Success for Camden’s campaign for improved Coroners Service

August 7th, 2015

Camden Labour is pleased that the Government has announced that bereaved families will be the focus of proposed new cremation rules and a review of out-of-hours coroner services. Over the past few years the Camden’s Labour council has been campaigning for out-of-hours coroner services to bring the service up to the standard required for the modern, multicultural society that we live in.

Camden Councillor Abdul Hai, Cabinet Member for Customers, Communities & Culture has been leading a targeted campaign calling specifically for change in coroners’ services and responded by saying:

“This announcement is fantastic news and justifies the hard work of everyone who has been campaigning for these important changes. It also justifies the discussions that Camden has led with Rt. Hon, Michael Gove, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice in order to raise our concerns and to demonstrate the support in particular at the most senior levels of Jewish and Muslim communities across London.

“We are extremely pleased the Government has listened to us and taken on-board our suggestions. However, I want to be clear that this is not just an issue for the Jewish and Muslim communities, but also about adopting a more sensitive approach towards all bereaved families.

“It is worth noting that people of many other different faiths have supported this campaign as they also believe that everyone should have the right to observe their own religious beliefs when they have suffered the pain of losing a loved one.”

Councillor Hai has been leading Camden’s campaign for coroner services to be brought in line with a 21st century ethos and has called for support and compassion for bereaved families. His work has included organised public events and lobbying MP’s and Government Ministers for change. His report Coroner’s Service Scope for Change’ puts forward a number of recommendations, including: provision of out-of-hours and weekend services; an improved service culture making services more accessible; exploring non-invasive post mortem techniques; consistent service standards being applied within every coroners’ district on a national basis through a national service charter.

You can read the Government’s announcement here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/bereaved-to-benefit-from-action-on-cremation-and-coroner-services


Camden Council awarded UK Digital City prize

July 14th, 2015

Camden Council has been recognised for leading the way in digital innovation and was awarded with the prestigious ‘UK Digital City’ prize at the annual Municipal Journal Awards, beating competition from major cities in the UK.

Camden was recognised for using technology to improve services, cut costs and ensure no one is left behind during the ‘digital revolution.’  It was seen as unique by the range of services offered and the innovative way in which they were used and developed. Investing in technology to modernise and safeguard public services against the threat of privatisation and Tory Government cuts is a priority for the Camden Labour administration.

Here are some of the measures Camden is pioneering:

  • Public Wifi -Camden led a consortia of 16 London local authorities to procure a wireless concession contract that is forecast to generate over £3m of investment back into Camden over the next decade. There are now over 100 Wi-Fi hotspots in high streets across the borough.
  • Code Clubs in schools -Working in partnership with Google and UCL, around 75% of primary schools are either with an active club or seeking volunteer partners. All our secondary schools have afterschool computing opportunities and we are building a ‘Maker Community’ on Saturdays at the City Learning Centre in Somers Town to provide a space to put their learning into practice.
  • Libraries -Camden has 200 public computers for use in our libraries and community facilities, we recycle council computers into the community.
  • Local services -Work with the Post Office and linked up our IT systems so our residents and businesses could continue to pay for council services in local post offices. This has saved the ratepayers £1.1m per annum and helped keep local sub-post offices open.
  • Energy saving -We are installing SMART energy meters across Camden homes to tackle inefficient energy usage by enabling residents to monitor their own usage we were able to reduce energy consumption and ultimately save our residents money.
  • Working with the NHS -Camden was one of the first authorities in the country to integrate the NHS number into council social care systems and sharing data with the local Clinical Commissioning Group, making it easier to work with GPs and the NHS to save money.
  • Cutting fraud -Working with IBM we’ve linked 1 million records across different council systems to providing the big picture of how our people use of services. Starting off as an anti-fraud measure it’s now used by safeguarding to protect vulnerable children.
  • Better services -Camden has pioneered the development of an open systems digital platform that has enabled us to integrate and deliver council services through the Camden Account for Council Tax, Housing Benefit, Housing Repairs, Leaseholder services, tenant information, and parking permits. Within 6 months the number of active users has risen from a few thousand to over 50,000 and will deliver over £4m of savings.
  • Better budgeting – analytical technology is being deployed to over 70 services spanning front line services as safeguarding, housing and regulatory services. Our use of ‘Big Data’ is enabling Camden to automate information on services, provide insights for improved budgeting so we can invest in what makes the most difference.  This will soon be open to the public to see.

Councillor Theo Blackwell, Cabinet member for Finance and Technology Policy said:

“Technology can help us beat the worst of the Tory cuts, ensure that the digital divide is narrowed in Camden and promote jobs and growth.  We are just starting on this journey, and much more needs to be done.  In years to come we want to residents to be able to see things running in realtime, like street cleaning or recycling, providing a much more immediate and two-way relationship with public services.”


Tory plans mean Camden faces yet more difficult decisions

May 27th, 2015

Late last year Cllr. Theo Blackwell set out the tough financial challenge faced by the council:

  • From 2010-2018 Camden will have faced cuts of £183m, or nearly 40% of our budget.
  • Camden Labour councillors developed a plan to balance the budget through a big overhaul of how we spend money and increasing the use of technology. This meant cuts, but also allowed us to keep investment in early years work and fund the Living Wage in the care sector.
  • We’re seeking new ways to raise money to support services, including modest increases in Council Tax. We continue to call for greater powers over public money spend locally, as well as a new London Tourist Levy which we hope to be adopted by all Labour Mayoral candidates. 

Here’s a short note from Cllr. Theo Blackwell outlining an initial view of future spending cuts from central government on Camden – in the light of the Queen’s speech and the post-election new budget.  (General information on the cuts and decisions we have taken is set out on the council website). 

Revenue funding for services

It remains very difficult to predict the level of funding cuts for local authorities until the Conservative Government sets out a Spending Review – which is expected at some point over the next few months. There will be a ‘stability budget’ on 8 July setting out how manifesto commitments will be funded and further cuts to public spending, including large welfare cuts.

Budget 2015 projections were slightly worse than the Budget 2014 projections from which we anticipated that we would require £70m of reductions over the 3 years to 2017/18 and a further £20m of reductions in 2018/19 and therefore remain an indicator that the savings requirement will be at least as high as that already anticipated.

It is difficult to derive precise departmental spending estimates from the commitments in the Conservative manifesto, or to know whether these would be a reliable indicator of any future settlement.  However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies noted that the Conservatives planned more significant spending cuts up to 2018/19 than the other major parties and would deliver them more quickly.

Cuts to schools

There are particular concerns in education funding, where a commitment to ‘equalise’ spend across the country could lead to cash freezes for schools (until other areas catch up) with the possibility of major cuts to high needs and early years spending should the government adopt a formula-led approach to redistribution.  In order to deal with extra cuts here and continue our investment in under-5s, funding for other discretionary services (e.g. street cleaning, voluntary sector, sports, youth work) will come under further pressure.

It will therefore be important to keep sight of the ‘savings under development’ in the December finance report (£5m) and it may be necessary to revisit the cuts not put forward earlier this year at relatively short notice should the outcome of a Spending Review – or the announcement of the July budget require this.

Further discussions may be needed to challenge which services and outcomes are prioritised and how they are delivered.

Capital funding of public infrastructure, homes and schools

Our capital programme stands at £1.2bn, but only 6.6% of this funding requirement is met from Government grants.  The lion-share of investment comes from our own self-financed Community Investment Programmeclick here for updates on what we are building in your area.

There is no indication that the government will reverse its stance on the cuts to capital funding introduced in 2010. Therefore, except from distinct and ad-hoc grants such as from the GLA for Better Homes repairs work, the Council will continue to rely on generating its own resources to fund the vast majority of its capital programme (both regeneration and essential backlog maintenance) – primarily through the disposal of surplus or under-utilised assets and especially from the receipts generated through Community Investment Programme regeneration schemes.

Assets that are allowing the Council to self-finance the Community Investment Programme can only be utilised once – whether this be a disposal or the regeneration of land to create new homes and community facilities – and therefore more difficult decisions may be required to provide the resources we need to meet the Camden Plan.  Rising labour and material costs in the construction industry are already putting a strain on budgets and have led to difficulties in attracting the right calibre and quantity of tenders during procurement. With some live projects we are considering options such as re-profiling or merging phases to offset the increasing costs and come in on budget.

Forced sale of council homes in ‘expensive areas’

The proposed housing association right-to-buy funded through sales of empty council homes in ‘expensive areas’ poses a fundamental risk to the Community Investment Programme’s aim to build 1400 new council and intermediate homes in the coming years. Changes to housing association funding signal uncertainty with social house building in general. The detail of how the manifesto pledge will be implemented by the government will be very important for our housing plans.

More difficult choices

For a sustainable capital strategy that’s able to withstand a further five years of austerity, choices that may have been unpalatable in the past may increasingly need to be considered as part of the evolution and development of the Programme. For example, the balance between future repairs investment vs redevelopment on housing estates may change; further emphasis may be needed to invest in schemes which raise revenue; projects currently at master-plan stage could be subject to challenge and reallocation of resources if necessary; funding options such as selling some blocks in advance may be considered to manage cash flow and risk; and further capital may be needed from projects, something which has proved challenging in our party (e.g. the £3m extra receipt from Liddell Road).

In short, the new financial situation will require some difficult discussions about what we choose to fund and considerable innovation and fresh ideas on how we run public services over the next few years.


General Election Candidates

April 16th, 2015

Holborn and St. Pancras

Keir Starmer is Labour’s candidate for Holborn and St Pancras. Here is a message from Keir:

Keir Starmer, Labour's Candidate for Holborn and St Pancras

Keir Starmer, Labour’s Candidate for Holborn and St Pancras

I want to introduce myself as your Labour candidate for Holborn & St. Pancras in this election. I live in Kentish Town with my wife and two young children, and I have worked in Holborn for many years. Frank Dobson has retired, having served our local area as Member of Parliament for over three decades.  Frank has been an excellent, community-focused MP, and I promise to follow this example.

The son of a tool-maker and a nurse, I was lucky enough to go to university and qualify as a lawyer. Human rights dominated my work, and my most public role was as Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the Crown Prosecution Service from 2008 to 2013. Since I stepped down as DPP, I have been working with Doreen Lawrence on a central plank of Labour’s criminal justice strategy – a victims’ law – which builds on my experience in tackling violence against women and girls and child sexual abuse.

As a vibrant and diverse community, Holborn and St. Pancras reflects everything that is great about London. But I know that ever increasing inequality, inadequate housing and pressure on our local services caused by Tory cuts are very real issues.

HS2 is also a real threat. I have made clear that I do not consider that the economic or the environmental case has been made for HS2 and it would have real implications for our local community. If the scheme is to go ahead, I firmly believe that its main London terminus should be at Old Oak Common.

More affordable housing in London needs to be a national priority, and as your Labour MP I will work tirelessly to ensure this is the case.

This election will also determine the future of our NHS. The Tories can never be trusted with the NHS. Every vote for Labour is a vote to restore the NHS as a public service working cooperatively for patients, not a business run for profit.

This is a defining election and only Labour can deliver a fairer future for Holborn & St. Pancras.

To read more about Keir, and what he has been saying, visit www.keirstarmer.com

 

Hampstead and Kilburn

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Tulip Siddiq, Labour’s Candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn

Tulip Siddiq is Labour’s candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn. Here is a message from Tulip:

I live in a flat in West Hampstead with my husband Chris, a short walk from my office on Kilburn High Road. My parents were married in Kilburn some forty years ago and I have spent my weekends campaigning here since I was 16, fighting to save our local hospitals, fire stations and post offices. This is the area that inspires me and that I want to represent in Parliament.

My politics are based on my experience of life in our area. I was previously a local councillor and Cabinet Member for Culture and Communities in Camden council; you can see a list of some of my roles in the local community further down this page. One of my main responsibilities in Cabinet was being in charge of our much loved community centres and libraries. In the face of huge government cuts, I worked with the community and library users to save our libraries for future generations.

Since being selected as Labour’s candidate for the 2015 General Election, it has been an honour to spend so much time with local residents. I have a team of fantastic volunteers and organisers, with whom I knock on doors and talk with residents about local issues and national political choices several times a week. As a team, we’ve been able to have more than twenty thousand conversations with locals in the last eighteen months. (If you want to join us, you’re very welcome at any time!)

Through these conversations and other channels, I have learned about many serious local issues that are causing concern. Wherever possible, I support or set up campaigns to tackle these issues. Even where all I can do is bring the issue to the attention of the right people (maybe apply a little pressure), it’s been fantastic where it works.

For instance, it is a testimony to the great work of many local campaigners that an ill-thought-out 24-storey building in Swiss Cottage was rejected. As another example, while we’ve not yet been able to stop HS2 completely, we’ve successfully fought for planning amendments and improved compensation for many Camden residents.

I grew up here and know the area well – I know we need a Labour Government to help it thrive.

To read more about Tulip, and her priorities for Hampstead and Kilburn, visit www.tulipsiddiq.com


Labour win St Pancras & Somers Town by-election

March 6th, 2015

Labour’s candidate for the St Pancras and Somers Town by-election, Paul Tomlinson, had a fantastic result on 5 March, winning with 72 per cent of the vote – ahead of the Conservatives with 12 per cent.  

Councillor Paul Tomlinson said, ‘We spoke to thousands of people during the campaign, discussing the issues that matter most such as HS2, the NHS and housing. People are extremely concerned about the impact Tory cuts from central government are having in Camden, but they recognise the difference a Labour council is making in difficult times. 

Paul said,I’d like to thank everyone who went out and voted for me on polling day. I can’t wait to get started, and am keen to focus on the massive issues of health inequalities in the ward.’

Keir Starmer, Labour’s MP candidate for Holborn and St Pancras said, ‘I congratulate Paul on a fantastic result. I look forward to continuing to work with him and the rest of the Labour team in Camden to make the case for the election of a Labour Government in May to save the NHS, build more homes, and address the cost of living squeeze many have felt over the last five years.’

Full results: 

Labour 1,481 [72.8%; +4.7%]

Conservative 243 [12%; +2%]

Green 213 [10.5%; -4.8%]

LD Zack Polanski 96 [4.7%; -1.9%]

Turnout: 20.7%

Majority:1,238