26 February, 2016
Live updates from Camden Town Hall
22.00: And we’re done. No deputations, no motions.
21.58: Open session runs into a bizarre riddle from Flick Rea about whether or not West Hampstead is a jewel in the crown, a jewel of any kind, or a dead body. It’s a bit late in the evening to decode that one.
20.46: Labour cabinet members now giving long answers to questions from Labour backbenchers. Frustrated Andrew Mennear fatigues of all of this and uses the first bit of open session to tick off the filibusters.
21.28: Deputy mayor Nadia Shah takes the chair. Questions to the cabinet time. Tories asking about affordable housing leads Labour’s Phil Jones into a routine on what definition we should be using. Affordable housing is not 80 percent of the market rate, he says. That’s one to have on the record with some big council backed redevelopment projects coming up.
21.20: Aw shucks. Labour councillor Awale Olad congratulates Camden New Journal‘s Thin Red Line campaign, and my colleague William McLennan on our work on fire cuts. Here he is chasing after Boris Johnson, while a City Hall press officer chases after him.
21.09: Everybody here seems to be nodding heads over the crazy ‘ol idea of an out of an hours coroner’s service. Seems simple but it’s still not done, and the last few years has shown its absence can cause even more upset at the worst of times for families.
21:04: Conservative councillor Oliver Cooper double dares himself: one to mention Jay-Z in the council chamber (is name-checking a hip-hop star ever a good look among these guys), and two to take Theo B on over his favourite subject: WIFI and computers and stuff. The OC wants Camden to follow New York’s system of a money-making WIFI network which is fast and available everywhere (that’s his review, I’ve never been), complaining that the network set up here directs to the ancien regime of search engines, Ask Jeeves. ‘If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, to quote Sinatra or Jay-Z’, he raps.
20.58: A little corridor break. Camden is right to put artwork from children at its schools on the walls. This one is great from a girl studying at Acland Burghley; a different image depending on what end you are looking at.
20.42: Councillors now voting on a one percent pay rise. A bit of the back story here. Roger Freeman from the Conservatives interesting here, as he doesn’t seem to mind about the rise being discussed here. His leader Claire-Louise Leyland said last month that she would not have supported a salary rise for our local politicians.
Labour members also seem to agree on the one percent rise too (although some of them clearly wanted a higher rise when it was discussed privately within their group). Maeve McCormack reminds everyone that Camden is one of the lower payers among local authorities. The rise is finally agreed with a messy show of hands.
20.23: Theo has done his summing up bit, using it to accuse the Conservatives nationally of protecting shire councils while inner London areas like Camden suffer. Now they are voting…
It’s a recorded vote where some of the councillors, bored by the roll call of ‘for’ and ‘against’ try to brighten up their evening by shouting things like ‘definitely, definitely against’ and ‘aggressively against’, and so on. The budget, at the end of this, is approved with a 3.99 percent tax increase.
Same time next year, etc..
20.07: Mayoral candidate (and Highgate Green councillor) Sian Berry asks again for a referendum in Camden for higher tax… just to see if people would be willing to pay a bit more to cover holes in the council budget and keep services afloat. Labour have rebuffed this one before. But Kilburn Labour councillor Thomas Gardiner seems to buy into the idea that tax shouldn’t be seen as a dirty word. “Tax is our only defence against savagery,” he says, before listing services for elderly people, children and so on that he says could be protected from a greater tax demand from residents.
20.05: Next up, Sally Gimson does seem like she’s gained a bit of fire in her speech there, so perhaps inevitably there’s a shout of ‘Sally for leader’ from the Conservative hecklers. She celebrates Camden’s living wage for care workers.
19.54: Jonathan Simpson riffs about how crime must be going up in Camden tonight as the Tory amendment is fraud. There’s an argument about police numbers and then the Conservatives ask the Borough Solicitor to wade in. Andrew Maughan says he took the line as a political jab, rather than an accusation of financial impropriety. Angry looks from the Tory front bench about the tone from Labour there.
19.46: Conservative Gio Spinella makes a plea too: save regular rubbish collections, insisting a ‘matter of public health’ is at a stake. The Tories have been working away on this one for a while. “If you leave rubbish uncollected, the rats will gather’, he warns.
19.41: The last Liberal Democrat standing Flick Rea pleas for public toilets to be saved. It’s a ‘mark of civilised society’, she says. But she adds, even though Theo lacks the conjuring tricks she says she once witnessed from John Mills in the old days, that this is ‘not the worse budget’ she’s seen in this chamber over the years (and to put it politely, she’s been here more years than the most of us). Also while on her feet, Flick accuses the Conservatives of drawing up a ‘shopping list’ for a budget amendment. She backs council tax rise.
19.33: ‘Every year at 5 o’clock, two hours before I stand up here and present the budget they produce a piece of paper with the same thing written on it,’ Theo mocks. ‘If these ideas were so brilliant, our civil servants would be sat there saying that’s a brilliant idea from Don Williams and bring it back the next year. And you know what? They never do.’
19.18: Here he comes then. Theo versus Don Williams, treasurer and shadow treasurer as it were. The Conservatives’ man accusing Labour of pinching Labour ideas on revenue generation. Theo argues Labour have managed to protect and invest through careful budget management and the Community Investment Programme of property deals.
19.11: Council leader Sarah Hayward and Conservative leader of the opposition Claire-Louise Leyland trade blows over spending choices. CLL champions Zac Goldsmith. Sarah suggests she asks the people of Swiss Cottage what she thinks of Goldsmith claiming he has the ear to government, a nudge about the approval for the Theatre Square skyscraper. Goldsmith had written to the planning inspector asking for the ‘hideous’ tower to be refused building consent.
19.06: Mayor Larraine Revah says she is “very pleased” that there are no members of the public making deputations at the meeting – I’m sure she doesn’t mean it like it sounds… – and that there will be six minutes of main stage time for Theo.
19.03: Before we’ve really started, Theo is goading Conservative councillor Jonny Bucknell to declare an interest as a landlord; uncompromising innuendo about the recent court case you’ll have read about.
19.00: Full council time at Camden Town Hall this evening. It’s the big budget and council tax debate so extra time for money man Theo Blackwell to run us through the finances. The Tories will be defending the government, no doubt, in the cuts blame game over where the choice lies in public spending cuts.