17 July 2010

What your Peckham Rye Councillors are up to...

I thought it was about time for a general update on our activities as ward councillors for Peckham Rye. Having been a councillor for more than two months I think we can say that Victoria, Renata and I are starting to get our feet firmly under the table. From my point of view, the work seems to break down into three distinct areas.

1. Casework – These are individual issues which residents living in our ward approach us about because they need some help. Casework can be picked up at our regular surgeries, via e-mail, telephone calls and even just passing people in the street. It is can be particularly rewarding to be able to help people in this way because it’s clear when you’ve got a result. Examples of casework we’ve dealt with so far include: complaints about the housing repairs service, problems with the collection of recycling and a noise nuisance issue in the Nunhead part of our ward. Casework can often put us at odds with the council bureaucracy (which can sometimes also be the source of the problem). As a result we’ve had to learn very quickly what questions to ask and which council officers are likely to assist us promptly.

2. Longer term campaigns – The three of us have set ourselves certain priorities among the bigger issues affecting Peckham Rye Ward. These are things like the extension of the 63 bus route, the delivery of the new One O’clock Club on Peckham Rye and “Decent Homes” improvements for certain poorly served estates. This work involves a great deal of lobbying and negotiating, not just with council officers but also with councillors who are in Southwark’s Cabinet. On all of these issues we feel we are making progress, but we know we need to keep up working on all fronts.

3. Council meetings and internal council work - This involves preparation for and attendance at the various committees that we serve on at the council. In my case, I am on the Standards Committee, Nunhead and Peckham Rye Community Council, Overview and Scrutiny and Chairing the Council’s Sub-Committee on Housing and Community Safety. I enjoy parts of all of these commitments but currently I think my role on Scrutiny is the most interesting. The Housing Scrutiny Sub-Committee is able to investigate whatever aspects of the council’s housing operations we see fit. We recently took the decision to investigate performance management of the housing repairs service. I’m sure to some people this sounds like a very dry topic but it has turned out to be fascinating. At the heart of the matter is a large gap between how satisfied council officers say people are with the service (around 90% are said to be happy with it) and a huge amount of anecdotal evidence from coucillors casework which says that the service is in a very poor state. What we’ve decided to do is find out if the council is measuring its performance in this area accurately and comprehensively. Eventually after a number of meetings and a lot of investigation we hope to be able to make recommendations for action which will give a more accurate picture of the service, helping managers see where the weaknesses are. On the one-hand this sounds a very technocratic , but on the other , getting to the bottom of this issue could help improve a service which is used on a daily basis by thousands of Southwark residents.

So in very general terms that’s what I (and we) are up to at the moment. If you’ve got any issues or problems that you think we should be picking up on – contact us and let us know.