Designing the new licensing world together means we’ll all get a better night’s sleep

With vastly reducing budgets the Council cannot afford to play Policeman alone. By creating the rules in partnership with clubs, pubs AND local residents, the Council can focus on problem areas and premises much more effectively. 

This week saw the first in a series of problem solving discussions between pubs and clubs, local residents and various officers from licensing, trading standards, community safety and the police. I was there in my capacity as a local Councillor and we also had Public Health London and Vauxhall One, the business association for Vauxhall, round the table.

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Our aim is to jointly agree (or coproduce in today’s business speak) the ‘how should we implement and abide by our new licensing policy together’ so that no longer does it seem a cosy stitch up between the council and business to residents, or the Council and Councillors jumping to the tune of a few angry voters. As the Licensing authority the council needs to tread a fine line between regulation, responding to residents, and encouraging business growth and every instance is very different.

Of course bringing together the experiences, expectations, gripes  and aspirations of all concerned is no mean feat in a policy area which is almost always adversarial and polarised with seemingly sleep-deprived residents on one side and self confessed responsible businesses on the other.

But that is what we started yesterday in Vauxhall at the Licensing Transformation Co-production workshop and will be doing in each of our major town centres over the next two months. Our guiding thought is that we must pave the way forward together and ensure that decision-making is transparent, with everyone having equal access to the rules, regulations and information.

We have a new licensing policy which is stricter across the board in terms of getting a new licence, requiring businesses to demonstrate from the outset how they will operate responsibly and safely, and needing a demonstrable commitment and understanding of the neighbourhood; all that remains for us is to put this into practice. That is why we are also seeking views from our residents, businesses and partners on the council’s Licensing service and access to Licensing information, including how the outcomes of Committee decisions are communicated.

The discussion yesterday was wide-ranging and challenging at times but most of those I spoke to who had spent three hours on a Monday afternoon airing their views, probing officers and sharing suggestions on all aspects of Licensing felt it was productive, open and “for the first time felt clear about what licensing was about.”

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We discussed the importance of having a named council officer for an area to report to and clarity for residents about who to report things to – not being passed from pillar to post between noise, licensing, the police or community safety.

Residents wanted to be clear what constituted evidence and what support they could be given in getting it, not just from the council but within their local communities, to safeguard their area and prevent any potential problems.

There was a clear distinction between large and smaller venues, and an acceptance by all that early engagement and dialogue was to be welcomed: sharing information meant for better outcomes. The best platform for this will be explored further for each area.

The role of our business improvement district, Vauxhall One, was questioned in resolving issues potentially caused by their members. They clearly they have a difficult position to defend their fee payers as well as reform practices and resolve issues. Welcome to my world!

But most important was the conversation and the common understanding which was being developed and will continue to be developed. Policy is not made overnight, nor does it change things immediately it is agreed. Nor should it remain static when the world is anything but.

It is the implementation of this policy, and the consideration of seasons, trends, our responsibilities to our residents, the regeneration over time of a neighbourhood, the changing make up of an area and of course market forces which  needs us to lead and facilitate a strong, flexible dialogue which is ongoing. It’s dynamism comes from having real partners at the table and is its strength.

I look forward to hearing the outcomes from the workshops about to happen in our other town centres and the follow up wider public discussion and input into how alcohol and our neighbourhoods work together. I suspect that areas in Lambeth with established and sometimes testing late night economies such as Clapham, Brixton, Vauxhall and the South Bank can look forward to discussions which are just as lively and productive as that which has taken place in Vauxhall, although the workshops in our town centres in Norwood and Streatham with their burgeoning nightlifes are likely to be just as vibrant and engaging.

However challenging and diverse the views expressed it is essential that all parties get involved: that’s the point of our commitment to cooperative values and involvement of communities, both business and residential. Our job is to create the situation where cooperation and collaboration can take place, and act as arbiter in a fair way if cohesion is threatened.

The most obvious way to get buy in is to let the players shape the rules. Then when they are broken no one can complain.

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Getting online is not just useful, it could soon be a matter of life and death….

Lambeth Council is helping real people get the digital skills they need to survive and thrive in the real world

Yesterday Lambeth Council alongside the Government Digital Service, GoOn UK and Job Centre plus launched our Digibuddies project at one of many community venues participating, the All Nations Church on Poynders road.

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Digibuddies is the latest of Lambeth’s Cooperative Council initiatives and aims to get everyone in Lambeth online with support, training and mentoring by local volunteers. It’s cooperative because we work together with the public, with community partners (in this case the church and their learning centre) and public agencies like the job centre for positive outcomes for all.

The political driver was that central government was going digital by default, that pensioners and others on some form of welfare benefit would have to access it online in future. The looming threat for us is that those groups of people are our least digitally connected and in most categories figure highly in our most vulnerable residents. With news this week that Government is also making jobseekers do this digitally, the risk of further excluding those at the sharp end of austerity from the basic welfare safety net is a terrifying prospect becoming reality.

 Also our Labour Party values and the strong Cooperative Council foundation we have been building over the past 5 years has given us the expertise and appetite to tap into the energy, skills and resource that exists in our communities right across the borough, rather than scratching our heads and wondering how we do it.

About 9 months ago we set about bringing understanding our challenge, bringing together partners, mapping provision and shaping the opportunities to train volunteers to work with those in need of skills in their own communities. The Council cannot pay for this with 50% of our budget cut but we can make it happen working through our cooperative principles and experiences. And yesterday Digibuddies was (officially) born.

About 10% of Lambeth residents – about 26,000 people – do not use the internet and the figure who lack confidence is even higher. This might be difficult to grasp for those of you reading this electronic blog post on your smart phone from my twitter feed but there are large numbers of people for whom it is not natural, it is scary and something to be ignored.

And whilst when your internet goes down you might breathe a sigh of relief at the respite from the incessant tidal wave of emails, pictures of cats in funny situations for others this is a real problem in the real world and the real economy. Now if you are not online you can’t access the job seekers programmes and forms you need to, and failure to do so means you get no access to job seekers allowance. And if you do get a job and need to update your housing benefit to take this into account you will soon be able to only do this online.

Of course it’s not just about benefits and basic survival. I use the internet for everything from reading the paper, research, communication with friends and family, buying and selling things and…well I can’t think of anything that the internet doesn’t help me with.

For me personally this was a real proud moment, like seeing a child perform in a school play and thinking “I did that.” Of course it wasn’t just down to me, a significant number of people, not least the Digibuddies themselves, have made this a reality, but as a politician trying to make something happen, change and delivery can be painfully slow. In this case it’s taken me and the officer I got together with about 9 months, which in local government terms is the superest-most high speed broadband of delivery that I’d hoped for.

A problem shared is a problem understood, we need a community response to community safety and policing

Lambeth Council and Police have just gone out to consult on how people want their crime and disorder issues dealt with in the borough. The consultation can be found here (and is only four questions long) and the proposed draft terms of reference which give more detail and context can here Image

The outcome will be the creation of a Lambeth Safer Neighbourhood Board which will have representatives from different areas of Lambeth, different groups of people and different types of issues from burglary to stop and search to how we protect victims and vulnerable individuals.

In Lambeth there are currently groups that deal specifically with issues about crime and disorder or policing. Sometimes people bring safety issues up at other places like tenants or residents meetings alongside repairs, service charges or the state of the pavements. These discussions sometimes never meet and actually most people in Lambeth don’t attend meetings at all, discussing their issues informally with friends, work colleagues or not at all.

The ultimate goal of the Safer Neighbourhood Board is to bring together the things which people are concerned about, capture the themes about issues being discussed in different forums right across the borough, encouraging conversation about some and listening and responding to others.

The concerns on a street or an estate are often symptoms of bigger issues; in order to tackle big strategic problems like violence against young people we need local solutions based in the neighbourhoods where the problems occur. We need community resource to tackle them alongside the council or police. A borough-wide solution on its own will not deliver that.  And vice versa, a number of neighbourhood watches might need to raise an issue like residential burglary or dodgy door to door salesmen for it to be considered for a strategic response, otherwise they will be dealt with in isolation and good practice or successful solutions might never be shared.

Therefore the proposed new structure is designed to create a link between the local Safer Neighbourhood Panel, where local issues are brought up by concerned residents, neighbourhood watch leads and local Councillors, through to the area cluster meetings which discuss broader issues over a larger neighbourhood and then on to the Safer Neighbourhood Board.

Other groups like Victim Support, the Community Police Consultative Group, the Business community, South London Citizens and the Youth Council who all have a boroughwide mandate will also feed information into the Safer Neighbourhood Board discussions.

In this way the Safer Neighbourhood Board acts as a group of representatives who will bring together the concerns and solutions from those affected by the problem and those who will shape the solution. Those solutions can then be discussed at all levels so the most appropriate response to that neighbourhood can be developed and implemented – a process that recognises that Brixton is very different from Clapham or Vauxhall or the South Bank.

What is very different is that for the first time there will discussion of the issues which affect Lambeth right across the board being discussed right across the board. The issues will be agreed by a range of people so that no one interest can dominate but all groups can then bring their own viewpoint to the table. Big strategic issues will be discussed at a local level and vice versa.

The questions we are asking are below with a couple of remarks about what this might mean for you.

1. Are there other issues or areas that the Safer Neighbourhood Board should be working on or considering?

We were given five different areas to focus on – are they the right ones? How might they be done better? Who should be involved?

 

2. Lambeth is committed to engaging people as much as possible in the decisions that affect them. Are there other ways you would like to be involved in decisions about crime and policing?

Who do you go to for help or to report crime? Do you know who your Neighbourhood Watch or Tenants Associaiton is and how they can help you? Are you aware of your Safer Neighbourhood Panel or your local Councillors who can report things for you?

 

3. Are these the right members of the Safer Neighbourhood Board? Are there other people or groups who should be represented?

Who would represent your views on this board, if not directly then how would your issues feed through to them? Is anyone missing who would be able to represent you and your views better? How would you like your views represented

 

4. Do you think these are suitable working arrangements for the board, or is there something else you would like to see?

How and where else should business be conducted? Will this information get through to you how and when you need it? How do you want to hold your representatives to account for expressing views given elsewhere?

Fundamentally a problem shared is a problem halved is at the heart of this move to tackle crime and disorder and improve policing right across Lambeth yet too often people only end up considering the issue immediately affecting themselves.

Individuals and groups need to be able to get resolution to their problem locally, but this also needs to be escalated in order that trends and strategic responses can be formulated.

I will be doing a series of blog posts over the next month about different aspects which I hope will encourage people to send in a response and maybe even get involved with finding the solutions to issues affecting them or their neighbours.

There is a much more detailed outline of the thinking behind this consultation here which was produced by a working group co-chaired by myself and the Borough Commander, involving representatives from the Safer Neighbourhood Panel Chairs, the Community Police Consultative Group and the Independent Advisory Group.

Many thanks for your consideration

Cllr Jack Hopkins

 

Thousands of trees planted in leafy Lambeth

Another excellent outcome for the Neighbourhood Enhancement programme.

Lambeth news

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A new phase of tree planting in Lambeth got underway on Tuesday as part of the council’s Neighbourhood Enhancement Project.

Environment charity Trees for Cities will plant 300 new trees across the borough this year, taking the number planted in Lambeth over the last 12 years to well over 2000.

Lambeth’s Neighbourhood Enhancement Project involves consulting residents about what improvements they would like to see in the streets in which they live – more than 80% have identified more trees as a priority.

Council leader Lib Peck and Cllr Jack Hopkins, Cabinet Member for Safer and Stronger Neighbourhoods, joined School children from nearby St Stephen’s School to help plant the first tree of the new phase of the project in Heyford Avenue, Oval.

Cllr Hopkins said: “This is a wonderful project that will help make Lambeth a cleaner and greener place to live.

“Trees make a big difference to the…

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