51 days to go
TONIGHT’S meeting of the Resources Scrutiny Committee may in time be seen as a collector’s item with scenes that could be rare, if not completely absent, in the near future administration.
With end-of-term abandon, rebellious critics of the Community Investment Programme, including backbench Labour councillors, got to endorse a new report which rather lashes out at that flagship Town Hall policy with a series of recommendations about concentrating on providing more actual council homes and engaging more squarely with residents.
There’s also niggly detail in the panel findings which suggests Councillor Danny Beales, Labour’s regeneration chief fronting the whole thing, should not also be on the planning committee which votes on whether the individual projects should be built or not. The lawyers say there’s no conflict.
The trouble with daring to comment on the CIP is that over the years it has been gauged in such black and white terms. Love, hate and not much is permitted in between. Despite the complexities and the number of different schemes involved – some you might like, some you might think cause more harm than good – there is little subtlety in the debate.
And anybody who suggests any form of critical tweak must feel like an outlaw as they are asked: So you want council tenants to stay in overcrowded council homes, do you?
At the same time, you will here the ‘all that’s missing is the swimming pool’ (sorry Cllr Boyland, I did like it the first time), perhaps a line as old as the reference by past Labour councillors that council-owned land and property could be used in times of austerity as Camden’s North Sea Oil; probably neither tell the whole story of CIP and the last 12 years.
Make no mistake, Cllr Beales can take you straight away to some smart new council blocks which are fit for a green future and have happy residents living inside. Awards have been won and Camden has done things that other local authorities have watched with envy. Some people’s lives have been changed for the better, which is why councillors come into politics and so on.
Surely there’s nothing wrong, however, with also debating whether even more people’s lives could have been changed for the better by the scheme.
But it all quickly gets emotive, with us or against us stuff, when it need not be like that for the council leadership.
Nothing that has been said or done – no letter in the CNJ – has halted any of the projects that they wanted to proceed with. It may be weary to listen to criticism of varying vehemence but none of it has wrecked their plans.
The endorsement by a scrutiny committee of this critical report earlier is also unlikely stop the next CIP scheme going ahead, or the one after that, or the one after that. Most of the people voting in favour of the findings, we already know, won’t be here beyond May to see their recommendations shelved in a binder never to be seen again.
We haven’t met them all but it’s hard to think of any of the candidates on the ballot paper who will speak as the outgoing Labour councillors Douglas Beattie, Ranjit Singh and Paul Tomlinson did this evening. Helpful or not helpful – you decide! – but the tone you can read below will be missing from an incoming group united roughly in the same wing of the Labour party.
Cllr Beattie: “It’s [the CIP] shrouded in secrecy, it’s mired in debt and looking at the report it seems to be failing in even in its most basic aims of providing net new or additional social housing to Camden.”
Cllr Tomlinson: “The relative increase in new council homes is poor considering the outlay of money.”
Cllr Singh:”I think a big revelation for me was that we hadn’t even considered looking at the future revenue from those council homes we were building and that data cold have subsidised even more council homes.”
I can hear one or two readers screaming at the screen: No wonder we booted [two of] them out!
The format of the process and tonight’s meeting is a little strange; it didn’t allow Cllr Beale to sit at the desk this evening and defend the CIP. Instead, because the report went through tonight he is due to respond formally on some other occasion.
Instead, there was only really Alison Kelly at the wicket then. She politely said the report felt incomplete due to lack of council tenants’ voices and needed to be noted rather than endorsed at this stage. The fine detail of the recommendations had not been properly discussed in a normal way, she added.
Abdul Quadir was of less use to the administration as he repeated the same question about process over again; we never really got to hear what he thought of the report. Nazma Rahman, meanwhile, ended up abstaining.
This left Lib Dem leader Luisa Porritt and Tory chairman Andrew Parkinson to join with the Labour outlaws to vote in favour of endorsing the recommendations.