Three months ago, Labour councillors elected me as the new leader of Haringey Council. It came after a protracted public disagreement between the Haringey Labour Party and the local council’s Labour group over proposals to transfer swathes of public land and the council’s commercial property portfolio into the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), based on a 50/50 partnership with a private company.
This not only grew into a national campaign, it was a touchstone issue during last year’s council candidate selection process. In July, the new cabinet made the decision not to proceed with the HDV. We weighed its risks and benefits, and made our decision in the interests of all Haringey residents. It was the people within the party exercising their democratic rights that delivered this change in the political direction of our council.
On the journey to becoming the leader of Haringey Council, I was regularly told, ‘trust the people; trust the party; trust your colleagues’. We are fortunate to have two active, enthused, and engaged Constituency Labour Parties in Haringey. The development of the election manifesto upon which we ran in May 2018’s council elections was a collaborative process, involving thousands of party members and culminating in a manifesto conference. This created a bold message that sought to redefine how the council functions in the local economy.
Despite the restrictive impact of austerity, our manifesto rejected the previous orthodoxy that councils should outsource, and instead promised to deliver public services directly, to use the levers of government to intervene in our local economy and community, to build council homes on council land, to redesign council programmes from youth services to adult social care, to be serious about the environment, and to involve residents as our partners.
For embracing these common-sense ideas, we were portrayed in the media as ‘hard left’. In the first 100 days of the council’s life we have faced a torrent of negative and misleading coverage from a number of outlets. We are committed to continuing on our path, working to show the country just what a ‘Corbyn council’ can deliver.
We know that, on many of our key issues, we are behind the curve when compared to other Labour councils who are already developing and delivering innovative policy in response to Tory austerity. It will be a number of years before we catch up. However, this also gives us the benefit of being able to learn from different councils’ experiences, bringing together their thoughts and practices as we build our own.
Having moved on from the HDV, we are now proceeding in earnest to deliver 1,000 new council homes over the next four years. We have already set up a council-owned company to build housing on our own land, identified initial sites and created the framework that will enable us to acquire houses for temporary accommodation. Saving money in this way will allow the council to stretch the limits placed on us by the Conservative government and also keep the land that we own in the public’s hands.
However, our focus is not solely on housing. Another key goal we are working towards is ‘community wealth building’, one of the most innovative aspects of the ‘Preston model’. This means altering our own procurement processes to give more importance to community impact. We are working with local anchor institutions in Haringey to procure services locally, and with local businesses to provide them with the capacity and technical skills to successfully tender for these contracts. Our aim is that more of Haringey Council’s purchasing power will be recycled in the local economy rather than padding the balance sheets of multinational companies.
We are also pursuing insourcing as a modal shift towards the direct delivery of services. This gives us more control over services, as well as providing the potential to both save and generate income. Insourcing also allows us to improve terms, pay, and conditions — in line with our commitment to become a Living Wage accredited borough. In turn we hope this increase in disposable income for our workers will boost the local economy.
Over the next few years in Haringey we will transform the role of the council; investing, increasing accountability, providing good quality, well-paid jobs, and more homes for those in need.
However, while embarking on this project, we are faced with the prospect of another £10–15 million cut from our budget this year, having already lost £161 million in overall government funding since 201011.
Councils across the country have been decimated by Tory austerity. We desperately need a new funding settlement, and for Labour authorities to work together in local government to demand an increase in the money available to all councils, not just a favoured few. By doing this, and introducing socialist policies, my administration hopes to pave the way to delivering the Corbyn agenda locally and build a Haringey for the many, not the few.