As recession bites, Camden is guilty of complacency
by Theo Blackwell, Chair of Camden Council Resources and Corporate Performance Scrutiny Committee and Labour Opposition Finance Spokesperson Lib Dem Camden Council leader Keith Moffitt s stance on the recession is complacent and so is that of the Tow
by Theo Blackwell is Chair of Camden Council's Resources and Corporate Performance Scrutiny Committee and Labour Opposition Finance Spokesperson
Lib Dem Camden Council leader Keith Moffitt's stance on the recession is complacent and so is that of the Town Hall, which must be one of the only councils in the country not to say anything meaningful on the economy while at the same time persisting with policies which have a harmful effect on local traders and residents.
Cllr. Moffitt alleges that Camden is being hit "more slowly" than elsewhere, without providing any evidence to back this up. Even were it true, this misses the point. Rather than risk a 'wait and see' approach, Camden should surely seek to help avert a recession rather than deal with its consequences.
Other councils have lead the way with moves to cut the time taken to pay invoices; review procurement arrangements to support local businesses; provide more financial advice with benefits, rebates and council taxes; or work with energy providers and retailers to support families at risk.
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The 'complacent Camden' charge is also revealed elsewhere. I also asked the finance department about how Camden council can pass the 2.5 per cent VAT cut to customers of Camden services such as swimming and leisure, parking meters and building control services.
Many other councils made immediate statements on the VAT reduction on December 1 (and before) and took swift action. There has been no response so far to my questions around this. I believe Camden should pass on the benefit of this to local people, and not hoard this extra windfall.
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Following significant cuts to advice services in the first year of the Conservative/Lib Dem administration, funding levels for local law centres and CABx are now currently lower in Camden than they were when we were not approaching recession.
The council should consider stepping up its assistance to the advice sector, especially around debt and tenancy issues.
Camden's fees and charges regime should be looked at in relation to its economic impact - traders on markets stalls have had a hike in fees this year and permission-to-park notices for builders went up 267 per cent. Both of these, at the very least, should be revisited. They were policies made when we were not facing a recession, and there is a compelling case that they should now be dropped.
Camden could also follow the lead of other councils in suspending planned road works, and lobbying TfL to do the same, on town centres and high streets like Hampstead, Camden Town, Kentish Town and Kilburn during the Christmas period to ensure that business are not disrupted by works which could easily be undertaken in the New Year.
The council needs to develop better on policy in this area and Camden should embark on an immediate round of consultations with business groups and advice agencies to develop, in partnership, a coherent response before it is too late.