By Ousman Noor

Sadiq Khan’s victory in the London Mayoral election was announced in national and international news as a victory of a ‘Muslim, son of Pakistani immigrant’. His election is a testament to the ability of Londoners to look beyond a candidate’s race and religion at the ballot.

The result has sent a message to all that the politics of division employed by the Conservatives, BNP and Britain First will not succeed in our capital. In this regard, Khan is correct to describe London as one of the greatest cities in the world.

However, just as we do not condemn a candidate for their race or religion, we must not allow their race or religion to be the reason we support them either. I am also a Muslim, son of a Pakistani immigrant, and I did not vote for Sadiq Khan.

I voted for a person whose policies were designed to promote equal opportunity for people of all backgrounds, to redress income inequality and protect our environment. In her outspoken criticism of the government’s Prevent strategy, she showed a firmer commitment to tackling prejudice in London than any other candidate.

I voted for Sian Berry, not because of her racial or religious identity, but because she was the best person for the job and, more so than Khan, demonstrated that she would be a ‘Mayor for all Londoners’.

Monitoring in Highgate villageBy Green Councillor, Sian Berry

At today’s council meeting, I’m putting a motion that will ensure the council keeps monitoring air pollution, despite Government attempts to reduce what’s collected. Along with Councillor Flick Rea, I’m also warning about the dangers HS2’s long construction period will pose to the health of local people – a report on this in the CNJ.

Air pollution is a huge problem. In London at least 4,000 early deaths a year are caused by it, and the latest estimates (which include the main traffic pollutant nitrogen dioxide not just the dangerous particles) show many more are in fact being harmed, with children especially vulnerable.

The European Court of Justice has recently ruled that public authorities in the UK must take action to achieve levels of pollution within nitrogen dioxide limits “as soon as possible”, and last month the Environmental Audit Committee in Parliament warned against reducing requirements to monitor air pollution, saying that: “The Government should ensure… that its desire to reduce red tape will not be allowed to undermine robust air quality monitoring across the country.”

Our motion concerns a proposal from the Govt Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (whose public consultation on this was very cheekily launched just before Christmas), to stop requiring local councils to measure air pollution. This would be a disaster in Camden. Many local areas rely on the council’s monitoring programme for information on the air pollution they are living with. The national network of monitoring stations, run by Defra, only includes three sites in the most polluted areas, but Camden’s additional data shows that all but one area (Frognal) is over legal limits.

Local schools and campaign groups, including Camden Green Party, have also carried out air pollution measurement in some local areas, for example:

In Highgate, we found all our residential streets were over the legal limits in December 2013

In the areas set to be affected by HS2 construction works and vehicles, campaigners measured existing pollution last year, finding extremely high levels

Several schools are also carrying out ‘citizen science’ experiments to measure the air pollution they face.

These ad-hoc studies run by the community are very useful in raising awareness of the problem and providing snapshots of data, but are no substitute at all for the regular monitoring carried out by Council officers in providing a consistent, detailed long-term picture of the state of our air.

The motion being proposed at tonight’s meeting is below. Labour councillors have put forward an amendment that would water it down by asking HS2 Limited to pay for the new monitoring stations around Euston, with no commitment for Camden to pay if they refuse. I don’t agree with this and hope the original motion will get through. If you want to see what happens, the council meeting will be webcast as usual and you can watch it here: http://democracy.camden.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=149&MId=5344

Motion proposed by Cllr Flick Rea and seconded by Cllr Sian Berry

This council notes with concern that air pollution leads to at least 4,000 early deaths a year in London, and possibly many more. It causes heart attacks, strokes, cancer and worsens a wide range of respiratory diseases. Growing up breathing polluted air means that children living near busy roads have under-developed lungs, with health consequences throughout their lives.

We are therefore concerned at proposals from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), in a consultation launched just before Christmas, to remove requirements for local authorities to model and monitor local air pollution in detail – a proposal which itself admits that local pollution hotspots are likely to be left out of replacement national monitoring.

Defra currently supports only 273 air pollution sites nationally – including Russell Square, Bloomsbury and partial funding of Camden’s Swiss Cottage monitoring site. Camden Council measures both particulate and gaseous pollution automatically at two further sites (Euston Road and Shaftesbury Avenue).

Camden also regularly measures, using diffusion tubes only, average Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels at a further 12 locations across the borough. In 2013 NO2 levels exceeded the EU annual mean legal limit concentration of 40 micrograms per cubic metre in every single location, except Frognal. The three sites with greatest consistent exceedences have (since 2011) been Euston Road, Tottenham Court Road and Finchley Road.

We believe that the more we know about the air we breathe, the more we will do to improve it, and therefore call on the Leader of the Council and the Cabinet to respond to Defra’s consultation by the deadline urging the retention of consistent requirements for local authorities to monitor air pollution and to pledge that local air pollution monitoring throughout our borough will be maintained at least at its current level.

Particulate pollution is a particular health risk, and comes from diesel vehicles and a range of other sources, including construction, which is why we are particularly concerned about the cumulative effect on residents living near HS2’s prospective massive construction site around Euston.

Therefore we also urge Camden to additionally set up automatic monitoring of gas and particulates in both Eversholt Street and Hampstead Road. This must be done soon so that residents with health concerns have at least a year of baseline evidence prior to construction, rather than their current unsatisfactory need to rely on modelling from monitoring stations well out of area.

By Councillor Sian Berry

On Wednesday 14th January, the Housing Scrutiny Committee is holding an evidence session to hear the views of tenants and leaseholders on repairs and major works on their homes, including the Better Homes programme.

The committee has also asked Councillors for their views on the progress made so far, following two previous sets of recommendations on how better to manage contracts and works, and communication with residents.

I’ll be attending Wednesday’s meeting and have submitted a written report to the committee with recent evidence from Highgate Ward, based on work done by me, and by my predecessor Councillor Maya de Souza.

Our report also restates the recommendations of a dossier produced by Maya in 2012, which interviewed residents in Highgate about their experience of the work of contractors and the council. This was highly critical of the quality of work, and particularly the quality and amount of engagement with residents before, during and after works take place.

There are many recommendations in our new report, but the most significant are:

Employ more project managers within Camden
There needs to be much better in-house scrutiny of contractors and more detailed specification of what works are needed.

In our recent proposals for Camden’s budget, we asked for more qualified surveyors and project managers to be employed by the council to oversee works, and estimated conservatively that this could save up to £10 million.

We pointed out the use of surveyors to manage contracts in works to communal areas on the Holly Lodge Estate – after a group of residents insisted on this – led to dramatic cost savings. Compared with the original estimate of close to £80,000 for this block, the final cost was just over £35,000 – approximately a 50% saving.

Bring more services in house
This is a key recommendation in previous committee reports, and something the Greens have repeatedly called for. Repairs is an obvious candidate for an expanded in-house team, as it is ongoing and the level of staffing needed will be relatively constant. We hear many reports from residents of works by the current contractors being carried out late or inefficiently, and a strong suspicion that callout fees are being exploited.

Despite this, the council has not increased its in house repair capacity, with the progress report to the committee saying that in reviewing procurement: “officers evaluated the options available and concluded that the in house team would not have the capacity at present to undertake additional workstreams. It was also identified that any service or work package assigned to the in house team would not be recognised as a ‘qualifying long term agreement’, this complicating the delivery of rechargeable works.”

We want this looked at again, as we believe expanding the in-house team would prove good value, and these are not good reasons to continue to waste money on an inefficient contract.

Better communication and engagement with Tenants and Residents Associations (TRAs) and residents
The progress report says “We are also convening resident panel meetings with support from TRAs and the ‘We are Camden’ website is being promoted widely.”

However, our experience shows serious problems still remain in both these areas. After a range of problems when the works started, a resident panel to help oversee works was promised – but has never materialised – for the current Better Homes work on the Whittington Estate in Highgate.

And the We Are Camden website seems barely used for these functions – not just by residents but also by council officers and members. For the Highgate group on the site, the councillors listed are still those from before last May’s election, recent meetings are not reported and the most up-to-date comments from residents are from November 2014.

Overall on repairs and major works, though some changes have taken place, there is much still to do. When both tenants and leaseholders are paying large proportions of their income (in very straightened times) to Camden to keep their homes and estates in good order means we must spend their money wisely and transparently with a much more appropriate level of consultation and communication.

The fact that the relevant scrutiny committee is monitoring these issues is positive, however, and that residents are being given the chance to take part this week. I hope our evidence and proposals will be able to get improvements speeded up and make a difference to how things work in future!

HIghgate LibraryCouncillor Sian Berry writes:

The council’s ‘Camden Challenge’ is asking for ideas to raise money and cut costs in the face of a dramatic cut to central government grants to local councils.

In our response – read the full document and all our ideas here – we have tried to embrace the spirit of the Camden Challenge and propose a range of revenue-raising methods that will contribute to closing the deficit, as well as a number of capital investments that could be made now to reduce revenue requirements in future, including external wall insulation, LED street lights and solar panels on council properties.

We also propose increased spending on a range of bottom-line measures for the Green Party, including honouring the Council’s commitment to the Ethical Care Charter and to pay the Living Wage to those employed by contractors.

We are also saying – once again – that people in Camden should be asked in a referendum about a rise in Council Tax of more than 2%. The fact that Camden’s public engagement exercise has so far shown more than six in ten people support a 2% rise shows that there is a limit to the cuts in public services people are willing to take, and that they are willing to pay to preserve the services Camden provides.

We know, however, that raising Council Tax now, after a seven year freeze, can only go a small way to closing our upcoming deficit. And we know that Council Tax is not a fair tax, nor is it adequately progressive, taking little account of income except by concessions for those at the very bottom of the wealth scale.

To properly solve these problems, the next Government has to act, and councillors from other parties, should be doing much more to put pressure on their national policy makers to address the crisis in local services and reform local government finance. If they fail, then whatever clever ideas we come up with in Camden will be nothing more than a sticking plaster under which local public services will eventually wither away to nothing.

Caroline Lucas MPA proposal in Parliament

On 28 November, Green MP Caroline Lucas tabled an Early Day Motion to highlight the cuts to local government.

It moves:

“That this House believes that under the guise of austerity, central government is slowly but surely putting an end to local government as we know it; notes that from 2010-11 to 2015-16 core central government funding to local authorities has been slashed by 40 per cent whilst local government responsibilities increase; further notes that demand for council services is growing and that people are suffering under government policies harming the poorest and most disadvantaged such as the bedroom tax, cuts to tax credits and benefits and the increase in VAT… and therefore calls for the cuts to local government funding to be reversed and for local government to be protected from further cuts to enable local authorities to provide cherished community services as well as vital social services such as support for looked-after children, care-leavers, users of adult social care, older people, homeless people, low-income families in crisis, disabled people, those with special educational needs and emergency help to survivors of domestic violence.”

Although a number of Labour MPs are signed up, so far no Lib Dem or Conservative MPs and neither of Camden’s two Labour MPs have supported the motion.

Read more here:  http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2014-15/579 

The recent blog of Kitty S Jones, Labour Party activist and blogger, has left many of us rather shocked and dumbfounded by her lashing out at the Green Party. This is not new but simply stronger language than what Greens face routinely from Labour. Kitty S Jones claims that the Greens are somehow on the Malthusian Right because we point out the need for policies that allow us to live within our planetary resources and not cause hardship to the poorest, as will no doubt be the result of climate change and environmental degradation. She goes on to say that if the Greens were really green we would join Labour.

Labour still, shockingly, fails to recognise the social and environmental reality of climate change and the limits to what our planet can sustain. How long will it take Labour to accept this truth and stop its dishonest politics of pretending that it is taking climate change seriously? When will it address the social injustice that this failure will lead to? These are are just some of the reasons that Greens are not able to join Labour.

Still in thrall to the filthy rich?

Many Greens left the Labour Party for its failure to do anything significant to challenge the Thatcherite agenda and because it continued to entrench that system when in government: setting up academy schools outside the control of democratically elected bodies;  tendering parts of the NHS to private sector bidders; continuing with a tax regime that fails to redistribute wealth in our highly unequal society; allowing a free-for-all in the City; and tendering out prison and other services. (And that’s without mentioning the destructive Iraq war.) Labour seemed in thrall to the rich, the filthy rich that they were happy to hang out with and take money from. This was the Labour Party of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and, we must remember, Ed Miliband. However much we may hope for more from Ed, can we with our hands on hearts ever trust him?

Only the Greens have been willing to speak out about domination by the wealthy and big corporates – the Establishment as Owen Jones powerfully explains – and to develop alternative solutions. Labour’s mild scolding of its wealthy banker friends hardly caused a ripple. Only the Greens have argued for the break up of large companies, for state funding of political parties to diminish the political influence of the rich, firm regulation of banks, and to challenge the domination of a handful of media barons.

It’s clear that Labour are nervous. No doubt in their heart of hearts they know that they failed the people in their 13 years in government: failed to tackle the underlying inequality in power and wealth and the big issues that face the UK and the world. Perhaps it’s this guilt that hits them hard and leads to them lash out at the Greens, with their half truths and exaggerations. Jones returns to the old lies about the minority Green administration in Brighton Council and refuses to acknowledge that the Greens were trying their very best to fairly address an equal pay problem in the Council in the months before the strike.

If Labour really wanted change, they would attack the Tories not the Greens.  A stronger Left is needed if we are to make sustainable change, not the weaker Left that Labour seems to want.

By Kirsten de Keyser
Political blogger and campaigner

On Tuesday 9 December the OECD, the west’s leading economic think tank, dismissed the concept of trickle-down economics as it found that the UK economy would have been more than 20% bigger had the gap between rich and poor not widened since the 1980s.

This is a staggering assertion and the report makes for required reading during these dark December evenings. Granted, the economically enlightened would already have guessed that stretching the inequality elastic to pinging point could not be healthy. But reducing the size of an entire economy by 20%? That’s calamitous, to be sure.

So how do we compare here in Camden? Acutely socially aware, borne out by a Labour controlled Council, a great hooray, a lot of back slapping and town hall flag hoisting went on back in October 2012. Green Party Councillor Maya de Souza had been one of the instigators of the Council’s commitment to pay all staff the London Living Wage and a justly proud Camden became one of London’s first boroughs to be accredited as a LLW Employer by the Living Wage Foundation.

And congratulations were certainly in order. Despite swingeing slashing of budgets across the board, Camden Council had somehow found a way to do the right thing; reducing the income inequality of its workers by lifting the lowest paid up to the London Living Wage.

‘Please can I have some more Sir?’
But despite all the 2012 fanfare and fireworks, it now transpires that the much trumpeted LLW commitment will not be fully met for another two years. The excuse is that the pay increase cannot be added into existing contracts, for legal or other administrative reasons. For example, Camden’s dinner ladies will not be paid a living wage until 2016 – four years after the pledge was made.

And that’s a disgrace. Camden Council should simply top up wages to meet the London Living Wage for all staff. If an organisation cannot pay its staff enough to live on, it should not be in business. Passing the buck to the DWP Tax Credit budget or the Housing Benefit department is not only immoral, it is incompetent.

The Green Party of England and Wales has called for the statutory minimum wage to be immediately lifted to Living Wage levels and for a £10 per hour minimum wage for all by 2020. And not a moment too soon.

Twitter: @kdkwifi
Blog: http://whatwouldborgendo.wordpress.com/
Project:NB https://paper.li/kdkwifi/1391956794

Sian Berry and Maya de Souza at Camden Library, which is currently shifting to be largely run by volunteers

Sian Berry and Maya de Souza at Highgate Library, which is currently making the shift to be largely run by hard-working volunteers

By Sian Berry, Green Councillor for Highgate ward.

At Monday’s full council meeting, Councillor Flick Rea and I have proposed in a motion that the Council should set up a reserve fund to help community centres and libraries stay open and keep providing vital services.

Supporting libraries and community centres was top of our manifesto commitments in the local elections and this idea is something I first talked about in the summer at the Resources and Corporate Performance scrutiny committee.

At the July meeting of the committee we were asked to look at Camden’s plans for how to deal with an £8 million underspend in last year’s budget, which were to allocate the remaining funds to various reserves, many of which were already stocked beyond was required to deal with risks to other Council functions.

At the scrutiny committee, I made some suggestions for better uses, including topping up outsourced contracts so they would pay care workers and other staff the London Living Wage, and for a reserve fund to help give more security to the many community centres and libraries that are moving towards more self-sufficiency, fundraising and volunteer working.

The second suggestion didn’t go down completely badly with either officers or the other councillors on the committee so, with Cllr Rea, I’ve put the proposal to the whole Council in a formal motion.

You can see what happens on the webcast of Monday’s meeting, which will be shown here: http://democracy.camden.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=149&MId=5022

This is the text of the motion, which we hope is worded in a way that all parties can support:

This council:

Is committed to ensuring all residents have access to quality local public services, including local libraries and community centres. These facilities are vitally important to meet the health, educational and social needs of protected groups and to support residents of all ages.

Recognises the enormous budget pressures on the Council and the rationale for seeking opportunities for local community services to become more self-funding over time.

Recognises that current plans for increasing the self-sufficiency of many community centres and libraries are ambitious, can depend heavily on the effective mobilisation of volunteers, often by other volunteers including hard-working board members and steering groups, and frequently involve creative ways of extending services and significant changes to the way facilities are run and managed.

Is concerned that some of these changes may take time to fully reach their potential, and that some facilities will face difficulties when first implementing them and even the risk of closure in the coming years if fundraising and income targets are not met.

Believes that allowing vital public facilities to stop services or close due to short-term difficulties during a transition period, then trying to revive them later (perhaps once management teams and developing community networks have disbanded) represents poor value for money, and that short-term support to keep facilities open and running smoothly while obstacles are overcome would be a good use of council funds, if administrated in a responsible way.

This council therefore:

Supports the creation of a specific reserve fund in the 2015-16 budget for Camden, aimed at helping community centres and libraries through short-term difficulties on their way to becoming more self-supporting.

Suggests that this reserve fund can be created by the reallocation of funds from other reserves without impact on the overall budget of the Council, and that the support it would provide would save money overall.

Calls on the Leader of the Council and the Cabinet to investigate and consider this proposal while preparing next year’s budget.