POP’s 1st Birthday: They grow so fast….

My time on the POP Brixton journey is 2 years old and I’m proud to have built something with some fantastic Brixtonians. We’ve improvised, innovated and delivered jobs, opportunities and something iconic, proving along the way that economic success does not have to come at the expense of social value. This is my thanks to them and those that encouraged and supported us to go the extra mile.

In the early days, the typical reaction to our plans for Pop Brixton was “you mean like Boxpark Shoreditch?” Not any more. We are a year in and we are nothing like Boxpark Shoreditch. We are proudly POP Brixton. Delivering 100s of jobs, space for loads of Lambeth start-ups and 100’s of hours of community give back and community activities. Nearly half a million people have visited since Pop opened its doors last summer.

Pop Brixton Initial Impact Figures 27.04.16.png
Some of the achievements in stats


But that image of what Boxpark Shoreditch was, and what we would not be, was always in our minds and I think staying true to that is why POP Brixton feels like it’s been around for longer than a year. It feels part of Brixton. And being of Brixton and for Brixton was always something which guided us. Boxpark Shoreditch could have been anywhere. We wanted something that would be Brixton.

meanwhile space
We started out by asking the public what they wanted to see

We wanted this empty scrub of land to do something for Brixton; to aide economic recovery, to spread footfall and attract new people to spend money. We wanted it to provide the opportunities for local start-ups and business. We needed it to not run at a loss, better still to provide profits back into the Council as a revenue stream to begin the next wave of business and job creation. See now Loughborough junction and Waterloo Meanwhile space.

One of the main reasons for remaining true to Brixton, to balance between the economic realities and our political and community principles, was the steering group working together for over a year before the tenants moved in. The group helped develop and shape something which hadn’t been done before, to have a standalone commercial venture driven by social and community values. In part this blog is to thank them. For the last two years it has been in our lives and everyone has contributed, shaped and shared in the success of POP Brixton.

Stuart from the Brixton Market Traders Federation, Nigel from the Academy, Ellie from Satay Bar, Binki and Tom from the Brixton£ and local Labour Councillor Matt Parr. Along with Carl Turner, POP staff and numerous Council officers we kept each other looking at the right things, checking them three times and keeping on track, both toward delivery but also in line with our principles. Tom Bridgman never took the easy route, never stopped challenging and improving and expecting the best and much of what is good about POP is because of his commitment and attitude.

And of course we had a number of challenges over the years. Adidas came knocking to pay for use the “coolest space in London right now.” We had always committed to no brands and we were strictly no chains. But Adidas came with money to the project and with little intrusion (they wanted three weekends, not a permanent shop or branding) They also came after some swift negotiation with opportunities for local football clubs to train with Premier League players, practise their skills and the clubs to walk away with some much needed cash.

Not my team but there were a lot of young Brixtonians who met some heroes at POP


We did it and along with the money there is also now POPFields which has been created with some of the proceeds to show the Euro’s, provide sporting opportunities for youngsters again and well…. I think the majority of the steering group stand by our decision to say “yes, but only under the following conditions.” The steering group’s existence ensured that the question was debated and a harder bargain fought.

Many of the things we didn’t know how to do and for some there was no precedent so we had to improvise. We set out a scoring matrix and a selection process for the applicants through some tough steering group meetings. How to make it diverse? How to make it Lambeth? How to get a good mix which worked? How to pick winners with good business models? How to do this fairly? How to let POP have the commercial and creative discretion they needed, but with proper checks and balances by the steering group? Then the same process with the subsidised units and those set aside for non-commercial ventures who pay with social good like Repezent Radio and Bouceback.

Sadiq Khan took a break from the campaign trail to see Reprezent Radio


We put in criteria about local links which resulted in 75% of the businesses being run by Lambeth people. We couldn’t put a diversity quota in there legally but it was made clear that this was part of the cultural and creative mix that POP would need to demonstrate, a place that looked and felt like Brixton. It is 40% BAME businesses.

There was also how well their business model stacked up and lastly what sort of social give back, thoughts and commitments they would offer. Some of these are harder to judge and score than others. It is not an exact science. POP Brixton’s mix, which was approved by the steering group, has worked out pretty well I think. Some dropped out before occupation, some have since left but generally the community which has been created feels very close.

At the start we were fully committed (still are) to the concept of responsible businesses giving back to their community. Without the tenants in place it was difficult to work out what would be a measurable and firm commitment that would work best for both business and community. With something organic not bureaucratic sometimes you just have to shape and see. We hoped for this give back to be part of the business communities DNA, not a budget line entitled CSR which happens once a year. And that one hour a week would turn into many without needing to be asked for. Those individual hours surely have.

Spelling was NOT one of the skills on offer!


We also wanted this social business sense to spread further, to make it easier for businesses in Brixton and across Lambeth to be involved in supporting their communities. There is much willingness to do this amongst businesses, especially in Brixton, and we wanted to see the tenants as more than a rental stream as some landlords and landowners do. But someone who adds value at the expense of profit. In straightened times foregoing additional revenue to mitigate against cuts is not taken lightly or often.

a proportion of time in the ‘POPBox’ had to be for community use


Of course responsible businesses need responsible landlords and again POP Brixton have not failed to deliver. Everyone has a gripe about their landlords, but it is how they complain and to whom that really counts. From day one, I have had very few complaints from tenants. Some naturally but swiftly dealt with. The steering group hears reports, we meet the tenants. The landowners meet its sub tenants to make sure the landlord is being responsible. I think that is a healthy relationship to have, where each party gets to hold the other to account if necessary but is incentivised to just be better to each other so they don’t have to.

When POP Management came with a plan to us which involved 15% top slice of drinks based businesses to contribute to extra marketing for the whole site, extra ways to deal with crowds to fulfil licensing obligations and extra clean up, I was initially nervous. When the plan also contained differentiated rent for food businesses so less footfall meant less rent to pay, more meant more, I was worried that it would end up in a battle. But the plan had come through tenant and landlord negotiations without the need to involve the Council, the steering group. A couple of official nods to fairness, polluter pays, demonstrated to me that this place was a genuinely well functioning ecosystem, where landlord and tenant knew their responsibilities and engaged with each other. Good landlording is onerous, but it reaps dividends and benefits. It helped no doubt that Philippe from POP, a long standing Brixton resident and small business owner, was alive to the politics of this place and the importance of rigorous business discipline but an appreciation of when times are tough.

The steering group is going to change now. Much of the programme management, steering the thing through the Council’s planning process, making sure that the electricity is working, making sure milestones were met, deadlines delivered to is now over. The general running of the place is on the whole sound and stable

POP has not disappointed. It is a community (In no small part to the Brixton IMPACT Hub, a business community within a business community) and I am very proud to have been a part of POP’s story. Although I am standing down from the steering group, I know this group of individuals will continue to impress, to improvise and to innovate.

Politics at this point in time can be trying, but POP has allowed us to do something in line with our values of providing opportunities as well as something which works in the real work. It has given us the chance to also show that the economy can run in a different and more social way; that good landlording is about being hands-on, being involved and sharing the successes and failures of your tenants; that being a shareholder (in the sense that we are the landowner) is about active stewardship, having a collective sense of purpose and founding principles; that Lambeth is a hugely talented place and what is needed are opportunities, space and support for those people to achieve; that business is not just about profit and loss but how successful your wider community is doing.

POP’s not perfect but it’s a damn mighty effort at walking the walk on opportunity and the benefits of regeneration for those of our number who need it. Well done the team and no letting up the pace!





Brixton Works: the citizen view for a better economy

There is another way. We cannot live outside of the economic realities but we can do things differently ourselves and demonstrate that creating value and reinvesting it back in the local economy is the only way to protect the long term health of Brixton. Brixton Works is a public enterprise trying to take back the economy. We need your views. 
Back in October 2015 I wrote about Brixton Works – something we are doing to prove that it is possible to have sustainable financial growth without losing the social benefits nor letting the increasing value created by a thriving local escape.


Brixton Works is about providing affordable workspace in Brixton by creating a social lettings agency for economic space in Brixton. We know that as things improve and a place becomes more attractive, the pressure to cash in on increasing values has been something which has affected a number of Brixton businesses. Brixton Works will treat it’s assets as more than something to be sweated for maximum profit. 
The steering group is made up of a number of businesses from Brixton, from the workspace world as well as the Brixton Business Improvement District and crucially the GLA who are funding the start up with £200k.

We have come up with some principles we think Brixton Works should abide by. We want to discuss whether they are right for Brixton. 

We also want to test some of the real life situations that might face Brixton Works when it goes live. How will it strike a balance between the commercial and social? In other words, the need to stay afloat versus the need to keep rents ‘affordable’. How will it handle the tension between the need for affordable space and the need to generate a surplus so Brixton Works can grow and take on more space? We need to work though these questions to be sure Brixton Works has a sound sense and will function whatever comes our way from the Tories in central government.

At this stage we do not know where the first Brixton Works workspace will be, or whether it will be only one space. Different options will have different levels of commercial vs. social benefit. The challenge for the Brixton Works steering group will be to work out the risk which can be accommodated and what will help Brixton Works to grow and deliver a better deal for Brixton, a better chance to cross subsidise start ups and social enterprises here in Brixton.

There are three workshops this week, all to be held at the Impact Hub in POP Brixton. Anyone who has experience or an interest in making the economy more social and sustainable, anyone who brings a commercial perspective but values the Brixton economy and ecosystem is more than welcome.

Workshop 01: Tuesday 16 February 1-2 PM

Workshop 02: Tuesday 16 February 6.30-7.30 PM

Workshop 03: Wednesday 17 February 8.30-9.30 AM

Impact Hub Brixton

POP Brixton, 49 Brixton Station Road




Meanwhile Opportunity in Waterloo: Time for something incredible

We have a good track record of supporting innovative meanwhile uses which go on to even greater success. Lower Marsh presents a fabulous opportunity for something quite incredible. A prime location, good support and some creativity to provide employment and entrepreneurial opportunities could make your name. 

meanwhile space.jpg

There is a fantastic opportunity right now in Waterloo for a creative and entrepreneurial partner to work with Lambeth and the wider community in Waterloo to do something brilliant over the next 2 years.

As the Waterloo Library on Lower Marsh moves to new premises down the road we don’t want the building to go unused so are out to tender for a two year meanwhile space opportunity at 114-118 Lower Marsh.

Lower Marsh sits within one of our most successful Business Improvement Districts, WeAreWaterloo just south of Waterloo Station. Indeed this site has the potential as a gateway through into the vast empty spaces being developed underneath Waterloo station, some of which is also being used on a meanwhile basis by The Vaults, recently crowned Lambeth’s Business of the Year.

I am doing everything I can in my role as Cabinet Member for Jobs and Growth to create opportunities for business growth and jobs – making spaces available, providing support for start ups or entrepreneurs or building partnerships which attract visitors, interest and investment to our neighbourhoods and the businesses already located there.

Unlike private developers who, according to a recent analysis are sitting on enough land to build 600,000 homes across the country, we are trying to make sure that we make full use of spaces, even if its only for a short while on a temporary basis.

We have a good track record in Lambeth of making meanwhile space work, sometimes perhaps becoming victims of our own success in some cases.

Many of you will have heard of POP Brixton which is a business park in the heart of Brixton which has created hundreds of jobs and supported local startups with a home, as well as giving back in a big way to the wider community. Indeed Impact Hub Brixton, itself originally a meanwhile use in the basement of the Town Hall has moved in there to form part of a vibrant business community bringing more life and footfall to what was arguably a neglected part of the town centre. Over 70% of the businesses in POP are by Lambeth people and 20% are affordable or free rents, subsidised by other. POP has had 400,000 visitors since opening its doors last summer.

Brixton Village itself when it was down on its uppers was about the Council supporting new businesses to locate into empty shops and breathe live into what had become a ghost town. The principle about investing in our borough to generate opportunities for local people is still one we are committed to.

Loughborough Junction has recently received £1.6m of money from the GLA to provide employment and jobs at Loughborough Farm and some of the empty Network Rail arches off the back of a meanwhile use we established a couple of years ago. The commitment is for 20 years so meanwhile can often turn into something more permanent if it can demonstrate the value it’s bringing.

For further information and instructions on how to respond, please see the brief attached.  I am really excited to see the proposals that come forward.

Please note we will be holding site visits on Wednesday 17th February and Wednesday 24th February. If you would like to visit the building on one of these dates, please email my colleague Nathan Vasey NVasey@lambeth.gov.uk to arrange a convenient time.

Please feel free to forward the brief on to your networks if you feel the opportunity may suit another organisation you know.

114-118 Meanwhile Use ITT (final)


Last chance to respond on Vauxhall and ditch the gyratory

As we enter the last few weeks of the Vauxhall Gyratory consultation I continue to encourage people to respond with their views on TFL’s proposals.

I believe that overall the scheme will be positive for Vauxhall, not just for existing residents and businesses, but also for the many thousands of new residents, employees and visitors who Vauxhall will be welcoming over the coming years. The gyratory is a throw back to a different era and as this city becomes progressively more pedestrian and cyclist friendly, I am pleased to have fought for its removal.

I wrote a blog at the start of the consultation on my thoughts which can be viewed here https://jackhopkins.wordpress.com/2015/12/02/goodbye-gyratory-hello-a-better-vauxhall/ Improving cyclist and pedestrian safety whilst keeping the centrality of the bus-stops remains a key concern for me, and I continue to believe that this proposal presents the best option of achieving this, with properly-segregated cycle lanes on both South Lambeth and Wandsworth Roads and a reduction in car-driving speeds with the removal of the one-way system. The current multi-laned circuit makes Vauxhall feels more like a race track than a place where people live and work. Creating a living town-centre alongside the bus interchange is therefore also key, with wider-pavements, a new interchange square and other greening and improvements to public realm.

Thank you to the many people who have contributed to the development of this proposal so far, not least Lambeth Cyclists , not least their Chair, Charlie Holland, who has presented a constant challenge on how best to improve things for cyclists. Whilst not everything can be achieved in the short term, the point of democracy, consultation and involvement is to develop, to build consensus and to balance out viewpoints. With anything road related this inevitably means compromise between bus users, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, no mean a feat when considering a huge move from a heaving gyratory to a multi-user two-way-way transport layout for modern times.

Thank you also to the significant number of residents who have copied me in to their helpful comments and suggestions on the scheme, which I’m sure will be considered and borne in mind by Transport for London. Particularly helpful are the points made on certain junctions, such as the way  St George’s Wharf residents will interact with the new Vauxhall, and also questions around how some left/right turnings will work in practice. There have been other specifics about bus stops under bridges and the relationship with businesses in the arches which need to be fine tuned, but the fact that they are being made means that my fellow Councillors and I can make sure that TfL assess and respond.

The Our Vauxhall scheme in particular is to be applauded as a constructive challenge proposing a totally pedestrianized South Lambeth Road as well as other potential improvements such as a station entrance at Cobalt Square building opposite the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. It has allowed the Council to push for changes and different thinking such as the extra lane taken out of South Lambeth Road and to push for Vauxhall of the future to be even more pedestrian and commuter friendly.

I look forward to seeing the results of the consultation and ensuring that the positive elements are adopted and those that can’t are justified and kept in mind for future change.

I received a number of emails over the Christmas period flagging concerns and asking for clarification on comments made at public meetings or on the local grapevine. I have responded to these individually but thought it helpful to put a couple of statements together to cover them so that fears can be allayed and rumours quashed.

–          Some were concerned that the Bus Station layout and existing canopy are not being retained, and that there was nowhere in the consultation to keep them. This issue was laid out in the previous public consultation, with the TfL evidence showing that two way working would require a changed layout to the bus station. However it was very clear from that consultation that a vast majority wanted to keep the bus stops together for convenience, ease of change between bus, tube and train and for safety reasons. As you will see from the proposed layout this has been achieved and what we will keep focused on is the need to keep space between stops covered.

–          Some people asked why the Our Vauxhall scheme has not been modelled and presented as something which they could comment on through the consultation. The closure of South Lambeth Road has been modelled by TfL following the previous consultation and the evidence shows that it would add too much traffic pressure on the other three Vauxhall roads. Whilst as a local resident I can appreciate the benefits of a new public space as has been proposed, the need to keep traffic flowing, bus journey times down and to ensure improvements for the whole of Vauxhall does not make this a viable option for TfL. I am also concerned about increased rat running through Bonnington Square and Langley Lane if South Lambeth Road were to be closed.

–          There have been questions about TfL proposing this because of an alleged property interest on the Island site and the desire to build two large towers. This is simply not true. The Island site is owned by private developers and has already received planning permission (under appeal) for two towers which is unrelated to TfL. TfL do own the land where we will be seeing interchange square as well as the bus stops, but what they intend to build is of very limited capacity and includes shops in central Vauxhall which people have been crying out for as long as I have been a Councillor in Vauxhall. The detail of this is yet to come forward as a planning application but of course the public will be able to comment and influence the design.

Transport for London have also responded to some similar issues raised here https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/roads/vauxhall-cross/user_uploads/vauxhall-bus-station-faqs.pdf

The consultation closes on January 17th so please have a look and let TfL know how you think this will affect your commute to work, your feelings as a pedestrian, a driver or a cyclist and what more you want from your town centre.





Goodbye gyratory. Hello a better Vauxhall

For the last half a decade, Vauxhall Labour has been campaigning for a better Vauxhall: a place where it is nice to live, where people will come work and boost our local economy, and where people will choose to eat out with their families or meet with their friends. For too long Vauxhall has been missing out as people travel to Vauxhall only to catch another bus, tube or train to another area. In the meantime, families living in Vauxhall have had to look out onto an ugly, noisy one-way gyratory – an antiquated system where cyclists continue to die and where pedestrians are forced to make several crossings across dangerous lanes of traffic in order to reach the public transport stations. Vauxhall can be better. Vauxhall will be better.

When I was first elected in 2010 existing Labour Councillors in Prince’s ward (Cllrs Mark Harrison and Stephen Morgan) had already been hammering TfL’s door down to make Vauxhall safer. When Jane Edbrooke and I were elected we joined the fight and made it clear that removal of the dangerous gyratory was the only option we wanted, not one of the 30-odd half-measure options put to us by TfL. It took us three years to get TfL to agree. And now we have an option which enables Vauxhall to be the better place it can be: removal of the gyratory to create a two-way system making it safer for cyclists and motorists alike, retention of a centralised bus stop station, shorter bus journeys, a safer and more pleasant environment for pedestrians, and a thriving town centre with shops and cafes at the heart of Vauxhall.

Removal of the gyratory is obvious. It’s unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians, it’s noisy, dirty and smelly – no one wants a six lane motorway with 1000s of cars and lorries speeding around all day long in their town centre. My parents-in-law think Vauxhall is great because it’s a great place to explore London from. If it wasn’t for my wife Jo and I, they would spend their visits to London eating out in Westminster: they would never have considered Vauxhall a place to spend their leisure time (and money), and Bonnington Square café, the Riverside or Coriander would not have had a look-in.

The proposed scheme is a huge improvement for pedestrians. Taking out the gyratory and putting two-way lanes means that cars travel at much slower speeds and in a more managed way. Six extra crossings tames the traffic and makes crossing Vauxhall whether you are from Wyvil and want to enjoy Vauxhall City Farm or Ashmole Estate to go to the River.

Thanks to suggestions from KOV we have been able to push TfL to close an extra lane of traffic on South Lambeth Road and reclaim it for wider pavements. There will be a new ‘interchange square’ without traffic linking bus stops, the tube and the overground station. Albert Embankment will be widened and planted for a much nicer public space.

The bus stops will remain together which was something that local Councillors and communities were concerned about in the early days. This has been achieved by TfL and most of the bus routes will have shorter journeys. TfL have helpfully put all the new proposed bus journeys online here so you can check what your regular route will look like.

The proposed scheme is better for cyclists, putting in segregated cycling lanes on South Lambeth road and Wandsworth Road, where at the moment there is huge conflict with pedestrians. It also adds cycling routes from and to CS5 from South Lambeth Road down Miles Street, and added to the slowed traffic and introduction of two-way working, Vauxhall will no longer be a death-trap for cyclists.

Of course there are many for whom it doesn’t go far enough or compromises on their specific issue or for their specific geography. I know some who would love to see cars removed entirely, or for their side of the gyratory to be closed at the expense of more lanes on the other sides.

But as a local Councillor representing the whole of Oval and Vauxhall, the need to balance out and accommodate as many needs as possible has to be my goal. And ultimately it is TfL’s scheme and they are the ones who are going to have to implement it and ensure that such significant changes to the inner ring road do not adversely impact on the wider London road network. No one wants gridlock.

I would urge all residents, employees and those who visit Vauxhall to go to the consultation and give their comments. There are further details here https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/roads/vauxhall-cross

I believe that the proposal which TfL is currently consulting on is a good scheme and has many benefits. Of course change is incremental: it happens over time and at different paces. My Labour colleagues and I will certainly be fighting for more improvements going forward as well as making sure that the implementation of this scheme is done in the right way and provides what is promised.

For now, getting this scheme approved and seeing some very positive things happening in Vauxhall is one I will be proud to fight for.

There is another way: POP Brixton is proving it

POP Brixton is fulfilling its promise of creating a sustainable and community minded business park, and in the process helping Lambeth move community benefit from Corporate social responsibility to core business. 

At the heart of the POP Brixton experiment is our desire to create and encourage a socially driven business community which sees itself as part of the wider Brixton community. Onsite the more commercial operators subsidise rents for the 13 start up and social enterprise tenants who pay between 20% and 50% of full rent; all tenants were chosen on the basis of being local (over 70% are from Lambeth), diverse (over 50% are from BAME backgrounds) and whether they paid the London living wage (over 70%).

The event space is offered to local community groups and voluntary sector organisations at a discounted rate or free for at least 25% of the time and has already been delivering some fantastic opportunities for local groups. Inspiring butterflies have delivered personal development and wellbeing support for local young women, Bounceback did a work day for ex-offenders and tedxbrixton hosted a discussion day on Brixton, as well as work experience events and school trips starting with 350 young people from Sudbourne Primary school doing the 1st school art installation. There are more examples here.

Indeed this activity has gone someway in satisfying sceptics to the extent that “‘Another Lambeth is possible”, a collection of anti gentrification groups (some of whom have been highly critical of POP Brixton as a symbol of gentrification) will be enjoying the space for a discussion and debate about The topic on November 28th.

Every business at POP Brixton has to volunteer time as part of their lease

If those things have been about how we can shape a supportive business community on site, the next stage will see POP Brixton really start to deliver out in the community. We are partnering with Brixton£ to deliver the ongoing community give back from businesses which was an original expectation of POP. All tenants signed up to giving an hour per week to support this and I am hugely excited about how we can encourage a cultural shift amongst the business community, that being involved in the community is not just an add on or a good corporate PR story, but that being part of a healthy community is also good for business. Enlightened self interest if you will.

I meet businesses all the time across the borough who want to be able to give back to their communities or be more involved. There are barriers like time, capacity and organisation but the appetite to deliver work experience, training, provide for local jobs or partner will local community groups is huge. It is a massive resource we can tap into.

So POP as an experiment for us in the Council is key to practicing and testing the things that we want to see done in a small way, so we can learn the lessons to do it bigger and better across the borough. The jobs and social value that a postage stamp of land is delivering on POP Brixton is already surpassing some of our expectations but the potential for embedding business in the heart of the community is huge.

If every business community in the borough were engaged to deliver social value in the same way then many of the challenges our residents face could be tackled much more effectively. We need all hands on deck as the Tories seek to divide and destroy our communities and local businesses must play their part. I am confident they will with a little help from their friends in the public and community sectors.

Notes on the project

A three month timeframe is anticipated to get the project up and running with a steering group being formed to determine which applications get to use of the free space at POP. A public workshop to help shape the project will be held on the 3rd of December from 6pm to 8pm at POP Brixton. Applications for involvement should be submitted to Tom@brixtonpound.org by the 11th of December with the final group being confirmed just before Christmas.

When helping vulnerable people into work, local works best

Lambeth has been working in partnership with Southwark and Lewisham to help those with complex needs into work, and getting much better results than the programmes commissioned centrally by Government, all without the need for punitive coercion. We need that budget and responsiblity devolved down to the local level so our vulnerable residents get the support and opportunities they need. 

Lambeth enjoys an employment rate above the London average which is great for the majority, but which also masks some worrying trends. Too many people are languishing on low paid or insecure jobs. Unemployment, particularly amongst certain hard to reach groups, remains high and because of the Tories’ punitive regime, many of our residents are simply not appearing in their statistics. We however know they still need support to get into work.
As usual the Tories’ rhetoric doesn’t match up to the reality. Their claims to be creating a high wage, high skills economy is laughable when they are busy cutting the tax credits of the lowest paid. Over 15,000 families in Lambeth will be affected. A low earning single parent with a child could be up to £1,000 per year worse off. We all know the deficit has to come down, but targeting the least well off is perverse.

They are failing people who are out of work too. Behind the headlines, long term unemployment remains stubbornly high. It is worst amongst ‘hard to reach groups’. The Government’s Work Programme is producing poor results for these people, a failing identified by the Commons Public Accounts Committee: “those in greatest need are not getting the help they need… and are instead being parked by providers because their case is deemed just too hard.”

Of course there is no easy solution, but the success of a joint Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark scheme called “Pathways to Employment” shows that the Government could do worse than look to Labour local authorities for examples of what works. Pathways focuses on four “hardest to help” groups; those aged 18-24, aged 50+, single parents and people with low level mental health needs. Cllr Joe Dromey has also written about his take on it from Lewisham here.

Last week it was praised in a report by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, Welfare to Work, which noted the “very good” early results. Around 20% of participants had entered paid employment and this figure is expected to rise to 30% by the end of the year-long pilot in November 2015. By contrast, barely 4% of ESA claimants achieved three months of work after a year on the Work Programme.
Giving evidence before the Committee, Roby Fairman, Lambeth’s Lead identified integration with local services as being key. All job seekers are assigned a key worker and that person helps identify and address issues normally outside the scope of the Job Centre. That could be problems with debt, health issues or, most commonly, housing. One woman helped through the scheme had been out of work for several years and had accumulated significant debt. Her caseworker referred her to a debt agency who helped her structure a realistic re-payment plan. She was then supported to prepare a CV, and, with careful support, eventually found work as an Admin Support Officer at a care agency.

At a local level we are better able to remove barriers, usually across a range of partners which only a local authority is able to pull together effectively; we are able to ensure that local community and voluntary sector partners are able to provide and that other providers with whom our clients engage get the right training and signposting they need so all agencies deal with the individual as a real person, not a statistic.

There are dozens of such success stories and the potential for many more if the Government makes the right call. As we bang the drum for further devolution from Whitehall alongside expected independent think tanks such as the Insitute for Government did in a recent report here, smart, locally designed programmes, sensitive to local needs like Pathways to Employment, are a great example of what can be achieved. So Government, give us the budget, local knows best.