A New Years message from Councillor Sarah Hayward, Leader of Camden Council

2015 was certainly a challenging year for Camden, but despite this, I’m proud that we have delivered on some things that we know will make a real difference to people’s lives.

Our Community Investment Programme (CIP) has made real headway again this year with more residents moving into the first new council homes built in a generation in areas like Gospel Oak and Regents Park estate. Along with ten new council homes, the self-funded Netley development in Regent’s Park includes a new primary school, a nursery and an adult learning centre. Building sites have also sprung up around the borough as part of CIP, creating new community facilities like St Pancras community centre in Somers Town. And the work continues at pace, in the coming months hundreds more new homes will be completed in Camden and spades will hit the ground to start building the Greenwood centre, the first centre for independent living in Camden and a vital new resource for people with a range of disabilities in the borough.

Government proposals for High Speed 2 (HS2) have dominated the year including our recent appearance at Select Committee. We have made some really significant progress in securing key measures that will protect residents and businesses from the worst aspects of HS2. We received over 100 assurances from HS2 on issues we know will make a big difference, such as their new commitment to remove spoil by rail – this means hugely reducing the number of HGVs they had threatened to drive through our borough every day. We gained a commitment from Government that an integrated approach would be taken to the development of Euston station, with Crossrail 2 and the Network Rail station being developed with the new HS2 station in line with our Euston Area Plan. However, our work isn’t yet done and in 2016 we must maintain the momentum and work to ensure HS2 delivers on its assurances and continue our fight for the compensation that local people deserve.

The Camden Plan is now three years old and this year I commissioned a stocktake to understand how we’re doing in delivering its ambition. At the heart of this plan is our desire to tackle inequality in the borough and there were a few very significant moments this year that really demonstrate our continued commitment to this. Our apprenticeships team won awards for the fantastic work they have done helping hundreds of young people and adults to get into a new career. We were also commended by the Equalities and Human Rights commission for becoming the first employer in the UK to publish a full breakdown of our workforce’s pay by gender, disability and ethnicity – we hope this move will encourage other employers to follow our lead and help tackle inequality in the workforce.

However, one of the most high profile moments was the victory we achieved for our much valued school dinner staff. We worked hard with Caterlink, the existing contractor, to implement the London Living Wage (LLW) which resulted in them agreeing a package of measures which also means that kitchen supervisors and other staff benefit from a pay rise as part of a new deal. Nearly 70% of school catering staff and their families live in Camden, so it was incredibly important to us to ensure the people who serve and supervise your children’s meals get a fair salary.

This coming February we will take another major step forward as the LLW will be applied to the Council’s homecare contracts. The Living Wage Foundation recognises the complexities involved in applying it to social care and education contracts, so the fact that we have managed to achieve this is something I am personally very proud of. This will not only improve the working conditions and pay for homecare workers as part of our commitment to UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter, but ultimately this will also result in better care for some of Camden’s most vulnerable residents.

All of these achievements have been in the context of us dealing with the biggest financial challenge the Town Hall has ever faced – to save £78 million by 2017/18 when our funding from Government will have been cut in half. We are still digesting the detail on the latest Local Government Settlement but early indications suggest the picture is going to remain difficult for us as we continue to face budget reductions.

Whilst making these difficult cuts we have tried to focus on the things that make the biggest difference to residents. This has been an incredibly challenging process and does mean we have had to make some tough decisions this year about which services we will continue to fund and which areas we invest more money in. And 2016 won’t be any easier as we continue to develop detailed plans to make further savings. Of course, we will continue to do this as we have been, in an open and transparent way, involving local people and organisations in helping us to protect the services we know make the biggest difference to the people who need them most.

A high profile example of these difficult choices was shown in the detailed consultation process we did this year about the savings we need to make from our library service. We openly presented the range of options and cost implications for the future of the service and involved hundreds of local people in those choices. I am pleased that so many people took part in that process and that we, as a community, have found ways to keep our libraries open although this will mean making the difficult choice of reducing staffing costs. This shows our real commitment to listen and develop the best solutions for our borough together. We continue to provide other top class community and leisure facilities too. If getting fit is one of your New Year’s resolutions I’d encourage you to come along for a visit. Remember if you are on benefits, a student or have a disability there are discounted memberships and activities available across all our fantastic leisure centres and sports facilities in the borough or why not use one of our free outdoor gyms.

Possibly one of the gravest threats to our borough in 2016 will be the development of the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill. London is facing an unprecedented housing crisis and we are deeply concerned that the Government’s Bill, far from offering solutions, is likely to make it worse – putting housing in Camden increasingly beyond the reach of all but the very, very affluent. The Bill will affect all housing tenures, not just social housing. It will reduce the availability of genuinely affordable homes, drive up rents, reduce our ability to build and damage the sustainability of London’s socially mixed communities and its economy. We need to build more genuinely affordable homes to solve the crisis; this Bill will have the opposite effect and reduce the number of those. As Camden and its residents stand to be disproportionality affected by this legislation, we have already submitted a consultation response and written evidence to the committee currently considering it and will continue to raise our concerns at every possible opportunity.

Despite the Government’s lack of solutions, 2016 will see us continue as one of the largest builders of genuinely affordable housing in London, with more homes being completed for Camden families across the borough. We will continue to work to improve the private rented sector too. In December we introduced landlord licensing and launched a major campaign against rogue letting agents who take advantage of people who privately rent in Camden. These are incredibly important assets to help both private tenants understand their rights and aid our continued work to drive up standards in private rented sector housing. We believe passionately that everyone should be entitled to a safe, decent and affordable home.

Finally, back in August I was one of the first council leaders in the country to call on the government to do more to help Syrian refugees. The pressure led from Local Government forced a change in direction and just before Christmas we welcomed our first Syrian refugees to the borough. I’ve been overwhelmed by the level of support offered from across the borough and while we continue to push the government to do more, people that want to help can find out more here.

This is a challenging time for Camden, but with your help, we’ve achieved a lot for our borough in 2015. We’ve made wages fairer, built new genuinely affordable homes for council rent and fought for a fair deal on HS2. It looks like 2016 will be just as challenging, but by working with all our communities and with your help, we believe we can build a borough where everyone has a chance to succeed and no one gets left behind.

I wish you all a very happy New Year.

Councillor Sarah Hayward

Leader of Camden Council