Lambeth council is used to being criticised. Recently local government minister Brandon Lewis accused us of ‘lazy socialism’ for spending £600 on posters offering help to residents whose benefits are about to be cut by the Tory/Lib Dem government. The benefit cuts will reduce the income of one sixth of our population, costing at least an estimated £1 million a year in bad debts to the council alone and pushing thousands into poverty and out of London.
Still, I am much more comfortable being attacked by right-wing Tory ministers bent on dismantling the welfare state than I am by comrades writing in Red Pepper, and so I was very disappointed to read the last edition’s article ‘Co-operating with cuts’, which attacked our efforts to involve communities in decision-making whilst dealing with the most severe budget reduction in our history.
Protecting the vulnerable
Our political priority is to protect the poorest and most vulnerable and so despite the straitened times our council is borrowing £500 million to bring our social housing up to a ‘Lambeth Standard’, a quality level being determined by local residents after thousands participated co-operatively drawing up their priorities to improve homes.
Similarly our Youth Co-operative now has nearly 2,000 members from all sections of the community informing commissioning decisions around youth services and education. Partly as a result of this approach Ofsted recently declared our children’s services ‘outstanding’ in four out of four categories, making our service the highest rated in the whole country. Similarly we are now ranked eighth by Ofsted in terms of the proportion of pupils attending ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools who are achieving well above national average exam results. Quite an achievement for the 14th most deprived borough in the UK with very high levels of children with English as a second language.
Despite suffering a 45 per cent cut in our central government grant between 2010 and 2016 we have not shut a single library – in fact we have opened a new one in Clapham that has won several awards and seen a 300 per cent increase in users. We have also saved the Upper Norwood library after Tory Croydon (which we shared financial responsibility with) pulled the plug – we are now handing the library to the community to run as a co-op. Similarly we have just opened a new leisure centre in Clapham with two more in Streatham and Norwood to open in the next 18 months to be run by a co-operative.
Managing the cuts
Unlike the early 1980s it is not an option for Lambeth council to refuse to set a legal, balanced budget. If we did the government would appoint commissioners to run the council direct from Whitehall imposing cuts with little local understanding or consultation.
As a result we are doing are best to manage the cuts so they do the least harm to our most vulnerable residents. Our drive to become a co-operative council is not a response to the cuts but an innovative change designed to empower our residents so that they gain in confidence, stop feeling like passive recipients of services and start taking control of their environment to make positive changes. In time this might produce savings because the evidence shows that when service users have more control over the design and production of the services they use the services become more efficient.
We are not pretending the process has been perfect and mistakes have, and will continue to be, made because this is an entirely new way of running a council. The important thing is that we learn from mistakes and not let ill-informed critics blow us off course and back to the ways of militants like Ted Knight who bankrupted the council, ruined services for residents and helped destroy the Labour Party’s reputation for sensible governance for 18 years.
Edward Davie is a Labour councillor in Lambeth. @EdDavie
Council trade unionist Jon Rogers gives an alternative view of the ‘co-op council’
Lambeth Unison shares with Lambeth Labour group an understanding that our borough is being hit by scandalously large reductions in funding and that this is the fault of the Tory-led coalition government.
Where we differ is in our assessment of the role of the local labour movement when working class communities are under attack by a cabinet of millionaires. In Lambeth in 2013, this difference has two dimensions – it’s about cuts and it’s about the ‘co-op council’.
In relation to cuts, it is true that it is the fault of the Tories and their Lib Dem stooges that Lambeth will, on current spending plans, have lost a massive 45 per cent of its central government funding by 2016. The council has made £66 million cuts over the past two years. There are another £108 million to come over the next four.
Since the general election (up to the end of last September) Lambeth had made 550 redundancies. Up to another 1,000 are being spoken of – from a workforce now below 3,000. Further redundancies were outsourced when the Labour group agreed to transfer the job of answering Lambeth’s telephones to Capita in Southampton. This tragic decision, intended to save £1 million, annually has taken far more than that out of the local economy.
Ed says they have no choice because if they refuse to set a legal budget ‘the government would appoint commissioners to run the council direct from Whitehall’. This just shows how little effort some comrades have put into considering the current legal position.
It would be more accurate to say that, whereas in the 1980s councillors who put their duty to the voters before their duty to a hostile government risked surcharge and bankruptcy, councillors who took such action now would simply trigger the powers which chief finance officers did not have back then.
The honest truth is that no one really knows how the government would respond if a number of Labour councils stood together to set the budgets that their communities needed, rather than those which George Osborne and Eric Pickles dictate. I suggest Ed goes to Birmingham on 16 March for the ‘Councillors Against the Cuts’ Conference in order to consider this question further.
In Lambeth though it’s not just about cuts – it’s also about “co-ops”.
Unfortunately, because he is a councillor, Ed is not particularly well informed about what is happening on the ground in relation to the ‘drive to become a co-operative council’ of which he is clearly proud. He lauds ‘our Youth Co-operative (which) now has nearly 2,000 members from all sections of the community informing commissioning decisions around youth services and education.’
Check with the officers, Ed. The nascent Youth Co-operative, which hardly even yet exists has, as yet, had no formal role in commissioning decisions. Indeed the so-called ‘early adopters’ of the ‘co-operative council’ were identified from on high by a commission led by cabinet members, and outsourcing decisions were taken by a panel of senior officers with no reference to the Youth Co-operative.
It was the excellent performance of hard working staff in children’s social care delivered the ‘outstanding’ Ofsted result of which the Council – and its workforce – is rightly proud. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the Youth Co-operative and it is shameful to try to co-opt this achievement to justify an unrelated political project.
What the “co-operative council” has delivered so far in Children’s and Young People’s Services has been two years of chaos, confusion and demoralisation followed by the piecemeal outsourcing of some of the services chosen from above for this irresponsible experiment.
At the same time, the council has broken its promise not to close adventure playgrounds when, having forced out the in-house workforce by proposing untenable cuts in working hours and pay, it then had to terminate, at a moment’s notice, an interim contract with a voluntary group over safeguarding concerns, in relation to which Unison is still waiting for a proper response from the local Safeguaring Children’s Board.
This scandal was part and parcel of the ‘co-operative council’ – as was the decision to reject, on spurious grounds, a workers’ plan to retain in-house the much-loved One O’clock Clubs, and the decisions to transfer at least two of our youth centres into the hands of private companies.
Ed and his comrades in the Labour group may truly believe that ‘our drive to become a co-operative council is not a response to the cuts but an innovative change designed to empower our residents.’ As a socialist who has spent his life in the Labour Party, I’m the last person to knock either idealism or hopeless, unfounded optimism.
However, in the real Lambeth (as opposed to that which is imagined) officers interpret the ‘co-operative council’ as incitement to outsource, so that is what is beginning to happen on the ground, albeit slowly.
Unison hopes that councillors will, as they say they intend to, revise the council’s constitution so that they, rather than officers, take more decisions. The current position is that – for example – the decision to privatise youth centres was taken by senior officers in private as councillors refused to take responsibility for taking the decisions in public.
In future, Lambeth councillors may know more about what they are talking about when they seek to rebut legitimate criticism. I suppose that won’t stop them attacking Ted Knight of course, since a false history of the 1980s is an almost essential element in the threadbare intellectual armoury of the Sainsbury funded Progress faction who have a wholly unhealthy influence.
All I will say in response to the unwarranted attack on Ted is that, nearly thirty years after he sacrificed his political career to defend our borough, Ted Knight is greeted by cheers and ovations at meetings of the council workforce and gatherings of community activists.
If today’s councillors can say the same in the 2040s I’ll eat my zimmer frame…
Jon Rogers is Lambeth Unison branch secretary and secretary of the Lambeth council joint trade unions
Labour's 1983 election campaign has long been used to say it is impossible for a leader like Jeremy Corbyn to win any election from the left. Alex Nunns digs out the truth
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out