Haringey Council leader Claire Kober: times are tough but we have a clear vision

Cllr Claire Kober leader of Haringey Council. Photo: Nigel Sutton

Cllr Claire Kober leader of Haringey Council. Photo: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Having become leader of Haringey Council in the aftermath of the Baby P scandal, Claire Kober has overseen a period of huge change and no shortage of controversy. Here she talks to Anna Behrmann about her duties, and the challenges balancing motherhood with leading a local authority.

Haringey Council leader Claire Kober is certainly no stranger to making unpopular decisions or facing uncomfortable questions.

The 37-year-old stepped up to the top job following the Baby P scandal and since then has guided the council through unprecedented national cuts.

The decision to close day centres for elderly and vulnerable people in November last year sparked cries from the public galleries of “shame on you.”

But Cllr Kober says she regrets many of the closures had to take place.

“Every time you have to make a difficult decision around a service, whether it’s a day centre – before it was lunch clubs for older people – you hear the very powerful testimony of the people who use those services,” she says.

“But the speed and depth of the cuts we’ve seen has been huge and unprecedented and it’s called into questions the things we’ve been very proud of.

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“It’s been really tough for our staff as well.

“These are staff who opened services because they saw there was a need in the community – for some of our staff it’s heartbreaking.”

Juggling her leadership position with a role as deputy chair of lobbying group London Councils, Cllr Kober is a mother to Tom, four, and Grace, two.

She says while she is lucky to have a strong support network, she can appreciate the value of children’s centres, with fond memories of Rokesly Children’s Centre.

Campsbourne Children’s Centre, Stonecroft Children’s Centre and Rokesly Children’s Centre in Crouch End will close this month.

“Have I used them, can I see their value, can I see why people are not just disappointed but angry – yes absolutely,” she says.

First elected as a councillor in 2006, Cllr Kober does not intend to run as an MP.

“Politics and being involved is about having the means to change things and actually I’m a real, huge advocate for local government,” she says.

“While I respect the work that MPs do, it’s not where I see change for the most part – although obviously some MPs can make an enormous difference,” she adds quickly.

Even in a climate of cuts, Cllr Kober believes Haringey can do better.

“I’ve got a really clear view of where Haringey is, what we need to do, what needs to happen to fulfill our potential as a borough.

“I think Haringey is one of the best parts of London – that we’re a place and a borough that has too often punched below our weight.”

“The borough has a really low ratio of jobs per head of population.

“I want to improve that. I want Haringey to have a really strong economy. I want household income to go up.”

“We will keep all of the nine libraries in the borough and we will invest in them – there are works under way at Marcus Garvey, a consultation launching around Muswell Hill library and lots of other kinds of improvement works.

“It’s really important that people are able to see an expression of their council through something physical at neighborhood level.”

Asked what issues she would focus on in an alternative career as editor of the Ham&High, Cllr Kober came up with quite a few ideas for the paper to follow up on.

“I think one of the best things about Haringey is we have a really kind of compassionate, caring community. We have people undertaking all sorts of social action and committing huge amounts of time.

“If I were editor, I would want to ensure that all of that work is highlighted – the colourful nature, the texture of what’s happening in Haringey, the great works that people are doing.

“There’s a guy who sings songs for kids in Priory Park and when Tom was younger I used to take him to sit with tens of other kids and their parents or their grandparents.

“If I was editor of the Ham&High I’d seek to find these stories.

“There’s the guy who draws on chewing gum in Muswell Hill – what a contribution to the community.”