25 February 2016

Peckham Rye Adventure Playground: protected

As local residents will know, Southwark Council has suffered as a result of unprecedented cuts Government funding since 2010.  The council has had a third of its funding cut.
As a result of these deep cuts, the council has been forced to consider reducing adventure play services. This could have meant that Peckham Rye Adventure Playground, while keeping its weekend sessions, might have lost of its four after-school sessions. Many local people spoke to us about this issue and Renata, Victoria and I were committed to using our local devolved budget to protect the hours to ensure the reduction would have been avoided.
I’m very pleased to tell you that, at last night’s budget setting meeting, we managed to secure a commitment that Peckham Rye Adventure Playground will see no change in opening hours. 
We are now taking a look at how the hours are structured to see if it would be possible to open up the playground to more people over the whole of the weekend.  Watch this space for further news.

5 January 2016

Southwark's Scrutiny Committee warns of 'devastating impact' of Government's Housing Bill

Southwark’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee has warned that the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill would have a ‘devastating impact’ on Southwark.

The Scrutiny Committee has investigated the impact of the Government’s proposals to introduce right to buy for housing association tenants, which will be funded by forcing councils to sell off vacant properties in “high value” areas. The Committee has warned that the impact of the proposals in Southwark would be to “significantly reduce our housing stock, damage our ability to build much needed new homes and could indirectly lead to an increase in homelessness and overcrowding.”

The Scrutiny Committee conducted a series of interviews with housing officers, Chief Executives of major national housing associations, the Cabinet Member for Housing and Former head of the Civil Service and current Chair of the Peabody Trust Lord Kerslake.

The Scrutiny report outlines a number of risks arising from the proposals, including home building and provision in the borough and the financial impact of the council’s housing budget. It is estimated that 30% of council homes in Southwark could be lost through the forced sale of high value council homes, and the report warns that because the Bill does not include any ring-fencing of funding or replacement homes to a particular area or local authority, “It is unlikely Housing Associations will build enough replacement homes in our borough and probably not in our city”.

The report also warns that the Bill could result in increased levels of homelessness and overcrowding, due to fewer council homes being available for Southwark residents. The Committee has outlined a number of recommendations to protect the interests of council and Housing Association tenants, and the council’s ambition of building 11,000 homes, including an exemption for newly built council homes.

Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Cllr Gavin Edwards, said:

“Southwark is at the heart of the affordable housing crisis in London, with thousands of residents on the council’s housing waiting list and a population predicted to grow by 21% over the next 10 years. But at a time when the council is embarking on the most ambitious council house building programme in the country, these proposals could have a devastating effect on council housing in our borough.

“The Government’s own analysis has shown that for every 9 council homes sold under council home “Right to Buy” policy, post 2012, only one new home has been built. There is a real danger that the council’s ambition of building 11,000 new council homes could be eroded by the forced sale of new council homes.

“The Scrutiny Committee is calling for an urgent review of the council’s housing investment programme to determine the impact of these proposals, and for the cabinet to continue lobbying the Government to rethink these policies, which will inflict unjustifiable harm on Southwark residents.” 

The full report is available online: http://moderngov.southwark.gov.uk/documents/s58360/Right%20to%20Buy.pdf

15 May 2015

One Tree Hill Concert - fundraiser for Nepal earthquake victims

There will be a summer evening concert on One Tree Hill in Southwark Woods at 6.30pm Saturday 23rd May. The venue is St Augustine's Church, One Tree Hill, Honor Oak Park.

Suggested donation of £10.00

The OneTree Hill Sinfonia will be playing:-

Grieg - Peer Gynt Suite 1
Varela - Urashima Taro
Sibelius - Symphony No 2 in D

Please do come along for an entertaining evening and to support this very good cause. 

6 March 2015

Lambeth & Southwark Childcare Commission

As Southwark's Cabinet Member for Childcare and Schools I warmly welcomed this week's report of the Lambeth and Southwark Childcare Commission, chaired by Dame Tessa Jowell MP. Like our neighbours in Lambeth, we are firmly committed to giving every child the best start in life and helping parents find affordable, accessible and quality childcare. This report acknowledges the challenges faced by local families but sets out a range of options that could be used to tackle these by the Mayor of London, central government, local authorities and employers. There is no one solution to deal with the many problems parents in London face trying to get back to work while managing the burdens and prohibitive costs of childcare. The Council no doubt has a role to play in stepping up to deliver the options set out in the report but we also need to work with parents, businesses and the Mayor in open partnership to create a city that embraces parenthood and creates a world of opportunity for all our children.

The report recommends that both councils look into the idea of a childcare matchmaking service, which would pair qualified childminders with parents who are looking for childcare on a flexible basis. It also recommends that the councils consider incentivising local employers to set up workplace nurseries, possibly by discounting business rates or brokering deals with childcare providers. One further suggestion is for Transport for London to consider offering new parents discounted transport fares to help make going back to work affordable, or for the Mayor of London to look into the feasibility of providing an interest-free loan scheme so that parents can pay any upfront childcare costs. The report also challenges the Government to change their funding of early years development, pooling the education, early years and childcare budgets to take a 0-18 approach recognising that early intervention can save money in the long-term.
I look forward to discussing these recommendations and many others with colleagues across Southwark and Lambeth in the coming weeks. I am determined that together we can make childcare work better for families, better for children and better for our communities. 

The full report can be read here.

5 February 2015

Local cemeteries - What's going on?

Ahead of next week's public meeting to discuss our local cemeteries I just wanted to explain some of the background to the current situation. 

There was a very extensive consultation on the cemeteries in 2012. The consensus was that people wanted the council to continue to offer burial space in the borough. I personally don't agree with this knowing the huge existing pressure on land but the point of the consultation was to listen and plan our future policy on peoples' views. Many options like out of town burial were explored as part of this process. 

 As ward councillors we all thought it vitally important to protect Honor Oak Rec. This is a green space used by local residents and also used by local schools and football clubs. Whilst I think many parts of Camberwell Old are beautiful and a haven for wildlife I think that sensitive reuse of parts of the cemetery which allow us to protect Honor Oak Rec are worth pursuing.

All three of us are also committed to protecting the land immediately behind Ryedale at Camberwell Old as I do think burials this would have an impact on the houses that back onto it and the alternative of planting a screen would mean a loss of light for these residents. 

 What we proposed in 2012 was that instead we brought forward plans to bring back into use 'Site Z' at Camberwell Old. This is a site that is currently closed to the public because of the huge amount of dumping that has taken place on the site. The great majority of the trees on the boundary will be protected and further planting will be done. 

Many other mature tree of merit away from the boundary are been protected and plans have been worked up around them. Many of the ones that are going (and every single one that I queried when visiting yesterday) have been covered with 1-2 metres of the dumping. This means their likely lifespan is only 10 years at most.

It will be a massive operation to remove all the dumping from the site and this includes toxic waste. Doing this and creating new grave space means the area can be opened up to the public. Given the protection of the boundary and the commitment to new planting means that a quality new green space will be created. 

The most beautiful oaks are being protected, there is a plan for a peaceful sitting area around one and with the right planning this will be a beautiful area with stunning views over the city. I have attached some pictures of 'site Z' to show the poor quality of the 'woods' there. Much of it is buddleia which reduces biodiversity. In the picture with brambles and trees in the distance, the ones in the distance stay, it's the area of bramble that is being cleared. I was there with an ecologist and a tree expert yesterday. Both agreed that we were protecting the important bits of the nature and our plans would help other nature flourish.

I do feel more reluctant about the gladed area of the cemetery - the 'H' sites. Part of the coppicing work that will take place here will help protect the existing trees and increase the biodiversity of the area but in my heart of heart I would prefer that after this work was done the sites were protected as woodland. However, to get to a stage of being able to reuse our existing cemeteries we do need to use these spaces. To me, it's therefore making sure that we do our best to protect the character of what is there - protecting all the trees we can, looking at what new graves might look like, what additional planting is possible and the possibility of reusing of the old headstones to preserve the character of the area. 

 On Camberwell New, it does seem that some people involved in the campaign group have reached the point of not accepting we should ever cut down any tree ever, for any reason. The main new site at Camberwell New is a concrete slab that can't currently be accessed by the public. The smaller additional site would mean the loss of a few poor quality trees on the edge of grass/lawn area on a slope that hasn't been used - 13 trees is the number given. This spot is right on the edge of the wooded boundary of the cemetery (all protected) and One Tree Hill (a stunning wooded background and all protected obviously). The feeling of the wooded edge of the cemetery will still be retained and this piece of lawn can be brought into use. Again I visited yesterday and felt no concern that the character of the cemetery or the neighbouring nature reserve would be affected. 

 I think what we're trying to do is find the best balance possible. I feel that a very extensive consultation took place in 2012 - I went to meetings with 150 people attending etc. We tried to find our way to the best outcome and compromise. What would be good now would be residents looking at how we can implement these plans as sensitively as possible and looking at what is actually being proposed. I'm not sure that claiming that Southwark Council is 'destroying forests' is the best way to have that debate - I'm sorry if others feel otherwise but I've always felt that it's best to be honest when you disagree with the views of others.

12 January 2015

A new approach to outsourcing and procurement

A report published today is recommending a new approach to outsourcing and procurement at Southwark Council.  Proposals include introducing an in-house "preferred provider" policy, a target for creating local jobs and apprenticeships with council spending and greater protection for the workforce.

Southwark’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC) is publishing an investigation into the council’s approach to commissioning, procurement and outsourcing. You can see the full draft report here.  Changes will be made to this following our OSC meeting on the 19th January where the committee will discuss the draft.

This is a huge issue.  Southwark Council’s register of contracts with external organisations shows 220 different contracts for goods and services.  That accounts for a total contract value of £2.6 billion.  A huge range of services, from the building of new schools to employment support services to homecare for vulnerable residents, are procured by the council.  Decisions about when to outsource and who gets the contracts have a big impact on the lives of people in the borough.  

Southwark has had more than its fair share of outsourcing and procurement controversies in recent decades, some of which have led to serious and prolonged reductions in service quality and wasted taxpayers’ money. Our aim as a committee is to make recommendations which stop this from happening again in the future.

Labour has made taken some big steps forward on this issue since 2010, signing up to the Ethical Care Charter, introducing a Living Wage and ending several underperforming contracts.

Yet, commissioning services in Southwark still needs to be more transparent, subject to greater democratic control and more engaged with what service users want. The council also needs to take more advantage of its spending power to promote equality and fairness. 

We’ve made 20 recommendations in all and I've highlighted a few of these below:

1.      In-house as “preferred provider”
Due to the risks associated with outsourcing large-scale services, the draft report calls on the Cabinet to introduce a policy of in-house as the “preferred provider”, similar to the NHS preferred provider policy operated when Andy Burnham was Health Secretary.  This would not mean that Southwark would cease to outsource services.  Instead it would mean that the possible benefits of outsourcing, where it was considered appropriate, would need to be properly investigated and evidenced.

2.      “Gateway zero” reports for all large scale commissioning processes
(Apologies in advance for the jargon here!) A Gateway 1 report is a document published by the council which sets a procurement strategy. If you see a Gateway 1 report, you know a decision has been made to outsource a service (or to continue an outsourced arrangement).  To ensure a decision to change the way a service is delivered is made with appropriate input from Cabinet, elected members, staff , service users and residents the draft report recommends a new standard report, prior to Gateway 1.  This would need to make the case for the preferred mode of delivery – in-house, private sector, CVS sector, shared service etc.  A Gateway zero report would also ensure that the broad methods by which a service is to be delivered (e.g. single provider/framework of providers etc.) could be discussed before a particular approach becomes hard to unpick. We recommend these should be reserved for high value services and would exclude capital investment works.

3.      Lower Contract thresholds
In other London boroughs the thresholds for officers to be able to approve procurement decisions are significantly lower and Cabinet Members formally sign-off more decisions.  Evidence is presented in the report showing that Southwark is out of step with the thresholds for other London boroughs.  The report recommends lowering the threshold levels to improve oversight of this spending.

4.      Using the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 – Jobs and apprentices
More should be done to encourage social benefits derived from our procurement activity. The draft report recommends setting targets for the number of apprenticeships and the number of jobs created by each £1 million of our procurement spending.

5.      Using the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 – other social clauses
The report recommends other social value issues which could be introduced in Southwark’s tendering processes.  They are:

  • Disqualification of bidders who have engaged in trade union black-listing (and have shown no commitment to ensuring this does not happen again in the future).
  • Disqualification of bidders for licensed premises (Park CafĂ©’s etc.) not prepared to sign up to Southwark’s Women’s Safety Charter
  • Flexible working and family friendly policies
  • Training and development of staff
  • Environmental considerations
6.      Standard contract clauses
To improve scrutiny and monitoring of contracts, the draft report recommends introducing the following contract clauses for all contracts:

  • Prompt payment of sub-contractors
  • Adherence to Southwark’s whistle-blowing policy
  • Open book audits of contract accounts on request
  • ‘Termination at will’ clauses
  • Openness and transparency in the event of termination – allowing us to explain to residents why a contract has been terminated.
  • Attendance at council committees such as Cabinet or scrutiny by contractors on request
  • Break clauses allowing Southwark to conclude a contract should the ownership of contractor change during the life of a contract.
7.      Openness and transparency for contracts
Procurement is often shrouded in unnecessary secrecy.  To counter this all contracts signed by Southwark Council with external contractors should be published in full online with a link from the contracts register.  In those exceptions where commercial confidentiality is considered an issue, partial redaction could be used.

8.     Protecting the workforce

When the council renews contracts or outsources services to the private or voluntary sector as a minimum the following workforce provisions should apply:
  • Access to the LGPS
  • Trade Union recognition agreements
  • London Living Wage
  • Payment of sick pay
  • Appropriate training
  • Defined hour contracts without unreasonable “availability clauses” (i.e. no zero hours contracts)
  • Free access to personal protective equipment
  • Guarantees that TUPE terms and conditions will last for the term of the contract
9.      Social Value: Gender Pay Gap and Pay differentials
The report recommends that the Cabinet sets a threshold for both the employee gender pay gap and pay differentials (the gap between the lowest and highest paid) for organisations to qualify to provide services on our behalf.

As I say, the report is still in draft form and subject to consultation.  If you want to make any further suggestions, take a look at the report and email me at gavin.edwards@southwark.gov.uk  

Once we've agreed a final version of the report it will go to Southwark's Cabinet for a response to the recommendations. 

5 November 2014

Southwark Council's first live webcast - Monday 10th November, 7pm

Southwark Council's Tooley Street Offices

On Monday night Southwark will show its first ever live webcast of a council meeting. True, it's won't be challenging Game of Thrones or Downton Abbey in the ratings but it is an important step in opening up the democratic procedures of your council.

The meeting will be of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee which will be debating the borough's cycling strategy (which is currently being consulted on) and procurement. We will also be questioning Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Planning and Transport about issues across his remit.

The papers for the meeting are here.  I don't have the link for the webcast page just yet but will publish it here and Tweet it as soon as I do.

My view is that the more people who can see what goes on in Southwark Council's meetings, the more they will reflect what is important to people in the borough.  Many people simply don't have the time to come to Tooley Street to sit in on a meeting. Webcasts means that if there is an issue people are interested in they can watch the meeting and even participate via social media. (Suggested Twitter hashtag for the meeting #swklive)  This also means that we will have a full recording of the meeting which can be posted online as a record of what was said.

This is something I promised to introduce when I took on the Chair on the Committee. The first webcast is only a pilot, but there are lots of examples of this being successful elsewhere so I'm hopeful that we can build on this first attempt.