Monthly Archives: November 2010

Haircuts and lager, courtesy of Lambeth

Guest blogger, Kaye Wiggins, finds a more concrete policy in Lambeth’s cooperative council plans

You can picture the tabloid headlines already, can’t you? As part of its plan to become a co-operative council, Lambeth is going to give direct payments to more and more of the people that use its services, to spend as they choose.

This could include haircuts, horse riding lessons, presents for their children and even going to the pub, according to a recent report about the plan.

Giving money directly to people, rather than spending it on services they can use, is part of the ‘personalisation’ agenda, a key part of the council’s plan to go co-op.

The report, called Survive and Thrive and published last month by the council and the charity representatives’ group Acevo, says this agenda will be extended in future, and will cover services including health, social care, criminal justice, welfare to work, education, children’s services and substance abuse.

Under the plan, the council will fund charities and community groups that will let the people using their services decide on how their problems could best be addressed.

If a person’s situation could best be helped by rebuilding their self-confidence, and that person decides that a haircut or horse riding is the best way to do it, then they can choose for the money to be spent in this way.

“Anything should be possible as long as it is legal and it contributes towards achieving a mutually agreed outcome,” the report says.

It gives the example of a supported housing association in Tower Hamlets, called Look Ahead Housing and Care, which used funding from the council to give service users £40 a week to spend however they liked.

It says one used the money to buy presents for her children, another had her hair styled and another “used it at a pub as a way of making contact with a local darts team”.

The report says: “Although this was initially challenging for staff, these activities reconnected those living at Coventry Road with the local community, developed skills in communication and social awareness and, ultimately, began making the believe there was a route to recovery.”

It looks as though more and more of the council’s services will be provided in this way as it progresses with its co-operative plans. There’s a stark warning in the report for organisations that don’t deliver personalised services: “It is essential that they do not rely on on-going support from Lambeth, the PCT or other statutory agencies which are committed to a new commissioning model based on personalisation.”

This might become the biggest way in which Lambeth residents are affected by the co-op council agenda. The plan to go co-operative has been criticised for being a big idea that local residents struggle to see the relevance of – but here, at least, is a concrete policy.

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Sunday trading at Brixton Market

Photos from last weekend’s first Sunday trading at Brixton Market:

The Electric Avenue/Atlantic Rd shops all opened up. Cheap veg on a Sunday – hooray!

The new Federation Coffee – now serving food as well as coffee – making good trade

But many shops remained closed:

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The Brixton Week Ahead

Sunday: It’s been on the cards for a while and now the day is finally here. Brixton Market is opening for Sunday trading…and Friday and Saturday evening trading too. I’ll be heading down to search for some tinned pumpkin for a Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie.

Monday: Take a jog and run off the Sunday roast/Pumpkin Pie. Rumour has it that Lidl is selling running T-shirts for £10.99…and apparently there’s an offer on ‘Rudolph’ beer too, though I’m not sure I’m ready to endorse that yet. (via @hendopolis)

Tuesday: This is exciting. Trade in your tired old clothes for new(ish) ones at the Big Lambeth Clothes Swap, 7pm at The Ritzy. Bring 5 items that are clean and in good condition.

Wednesday: Rapper Keith Murray, a member of Def Squad, is in the UK to promote a new solo album and he’s performing tonight at Plan b for the first time in years. £8 advance tickets.

Thursday: The Sun & Doves is launching an exhibition of photos by South London collective, Effra FC, from 6.30pm. No, that’s not a football club but “a photography group who meet monthly in South London pubs”. And for extra fun, members of Effra FC will be taking pictures of guests as they react to the exhibition.

Friday: Visit the exhibition of Edmund Clark’s Guatanamo photos at Photofusion Gallery on Electric Lane. It’s not so much reportage as a study of the lives of the inmates and the places they have had to make their home.

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When the Pope’s Rd Car Park closed, the traders did too

(Photo: Damon Hope)

The closure of Pope’s Rd car park has been a real blow to Brixton Market traders this year and here’s some proof. Local blogger and ‘e-activist’ Richard Pope has submitted a Freedom of Information request for the Market occupancy rates over the past two years. The results show a clear reduction in occupancy since the closure of the car park in December 2009, from 79.41% in the Pope’s Rd Market in November 2009 to just 64.71% in September 2010. Read Richard Pope’s blog post here and see the full results of the FOI request here.


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Point of view: “Today I went on strike for the first time”

A London Underground Customer Services Assistant tells us why he’s striking today

Photo by tompagenet

Today I went on strike for the first time. This is something that a few years ago I would have found a ludicrous idea. To me, striking has always conjured up images of miners fighting with the police, French farmers burning sheep, and ‘Bloody Arthur Scargill’ as my Dad used to affectionately call him. Like most children, for many years my opinions of the world mirrored those of my parents. Strikers are troublemakers. If they don’t like their jobs, tough, who does? Either put up with it or leave.

My attitude towards the unions began to change last year when I joined London Underground as a Customer Service Assistant (CSA). During training, my class and I were approached by reps from the TSSA and RMT who explained their role and how they could be of use to us. The benefits offered seemed useful: free legal advice, accident benefits, and more. I opted to join the RMT simply because it was the larger of the two and the rep hung around afterwards to chat to us about the jobs we were about to start. Despite my obvious reservations I knew I could always cancel my membership if I wasn’t happy with their actions.

This nearly happened a few months later when an ongoing pay dispute threatened to boil over into a strike. London Underground Limited (LUL) had offered an increase which the unions had rejected and strike action seemed imminent. I totally disagreed with the TSSA/RMT stance, feeling that asking for more in the current financial climate was unreasonable especially as I felt we already got a good wage for our job. I worked much harder for a lot less money in my previous job as a warehouse manager. But as well as the issue of whether I felt a strike was financially justified there was another question to deal with. In this case, could I justify inconveniencing the very people I’m paid to help? The answer was a very definite no. If we had gone on strike I would have been too ashamed to look at our customers in the face the next day.

This brings me to today’s topic. It may seem hypocritical but I feel the current strike actions (and the ones which may follow) are the only way we have left to ensure our customers continue to get the service they pay for. LUL are intent on cutting nearly 2000 jobs. A large chunk of these are front line staff who customers have the most interaction with. They are the people who sell you tickets, help you when those tickets don’t work at the gate, top up your Oyster cards and all the other things passengers take for granted. London Underground is quite unique in how many front line staff it has, as anyone who has travelled on the Paris Metro or New York Subway will testify. This is something which LUL were proud to tell me when I joined the company and which Boris Johnson said he would ensure remained the case when he ran for Mayor.

If these cuts go ahead, travelling on the Tube will not only be less convenient but less safe. LUL claim this won’t be the case but that makes no sense. There will be fewer staff on duty which means fewer people to deal with situations such as unattended packages, fire alerts and customer accidents. Part of the cutback plan is to shut some of the quieter ticket offices on the network because they aren’t financially viable. I believe the extra security and peace of mind customers are given when passing through a staffed ticket hall late at night compared to an empty one is worth any loss the office may be making.

I feel I will be letting London Underground customers down if I don’t try to stop that from happening. Obviously I also don’t wish to see any of my colleagues made redundant (thankfully my job is currently safe) but my biggest motivation for giving up a day’s pay today was to try to ensure London Underground is able to continue providing the service customers expect from ‘A world class tube for a world class city’.


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