Thursday, November 24, 2011

Southwark's Housing Commission

Over the next 5 years Southwark will be investing £326 million in making every council home 'Warm, Dry and Safe' in line with the commitment which we made to the electorate in 2010. This equates to nearly £1100 for every resident of the borough - and includes the use of over £100 million generated from asset sales outside the council's current housing estate. We are able to do this as a local authority as we are a significant land holder in the borough. However, there will come a point where we do not have other land assets to sell in order to fund our housing improvements and in any event, we have to ask whether it is right for us to invest so much money in our housing stock which could also be spent on improving our libraries, leisure centres, roads, pavements and other general assets used by all residents of the borough.

At the same time as we face this financial challenge we also face an unprecedented demand for our council housing in Southwark, with nearly 20,000 people on our housing waiting lists. There is undoubtedly a demand for high quality affordable rented housing in Southwark - indeed right across London; the sort of housing which councils are supposed to provide.

To consider these two challenges we have decided to appoint a Housing Commission to report within a year on how we might best manage Southwark's housing stock over the next 25 - 30 years. The Commission will be wholly independent of the Council, run by The Smith Institute and be chaired by the leading housing barrister Jan Luba QC. Jan Luba has an impressive record and has previously successfully represented tenants in claims against the council.

It is important that the Commission should be independent from the Council. Firstly, it will give the Commission a credibility which it would simply not have if it was made up of local councillors who may be regarded as having an agenda or pre-determined outcome. Secondly, I believe that it gives the Commission the ability to really consider all of the options which might be available for financing our existing stock and meeting future demand. The Commission will receive evidence from anyone who has an interest in the future of Southwark's housing - no one will be prevented from making submissions to the Commission and actually people will be encouraged to do so. Once the Commission has reported there will no doubt be much debate and consideration of its recommendations.

I start from the position that I want Southwark to retain its housing stock, but it would be irresponsible of us not to look at the big long term questions - too many administrations in Southwark have done that in the past.

It's disappointing that the Commission has already been dismissed as a "pointless" waste of money by Southwark's Lib Dems. I think it and the issues it will consider are too important to be dismissed without any real thought on the part of all politicians in the borough.

The photo shows Jan Luba QC with myself, Cllr Ian Wingfield and Cllr Fiona Colley

Thursday, November 17, 2011

CPZ Consultation

The Council has been undertaking a consultation into whether residents want a Controlled Parking Zone ('CPZ') in a number of roads in South Camberwell including St Francis Road and East Dulwich Road. Residents in Oglander Road were not consulted, although a couple of roads nearby were included within the consultation.

The consultation has caused a lot of concern, not least from some of the residents of Oglander Road who fear the potential 'knock-on' effects of the CPZ if it is introduced in neighbouring roads. And it is fair to say that the consultation has generated quite a lot of misinformation.

Firstly, it is important to recognise that a consultation for a CPZ will not happen unless residents have made requests to the Council over a fairly lengthy period of time. There will be no consultation if residents have not asked for a CPZ in the area.

Secondly, when deciding where the consultation will take place officers use their professional judgement to determine its scope and area. This is something of an art, although supported by years of experience and specialist knowledge.

Thirdly, a CPZ will not be introduced unless the majority of residents in a road vote in favour of its' introduction. A CPZ will not be introduced or imposed by the Council against the will of residents.

Fourthly, CPZ's are not money-making ventures for the Council. They are not a back-door form of taxation, but are a self-funding scheme designed to provide residents with parking near their own homes.

The consultation has now ended, and I will keep you posted on the outcome. However, residents need have no fear that a CPZ will be introduced in their area without them having been informed or consulted.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Today's Unemployment Figures

With unemployment hitting 2.62 million today, and over a million young people out of work it really does look like the Coalition Government's much-vaunted 'Plan A' is not working. There is a terrifying risk that we will have another 'Thatcher Generation' of young people coming into the employment market without any real hope of work and condemned to lengthy periods without a job. It is no coincidence that the last two quarters of the Labour Government saw the economy growing - it was deliberate policies of continued investment in public services and initiatives like the Future Jobs Fund and Working Neighbourhood Fund which were making a real difference to the real economy. You have to wonder why the present government has abandoned policies which were working in favour of a policy approach which failed in the 1930's and the 1980's and which will undoubtedly fail again.

Equally staggering is the failure of local Liberal Democrats in Southwark to even raise a murmur about the damage THEIR government is doing. On the 1st of November ten senior Lib Dems, including former Southwark Councillor Ruth Bright, wrote to the Guardian pointing out the fact that their party had actively campaigned during the 2010 election campaign against the economic policies the Government is now pursuing. They said in their letter:
"...out of responsibility to the country, Liberal Democrats must now tell the Conservatives that they will no longer support policies which are not working. That is necessary even if one is only concerned about deficit reduction. As the Compass Plan B states, it already "looks as if the government will miss the defecit reduction target and, as the economy slows, the deficit could increase."

Today's unemployment figures and the concern expressed by Mervyn King must only add to the weight of the letter's argument.

Not unreasonably (I thought) I wrote to the Leader of the Lib Dem Group in Southwark asking her if she agreed with the contents of her colleagues' letter, and if not, why not.

Today I got a reply, of sorts. Cllr Al-Samerai queries how I have got time to write letters to her and goes on to tell me that she is asking for the letter to be investigated by the Borough Solicitor as it may represent a waste of council resources. The irony of wasting council resources on a potentially costly investigation by a senior officer of the Council into the production of a letter is clearly lost on Cllr Al-Sameria. But that aside, she has not provided an answer to my query.

Doesn't it just reinforce the points I made in my previous blog entry - the Lib Dems in Southwark have absolutely no answers to the big issues facing this borough. They are pathetically obsessed by opposition for the sake of opposition. At a time when we have over 25% of our 16 - 24 year olds in the borough out of work, and that figure rising every month, the fact that they will not criticise Tory policies represents abject failure, not opposition.

Thankfully the people of Southwark have a Labour Council on their side, fighting to build our local economy in the face of the downturn, with politicians who do have answers to the big questions and who are also able to hold their political opponents to account.