Liverpool ’16: MIA – The councillor movement

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ONE of the needly laments from Camden’s blogging finance chief Theo Blackwell after Ed Miliband led Labour to a crushing defeat at last May’s general election was the idea that the then leader had failed to take advantage of the bank of talent the party has hidden in the world of local government. Miliband had frozen out his foot soldiers on the ground, ignored the warnings on the doorstep and instead surrounded himself with advisers who thought they were part of The West Wing, the theory went. The same advisers, the ones who presumably ok’d the pledges etched in a stone tablet and so on, seem to be on television every night or writing opinion pieces about the state of the party as it stands now like grand political experts, but there you go.

There were echoes of Theo’s point in council leader Sarah Hayward’s critique of the conference schedule in Liverpool. Yes, fringe meetings were pretty segregated, with sparks avoided by either setting up panels of Corbyn loyalists or his opponents with not much mixing in between. But they were also noticeable for the absence of what Sarah called ‘the councillor movement’. Surely, after all those nights going to the Town Hall, face-to-face surgeries, and reading the phone directory council reports that the more diligent local politicians comb through, councillors must have something to contribute about how stretched resources are affecting public life. At this, or any party’s conference, it seems a fair enough point to make that there could be more room for councillors, the ones with bright ideas and a bit of energy at least. But no – not only do the majority of the general public, even in a well-reported area like north London, usually have no idea at all about who their councillor even is (until at least they need some help from them) but they are also being blanked by conference events organisers from their own party.

“I think we need to do more as a councillor movement to promote our work through the party. Actually successive leaders haven’t really ‘got’ local councils and over a number of years councillors haven’t been on key platforms, like women’s conference and in fringe debates where actually we have something real to contribute,” said Sarah. “Just taking this year, a lot of the Brexit fringe events don’t have a councillor on them and actually a huge amount of that debate will really, really affect the work we do whether its European funding or whether its the regulations that we use and some of the obligations that we have. And the local government voice in that is hugely important in that, but actually we’re absent from that debate.”

6 Comments on Liverpool ’16: MIA – The councillor movement

  1. The councillor movement? Passing stools will not be mentioned. We can cut our fringes or attend to them. Public meetings are public meetings and everyone can go.

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  2. Joseph Black // October 4, 2016 at 2:03 am // Reply

    Maybe Sarah wasn’t quite paying full attention to Jeremy Corbyn’s full speech at the Labour Party conference. Jeremy paid tribute to Labour councils (presumably comprised of many Labour councillors that comprise the “councillor movement”) around the country doing their utmost to work against and around policies and cuts imposed by the Tory government.

    Meanwhile, in Camden and other London Labour boroughs, Tory policies — housing policy dreamed up by Savills Estate Agents, for example — are being implemented rather too eagerly to claims from Labour councillors that their actions are all the fault of the Tories. A convenient, if lame and unimaginative, excuse which they seem to believe absolves them of any responsibility for their deeds.

    Councillors come and go, but they leave behind them legacies that, unlike much of their thinking, are not judged on the basis of short-term bottom lines but by their impacts on people and communities over years and generations.

    From Corbyn’s speech:

    “And these pledges are not just words. Already, across the country, Labour councils are putting Labour values into action, in a way that makes a real difference to millions of people, despite cynical government funding cuts that have hit Labour councils five times as hard as Tory-run areas. Like Nottingham City Council setting up the not-for-profit Robin Hood Energy company to provide affordable energy; Or Cardiff Bus Company taking 100,000 passengers every day, publicly owned with a passenger panel to hold its directors to account; Or Preston Council working to favour local procurement, and keep money in the town; Or Newcastle Council providing free wi-fi in 69 public buildings across the city; Or Croydon Council which has set up a company to build 1,000 new homes, as Cllr Alison Butler said: “We can no longer afford to sit back and let the market take its course”. Or Glasgow that has established high quality and flexible workspaces for start-up, high growth companies in dynamic new sectors. Or here in Liverpool, set to be at the global forefront of a new wave of technology and home to Sensor City, a £15million business hub that aims to create 300 start-up businesses and 1,000 jobs over the next decade. It is a proud Labour record each and every Labour councillor deserves our heartfelt thanks for the work they do.”

    “But I want to go further because we want local government to go further and put public enterprise back into the heart of our economy and services to meet the needs of local communities, municipal socialism for the 21st century, as an engine of local growth and development.”

    “So today I’m announcing that Labour will remove the artificial local borrowing cap and allow councils to borrow against their housing stock. That single measure alone would allow them to build an extra 12,000 council homes a year.”

    “Labour councils increasingly have a policy of in-house as the preferred provider and many councils have brought bin collections, cleaners, and IT services back in-house, insourcing privatised contracts to save money for council tax payers and to ensure good terms and conditions for staff.”

    Ironically, the final sentence quoted above outlines a number of the areas where Camden Labour have opted to do precisely the opposite, much of it under the auspices of the two Labour councillors cited in your article, to the great detriment of public services across the borough.

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    • Bit of a vague critique, given Camden does all of the things mentioned in the speech and more. Our record is set out here, http://theoblackwell.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/camdens-cuts-challenge-post-12-spending.html (die for an updating).

      The council is building 1100 council homes – not something I think Savills does. True there have been a small number of sales in order to fund the repairs and modernisation to 53 schools, but are you suggesting this shouldn’t happen and the schools instead should’ve applied to the government for academy status to get the money? Few, not even the schools themselves, agree with that.

      Our IT service is in-house and leads the country – so much so we are sharing with other boroughs. You can argue about whether bringing street cleaning in-house is the height of socialism – but ask a neighbouring borough about the success of that. It’s not a simple as the JC statement about it says. It would mean, for example, the council would have to spend capital on a new fleet and depots instead of what we do spend general capital on – schools.

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  3. Mick Farrant // October 4, 2016 at 10:49 am // Reply

    It would help if local LBC councillors actually turned up for their surgeries

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  4. Terence Flanagan // October 11, 2016 at 12:09 pm // Reply

    Well theres a surprise Theo Blackwell once again boasting of building 1100 homes, amazing perhaps he could inform us where ? at what rent or cost [affordable??] Tenancy rights ?Council housing ?Right to buy ? or not ?

    I have of course been asking these questions for over a year now, with no detailed response, so come on Theo try answering in detail, tell you what why dont i put another letter in the CNJ and then you can inform all its readers of this marvelous achievement !!!

    Then theres of course theres the affordable homes to buy REALLY??

    And finally why have you pointedly refused since last year to answer these questions as has Pat Callaghan Phil Rosenberg James Yarde Richard Oslewski and of course the unelected [ by the Labour membership] leader of the council Sarah Hayward ???????????

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  5. Why are viability assessments secret, especially where developments are on public land? Why are subsequent negotiations and trade offs between the council and developers secret? How much public land has been sold to developers and their anonymous finance by Camden over the past six years? Why has there been so much lack of transparency and secrecy regarding developments in Camden over the past six years? How much social housing has Camden shedded responsibility for over the past six years?

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