Thursday, August 31, 2006

"Naming and Shaming" Debate

Last Friday the South London Press ('SLP') printed the names and photographs of the four young men who are subject to ASBOs on the East Dulwich Estate. The decision to publish the information together with details about the terms of the individual ASBOs appears to have been the result of the increasing concern which residents on the East Dulwich Estate have expressed about the failure of the Council and Police to enforce the terms of the ASBOs - and the fact that so many residents on the Estate were completely ignorant of the fact that any ASBOs had been obtained. I have previously called on the Council to keep the Estate's residents informed but my pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
The SLP's decision to publish the details on Friday gave me no pleasure - I believe that it is primarily the Council's role to keep local residents informed of issues concerning anti-social behaviour in their communities and that the local newspapers should not need to be used for these purposes. But I believe that my view as to the need to identify individuals subject to ASBOs and the terms of those orders is shared by the majority of people across Southwark and by the borough's Police Commander.
An idea persists that ASBOs and implementing them is in some way illiberal. I disagree compeletely with this argument as it simply places the rights and freedoms of those who are subject to ASBOs above the rights and freedoms of their victims and other affected residents. Society is not perfect and sadly there are occasions when some people fall into circumstances which cause them to be alienated from the mainstream. This alenation can manifest itself through criminal or anti-social behaviour. But would we be helping these people if we simply forgave them their behaviour and took no action or would we, in fact, be condemning them to an ever-increasing cycle of alienation? Whatever we may think at times we do have a developed and effective sytem for helping those in need in the UK, and this system of support and help - manifested in so many government and voluntary agencies - is there if people seek its assistance. Sometimes it can be the intervention of the Police and courts which connects people with the support systems they need. So if we accept that we do have an effective support system, we must also recognise that it is necessary to have a system for punishing wrong-doers and those who indulge in persistent anti-social behaviour. Crudely put, there can be no carrot without the stick!
We hear a lot of complaints about the illiberalism of this government - but people are rather more reluctant to praise the record investment which has been made in so many of the country's most deprived communities - including our own, and the genuinely positive effect which that investment is having.
In so many ways we live in more liberal times when genuine equality and equality of opportunity are cherished. Let's not forget that before condemning ASBOs too readily.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Goose Green - Public Consultation

In May this year Veronica and I conducted a survey of residents in South Camberwell who lived near Goose Green concerning some of the changes which had been made to the Green over the past 12 months. We used the results of that survey to draw the Council's attention to a number of issues which we believed required attention - such as the colour of some of the new railings and the dedicated 'dogs area'.
Now it seems that the Parks Department has used our survey as the basis for a wider public consultation - which has a closing date of 4th September!
So if you are interested in the future of Goose Green please take a few moments to complete the questionnaire and return it to
The picture shows Goose Green in about 1905.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Imperial Gardens - the Case Continues

Over the past 4 years Southwark Council has faced criticism and claims arising out of the closure of the Imperial Gardens night club in Camberwell New Road. Imperial Gardens was forced to close as a result of planning approval being given for a residential development on an adjacent site to be built by Fairview Homes. The owners of Imperial Gardens were not notified of the planning application submitted by Fairview Homes, and the existence of the club was not brought to the attention of the members of the Planning Committee considering Fairview's application - despite the fact that Imperial Gardens had planning and licensing applications pending with the Council for a number of years! The Local Government Ombudsman, the District Auditor, the Council's own Overview & Scrutiny Committee and Lord Ouseley have all considered the issues arising out of the case, and all found the Council to have failed the owners of Imperial Gardens in one way or another.
Raymond Stevenson and Lucia Hinton, the owners of Imperial Gardens, have now commenced a High Court action against the Council seeking damages. Given the numerous procedural failures by the Council which have been highlighted in this matter it would be surprising if the Council was not at severe risk on the issue of liability - but of course it would be wrong for me to pre-judge this claim!
However, the case of Imperial Gardens has been seized on by Mayor Ken Livingstone and many others as highlighting the failure of Southwark Council to treat all of the residents of the borough equally - and in particular treating our Black and Minority Ethnic communities in a discriminatory manner. Real damage has been done to the Council's image amongst these communities - who comprise about 40% of the borough's residents.
Over the past couple of years I have called for greater political leadership on this issue from the LibDems, but every time my calls have been ignored. So we are now at the stage where a protracted legal process seems inevitable - and the damage to the Council's image and relations with nearly half of the borough's residents is undermined.
It's never too late to take a lead on issues such as this - I just hope that someone in the current Tory/LibDem coalition finds the time to provide that leadership soon.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A New Chief Executive for Southwark

Southwark Council's new Chief Executive will be formally starting work on the 1st of September but she is already working hard at getting to know the borough and the issues which it faces. Annie Shepperd has moved to Southwark after three years at Walsall MBC and has worked previously in Liverpool and Bath.
I know from conversations with her that Annie is particularly looking forward to tackling some of the major regeneration projects in the borough, particularly those at the Elephant and Castle and the Aylesbury Estate. In respect of both of these projects I know that the tenants and residents who will be most affected have felt disconnected from the decision-making process, with the council really failing to keep them informed of the latest news about the regeneration processes.
So whatever Annie Shepperd can do to improve these lines of communication will be welcomed by myself and my fellow Labour Councillors.
We certainly look forward to working with Annie over the years ahead.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Anti-Social Behaviour.

Local residents will know that the East Dulwich Estate is due to undergo major regeneration over the course of the next four years. This regeneration will be hugely welcome as it may help to deal with some of the social problems which have arisen on the Estate due to a lack of funding over many years.
One real problem at the moment is the anti-social behaviour of a group of youths on the Estate who are all subject to Anti-Social Behaviour Orders ('ASBOs'). Despite the fact that the youths are subject to the ASBOs with clear terms about what they are allowed to do and where they are allowed to go on the Estate I have received numerous complaints from residents that the ASBOs are being breached on a regular basis - and nothing is being done to take enforcement action. Part of the problem is that only a few residents know about the ASBOs or have any idea what the terms of the orders are.
During the course of the local elections the Labour Party in Southwark complained on many occasions that the LibDem administration running Southwark Council was 'soft on crime', and in particular failed to use all of the powers which are available to tackle anti-social behaviour. During a visit to Southwark in January the Prime Minister called on Southwark's LibDems to use the powers the government had given and in particular, to 'name and shame' those who were subject to ASBOs. The phrase 'name and shame' throws up all sorts of negative connotations about stigmatising young people, but what it really means is identifying to the local community the names of those who are subject to ASBOs and what the terms of their ASBOs are.
Each ASBO is different - and is aimed at tackling the the particular behaviour or problems which the recipient has been causing. In order to effectively enforce any ASBO I believe that the community has to know what the terms of the orders are - so that they can act as the eyes and ears for the authorities who ultimately should be enforcing the orders. Home Office guidance and the Courts support identification of those subject to ASBOs.
If the ASBOs against the youths on the East Dulwich Estate are to mean anything the local community must know about them and be able to work with the local neighbourhood Police Team and community wardens to enforce them. It is time for Southwark's LibDem/Tory coalition to wake up to the demands of the community and 'name and shame' those who are subject to ASBOs. If they do not I believe that the problems of anti-social and criminal behaviour on Southwark's estates will not really improve.

Welcome New Readers!

As I thumbed through South London Press this morning I was delighted to read an article called 'Blog is no slog' - all about local councillors who have blog sites. As one of those whose blog address is given in the article I have no doubt that I will be inundated with new readers over the coming few days (!) - so if you are visiting for the first time - WELCOME. Please do add your comments if you agree or disagree with anything in the blog.