Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Our say! Is it?

Ladywell had its say – but in a rather unsatisfactory way!
The Ladywell Assembly spent over an hour discussing council spending and the services that might have to be cut. As we know Lewisham believes it will have to reduce its spending by around £60m over three years. The cuts will have to be made across a range of services – sport and leisure services, libraries, social care, highways, parks . . . you name it. But in the absence of clear guidance by councillors and officers it was difficult for residents to assess the potential impact of the cuts they might consider. The assembly was given the task of looking at three areas – town centres and businesses (budget £15m); activities for young people (budget £6m); and sport and leisure (budget £6m). We were asked to think about whether people should pay more for sports and leisure centres; whether the number of youth clubs available in the borough should be cut; and whether private business could be asked to sponsor facilities or services. Where do you begin? Do we suggest getting rid of the Business Advisory Service and Town Centre Managers because Lewisham can no longer afford them even though they might arguably contribute to reviving the local economy? Do we shut down youth centres and let the kids roam the streets potentially causing even more costly social problems? Do we close swimming pools because frankly they are expensive to run or do we suggest charging a market price that is likely to deter most users? Some or all of these things might happen. It will be difficult for Lewisham to cut £60m without losing services that lots of people depend on. But without more information on the potential savings and consequences of any proposals I for one thought it a big ask of residents. I’m all for consultation but its incumbent on council officers to make clear what the options are (with details of potential savings) and what the fallout will be. It is difficult to make an informed decision without these. If you were at the assembly let me know what you thought? Tony Major


Robert Sheppard said...

What would have been helpful would be to have had a long list of potential savings items (50-100 say) with figures against each, then to have been asked to put these into piles against Year 1, Year 2 and Year 3 savings requirements. As it is I am not sure either residents or Council officers will come away any the wiser after last night.

Geoffrey said...

The detailed information would have been useful, if residents are genuinely being encouraged to assist in shaping the budget. Quite detailed figures were provided to the Crofton Park Library meeting, but a failing was that the running costs of each library in the borough excluded staff costs, which make up 79% of the total budget!
My suggestion in the Q&A session that capital regeneration programmes (eg the Catford Masterplan) could be put on hold until times get better was not enthusiastically received by the Director of Progammes; nor was my suggestion that money could be saved in education administration as quite a few of the Borough's schools are now part of federations. I didn't mean to ruffle feathers, but this is obviously a touchy subject for some people.
More detailed information is needed by residents for informed suggestions/decisions to be made, otherwise the whole exercise of "Our Lewisham Our Say" will just be a PR stunt.

Anonymous said...

The Council will have to look at its network of libraries, children's centres, older people's drop-in centres, youth clubs, adventure playgrounds, town centre managers etc. and 'rationalise' ruthlessly (i.e. close several in each category altogether); it should retain only those that are most widely accessible (geographically best located) and in/near the areas of greatest need. However, as a starting point all departments should be asked (and presumably are already being asked?) to exemplify savings of the required % over the next three years - and maybe the public should again/instead be asked to comment once these exemplifications are available?

Councillor Vincent Davis said...

Our Lewisham, Our Say is a genuine attempt by the council to engage local residents in discussing proposals for making savings, cuts if you will, from the council’s budget, cuts imposed by the new coalition government, expected to amount in the case of Lewisham to some £60 million. If the government chooses to cut grant funding to local government in the Autumn public spending review, which it most certainly will, then Lewisham will have no choice but to cut its own spending. Councillors have to pass a balanced budget and failure to do so will lead to the government taking Lewisham over with local democracy being removed.
While I understand the frustrations some have expressed, in this blog and elsewhere, about the necessarily limited extent of the consultation - discussion of just a few service areas, lack of detailed financial information, the multiple choice feel of the on-line survey - I have to say that Lewisham Council is going further than other councils in consulting with residents. We should remember that while the Mayor has instructed council officers to prepare savings proposals, these are simply that – proposals – and they are still being consulted on. I chaired the Ladywell Assembly on 6 September, where members of the council’s senior management team gave a presentation concerning the council’s budget, its revenues and its services. Residents had an opportunity to ask questions, and then divided into small groups to discuss in detail three service areas. The service areas chosen, town centres and businesses, sport and leisure facilities, and activities for young people, were chosen by members of the Assembly Co-ordinating Group, and reflected the ward priorities chosen by the Assembly last year. Councillors and officers circulated during discussions, and people’s responses were collated at the end and will be reported back on.
It is not in my view the role of councillors or officers to steer residents in any particular direction, and one of the merits of this consultation is that it is designed to elicit raw information from the public as to which council services are most important to them, which they most strongly want to protect, and which services they think we can do with less of. The process may not be a perfect one, but it continues, and the Assembly will feedback to the Council the views of local residents, who may also take part in an on-line survey, take part in on-line discussion forums, or attend a council road show. Moreover, people will find their own ways of making their views known, through petitions, and public meetings, protesting, and lobbying their councillors.

Anonymous said...

"I have to say that Lewisham Council is going further than other councils in consulting with residents."

that's nice, but I think they'll do what they (the council) want anyway, and manipulate the results to accommodate this

Geoffrey said...

From "Newsshopper Online" on Thursday's Council meeting:
"Sir Steve warned the meeting there were other under-threat areas affecting people “who don’t have the ability to mount a campaign”.

He said: “When we come to the crunch we can’t simply decide on how loud the voices are on one given issue.”"

17,000 people have signed petitions against the closure of their local libraries. Isn't this "Our Say"? Mayor Bullock seems to be saying that it is "Their Say" and so can be ignored as it isn't "His Say".

I hope the local councillors who are in the forefront of the libaries campaigns hold their nerve, as several felt the backlash in 2006 over Ladywell Leisure Centre.