Challenge ideas that have served us ill and blighted lives
19 July, 2018
MERIC Apak’s four-year vision to steer Camden away from contract outsourcing should be properly appraised at the Town Hall.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, has made it clear that Labour-run councils should be looking, whenever possible, to run services “in-house”. At the recent NHS demonstration he hailed Whittington Hospital campaigners’ recent privatisation victory as “of great significance”.
Council chiefs in Camden do not appear to be so wholeheartedly on message. This newspaper has for several years opposed outsourcing, and the ideological reasons behind it. Despite repeated claims of greater efficiency and cost savings, time and time again the system has been found wanting.
The catastrophic PFI deal, which has caused such mayhem on the Chalcots estate, is a case in point. How much would the council have saved had it thrown itself with similar enthusiasm into setting up a co-operative company to organise and carry out those works and maintenance?
The council has for years been deskilling itself. The recovery may seem difficult, and it will not happen overnight. But Mr Apak, himself a former electrical contractor, believes Camden could “save a packet”. Will the council listen?
In a similar regard, the outsourcing of Camden Town’s Crown Post Office to a “retail partner” must be robustly challenged.
Union chiefs, who predict job losses and increased waiting times in Camden, have long opposed the closure and franchise programme that has been wholeheartedly supported by successive governments.
In the past 30 years the number of post offices has declined dramatically – almost halving its numbers.
The Post Office blames changing consumer habits. And yet many people will know the Camden High Street branch as near constantly full. Often there is a queue snaking up to the entrance door.
There is no doubt that it is a lifeline for many elderly people who perhaps rely on it to pay bills in person rather than online or through automated phone centres. Will a reduced service cater for their needs? Many will find another social avenue cut off, perhaps choosing to stay indoors.
There is dystopian sheen to many modern developments in Camden. In West Hampstead, new blocks have provided a haven for keep-fit professionals. An Age UK campaigner is right to ask what the “gentrification of Camden consisting of concrete squares surrounded by coffee shops and glass buildings” has done to counter isolation.
Camden is often talked about as one of the loneliest of boroughs with, in London, the highest number of elderly people living alone in flats. Its spaces for casual conversation and neighbourly camaraderie are few and far between. Just as outsourcing creates a distance between the council and its residents, so can gentrification.