Little by little, Haringey is becoming a fairer borough. Two and half years after the local elections, the change that we said would come to this borough is really starting to take shape.
There is an enormous amount still to do of course. Transformational change, as the cliché goes, is like turning around a supertanker. But we have a huge amount to be proud of.
We worked in partnership with the party and wrote a radical manifesto in 2018, committing to defend the rights of residents and expand equality in the borough – and we are showing now that it can be done. It is not enough to utter the comforting rhetoric of social justice – we have to act on it.
We stood up to the Home Office on migrants’ rights, refusing to divulge information about the immigration status of people who are homeless on our streets. Our first priority and duty is to ensure their care. We raised the subsistence rates for families with ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ status. We brought in a new lead on modern slavery – alongside new rules for our local services – to help us uncover trafficking and abuse in Haringey. We challenged the government on their decision to exclude our borough from the schools contingency framework and stepped up to feed Free School Meals children when Parliament refused to do so last November. In response to the Black Lives Matter Movement, we have set up a review of building and street names in Haringey, looking at whether the names that we have are appropriate for Haringey in the 2020s.
More and more, it is our actions on social justice that define us as an administration.
On election night back in May 2018, Council Leader Joe Ejiofor told party members and residents that there were nine key things in our manifesto that would define the success of our administration.
- Building council homes
- Feeding school children
- Fairer taxation and benefits
- Delivering council services directly
- Paying our workers fairly
- Protecting the environment
- Listening to our residents
- Caring for our older residents
- Investing in our young people
And on every count we are making serious progress.
Building council homes
We will hand the keys of our first new council homes over to their tenants in the next few weeks. Haringey didn’t have a council house-building programme when we took office. Now we have new homes starting to be occupied, hundreds of starts on site, hundreds more with planning permission in the pipeline. It is one of the most ambitious council house-building programmes anywhere in the country.
We are bringing other key assets and land into public ownership too – whether the new women’s refuge at Burgoyne Road or the mental health centre at Canning Crescent. We have purchased developments where appropriate, and been able to create bespoke homes for families in need. We have found ways to invest in temporary accommodation, acquiring well over 200 properties. As an administration, we have also reprofiled development agreements signed before 2018 that we inherited. Ewer are now getting 131 Council Homes at Council Rents on the Welbourne site, and have plans for 500 Council Homes at Council Rents on High Road West. And let us not forget, we did what we said we would do, and did not progress with the HDV.
We may not finish building 1,000 Council Homes by May 2022, but we will have begun the building of at least 1,000 Council homes at Council rents, and from a standing start, this is an achievement that we should be proud of.
Expanding free school meals
We have taken head-on one of the biggest financial challenges for a local council after a decade of austerity – the expansion of free school meals. From Easter this year, we will extend free meals to hundreds of children on low incomes living in social and private rented housing who don’t currently qualify – as well as to children from families with No Recourse to Public Funds. Sure, it has taken us two and a half years to make this start, but we remain committed to expanding the eligibility for free school meals, because we believe that feeding school children provides them with a nutritious meal that gives children a better foundation for good health and a better preparation for learning.
Making taxes fairer, and benefits more available
Council tax is a deeply flawed way of funding local services. But we have pushed the envelope of what can be done within its constraints. We have lifted council tax relief to 100% for hundreds of Haringey families on low incomes. And we are now in the process of reviewing the scheme to see whether there are further improvements that we can make. We are introducing a local Welfare Assistance Scheme for residents facing financial crisis – closing a key gap in Haringey’s welfare safety net. We are also reviewing the availability of Discretionary Housing Payments
Direct council services
At the same time, we are reversing the long trend of outsourcing local services. We are getting our own house in order, bringing recruitment of council workers in-house – so that we hire as many of our staff from our own borough and building up an expansive local apprenticeship programme. We have brought facilities management in house, as well as parking management on our estates. Security is also on its way back in, as is the day-to-day running of New River Sports Centre.
We pay our apprentices the London Living Wage and have taken the major step of paying this to Haringey care workers too. Care often pays little more than minimum wage and unsurprisingly sees a lot staff come and go. That hasn’t been good for our workers or our residents in care – a consistent relationship between the two is everything. So we have invested heavily in the higher wages that can secure better care. We have also written the London Living Wage into agreements that we have with businesses who provide services to us.
Investing in our young people
We have invested in our young people at the same time. We’ve hired new youth workers. We’re renovating our Tottenham youth club at Bruce Grove and creating a brand new youth hub in Wood Green. We have also instigated the Haringey Fairer Education Fund, which will provide bursaries for young people to go to University, and additional mentoring and support.
Listening to our residents
We signed a Voluntary Sector Pledge, a Residents Pledge and a Business Pledge just before the lockdown last year. These were intending to define our relationship and engagement with these three key partners. We invested an additional £0.5m in the voluntary sector this year. The Fairness Commission was a major exercise in community engagement, and we will consider how we deliver its recommendations as we recover from this pandemic.
Making Haringey greener
We’ll be undertaking a radical overhaul of our housing stock over the next two decades, investing in wall and loft insultation and a whole range of other efficiency measures to bring down the carbon impact of each building. We’ve set ourselves the ambitious target to be a carbon neutral council by 2027. Already, we’ve switched the council’s own electricity supply to clean renewable energy. We’ve also set a target to have 2,000 electric vehicle charging points in place by 2025.
The GLA recently agreed to fund three Low Traffic Neighbourhoods on our borough.
These measures are essential to detoxify the air around us and make a serious contribution to fight against climate change. They’re also essential in the fight against poverty and inequality. Our poorest neighbourhoods tend to have the worst air quality and poorly-insulated homes and flats cost our least well-off residents much more to heat. Climate and poverty are not mutually exclusive – they are two sides of the same coin.
Politics does not stand still and, obviously enough, neither does the world we live in. New issues, dilemmas, crises have come our way in the last two years – needless to say the pandemic above all else. It has reordered our lives, priorities and opportunities.
Within days of the first lockdown, council staff and community groups were ferrying food to those who needed it all across the borough. A few months later we have a Haringey Food Network with established hubs for food donations and distribution.
We have continually focussed on protecting and supporting people during this Covid crisis. As we see the National Health Service teeter on the brink of collapse we have sought to support public health partners in getting the message across that Covid is a highly infectious and dangerous disease, that is now killing thousands of our fellow citizens every day.
We have also worked diligently on enforcement, worked to ensure that the businesses within our borough are aware of the financial support that they could claim and actively pulled our weight when working with other Councils.
What I think is clearer than ever from the last ten months is that our moral case for progressive, collective politics is a deeply pragmatic one too. We cannot escape the consequences of an overly individualistic politics. We need each other. We need to be able to trust each other. We need everyone in our community to be safe, healthy and invested in keeping everybody safe and healthy. We achieve more together than we achieve alone.
Everything we do as an administration has been driven by that fundamental vision of fairness – of rights and equality. We are going to need those values and commitment more than ever as we come out of the pandemic and grapple with the impact of the recession. It is a monumental challenge but one that we are very well-placed to meet.