News from Kensington and Chelsea's Labour Councillors

News

Labour Budget Speech, by Cllr Robert Atkinson, 6 March 2019

MM, having earlier made it very clear that the opposition is not happy with the timetable of tonight’s meeting I will willingly cede some of the, ludicrously short time made available to us to query and expose the failings of this Tory budget to my very able colleagues (especially Cllrs. Mason and Press who have spent days trawling over your plans and evasions.

But before I hand over to them and to our other spokespeople there are a few headlines, ground rules and home truths that I wish to get on record:

The main headline is that, although The Labour Group will tonight vote to support the 2.00% increase in Council Tax earmarked for Adult Social Care, we will not vote for the further 2.99 % increase that you are proposing.     We reject this on the grounds that even now, given the size of your remaining reserves and the ease with which this previously wealthy borough can borrow money we do not need to raise council tax at this point for those of our residents who are not well off.

The Second Headline is that, as and when, an increase in Council tax does, in the future, genuinely become necessary we will vote for it. But if  an increase in Council Tax does need to be made, we will not collect it from anyone who lives in properties located in bands A, B or C.         

This council, in the bad old days, recklessly and ruthlessly gave indiscriminate council tax refunds to all council tax payers as election year bribes. We on the other hand have long believed that, those of our residents who can afford to support this council in the difficult years ahead should do so.  BUT on our side  we are also aware that many ordinary residents living on stagnating or falling incomes in a world where the future is so uncertain- even before we plunge into the nightmare of a post Brexit economy, do need every help that we can provide.       

To use an old illustration ----we believe that the Sultan of Brunei and other residents of the millionaires’ squares and rows should be made to pay more to rescue this borough from the chaos - financial, moral and personal that the Conservative Party has plunged us all into. But we believe that ordinary residents with ordinary means – let us always call them the Mrs Braithwaite’s of our borough should not be punished for the past errors of this council.

Thirdly, to be conciliatory for just a moment, we will support this administration in its ongoing negotiations with Central government to have National Government continue to pay those costs arising from the Grenfell tragedy that are beyond the means or capabilities of the borough council.

In return for which I hope that the Conservative side will support us in our campaign to have additional council tax bands increased, enlarged and made proportionate so that the multi multi millionaires who live in our borough are made to pay a proportionate amount of the taxes necessary to provide the services of the borough.

Our message to the Sultans, Ecclestone’s and Abramovich’s  of the borough is that you are most welcome indeed to dwell amongst us  provided that you pay property taxes appropriate and proportional to the properties that you own.    We would also urge this council to examine the benefits and costs of developing a tourist bed tax so that those who visit and stay in the borough also make a fair contribution to the costs that thereby arise. Where Edinburgh leads and even Westminster advocates, Kensington should at least take a look.

MM the council’s record and finances over the last year have been mixed and I am not surprised therefore that the controlling Tory group want to get through this annual budget setting with such undue haste. To be fair this can be partially justified because the council is only half way through a reorganisation- the end result of which still not clear and the whole system of local government finance is in any case about to change.  -  But MM tonight’s downgrading of the borough’s budget making decisions is also because this battered and shamefaced Tory council does not wish to attract any attention to its continuing shortfalls and problems. And MM by examining many of your capital budget proposals sneaked in, in small print we have been able to demonstrate that you have still not been able to entirely wean yourselves away from all your former profligacy and favours. MM in the current climate how can this council dare to keep pouring money into Leighton House and Holland Park when simultaneously you claim the need to cut our youth clubs and youth services.  And while you have not grasped the nettle of the Borough taking the responsibility to save our much loved Wornington College.   MM this Borough has a far greater duty towards Wornington College and to replacing the Internationally famous and disgracefully abolished Maxilla Children’s Centre than it does to further tarting up of Leighton House or Holland House.  MM let us care more for the many than for the well-connected few.

In terms of tonight’s debate, MM I urge the Conservative Group to pay close attention to both the new ideas brought forward and the challenges made to your plans by the opposition. Year after year you ridicule our suggestions and then in the years following you quietly adopt them as your own.   Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery and it is a matter of great satisfaction to us that you have already appropriated at least half of the ideas we put forward in our election manifesto last year.    For example, it’s good that you now propose to provide free and reduced tariff swimming for children under 15– as we have long advocated. But why not implement all of our pledge and make swimming available to all our youth and to our older people and unemployed as well?    

MM so keen are we for the Conservative administration to take up all of our previous ideas I will be more than happy to reprint our manifesto of last May and provide every Tory Councillor with a copy.   

To cut to the chase - the spending priorities in our alternative budget which call for just £700,000 from reserves are seriously thought out and I hope will be given serious consideration by this council and its officers in subsequent meetings during the year. As always you will try to say that the Labour Group does not understand the difference between Current and ongoing Revenue  proposals and Capital Projects.   This has never in fact been the case and our response to this is that we understand it all too well and that our priorities are driven by the principle of investing to save.   

Our flagship proposal this year, as last, is to make all Adult Homecare Free - to abolish charges and to provide services to elderly and vulnerable people in their homes at no cost to the users. There will be some savings in removing the assessments for care but far more importantly, by assisting people to remain independent and in their own homes for as long as possible we will save public money in the longer term.

Conversely MM we have discovered more than £7.5 m intended capital investment that in the current circumstance we simply cannot possibly support. Let Friends of Holland Park and Opera and Leighton House at least raise some on the huge capital sums they require themselves and not call upon Mrs Braithwaite to support them. And MM, let me drop all levity and state quite simply that it is simply obscene that this council is proposing to spent £2.6 million on refurbishment and improvements to the Town hall when those in real housing need in the borough are told to wait years or to move elsewhere. MM let the borough first halt the export of our poorer population in housing need and only then talk about refurbishing the town hall.

MM there has been some improvement in the priorities and management of this council since the Grenfell tragedy and at least some of the new Tory councillors seem to live in the real world.  BUT when the first time that Tory activists are seen at the North Ken Food bank has been this week when giving out election literature for the bye election we clearly have a long way to go before this Council can claim to fulfil the borough motto of happily living happily together  as one. 

MM I now  urge this council to listen carefully and to accept both the changes and the warnings that my colleagues will now detail.

The Alternative Budget Speech for Family and Children’s Services, by Cllr Nadia Nail, 6 March 2019

Madam Mayor

I commend the lead member and council officers in family and children’s services on the way they have taken some difficult decisions in the face of cuts and tried to come up with innovative solutions to deliver services in this borough despite the cut of funding available to do the job in front of them.

But these do not go far enough given the need and what residents are telling us from the Listening Forums and Stronger Communities consultation.

I welcome the recommendations from the youth working group, as to create a new approach to youth services through consultations, involving youth in making decisions and listening to their views.  We welcome the funds committed to the new Youth Parliament; the Labour Group has lobbied for a Youth Council for some years.  

This council leadership should listen to what young people have said through the consultation, and the only option in order to meet their needs expressed in the consultations is taking the bulk of youth services delivery back in house and re-opening more Youth Clubs.

We need an integrated service which works directly with and is held to account by other part of our youth services, early help and youth offending team.  The current contract is not working.

Over the years we have made a significant provision for the delivery of these services. From our alternative budget we have an addition budget allocation of £100.000 required, to bring youth services back in house, with no renewal of EPIC youth services and establishment of in house teams as different services. .

 Where are the detailed budget commitments to ensure that young people have somewhere safe and structured to go to during holidays and weekends? 

Our alternative budget is to spend £60,000 so these valuable community assets can stay open during holiday and weekends, keeping children safe, secure and healthy.

As a parent I have struggled to provide for my two children in secondary school where I have been given a compulsory list of items to purchase from one retailer at higher prices. And I know how it feels when you can’t afford two items of each to both, and the burden must have been felt by families to comply with these rules, that have no consideration towards families that struggle to provide for their children.

Parents and students should be able to buy low price generic items from any number of retails and still comply with the policy for school uniform. School should keep branded uniform to a minimum.

The department of education guidance on uniform state that no school uniform should be so expensive as to leave family unable to apply or to attend the school of their choice.

Yet currently it costs a family £350 per child to purchase a full uniform for Holland Park School. And this kind of expenditure, especially if you have two or more growing teenage children can result in fuel and food poverty for lower income families.

We have made a provision of £70,000 alternative budget for 2019/20 to pilot a school-uniform grant scheme to put that right.

Therefore, I call on this council leadership team to re-establish a school uniform hardship grant or fund.

I ask all members to support the family and children’s services alternative budget.

Save the Royal Brompton Hospital
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Help save the Royal Brompton Hospital by signing the petition here.

A VISION BASED ON EVIDENCE

From the Red Brick site. Click here to read the entire article.

AN IMPORTANT VICTORY

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The Labour Group’s longstanding campaign to insist that the Council pays at least the London Living Wage to its employees has finally achieved an important success.

At a meeting to discuss the Council’s Pay Policy statement on 22 February, it was revealed that only seven members of staff do not receive pay at or above the London Living Wage. Following robust interventions from Labour’s Leader Cllr Robert Atkinson and the Chief Whip Cllr Judith Blakeman, it was agreed that no one at the Council will be paid below the London Living Wage from April 2017. Although declining to issue a formal press statement that RBKC is now a London Living Wage employer, this bodes well for the Council’s employees in the future.

This follows on from K+C Labour’s significant success in achieving at least the London Living Wage from 2016 for all employees of the cleaning company OCS who clean the Council’s housing estates (seen below with Labour councillors campaigning for better pay in 2013). Residents’ Associations are already reporting significant improvements in the cleanliness of their estates.


24 February 2017

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LABOUR SEEKS TO SAVE SUCCESSFUL FGM PILOT PROJECT

Cllr Harrison Littler spoke eloquently at the January Council meeting to urge the Council not to cease funding the excellent Tri-borough pilot project that protects local residents from Female Genital Mutilation.

He thanked council officers, hospital staff, social workers and community activists and advocates who worked together to create this brilliant project. Their successful work, nominated for an award from the Royal College of Midwives, is a credit to the London Boroughs involved and a model for other multi-disciplinary teams to base themselves on.

The practice of FGM – the ritual cutting and removal of external female genitalia - is widely considered to be an issue which predominantly affects the Somali community, but the reality is that it is a much wider problem, affecting women from dozens of African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries. During the brief pilot period, women visiting the FGM clinics were not just Somali... they also identified as Egyptian, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Gambian, Kurdish, Malaysian, Nigerian, Saudi and Sudanese.

FGM is therefore a much more significant problem for inner London boroughs than people may think. In the Kensington and Chelsea alone, it is estimated that 1644 residents have undergone FGM – across the Tri-Borough area, this counts for a staggering 2% of all female residents. In the last 10 years, women who themselves are survivors are survivors of FGM have accounted for around 10,000 births in our hospitals.

This project recognizes each of those births as an opportunity to support the women involved with the complications they may suffer in pregnancy and labour as a result, as well as intervening to prevent the practice affecting further generations. The project is premised on the fact that midwives are best placed to identify and work with women who have undergone the practice. The project views, without stigma or prejudice, the girls born to these women as being most at risk of FGM in the future.

The key strength of the project is in its scope and wrap-around support.

- It involves therapeutic services and emotional support, acknowledging the trauma associated with the practice.

- It has brought together a wide range of specialists to focus their energies and expertise, establishing innovative specialised assessments and protocols for intervention and support, such as FGM specific mental health tools.

- This learning has been cascaded to wider medical teams in hospitals, GPs and teachers

- The men in families have been involved by male project members, and the MOPAC (Metropolitan Police) evaluation describes how men, "who have never discussed the subject of FGM in their lives" were given an opportunity to share their views and be challenged on them

- Crucially, the project has had the support of community advocates – very much the linchpin – that have literally and figuratively held the hands of women affected

- In some cases, the FGM clinics set up came across families who were surprised to learn that practicing FGM in this country is against the law. Many other families who were identified as ambivalent to the practice were reported as agreeing that they would not now want to see their daughters cut

The hardest and most expensive work of trailblazing, establishing teams and clinics and building up innovative assessments and tools has been done. In the longer term, the same outcomes can be delivered more effectively, at a lower cost per case.

Following the Council's decision to cease funding the pilot, scraps of additional funding are being pulled together in an ad hoc and piecemeal fashion with two consequences: first, clinic staff and the community live in uncertainty looking to a shifting horizon of "when the funding runs out". Secondly, core parts of the project unable to secure funding are being cut, starting with the male staff trained to work with the men in families, who are often the decision makers in FGM.

Without mainstream funding, this excellent work will wither on the vine yet it is a vital part of safeguarding children that deserves a proper budget from the Council. Kensington and Chelsea ("the richest borough in the universe") cannot excuse itself from this responsibility.

"The Kensington and Chelsea Labour Group of Councillors regret the decision of Cllr Andrew Lomas to cross the floor and become a Liberal Democrat councillor. We believe that in the circumstances he should present himself for re-election to the voters of Colville Ward. The residents of that ward have experimented with Liberal Democrat councillors in the past and firmly rejected them at the last Council election only two years ago. To respect the democratic process, they should be asked whether they stand by that decision."

10 October 2016

RBKC Labour Councillors and Estate Cleaners win London Living Wage Victory

For five years, Kensington and Chelsea Labour Councillors have repeatedly put forward resolutions and amendments asking that the 71 Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) estate cleaners employed by the Council's sub-contractors OCS be paid the London Living Wage and that the Council should respect its workers by paying them a wage sufficient to live and raise families within the capital. This the Council resolutely refused to do even after Boris Johnson, then London Mayor, and neighbouring boroughs urged all decent employers to do so.

Surprisingly RBKC, "the richest local authority in Europe" pleaded lack of cash "due to government cuts" whilst simultaneously sitting on obscene levels of reserves and racking up underspends year after year on its expenditure.

When the cleaners (paid only £7.18 an hour), supported by their GMB Union, went on strike twice in 2013, Labour Councillors joined their picket lines to show support for the dispute.

As Cllr Judith Blakeman told the local press during the dispute, "such low pay makes it impossible for workers to live in London and bring up their families without recourse to welfare top-ups such as housing benefit" and that it was a disgrace that the Council doesn't require their contractors to pay the LLW.

The Council response was "the Council has discussed the LLW and does not support it because it is a less effective way of tackling household poverty than the social security system".

In other words, the Council were happy for the taxpayer to continue subsidising poverty-wage contractors. Cllr Blakeman and others lobbied the TMO Board and detailed the experience of the cleaner who walks 3 miles each way daily from home to clean a TMO estate because he couldn't afford both to pay fares and feed his family.

But this week, the Council has finally relented and announced they and the TMO will pay the cleaners the £9.40p per hour LLW from 1 October 2016.

Labour Leader Cllr Robert Atkinson commented "this belated change of heart must be welcomed by us all. The right for a fair day's pay for work well done is fundamental for a decent society. The borough cannot function without a stable and happy workforce. It's just a pity that the council took so long to do the decent thing".

1 October 2016