Posts Tagged ‘public services’

Back to issues

May 8, 2010

It’s the day after elections, and despite the fact that my wife and daughter came out as the biggest winners it’s no time to rest. In all frankness I hate elections and I’m glad it’s finished, we can go back to think about real issues.

As I already wrote Lewisham Council is tendering a major contract for the running of most of our leisure centres. I write it here again to avoid it being buried under the electoral posts.

Because this is really important, it’s an opportunity that comes round only every few years, we must set up our local social enterprise to run the centres, just like other boroughs did. Local talents working for the local community and re-investing all receipts in our community assets.

Lewisham Leisure mega-contract needs fresh re-thinking

May 5, 2010

Two contracts with leisure operators to run almost all the leisure centres of the borough are to expire soon and Lewisham Council is now advertising a major long term contract to run them all on a long term basis.

The London Borough of Lewisham is seeking a partner to enter into a contract to manage, operate and maintain a number of existing leisure facilities (“the existing facilities”) together with 2 possible new facilities (“the proposed facilities”). The existing facilities comprise of the following leisure facilities : The BridgeLeisure Centre and Indoor Bowls Hall (Kangley Bridge Road, Lower Sydenham, London SE26 5AQ, UNITED KINGDOM); Ladywell Leisure Centre (261 Lewisham High Street, London SE13 6NJ, UNITED KINGDOM); Wavelengths Leisure Centre (Giffin Street, Deptford, London SE8 4RJ, UNITED KINGDOM). The proposed facilities are Forest Hill Pools (Dartmouth Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 3HZ, UNITED KINGDOM) designed to replace the formerForest Hill Pools on the same site, and a new leisure facility development at Loampit Vale designed to replace the existing Ladywell Leisure Centre.

The Council proposes to award a 10-15 year contract in relation to managing, operating and maintaining the Existing Facilities with options (exercisable by the Council during this term) to require the partner to manage, operate and maintain the Proposed Facilities (such additional requirements to be performed within the 10-15 year term). It is estimated that the services in respect of the Proposed Facilities (if the option is exercised) will commence in the second year of the 10-15 year term.

Having watched closely how the leisure centres work in Lewisham I can surely say that there is a need of a serious re-thinking before committing to something like this.

The way this works now is a complete muddle, with results like the legionella bacteria crisis, when following discovery of the bacteria in the showers at Ladywell these were shut down by the contractor following an order from the Council (but allegedly without the knowledge of the Cabinet Member for Community). The result of this decision was that people couldn’t shower before swimming and therefore the water of the pool was becoming infested with other equally harmful bacteria.

The root cause was of course neglect, and at the root of that lack of funding for repair and maintenance.

This is a unique opportunity to re-organize these services so that they are maintained to the level they should be. It is also an opportunity to involve the local sport talents and clubs and develop a long term plan of sport development for the borough to make use the current local infrastructure to its full potential.

The first question to ask ourselves is how can we use these facilities at their best, and then look for the best way to run the centres to serve that plan.

Maybe Lewisham can set up its own social enterprise, 4 centres are already an economy of scale, that’s how Greenich Leisure started, they now run 70 leisure centres. Why provide profits for shareholders when we could be reinvesting in our community assets?

Because as the tender tells us there are money to reinvest, almost £2m per year:

Historic third party income levels in operating the existing facilities has been in the region of 1 940 000 GBP per annum (excluding VAT and the Council’s management fee). It is projected that income may not meet expenditure to manage, operate and maintain the facilities, thus, the contract awarded may involve a level of management fee payable by the Council. Further financial details will be provided in the tender pack and other procurement documents.

It can also be the way to keep services going and dodge those cuts that no doubt will soon hit our budgets.

Fantasy school places found!

April 28, 2010

The primary school places shortage is starting to hit.

From the News Shopper:

by Kelly Smale
A COUNCIL is doubling the amount of reception children at a school despite it not having room for them.

Brindishe Community School, in Wantage Road, Lee, is being forced to take on 60 reception children in September rather than the usual 30.

Lewisham Council sent letters to parents offering places at the school even though the headteacher told the council it would not be possible to find room for them.

Read the rest of the article.

The article also mentions that the Council has “created” 510 such extra places, that’s 33 short of the extra need identified in February, a number that Council officers assumed was going to increase due to late submissions.

This Labour administration has failed to plan for the increase in numbers of primary school places. There was advance warning, there was an economic upturn, there were vacant sites that were potential opportunities for new schools.

Lewisham Labour wasted all these opportunities and now is inventing school places out of thin air.

Train strike timetable for Southeastern services

April 1, 2010

The national Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) have announced strike action for four days, from Tuesday 6 to Friday 9 April.

This means that Network Rail signallers and maintenance union members will not be working during this period. This will have a significant affect on the services Southeastern are able to run.

Click here to read the revised timetable.

Update.
I asked Cllr Andrew Milton to enquire with Southeastern about the length of the 2 trains per hour that will pass through Lewisham and Hither Green Station during the strike period, and here’s the reply he received from Southeastern:

As you know the strike is the result of industrial action by signal workers belonging to the RMT union employed by Network Rail. The revised timetable is based on Network Rail’s estimate of the number of non-union members and trained managers able available to work on strike days. Trains will be of maximum length in accordance with the infrastructure available.

We are very sorry for the obvious inconvenience that will be suffered by our passengers and hope that a resolution can be reached. At the time of writing I understand that Network Rail has gone to court in a bid to have the strike declared unlawful on the grounds that they there may have been discrepancies in how the ballot was conducted.

Update #2 – Breaking News: The strike is called off.

Lewisham primary schools short of 543 reception level places

March 26, 2010

6.16 As of the end of January 2010 cut-off date, 3699 First Preference applications had been received on time for the 3156 Reception places available.

It’s impossible to exaggerate the impact of the numbers revealed in the Mayor and Cabinet papers of 24th February (link to document) and that the South London Press reports about today.
The sobering news is that next year Lewisham will be short of 543 reception level primary school places.

If we weren’t so close to an election the Mayor would have to be forced out of his seat for his inability to face up to the most basic needs of the community he is supposed to look after.

This report to the Mayor is full of explanations about why we are where we are, but on the side of the administration there are no excuses, the fact is that they saw it coming, and didn’t rise to the challenge.

Over 500 children and families will suffer greatly. A whole generation of Lewisham’s children will receive a reduced service, overcrowded classes, not enough teacher’s attention, insufficient play area. All of this at that most crucial stage of their education. As I said, the consequences are immense.

The wrong side of the track

March 10, 2010

Me and Cllr Andrew Milton have been pressing officers of the highways department about the lack of gritting at sensitive locations in Lewisham Central during the recent snowy and icy spells and one welcome but rather peculiar reply we received from highway officers tells us that:

The main entrance for Hither Green is in Staplehurst Road so that entrance automatically gets gritted, however, the other entrance in Nightingale Grove was not included so has only been gritted on request. We will make sure in future that both entrances to Hither Green are gritted, subject to salt stocks being available.

What makes the Staplehurst Road side the main entrance I don’t know, but the fact here exposed is that in the eyes of officialdom the Lewisham Central side of Hither Green plays second fiddle.

We have now won the promise that subject to salt stock being available it will be gritted in case of ice and snow, but this is only the start. We shall demand nothing less than full equality of status for both ends of the tunnel.

Access for all campaign taken to government

March 8, 2010

Lee Green Councillor Brian Robson reports about the delivery of the petition signatures asking for better access to Hither Green Station, a much needed initiative to make a real improvement for our area, especially for people with disabilities. We able bodies sometimes forget how different the experience for the disabled can be. As this local wheelchair user testifies:

“Whenever I travel back from London I can only take the Orpington train because it’s the only one that stops at the one platform I can use. And if I’m traveling home from outside London I have to go all the way into central London just to get the Orpington train back to Hither Green. Opening up the ramps at Hither Green would make a huge difference.”

With thanks to all the Lewisham Central and Lee Green residents that in the past few weeks signed this petition outside Hither Green Station.

Southeastern replies to Caroline Pidgeon AM

February 2, 2010

The News Shopper has the story that Southeastern has replied to the Chair of Transport Committee of GLA Caroline Pidgeon AM that requested the company an explanation for the three days of railway mayhem at the beginning of January.

Here’s the original letter in full, it’s an 11 pages dissertation of the company Managing Director Charles Horton where he explains why Southeastern decided to operate the way it did. Frankly it doesn’t explain convincingly why it didn’t operate a better service.
What this does well is to clarify who took decisions and based upon what, and this clarification is found in the paragraph authored by Network Rail’s Kent Route Director Dave Ward:

In times of service disruption, it is Network Rail’s role to coordinate the industry’s response. Based on a detailed forecast predicting adverse conditions, together with dialogue from Directors at Southeastern it was my decision to request Southeastern to operate an amended timetable for the 6th 7th and 8th January. My decision was based on the forecast of adverse conditions, the challenges posed by operating electrical rolling stock on an infrastructure susceptible to rail icing and lessons learned from the 18th December 2009 where upon operating a full timetable in adverse conditions we experienced multiple train failures often leaving passengers stranded on freezing trains for long periods. It is the responsibility of train operators to put together an amended timetable, and on this occasion the timetable specified by Southeastern offered services into and out of London for essential travel based on resources available to Network Rail and Southeastern. We will jointly be reviewing the service on 6th 7th and 8th January including the service levels and hours of operation so that we can learn lessons, should the condition repeat in the coming year and beyond. I must assure you that my decision was not taken lightly, and was done to maintain our duty of care for the travelling public and the industry workforce.

So here you have it, Network Rail has all the information to assess what they and Southeastern can deliver and given what they knew they decided that a reduced timetable was best advised, but the extent of the reduction was completely down to Southeastern and despite the length of the response Charles Horton fails to convince that stopping service out of London at 8pm was needed. His assertion that the amount of service was measured against the reduction in demand on days with adverse weather also clashes with passengers’ experience that found trains overcrowded and insufficient to serve all those that were present at platforms.

We need to change the way this system operates, we need transparency, even in operational decisions, so that next time a reduced timetable is needed, it is measured against the need.

In the past few years large subsidies were handed out to Southeastern, and large dividends were distributed to the shareholders, if the capacity to run better services in adverse condition is not there then it means that shareholders may have helped themselves above what they should have, even at the cost of the company’s capacity to respond to not ideal situations.

All the reasons given by the Managing Director for the decisions they took bring back to one overarching consideration, the same consideration that Network Rail did, that the capacity of the company falls short of what’s needed to run a full service in bad weather.

Another reason to sign our petition.

Fair Rents For Pensioners

January 28, 2010

Cllr Dave Edgerton started a campaign to help a number of pensioners that are charged rather extortionate rents from their registered social landlord. As he found:

Pensioners living in sheltered accommodation owned by Registered Social Landlords rents can vary between £90 and £150 a week. Often a weekly service charge is also added. Many of the pensioners have worked hard all their lives and have saved towards a pension. This is being swallowed up by the high rents. The average charge for similar housing owned by local authorities is £60 a week.

One of the Registered Social Landlords involved in the practice is Merchant Taylors, one of the twelve Great Livery Companies of the City of London, hardly in need of cash, and yet asks to its guests rents of £90 and £95 per week. In-Touch, which is the supporting people division of Hyde Housing asks up to £150 a week plus service charge.

It’s a great injustice and Cllr Dave Edgerton is right in raising the issue, he started a petition that you can sign here.

Southeastern invites Lewisham Lib Dems for talks

January 20, 2010

Lib Dems didn't reduce service because of snow. Petitioning at Hither Green Station. From left: Pete Pattison, Halina Bowen, me.

This Monday 18th January Southeastern Railways wrote to the leader of the Lewisham Lib Dem group Cllr Chris Maines, the letter had a title written in bold characters: Liberal Democrat Petition!
In the letter Southeastern proposes to meet with us for discussions, and so on Monday night me, Tam Langley and Chris Maines met and decided our platform of requests for Southeastern.

We decided on a number of issues to raise, including refunds to season ticket holders, but we also agreed on a very important central point that we need to make, that we need confidence in Southeastern’s ability to deliver a dependable service and this is only achievable if the traveling public (I hate the word “customers”) are allowed to question the company’s operational decisions. We need a voice of the stakeholders that is kept informed and has weight. Something that does not exist in the current set up.

The terms of the franchise agreement between the Department for Transport and Southeastern is such that for the next few years Southeastern will receive progressively decreasing subsidies, the subsidy was £136m last year, it will be £116 for the year starting on 1st April 2010, dropping further to £71m for 2011, then £24 for 2012 and ultimately becoming a premium to pay to the Government in the last year of the contract when Southeastern is supposed to give back £18m.

In 2009 the company made an £18.3m profit, which is a long way below the £76.8m achieved the previous year, and worryingly much of it has been achieved through large scale redundancies (link):

Operating profit* was below the exceptionally strong result for last year but broadly in line with the franchise bid. This was partly achieved through a significant cost savings programme which Southeastern started in the first half of the year, including a reduction of up to 300 positions which incurred an exceptional charge of £1.9m, procurement savings and other efficiency savings which in total are estimated to have saved nearly £10m compared to last year.

These numbers scream one word: warning!
In the good years large subsidies have been transformed into dividends for the shareholders and when the subsidies decreased workforce was instead sacrificed to provide a profit, but the margin is reducing and if this trend continues Southeastern at the end of the franchise will have neither money nor men and it may return to the Government a dead horse.
The recent decision to run a reduced timetable for adverse weather forecast is in effect a self-audit. The company showed no confidence in its own capacity to sustain the service. Where in the past an adverse weather forecast would have moved management to decide for increased trains on the track to prevent ice from forming, this time it decided for reduction of service. This went against industry standard practice and the fear is that it did so because it didn’t have the capacity to adequately respond to an adverse weather situation and knew it.

The original sin was obviously that of the Labour Government that set up an agreement that doesn’t deliver enough for the traveling public and apparently only makes it worthwhile for the franchisee if costs are cut to such a degree that the system starts to creek (although the past large dividends may say another story).
Recently Southeastern delivered increasingly poorer results both in terms of punctuality (90.8% in 2009, was 91.1% in 2008) and customer satisfaction (76% in 2009, was 79% in 2008), this affair of the reduced timetable is just the straw the broke the camel’s back.

We need a review of Southeastern’s working practice to happen transparently and with the involvement of the traveling public. We must regain confidence in our train service.

The company is due an explanation to the GLA transport committee, and crucially is due a renewal of the contract in 2012, something that it should not take for granted (link) . It’s time to put maximum pressure to bring some positive change to the way it operates.

The issue must not drop off the agenda, that’s why we Lib Dems will keep on collecting signatures on our petition that asks Southeastern to recognize the poor performance and apologize by giving the equivalent of three days of subsidies to Network Rail.
Despite the fact that service level has dropped this year shareholders will receive a dividend and managers a bonus for delivering a profit.

By signing the petition all those that have been let down can unite their voices and deliver a strong collective message to Southeastern.
Our initiative is working! The message already reached the intended ears and Southeastern now invited us to talks.

It’s of capital importance that these talks are meaningful, we must keep up the pressure now, the petition goes on.

Last week I spent twice two hours outside Hither Green Station with a campaigning table and a clipboard and collected hundreds of signatures. I spoke with many that lost days of work and even days of wages.
We must act if we don’t want to see this situation repeating and the service deteriorating. We just cannot afford it.
Sign the petition.

Must read: Bexley strikes at Southeastern

January 13, 2010

Two days ago in the explicitly entitled blogpost Southeastern’s response: let’s crowdsource a reply! Bexcentric posted the reply to David Evennett MP’s equiry with Southeastern about the recent disruption and an appeal:

If you have something you would like me to say back to Southeastern in response to any of the paragraphs above, please comment on this post, giving the paragraph number(s) you’re responding to along with your comments. The more of their excuses we can collectively demolish with our combined expertise, the better!

I think that it’s fair to say that the crucial technical information to answer back to Southeastern was provided by the transport anorak, hack and Greenwich Council Green candidate Darryl Chamberlain, so today Bexcentric published an update to the original post with the results of this appeal, the letter that takes to task Southeastern for its claims. Go and read it.

This is one of those fine examples of collaborative blogging and it rather tears into pieces Southeastern’s claims of being innocent victims of events. Last week’s three days of disruption were the result of managerial choices, not of natural events.

More reason to sign the petition.

Sign the Southeastern Public Refund Petition

January 12, 2010

These days the Southeastern Railway website opens with a photo of a man holding an enormous watch in front of his face, the caption says “it’s time for change”. At seeing it many will think “indeed”.

There’s a widespread feeling among South East London commuters that last week suffered the consequences of the 3 days of severely reduced timetable, they feel badly let down.
As freight and high speed trains were running seemingly as normal, commuter trains operating on the same lines were few and far between and so overcrowded that one could hardly fit in, if at all. Many couldn’t go to work, self-employed lost income, countless trips had to be cancelled. Central London was almost out of reach from many areas of South East London and Kent.

It wasn’t an exceptional weather, temperatures were just below zero and only a few inches of snow fell over a few days. That’s a normal winter weather, as normal as it can be, and services should be able to stand that.

Southeastern underperformed so badly when compared to all other operators around London that measures must be taken.
That’s why the Lib Dems are now collecting signatures on a petition that aims at giving a strong message to Southeastern: put your house in order!
When a company accepts a £136m public subsidy to run a public service it must provide the service all year round, it must have measures in place to run the service in normal winter weather and since the railway is an essential and strategic service it must be prepared to make an effort even when providing the service is not easy.
Last week Southeastern threw in the towel even before the match started.

Today we ask Southeastern to return a share of that subsidy equivalent to 3 days of service (£1.1m) to Network Rail to be invested in improvements at stations served by Southeastern. It’s a practical way to compensate those that for 3 days have been inconvenienced and to publicly acknowledge that it must do better if it wants to keep on running this strategic public service.

Please either download the petition sheet, print it and collect signatures at your workplace, home or at the station or sign online. Improve your train service.

Letter in the South London Press

December 6, 2009

On Friday the South London Press published this letter of mine about the new pool at Loampit Vale.

Lewisham Hospital embarrassed by score for patients’ safety

December 1, 2009

The Lewisham Hospital NHS Trust has scored 3.43 out of 100(!) ending third from the bottom in the list of Hspital Trusts in Britain for patients’ safety.

Dr Foster’s Hospital Guide for 2009 has revealed that death rates in English NHS hospitals have fallen by seven per cent last year, but that quality of care remains a postcode lottery. The Hospital Guide gives NHS hospital trusts a score out of 100 based on analysis of a range of “safety indicators”, which include surgical errors, deaths, infection rates and staffing levels.

Now, I don’t think Lewisham Hospital is perfect, but third from the bottom in Britain is a hard one to swallow for everyone. Not something to be taken lightly, because they’re the bad ones that get closed. The raw numbers of cases of death do paint a picture of a place where you die a bit more easily from certain conditions than the average, and all other London Hospital scored better, and by some measure.

That said, reading around the report it doesn’t look like there is such a difference between how Lewisham Hospital performed and the national average to justify such bad scoring, in fact there are even a few indicators where Lewisham Hospital performs better than average.

But whatever the reason I think that we better take this seriously and by coupling this report findings with a little local knowledge we’d end up with a better local hospital, for example, there are a few detailed breakdowns clicking around the report of how the hospital responds to each one of the most common health issues and how this compare with the national average, one thing that jumps out is that on many of the indicators of treatment of heart condition the report says that the data for Lewisham Hospital is not available.
Is this evidence of the urban legend that wants that ambulances carrying people with heart attacks do not bring their patients to Lewisham even if they’re picked up on its doorstep because they know that they’re not equipped for that?
If that’s the reason then this is the opportunity to act on that.

Lewisham Hospital’s bosses are understandably shocked by the scoring and have been very cautious with words, but no doubt with such a scoring some sort of response will have to follow.
Lewisham Council plays an important role of scrutiny of the Health delivery for the area through its Healthier Communities Committee of which our local Councillor Andrew Milton is a member. I sat through one of their committees and it’s actually quite humbling for the complexity of the issues examined and I think it’s the only committee of Lewisham Council that has a say on the delivery done by an external body.
This is a report they’ll have to go through with a fine comb.

Labour keeps democracy out of Council

November 27, 2009

I sat through the whole of last Full Council meeting last Wednesday and frankly, it was one of the worst meetings I ever saw. Due to the absence of a couple of opposition Councillors Labour had the majority and used it to vote to re-write the order of business, so that the first motion to be discussed was a sickeningly Stalinist Labour motion praising the Mayor for his balanced decisions!

I am not joking, they forced the Council to discuss this spectacularly ludicrous matter, end even worse, made sure to occupy all the time left available in the meeting with the discussion on this motion, so that when 10 pm came there wasn’t any time left to discuss anything else. A vote was asked to extend the meeting so that the rest of the Agenda could be discussed, all Labour Councillors voted against.

One of the points that were so effectively barred from discussion, and far more serious than what was discussed, was the motion proposed by Libdem Councillor Chris Maines and seconded by Cllr Brian Robson (read his excellent post on the subject here) about one of the matters where Lewisham Labour has an abysmal record, housing, obviously the motion was not allowed to be discussed.
Thank you Labour, this week you reminded me why I’m running for the Libdems.

Oysters are expensive

November 25, 2009

Lewisham Station - platform 3 - passengers celebrate the arrival of Oyster cards


Oyster cards are arriving to the suburbian railways of Lewisham, Hither Green and beyond. But they come with a hefty bill, a bill you need a degree in billology to understand in full but in short means overall increase in fares, even higher fares for non-Oyster users (yes, there are those that don’t need an Oyster Card) and off peak, plus the introduction of a rather inconvenient system of Oyster Extension Permit for those with Travelcards wishing to travel outside the zones of their permits, something that will inevitably be felt more in areas like ours that are spread across zone 2 (Lewisham Station) and zone 3 (Hither Green).

I cannot possibly put it better than Darryl did in this post that deserves a nomination for some suitable blogging award. Read it here.

I agree with Darryl that this fragmentation of the London railway doesn’t work. London is one town, can we have someone with responsibility for pricing, timetables and routes please. We elect a Mayor of London, I  think it’s just natural that he should have control on these matters, not some control on some, all control and all responsibility.

The recent announcements about transports don’t really speak of joined up thinking and planning in the best interest of Londoners. You can just imagine the ballet of accountants and solicitors that on behalf of the baffling number of rail operators worked out who needs to provide what and how much to pay and to whom and in what way, what a headache. The cost of negotiations must be staggering, and the priorities will inevitably end up in the wrong order. If this byzantine pricing system inflicted on all of us is a symptom then the patient is in need of a cure.

Stop the great train robbery

November 19, 2009

These are tumultuous days in South London, the new trains timetables have been announced and those that have realized that their trains will be soon reduced or cancelled altogether are up in arms. Trains through Hither Green have been spared from the chop, but other lines in Lewisham and beyond have not been so lucky and as the railway is a network, every cut affects the whole system.

It looks like a gap in the investments needed for large projects like the East London Line have created a knock on effect with serious repercussions for some important railway routes across South London. Responsibilty is being shuffled between the various bodies overseeing transports, with the Government blaming TfL and TfL blaming the Government, the train operators saying that they just execute orders (we heard that already, didn’t we).

The Victoria to Bellingham line that was planned to make up for the closure of the  South London Line through Peckam Rye has been cancelled, the Victoria to London Bridge via Crystal Palace (touching in our borough the stations of Sydenham, Forest Hill, Honor Oak Park and Brockley) has seen a massive reduction. Blackheath commuters have been told that they will lose half of their rush hour trains.

It’s quite obvious that the recent consultation on the South London Rail Utilisation Strategy (link) has been a very flawed process that has failed to recognize the importance of sustained good and improving public transports for the quality of life in the myriad of communities that compose London.

Something serious must be done about it, there is widespread rebellion all around. Ironically that’s the real consultation, that’s what people think, and it’s coming through only now that the “consultation” is closed.

Southeastern announcement that they’re cutting services through Blackheath after Government asked them to do so because they want instead to bump up numbers on the DLR shows that there is an urgent need of a rethink of the role of Government.

Just a few considerations of strategic nature about what a weaker public transports system would mean for South London:

  • a weakening of the transport provision would harm the London economy;
  • the planning concept of sustainable communities to allow high density residential use around transport hubs needs sustained train services, taking away convenient public transport from outer London impacts the building industry;
  • people will  switch back to car usage instead of public transport harming the environment, damaging air quality and nullifying a whole host of other policies and investments to counter precisely those trends.

We desperately need strong political leadership to intervene in this process and provide guidance for a transport strategy that helps the economy, our daily lives and supports all those other policies that transport is a key part of. London is the birthplace of the railway, we live it and breath it. Weaken it and you weaken London itself.

Besides the flagship infrastracture we need sustained services across the urban region of London, the millions of commuters that pay their ways don’t feel they’ve been subsidized at all and surely deserve better.

Savings and pressures

October 21, 2009

There’s a big item discussed at Overview and Scrutiny committee tonight, it’s about over £4 of savings in the Council’s budget and some arising extra expenditures not considered at the time of the last budget.
In the Pressures document one item struck me:

Homeless Accommodation 16/17 year olds (Budget Pressure Risk of £800k)
5.2.4

The consequence of the Southwark judgement and how it should be applied is still being assessed. However, 16/17 year olds in Homeless Accommodation will have to be reassessed under the looked after children criteria. There are about 50 of these children. At this stage it is difficult to identify how many of this group will fall under Looked after Children and become the financial responsibility of children’s social care rather than housing. With one case costing around £50k the impact could be considerable and be as much as a £1m. A number of London Boroughs are indicating the costs will be between £800k and £1m. Some of the costs of the judgement are currently being borne by the Customer Services Directorate. The figure above reflects that the judgement requires care expenditure to be undertaken that was previously not required and there will be a net pressure on the Council’s overall budget.

Reading this made me want to understand what this Southwark Judgement is and here it is.
It’s a landmark judgement about a 17 year old who Southwark Council assisted with housing support but nothing else. As the Community Care website summarizes:

The ruling could mean that many more homeless 16 and 17-year-olds receive social care support, and not just accommodation, from councils, and a number of 18- to 21-year-olds become entitled to leaving care support.

Some fundamental questions about the level of support that a lot of young people in need receive arise.
The young person at the centre of this ruling was evicted by his mother at 17, a gigantic personal tragedy, as such he was in need of care, not old enough and lacking the stability that would allow him to make considered choices about his life. Obviously in great need of comprehensive support to surrogate his non existent family. Only that he didn’t find support other than housing. Important as it is in cases like this it’s surely not enough.
I think that savings on these kind of care are false economies, only if the person in question becomes a successful adult then social care costs will cease, but a lack of support at this stage is quite likely to inflict a damage to those chances of success.

In the post before this I mentioned the homeless hostel, its guests are a very visible component of this neck of the wood and on a daily basis the thought “what happened to you that made you like this” comes to my mind. For some of them part of the answer may be found in the Southwark Judgement and the document on discussion at tomorrow’s O&S tells us that probably in the past few years in Lewisham alone there always were about 50 young people in big need that were not supported enough.