An Unnecessary Role

embracing false choices

Archive for the ‘London’ Category

“Community leaders are elected. Anybody else who says they’re a community leader, fine, go and get elected.”

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Anyone who is interested in the future of Labour in local government, or indeed the future direction of the Labour Party full stop, should watch this video of Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, talking to Anna Turley from Progloc.


Written by samelliot

September 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Posted in Labour, Localism, London


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When I recently got back from holiday (very nice thank you for asking), it was to my profound satisfaction and joy that I found a new article from Tony Blair (look, I get the post-holiday blues, ok?). In a measured, precise approach to “the riots”, Blair swats aside all the verbiage and hand-wringing of previous weeks and gets down to business.

However, the big cause is the group of young, alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour. And here’s where I don’t agree with much of the commentary. In my experience, they are an absolutely specific problem that requires deeply specific solutions.

In the age of the Big Society and the Promise of Britain, it is strangely radical to talk of problems that need solving, rather than causes that need understanding. In his own way, Blair has become that thing he probably resented when in power – the commentator able to craft a neat solution without the inconvenient responsibility of having to carry it out. But his analysis of the problems created by particular chaotic families is persuasive, and, as he freely admits, not exactly new. And it’s even reinforced by something his most frothing critics would never credit him with – a bit of self-reflection.

In 1993, following James Bulger’s murder, I made a case in very similar terms to the one being heard today about moral breakdown in Britain. I now believe that speech was good politics but bad policy. Focus on the specific problem and we can begin on a proper solution. Elevate this into a high- faluting wail about a Britain that has lost its way morally and we will depress ourselves unnecessarily, trash our own reputation abroad and, worst of all, miss the chance to deal with the problem in the only way that will work.

Notebooks out, wannabes, school is in session.

Written by samelliot

August 26, 2011 at 8:00 am

Posted in "The Riots", Labour, London

While you were looting

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This sort of thing is not supposed to happen in August. It has been difficult to blog this week as when not seeing the heart ripped out of the two cities I call home I have either been working or despairing at the body politic’s frantic rushes to judgement (when they weren’t being shamed into coming back home like the saps they are). As Hopi says:

That about sums it up. Political parties, think tanks, charities, local authorities, government and others will spend weeks and months and years analysing and understanding the event of the last week. For London local government it is that dreadfully phrased thing, a “game-changer”. The game is changed. Everything local government does in London will take place against the backdrop of this August’s violence, ever mindful of the criminality (let me use the word just once, I haven’t had chance yet), social dysfunction and resentment that appears to lie below the surface of society, seemingly unchanged by the years of youth work, housing improvement and community engagement. And what that means for London’s communities we can, for now, only speculate.

Almost as interesting for a geek like me (although probably without the longer term repercussions) is the #riotcleanup initiative, spontaneous community action organised by social media to put right what the feral riff-raff made wrong. Now, I didn’t think these clean-ups were “the closest thing to popular fascism that we have seen on the streets of certain ‘leafy’ bits of London for years”, but I will admit that the darker parts of my soul did feel like informing these evangelical do-gooders that most councils maintain a large street cleaning fleet who would be able to do the job to a high level of competence well in advance of their leisurely 11.00am start time.

This, of course, would have been nothing but churlish spite, targeted at people who in my eyes had committed a crime even greater that violent disorder and theft – the crime of not understanding local government infrastructure. It was with some relief then that I was turned back to the light by reading this post by We Love Local Government, which saw the community stepping up and working with local councils as the undoubted good thing it is for both local government and local communities.

And here is the rub; the cleanup operation proved the success of both local government (and government in general) and society in general. The elected local governments were able to adjust the services they provide, on behalf of the people, to ensure that the worst of the damage was put right. Without this base level of competence, personal commitment from the staff involved and the logistical skills of the councils involved the clean up probably wouldn’t have been completed as soon as it was. Likewise, the support of society was able to send the sort of powerful message that local government alone couldn’t manage.

Read that, and then read nothing else. Take a deep breath. We all need it.

Written by samelliot

August 13, 2011 at 10:00 am


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A brief addendum to the last post. I don’t think the Tories are necessarily bad people, but I do wonder how many people in the Conservative Party would recognise the picture of my grandad and people like him, and how much they would understand about the way he lived his life.

And in saying this I express not a hint of ‘solidarity’ with the riff-raff element who this weekend inserted themselves into a peaceful community protest in Tottenham, but as inner city London burns a Conservative Mayor and a Conservative government have to deal with the aftermath. And this lack of empathy means that I don’t think they are going to find it very easy at all.

Written by samelliot

August 8, 2011 at 8:15 am

Posted in London

Want to make Universal Credit work in London? Just make stuff cheaper

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I posted a little while ago about the risk to London posed by the lack of regional variation in the way Government funding is being allocated and benefit rates are calculated. I was suggesting that in order to avert real-terms funding discrepancies and, even more importantly, the likelihood of thousands of benefit claimants (many of whom are in work) being forced to move the Government should ensure that their decisions reflect the cost of living and working in particular areas of the country.

It turns out that I couldn’t have be more wrong. This London Councils report  indicated that the Universal Credit reforms did not reflect the cost of living in London and would ultimately prove a disincentive to work. Responding to it, the company Policy In Practice (an unbiased lot given it was “was established to help the government deliver its welfare reforms”) makes clear that actually all those of us worrying about the impact of this policy are looking at this from completely the wrong direction:

A better policy response would be to reduce the costs of childcare, transport and housing to improve conditions for all Londoners and make the capital more competitive.

I cannot deny, this would make a lot of difference. If stuff cost less, then benefits would go further. If the cost of living wasn’t so high, then the Government’s plans wouldn’t be faulty on a grand scale. At this point if I was being politically mischievous I could point out that when you have a Mayor that does this:

Public transport users in London are being reminded that fares across the capital’s range of services are set to increase by 6.8 per cent next week in line with changes first announced in October.

The new fares come into effect from Sunday 2 January 2011 and will see the cost of a single Oyster bus fare rise to by 10p to £1.30. On the Tube the Zone 1 pay as you go fare will also increase by 10p to £1.90 while “overall” Travelcard season ticket prices will go up by RPI plus two per cent.

The increases are the third implemented by Mayor of London Boris Johnson since he took office in 2008.

Leads a London housing sector like this:

The problem is illustrated by two examples provided by London and Quadrant to the London Assembly planning and housing committee back in March. If a tenant were charged 65% of the market rent on a one bed home in Haringey their rent would be around £137 per week, a full £52 higher than a social rented home.

There is obviously a demand for housing let at these intermediate rents. But London and Quadrant told us that 77% of their residents earn less than £15,000 a year. The mayor’s own research shows that some 14% of Londoners in work earn less than than this threshold, and that this group is in the most acute housing need. This new “affordable” housing isn’t affordable for them.

Families on low incomes are even worse off. The mayor wanted 42% of social rented homes to have three or more bedrooms, but only 29% of the affordable rent homes will be that size. The likely result will be more overcrowding. As for rent, a family seeking a four bed property in Haringey would need to pay £293 per week if it were let at 65% of market rent, 132% higher than a social rent of £126 per week.

Or this:

Boris Johnson today urged the coalition to leave London’s rising house prices alone or risk worsening the housing crisis.

And did this:

The Conservative threat to affordable childcare and frontline services was highlighted in London today following the news that Tory mayor Boris Johnson has disbanded London’s dedicated childcare unit.

Then you probably aren’t going to stand much of a chance of making all that stuff cheaper. As I’m not being mischievous I’ll simply say this is a hopelessly naive way of looking at the problem. These changes are coming, they will cause chaos for London’s housing sector, local authorities and the people they serve. And airy theories without the policy to back it up won’t solve anything.

Written by samelliot

August 4, 2011 at 10:53 am

Posted in Finance, London, Welfare

Things I learnt when moving house

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Local authorities can be much easier organisations to deal with:

Want to change your address, get a new council tax bill, suspend a couple of parking bays? Sure, no problem, in fact, we’ll sort all this out at our end and then we’ll call you back and let you know it’s taken care of.

Than private businesses:

Need to close your electricity account? Sorry, can’t do that on the website, you’ll have call the helpline, we’ll put you on hold for twenty minutes, oh, and by the way, your furniture can’t be delivered for two weeks and your removal van is going to be three hours late, but we’re not going to tell you that until you’ve been stood waiting on your doorstep for half an hour.

Putting all your stuff in boxes, moving it half a mile and then unpacking it all, is not conducive to doing a blog:

I do have a couple of rules which is that if it isn’t updated at least twice a day it’s not a blog, it’s a website.  So don’t fool yourself that you’re blogging when you’re really just putting stuff up online.  And twice a day is sort of, I think, the minimum.  I think a blog to live really has to be probably four or five times a day.

And Justin Lee Collins and Shayne Ward will soon be starring in a power ballad music called Rock of Ages:

ROCK OF AGES takes you back to the times of big bands with big egos playing big guitar solos and sporting even bigger hair! This five-time Tony Award nominated musical, now being made into a movie starring Tom Cruise, opens here at the the Shaftesbury Theatre in September.

Somehow I will now use this information to resume blogging. As you were.

Written by samelliot

July 28, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Posted in Localism, London, Music

London’s emerging housing crisis

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While you were watching the other channel, you’ll almost certainly have missed this story behind the dead-girl-bothering Murdoch paywall about London’s emerging housing crisis.

London is on the brink of a significant housing crisis with a £32 billion funding gap for new homes, while homelessness is rising for the first time in more than six years and the average first-time-buyer’s deposit now costs £56,000.

That is the grim analysis of the leaders of the capital’s 33 councils, who argue that welfare reforms could be about to make the situation worse.

The report is based on this report from London Councils, which is a summary of the sheer scale of the task facing London’s boroughs as they seek to ensure everyone has a decent home to call their own. Worth remembering as we gasp at the latest developments from Wapping.

Written by samelliot

July 18, 2011 at 8:00 am

Posted in Housing, London