International Development minister Lynne Featherstone writes a monthly column for one of her local newspapers. Here is the latest one…
I’m often asked why I got in to politics. There were a number of causes– but prominent amongst them was (and still is) complete and utter frustration with the Labour-run Haringey Council!
I live in a small cul-de-sac and whilst most dwellings here have one off street parking space (including me) many don’t. Some years ago now – Haringey decided to paint double yellow lines on both sides of the road – completely unnecessarily – which would have meant no parking at all. For those without off street parking this would have been dreadful. So I called a residents’ meeting with Haringey officers and the disaster was averted.
That started it for me – and ever since a great portion of my time has been spent dealing with the consequences of this truly awful administration.
And you don’t need to take my word for it. There are a catalogue of studies, reports and the like that all put Labour Haringey as the worst or near worst in the country at so many things. It is no surprise that Haringey is the fourth most complained about council in the country. The effects of the Labour’s incompetence – on our streets, services and people – are evident, and deeply concerning.
My office is inundated with complaints about broken pavements, pot holes and the safety hazard they pose to cyclists, pedestrians and cars. A study published by the Department for Transport recently reported that Haringey Borough has the worst maintained roads in England – one in five main roads is in need of some kind of repair.
The change to the new bin collection (fine in principle) was not consulted on properly and consequently local people are finding the resultant problems. For example in the Miltons in Highgate, residents have a sea of bins standing lining the streets because they have no appropriate frontage to store them. They not only look disgusting standing on the streets but overflow constantly. In Wood Green the bins are permanently overflowing with bursting bags covering the pavements and in Stroud Green piles of rubbish and litter are constantly dumped under the Welcome to Haringey sign!
To add insult to injury – Haringey Council’s response to the bin crisis? It applied for a bail-out from its own ‘diversity fund’ (meant to help tackle inequality) to repair the damage. Despite this, the problems still persist.
As for the tenants in Haringey Council properties – they have endless problems over repairs. They often wait for months for a vital repair to be done and then when and if it finally is done – the repairs are often shoddy with poor workmanship (and very expensive). On a visit to a local housing estate over summer, I discovered a highly dangerous staircase which had not been cordoned off properly. Only with my intervention and insistence were the repairs finally made.
Right now I am furious with Labour Haringey because they are unwilling to help local shops and businesses. In this time of great challenge – we need to ensure that our local shops survive. I and my LibDem colleagues are campaigning for parking charges on our high streets and broadways to be reduced – so people are more likely to stop and pop in to our retailers. The Council informed me that no further changes would be made to the extortionate £3 an hour rate. We are carrying on campaigning on this at it is vital that we help our shops.
I believe there should be an emergency lifting of the charges between now and Christmas – for starters. Christmas is vital to our shops – and where would all us local residents be without our local shops?
Children are also affected. Haringey Council has now received millions of pounds in extra funding from the Coalition Government to spend on schools. They received £8.8 million in pupil premium, and £7.3 million in the fairer funding settlement, to be precise. Despite this, Haringey has the largest number of underperforming primary schools, and some local children were not even offered a place in one of Haringey’s schools – causing many families huge stress and worry.
So what is Haringey Council spending its money on? Very recent figures show that Haringey Council’s spending on publicity has surged to £2.53m in just one year! Part of this huge amount was spent on posters and advertising at Westminster tube station – one of the most expensive sites in London. What were they thinking?
Labour-run Haringey also saw fit to give their outgoing Chief Executive a £300,000 pay off. They are simply wasting money while cutting back on essential services – whilst complaining about funding cuts!
Sadly – I could go on and on with this list of woes. But what I am saying is that local people deserve better than this. We have one of the highest council taxes but some of the poorest services in the country. I totally accept that there are lots of challenges in a borough like Haringey – but that is why local people need a local Council that operates at the best end of the local service spectrum – not the worst!
Labour have had over 40 years to improve Haringey – but they have let themselves and residents down. The borough needs a real change. The borough needs leaders that campaign for our local services, keep our roads and streets in good order, spend money wisely and proactively keep taxes down.
That’s why I am fully behind my Liberal Democrat colleagues’ aim to take control of Haringey Council at the next local elections in 2014!
* Lynne Featherstone is a minister at the Department for International Development and blogs at www.lynnefeatherstone.org.