Lewisham Trades Council wrote to Lewisham Labour mayoral candidates asking views on key issues- you can read their responses in full below.
The London Labour Party has confirmed members across the borough will get to vote for the short listed candidates in September with the result expected by Friday September 22. Residents will be able to vote for a new executive mayor at the council elections next May as the current mayor Steve Bullock who has held the post for Labour since 2002 is to step down.
CUTS IN PUBLIC SERVICES
We believe the Council should stop passing on Government cuts to public services and work with the unions and community to improve them.
Paul Bell: I will instigate a programme of in-sourcing so we can fight austerity. This means I will end privatisation and outsourcing. I will begin fighting the government and will move to a non-compulsory redundancy policy over me.
Damien Egan: Anyone working for the Council will know only too well how harsh the Tory Government cuts have been to local government. Areas like Lewisham that have higher social need and lower income from council tax and business rates are even harder hit: by 2020 Lewisham’s funding from the Government is forecast to be cut by 63% since 2010. But despite the grim financial outlook, we are lucky in Lewisham to have a strong community and trade unions, who can help us be more innovative in protecting our public services, including: Bringing more services in-house and sharing where it makes sense to do so, such as the recent move to end the Council’s IT contract with Capita and start a joint in-house service with Brent that has helped Council staff with their work, including social workers using tablets when visiting service-users. Generating more income – I will rebuild the Council’s procurement service and have it undertake a wholesale review of all existing Council contracts to ensure the Council is getting the best possible value as well as explore ways in which the Council can offer services to other Councils and the wider public that would provide extra income for the Council’s budget.
Alan Hall: I believe that austerity is the biggest issue facing local government at the moment. I will work proactively with the Labour Leadership team. I will strive to upgrade Lewisham’s services and to uphold the values of community, collectivism and cooperation which define Lewisham. This means there should be a policy of no compulsory redundancies. Indeed, we should be insourcing rather than outsourcing to improve our services.
Paul Maslin: The national policy of the Labour Party is to set balanced budgets, which means abiding by Tory Austerity cuts whilst protecting the most vulnerable, pending the return of a Labour government. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, have been quite explicit on this point, see here: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2015/12/jeremy-corbyn-warns-labour-councils-not-set-no-cuts-budgets. As Labour Mayor I would not undermine the leadership by going against Labour policy.
There should not be any cuts in teaching or support staff in our schools. It is clearly within the council’s gift to resolve the dispute at Forest Hill school and ensure that there is no repeat on at any other school in Lewisham.
Paul Bell: Lewisham Council under me would be an interventionist council. School budgets need to be monitored four times a year to avoid a repeat of the tragedy at FHS. I will also fight against academies and free schools, defend school budgets and support early years’ education. SEN provision will be reviewed to support those that need it and affordable childcare will be priority. A new SEN school will be built as an annex of an existing community school. This is perfectly legal.
Damien Egan: The harsh austerity that councils have faced from the Tory government since 2010 has more recently started to hit schools too. For the last two years, funding for Lewisham’s schools from central government has fallen in real terms and there is a real threat from the Government’s proposed changes to the National Funding Formula that will disproportionately hit Lewisham’s schools. All schools (including LEA maintained schools) are supposed to be responsible for managing their own budgets, but we cannot sit back and watch them fail as funds run short. In the case of Forest Hill School, I will review the Council’s loan arrangement and look to extend the life of the loan. But we should not have come to this position in the first place: I will enhance the Council’s financial monitoring of all schools and use powers to intervene earlier. Lewisham Council needs to be at the forefront of the Fair Funding For All Schools campaign and I will use all lobbying means at the Council’s disposal to help the fantastic work already being done by parents and unions.
Alan Hall: I have worked very hard with the NUT, teachers and parents to find a lasting solution on to the specific problems faced by Forest Hill School, and I will continue to do so. I am very pleased that the NUT representative at FHS has endorsed me. On the wider issue, I think that the Council was wrong-footed and should be at the forefront of the campaign for Fairer Funding for Schools.
Paul Maslin: No one wants to see cuts in our schools, but as with the previous answer, schools must set balanced budgets. It is sadly not in the Council’s gift to resolve the dispute between the NUT and Forest Hill School. The Council cannot provide money from its own dwindling resources to mitigate cuts which are being imposed by central government. Firstly, this isn’t fair on those schools which are managing the difficult financial challenges, and, secondly, it would mean cuts elsewhere to other hard-pressed services. The Labour Group set up a working group to explore whether more financial assistance could be provided to Forest Hill School and it concluded that it could not.
TUC LIVING WAGE
We would like the Council to campaign with us to establish Lewisham as the Living Wage Borough with all employers in Lewisham paying the TUC Living Wage as a minimum.
Paul Bell: I agree.
Damien Egan: I am proud that Lewisham pays all its employees over the London Living Wage and was the first Council in the UK to become an accredited Living Wage Council. Lewisham now has 35 accredited Living Wage Employers across the borough, up from 5 before we brought in Business Rate discounts for employers who become accredited. But we have a long way to go. I will provide more incentives to Lewisham businesses to become Living Wage Employers by using our communication tools alongside local unions by promoting good employers and the benefits of paying a living wage, including an annual Best Lewisham Employer of the Year Award.
Alan Hall: I agree, and I would like to take this even further by introducing a specific Lewisham Living Wage.
Paul Maslin: The Council is already committed to seeing the Living Wage paid across Lewisham. I think all candidates, whether they become Mayor or not, would continue to work with partners to pursue this policy.
Alongside the above we want to ensure employment rights and conditions are in place for all employees in the borough. This includes ending the exploitation associated with zero hours’ contracts and the “gig economy” and the right to join a union, organise it and have that union recognised by employers in the borough.
Paul Bell: I will ban all zero hours’ contracts from any contractor to Lewisham Council. My goal is to bring services in-house so all employees benefit from NJC negotiated T&Cs. I believe in trade unions. All new employees will be invited to join a trade union. I will personally meet with them and ask them to join one of the recognised trade unions. I will explain the importance of doing so. All staff inductions will have the trade unions present. All contracts that we cannot bring in-house at the start will have to show they recognise trade unions and are a unionised workplace.
Damien Egan: Too many people are forced to accept exploitative working conditions by employers who are unwilling to offer decent employment protection. I fully support Lewisham Council’s stance against blacklisting of union members, which – thanks to the successful lobbying by unions – now includes new express anti-blacklisting conditions for new contractors. I will launch a “Lewisham Works Better” campaign by the Council aimed at both employers and employees which sets out the protections that should be in place in all employment (including union recognition) and encourage employees to join unions.
Alan Hall: As I said to Unite the Union at the meeting where they endorsed my candidature, “The council needs to pull all the levers at its command, including those through the supply chain in order to prevent poor pay and working conditions in the so-called ‘gig economy’.” This includes zero hour contracts. I am a lifelong trade unionist. I am supported by Unite the Union, CWU and Aslef. I am committed to working with trade unions to develop the Lewisham Labour Party Manifesto for 2018, and I look forward to your input.
Paul Maslin: Anyone who has looked at the literature outlining the rise in inequality across the developed world since the late 1970s, will know that one of the main causes is believed to be the decline in the power of trade unions. My aim would be to make sure that all jobs in Lewisham were decently paid, secure jobs carried out in good conditions and to work with all our partners to do that. This would obviously include the trade unions.
We wish to ensure that there is coherent and adequate social housing provision across the borough.
Paul Bell: Housing policy to be launched shortly. I will build 800 council homes and 800 homes at living rent for key workers. I will rigorously pursue empty properties and create a new team to deal with homelessness in the borough. I will oppose RTB and encourage against it, pursue bad landlords and force housing associations to provide decent and well-managed homes.
Damien Egan: My number one priority as Mayor will be to tackle the housing crisis head-on. As cabinet member for housing I have overseen the first council homes built in Lewisham in over 30 years and innovative ways to provide decent homes for homeless families (Place Ladywell) and homes owned by the Council available for affordable and secure private rent (Besson Street). But these measures can only be seen as a start to a radical housing strategy that will be at the heart of an administration I lead: ● The biggest social house-building programme ever seen in Lewisham, with a minimum of 1,000 new social homes ● A new generation of council-owned homes for private rent, using German- style long-term contracts and rent controls ● A policy of never selling council land to housing developers ● Introduce full licensing for every private landlord in the borough ● Use existing legislation to enforce against empty properties and campaign for more powers to compel landlords to rent empty properties ● No Millwall CPO.
Alan Hall: I have said, “We desperately need more Council housing in Lewisham. With imagination and vision, we can provide good quality social housing, community facilities and jobs for local people. As Mayor, I will fight to ensure that the GLA, developers and Lewisham Council work together to build far more social and truly affordable housing.” Ten years ago, I became a board member of Phoenix Community Housing Coop, a tenant-led housing association which provides social/council housing across Downham and Bellingham. The Co-op has gone from success to success, and Phoenix was named by 24housing as one of England’s top ten social housing landlords in 2017. What’s more, we are about to open a 60 apartment extra-care complex which will free up much needed social housing in the borough.
Paul Maslin: Firstly, we must stop blaming developers, local Councillors and Planning Officers for the consequences of Tory and previously Tory-Lib Dem Coalition policies. The decision to cut the grant given to developers to build social housing by two-thirds and the consequent switch away from low rent housing to so-called ‘affordable’ housing, which is outside the reach of those who most need it, was obviously going to have a devastating impact that Labour Councils would be powerless to prevent. Secondly, we need to aim higher and do better. Although our manifesto commitment to build 500 new Council homes by 2018, so far only 17 have been completed. Thirdly, we need to be more imaginative and less ideological. We must advocate for policies and partnerships that some people don’t like, so long as they deliver results that are fair, transparent, in the public interest and better than the available alternatives. Luton’s Labour Council formed a partnership with private equity firm Cheyne Capital to build 80 new homes for social rent for tenants nominated by the Council. This is zoned as social housing in perpetuity, with the Council having been awarded the maintenance contract, creating local jobs. Other boroughs are building similar schemes. A further benefit of the Luton scheme is that because the Council doesn’t own the land or the homes, the new properties are not subject to Right to Buy. If the new Mayor refuses to sell land to developers because of a wish to build traditional ‘council housing’, then that is a commitment to perpetuating Right to Buy, and the subsequent loss of decent homes. I believe that a changing world compels Labour in Lewisham to be ambitious and think differently.
EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING
We wish to implement programmes to increase employment and training opportunites for all, especially for younger people. This has to include reversing the cuts imposed at Lewisham and Southwark College.
Paul Bell: I will look into this. I am not sure what power the Council has over the College, but I will work with the trade unions to protect FE in the borough.
Damien Egan: We need to equip more of our people with the skills and experience they need so that can they fulfill their aspirations in whatever vocation on they choose. That is simply not possible without a comprehensive provision of further education and workplace training across Lewisham. As Mayor I will: ● Double Lewisham Council’s apprenticeship programme places using the new Apprenticeship Levy and encouraging local businesses to provide more places. ● Conduct a review of all 16+ education provision in the borough to include Lewisham and Southwark College and all adult educatioon centres in order to establish where provision is lacking and how it can be provided ● Launch a Disability Commission to be led by residents with disabilities to advise on how to make Lewisham more accessible, including education and training for those with disabilities.
Alan Hall: I met Carole Kitching the Principal of Lewisham & Southwark College, last week. I raised the issue of cuts and staff relations with her. It is truly shocking that further education has suffered swingeing cuts of a similar level to those at the Council. I have been and I will continue to work with the College to ensure that Lewisham has access to good quality Further Education, including vocational training and apprenticeships. In addition, I will prioritise lifelong learning. Of course, I oppose the closure of Catford Job Centre and proper support for those who find themselves out of work is essential in a decent society.
Paul Maslin: What has happened to the funding of Further Education across the country is a scandal. We need properly funded FE provision. I oppose the Tory cuts to FE as I have opposed Tory cuts to the funding to our schools.
We seek a guarantee of recognition and consultation with all unions who represent staff working for the council and its contractors.
Paul Bell: The council trade unions will negotiate directly with me. The chair of the trade side will sit on Cabinet. No council contract will be let unless the company recognises trade unions. All contracts will have to pay the London Living Wage. However, I believe in in-sourcing. So, new contracts will be few in number. I will adopt UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter. In Lewisham, trade unions will be a partner of a Labour and involved in decision making. We must fight against austerity and generate resources together. We will be the first “Trade Union Council” in the country. I will foster links with other councils willing to adopt our approach of: 1. In-sourcing 2. Fighting austerity 3. Trading services and building partnerships with other public-sector bodies 4. Non-compulsory redundancies 5. Working collectively for workers’ rights.
Damien Egan: Lewisham Council staff need better recognition on of the challenges they face as the Council has had to adjust to the harsh cuts not only to Council funds but to all other public services that affect Lewisham residents. As Mayor, I will: ● Hold regular informal meetings with union representatives to discuss areas of concern as they arise ● Reinstate the use of the Works Council for employment disputes that cannot be resolved with officers.
Alan Hall: I am proud that I have been endorsed by the Trade Unions. I have no hesitation in giving you this guarantee. I think it would be useful for you and your members to know that I have secured the endorsement of John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, and I look forward to working with him, the rest of the Shadow Cabinet, Trade Unions and the wider Labour movement. Your views on the above will not only assist our members in deciding who they vote for, but will hopefully assist both council politicians and the unions shape a positive future for Lewisham and its residents in the future. I hope that you and Lewisham Trades Council will join Unite the Union, Aslef and the CWU in endorsing my candidature.
Paul Maslin: I would agree with this.