After last nightâ€™s annual council, or mayor making (sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings I know), the new Labour council leader has been swift to launch his new team. It is interesting to see him taking a more collegiate approach compared to his last two predecessors, Conservative Jason Stacey and Labourâ€™s Leo Thomson.
Bell listed five priorities:
– making the borough safer
– improving public services
– securing jobs and homes
– making the borough cleaner
– delivering value for money
It is good to see three out of five of these are taken straight from the previous administrationâ€™s list of three:
– cleaner streets
– safer communities
– value for money
The two new priorities look like a serious dilution. One reason we were so proud of what we did over the last four years is that the council managed to improve in our three focus areas where we put in more resource such as extra street cleaners and additional police officers but we also improved social services, parking, etc. This was the genius of not trying to do too much at once â€“ at the time our opposition accused us of being un-ambitious. Ambition is good, delivery is better.
Now Labour talks about improving public services? Which ones? Just those delivered mainly by the council? Working better with partners? It is likely that under the new coalition government we are going to see a large scale de-centralisation of power from central to local government. Many of the councilâ€™s erstwhile partners may find themselves being handed over to the council wholesale in the years to come. Our new administration will have to discard many preconceived ideas and be very quick on its feet. The government will tend I am sure to hand on responsibilities with only a part of the money – the rest will be kept at the centre.
The securing jobs and homes priority sounds nice but is likely to be pie in the sky. The council will have little choice about shedding labour in the next few years and its influence on the wider jobs market is limited I would say. Homes? Even under Alistair Darlingâ€™s rather rosy economic assumptions we were looking at net investment halving â€“ it will be worse than that and housing will suffer. Again more sacred cows will have to be sacrificed if the council is going to make progress on housing. The insourcing of the ALMO is not a good place to start. The previous administration had some very good people working on housing who moved at pace to progress the development of our high intervention estates. The council needs to keep up the pace with these and prove it is a capable partner.