Those from the Chinese and South East Asia diaspora may be celebrating the Lunar New Year this week, but this can also be an anxious time for many as we anticipate the forthcoming household utilities bills and council tax. 

The council is in the process of setting the 2024-2025 budget. No doubt the Labour cabinet will vote for council tax increases. It will crow and say it is doing well compared to other councils, but is that really true when it comes to value for money? Are increases justified for the level of service we get? 

The answer is clearly no and this is starkly highlighted by the annual complaints report released last month.  The number of complaints have doubled, including those upheld by the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman and the Housing Ombudsman.

Complaints can be beneficial - they should help us to learn and improve services, but the fact that they have doubled, practically in all departments, shows that no lessons have been learnt. 

Ham & High: Cllr Linda Chung says complaints can be beneficialCllr Linda Chung says complaints can be beneficial (Image: Cllr Linda Chung)

Council services are patchy and quality is not consistent. Some residents can access a service, others are left neglected. The council seems to have no will to improve.

The usual excuses have been used to justify the figures, but I and my fellow Lib Dem councillors know the level of dissatisfaction expressed by residents. They complain the phone doesn’t get answered, officials and their responsibilities are anonymous because departmental addresses are preferred and responses are slow, if any are sent at all. 

The council cannot afford to boast. Mechanistic consultation and lack of proper dialogue with residents, because of fear of challenge, are also main headings of discontent. The left hand does not know what the right is doing within departments, with residents being pushed from one to the other seeking help.  

This failing was already recognised.  During the pandemic in 2020, a firm of consultants led by economist Mariana Mazzucato were awarded a contract to consider what could be done. They came up with a “missions based” strategy. I understand their definition of this is that different council departments must work together to solve problems. So far, I don’t think this is working even within departments, never mind across departments. I look forward to being told differently at some point. 

And by the way, may I wish everyone a happy Lunar New Year of the Dragon, may it be filled with laughter, friendships, and financial stability.

  • Linda Chung is Lib Dem councillor for Hampstead Town ward and chair of Resources and Corporate Performance Scrutiny committee for Camden Council.