Thursday, February 27, 2014

Council Tax Frozen for a 4th Year

At last night's Council Assembly meeting Southwark's Labour councillors voted to freeze council tax for a 4th year in a row - meaning that the average council tax payer is now £400 better off than they would have been if we had imposed inflation-only increases over the same period.

We have frozen council tax in spite of facing some of the toughest cuts from central government of any local authority - more than £79 million has been taken away from us.  To put that into context - that is more than we raise in a year from all of the Council Tax collected in Southwark.

And even though these times are tough financially we have delivered on the promises we made to the residents of Southwark in 2010 - to provide Free Healthy School Meals to every primary school child; to double recycling to 40%; to halve the cost of meals on wheels and to make every council home warm, dry and safe by 2016.

I think we have and continue to demonstrate that Southwark Labour is genuinely on the side of our residents - delivering a fairer future for all.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Warm, Dry & Safe Works - Dylways and Blanchedown

It was good to see more progress with our Warm, Dry and Safe programme in South Camberwell at the weekend.

Scaffolding is now on many of the houses in Dylways - as preparatory work takes place to improve roofing and windows there; and there was more scaffolding on some of the blocks and houses on Blanchedown.

This £326 million programme of investment is due for completion by 2016 - meaning that all of Southwark's council properties will meet a minimum standard of decency by that time.  Then I hope it will be on to the kitchens and bathrooms in all of our tenanted homes.

Leaseholder Issues on Oglander and Bellenden Roads

During our mobile surgery last weekend on Oglander, Bellenden, Muschamp and Marsden Roads we picked up a number of cases from council leaseholders who were baffled by some of the service charges they have been asked to pay.  For instance, the owners of a ground floor flat on Oglander Road  were being asked to pay for "Estate Lighting" and "Estate Electrical Repairs" in their latest service charge bills - despite the fact that they live in a house which has 2 flats with no obvious lighting or repairs issues in the past year.

Another leaseholder was frustrated at the difficulty involved in establishing that they were getting genuine value for money when repairs and safety checks were being undertaken on common parts of her home.

Some of the apparent anomalies in leaseholder service charge bills are due to the specific natures of the leases which the original owners entered into when they first exercised their Right to Buy; taking on the liability for the proportion of communal repairs of blocks and estates some distance from their own homes.  These can only be remedied by unravelling all of the many and varied leases which Southwark has with its' 16,000 leaseholders - but it is now probably a task which it is worth undertaking so that these anomalies are removed.

But we also need to think about how leaseholders are represented within the council - and ensuring that they genuinely have a champion who will look after their interests against what can sometimes seem like the "council machine".  We are looking at how an effectively independent leaseholder management company might do this in future.

Let me know your thoughts, and also if you have any leaseholder queries you would like to raise.