Mad Dogs and Local Councillors

A miserable South London Monday evening, and so it must mean that there’s the small matter of a @lambeth_council cabinet meeting to attend. With only thirteen items on the agenda, this was a blink and you’ll miss it moment for the policies being passed.

It was pleasing to see Room 8 at Lambeth Town Hall more or less full. The agenda was a lively list of items, covering everything from education, housing and dangerous status dogs.

The bark is worse than the bite, I thought, as I arrived fashionably late and drew a few daggers from the eyes of some of the @LambethLabour cabinet.

Down boy.

But first off was the rather important issue of the Black Cultural Archives Delivery Report. This is essentially an update to guarantee that the new building being planned in the derelict Raleigh Hall behind Windrush Square is built on time.

Given the past record of the current administration in delivering buildings under the Culture and Communities portfolio, this is a key report that needs to be upheld.

Councillor Lumsden, the leader of @LambethLibDems congratulated the Labour group, and gave his “full backing” for the project.

Blimey.

This is evidence of what can be achieved in Lambeth when the traditional party lines are relaxed, and a consensus is seen as to what really matters – delivering real change on the ground in the borough.

The challenge now is to meet the 2012 opening date for the completion of the Black Cultural Archives. This will truly be a wonderful addition to the claim that Brixton can make with regards multiculturalism at work in the community.

@cllrstevereed noted that many residents have asked what is to be done with the derelict Raleigh Hall, currently imposing a rather intimidating image behind Windrush Square. It was recommended that some prominent signs will be put in place, to explain more about the project.

The Local Education Partnership: Selected Bidder Decision was under discussion next. Engage has been selected to work with the council as the preferred private sector partner.

The words ‘private’ and ‘education’ don’t tally with me. Needs must however, and as Councillor Meldrum rightfully observed, Labour led @lambeth_council has a superior track record in improving education standards when compared to our Tory friends over in Wandsworth.

The Delivering Quality, Tackling Inequality item on the agenda sounded more like a sound bite than a bona fide policy. But anything that address inequality in a deprived borough has to be a step in the right direction. Less electioneering though please – let the voters decide for themselves.

I couldn’t but help think that the Single Equality Scheme item wasn’t so much single, but should have also been part of the previous item. Councillor Prentice recognised that race and gender are important, but also urged cabinet not to forget about the equality of the white working class.

Here comes the biggie…

The Lambeth Housing Procurement Programme – essentially this is the policy for which the council buys in services for housing stock. You know that all is not well when the Cabinet Member for Housing and Regenerations opens the debate by stating:

“Housing contracts aren’t working. We hope to have more flexibility in awarding the contracts, and work with local people. It is critical that this administration gets this right.”

Not much time left, I’m afraid, Councillor.

The best speech all evening then came from a spokesperson for a Resident’s Organisation:

“Our involvement in this debate is not evidence that we support the procurement of housing services.”

What followed was a damning overview of the work carried out by Lambeth Living:

“The Council needs to make sure that Lambeth Living has the right staff in place. Lambeth Council is still our landlord.”

Perhaps not technically, and the recent freeze of Council Tax in the borough is only going to add further strain, and possible frontline job losses from Lambeth Living.

A union spokesperson then gave Labour led @lambeth_council a lesson in how to run a centre left administration for the benefit of the people, and not the private sector. Cabinet listened, but it was an uncomfortable moment to be sitting at the top table.

The kick in the teeth came when @cllrstevereed was told that a genuine cooperative form of management doesn’t mean a cost cutting, burden shifting John Lewis style of government, as proposed by the Labour group.

Councillor Peck admitted that the Council is “currently failing residents,” but didn’t go as far as speaking out against the Procurement Programme. Looks like the solution from Labour led @lambeth_council is to keep on buying, but to shop elsewhere when it comes to housing.

Cabinet then discussed the issue of dangerous status dogs, and the link with Anti Social Behaviour. This is an issue that @imogenwalker, the Labour Councillor for Stockwell is passionate about.

The point made was that dogs aren’t dangerous – their owners are. This is a timely debate, given the conviction last week of Chrisdian Johnson for using dangerous dogs as a weapon to bring down a boy before he stabbed him six times, right in @imogenwalker’s Stockwell ward.

The council has consulted both the RSPCA and Battersea Dogs Home in coming up with this policy. @imogenwalker spoke of the value of dogs to family life, and how they shouldn’t be demonised.

A local resident backed up this point, bringing in a picture of his Staffordshire bull terrier, and arguing passionately how the Council should be addressing the issue of dog ownership.

The Safer Lambeth Partnership plan was then led by @cllrmarkmarkbennett, with cabinet approval and little reason for further discussion.

The agenda item that divided, as well as equally united the cabinet was the List of Buildings and Structures of Local Architectural Interest. The Council is putting together a plan that will name the buildings in the borough that are believed to be in need of protection.

Everyone has an opinion on this, leading to a highly micro territorial debate, with each Councillor arguing the cause for his or her own back corner. This is no bad thing, and at least shows that civic pride in the respective local ward patches is present.

Conservative Councillor Clare Whelan defended her Norwood patch, noticing that only one building from the ward was on the list. Councillor Prentice pointed out that the old Lambeth Town Hall in Kennington, now the home of the Countryside Alliance, has also been overlooked.

That’s no bad thing.

The list is not exhaustive; it is a mere starting point to recognise genuine buildings that need council backing within the borough. The healthy debate around the choice of locations is to be applauded.

I snoozed through the Cabinet Member Overview of Performance and Quarter Three Council Performance Digest. I wasn’t alone.

The Annual Report of the Director of Public Health 2008 / 2009: Health Inequalities in Lambeth was brief, but backed up well by @QueenFlo.

And finally we came to item number 13 at the end of the agenda: Benefit Sanctions Policy. Tough on benefits, tough on @SthLondonPress could be the election manifesto for @LambethLabour.

Not so – the flagship local paper was actually praised by Councillor Dickson, for naming and shaming benefit cheats. A few raised eyebrows from his Labour colleagues around the top table. Don’t expect to read about it in Lambeth Life.

And that was your lot. @cllrstevereed almost went into misty-eyed mode, revving up for a thanks and farewell speech for four years of cabinet work. The good Councillor was then reminded that cabinet has the small matter of Streatham Hub to discuss next week, ahead of the final end of term feeling.

Come the close, and Councillor Heywood confirmed the reason for the rather untimely 5pm scheduling for the Hub cabinet meeting, next Monday. Apparently there is already a scheduled event at the Black Cultural Archives in the evening, which most of cabinet are attending. Sounds reasonable.

I had the good Councillor on the back foot. Yeah, right… I dived in, and went into some nonsense diatribe about the unbearable 31 degrees pool temperature down at Brixton Rec right now.

Oh to have the ear of the Cabinet Member for Culture and Communities.

The remark was made in jest (sort of) but the good Councillor made a mental note to make enquiries with GLL at Brixton.

Blimey.

So there we have it – leisure is still on the agenda ahead of May 6th, but hopefully it is more mundane matters such as water temperature, rather than the rather major issue of building new swimming pools.

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