Cabinet Cuts and Breaking the Ice
Bumped up ahead of items including the Schools Exclusion Scrutiny Commission Action Plan, the Council Performance Digest and the Response to Dogs Scrutiny Commission (cripes) were the small matters of the Emergency Budget and Streatham Hub.
It was a collision of cabinet management, or even mis-management, depending on your own political point of view. Judging by the packed attendance in a sultry Room 8 at Lambeth Town Hall, it tended to suggest that the electorate had turned out to witness how the mis-management could best be resolved..
The Emergency Budget has mobilised a broad *shhh* coalition of objectors – Unison, the NUT and even the lovely Lambeth Tories. There was a vocal protest ahead of the meeting, but not much placard waving from the Blue Rinse mob on the steps of the Town Hall.
You can’t but help think that the Union representation is left wondering exactly who is the enemy here – the ConDem coalition for picking up the pieces left by the fag end of the New Labour government, or the local @LambethLabour party that is implementing the public sector cuts locally.
Inside Room 8 and I was greeted with the sight of @lambeth_council Chief Executive Derrick Anderson standing on top of a committee table. Cripes – was the big man about to stage his own one man Chief Exec protest, or perhaps even participate in some table top dancing?
Um, nope – he was simply getting more seats down to accommodate the larger than anticipated angry crowd at cabinet. That’s what I like about Lambeth politics – the big cheese is even doing his bit to appease the Little People.
@cllrstevereed introduced the debate, pointing the finger of blame for the Lambeth cuts on the ConDem coalition government. Councillor McGlone, the Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources followed the lead.
Repeating the Nu Labour manifesto strap line of “we’re on you’re side” [clever] Councillor McGlone pointed out how the BSF and Connexions shortfall in funding are directly accountable to the national government. He was heckled down within the first minute.
“No figures have been available and so we are not in a position to see if there is a better way of managing these cuts. It is complete gibberish. Lambeth Life has just been given a £1m plus increase in funding, and you have made no reference to the synergies [urgh!] that were pledged in the Lambeth Labour manifesto.”
Conservative Councillor John Whelan was then left in the absurd position to criticise the @LambethLabour cuts, a financial necessity that is of a direct consequence of his own political party. The good Councillor just about got away with it, adding:
“You should have put in place this Emergency Budget before the election, rather than wait to blame the Conservatives. The local Labour party speaks to the media about taking legal action against the BSF programme, but I have yet to see any evidence of this.”
Which is a good point and well put.
But it is at the blunt end of the frontline activity where these savage cuts will be felt the strongest. This is a point recognised by the Unison representative, who like Councillor Whelan, was left with a ridiculous ideological position in criticising a Labour council that is keen to make cuts and redundancies. It’s a funny old business this Nu politics.
“I am so disgusted and angry that it is hard to get my feelings out. A Labour council is planning to make 400 people redundant. This is unforgivable.”
A somewhat tenuous link was then made that this is a racist policy and is in breach of the Race Relations Act. The misguided thinking is that it is ethnic minority staff that will suffer as they are predominantly employed within this sector.
Many things in the Rotten Borough are the direct fault of @LambethLabour, but a wider sociological study linking ethnicity with social status would probably provide a more informed response.
Sarah Thompson of the NUT added:
“It is so frustrating that cabinet has only given me three minutes to talk about over three hundred job losses. The people of Lambeth didn’t vote Labour to be hit by public sector cuts.”
@cllr_robbins, the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People looked elsewhere for the blame, stating:
“The ConDem coalition has taken a wrecking ball to public services. It is the government that is making savage cuts.”
Councillor Jim Dickson, the Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing offered a partial solution:
“I have been in local government for twenty years. It makes sense to make these cuts in bureaucracy rather then frontline services.”
Which is all rather strange, seeing as this is the exact opposite of what @LambethLabour is proposing.
“We need to share the pain fairly. We will be working with our neighbouring boroughs.”
I wonder if this *shhh* co-operation will also include Wandsworth? It would be a shame if in this new spirit of co-operation, @lambeth_council only chose to partner neighbouring boroughs that share the same political persuasion.
Speaking of co-operation – no one actually did. There wasn’t a single mention of #lambethcoop throughout the half hour Emergency Budget debate. Let us not forget that the rolling out of #lambethcoop is all about balancing the books. @cllrstevereed has stated previously:
“The Labour Government and Conservative and Lib Dem parties nationally have signalled significant cuts in public spending after the General Election. The cuts facing local councils could be greater than 20% overall. This means all councils are looking at how they can deliver services differently in future.”
#lambethcoop is all about the budget, isn’t it?
The removal of democratic responsibility and accountability of elected councillors would be a mighty high price to pay if the cost-saving agenda wasn’t actually bundled in with #lambethcoop.
It was then left to @cllrstevereed to close the cabinet Emergency Budget debate with the Leader of @lambeth_council arguing:
“We are operating under the constraints of a government of a different [political] colour to us. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be any pain, but we need to minimise this. We will not be making cuts that are not inflicted by the government.”
At least that is what I think @cllrsteverred said. It was difficult to hear underneath all of the heckling.
As with all @lambeth_council matters, the Emergency Budget was passed without debate from the cabinet. No objectors, and the agenda item was ticked off the list.
Deep breath. Here comes Streatham Hub.
Pretty much everything that has to be said about the failed Hub project was spoken @ChukaUmunna‘s People’s Question Time staged in Streatham last week. Listening and answering questions at Dunraven School on Thursday was @QueenFlo, the Cabinet Member for Culture, Sport and the Olympics.
@QueenFlo made no reference at cabinet to the packed People’s Question time that she attended in Streatham less than a week ago. Not one person at @ChukaUmunna’s crisis meeting spoke in support of the Pope’s Road compromise. It seems that the strong message coming out of SW16 wasn’t relayed to cabinet.
Speaking about the plan to shift the temporary ice rink away from Streatham and to Pope’s Road car park in Brixton, Councillor Prentice, the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, admitted that:
“This is not the prefect solution.”
As for swimming in Streatham, @QueenFlo added:
“We did investigate a site for the temporary pool. The priority was always the continuity of ice. We don’t wish to peruse temporary swimming in Streatham.”
Not wishing to peruse swimming seems to be a strong theme within the Rotten Borough right now. The Brixton Rec Users Group have found out on this very same evening that cabinet is now planning to axe free swimming for under-5′s and over 60′s. Where this leaves the @LambethLabour election pledge of “free swimming for every resident” is open to speculation.
But back to Streatham. Or even back to Brixton. @LambethLibDems’ Councillor Alex Davies said:
“This is a further assault on Streatham. Tesco said that it can’t afford to help fund the temporary rink to remain in Streatham.”
This is no laughing matter, although @JackHopkins_Lab, my local Oval councillor, couldn’t but help find some humour in this rather serious point.
Meanwhile, @LambethLabour’s Councillor David Malley spoke as though a loaded gun was pointed towards his head, accepting with no opposition the removal of one of the major cultural and economic landmarks in his Streatham South ward.
A local Streatham swimmer tried to offer his view, but his three minutes at the mic were curtailed somewhat by @cllrstevereed, who was keen to question the swimmer under what capacity he was speaking – a swimmer or as a member of a local political party.
It’s all about the swimming, isn’t it?
Peter Newmark from the very successful Hands Off Our Common group was:
“Happy that the temporary ice rink is not going to be on the Common, but the alternative site should be in Streatham. Brixton has had plenty of regeneration. Streatham remains in relative poverty.”
But it’s not all about Streatham – Brixton is going to take a huge economic hit if Pope’s Road car park becomes a new ice rink. More to the point, Brixton Market will be left to die on its backside.
This was a point ably demonstrated by the Secretary of the Brixton Market Trader’s Association, who brought into cabinet an industrial size packet of rice and a barrel of cooking oil.
The message was that with nowhere to park cars in central Brixton, locals couldn’t be expected to carry such items on public transport. Members of cabinet were invited to road test the weight of the items. I had my camera at the ready, but sadly this was a photo opp that wasn’t going to happen.
“The multi-cultural, working class market will cease to exist” was the claim.
“Shops specialise in selling in bulk. This move is contrary to the council supposed support of the Brixton £. The council PR states that Brixton is Open for Business. Not anymore it isn’t.”
The final word on Streatham Hub was left to Councillor Lib Peck, the Cabinet Member for Housing:
“We need to be clear with Tesco. We need to get out of it what we want, and they need to get out of it what they want.”
Ever danced with the devil in the Devil in the pale moonlight?
And so with apologies to the Schools Exclusion Scrutiny Commission Action Plan, the Council Performance Digest and the Response to Dogs Scrutiny Commission (the decent @imogenwalker showing that her bark is as fierce as her bite) – it really was all about cuts and ice-skating at cabinet.
One of them involves blaming the free market ConDem coalition; the other is all about doing dirty deals with a corporate paymaster to provide a council run service.
See what I’ve done there?