The big decisions, the political risks

SO Camden’s Labour group meets tomorrow night to sort out the sale of the Town Hall annexe and the building of new offices next to St Pancras International? It’s a bit of a see-saw. There were members who were for the project, then put off it by recent discussions and now as recently this week have decided to offer their support again. A handful are said to be still dithering over who to side with. For some of the group’s leaders, meanwhile, there is still some surprise that it has blown up as an issue after months of meetings and briefings.

Council officers working on the move gave another briefing to Labour councillors this week with an emphasis, I’m told, on the ‘there is no alternative’ line. Some members may just dodge the vote on what to do next by not showing up tomorrow night, don’t expect the full 30 in attendance. Apologies have already been advanced. The leadership may just have enough numbers in what remains to quell the rebellion.

If it does, however, it will do so with the warning that building new headquarters in King’s Cross against a backdrop of cuts will amount to ‘electoral suicide’.  That’s is still not the view at the top. In an email to members sent last week, slipped into the Camleaks dropbox, finance chief Councillor Theo Blackwell sets out the potential risk for the party – but advises them to press ahead with the work:

This is a tough political call, no one is saying it is not.  I have been clear from the start and that’s why I thought group made a wise, yet difficult, decision to proceed based on full information.  However, critics of the scheme do make it more of a political issue by taking internal discussions outside of the Group so the issue becomes self-fulfilling.  I can’t see the good politics in that.  Moreover, there is political liability in not making efficiencies.  The council would have to rework its captial programme (as more money would have to be spend on offices under alternative proposals, draining cash from schools)  and efficiency savings from modernisation would be diminished or be nil, meaning further cuts to frontline services would be inevitable.

Residents would question the ability of the Labour Group and cabinet to make difficult decisions and meet the financial challenge.  Poltiical priorities for the Group would be questioned internally, as the ability of group members to see through decisions – Community Investment Programme,  Estate Regeneration- would also be open to question.  The question would then be whether the Labour Group wants to make big decisions for Camden’s future, or wants to remain in power.  It is totally possible to do both but by dodging big decisions because they are too big will leave us exposed that all we stand for is remaining in power.

He later adds:

In my view the issue has been remarkably uncontroversial in the community compared to other decisions made.

3 Comments on The big decisions, the political risks

  1. Insulted Labour Backbencher // April 15, 2011 at 10:50 am // Reply

    It’s bullshit to state that we were given ‘months of meetings and briefings’. Absolute and utter bullshit.

    Like

  2. Theo Blackwell // April 15, 2011 at 2:28 pm // Reply

    Apologies for the (apparent) Labour member acting in the way (presumably he) is.

    The issue was discussed as far back as July, and agreed politically. There was a full briefing. Scrutiny looked at it twice. It was discussed publicly. King’s Cross residents were engaged, and taken on a tour of the Town Hall Extension.

    There’s a choice here of important decisions being made at the pace of those furthest enaged from the project, coming to it late – or those who have been engaged with the issue.

    Presumably residents would like us to take considered decisions.

    Btw I’m not saying that the decision isn’t controversial, I’m just saying that between July and yesterday I only received 3 emails on the subject. Go figure.

    Like

  3. lessdeceived // April 15, 2011 at 7:25 pm // Reply

    Why not publish the figures ? Let’s face it, the existing Town Hall Annex is ugly to

    look at, a lead weight on the human spirit, demoralising and unpleasant to spend time in.

    It looks as though it was designed by the same chap who designed all those concrete planters that used to litter the Borough.

    It has fantastic views of St Pancras which it shames with it’s presence. It is however

    occupying a prime, prime, piece of land. If it is beyond the wit of Camden Officers to

    negotiate a deal with prospective developers and Argent whereby the new offices cost very

    little, if anything, then it is a question of basic competence.

    Give us the figures Theo and get out the wrecking ball.

    offices cost very little

    Like

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