Last week saw the last of Labour’s Town Halls set their Council Tax and budgets for next year. While local government is rarely at the centre of national debate, a good number of key public services like SureStart, housing, community safety and adult care are all still delivered by councils. How we approach these services in the future will define where we are as a party not just locally but nationally. Three years out from the next election Labour councils have already had to prioritise where to spend, where to cut and where to invest limited resources – already forging an alternative to this latest brand of Tory austerity and unabated marketisation.
The Government have cynically handed local government the largest burden of the cuts, and systemically hit those serving the most deprived communities with the greatest reduction in spending power. This has seen Lib Dems and Tories shamefully attempt to absolve themselves of the responsibility for the substantial and painful loss of local services across the country.
In Haringey, we realised that following the devastating national defeat in May 2010, locally Labour needed to find a means to set out our alternative, in what is now, with the exception of Wales, the frontline of Labour delivery. This is not just about winning back the political argument but delivering for residents albeit with our hands tied behind our backs.
So far, too much of the discussion has been solely about fiscal credibility and protecting the frontline. Important as this is, it does little to outline Labour’s alternative, or re- assert the positive role and power of government to improve people’s lives and communities.
One new idea – the Co-operative Councils – has gained popularity, but in truth the jury is out on a programme which differs little in tone from the Big Society. To be clear, the “Big Society” is not a “Third Way” between “big and small Government.” It is a cynical attack on any form of government intervention at all, and an assertion that the state can do no good, and is inherently inefficient.
With last week’s leaked ACEVO report demonstrating how the Third Sector has been hit hard as a result of Councils being forced to cut back on their grants regime, we now need to articulate how we can deliver the Better Society, through strong active government, delivering decent public services and correcting market failure.
Last Tuesday in Haringey we began to do just that, setting out a budget with a first wave of new policy innovations, with the core objective of tackling the biggest market failure of all – inequality.
At the heart of our expenditure is a £3.5m Youth Jobs Fund and a £1.2m One Borough One Future Fund – designed to support social innovation in Haringey. The latter of these funds will be open to bids from Councillors, frontline officers, and community organisations – anyone with ideas of how we might improve services to reduce inequalities and strengthen our communities.
Tottenham now has the highest unemployment rate in London, and Haringey’s total and youth unemployment has grown faster than almost anywhere else in the capital. The Youth Jobs Fund has been created in response, through an aggressive fiscal strategy releasing one-off sums of money by relieving pressure on our capital budget. The money will go to directly subsidise real paid jobs, for at least 12 months, for Haringey’s youth.
There are those that believe we could just point to the failure of Tory and Lib Dem policies – a work programme that isn’t working and a youth contract not worth the paper it’s written on. As a council though it simply isn’t enough to rail against the unfairness of the Government settlement and their abject failure on young people and jobs. We need to show the power of a renewed activism in local government.
The truth is we recognised that the triple whammy of scrapping the Future Jobs Fund, the EMA, and the hike in tuition fees would have a devastating impact on young people here in Haringey and as early as June 2010 set about identifying the funds for a programme due to be launched in May this year that addresses these challenges head on.
The jobs fund is likely to be the largest intervention in the labour market by any authority in the country and if successful, we will seek to raise further funds for a second phase. In doing so we hope to be able to make a difference for the people and the communities of our borough in the face of Tory economic and political failure – forging Labour’s alternative on the front line.
Our hope is that the One Borough One Future Fund will spawn similar initiatives and new solutions – whether to finally crack down on rogue landlords and the overcrowded HMOs that blight our city, or support efforts by the credit union to provide an alternative to the legal loan-sharks like Wonga that prey on vulnerable families.
We are pursuing a values-based policy agenda, with an ambition for realising the better society – a more equal society – right here in Haringey. It’s not just about stepping in where the Government are failing, whether on jobs, young people or inequality but about continuing to assert the power of Labour values to transform communities and express our alternative to the coalition not just through words but through our actions.
Joe Goldberg is the Cabinet Member for Finance and Carbon Reduction, London Borough of Haringey