2010.  While progress is being made here, I will announce further measures to ensure value for money in the New Year.

Job losses
It is estimated that the saving proposals agreed in September and those proposed in this report could result in a reduction of up 600 in our Full Time Equivalent staff posts. Any staff reductions required will be managed in line with the Council’s well-established procedures and be subject to an equalities impact assessment. Initial discussions have commenced with staff and trade unions about proposals for meeting the financial challenges ahead.

Measures are already in place to minimise potential redundancies such as holding vacancies and the use of redeployment where possible, but I pledge to monitor this issue an address UNISON’s concerns.

Use of reserves
We cannot agree with the proposal plug our funding gap by using reserves. Reserves are one-off balances and are allocated to specific projects or to mitigate corporate risks. These include funding for projects that will achieve ongoing savings such as our customer access programme, as well as towards fighting the negative impacts of HS2 on local residents.

Reserves can only be used once so they aren’t a sustainable way of plugging a permanent reduction in funding. They also take away from capital projects – to do so, for example, would means the end to the Parliament Hill renewal. 

In summary I thank council staff for their hard work in putting together the MTFS – we are not even halfway through a difficult journey which is transforming local government and how its serves local people.  So far it has proved resilient, just how far that will last if is now open to question after the end of this financial plan.

Will tech will save us? - Camden's cuts challenge post 9

Chi Onwurah's excellent Digital Government review set the direction for Labour's approach to digital and public service reform. With councils up and down the country facing huge cuts in their government grant, digital technologies are playing an increasing role in helping authorities balance their books.  

Camden's started a debate by adopting an expansive view of technology in our Digital Strategy.  In the latest update to this we estimate that £60m of the £70m required over the next three years will be delivered by technology solutions.

A fundamental part of this was consideration of how technology would be consumed to support Outcomes Based Budgeting in the Financial Strategy - as there is symbiotic relationship between technology and our ability to achieve outcomes.  Primarily, this involved a judgement on the extent to which OBB initiatives needed to:
  • channel shift, e.g. as the next wave of customer access proposals do / or the personalisation of adult social care expects? 
  • would the initiative require analytics to improve performance or better resource allocation?
  • did the initiative need agile working (e.g. mobile apps, more knowledge working, more wifi? 
  • would it require infrastructure to link services up (e.g. single sign-on / shared services / integrated patient data / making more use of the Camden Resident Index etc)?
  • did it involve changes to our applications (e.g. an upgrade / change / modification)?and
  • if services were being externalised would they need new information sharing arrangements to be put in place or data migrated to a new system? 
What our assessment over the summer showed is that to deliver the Financial Strategy a number will be enabled by digital technology. However, they will consume them for different reasons (e.g. they are linked to web developments or rely on mobile working or several in some cases) and at different levels (e.g. some will require major investments and others less so).

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Thoughts on the Holborn&St.Pancras Labour nomination

Congratulations to Keir Starmer, who ran a solid, clean and impressive campaign which chimed with the majority of members in Holborn&St.Pancras at our selections last night!  

For the record I backed Sarah and voted:  Sarah, Keir and Patrick.
Keir Starmer selected for Holborn&St.Pancras

I genuinely thought it would be closer, and now I owe the CNJ Xmas hamper £20 courtesy of a bet with #1 Keir-ramper Robert Latham on whether Starmer would win at the first round or not!  

In the final analysis members clearly wanted to add strength to the party through Keir's undoubted depth from outside of politics.   

Re: the KS vs SH contest I felt that there was a 'two-for-the-price-of-one' dynamic - by voting for Keir you'd also have Sarah as council leader also played in his favour.  Whoever your preferred candidate, I'm sure all who voted there know that he'll make a great MP. 

Journalist Richard Osley has blogged about this here.  Aside one or two things like Tom Copley being a 'stalking horse' for Sarah (no-one knows how that could work and a bit harsh on Tom) or councillors 'cynically' voting for her (life isn't all about Town Hall politics you know...) - it's pretty much on the money.

Here are my observations about the result:

All the main candidates had calibre to represent the constituency.  The 'runners' included a respected local GP, two Council leaders (one former) and the ex- Director of Public Prosecutions.  Raj injected (perhaps late) passion on issues like unilateralism and student loans and cited his legal career; Sarah stood on a record of council delivery and core campaigning (needed, but a point no so much recognised by the audience); Patrick on local connections and the NHS (liked, but not enough as a USP), and Keir on his record as a high performer and running a public sector organisation.  In my opinion all those who lost out could be excellent MPs and will be stronger for the experience. I felt in the final weeks that the membership were closing in on Keir because of his extra ability to add value to the SW1 Labour gene pool - because he's an achiever who comes from outside of traditional politics. The recent perceived 'wobble' definitely firmed peoples' minds up.  His speech had fewer words than the others, but - for me - conveyed the necessary gravitas.   
Step away from the box-set. No fix here.

Westminster Commentators:  you can't fix a membership of 1349. Step away from the House of Cards box-set. One of the largest constituencies in the country can't be manipulated: if someone tried it would very quickly come to light and backfire. Talk of a 'leadership fix' for the seat is rubbish and takes on an overly-stylised view of politics. Move on, nothing to see here: besides, it's a slur on the hard work of our volunteer Selection Committee, who did a great job...

...on the contrary members had a difficult task weighing things up and making a choice: selecting on a seat-by-seat basis as we have done, in the time-honoured way, means that members have to weigh up a huge number of factors when they choose a candidate, including some of the ones I talk about below.  This is not an easy task at all.    
The majority of votes were for those who occupied the mainstream.  Starting early clearly helped both Raj and Keir but doesn't explain the politics going on.  In the absence of Tom Copley - who pulled out early - Raj closed as the firmly  'Left' candidate, backed by some of the London players in this zone.  To a large extent Patrick, Keir and Sarah essentially competed for the majority mainstream vote which makes up the bulk of the constituency. In the end Keir had more appeal and bandwidth to the mainstream group, with the Raj pitch to the traditional Left throwing up a bit of support on the day but effectively bumping against quite a low ceiling.    

The 'arms race' for endorsements looked a bit silly.  All candidates went for celeb endorsements and pushed them out to the local press: Kinnock, Prescott, the Lawrences (who endorsed different people), Andrew Motion etc.  It must be irresistible for a candidate not to go down this route when others did.  I'm not sure it added much.  

There were differences but the selection campaign didn't really 'go negative'. When I got involved locally in the 1990s there were still some sore heads about how Frank Dobson wrestled the seat from Jock Stallard back in the day.  Apart from whispers here and there, dealt with by Osley this was nothing like that. Obviously supporters will muscle for their candidates during the process, but the Hampstead&Kilburn selection seemed a far tetchier affair.  In any case, here the field of 5 candidates meant second preference votes were 'in play' so any tactic like that would have backfired even if they'd wanted to.  Also, not everything is about the politics, in this Labour Party many of us are friends as well as colleagues and voted in different ways, the result doesn't change any of that for anyone.        

Our large membership needs to be more reflective of inner London.   
The sight of at least 450 members trooping in to St.Pancras Church was an impressive sight, and a long list of names from law, journalism and academia.  Any independent observer may have perhaps pondered on the profile of the membership and how it might better to reflect the diversity of inner London: more younger people, more tenants, more minority voice. This is a problem with all political parties, but as with other issues, people rightly expect Labour to go the extra mile.  Taking just one aspect: the Labour Party still has a problem with women selected in non All-Women Shortlist seats.  

Camden Labour had an office once
One of Keir's first tasks is to use his momentum to his victory by reaching out and building the party to be even stronger. Labour needs a high street office presence - the seat hasn't had one for a number of years - and a commitment 'on the ground': sometimes the relationship with MPs ofices has been distant.   In fact, somewhat independently of our MPs, local councillors and a core of members have been rowing hard with time, money and effort for over the last 15 years to maintain and rebuild a successful operation in both constituencies - so we look to both Tulip (who is doing this already with aplomb) and Keir to be the kind of campaigning MP seen in other seats, like Emily did with Islington South when she came in.    
Housing is the number one issue for Camdeners

Housing is without a doubt the number one issue for Camdeners, but perhaps not as much as candidates thought for the selectorate - Related to the above point about diversity: the council's polling shows that by far the most important issue to local people is being able to afford to stay here.  I reflected on this as members perhaps didn't quite respond as much as anticipated to messages from all candidates around rent controls, more housing borrowing and building.  Nevertheless having a proper champion for housing policy is essential in Westminster. Keir made this central to his conversation on inequality, so we'll watch this space.  

Union nominations are a fascinating thing to watch as an observer.  The GMB, UNITE and ASLEF chose their candidate before nominations for the seat even opened, raising questions about just how the values of unions are aligned with candidates when the field isn't even known.  UNISON and Community at least nominated after the candidates had been revealed and selections had closed.  'Behind the screens' ways of sorting these out seem a bit 20th century and don't reflect on the unions themselves very well.  Certainly several by-passed UNITE members who perhaps naively expected to have some say in the process were left scratching their heads about how things came to pass - but that's a different story which has been written about elsewhere about elsewhere.       

The question to candidates about whether we should ally with the Greens: Selection committee...with the Leader of the Green Party standing here in Holborn&St.Pancras what on earth was that about? [later edit:  No, this isn't whether I wanted my rather broad and boring questions used -  apparently the qs were chosen random, still strikes me as an odd question to make it through!  That said, during canvassing I have bumped into the odd Green-voting Labour member so maybe it ain't all that strange].