Wow, two posts in one day – what a treat!
Brent Council has issued some update material and guidance on gritting for the snow coming in. You can find it here.
Wow, two posts in one day – what a treat!
Brent Council has issued some update material and guidance on gritting for the snow coming in. You can find it here.
In the last seven years like so many others I’ve raised my voice to speak out against government cuts to councils. I’ve slogged my way through weather like today in marches and demonstrations, I have joined pickets, and delivered thousands of leaflets. I’ve met residents who are affected in appalling ways by cuts to disability benefits, or the national failure to build council housing, and I’ve previously spoken up for vulnerable victims of these cuts as a charity worker. The government has stopped talking about austerity but there seems to be no end in sight.
How we fight locally is important. As part of my cabinet role I am in regular conversation with police officers and victims of crime. There is widespread frustration with Police understaffing and a nationwide rise in knife crime. People feel like when they speak to police they aren’t getting good customer care. Boroughs are being forced to merge to save money. And none of this is the fault of Police. This is one of many examples of government failure to foot the bill, resulting in a loss of some 80 frontline police posts in Brent alone, thousands of hours of police time. There’s no reason our residents should put up with it.
As a Labour council we believe that these cuts must be fought politically. But we also believe in mitigating the bad hand we are dealt by raising our income and thinking differently. This is why when the government makes cuts to the police budget, we invest in officers to target the local priorities of our residents in particular. We have targeted our work with trading standards and enforcement to close down hubs of lawlessness like some of our worst shisha cafes, and to make sure that effort goes into stopping the door to door scammers and rogue traders who target our elderly and vulnerable people.
Imagine how it would feel to be one of the victims of this type of crime, losing hundreds of pounds of pension money, when the only reason nobody will help you was the false and artificial need for local government to carry the can for austerity.
Cllr John Warren’s whacky council budgets over the years total up to a £20 Million hole in our finances. But today he shows up an offers us an alternative proposal based on last year alone, effectively accepting forced savings from seven years of Labour budgets which he has told us each time were in fact unnecessary. Likewise, he disowns the advice of his own government that we raise council tax to pay for the social care crisis they pretend this money can cover.
We comply with Westminster’s laws and budgets, our only choice. We generate more of our own income. We make the biggest positive difference for working class people that we can, in the most financially prudent way. But we will not carry the can.
The Tory case for austerity has always been built on lies and misrepresentations – the idea that the economy was on the brink of total collapse because of spending, that we can’t grow the economy back to health, that public investment is the problem rather than part of the solution. The myths created have been very resilient and take advantage of some of our deepest emotions – fear and helplessness. Public acceptance of these ideas has allowed the government to force enormous cuts onto local people and our services – 177 million pounds to Brent.
But the truth is that there are real problems with the economy. After seven years of cuts, markets are becoming tighter and players folding as the margin for growth disappears, from Carillion to Tory Northamptonshire.
In wider society economic power is concentrated in the hands of a small controlling elite, leaving workers unable to bargain their wages, and productivity lagging as technical investment is held off and quality of life declines. Wealth has transferred from poor to the rich at a record rate, which of course is the main point of the plan. Green incentives were deliberately sabotaged and then dropped off the government’s agenda in the path of Brexit.
Cutting councils is a way of starting fights locally to distract citizens from the task we share: we need to re-route our economy towards greater strength and greater accountability. But we don’t need fear and helplessness. Through democracy we can and will build strength.
The first part of any solution to these is very simple – Labour in power. I look forward to greeting some Labour colleagues from Brondesbury Park this May.
As a Cllr in Brent I’m not going to lay into the Cllrs on either side of the Haringey dispute despite the fact that there’s so much to say. I’ll leave that to their local party. Likewise, this is not a post about Brent, but local government generally.
What I will say is this: whether or not Labour’s local regeneration policies will now be set nationally – something I don’t think should ever become normal – we do need a settled view of what ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ regeneration looks like, how we test that locally, and what steps should be followed by councils as best practice for regenerating communities.
We need to renew our vision
We could sure as hell use come conciliatory local group leaderships who will listen to Council members and local parties to provide oversight, drive compromises, and make sure support can be brought on side. That said, it would be pointless doing that if local Councillors and Party members are not ready to apply themselves to practical limitations in regen and housing. Local Labour Parties really need a two way deal.
There are definitely Labour councils who (in my opinion) do regeneration badly. But because we have not provided positive ideas about alternatives, we now appear to be creating a limbo. Instead of auditing and improving policy at the level of the national Party and LGA group, we are letting political crises build locally and then taking remedial action. This needs to be the other way round.
Partly as a result of this some large scale regen developments blatantly gentrify, pushing out low income residents, and do so without sufficient compensation to them or to the host community. Disappointingly, Labour Councillors have often failed to show solidarity to these communities. This is shocking and politically suicidal locally given that my colleagues rely on working class votes. For me the first principle for Labour taking on developments should be to not socially cleanse the areas. But an equal truth is that we as a party should never have allowed such instances to happen in the first place and should have set a clear shared Socialist vision in opposition to such schemes.
But that’s only one side, isn’t it. We also need to reject the idea that all regeneration projects are bad or unsupported, especially by working class residents and social renters. That’s not true for most examples we come across, as community consultation responses in many areas will indicate. Our people want good quality housing and more of it. Consultations are often maligned as a hoop to jump, but in this case they are a good indicator, if not the best. We shouldn’t blanket oppose regeneration when many examples are actually well supported locally.
Surprisingly, a significant number of left activists are nevertheless blanket opposed to regeneration, or close enough, perhaps because we are more used to spending our lives trying to stop stuff rather than making it happen. In part, it’s also the common mistake of substituting loud or organised opinion for views which are representative, a phenomenon not restricted to Lib Dem leaflet writers. In reality, existing residents often favour regeneration plans, as long as it treats them well and meets their concerns.
This said Councillors representing existing residents is merely adequate, rather than good.
Labour should be about working people as a whole – in that spirit it should be noted that its not just people who already live on site that local Councillors have a moral duty to consider. We need to think about people on housing lists, and that means building social, but also affordable places that can be used to free up social capacity. Our people, especially our younger voter base, want higher quality housing, and lots more of it.
If a guiding position on regen is set nationally, Labour does need to bear in mind that we have a housing crisis, with local and national targets to meet for building, even though we aren’t in government.
Cities are already very low on virgin public sector owned land and intensification is the only answer we have apart from sending people away. This is perhaps the key reason why blanket opposition to regen might work for activists but can’t work for people responsible to the whole public locally.
In meeting those needs, regen schemes will create great difficulty for some people who don’t want to move or experience the massive inconvenience of rebuilds. I am not sure how local policy is supposed to deal with this, especially again if we are talking about meeting housing targets in dense areas. If our only answer is to tell people to put up with it, we have a gap there too.
Given all of these points I have had a rethink about the proposed principle of local referenda on regeneration projects, particularly as we tend to get quite positive reposes from wider feedback where I am, though certainly not without opposition. I was previously sceptical about these simply turning into middle class NIMBY campaigns which would stop us housing people in need. On reflection, I think it would do the opposite and provide a mandate to most proposals.
But actually, if we built on this suggestion to reflect the full range of interests, and also had a voting pool based around people on the housing list and gave full knowledge of affordable provision, if anything it could help us pressure developers to give us more.
Can we really say that giving a voice to people with housing but not those without it is the right thing to do?
The biggest risk of the referendum proposal is that people in building which have become totally substandard might just become too emotionally attached to them for things to move move on. We’d need to be able to go around them for accommodation which is physically crumbling, impossible to maintain, or environmentally offensive.
As I said, I think by far most ballots would be won, in Labour areas anyway. But the most obvious problem is that it can only restrict building levels compared to projections. Labour should only press its referendum policy once we’ve changed the law to get councils building council houses again.
The questions above can very easily to lead to completely impractical conclusions if we are to renew housing stock and fight the housing crisis, if I am honest. If the answer to each was never to engage, our answer to demand for housing or housing improvement would absolutely suck.
It becomes clear that most relevant question for socialists to address is whether to treat housing and regen as a practical problem as well as a political one. So:
Stepping back: understanding the debate itself:
I’m very proud to announce Brent Council’s new domestic abuse early intervention service. Our new team will complement our existing IDVA advocacy service, and will be crucial to getting survivors of domestic abuse the help they need, as soon as they need it.
In my role as the cabinet lead in Brent for stronger communities, I find myself covering areas like crime and safety, arts and heritage and community cohesion. These are all pretty fertile areas for someone on the left to throw around ideas and implement their vision, along with that of the Labour Party. One minor frustration though is that in roles like this you can never really reach a full expression of what your politics is about.
I’m a convinced environmentalist. I believe that global warming is the major threat our entire species faces. Further, when you consider the impact of global warming on food and habitation, some of the issues of migration and war we have seen for recent years will impact heavily on people in temperate climates. In my opinion, it’s not good being a social democrat or a socialist if you are not also ecologist in your thinking – a rose must grow green if it is to flower red.
But the environment is not all about big stuff. For that reason, developments like the coming together of local pressure group Clean Air for Brent are entirely welcome – around 1300 people per year are dying prematurely in London due to breathing pollution. Our environment matters because of the impact it has on our surroundings and our every day lives. So I thought I would divert slightly to talk a little about what we are doing on the Council to increase biodiversity and promote cleaner air, via the work of the Labour Party and my colleague, Cllr Southwood. Continue reading
I am running to be reselected as a Labour candidate in Willesden Green. I have seen plenty of Councillors in a number of Boroughs taking their status for granted, and I think that works out terribly for those involved. Below is the statement I will be circulating to members.
I have been honoured to serve as a Councillor since 2014, and Cabinet Member for Stronger Communities since November 2016. I would like to thank members for the support, ideas and inspiration you have given me since I was first selected. Now I hope to win your backing again.
Before becoming a member of the cabinet I worked for the mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness, where my job was to campaign against government cuts and for decent support and services for people with mental health problems. I am a socialist and an active GMB member. I now spend my week on council work, representing Willesden Green, and putting in place policies to make the whole of Brent safer.
If you support me I will fight for the following priorities:
• Against government cuts – I will be a political voice against austerity and inequality and I will fight for policies which give the most protection to our diverse community. I will continue to work with trade unions to get a fair deal for local workers.
• Hard work: I will support a campaigning ward party which involves members and uses their talents, and I will continue to take casework on for residents treated unfairly by the council or other services
• Cleaner, greener, safer: I will continue my fight against illegal dumping, irresponsible landlords, drug dealing and anti-social behaviour. I will work with local people for local regeneration with greener public space, modern public buildings, and a vibrant, high quality high street offering.
But what have I actually done?
Since first being elected in 2014 I have worked hard for members and local residents. I have taken on a number of new casework items every week, fought successfully (as promised) to get the Council resurfacing and not just filling potholes. I have improved our relationship with community groups such as the Town Team. I was part of the campaign to save the Queensbury Pub and appeared at planning to help make the case. Later I was successful in winning a new pub protection policy in our planning rules. I campaigned alongside other Councillors to get new paving in Willesden High Road. I have successfully fended off proposed cuts to children’s mental health. I have authored a scrutiny report setting out over 20 recommendations for working better with housing associations.
As a cabinet member, I have won investment to introduce a complete overhaul of CCTV this year, and have allocated money to bring 12 new Police officers under our control in Brent. I have funded work to reduce violence against women and girls. I have put in place a strategy for working with community libraries, a covenant for our work with faith groups, and will be working on new plans around gang violence and community cohesion later in the year.
I need your support more than ever. I hope that working hard has been enough to persuade you. I am a solid campaigner, and I have put in many hours in order to bring change to our community. Please help me to continue this work.