Camden Council's deepest-ever cuts: How they will affect us all

Thursday, 25th November 2010

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A new dossier reveals where Camden Council is likely to wield the axe. By Richard Osley
• Non-essential repairs to be left undone • Free nursery places for all scrapped  • Streets will be lit for fewer hours • Council rents may go up by 7 per cent

Published: 25th November, 2010

THE Town Hall has unveiled its plans for the biggest cuts ever to hit Camden, revealing that around 1,000 jobs will be axed, libraries will almost certainly close and a recently refurbished sports centre will be binned.

As a dossier of proposed cuts to all departments was released on Tuesday, Labour cabinet members blamed the  Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition’s drastic budget reduction. And Tories and Lib Dems in turn blamed the previous Labour government’s management of the economy.

Camden has been asked to find between £80-£100 million worth of savings to balance the books.

Lib Dem leader Councillor Keith Moffitt said the measures were “unimaginative”, adding: “It just seems like Labour in Camden is doing what is being done elsewhere and just being defeatist. There is nothing new in this report.”

Conservative leader Councillor Andrew Mennear said: “There is going to be some pain but we’ve all known this for some time. There isn’t anything new in all of this.”

But Labour finance chief Councillor Theo Blackwell said: “The Lib Dems say its unimaginative but they need to come up with alternatives rather than clichés.”

His comments came as unions warned the cuts would lead to a series of protests and demonstrations. A lobby of Camden Town Hall is planned for Wednesday at 6pm.

Privately, some activists believe that if Labour councillors in Camden are so unhappy with the lack of investment from Whitehall they should refuse to implement the cuts and take the bold action of stepping down from their places on the council and joining an organised opposition.

Libraries – Closures and the end of mobile van

One of the big areas of controversy at the Town Hall: £2 million will slashed from the library budget. 

The mobile library van will not survive the axe and some branches are likely to close. Council staff say Camden has a high proportion of libraries compared to other boroughs but admit they are already primed for an angry reaction. 

The names of threatened branches have not been named but Belsize and Chalk Farm are frequently mentioned in speculation.

Camden’s own research says “the groups most affected by the change will be the elderly and disabled customers and younger children who may find it more difficult to use an alternative library located elsewhere.”

Camden promises to consult but opposition councillors have already called for a full investig­ation into whether all of the branches can stay open, possibly with the help of volunteers or sponsorship. 

Green councillor Maya De Souza said: “These are centres of the community which should be kept open. There is a lot more to them now than just checking out books.”

Conservative leader Councillor Andrew Mennear said: “The report is very vague about shared services with other areas, but it has been suggested that if all libraries in London came under the power of the Mayor [of London] then millions of pounds could be saved in efficiency. 

“That sounds eminently sensible.”

Street cleansing – Less frequent service, more enforcement

“Resident satisfaction may fall” – Camden’s budget report admits when it comes to waste and street cleansing. The Town Hall plans a “phased reduction in sweeping frequencies”. 

The dossier adds: “Businesses will have to take out more responsibility for keeping their areas clean and those do not comply will have enforcement action taken against them.” Sceptics were warning this week that tougher action would only lead costs to spiral, making the exercise worthless. 

Camden residents have already seen their twice-weekly rubbish collections halved, bringing the borough into line with other areas in London.

Housing repairs – Tenants will be expected to DIY

Council tenants can expect “decorating packs” so that they can do up their own homes by themselves. These may be distributed through a voucher system. Meanwhile in communal areas, non essential repairs will be left undone. The report said: “The council will monitor the risk that this raises of the deterioration of estates over time and the impact on tenant and leaseholder satisfaction… Fewer non-statutory repairs will be carried out.”

Camden also hopes to save money by turning around flats more speedily when they fall vacant. The idea is that the quicker they can get a new tenant in, the more rent can be collected. Exiting tenants will face new fees for any damage left behind.

Schools – Special needs support takes a big hit

The main blow to education spending is a puncture in the budget for special needs support. 

The report being considered by senior councillors at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday said: “The council is proposing to reduce levels of outreach and support for schools to a core entitlement from the primary learning support service.”

Education department officers said “shared expertise” across the schools would be used to avoid disadvantage for children with special needs.

Andrew Baisley from Camden National Union of Teachers said: “Camden is well known for having one of the best records for special needs education but will be stripped back to the statutory minimum. It will be going from one of the best places for special needs to the worst overnight. The responsibility lies solely with George Osborne here. What isn’t appreciated is that if support is taken away from students with behavioural problems then it has a knock-on effect to the education of all of the students in the class. And as schools are no longer having special needs support subsidised, they have to buy it themselves which puts pressure on their budgets.”

In cuts to the social services budgets, social workers will no longer work inside schools. The Building Bridges project credited with helping disaffected youths change their lives will effectively be scrapped.

Jobs – A thousand to be axed over three years

Around 1,000 council posts face being cut over three years. 

The Town Hall is keen to point out a share of these cuts will be covered by people keen to take voluntary redundancy or by vacancies not being filled. That said, staff in some departments are already facing applying for their current jobs as the workforce is whittled down and nobody is pretending that compulsory redundancies will not occur. The jobs will be phased out over the next three years. Camden say staff costs at management level will be cut by 20 percent, a £3million saving.

Unison branch secretary George Binette said: “We have the starting point that we don’t want any public sector jobs or services to be cut. There is anxiety and anger among staff, although some have yet to realise the gravity of these proposals. We have highlighted the gulf between the highest paid and the lowest paid at the council but we want to protect all jobs.”

Talacre Sports Centre – Outsider to manage

As trailed in the New Journal last month, Greenwich Leisure Limited, an outside operator, will take over the running of the Talacre Sports Centre in Kentish Town. 

Unions have warned previously that staff are concerned that the same acclaimed and popular courses and classes will not be retained. 

The centre is home to one of the country’s most successful children’s gymnastics classes with parents queuing through the night to get their sons and daughters enrolled. 

Union members say Camden will surrender its say on how the centre is run and what standards are demanded.

Estate car parks

Underground car parks on council estates have been identified as  possible revenue raisers. Instead of going to council tenants, the spaces could be leased to private drivers. It is assumed this could be particularly profitable in the south of the borough where motorists struggle to find affordable parking places close to large shopping areas.

Council rents – A 7 per cent increase is forecast

With Camden’s famous history of rent strikes in the back of their minds, councillors nevertheless have warned that council home rents will inevitably rise. They are still waiting for news on what subsidy Camden will get from Whitehall but the clearest guess so far is a 7 per cent increase.

Conservative leader Councillor Andrew Mennear said: “What Camden is doing is similar to what the government is doing nationally and trying to preserve a system for those most in need but we need to look very carefully and scrutinise all of these changes.”

Street lighting

Money spent on lighting up the borough’s streets will be saved with plans to “reduce hours of illumination”. Green councillor Maya De Souza said she welcomed other plans for more energy-efficient bulbs.

Leisure services – Mornington Centre closes

Mornington Sports Centre in Camden Town which re-opened in February after a state-of-the-art refit will close in 2012. Lib Dem leader Councillor Keith Moffitt, who officially re-opened it, said: “It has just come back into use and doesn’t cost too much to run. They don’t mention this one in the press releases. It looks like one of the things they are trying to sneak through.”  New exercise machines were fitted as the council boasted the centre was the perfect place to go to get fit. 

The new “Energy Zone” for five to 15-year-olds was celebrated as being a unique service. 

Camden claims that now the Prince of Wales Baths has re-opened in Kentish Town with its own keep-fit facilities, the use of the Mornington Sports Centre will decline.

Children – The end of  free nursery provision

Camden’s play service will be stripped back and free nursery provision – currently available to all three and four year-olds regardless of ability to pay – will be scrapped. 

In the past, everyone was able to claim 25 hours of free care. That will be clipped to 15 hours with longer hours only available to “targeted” families.

George Binette of the Town Hall staff union Unison said: “Cuts to breakfast clubs and nursery provision will affect working families who need them the most and who will be forced to pay privately.” 

Two dedicated children’s centres are expected to be shut down but the council is promising to “monitor the impact”.

Squash courts

The cost of hiring sports facilities will no longer be pegged. Regular users can expect to pay an extra 20 per cent on the current prices for gyms, football pitches, squash courts and other leisure services.

Freedom Passes – No automatic rights for the mentally ill

Pensioners have repeatedly been told that their Freedom Passes will be protected but the council is set to pull back from giving discretionary passes for people who cannot show a demonstrable physical impairment.

People with mental ill-health will also no longer automatically qualify. 

Questions were being raised this week as to how the council will be able to assess each case with warnings that this would lead to an increase in workload. 

New fees for replacement passes when elderly people lose them will be introduced. 

Weddings – It’ll cost more to get married

Labour Party leader Ed Miliband who lives in Dartmouth Park said he plans to get around marrying partner Justine Thornton. His delay will hit him in the pocket because the price to get hitched will be increased in a list of fees and charges on the rise. 

Getting married on a Friday – like Prince William and Kate Middleton – for instance will cost £350, rather than £255.

Voluntary workers – Support groups will miss grants

£2.5million a year looks set to be taken out of money handed  to voluntary organisations, the unsung groups and community centres who help people with needs not covered by council services.

The Town Hall is reviewing the performance of organisations which have previously received council funds. Officials insisted in the budget report that the aim is to maintain investment for groups that have the “greatest impact on local need”.

Conservative leader Councillor Andrew Mennear predicted it could be one of the “most dangerous” cuts in the package.

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