Monthly Archives: October 2010

Cllr Peter Robbins: The Impact of the Cuts

Lambeth Labour Councillor Peter Robbins gives us his verdict on the coalition cuts and how they’ll affect us

Last week, the Coalition Government released their spending plans for the next four years. Plenty of attention has been paid to the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) in the media, but it’s not always easy to see exactly how it will affect your area, your neighbours, and the public services you rely on. So I suggested I write this article for Brixton Blog readers to try to do just that – work out how the CSR is likely to impact on Lambeth.

I’m a Labour councillor in Lambeth, so will inevitably attract comments claiming I’m biased (and I am). But I’ll try my best just to stick to the facts. Likewise, this is not the place to rehearse the arguments for or against the decision to cut spending so deeply, or who will be most affected – that’s been done plenty of times elsewhere.

The CSR covers every pound of taxpayers’ money to be spent by the Government, either nationally or locally, over the next three years. I’m going to ignore the ‘national’ decisions on defence, international development, transport etc – and focus on what the CSR means for your streets, home, schools, and safety.

So let’s start with the three major announcements made in social housing – an issue of huge importance to Lambeth. Firstly, the cap in housing benefit –  this will impact on about 5,400 households in Lambeth (mostly in private rented accommodation). It is worth noting that only 20% of people who receive HB are on Jobseekers Allowance – the disabled, workers on low incomes, and the elderly will be affected most (two thirds of the 30,000 Lambeth council tenants receive some level of HB). Lambeth’s Cllr Lib Peck last week gave evidence to a House of Commons committee on this subject on behalf of London Councils (watch it here).

Secondly, the CSR saw huge cuts to housing capital – including cutting Decent Homes funding by about a third (about £80m less for Lambeth). Only 40,000 new council homes a year will be built nationally – despite a waiting list of 500,000 in London alone.

Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly given that 30,000 households in Lambeth are in social housing, George Osborne announced that new social housing tenants would have to pay 80% of market rents – that could see social housing rents in North Lambeth rise from £80 a week to £250 a week.

It’s a pretty bleak picture for residents in Lambeth – and the Government has already admitted there are likely to be increased levels of homelessness, overcrowding, and sub-standard housing.

In education, the headline ‘good news’ of the CSR was that schools budgets would be protected, and a new ‘pupil premium’ would be introduced. Unfortunately this is already unravelling, and it is likely that many Lambeth schools could see their funding cut. Hopefully this will become clearer over the coming weeks, but whatever happens local schools will also be affected by a likely reduction in services provided by the council (social care, pupil places, special needs support etc) as a result of the local government cuts.

In higher education,  the swingeing cuts of 40% in favour of student contributions and the removal of the tuition fee cap will make a UK degree one of the most expensive in the world – and mean university is simply not an option for young people from low income families. Further education has also been hit, and the Education Maintenance Allowance, relied upon by thousands of young people to fund travel costs to college, will also be scrapped.

In terms of school buildings, Lambeth had over £200m cut from its secondary school building programme in July, though some was restored after the threat of legal action. The CSR saw a further 60% cut from educational capital budgets, despite a growing shortage of primary school places (expected to hit 28,000 in London by 2014) that is particularly acute in south Lambeth. If anything is giving Michael Gove sleepless nights it is surely this.

Crime and community safety continues to be the number one priority for Lambeth residents. The CSR saw local police budgets cut by 20% – but it is unclear what this means for uniformed police officers and the highly valued Safer Neighbourhood Teams, and it is fair to say that this will be a political football for some time, until each local force has set out their plans to deal with the cuts. However it is likely that Lambeth will again be hit much harder than other areas.

And what of Lambeth Council itself, responsible for delivering a huge number of local services? About 90% of the council’s funding comes from central government (only 10% of Lambeth’s funding derives from council tax) so the council is hugely dependent on the decisions made by the government. The very breadth of responsibility held by councils mean that cuts made elsewhere also impact directly on the council. For instance, Lambeth will have to pick up the pieces of benefit changes by providing temporary accommodation for people made homelessness, and any cuts to police activity could see more antisocial behaviour. Increased poverty will see more demand placed on key services provided for vulnerable people.

Overall, it’s fair to say the cuts were as bad as anyone had expected, and are much greater than those being borne by any national government department. Instead of the 25% cuts that the council was predicting, councils will now face cuts of 28.4% on average over four years.  Lambeth is also a ‘floor authority’ which means your council will be even harder hit than other authorities (such as Wandsworth). That means about £90m out of a total of £310m will be cut from the budget.

The really bad news only slipped out later – instead of the cuts being spread in equal instalments over the four years as the Chancellor announced in his statement, the cuts are actually being frontloaded.  For Lambeth that will mean having to make cuts of £40m next year instead of the £20m we were expecting. Independent commentators have described councils as having been ‘singled out’ for attention – so that the coalition can spread the blame when the cuts start to be felt.

Of course, one person’s ‘cuts’ are another’s ‘savings’, and every pound that can be ‘saved’ means a pound less in cuts. In Lambeth £35m of savings were made in the last four years without affecting frontline services, but the more waste that is eliminated the harder it is to identify further savings. The council is actively pursuing opportunities to save back office costs by sharing services with neighbouring boroughs Southwark and Lewisham, and other public sector bodies such as the NHS. There is a great deal of national interest in Lambeth’s Cooperative Council Commission due to report in December – which should generate proposals to transform the way some services are run by engaging communities and service users more closely, generating cost efficiencies and enabling Lambeth to do more with less.

But the bottom line is that government cuts of almost 30% cannot realistically be absorbed without affecting frontline council services. With £90m less to spend, councillors now have the difficult task of deciding where and how those cuts will fall.



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The Brixton Weekend Ahead: Happy Halloween

What Halloween fun is there to be had in Brixton this weekend?

Tonight: It’s not too late to get scary and head to the Ritzy for the Bloody Prom Night! with ‘creepy cocktails’, ‘prickly prizes’ and a blues band, the Walking Wounded, until 3am.

Saturday: Get a pumpkin – cheap from Nour Cash & Carry in Brixton Market or, my personal favourite, from outside the Costcutter on Acre Lane.

It’s Plan b’s birthday bash tonight. They’re 8 years old and celebrating it with Brixton old timers Basement Jaxx, Tayo and Raf Daddy.

Sunday: A little too partied out to celebrate the actual day of Halloween? We’re in luck – The Ritzy is showing the original, Swedish version of ‘Let the Right One In‘ at 5pm.


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Brixton OxJam – tonight

It’s Brixton OxJam tonight. See here for the full line-up. Highlights are: The Illlersapiens at the DogStar at 10pm, folk and blues at the Ritzy Upstairs, and Plantain DJ set at the Rest is Noise followed by Yaaba Funk at 11pm.

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Zaha Hadid and the Evelyn Grace Academy

Brixton was lucky to be the site of an architectural first this summer. Zaha Hadid’s first ever UK project, the Evelyn Grace Academy, opened on Shakespeare Rd in July. Hadid is a British architect, but astonishingly her international acclaim hasn’t translated into success in her own country. Even the opening of the Evelyn Grace Academy went by relatively unnoticed until this month, when Hadid won the RIBA Stirling prize for her design of the Maxxi Gallery in Rome. Today, a photo tour of the school features in The Guardian. Check it out here. And go and have a peek yourself at 255 Shakespeare Rd.

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The Weekend Ahead in Brixton

Thursday: The weekend starts early (as usual) in Brixton with the Open Decks night at Mango Landin’. Bring four of your favourite records and compete to win. Or just go and dance to someone else’s favourite tracks.

Friday: Plan B is hosting the warm-up party for the World B-Boy Championships, which will be taking place at Brixton Academy on Sunday. Some of the event’s DJs are on the line-up tonight, including DJ Renegade, Skeme Richards and Shortee Blitz.

Saturday: OxJam take over Windrush Square with a host of local businesses, market stalls and music to prepare us for their real ‘takeover’ of Brixton’s music venues on 23 October. For food: Now it’s no longer summer, it’s back to hot curries, plantain and lots of rice at Negril for the evening.

Sunday: All that partying/eating/more partying. It’s time for something a little more sedate. Ruth Miller of the London Mural Preservation Society is leading a Brixton Mural Walk with a pub stop along the way. Meet at 1pm at Stockwell Tube Station. She’s written some lovely blog posts about the murals here.

If you’re still in party mode, then head to Brixton Academy for the actual B-Boy Championships from 2pm-9pm.

And, in a weird musical fusion moment, end the day at Ritzy Upstairs with some country music from Ryan Carr and guests.


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Opinion: Streatham Hub – “sit up and take notice”

Kevin Rye, from Save Skating in Streatham, explains why he’s campaigning against proposals for the ice rink to be temporarily moved to Pope’s Road in Brixton

‘Streatham Hub’. Two words that strike fear into the hearts of Lambeth Council. The project that is supposed to regenerate the site of the old Streatham ice rink has been a long-time coming, and it has got people in Brixton and Streatham rather hot under the collar.

Indeed, had you been shopping in Brixton Market last Tuesday you would have noticed that the usual fruit and veg stalls were replaced with rivers of plastic sheeting and protest signs from a group opposing the development. The group includes a wide range of interests, from high-street chains, individual businesses and concerned residents, to organisations such as Friends of Brixton Market and Transition Town Brixton, to The Brixton Society and Brixton Market Traders Federation.

It all emanates from the ‘Streatham Hub’. Tesco bought the site of the current Streatham ice rink almost ten years ago and in 2001 agreed to develop a ‘Hub’ with new leisure facilities, a new supermarket and 250 new homes. But last year, Tesco indicated it might not be able to follow through on the plans, in particular building a new ice rink. In they end, they agreed to provide a temporary ice rink between the closing of the old one and the opening of a new one. The big question now is where that temporary rink will be situated. Lambeth Council has proposed the site of a car-park in Popes Road, Brixton, which is deemed vital both by the council itself (in a 2003 Cabinet document) and desperately needed by traders (whose turnover is down 50% while council rents are up a similar amount).

But this plan is in direct contravention of the Section 106 finally signed in December 2008 by Tesco, after years of wrangling. In fact the deal was pretty much tied-up in December 2004, but Tesco have something of a reputation of dragging their heels.

The S106 – ‘community kickback’ as it’s sometimes known – guaranteed ‘continuity of provision’ on the current site of the rink over the period that the new combined rink and leisure centre was to be built. Ken Livingstone as Mayor at the time had insisted on this, and so the deal contained clauses that forced them to build the rink and leisure centre first before anything else.

This would guarantee against the precedent set in Richmond, when a property developer (quelle suprise) bought one of the most famous rinks in the country, paid the Council £2.9m to remove similar guarantees (in excess of £5m in today’s money), then knocked it down, built flats and that was that.

But Tesco came crawling back to the council pleading poverty just three months after they signed the S106 and the idea of a temporary ice rink on Streatham Common was – ridiculously in my opinion – put forward. HOOC (Hands Off Our Common) pointed out that the word ‘Common’ actually meant something, and Brixton soon emerged as the favourite.

The big question that I keep coming back to is quite simply: why does a multi-billion-pound turnover business sign off a deal to develop a site it knows is going to cost ‘x’ amount of pounds during deep financial crisis and a period of collapsing property prices, and then ‘suddenly’ realise three months later that they ‘can’t afford it’? Don’t forget thatwhen they got the council to agree to this ‘relocation’ of such a vital element of the site, Tesco also slung in an application to expand the store space by another 56%.

I’ll make a suggestion. This is about Tesco building one of the biggest stores they’ve got. It’s about sewing up the grocery market – and increasingly non-food items – from London to Brighton; most of all, it’s about them ensuring that they earn the maximum return for their shareholders.

And I’ll suggest to you what it isn’t about: it isn’t about communities being provided with the facilities they need; it isn’t about the continuation of one of London’s most well known and oldest leisure and sporting venues.

No matter what Lambeth say about this development, it’s all about Tesco earning money, Lambeth not having enough, and the council trying to do this ‘deal with the devil’ to make sure it gets a project finally built that’s been on the drawing board for years.

In South London alone in recent years we’ve lost Streatham Bowling Alley, Catford Dogs (Greyhounds), Plough Lane (Football), Richmond (Ice Skating). We no longer have speedway at Wimbledon because the track owner decided it didn’t suit their business plan – the famous Wimbledon Dons now race in exile.

I’m no Nimby, really, but London is in danger of turning into a giant housing estate-cum-supermarket chain.

I’m one of many thousands of people in Brixton and Streatham who is no longer going to sit back and witness this particular story play out. And it’s in my power as a local resident to make sure Lambeth don’t make a total rickets of a very simple proposition. And it’s in yours too.

I haven’t even gone into the aggressive behaviour by Lambeth Council officers towards Streatham residents and ice-rink users; or their scandalous treatment of a local councillor – throwing her out of a meeting (a local authority legal expert said he didn’t know how to deal with the incident off the top of his head as ‘this has never happened before’); or the frankly odd behaviour by Tesco – convening meetings with Streatham businesses without telling local councillors.

Whether or not you like ice skating, whether or not you shop in Brixton, if nothing else I hope the behaviour alone of Tesco and Lambeth makes you sit up and take notice.

If you want to know more, Save Skating in Streatham can be found on Facebook and Don’t Ice Brixton Market have their own website.


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