Following the allegations regarding the political personalities of the past few days, it’s time to get back to proper political discourse in the Rotten Borough.
Back to the Future, actually, with finally, finally – the publication of the much hyped, much delayed public consultation on the
Big Society John Lewis model for local government, as originally pledged by our friends from @LambethLabour back in February.
The small matter of a local election got in the way of allowing the public to be consulted on the very ethos that the new administration was planning to align itself with. The electorate may have voted blind, but in the La La Lambeth Land, the one eyed man is King.
So squinting through the small print as to what has been promised in the public consultation, and what do we see? The chest beating @lambeth_council press release seems to have already pre-empted the results of the consultation, before the Little People have actually had the chance to offer any feedback:
“Lambeth Council has today published detailed proposals that will see the South London authority become Britain’s first-ever co-operative council.”
That’s a huge leap of faith from offering the model up for consultation, and then actually assuming that it will be implemented. I do hope that our friends from @LambethLabour are actually listening.
The presser continues with the previously well-trodden line of:
“The model applies the co-operative model of fairness, accountability and responsibility across a broad range of services. It is built on four years experience trialling the approach in specific services in Lambeth.”
If we’re re-treading old arguments, then it is only fair that I repeat my point about “fairness, accountability and responsibility“, not being shifted away from our democratically elected (and paid) local councillors.
Plus the supposed four-year trial period makes a mockery of the timing of the proposal, and the triumph of The Guardian front page, just ahead of a local election.
But anyway – moving on…
“A Citizens’ Commission is being set up to consult local people on the proposals and is meeting for the first time today.”
Cripes. I’m all for instant action, Comrades, but once again – who the chuffers is actually sitting on this Citizens’ Commission as the tea and biscuits are passed around Lambeth Town Hall TODAY? Have any citizens actually been consulted on taking up a position on the commission?
It seems that the Co-op Council Commission is… a closed shop made up of elected representatives. Buried down deep below in the @lambeth_council website site map, comes a further page confirming:
“We have also set up a Co-operative Council commission, made up of elected representatives.”
So much for the consultation of the citizens, guys…
But it’s all about the dosh, stooopid:
“The Commission will explore how an ‘active citizens dividend’ could be paid to reward people who get involved in running local services, possibly in the form of a council-tax discount.”
So we’re saving money from the budget, and then rewarding this by handing over a brown envelopes stuffed full of grubby fivers from the Council Tax kitty. Job’s a good ‘un.
But why not just keep the Council Tax bill the same (or even increase it) and then invest the money back into frontline public services? It’s a form of payment for public services that has been in place for over a thousand years, and seems to have built up a *shhh* rather co-operative form of progressive society.
Ah, but there’s votes and Guardian front pages to be had in those
Big Society John Lewis ideas.
“Over the coming months it [Lambeth Council] is inviting as many members of the public, staff, partners and interested partners as possible to take part in shaping the plans.”
So that’s… public, staff (and I hope that pimped out public services such Veolia with its refusal to pay a London Living Wage are included…) partners and interested partners…
Hang on – partners and interested partners?
Who is actually making up the co-operative? The Little People or the pimped out public services? I trust that the Citizens’ Commission is being formed to consult the electorate, and not to serve as a trade fair for @LambethLabour and it’s business driven third way of politics that allows private capital to profit out of this provision.
The familiar case studies are then rolled out, praising the Nu Labour model of allowing outside interests to take control of council services:
“The Weir Link children’s centre in Balham which is a service run by residents in a building built by the community.”
It is also in bed with @LambethLabour.
“…the Old Lilian Baylis community sports hub operating out of a disused secondary school in Vauxhall that has won praise from leading politicians of all parties as well as international sports heroes like Usain Bolt and Michael Jordan.”
The site is currently in a state of confusion, costing Council Tax payers £380,000 per year.
“Other community-led services already succeeding in Lambeth include… the country’s first parent-promoted secondary school in West Norwood.”
Like I said, the Tory’s Big Society comes to the Rotten Borough.
No mention in the presser this time about the good folk of Greenwich Leisure Limited, and the “success story” that is leisure within Lambeth.
But let’s look towards the future. Let’s look towards housing.
“The council has more tenant-managed housing estates than any other borough, and is transferring more assets to community control than any other council.”
Um, not according to my recent FOI request. The @lambeth_council website states:
“Currently, there are two developing TMO’s [Tenant Managed Organisations] in the borough, Lambeth Towers in Kennington and Patmos Area Community Association in Brixton.”
The response to my FOI request returned the finding that there is actually only one tenant-managed housing estate in Lambeth. Still, this may well be more than any other borough…
And what of the financial savings in setting up a co-op style TMO?
“The calculation of the allowances is based on the actual costs incurred by the Council in past years. Therefore the allowances fully reflect the Council’s spend on its own properties. Consequently, no savings / losses are incurred as a result of a creation of new TMO.”
Mmm – time to start consulting the citizens and crunching those numbers, I reckon.
And as for the actual White Paper put up to download? [pdf]
Weighing in at a colossal 756Kb, and spanning out to fifty two pages of Nu Labour PR speak, any citizen who actually manages to read through the
waffle White Paper from start to finish, deserves a Council Tax dividend in itself.
Parent power in schools (as proposed this very same morning by the Con Dem coalition, and ridiculed by the national Labour party…) tenant management of council stock (in the hope that the Little People can make a better job than the failed Lambeth Living experiment) and discount on yer Council Tax bill, should you remove any dumped fridges from outside your doorstep…
We need more of the Edbrooke Effect around my little #hyperlocal patch of South London. I voted in the good lady (gosh) to carry out exactly what she has been busy doing in recent weeks – helping the electorate in her ward. That’s the job of a democratically elected local councillor, isn’t it? [and it is a job that @janeinlondon / E Hants is doing rather well…]
I can’t but help think that the
Big Society John Lewis plans from @LambethLabour are actually rather small. On the very same day that the John Lewis model was launched, buried away on the @lambeth_council website is a parallel press release, talking of making 400 council staff redundant in order to save cash.
Time on their hands, and no doubt the ex-council employees will be queuing up for tea and biscuits and a seat on the Citizens’ Commission. The message seems to be pimp out public services and save cash, and put staff on the dole and save further dosh. Doesn’t sound that progressive to me.
Lambeth UNINSON agree, highlighting the jaw dropping figure of 215 jobs that have been proposed to be cut from Children and Young Persons Services provision.
Political ideology aside, the thinking behind the co-op consultation seems a positive step (cripes.) My concern however is over how it is rolled out, and who is actually listening. @shanecarmichael provides a truly excellent analysis of the pitfalls of rolling out an online consultation in his brilliant recent blog post.
@LambethLabour could do a lot worse than to invite the good @shanecarmichael to come forward and sit on the Citizen’s Commission (assuming he is free for the first meeting, currently taking place, um, today…)
The online consultation is to be applauded, if slightly flawed (and late – very late.) The Wiki is a great idea, giving instant feedback, including an RSS feed to follow all developments. Likewise for the now obligatory Facebook page.
But what of the elderly and vulnerable, who maybe don’t have online access? It is this very group in society that come to rely on frontline services provided by local authorities, and not a co-operative body run by well meaning busy bodies.
This is still a top down approach to policy making. Members of the community that have the resources, knowledge and time, ultimately get to shape public policy. Which pretty much sums up the reason as why Nu Labour failed so spectacularly on a national level.
Of course it is cuts that is driving the move to appear more transparent – cuts and keeping control of the council come election time once again. Money is going to be tight over the next decade, whether you are a right wing inner city local authority such as Lambeth, or even an out in the stick Love Me I’m a Liberal local authority in the South West.
The task is to balance the shortfall with a system of local government that the electorate feels they can truly participate in. I fear that our friends from @LambethLabour have confused participation with responsibility. And possibly even accountability.
“People can also join in the conversation on Twitter by using the hash tag #lambethcoop.”
Are you listening? #lambethcoop?