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Archive for the ‘achievements’ Category

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
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In the second post of our series, Green Councillor Maya de Souza writes about the work that has gone into securing better conditions for council staff:

caroline_maya250

As residents will know, a Green Party slogan is ‘Fair is worth fighting for’. Green Councillors have pursued this cause with conviction. The key issues for us have been a living wage, not only for council staff but for the contracted-out as well. We asked through scrutiny committees and full council meetings for the living wage to be paid in the 2006-10 council.

The Tory-LibDem administration made a commitment to put all Camden directly employed staff on the living wage. But the Greens said this was not enough. The big issue was, continues to be, the outsourced staff, school catering and social care workers among others. Camden should not have a two-tier workforce.

We showed in our subsequent budget amendments that a living wage across the board could be financed. During the 2010-14 period we have continued to raise concerns about the exceptions that Labour were making, despite signing up as a Living Wage borough. They claimed it was too late in the contracting process to include the living wage in catering staff contracts and too expensive to pay social care workers a living wage! The Greens led a cross-party challenge and we’re pleased to say that in the end Labour made a commitment to pay care workers a living wage within two years. That’s still not good enough but it’s better than nothing.

Employment practice – Another aspect of fairness is non-discrimination in employment. This has been a major aim for me, given my experience, as an employment lawyer, on how discrimination materialises in day-to-day life. It’s not always deliberate, but often a result of stereotyping and poor procedures that allow too much subjectivity, as when managers choose people ‘like us’.

With the support of knowledgeable residents I’ve asked questions and sought to ensure proper monitoring. This involved looking at how agency staff is recruited for well-paid temporary employment posts and whether the Council discriminated against some groups of people in recruiting. It certainly looked as if this may have been the case. Monitoring helps to flag this up. I also sought to ensure good practice for retention and promotion of staff, leading a challenge in 2013 following a finding of race discrimination against Camden in an employment tribunal case.

Here, I worked with councillors from the other parties. I led discussions at the Scrutiny committee meeting, successfully arguing that for better procedures, training that sought to challenge stereotypes and preconceptions, as well as for better figures showing numbers at different grades. Mike Cooke, the Chief Executive, was among those to respond positively to these proposals.

More equal society – Greens have successfully argued in the Council for a maximum 10-one pay ratio for senior to junior staff. This is now accepted, but we argue that we should go further, leading by example in moving towards a more equal society. And we do query bonuses and, in particular performance related pay, which allows too much subjectivity to enter decision-making.

The evidence is also that higher paid workers benefit, as it is easier for them, unlike those in more routine jobs, to show high performance. We have also supported staff on disability rights issues, persuading the Cabinet member, Pat Callaghan, to sign up to the ‘Breaking the Stigma’ campaign for mental health sufferers.

Zero hours – More recently the big issue has become the use of zero hour contracts as a means of limiting Council obligations to staff. I’ve argued that we should not use them as an employer nor through outsourced contracts. The Labour administration has not given assurances on this front. Following tenacious questioning and many attempts at fobbing us off I was told that the Council did not in fact know whether they had anyone on zero hour contracts.

In terms of those on outsourced contracts, we’re pleased that the administration recognises the problem but do not accept that we must wait for the government to change the law.

It’s perfectly possible for Camden to require fair employment terms in its contracts with service providers. We will push them to do so. So, if you’d like Councillors who believe that fair play, decent working conditions and non-discrimination are fundamental and non-negotiable, do ensure you vote Green! Our Green team has the legal skills and campaigning experience to mount an effective challenge.

Maya de Souza
Camden, May 2014

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In the first of a series of posts about her eight years as a Green Councillor in Camden, Maya de Souza writes about the influence Greens have had on planning in the borough:

Maya-AirQualitySummit21Nov11_webIn my eight years as a councillor, initially with fellow councillors Adrian Oliver and Alex Goodman, we influenced planning policy as well as actual decision-making.

Our knowledge of the law and our determination to make an impact on policy has certainly helped. Good planning and good design is something we Greens are passionate about. Shaping our local environment and protecting our heritage is so important. We are also keen to use planning policy to protect our local shops and high streets and ensure, through section 106 payments or the community infrastructure levy, that developers provide affordable housing, open spaces and community facilities.

King’s Cross – To give some examples; early on as a councillor on the Development Control committee I considered an application for a building by Christopher Hatton school in the Holborn area that raised issues about the playground being overshadowed. I felt the answer must be to have roof gardens to compensate, given the pressure to build in the very urban parts of the borough. I raised the issue in committee, including when we were considering the Kings Cross development, and in discussions on the new Camden Planning policies. Roger Madelin, the Kings Cross developer, has taken this on board, and the policy was amended to included a reference to roofs for amenity spaces and food growing.

Basements – When the issue of basements first arose the planning department felt that it wasn’t a planning matter. It was for neighbours to manage through party wall agreements or standard negligence actions. I read the policy and disputed this interpretation. I argued that the impact on water movement and possible flooding of neighbouring property made this a planning issue. This is now accepted and the Council seeks independent reports on hydrological issues, regarding it as a relevant ground for refusal. I’ve also argued that, to ensure its independence, the council should commission the report itself at the applicant’s expense. This is now virtually accepted practice.

Change of use – In council discussions on change of use of the Torriano pub in Kentish Town, I realised there wasn’t enough protection for pubs with a community function, and argued for the inclusion of a stricter ‘change of use’ test in such circumstances. This, again, has become planning policy. I understand that this was helpful in resisting the application for change of use of the White Bear pub in Hampstead. In recent council discussions I argued, persuasively, for stricter protection that takes into account not only the community functions of pubs but also their heritage value.

Construction nuisance
– Another issue we are proud of is insisting that, in special cases, construction issues are taken into account before a decision is made. This was of relevance in the Fitzroy Farm (Highgate) and Little Green Street (Kentish Town) applications. We argued that in some cases the construction nuisance was serious enough to justify the refusal of planning permission altogether. We also argued that granting planning permission and then, later, considering construction issues, always left the Council in a weakened position. This approach has been accepted, though officers need to be consistently reminded of it by vigilant councillors.

Local environment quality
– These are some examples of our work, but there are many others – for example, challenging officers in planning decisions to ensure they have fully considered efficiency standards in buildings, biodiversity, flood resilience, green and open spaces and other issues.

The developer pays – I’d like to mention one notable example of the role of section 106, in which a developer makes a payment towards a neighbourhood amenity. In this case, Camden council, as the developer in Holly Lodge Estate, was persuaded to contribute to a new family centre building. It was the idea of a local resident. I pushed for it and was pleased to see it happen. Though councillor Sally Gimson may claim credit, it had been agreed long before she arrived in the area. There remains much to be done in terms of good use of section 106 funds and the Community Infrastructure Levy. We’d like to see innovative approaches, for example using some of the funds to pilot a small network of pipes for a combined heat and power system, an investment in our infrastructure that would create jobs and improve our homes.

Taking ownership – More recently, I’ve supported the neighbourhood forums as away of communities sharing the use and feel of the area. I see the forums as a way forward on decisions relating to better transport and streets, energy efficient homes, protecting parades of shops and space for business, as well as heritage and prized sites. In Highgate Ward, this would include the Mansfield Bowling Club site amongst others. I’ve worked with residents to develop a constitution for the forum that makes it inclusive and participatory.

We Greens have done a fair amount of work but more, lots more, remains to be done. Green councillors, with their knowledge, expertise and commitment, are well equipped to play this important role.

Maya de Souza
Camden, May 2014

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