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Warning bell may toll the knell of the privatisation era

07 September, 2017

THOUGH there has not been the least public hint that Camden Council would ever consider emulating Haringey and embark on a “privatisation” of council-owned land, an innocent sounding item before last night’s Cabinet meeting (Wednesday) was enough to sound as a “warning bell” for Labour members unhappy with present policies.

The item emerged in a report headed as an “Update of the Community Investment Programme” which sees the council as a “major house builder” in the borough.

It was enough to make critics of CIP suspicious that the council will ultimately change course, forced by events in the economy, and follow Labour Haringey in forming a partnership with a private developer to “privatise” all council properties.

A sentence in the report suggests “partnership models” other than CIP arrangements “may be considered” if government support does not materialise for local authorities.

This could be said to harden later in the report with a reference to the possible need for a “Plan B” which includes “looking at partner­ships with developers…and joint ventures…”

As for models other than CIP, such as the communally owned Community Land Trusts, the report suggests they could not be considered until they “demonstrate” that “outcomes” would be better than by “direct delivery” by the council.

According to the report before the Cabinet, the CIP has been successful though it warns – as this newspaper did last week – that market uncertainty in London, partly triggered by the EU debate, could change matters.

There is little doubt that as a pioneering programme CIP has been successful in parts of the borough but the report does warn that if house prices in London “fall significantly and do not recover” the structure of CIP may need to be reviewed.

However, given the present political complexion of the Labour leadership – which set the CIP in motion seven years ago – it would seem highly unlikely that present policies will change.

But there is an unpredictability about Labour politics in Camden as aspiring party members vie in the next few weeks for selection as candidates in next year’s local elections.

Surprises could occur. An influx of “leftish” candidates – sponsored by the campaigning grassroots movement Momentum – could find themselves selected.
If this were to occur, it would tilt the Labour group away from its centrist position occupied since the 1990s.

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