IN DEPTH: Claire Kober - Labour will survive in Haringey

AFTER 40 years in charge of Haringey Council, the Labour Party still has the ambition and zeal to take the borough forward, says leader Claire Kober. Asked how she responds to the accusation that Labour is a tired party on its way out at th

Rhiannon Evans

AFTER 40 years in charge of Haringey Council, the Labour Party still has the ambition and zeal to take the borough forward, says leader Claire Kober.

Asked how she responds to the accusation that Labour is a tired party on its way out at the next election, she reels off ideas for improvements she still believes the party can make.

"I think there's always more to be done and deliver - if there's a point in time that I think actually everything is good as it can and should be, it's probably the time to give up on politics," she says.

"Our streets have become cleaner, but I want them to be more clean, I want to take the green agenda to the next level.

"I think the sustainability agenda is massively important. I want our communities to be stronger, I want people to feel they have a stake in their community, that they can influence things themselves.

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"We still have too many families in temporary accommodation and I want to deal with that and I want our children's services to be one of the best and doing more for our most vulnerable people."

Though she reads the list from some handwritten notes, as she does the answers to several of my questions, you get the impression that she is more than prepared for another four years in charge.

"We are still ambitious for Haringey, we know what needs to be done and we are very close to the communities we serve," she says.

When asked about the elections, she again refuses to rest on any laurels.

"The message we are getting back from people is they recognise things have really improved over the past four years," she says. "They say there are still things that need to be changed and we know this ourselves, but fundamentally they trust us to deliver for Haringey - going forward we are ambitious for Haringey, our vision is for Haringey to be one of the best places to live in London."

But after so many years of power in the borough of Haringey, people are surely asking why, after 40 years, Labour still has things to do. If a day is a long time in politics, 40 years is an age - and the question repeatedly asked in Lib Dem election literature is why are residents paying among the highest rates of council tax in the borough rated the worst?

Cllr Kober responds: "About 25 per cent of the borough's income comes from council tax and 75 per cent from the government and the problem Haringey has always had is that we are officially an outer London borough with a population more like that of an inner London borough. So we are required to do as much as inner London boroughs, but with less money.

"I would also take issue with the 'worst in London' generalisation. If you read our comprehensive area assessment, what it says is that our children's services are substandard - though the latest Ofsted report says things are improving - but what the CAA says is that if your children's services has one star, you can only be a one star council. But it finds our use of resources are three star and in many respects we are a council that performs well.

"That's not to make excuses for failures, but I think the 'worst council in London' jibe is just measuring Haringey on one metric."

It was injustice that pulled a young Cllr Kober into politics in the first place as just a teenager - a passion that carried on into university and finally brought her to the borough, from Essex, 12 years ago.

"I was always moved by a sense of injustice - I was angry at a Tory government throwing people on the scrap heap in the area I lived in and felt it was Labour offering people choices in life," she says.

After unsuccessfully standing in a by-election in 2004, Cllr Kober made her Haringey debut as a councillor in 2006, becoming Chief Whip by 2007. By December 2008, with the council in disarray in the aftermath of the Baby P scandal, she was leader of the Labour Party and the borough.

Asked whether she worries that people, at the first election since the Baby P scandal, will vote with that in mind, she replies: "I became leader in the immediate aftermath and for me it has been the thing that has consumed more of my time than anything else - certainly we have worked very hard in the last 14 months to improve our children's services.

"The Ofsted report showed our children's services have made great progress and there is good capacity to improve and I feel that is very good news, but there is absolutely no complacency and children's services will continue to be a top priority for me and Labour."

Every month, she adds, she commissions a local, independent social worker who goes through 20 random assessments and reports back on the progress.

"I am determined that in the medium term Haringey delivers a children's service that is widely respected, innovative and delivering really good outcomes for the children and young people of Haringey, who deserve the best," she says.

Turning to the Labour Party's 'top three' successes since 2006 she touches on homes, schools and the economy.

First, she says, is delivering two years of the Decent Homes Programme. "We are investing �200 million in that housing stock, at least �1million a week, and I believe that providing families with somewhere decent to live is much more significant than just providing a roof over people's heads."

Next is the "transformation" of schools, with a new school being built in the Heartlands project, GCSE results improving at twice the national average and the ongoing Building Schools for the Future programme. "Providing opportunities for young people is very important to me," she says.

Finally, she is pleased with their reaction to the recession, with the Future Jobs Fund providing 221 jobs for young people who have been out of work for six months and freezing council tax top of the list.

"We have also worked with traders in town centres to help support them, we are working genuinely in partnership to make sure they are seen through it," she says.

How does Cllr Kober respond to the criticism of Haringey being a split borough, with Lib Dems in the west and Labour in the east. Can Labour actually make headway into the west in this election?

"We are getting really positive feedback from wards all over the borough, particularly in the west, so I think we feel very much that we have a vision for the whole borough as one," she says.

Speaking about Labour's successes in the west, she cites the �8.5million investment in increasing primary school places at Rhodes Avenue Primary, and also at Coleridge Primary School, improvements to Highgate Wood school, the Muswell Hill low-carbon zone, the refurbishment of the Muswell Hill Youth Centre and the planned improvement of Hornsey Town Hall.

"I feel very strongly that Haringey has benefitted from having a Labour council under a Labour government, which is why I would urge people to vote for Labour," she says.