Protect services (Hackney Today 273, 6 February 2012)
This is an exceptionally tough time for public services. Hackney has suffered another massive cut to the grant we receive from the Government - £17million for the year 2012/13. On top of that there have been additional cost pressures, for example nearly a £1million hike in the contributions we pay for the Freedom Pass, taking the budget gap to £25million.
Despite these challenges, we are able to go into the 2012/13 budget with a proposal that makes no reductions or closures in Council services that you, our residents, receive. We have had to save money, we have had to change the way we deliver some services, and there have been some job losses at the Council - that has been unavoidable. However, the services you receive should not be materially affected next year, and that has been our priority - to protect your services.
So, how have we managed it? That's a reasonable question, when the press is often full of stories about service closures across the country. The past decade has seen Hackney Council make huge annual efficiency savings, cutting senior management costs, and restructuring back office services. The way we have improved services in some areas is actually saving money, for example in Children's Services where our nationally acclaimed work to support and keep families together is avoiding children being needlessly taken into care.
Those annual savings have been used in the past to fund new services or expand and improve existing ones, as well as freeze Council Tax. Hackney continues to look for such savings, but now the cash saved must go into filling the gap created by the loss of Government grant.
By the end of this coming financial year, any savings that can still be wrung out of the Council's administrative and back office functions will be dwarfed by the size of further reductions to our Government grant. We will keep looking for more and more efficient ways to do things, but the fact is, in future years, we will not be able to absorb the impact of Government cuts without services being affected. In 2013/14 and 2014/15 we will need to find up to another £40million in savings, and to make some very difficult decisions. Once this budget is set in March, we will be embarking on a wide-ranging consultation with residents to find out your priorities so as to help us make those decisions.
Gang drama (Hackney Today 267, 31 October 2011)
C4 drama Top Boy has put the issue of gang crime in Hackney back into the headlines.
Some residents have already expressed concern that it might paint an excessively negative picture of the borough, potentially damaging businesses that rely on customers visiting from across London, such as the restaurants and theatres. Some also fear it may portray damaging racial stereotypes.
Whatever people think of the programme, it is important that residents feel confident that the Council and police are working together to tackle the issue of gang crime.
In Hackney, we know that this kind of organised crime is carried out by a tiny minority of people. However, the activities of these few people have a disproportionately high impact on the communities that live here.
Violent and drug-related gang crime has a high profile and makes people feel less safe in their neighbourhoods.
Our residents identify it as one of their top concerns. That is why we are determined to tackle this problem through every means at our disposal. We have been developing strategies for some years that look specifically at the way gangs operate in Hackney, and tackle those issues head-on.
These have come together in the Integrated Gangs Intervention Project (IGIP) which addresses every aspect of gang crime in Hackney; from co-funding police operations to supporting families and re-housing witnesses.
Gangs involve people of all ages but, in the long-term the only way to put a stop to gang crime is to effectively cut off the supply of young people who are vulnerable to being recruited into gangs by older members.
We need to ensure that all our young people have higher aspirations, and access to the support they need to reach their full potential. Education has a huge part to play in this, and the significant improvements in Hackney's school standards are transforming the life chances of Hackney children.
It's a real challenge in the current climate, but creating new jobs and apprenticeships, and making sure our young people have the skills they need to do them will also be vitally important.
In the meantime, our efforts to tackle gangs will continue to strike a balance between cracking down on hardened offenders, and supporting those who want to get away from the gang lifestyle.
We are committed to funding and supporting this work into the future, despite the financial challenges that all councils are facing.
Post-riot picture (Hackney Today 264, 19 September 2011)
The Government has just released national and regional arrest figures following last month's riots.
It's still early days, but it is beginning to show a picture of who was involved, which will help inform all the work underway both nationally and locally to establish the causes of the disturbances which happened throughout the country.
Important details about the 168 arrested so far in Hackney are that around a third did not live in the borough, and more than three-quarters were adults.
There has been speculation in the media linking the outbreaks of disorder to gang activity. While it's true that some of those arrested in Hackney had links to local gangs, and that nationally 73 per cent of those brought before the courts so far have criminal records, there is no evidence the riots were actually caused or orchestrated by gangs.
Time will tell if there was any role played by gang culture, but the causes of the riots were many and complex and need to be properly understood if we are to prevent similar problems in future. Police estimate there are about 200 people connected to gangs in Hackney at the moment. This small proportion of people has a high impact on people's sense of safety.
The Council knows how highly gangs rate on residents' list of concerns, which is why we are so committed to tackling this problem. We recently funded an 18-month police operation to take out middle and top-tier gang members, which resulted in 39 people being charged.
Our youth services work closely with the police to intervene directly, and successfully, with the younger people involved in gang activity, or at risk of becoming involved, to move them away from a criminal life.
This work, combined with other factors such as the massive improvements in school standards, is having an impact. The number of young Hackney people in the youth justice system has fallen from 649 in 2007/08 to 340 in 2010/11. The numbers are still too high, but things are moving in the right direction.
Although Hackney Council will face significant funding challenges over the coming years, I am committed to ensuring this work continues, for the sake of our young people, and for the safety and security of the whole of Hackney.
Make the census count (Hackney Today 253, 4 April 2011)
I would like to thank all residents who have completed their census questionnaire and returned it since Census Day on Sunday, 27 March. To anyone who hasn't yet completed it, I urge you to fill it in so that Hackney receives the money it needs from central Government for services such as housing, public transport, health and education.
The census is run by the Office for National Statistics and takes place every ten years to count the UK's population.
The figures are used by Government to allocate money between each area of the country to provide vital local services over the next decade or longer. The information helps to determine the amount of money each council receives to provide adult social care, youth services, children's centres, libraries, leisure centres, street cleaning and much more.
It also decides how much money goes to local NHS services such as doctors, dentists, opticians, pharmacists and hospitals. In these difficult financial times, it is more important than ever that our borough receives all the funding it's due for the services that everyone relies on.
During the last census in 2001, less than three quarters of Hackney residents filled in their forms. This has meant that the borough lost out on £57million of funding from central Government to deliver key services in the last year alone.
This time we need everyone to fill in their census so please do your bit by completing your form and explaining to your friends, families and colleagues why they should do the same. A small amount of time filling in the form will make a big difference to our borough's services - now and in the future.
Countdown to 2012 (Hackney Today 252, 21 March 2011)
There are now less than 500 days to go until the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics and tickets have gone on sale. With prices starting at £20, Games organisers hope that attending events will be affordable for many residents.
Interest is likely to be strong, however, and ticket allocation will also be a lottery, so it may mean that some sports fans miss out. Most unfairly, in my opinion, that could include some of Hackney's young athletes - the stars of future Olympic Games. That's why the Council has agreed to buy 100 tickets - all of which will be given to young people in our borough who achieve excellence in sport in the coming year.
While excitement builds around the Games and the sporting action that will take place next summer, the Council continues to work hard to ensure that a valuable legacy for Hackney is achieved after 2012. We are working with our Olympic partners to ensure that a whole new neighbourhood in our section of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is created that will integrate closely with the communities currently living and working in Hackney Wick. The neighbourhood will include high quality parkland, homes and community facilities.
Sitting at the heart of the neighbourhood will be the press and broadcast centres that will house 20,000 journalists during the Games. These centres will remain once the media leave and are designated as an employment area, with the potential to create thousands of new jobs locally. The centres will have state of the art communications technology and excellent transport connections.
The Council's aim is that they are transformed into a digital, media and creative hub supporting creative industries of all sizes, linking closely with the creative community already thriving in Hackney Wick. This is East London's most significant opportunity to create a lasting economic legacy from the Games and we remain committed to achieving this for our residents and local businesses.
Our budget is set (Hackney Today 251, 7 March 2011)
Hackney Council has set its budget for this year. After eight years of planned and sustainable growth which has seen the borough improve beyond recognition, we were faced with having to work with the biggest single cut to the Council's grant in living memory. It's a harsh position for a council that has gone from being regarded as a local authority mess to one whose efficiency meant it was able to bring new and expanded services to the borough, along with massive investment such as the school building programmes.
So how can I both vociferously oppose these cuts and implement a plan that sees £44 million less spent in the borough this year? The answer is that simple refusal to set a proper, workable budget brings with it immediate and far worse consequences for this borough. As elected Mayor of Hackney, I have no option but to put local people above rhetoric and propose a budget that protects front line services.
A few have argued that we should 'defy the cuts' and refuse to set a budget, but that would only lead to devastation to services and misery across the borough. Refusing to agree a legal budget does not result in councillors being surcharged or imprisoned, nor do services just keep running as they have in the previous year. Instead, councillors are eventually sidelined while Government appointees are brought in to take the decisions. Meanwhile, a great deal of council expenditure is frozen, preventing many people from receiving the services they need. Extra money would still not come and there would be no locally elected representatives involved to prioritise the remaining expenditure. The priorities of Government appointees would likely be different from those of the borough, and come with no requirement on them to maximise service delivery to residents. The whole process would leave the Council with even less money to spend on services than it does now, not more.
There are times when running a Council requires making difficult decisions, taking the option that doesn't appear popular, but still reflects the values upon which you were elected to serve. This year's budget protects front line services by bringing forward a whole set of savings and efficiencies and reductions in senior management. Some we would have introduced anyway in future years in order to recycle the cash into more services - just as we have been doing over the past eight years. Instead we have had to accelerate those savings all into one year, as well as limiting future investment, in order to backfill the reduction in grant. It means that residents will experience a level of protection to front line services almost unseen in any other part of the country.
Further reductions to council grants are proposed over the next three years. But we will tackle the financial challenges to come by sticking to our principles. Decisions will be taken on the basis of what will best protect services, and that our most vulnerable people will always be our first concern.
On your side (Hackney Today 249, 7 February 2011)
In my last message I talked about the severe savings the Council has to make as a result of Government grant cuts. Hackney is used to making efficiency savings, but in the past that money has been reinvested in expanding and improving services. In this budget, instead, that money will have to go to back-filling the central Government grant that has been cut, just to ensure vital services can be kept running. Hackney will not be able to escape the impact of the national spending review, but the Council remains committed to shielding residents from its worst effects.
We know that for many residents the support the Council offers through essential services is vital in helping them through their day-to-day lives or what can be personally very difficult times - and it is those services that must continue.
In the past year, we have provided 640,000 hours of home care helping residents to fulfil their wish to continue living in their own homes, and for those who needed extra help we provided 160 nursing home placements.
Our social workers have helped parents who needed extra support, resulting in fewer children in Hackney needing to be taken into care and more stable and safe families that can stay together. But there are still 265 children who the borough needs to look after directly, and those services cannot be put at risk.
The Council currently provides care packages for 130 disabled children and is supporting more than 1,000 young people through the youth offending team to move on to a more positive future.
Last month, we backed the opening of a new credit union in the borough aimed at residents who are unable to open accounts with the main high street banks, helping to steer them away from unscrupulous money lenders during these tough economic times.
As I've said before, I'm determined that in the forthcoming budget the Council will not be making front-line cuts to the services it provides to residents - there will be no raising of eligibility criteria for home care for the elderly, there'll be no library closures, no closure of children's centres and no reduction in the cleanliness of our streets.
However, the Government have made it clear that they will be cutting local government grants each year for another three years. So in the future we will be presented with hard decisions, and we will be asking you how we go about continuing vital services at a time when Government funding is being reduced by more than a quarter. What I can guarantee is that the Council will continue to listen to residents' priorities and to champion your interests, standing up for what we believe is fair.
Putting frontline services first (Hackney Today 248, 24 January 2011)
We are now well into 2011, but across the country councils are still grappling with the problem they were given at the end of last year - the issue of the Government's grant cuts, and the savings we have to make in order to maximise the amount of services we all continue to provide.
Here in Hackney I'm determined that in the forthcoming budget the Council will not be making cuts to the frontline services it provides residents - there will be no raising of eligibility criteria for home care for the elderly, there'll be no library closures, no closure of children's centres, no reduction in the cleanliness of our streets. We are even going to try and pick up some of the services previously funded by Team Hackney - all such local partnerships across the country have had their grant funding completely cut or reallocated elsewhere by the Government.
In previous years we made huge efficiency savings each year and used the money to improve or expand services, absorbing higher costs such as inflation, or catering for more service users, while keeping Council Tax frozen for five years. Now the first call on the cash from any efficiency savings will have to be back-filling the Government's grant cuts, just so that we're able to keep delivering services at the front line.
However, even the dramatic reductions the Council is making to the costs of management and the loss of support staff through voluntary redundancy will not cover the cut in grants in the long term. It has been recently claimed that merging services with other boroughs to save on management costs will enable councils to avoid any impact on services. But even if every London council sacked its Chief Executive, its Directors and Assistant Directors, and shared just one single super-manager for the whole city, this wouldn't even deliver a tenth of what the capital's boroughs are expected to save over the next four years by the Government.
Even though we are protecting front-line, day-to-day service delivery, the borough will be badly affected by a lack of future investment. Worst of these is reduction in the amount of money available to councils for Decent Homes work that will push housing improvements for many residents way off into the future. The money we will be able to put aside for new schools, investment in parks, resurfacing roads and pavements, will be extremely limited.
Along with the Government's changes to housing benefit and its withdrawal of the Education Maintenance Allowance to more than 3,500 of the borough's students, Hackney cannot escape the impact of the national spending review. However, I will ensure the Council remains committed to shielding residents from its worst effects.
Festive period's unsung heroes (Hackney Today 247, 10 January 2011)
Let me take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year; I do hope that you enjoyed the Christmas holidays and were able to take the opportunity to have a well-earned rest.
While most of us were spending time with our friends and families, it's important to remember the unsung heroes who sacrificed their Christmas and New Year to keep vital services running in Hackney.
Let's spare a thought to the staff at Homerton hospital, who continued to provide round the clock healthcare for those in need; the police officers who keep the borough's streets and communities safe; and the many Council staff who worked through the holiday period.
Regardless of the fact that it was Christmas, these professionals ensured that it was business as usual for vital front-line services across the borough.
You may have heard in the media that a number of councils across the country have been criticised for not collecting the rubbish over the holiday period. Hackney was certainly not one of those, having provided a full rubbish collection and recycling service throughout Christmas and the New Year.
And let's not forget the extra effort that went into gritting the borough's roads and footpaths during the cold snap prior to Christmas. All of the main roads were gritted, as were the main access routes to hospitals, schools and libraries. The Council received numerous messages of praise for what was achieved, particularly compared to other parts of London, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank publicly all the staff involved for a job well done.
I'd also like to pass on my congratulations to the nine Hackney residents who were named in the 2011 New Year's honours list, including former councillor Nargis Khan; Rupert Tyson, Chair of Hackney Homes; and Gordon Bell for his services to the community.
Page updated: 9 Sep 2013