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Haringey’s decade under Kober

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LGC looks back at the past 10 years at the borough

Private sector concern of the day: Capita to undergo major shake-up amid profit warning 

Labour lament: Gwynne ‘sorry’ over Kober’s resignation

Today’s top comment: Ed Cox on skills gaps

As previous briefings from LGC editor Nick Golding and senior reporter Jon Bunn have pointed out, the row in Haringey LBC over the now-infamous proposed £2bn regeneration joint venture with Lendlease has been a microcosm of the problems plaguing Labour; the fight between local politicians and the party’s national executive committee, and between Corbynistas and moderates.

Those in opposition to the controversial plans have used Cllr Kober’s resignation as an opportunity to air their views about a variety of developments in Haringey, such as the High Court row in 2011 with former developer Firoka over the revamp of Alexandra Palace. But how much of the criticism is justified, given the challenges Haringey faced and the radical action needed to improve life there?

Cllr Kober became leader of the borough in 2008 after her predecessor George Meehan resigned in the wake of the Baby P scandal.

The death of Peter Connelly threw Haringey into the centre of a media storm and put the spotlight on its stretched child protection services. Public fury focused on children’s services director Sharon Shoesmith. Ms Shoesmith was sacked after education secretary Ed Balls called for it on live TV – only for her to take Haringey to court for unfair dismissal and win compensation years later.

Haringey also faced chronic housing shortages, a lack of employment and a need for physical regeneration to name just a few challenges.

In 2009 the borough put in place an action plan to improve its children’s services, as well as a quality outcomes board to improve its performance overall, chaired by Cllr Kober. At the time, she said of the board: “We accept that things went badly wrong. We are committed to making things right. Changes are already being made, and the board will help us on our way.”

By March 2011, Haringey could claim its first major improvement, when Ofsted rated its children’s services ‘adequate’ for the first time since the Baby P scandal. But further disruption was just around the corner; in August that year, five days of riots, sparked by the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan by police in Tottenham, rocked the borough and spread across the capital and to other English cities.

A year later, the council presented plans to revitalise Tottenham, responding to the underlying sense of disharmony and inequality in the area. The plan involved building 10,000 new homes by 2025, redeveloping areas such as Northumberland Park and Tottenham Hale, and the creation of 5,000 jobs. Launching the plans, Cllr Kober outlined ambitions to “provide a Tottenham moving forward that’s better than Tottenham today”.

In that year the council also appointed Nick Walkley – now in the top job at Homes England – as chief executive. Mr Walkley is credited with streamlining the management of the council and playing a large part in bringing £1bn of investment into Tottenham over the four years he worked there.

Haringey’s journey wasn’t just about making essential improvements. In the past four years, it has made room to pioneer new ways of working. In 2015, Haringey became the first council to put in place a delivery unit modelled on that used by Number 10, aiming to improve performance. In 2016, it employed behaviour change techniques to increase its council tax take by £111,000 in two months.

In that same year, Haringey invested in a fashion academy (the only in Europe to run alongside a working factory and studio); the National College of Digital Skills; a science, technology, engineering and maths commission; and the social enterprise Chicken Town (although the latter has since closed).

With children’s services stabilised and private sector investment secured for the borough, housing was the next urgent problem to tackle. Both Cllr Kober and Mr Walkley had housing high on their agendas. Cllr Kober had stated ambitious plans to provide new homes in the borough and publicly opposed right-to-buy because of the way it would deplete council stock, while Mr Walkley’s particular concern was increasing the housing supply in London boroughs – in fact, he was a key figure on the London Housing Commission.

It was this pressure on housing that pushed the council towards the controversial joint development vehicle. In the blog in which she announced her resignation, Cllr Kober highlighted the 3,000 families in temporary accommodation in the borough and the 9,000 on the waiting list. Clearly, she and colleagues saw it as the best of very few options at the council’s disposal to deliver the housing needed.

Haringey was a borough with enormous challenges in highly sensitive services. The last decade saw the council improve problematic services and even establish itself as a pioneer in some areas, all as it dealt with the challenges of austerity. As Cllr Kober has pointed out, when the options to solve problems are limited, politicians must plump for ideologically uncomfortable solutions if they are to deliver any improvements at all. But it is the local politicians, and not national government, who pay the price when ‘innovation’ in the face of austerity goes a step too far.

By Rachel Dalton, features editor

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