Camden Green Party

Open letter to Camden Council Cabinet from Cllr Maya de Souza

19 April 2012

Dear Cllr Ali
I am writing in respect of this evening's Full Council meeting's consideration of the borough's proposed plan for 2012 - 2017.
I welcome the themes:
- providing democratic and strategic leadership fit for changing times

- developing new solutions with partners to reduce inequality

- creating conditions for and harnessing the benefits of economic growth

- investing in our communities to ensure sustainable neighbourhoods

- delivering value for money services that are right first time.
All of these are sound objectives. But its in the detail that the new plan is lacking, and full implementation will also be vital - I hope that the Council will show a determination to go beyond talk and take some determined action. I recognise that this plan is a beginning of community dialogue and that it will be developed as we go forward. My initial views and those of Camden Green Party are set out below.
In terms of democratic and strategic leadership, we welcome the commitment to stronger partnership working, a stronger democratic voice, and to involve  the community more. Camden has a rich tradition of community activism and local organisations that needs to be built on.  

We support the plan for a cross-party review of constitutional arrangements to meet the objective for reinvigoration of civic life, and would expect to and welcome the opportunity to be involved in this.  We would like to see a clear set of actions emerge that lead to more open and also a shared means of governing.

Time and time again, people have a sense of decisions being made behind closed doors, of spin rather than simple provision of information and dialogue, and concentration of power within the ruling group. For example, the new Health and Wellbeing Board which could have included people from other than the Labour group, only includes members of that group. The Greens despite having over 10% of the vote are given few rights.

And now the detail of the plan suggests that  Area Action Groups may also go. Addressing these structural issues is critical but what is equally important is culture change, not just more boards and partnerships that often blur responsibility and accountability. We need real transparency and openness.  

It looks as if the plan is to make this change and we hope that we will now see action and not just words.

And in terms of leadership as well as the sustainability objective, we would like to see the administration make it clear that they will take  sustainability into account in all decisions , whether in terms of growth or community centre buildings. The commitment to strong leadership should take this on board.  Sustainability is about justice across the planet and intergenerational justice. We cannot afford to ignore the future of our children and grandchildren or cause harm lightly to poorer parts of the planet. The proposed plan places little emphasis on this.

The stated target to cut carbon emissions by 27% by 2017 suggests that it is not intended to meet the target the Lab administration signed up to of cutting emissions by 40% by 2020. Recent decisions such as to return to commingled waste as well as to take away discounts for electric cars where energy is supplied from renewable sources suggest that all we have is a stated commitment to sustainability.  And unlike even neighbouring boroughs like Haringey, Camden has few plans to really invest in  energy efficiency and local energy schemes, though we welcome it's plans on refurbished school buildings.

In terms of inequality, we welcome initiatives such as an integrated approach to families with complex needs and accessible pathways to education, training and jobs for children from poor families. However, we would like to see a firm commitment to lobby central government to address a number of issues including an unfair system of Council Tax which the last Labour administration failed to change, excessive pay in certain sectors, regulation of the destructive financial services sector, tax avoidance, as well as to protect public services and a fair system of benefits. This may be intended as part of the commitment in the plan to a stronger democratic voice but lets make this clear.

In addition, Camden should lead the way, requiring companies that it enters into contracts with to adopt fair pay structures, including but going beyond the London Living Wage, and seeking to reduce the ratio of the highest paid to the lowest paid in the Council. At last  the pay ratio in Camden has fallen to around  10:1 , which the Greens call for across the economy, but in the public sector we should do better than this.

We welcome the initiatives cited like an Equality Taskforce and a new Education Partnership. We would welcome its consideration of disparities in pay within business in Camden as well we as how we can ensure our education system brings the weakest up to the standards of higher achievers.

In terms of growth, we think that Camden should go beyond whats stated in the Plan, playing a more proactive role in relation to growth and ensuring this is green growth. We would like to see the creation of hubs for green businesses and the infrastructure needed to support this, support for innovative business, and ensuring that education and such business are well-linked up. We would also like to see a far reaching programme of insulation and local energy generation through developing technologies like CHP to make Camden a leader in the field, with skilled residents well-placed in the job market.

In terms of value for money, this is vital in this time of financial austerity. So we are pleased to have this commitment and many of the commitments that fall under it, such as delivering a better and cheaper housing repairs service.

However I am surprised to see no mention of  large procurement contracts such as housing regeneration contracts on which Camden has a poor record. Poor procurement that leads to profits for big companies at the expense of council tax payers and leaseholders does not support the equality objective, as well as being a waste of money. I'd like to see this issue recognised and dealt with. For far too long this seems to have been left untackled.

On the whole we welcome this plan and the opportunity to be involved in developing new constitutional arrangements. We hope the plan will lead to real change on the ground including a change in culture. I also hope that at the conclusion of the consultation process, we will see some significant changes. In the meantime, I look forward your response to the points I have raised.
Cllr Maya de Souza, Green Party

For the cabinet member for community safety
Dear Cllr Hai,
The key points I would like to make are as follows:
1. We were pleased with the dialogue with our young people following the events of last year. But I am surprised at the apparent lack of a clear plan and the means to implement this. Can you please explain this apparent gap in the report. Is the plan limited to listening to what people have to say about stop and search? And if it is, what has the Council's requested from our local police? The Greens would like to see some cross-party and community work on this issue to seek to tackle the causes of this violence in a holistic way.

2. I am concerned about recent reports of gang violence and sexual assaults. This is a very worrying development affecting the rights and confidence of young women. In my view, we need a real crackdown on this. What is being done in this respect?

3. Anti-social behaviour continues to be a real problem, especially on housing estates, and the resource and determination to deal with this appears to be insufficient. Do you recognise the problem? And if so, what are your intentions in this respect?

4. Violence as we all know is often connected with drug and alcohol abuse. Can you explain the likely implications of cutting the co- ordination team and how these impacts are to be mitigated? I remain concerned about the number of off-licences near schools. Is this also going to be tackled?

5. With the replacement of PCSOs for Camden Town and Primrose Hill with police officers, what are the expected consequences? Do you anticipate less local influence  through safer neighbourhood panels? If so, how will this be addressed?

I look forward to an early response.

Cllr Maya de Souza, Green Party

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