Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Leading from the front

Local Labour shows the way

In political circles at least we are in full-blown general election mode. In my home seat of Hornsey and Wood Green every weekend brings with it another swath of new activists determined to play their part in winning the constituency back for Labour.

If we can pull off a ground operation that secures the necessary gains, an incoming Labour administration will find much changed in the world of local government. The headlines are pretty stark: since Labour left office in 2010, locally our budget has come down by a third, and over the next three years we must reduce it by a further £70m. This means a 60 per cent real terms reduction in core funding by 2018-19. This is a common national picture and in the context of increasing demand, particularly in terms of school places, housing, health and social care, we in local government are making some tough decisions.

We are smaller but, more significantly, the job of a council has changed in recent years beyond all recognition. We are no longer big organisations that simply deliver services – of varying quality – to people in a transactional way. Increasingly our focus is on securing better outcomes for our communities through partnership working, co-production and a focus on positive economic growth which brings investment and opportunities for local people.

We are making our contribution towards reducing the national deficit. In some cases there has been a high price to pay that is affecting the support we are able to give to local people. But we have also been hugely successful in changing the way we do things and delivering better outcomes. The ‘troubled families’ programme – aptly named Families First in Haringey – has been very effective and makes plain the importance of being close to a problem to really understand it and that strong partnerships across the public sector are critical in making it a success.

A new government should not underestimate the importance of leadership, partnerships, relationships and their relevance to positive change both at an individual and whole-system level. Our pursuit of greater personalisation of care demonstrates exactly that point. At an individual level residents are empowered to decide how their care is delivered and who delivers it and, as a result, are able to lead more independent lives. At a whole-system level we work closely with partners, deliver services more effectively and, in the main, at a lower cost than before.

This is why, despite the challenges, many Labour leaders see the changing nature of local politics and government as an opportunity, not a disaster. It is our responsibility to ensure that we shield our residents from the impact and reality of funding cuts. I do not believe that less money necessarily means a worse service and I did not get into politics to manage decline.

Locally we are meeting the challenge of finding new and different ways to generate income, promote economic growth, build more resilient communities and provide services. We are identifying ways of doing things that are better value for money and are targeting our efforts more effectively. The job is not anywhere near complete, but from the developing regional devolution deals, to the efforts to properly integrate health and social care services, to the plans to ensure the right skills and training are available to enable people to access jobs, we are delivering real change and opportunities where Whitehall is just too remote to be effective.

There has been a quiet revolution in town halls. Labour in local government really sets the pace in providing a positive choice for residents, demonstrating clear vision and providing leadership with partners from across different sectors. A new national government needs to recognise the changes that have taken place, learn from our tried-and-tested approach and reset the relationship with local leaders to ensure there is genuine partnership in power.


Claire Kober is leader of the London borough of Haringey. She is speaking at the Progress fringe at the Labour local government conference, 2pm on Saturday 7 February 2015

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Claire Kober

is leader of Haringey council


  • What Claire doesn’t mention is, unlike pretty much every other Local Authority, Tory or Labour, she is setting a three year budget with the £70m of cuts front-loaded.

    I cannot understand for the life of me why this is happening, but I feel the dread hand of the Barnet Butcher, Nick Walkley (our interim CEO, currently on £1000 A DAY). Having seen the carve up in Barnet where NINETY PERCENT of authority jobs have been outsourced, often to large multinationals, leading to cuts in pay and benefits for those who are TUPE’d and lack of local knowledge for services that end up at the end of the phone in the other end of the country, i DO NOT want that to happen to my borough, a Labour borough at that…

    Another of our neighbours, Islington, have spent the last five years bringing services back in-house because they realise the value and quality directly employing staff can bring.

  • This is dull, impenetrable, jargon-ridden Tory nonsense. She is boasting about implementing Conservative cuts and ‘making our contribution to bringing down the national deficit’!. Kober, a right wing loner with few skills, has been getting rid of local services to save money and to avoid having to make them run properly. Haringey, a borough which includes Tottenham, (though you’d never guess it from what its leader says) is paying consultants £20k a day and closing centres which serve young people, the elderly and the vulnerable. Her council is warring with UNISON, UNITE, GMB and the NUT and setting an unnecessary three year budget to appear tough.

    Thankfully, Hornsey and Wood Green is not Claire Kober’s ‘home seat’ but will soon be Catherine West’s. Catherine transformed Islington Council, as its leader, by being true to Labour values and by being smart and focused.

  • Win the seat with a ‘ground operation’ – clipboards and mosaic data, rather than ideas, passion and commitment. Fortunately the candidate in Hornsey and Wood Green is Catherine West, the former leader of neighbouring Islington, a proper Labour council which turfed out the Lib Dems and got to grips with the council’s problems, fought the government and City Hall and introduced radical socially just policies like universal free school meals. Haringey is an absolute mess. Not surprising as it appears to be being run by a managerial speak-your-weight machine who seems perpetually embarrassed by her responsibilities. Better to hitch your council to a ‘partner’ with a bit of power and money. Haringey Council is in bed with consultant tax avoiders, developers, Tory treasurers, Boris, Harris carpets and Conservative Easy-Council philosophies.

    She didn’t get into politics to manage decline, she says. She’s letting all her ‘partners’ manage decline instead and there’s nothing political about her. Clueless.

  • Sorry, what does this article actually say? Shouldn’t Kober be arguing for Labour to reinvigorate local government when we take back power in May? Especially since, as she says, Whitehall is too remote, even from North London.

    This reads as if Kober doesn’t think Labour will form the next government. Haringey has been cut to shreds but hey, it doesn’t matter, because her council is making do with less and, you know what? It’s just great!

    What sort of talk is that from a Labour leader in a borough where this was in the news yesterday:
    Kober’s council has recently given the Director of Children’s Services nine months’ leave of absence and backfilled with consultants on £650-£1050 a day. I don’t think Miliband has anything to learn from this sort of behaviour.

  • The title of the website is “progress” and yet I have just read an article that has regressed us back to pre 1920s. Where are the Labour values in this article or these actions? This is an article even Tories would feel ashamed to write. It is Dickensian.

    Ed Miliband needs to remove this woman from the party as soon as possible. She is an embarrassment.

    What she is basically saying is the Tories have improved council services? That Tory gimmicks such as “Troubled Families” have been a good thing despite all of the evidence that shows it is a failure?

    I have just Googled “Haringey” to find out more about this island of success as most other council Leaders are reporting severe concerns, including Tory Leaders. The top current story in the paper in Haringey is a child protection death that took place last week! Is this what success looks like?

    This woman is delusional. Haringey Labour, vote her out and save yourselves!

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