IN her bid to take the Camden Council leadership from Sarah Hayward this week, Sally Gimson has been challenged to prove that she is not simply upsetting the applecart to satisfy her own political ambition. She’s been asked several times what her new ideas will be, and mocked by rivals over her previous attempts to map out a parliamentary career.
Maybe that’s why when the Labour group AGM preview papers were circulated on Friday, Sally quickly followed up with another round-robin pitch to the group, in which she appeared to try and add some more detail on what a Gimson administration would look like. Among her plans, you will see below, she says there will be a move to put a vote-casting debate at the start of full council meetings and bring public questioning to the cabinet.
It’s a fair suggestion for anybody who agrees that the all-member meetings at the Town Hall are a bit of a wreck (see a zillion blogposts on these pages). In Larraine Revah’s application to join the cabinet, she apparently makes reference to the fact that it’s a real struggle to get to the motions – i.e. policies that all councillors actually take a vote on – as they are shoved to the back end of the Monday night meetings. It’s a point of pride for the current Mayor, she tells colleague, that she’s overseen meetings where we have got to the voting stage.
But as earnest as Sally may sound in what she calls her ‘manifesto for change’, will the reform of these meetings really be a matter of worry for the people whose vote she needs to win? How high up their agendas is it really? For the same reason nobody has bothered to change the busted full council meetings in the last 20 years – i.e. it suits those in charge, whichever party it is, to minimise the parts of the meeting where policy is challenged by either public or an all-member vote – will members of a ruling group really want a leader prepared to take a risk by shaking it up?
Behind the scenes, here’s what she sent to members.
Many of you have asked me to set out how Camden would be different if I was leader. You have my formal application today, but I hope the below goes some way to describe what collaborative leadership might look like, and how it would be different from the current top down model. Lots of the ideas come from things you have told me.
This is not either a criticism of the cabinet as it is today, but rather a proposal that things could be a lot better if we looked at them in a different way, ethically and morally.
As leader I would set an ethical framework for Camden and the society we want to see.
We are all agreed we want to reduce inequality and increase fairness, no one in the Labour party would contradict this, but the choice we face as councillors is how we do it in Camden, and how we do it most effectively.
Is it by sharing power or by a top down approach? My view is that for real change we need a new model of leadership, a collaborative “big tent” leadership that brings in the talents of everyone across the council and beyond. Otherwise there is a danger Camden is seen from the outside as another “corporate” body, which has interests different from those of local people.
As a Labour administration we can only confront the difficulties of today and tomorrow together if we are united and prepared to think and act radically.
I believe we must build power from the bottom up by bringing together people who believe in the same things we do. We now face the biggest attack on local government ever seen. The Tories are attempting to asset strip our estates, evict residents and forcibly remove local democratic oversight over schools.
The government is seeking to take planning decisions away from local representatives by handing over the process to private companies.
We have suffered appalling cuts to services, and do not even know where the money to run them will come from in 2020. And by refusing to allow 3000 refugee children into the country the Tories are setting a moral framework which is against everything we as a Labour council believe.
We cannot confront all this alone. To challenge it we must work with our local party, our mayor, our MPs, with our trade unions, our health services, our tenants’ and leaseholder organisations and our most powerful institutions whether they be cultural or faith-based.
Camden’s future can only be built if we stand shoulder to shoulder with our residents. And we will only be strong if the rights and interests of our citizens and those who work in the borough at the heart of a joint project.
What does that mean in practice?
For councillors we will open up the leadership by:
· Creating a leadership group and unity cabinet working with backbenchers, our wider community, our local MPs and our new Labour London Mayor with regular meetings with cabinet/labour group and MPs to discuss ideas, policy direction and national influencing
· Setting up a standing cuts taskforce of cabinet and non-cabinet members, looking at radical solutions
· Having a cabinet office which supports the cabinet (not just the leader) as well as the wider group with briefings, policy discussions and, questions
· Making sure there are regular one to one backbench meetings and walkabouts with the leader
· Having more debates in public on policy – with a debate on an issue of the day at the beginning of council meetings
· Bringing in the public with an open question and answer session regularly with the leader and cabinet members
· Monitoring, through Labour group, the diversity of our senior officer cadre and councillors (race, gender and disability), at the same time making Camden a great employer.
I believe that to face the future we need a Camden Declaration, written with councillors, MPs, our staff and citizens which sets out the principles for a sustainable Camden over the next five years, a place where we will all be able to remain living:
So I would propose:
· We set up a Camden Commission for Families and Housing with councillors on it but also with wide representation from the Voluntary and Community Sector, local BAME and faith groups, businesses, trade unions, universities and health and well-being representatives. I want them to imagine in partnership with us the future of Camden and how we can work together to shared objectives for community impact. This, with the Camden Declaration will lead to a refreshed Camden Plan and help widen its scope and ambition
· We actively explore models of cooperation involving citizens as an alternative to privatisation by large corporations. This is about a Fair Deal for Public Services across areas like, for instance, social care and health so that workers, families and neighbours are, through models like co-ops, actively involved in the care of the elderly in Camden. And we make sure that as health is devolved we protect our Camden residents with a community model
· We give citizens the right to have community green energy schemes and look at how municipal energy schemes can be part of this. Declare people’s right to clean air and work towards achieving it as a priority. Expand tree-planting and gardening programme so that everyone is involved in greening Camden
· We put a greater emphasis on schools, and work side by side with parents, residents and young people to design what our schools will look like for the rest of the 21st Century, so we have a clear Camden vision to set against the Tories’ reductive forced academisation. We explore a right for a free breakfast/lunch for our pupils and how that might be achieved as a borough objective, again looking at a cooperative partnership between schools and parents
· We make sure we have affordable housing for all – through building up the Camden lettings agency, expanding our company Camden Living so we increase the stock of housing let at affordable rents for working people, learning from boroughs like Enfield. We publish regularly the amount of council and social housing we are building and the amount that remains in Camden and constantly test across the council and with citizens whether our CIP programme fulfils its objectives
· We publish a commitment to protecting the rights of our most vulnerable as well as helping them participate in Camden society focusing on the most marginalised minority groups including the disabled, the homeless and refugees. This means everything from giving them a right to free wifi to championing their rights nationally through the council
· We expand the idea of Love Camden and work with our arts institutions to hold more cultural and sporting festivals so that everyone is able to participate in our society
If we work together collaboratively and with a new partnership between councillors, MPs and citizens using the talents of all, I believe we can build a different kind of Camden.