Posts Tagged Islington Council

What future for housing democracy under Labour?

Disappointing news that the Labour Council has rejected LibDem proposals to consider balloting tenants on the future of council housing management in Islington.

I should declare an interest as Homes for Islington (HFI), Islington’s ALMO, is my freeholder. As a leaseholder, I’ve had a generally good experience of them. The few pieces of work they’ve done on our relatively-modern property (repainting railings, upgrading communal aerial) have been carried out efficiently. The railings in particular were a good job well done, going from a rather peaky eau-de-nil to a glossy black, with minimum hassle.

However I also know of too many cases where the sheer size of HFI has left a small issue festering into a major grievance, because it was not dealt with promptly in the first place. As well as major concerns over the cost of major works, and the frustration leaseholders feel when presented with huge, mandatory bills.

No-one wants to go back to the state that Islington council housing had reached by the late 1990s. When I was first a councillor, Labour presided over squalid estates where postmen feared to tread. Tenants were desperate for a change and voted whenever they could to transfer out to housing associations. Money was wasted and there was no accountability.

The ALMO was supposed to achieve the best mix between getting the perceived better management of housing associations, while retaining secure council tenancy and rents. Most pertinently, it was the only option at the time for getting vital Decent Homes money out of the Labour government.

Now that’s been done, is there a case for taking the service back in-house when the ALMO ends? The arms-length structure has led to perceived buck-passing between HFI and the Council, made worse in the many council-owned street properties where Partners for Islington – the company contracted to deliver long-term management of decent homes works on period properties – is also involved.

If Labour are truly going to look at all the options, it seems strange to rule the in-house one out. And wrong not to let residents have their say. The LibDem council held a consultative ballot before bringing the ALMO in. Labour’s attitude to housing still seems to be “you may live in it, but we know best”.

I’d look at every option, but whoever the landlord is, my preference would be devolving more money and power to tenants & residents by setting up TMOs, housing co-ops and other forms of self-management, within a community housing framework.

The best-run, safest and most attractive estates in Islington are those with the most empowered residents. Not those who see their T&RA as a stick to beat the freeholder, but those who get stuck in and help run their estates themselves. You get better accountability, better value-for-money and residents who feel pride, not frustration, when they look around their neighbourhood.

For this to work the freeholder must devolve enough money and support to make the estate self-management viable, and there must be clear, simple and consistent demarcations of responsibilities between the different tiers. But it can be done, as shown by estates like the Half-Moon tenants’ co-op in Barnsbury.

This afternoon I’m joining the St. Mary’s Path Estate Tenants’ Association, and their landlord Islington & Shoreditch Housing Association (ISHA), to celebrate the great work they’ve done in providing positive activities for residents of the estate and the wider community, through having just such a good partnership.

Islington Labour please note.

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Refuse and recycling collections over Easter…

… are the same as usual.

Thank you Islington Council!

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Islington signs up to Microgeneration Manifesto

Like other Parliamentary candidates, I’m being showered with invitations to sign up to all sorts of good and interesting causes. The Microgeneration manifesto is a bit different in that it’s aimed at organisations like local councils, rather than individual candidates.

I think microgeneration is a fantastic idea. Small-scale local power generation reduces waste, improves security and diversity of supply, keeps energy bills down, creates local jobs and fights climate change: what’s not to like?

Nationally, LibDems are committed to a major shift to renewable energy, creating a new industrial revolution with Britain leading the world. LibDems in Islington have made a start, helping local groups finance solar panels, and putting wind turbines on some public buildings.

So I’m delighted to hear from Islington Council leader Terry Stacy that Islington has signed up to the manifesto. He writes:

“Delivering carbon reduction is a priority for us here in Islington, and
we were one of the first local authorities in the country to sign up to
– pledging to reduce emissions by 10 per cent by the end of the
year. As a Council we’re extremely supportive of the four objectives of
your Microgeneration Manifesto and are happy to offer our endorsement.

“I wish you every success in encouraging other local authorities to come
on board with this critical issue.”

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Council tax freeze for Islington

It’s official – no council tax rise for Islington this year.

Last night’s Council meeting did go for a freeze, as I’d hoped and predicted.

Good news for Islington residents.

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One freeze we’d welcome

It’s council budget time again in Islington.

Islington’s Lib Dems first took control of Islington Council 10 years ago following the Hillrise by-election, where the level of council tax was a crucial issue. Under Labour, Islington had the highest council tax in the country and some of the worst services.

The LibDems pledged to cut the council tax and then to keep it below the London average, while improving services: a promise they’ve kept ever since.

Last year, controversially, Labour councillors took advantage of the hospitalisation of Lib Dem Cllr Donna Boffa to force through a council tax rise, rather than the freeze that LibDems wanted.

Islington residents who might have forgotten life under Labour will have taken note that on the one day in a decade when they had a majority, Labour put up our taxes.

This year Liberal Democrat councillors will be proposing a council tax freeze again, and it looks as if they’ve got Labour to concede. We’ll find out at the Council meeting next Thursday.

Labour not putting taxes up? It must be election year….

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Polls apart

Last night, like most nights, we were out door-knocking, persuading people to vote, and to vote for the Liberal Democrats.

It’s getting easier and easier as people respond to our campaign messages. I was with the Holloway team, going round an estate in N7. One of my canvassers wanted me to go back to a flat he’d already called on: Mum was voting for us, teenage son not sure how or even whether to use his first vote. We chatted to him for a while and listened to his views, which included more f-words a sentence than the whole rest of the day put together. While the air was blue, his vote was golden as he also said he’d vote Lib Dem. Possibly not first choice for a ‘vox pop’ though.

While we work hard getting people to vote, councils have to do their bit making sure people are registered, and that polling stations are accessible. Islington certainly pushes voter registration hard. Registering is only half the battle. At the 2005 General Election, 68% of polling stations across the country had one or more serious access barriers that could prevent a disabled voter from voting independently. This is particularly an issue in rural areas where polling stations can include pubs, barns or even a caravan. But all Councils, urban and rural, have their part to play.

The Polls Apart campaign aims to ensure that disabled people have the same access to Britain’s democracy as everyone else. Islington-based charities Scope and Sense have produced guidance on making voting accessible to people with disabilities. It’s not just about ramps but also simple things like marking the ballot box opening with a white border. The full checklist is here.

Islington has over 33,000 residents with disabilities, so I was keen to know that our Council takes this seriously; I was delighted to get an email from Council leader Terry Stacy in response. He writes:

“I am very happy to report that we comply with all of SCOPE’s recommended practices and use their guide for all our polling stations, which are fully accessible and have a range of aids and adaptations for all types of voters.

“Our Electoral Services Manager has also been working closely with Disability Action in Islington and the Deaf community, recently holding an open session to talk through their concerns. Other council departments, such as Housing & Adult Social Services, have also been involved in these talks to ensure that we support anyone with a disability or learning difficulty through the election process.

“Islington Council has been very proactive in ensuring that we not only increase the numbers on the electoral roll but hopefully make it easier for people to come out and vote.”

If you still need to register, you can get more information here. Final deadline for voting on 6 May is 20 April, just over 10 weeks away. Back to the canvassing!

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Happy New Year!

Will Howells over at LibDem Voice reminds us that today is Distaff Day when housework traditionally resumes after 12th night marks the end of the Christmas break. For me it’s the other way round: the end of a more domestic time and back to the full-on focus on campaigning – and this blog.

Not that we stopped altogether over Christmas. My fantastic team were out in all weather between Christmas and New Year delivering our latest leaflets. It was lovely to be greeted by supporters in the streets as we went round.

And I’ve enjoyed lots of community events over the holiday period, including the Canonbury Society Christmas drinks, the NO2ID Christmas party and carol-singing at St Mary’s church and at the N1 Centre.

Just before Christmas, we had the festival and opening ceremony for the new public open space at City Road Basin. I’ve backed the Basin redevelopment ever since it was mooted, so it was a great pleasure to be alongside Council Leader Terry Stacy as he cut the ribbon.

A highlight was the highly successful 10-years-on Islington Lib Dem Christmas party at the new Islington Museum. The Museum used to be housed in the old Assembly Hall at Islington Town Hall, which has now been refurbished as a new fully accessible meeting space. I attended the first event there, a meeting with Transport for All and Disability Action In Islington, about the threat to the Freedom Pass.

The snow has made us all realise how tough life gets when transport and travel are difficult. For people with disabilities, travel is a year-round challenge. With the Labour government taking subsidy out of London’s Freedom Pass, putting more of a cash demand on the boroughs, it’s important that the Freedom Pass does not get cut back to the statutory minimum.

I was delighted that Terry Stacy pledged that under the Lib Dems, Islington will continue to fund the Freedom Pass in full. (The Labour group leader, despite cries of ‘answer the question!’ from her own supporters, was unable to do the same.) Without government backing that could lead to pressures on other social services spending. So it’s still important to sign the petition to Save the Freedom Pass.

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