SNOWED IN, TAXED OUT?
Looking like a longer commute home than usual? At least you’ll have time to read this week’s edition of LDN.
It’s cold outside but things are heating up in the local elections race as we take a look below at how things are developing in Hammersmith & Fulham and Lambeth. If you haven’t already, do read our new blog on the latest London polling, and the state of play for each party in the capital.
This week, we also cover the budgets in the process of being set by London’s 32 boroughs and the GLA, and report on the results of the Mayor’s first London Borough of Culture contest.
Looking ahead, stay tuned tomorrow for Boris’ appearance at the London Assembly to discuss the ill-fated Garden Bridge project. Next week, LDN will also cover the most recent developments at City Hall, including the latest draft of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy as well as Sadiq’s call on Government to accelerate the launch of its public register of property owned by overseas companies.
As always, we’d love to hear your feedback and do follow us on Twitter @LDNComms if you don’t already.
Having navigated its way through the treacherous waters of the London Assembly chamber and no less than six Budget and Performance Committee sessions to scrutinise each of its seven constituent bodies, the Mayor’s Final Budget 2018/19 totalling £16.3bn (down 2% from last financial year) was finally given safe passage at last Thursday’s London Assembly plenary. Although the Mayor’s budget is now the finished article, it offers little new on how future budgetary challenges could be met – already manifesting in a need to manage a smaller police force across larger sub-regional borough commands, and a growing awareness of a yawning TfL budget gap. Print media seems to be as alive to these concerns as the Mayor’s office, with the Financial Times trailing several pieces in recent weeks, documenting figures they estimate to be a near £1bn operational deficit for TfL next financial year and The Guardian reporting the Home Office’s rebuff to the Mayor’s office when asked to discuss Metropolitan Police funding. While a level of concern is being picked up by newsrooms and across the political spectrum, and with people laying blame where they can, there are no easy solutions the GLA can look to implement. On other issues, Labour Assembly Member Len Duvall asked the Mayor at Thursday’s meeting if he would consider the introduction of “participatory budgets” (a system that would allow Londoners to vote on how to allocate a portion of the budget), which right now, if implemented might just cause Sadiq another headache.
The LCA team has been tracking the 32 London boroughs’ approach to Council Tax and Social Care Precepts for 2018/19. 28 boroughs have declared an intention to raise one or both levies and only four – Hammersmith & Fulham (Lab), Hillingdon (Cons), Kingston (Cons), and Newham (Lab) – have said they intend to freeze their tax rates altogether. As of yesterday, 22 boroughs had approved their budgets, with the remaining boroughs’ budgets expected to be approved by 11 March. Of those raising tax rates, seven are raising both by the maximum allowed (a cumulative 5.99%). This is in addition to Sadiq’s decision to increase his share of council tax (which is earmarked for funding the Met police and London Fire Commission) by the maximum 5.1% allowed. Greater hikes would require putting the decisions to a borough wide referendum. In previous election years, council tax has been a sensitive issue – and council leaders evidently believe it is still so. The boroughs freezing their rates are making a point of advertising their decision, while those hiking their taxes have pointed to sustained cuts by Conservative-led administrations since 2010. Claire Kober, the outgoing Labour Leader of Haringey Council and Chair of London Councils, said earlier this month that the final Local Government Finance Settlement leaves the capital’s boroughs facing reductions in their adult social care budgets alone of £300 million by 2020. And in a speech to Islington’s council this week, Labour Leader Richard Watts fulminated against the government, saying that its cuts can only mean it ‘hates this borough, hates this council and what it stands for.’
RBKC DIGS DEEP
The Financial Times reported earlier this week that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) has drawn up a new five-year £220m investment plan to build new affordable housing and repair existing stock. The newspaper draws a direct link between the decision, the disastrous Grenfell Tower fire and the upcoming local elections in May that could [sic] ‘loosen the grip of the Conservative party on a council it has long dominated.’ In order to meet its increased expenditure needs, RBKC is aiming both to raise its Council Tax by 2.99% and Social Care Precept by 3%. And according to its proposed Housing Revenue Account Business Plan, it has already made the case to the recently renamed...Department Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to allow for a £150 million increase in its HRA debt cap. These proposals, as part of its wider revenue and spending plans for 2018/19, will be submitted to the full council for a vote on 7 March.
MAYOR SHOWS HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS KHAN-DO ATTITUDE
The Mayor has made two big pro-development moves in the past week or so. Firstly, Sadiq secured a £500m Section 106 agreement with housing association L&Q to deliver the necessary infrastructure at Barking Riverside, set to deliver 10,800 homes over the next 15 years, of which 50% will be affordable. Coincidentally, the Mayor has also called in an L&Q scheme in Brentford on Monday already containing 41% affordable housing which had been rejected by Hounslow Council under delegated powers before Christmas on grounds of impacting local heritage sites, vowing to work with them and L&Q to increase the scheme’s affordable housing element. It is worth mentioning that this is the fifth time over the past year that the Mayor has intervened in planning decisions. But both decisions involving L&Q appear to drive home the message to other housing associations that the Mayor is on their side, provided they comply with his terms. It also reaffirms his commitment to building closer partnerships with the sector, something he kicked off by signing his first partnership deal last April worth £400m (and enjoying a fruitful relationship)...with L&Q.
LENDLEASE LANDS EUSTON
HS2 Ltd has announced that Lendlease will be leading the redevelopment of the wider 54-hectare Euston station site. HS2 had previously announced a shortlist of bidders competing to build the station itself and has already appointed Arup and Grimshaw Architects to take forward its design. Lendlease has led a number of major developments in London to date, including the Athletes’ Village and International Quarter in East London for the 2012 Olympics. The Australian company more recently secured contracts to deliver Google’s new European HQ at King’s Cross and redevelop British Land’s London office on the Regent’s Place campus. Going forward, Lendlease will be appointed as Master Development Partner (MDP) for the Euston Station over-site development (OSD) by the Secretary of State for Transport and site owner Network Rail. It will then be expected to work in collaboration with the GLA, Camden Council and other local stakeholders to develop a mixed-use development masterplan which could deliver up to 1,700 new homes and create as many as 19,000 jobs. This latest news will come as a relief to the company, which has in recent months made headlines due to the ill-fated Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) joint venture in North London, which is now widely expected to be dropped as a result of opposition by local campaigners, MPs and elements of the local Labour party.
CHAMPIONING CULTURE IN THE CAPITAL
Sadiq has announced Waltham Forest as London Borough of Culture 2019 and Brent as London Borough of Culture 2020. Each will be awarded £1.35m to deliver a programme of cultural activities centred on the culture and history of their places and people, to both engage local residents and attract new interest from beyond their borders. While they might appear unlikely choices to some, both boroughs submitted strong, compelling applications. Indeed, it is clear from the Mayor’s own announcement that the selections were intended precisely to ‘increase the level of participation in the arts across the city and especially in outer London boroughs’. Furthermore, six other boroughs will receive assistance for their cultural programmes. Barking and Dagenham, Camden, Kingston, Lambeth, Lewisham and Merton have received the Mayor’s Cultural Impact Award and will share a pot of £850,000, to support a number of other schemes. The London Borough of Culture project was in the Mayor’s manifesto and was launched by Sadiq in June 2017 and is modelled on the UK City and European Capital of Culture programmes. It is funded by City Hall, as well as a £300,000 grant from the City of London Corporation’s City Bridge Trust – though boroughs are expected to provide at least some match funding.
The London Community Foundation – which supports community-based organisations helping disadvantaged Londoners - has announced the appointment of Kate Markey as its new Chief Executive. Markey joins the Foundation from the Forward Trust, where she is currently Divisional Director for Employment Services and also serves a board member of several charities. Her previous positions include serving as Editor of Big Issue in the North, Deputy Chief Executive of CAN Invest and a number of other senior roles in social impact investment, social enterprises and the wider third sector. Richard Meier, a partner at developer Argent, has decided to leave the business this Spring to ‘pursue new adventures.’ Meier has been with Argent for fifteen years, as partner for the last five and has played a leading role in delivering major regeneration projects in London, including King’s Cross and Brent Cross South. He has also chaired the Urban Land Institute UK Residential Council for the past four years.
LABOUR VS LABOUR
Labour has this week sought to take advantage of divisions within the Conservatives by putting itself forward as the only party with a clear and united voice on Brexit. Speaking from Coventry, Jeremy Corbyn said that a Labour government would seek to ‘remain in a customs union with the EU and within the single market’ while ensuring the UK retains the right to ‘reasonable management of migration.’ Corbyn appealed to all MPs in favour of a ‘soft’ Brexit to support Labour, fuelling speculation that he is encouraging pro-Remain Conservatives in Parliament (many of whom represent London constituencies) to rebel. Corbyn also attempted to woo EU citizens living in the UK – as both Conservatives and Labour have done recently in London – asserting that their rights should be guaranteed. Business groups, including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and Institute of Directors, cautiously welcomed Corbyn’s commitments on European free trade. And perhaps the capital’s 1.1m European residents were reassured by yet another leading politician telling them that they are still welcome to stay. But the view from London remains that of a deeply divided Labour party: Iain McNicol, Labour’s general secretary since 2011, has resigned amid ongoing speculation that the leadership is pushing out centrist party officers in favour of its own selections.
FUNDS FOR PLANNING
Five London councils have made successful bids for the first allocation of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG) Planning Delivery Fund. Of the five councils, Ealing was the biggest recipient of funding, receiving nearly £1m of the £15.8m allocated in the first round and will receive this between now and 2019. Croydon, Hackney, Southwark and Sutton also received smaller pots of funding. The fund is aimed at speeding up planning decisions across three streams; Joint Working, Design Quality, and Promoting Innovation. In a sign of growing government recognition that local planning authorities are under-resourced after government cuts, and that developers are willing to pay more through the planning process, long-awaited plans to raise local authority planning fees by 20% were also introduced last month.
H&F LABOUR STRIKE FIRST
Hammersmith & Fulham's Labour Group is already manoeuvring to consolidate on their surprise win in 2014. With the smallest Labour majority in the capital, the group looks to be re-treading the same attack lines which found them such success four years ago in their 2014 manifesto, namely on health and the delivery of ‘genuinely affordable’ housing. This evening, the council is holding a public meeting to defend Charing Cross Hospital against Department of Health plans to change services (a downgrade according to Labour), and has also published two press releases in as many months on delivering new ‘genuinely affordable homes’ in the borough. The decision by Labour leader Stephen Cowan to reject developer Capco’s new Earl’s Court masterplan is also likely to be a vote-winner with residents in and around the site (Labour won four seats in the wards near Earl’s Court and Charing Cross Hospital in May 2014 and this was essential to them winning control of H&F). And across the border, Conservative Deputy Leader of Kensington and Chelsea Kim Taylor-Smith’s call for a re-evaluation of the Earl’s Court estate arguably takes the ground away from any credible H&F Conservative argument in reply. Labour MP for Hammersmith Andy Slaughter also recently led a debate in Westminster Hall on the then – Conservative council’s sale of West Kensington and Gibbs Green to Capco as part of the original Earl’s Court masterplan, which Cowan has called on Capco to return to council control. It will be interesting to see how the H&F Conservative group strikes back.
LAMBETH MANIFESTO FEVER
While Lambeth is currently a Labour stronghold, politics in the borough are visibly heating up as the 3 May local elections approach. Labour moderates remain largely in control of local party branches and have broadly dominated candidate selections. However, the local Momentum group – understood to be very active – is pushing for a number of proposals to be included in the party’s election manifesto. These reportedly include shifting from a ‘Leader and Cabinet’ system to a ‘Committee System’ (a model only Barnet, Kingston and Sutton currently use), and ‘the adoption of a resident-led approach to estate regeneration’. Evidently sensitive to the prevailing political winds, the local Conservative party (which holds only three seats) has proposed that all estate demolitions be halted ‘wherever possible’ to allow for ‘proper consultation’ and the balloting of all resident in its Alternative Budget for 2018/19.
NORTHBANK BID RENEWAL
LCA client, the Northbank Business Improvement District (BID) has secured an overwhelming mandate from its levy-paying community to serve another five year term (2018-23). 94% of businesses voted in favour of the BID continuing to deliver real improvements across the Northbank, which spans Trafalgar Square through to the Strand and the Aldwych, attracts 14 million visitors a year and is home to 400 businesses employing 20,000 workers. Amongst the BID’s key objectives are working with the Mayor to improve air quality and supporting the Strand Aldwych project now being led by Westminster City Council, to transform the area through a major programme of surface transport and public realm investment.
LCA prides itself on its intelligence-led approach to PR and communications and our dedicated research team monitors London politics, news and issues as it happens. If you would like to know more about LCA or anything in this edition of LDN – London in short please get in touch.
LDN is put together by a dedicated team at London Communications Agency. The content for each edition is developed from news drawn from the last week from every London local paper as well as the regional and national press, from intelligence gathered by monitoring local, regional and national government activity and from the insight and expert knowledge of the entire LCA team.
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