LAMBETH: SENSATIONAL BUDGET CLAIMS – LABOUR COUNCILLORS DON’T WANT TO FUND UPPER NORWOOD LIBRARY (and how residents ‘subsidise’ Harrow council to the tune of £117,000 a year)

LAMBETH: SENSATIONAL BUDGET CLAIMS – LABOUR COUNCILLORS DON’T WANT TO FUND UPPER NORWOOD LIBRARY  (and how residents ‘subsidise’ Harrow council to the tune of £117,000 a year)

Labour councilors in Lambeth no longer want to fund Upper Norwood library.

The sensational claim comes in the ‘alternative budget’ put forward by Lambeth council’s Conservative opposition for tomorrow night’s annual council budget meeting – with the council saying  “we will ensure that funding is made available next year for both Tate South Lambeth and Durning Libraries.”

Conservatives are proposing that both Upper Norwood and the Carnegie library at Herne Hill should be run jointly by a not-for-profit provider.

The ‘alternative budget’ report also reveals the work done by the Lambeth communications department for the marginal Labour-controlled council in Harrow (‘Harrow Communications’) trades at a loss, and cost Lambeth residents £117,000 last year.

Lambeth’s Conservative opposition leader Cllr Tim Briggs told News From Crystal Palace: “As I understand it their funding of Upper Norwood library only lasts until 2018.”

Other points from the ‘Alternative Budget’ include:

LIBRARIES: We believe that libraries should be used as libraries, exclusively for books and reading rooms, with disabled access, and full-time library staff.

As Conservatives we believe that a good library service has two great purposes: first, as community hubs, and second, as a place where people of all backgrounds and vulnerabilities can realise their potential, and help the next generation of Lambeth residents to do the same.

As Labour councillors no longer want to fund Upper Norwood Library, we propose Upper Norwood and Carnegie Libraries both being run jointly by a not-for-profit provider.

Next door Conservative-controlled Wandsworth Council has done this and made a £1m saving, kept all of its libraries open with no loss of jobs for anyone working in them on a long-term contract, varied opening times to be more in line with what residents have said they want, all with excellent approval ratings.

We understand that the Labour administration’s arrogant failure to listen to the wishes of residents has alienated many residents from wanting any kind of change to the libraries that they love, but we believe that given Labour’s insistence on not providing a proper library service in these two buildings, this proposal is the most practical option.

It means that the Carnegie and Upper Norwood Library would both stay open as proper working libraries. We believe this proposal would be cost neutral, and the service could run in parallel with the Lambeth library service.

Other libraries would continue within the Lambeth libraries service. In the event that Labour tried to close those libraries as well, the social enterprise model could be extended to other libraries at risk.

Over the next months we will look at what remaining options there are to save the other libraries at risk from being closed down by Labour, or turned into unwanted gyms.

COMMUNICATIONS – ENDING THE ‘SPIN’: The expanding Policy and Communications Department has been sold to members as being cost neutral, with a new trading arm set up to bring income from work with bodies outside the council.

The reality is that the increased funding, increased staff and increased responsibilities for Policy and Communications has simply increased the mistrust between the Labour council and residents, as the council tries to spin resident approval for policies which were not included in any manifesto and have no mandate, such as demolishing people’s homes in order for the council to build on them and be able to say it has achieved its target, or taking away their secure tenancies.

The staff costs for the communications team costs just over £1.15m.  £305,000 of the ‘income’ for communications comes from other departments within the council, with just £50,000 coming from outside bodies, which means that the communications department wastes £1.4m of public money that could go on services.

This is a disgrace and a national scandal that leaves the Labour administration open to accusations of using public money for political purposes.

The Labour council also spends £350,000 a year on communications employees in political offices serving the Labour administration, yet all administrative and office support has been removed from opposition councillors, leaving the Labour administration open to accusations of being a ‘one-party state’.

The trading arm of Lambeth Policy and Communication Department does no better. This was sold to members as a successful team of spin doctors bringing in income by selling their service to other councils.

The reality is that the trading arm of the Policy and Communications Department trades at a loss, costing Lambeth residents £190,000 a year. The work done by the Lambeth Communications Department for the marginal Labour-controlled council in Harrow (‘Harrow Communications’) also trades at a loss, and cost Lambeth residents £117,000 last year.

In other words, public money from Lambeth taxpayers is subsidising attempts for Labour to remain in control of another Labour council, on the other side of London. This is a disgraceful misuse of public money.

Labour also manages to lose £154,000 on a country show in Brockwell Park each year, whilst spending millions trying to convince residents that the Government is somehow responsible for its failures.

We would end the need for a head of Policy and Communications at Director level. All but a few staff employed to sell the redundant ‘co-operative council’ marketing idea would be made redundant. The remaining staff in the Policy and Communications department and a small Events team would report to Democratic Services.

We would end the collection and use of residents’ data for political messaging by the Labour administration (free email ‘newsletters’, links to pages of Labour propaganda on council web pages), all of which should not be paid for with public money.

Information from the council can be made available on the internet and in the remaining libraries without any political spin, or posted on estate notice boards. This should save at least £1.4m a year with no discernable difference to the functions of the council, but without the spin and misinformation that has created so much mistrust.

FREEZING COUNCIL TAX: We would accept the 3 per cent precept to fund social care paid for by the government, but would freeze council tax at 0pc.

Whilst we understand that not increasing council tax each year by as much as possible presents a risk to the council’s tax base, we believe that the proposed savings mitigate that loss, and that residents already suffering from poor services and lower living standards should not have to suffer year-on-year tax increases.

We believe that our amendment to generate new income streams, make more of existing income streams, and reduce waste, make a far better economic environment to encourage economic growth, jobs and investment than the Labour budget without our amendment.

The lost income to Lambeth council in 2017-18 would be £2m, but that same amount would make its way into the local economy to the benefit of residents.

HOUSING: The fake £100m ‘cut’ mentioned at every opportunity by the Labour administration is simply the £100m one-off grant from Conservative central government to Lambeth ending.

This was the largest grant to any local authority in the country to improve its housing stock, and formed part of the government’s Decent Homes Programme, repackaged by the Labour council as the ‘Lambeth Decent Homes Standard’;

The focus on contracts with suppliers in our long-term economic plan would end poor repairs, rubbish tips, contractors not turning up, and payments being for work not done.

We would also toughen up the contracts Lambeth council have with major works contractors to stop hard-working leaseholders from being ripped off. Good housing officers would be promoted and the housing department would be restructured.

We would end the record of poor housing management to ensure that the worst rogue landlord in Lambeth was no longer Lambeth council. We would also introduce a ‘Right to Part Buy’ policy, to make ownership more affordable for many more Lambeth residents.

Council tenants owning their own council homes increases diversity, helps make it easy for residents to be proud of their community and own a stake in its success, and provides an opportunity for people on lower incomes to leave property to their children and loved ones.

A similar scheme has been set up in Labour-controlled Barking and Dagenham council.

Tenants could buy a minimum of 25pc of their home at a discount and pay a low rent on the rest. 10pc more equity could be bought at a time, ‘staircasing’ up to the full cost.

COMMERCIAL CONTRACTS: We would create a commercial contracts team to oversee contracts for all services across the borough, responsible for all contracts with suppliers, rather than approaching contracts from a council officer perspective.

The centralised contracts team under a new commercial director would run the procurement, maintenance, renewal, storage, and improvement of all council contracts.

This would reduce the risk of corruption, evolve shared expertise for service contracts across the council, improve competition between contractors, help scrutinise and oversee the work done by suppliers more effectively, achieve savings and most importantly improve services for residents.

The centralised contracts team under the commercial director would also work with housing officers to get better value from all housing contracts, particularly contracts with contractors carrying out work for which leaseholders are charged.

One leaseholder was quoted £7,000 for work on her roof, and six months later received a bill from the contractors demanding £44,000. This would end.

SHARED STAFFING ARRANGEMENTS: The London boroughs of Wandsworth and Richmond are now sharing staff, saving £10m each, annually. Both continue to be separate sovereign bodies with their own elected councillors, cabinets and leaders, maintaining their distinct identities and retaining the ability to develop policies and priorities that matter to their local residents.

Such a restructure would not only create savings but allows for improved governance, as lines of accountability within and between individuals and departments would be made clearer.

These changes would have a minimal effect on staff working face-to-face with residents. For example, there would be no reduction in social workers or health workers, since the number of residents requiring social workers or health workers remains the same.

What would reduce is the number of managers needed, as the accountability of each employee to their manager would be made clearer.

NB: In its report to tomorrow night’s budget meeting the council says:

2.16 As part of the regular review of service budgets, we have acknowledged that we must ensure that our libraries are appropriately funded. In light of this we will ensure that funding is made available next year for both Tate South Lambeth and Durning Libraries.

Elsewhere, it says the council’s February 2016 Budget report published on 8 February 2016 identified the need for reductions of £96m over the four year planning period 2016/17 to 2019/20 and presented a series of proposals totalling £40m to balance the budget in 2016/17.

Following the final local government finance settlement in 2016/17 the council’s medium term financial strategy (MTFS) still required a further £55m of savings over the next three years (2017/18 to 2019/20) in order to manage the cut in core funding from Government, inflation, increasing demand and the transfer of risk from central government around business rates and council tax support.

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