Oi! Could the Town Hall do the Lambeth Walk under Labour?

Croydon’s Labour party looks like adopting a new approach to offer to the electorate ahead of the 2014 local elections.

pearly-queens-pie-and-mash-02Labour wants to offer “a council run for the town, not the Town Hall”, according to the deputy leader of the party in Croydon, Alison Butler.

The new politics offers something of a break from the borough’s first Labour administration, which ran from 1994 to 2006. The new position has emerged in response to the long-held dominance by a few powerful senior council officers in Croydon’s politics, and also because of the extravagance of the council offices being built for £140 million, when Council Taxpayers’ services are being severely cut.

Labour intends to devolve control over services to council “customers” – residents, businesses and voluntary organisations – and away from the control of officials. It will see council services answerable to users, rather than the council officials controlling residents.

Many of the ideas are inspired by the work done by Croydon North’s MP Steve Reed when he was the leader of Lambeth Council.

At a meeting on Saturday – open to the public at no charge to attend, listen and speak, unlike the £19 fee that the local Tories asked for to attend their equivalent manifesto event recently – Reed launched Labour’s consultation with Croydon residents for 2014.

He talked of how the Blenheim Estate in Lambeth had been transformed from a sink estate to a place that residents loved by making housing officials accountable to residents who have the power to sack management who fail to deliver on things such as value for money housing repairs.

Many of the initiatives in Lambeth were built upon such “co-operative style” work. One of the motivations was to save money and to challenge trade union control over council services. The policies have been controversial locally, and has seen the council evict tenants from long-standing housing co-operatives. Many in Lambeth still criticise these Blairite, centrist projects.

Tony Newman, the Labour leader in Croydon, is entirely open in stating that this new approach is partly driven by a desire to drive down costs. He says that Labour has to be realistic that any new council from 2014 will have to make yet further significant savings, in part because of the local authority settlement already laid out by the Tory Chancellor, Gideon Osborne, and especially because of the extravagances of the new council offices, which Newman says is costing every household in Croydon £1,000.

Steve Reed: "Co-op Lambeth" approach brought to Croydon

Steve Reed: “Co-op Lambeth” approach brought to Croydon

With the current Conservative-run council keeping all contracts with John Laing over the £450 million URV – Urban Regeneration Vehicle – completely secret for the past five years, Newman and his team, if elected in 2014, will not be able to assess Croydon’s financial liabilities until the day after the election. Newman has promised to “throw open the books” on his first day in office if his group wins a majority at the Town Hall.

In a borough where the previous “Purley King and Queen” have been Dudley and Margaret Mead,  there remain serious challenges for Labour in Croydon before they will be doing the Lambeth Walk.

Many local Labour members want the council’s procurement of services from the private sector to be better used to deliver social justice by focusing on gender, race, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equalities. These aims may clash with resident-control driving the priorities.

Some Labour union members have been concerned about the exploitation of council staff who have been forced to re-apply for their jobs and transferred to much lower-waged private sector employers, and they may prefer to bring services back under the direct control of the council – “in house”. This may also cause a policy contradiction.

A desire to ensure all those employed on council work are paid the £8.55 per hour London Living Wage – as successfully introduced at City Hall  by former London Mayor Ken Livingstone and continued, surprisingly enthusiastically, by Boris Johnson – rather than the (£6.19 per hour) statutory Minimum Wage is also important to Labour.

They believe that the extra cash paid to the lowest paid boosts the local economy and actually improves the work delivered to Council Tax-payers, as staff absenteeism is reduced and staff retention and productivity goes up. The likely £10million cost will give pause for thought, though.

The devolution of power away from the Town Hall – or, rather, the extravagant £140million new offices on “Cost Us A Mint Walk” – will likely also put a new burden on elected councillors to act as conduits for complaints in managing services through residents. After more than a decade’s delay, this would deliver on what was intended in the Blairite reforms to local government, which sought to move power away from most councillors, leaving the majority of local elected representatives to concentrate on being “ambassadors” in their their wards.

The influence or inspiration of the new MP Reed is clearly an important element in refreshing Croydon Labour’s approach. Pointing to success in Lambeth that could be brought to Croydon may also inspire disillusioned voters to turn out, possibly turning to Labour rather than to UKIP as the outlet for their protest vote against the ConDem government.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 2014 council elections, Alison Butler, Boris Johnson, Croydon Council, Croydon North, Lambeth Council, Steve Reed MP, Tony Newman, URV and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Oi! Could the Town Hall do the Lambeth Walk under Labour?

  1. Whoever is in power post 2014 there has to be absolute honesty and transparency: Lambeth has done some awful things to residents in their borough, it is not all perfect there.

    The kind of employee ownership which maximises welfare and is well-respected by the London School of Economics for minimising costs is firmly attached to critical thinking and has no time for dogma… As Sutton Councillors pointed out Croydon has been poorly served by its elected representatives we do not need another power group to come in and continue the disempowerment of the vast majority of the residents.

    Whoever has power in 2014 needs to have the highest management skills both strategically and tactically and to unite all Croydon communities.

  2. I am glad IC recorded the day and the promises made. It is an excellent way to inform those who could not attend the meeting.

    I look forward to seeing the pledges implemented next year.

    My only regret was that the incinerator went without a single mention. I mentioned it in the afternoon discussion group because, if Mayor Johnson does not reject it, life in Croydon, with the “iconic” 95m tower, will never be the same.

  3. Please do not be fooled by whatever big idea Steve Reed has next. Let us tell you why…

    For the last two years Lambeth United Housing Co-operative has been campaigning against Lambeth Council’s destruction of housing co-operative communities – a process started by Reed.

    Lambeth’s eviction policy means that OAPs and other vulnerable residents, among others, will be forced from their homes.

    These are homes that were saved from demolition by the establishment of the co-ops and were maintained by the residents at no cost to the council.

    Rather than giving residents tenancies (some have been in their homes since the 1970s and are in their 70s), the council stood back from the whole arrangement, despite originally helping the co-ops set up. In the 4 decades that have followed, close-knit, self-reliant communities flourished without the help of the local authority.

    Now that the housing market has inflated the prices of these homes (ones that were compulsory purchased in the 1970s for very small sums), the council are seeking to make a fast buck by turfing out residents and selling the houses off on the open market, at auction.

    The policy has a triple whammy effect; social housing is being sold off; people who have homes are forced to displace others on the waiting list; meanwhile none of the money raised is being used to provide more social housing.

    The council have repeatedly refused a solution backed by the Co-operative Enterprise Hub, and other experts, to keep the houses as social housing. Meanwhile, they have blocked democratic recourses including Freedom of Information requests.

    Supporters of the residents include Kate Hoey MP, Vivienne Westwood, Mark Thomas, Joanna Lumley, Maggi Hambling, Peter Tatchell and Ken Loach, but the voices of local residents, Londoners generally, and embarrassed rank and file Labour Party members have also been heard loud and clear against Lambeth Council’s vindictive policy.

    This is all part of Steve Reed’s legacy and there are plenty of other people in the borough who have seen services disadvantaged by the so-called ‘co-operative’ approach.

    Our Labour councillors told us that they would “fight for your right to remain in your homes”. Where are they now? Cowering behind a party line and watching these communities being pulled apart.

    Thanks Steve – you really made a difference in Lambeth, you helped to socially cleanse it!

    For anyone interested, the links to our website, all our social media and our petition are below:

    Twitter: @LUHousingCoop
    Petition: http://chn.ge/16PkKwv

    Handy links to coverage of the issue here:

    The eviction story in quotes: http://www.lambethunitedhousingco-op.org.uk/?page_id=404

    Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/dec/01/woman-lambeth-council-home-faces-eviction?commentpage=2#start-of-comments

    New Statesman: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/01/why-lambeth-dismantling-its-housing-co-operatives

    Lambeth Housing Activists: http://housingactivists.co.uk/housing-coops/human-costs-destroying-housing-cooperatives/

  4. davidcallam says:

    An interesting late addition to this string. Would I be right in thinking these residents are squatters who were allowed to remain in their illegally occupied dwellings by a 1970s Lambeth Council – affectionately known as The People’s Republic?

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