I suspect 2011 will be a year to remember. It’s the year the Coalition cuts will move from being Government rhetoric to visible service closures that will hurt people. In Lambeth we will start to make our vision for the future of public services real as we become the country’s first truly cooperative council. It’s a big year for Labour nationally too because we will decide, in opposition, whether we are serious about winning back power by developing credible new policies, or whether we prefer to surf the wave of Government unpopularity in a way that will feel exhilarating at the time but will fail to put right the reasons we lost power last May.
Here in Lambeth, despite the Tory-Lib Dem cuts, there’s still much to celebrate. Our council will drive forward our vision of a renewed borough. Work will start on Streatham’s new leisure centre, ice rink and pool. Work will continue on Clapham’s new leisure centre, pool and library. And we will drive forward plans for West Norwood’s new pool and health centre. The fact we can do all that despite the recession and despite the Tory-led Government is a real sign of how much Lambeth’s improved in recent years.
Housing remains a key concern for many in our borough. Last year Labour gave Lambeth Living, our main housing management agent, one year to ‘shape up or ship out’ after they failed to improve fast enough. For Lambeth Living D-Day comes this year and we will take a decision on whether they have earned the right to continue running our housing service. The new Housing Commission, chaired by Cllr Lib Peck, will ask tenants and leaseholders for their views on Lambeth Living’s performance but also to help decide how we can improve the quality and supply of social housing in Lambeth despite the massive cuts in funding forced on us by the Tory-Lib Dem Government. By the end of this year I want residents to see visible improvements in our housing service and to have clarity over how we will deliver better homes and a better housing service in the long-term.
It’s impossible for any council leader to look forward to 2011 without apprehension at the looming spectre of funding cuts. It’s a disgrace that the Conservatives and Lib Dems who stood for election in Lambeth promising to protect local people are now supporting a Government that has targeted massive cuts on poorer areas like ours while letting wealthier rural (and Tory!) areas like Dorset, Surrey and Buckinghamshire off with almost no cuts at all. Next year, we will have £37m less to spend on services in Lambeth compared to this year. Cuts on that scale will hurt Lambeth badly, but our Labour council will do our best to cut costs before cutting services. We aim to protect the most vulnerable, keep our streets clean and safe, and help local people meet their aspirations for themselves and their families with high quality schools, decent homes, and help to get the unemployed back to work. But in doing that, other services will inevitably face cuts that will hurt thanks to unfair decisions taken in Whitehall by Cameron and Clegg.
Labour’s vision of making Lambeth a cooperative council will become a reality this year. Our vision is not driven by the need to make cuts. It’s driven by a genuine belief that services will be better if the people who use them have more control over them. That will mean different things in different services, it will mean a new future for youth services, libraries, housing and the many other services our council provides. But above all it will mean handing power to the people, and as we start to do that in Lambeth this year I believe we will be setting a positive example the rest of the country will want to follow.