Supporting your ‘local’ – making licensing policy local

We want off-licences and pubs to be part of their local communities, and the responsibilities that that entails. But town centres in Streatham, Norwood, Brixton, Vauxhall and Clapham are all different and need different approaches

We are currently consulting on a new alcohol and public entertainment licensing policy here in Lambeth (pubs, clubs, late night take-aways, off licences, etc…) looking to address the problems associated with alcohol and the night time economy, without taking away Lambeth’s position as a top place to go out or stifle business who employ significantly and bring growth to the borough.

National legislation constrains us, but we are determined to make it as specific as possible to Lambeth, the neighbourhood and the area in which they are operating because they have an impact on their surroundings, they are part of a neighbourhood. No pub is an island.

At the moment there is little differentiation between an off licence, a pub or a night club in licensing terms. In Lambeth, we want to do this differently. We know that these premises serve and attract different clientele, have different impacts and ultimately create different atmospheres in the back streets or town centres they serve. Asking licensees to be clear about what they will be operating is a key change we want to make.

The Police, the local council and of course local communities see the impacts in different neighbourhoods. We have less problems with street drinking in areas with fewer off licences. We deal with higher levels of alcohol related violence where there are concentrations of late night pubs and clubs. Street based drug dealing is generally an issue where there are night clubs and a busy night time economy. That’s why we want to look at a whole neighbourhood and concentrations of types of venues, not just individual licences.

We recognise that times are tough for businesses and that the alcohol economy plays a major part in the economic life of Lambeth, employing people, providing places for social interaction and foot fall which allows other shops and venues to thrive. But some types of venue are simply in the wrong place. A night club catering for late night revellers may do its best to disperse a crowd, but if the surrounding area is residential the business model may well need to change or relocate.

How a business is run also makes a difference. A well run pub catering for 100 people but done responsibly can have less adverse impact than a no-holds-barred venue for 50. That’s why we are implementing tougher expectations about those who will be running the venue.

At the moment we licence the venue, not the individual who will be running it. Part time management concerned with profits over punters does nothing to create a harmonious community. Confidence in trained staff with a commitment and knowledge of the area, as well as proactive engagement and relations with local residents is a must in our new proposal.

Early feedback and some of the initial research leading into the proposed timings for town centres and high streets reveal different desires. In Streatham and Norwood local businesses and communities want the growth of the evening time economy, not necessarily the late night / early morning. In Clapham there is a strong resident feel to reduce the overall size and the hours of night clubs and vertical drinking establishments because of the problems they are currently suffering. In most areas the proliferation of late night off- licences is seen to be encouraging street drinking and aggressive begging, something which cafes and bars say is a problem as much if not more than local residents.

If you live, work or socialise in Lambeth please have a look at our draft proposals and take 5 minutes to respond to the consultation.

The local night time economy can only stand to benefit when all its patrons are safe. So please respond to our licensing consultation by clicking here and if you want to read some of the supporting materials click here

Literally Different Perspectives – Primary school children

Literally Different Perspectives – Primary school children

This week i spoke to 200 primary school children and it was the most nerve wracked I’ve ever been. How do you explain to 6-10 year olds what a local councillor is and what we do without seeing their hearts and heads drop.

Luckily it was Herbert Morrison Primary and Peter Mandelson had not long ago visited; most of them knew who Boris Johnson was so i safely told them that I am “like the local Boris” (refraining of course from explaining the party political and ideological differences)

I was there to talk to them about their walk to school and how it could be better for them.

I got three excellent bits of advice from the head teacher Eileen:
speak loudly, slowly and clearly
Do not ask open questions or they will all shout back at you, ask them to “put your hands up if….”
Tell them that they are really important and you need them to help you

And it was fascinating – lots biked to school and most kept their hands up when I asked whether there were broken pavements or holes in the road which made it difficult to cycle. Many kept their hands up when asked if they wanted more flowers and trees on their walk to school, everyone out their hands up when asked if they wanted to help plant them. Some teachers too.

The perspective of how children see the world is very different and one which I don’t think we pay as much notice to as we should. They literally see the world from a lower perspective which makes you rethink where you put low walls, how removal of street barriers might increase road safety but crossing the road scary or how big dog mess relatively to a small person.

I am going back in a couple of weeks to see what they and their classmates have come back to (Wyvil Primary are also doing the same project) and I cannot wait to see what they have come up with.

And I think what will be the most fascinating is how we solve their problems once i bring them back to the council and Lambeth Housing (where many of our children live)

The responses “not my department” “that’s not in the budget code” or “we don’t have permission to do that” are unwelcome at the best of times, but when the requests come from six to ten year olds surely unacceptable? It will indeed be a test of my Council of which I am very proud. I hope they will continue to make me proud.

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Twitter is changing how people access information and support; Councils need to support community building or risk irrelevance

Twitter and other forms of social media are changing the way that communities interact and are active; it is shifting power away from formal power brokers who operate through bureaucracies to a wider, more informal and diverse set of people. Local Government has to support, grow and shape local connection and communities to improve outcomes, but also so it doesn’t become an irrelevance.

Traditionally if you wanted some help or information you asked someone you knew directly or some sort of official. You were bound by whether they were in the know – a direct one to one relationship. Now people are connected to lots of people in the know whether they personally know them or not. Now a question can be posed to the ether, responses coming from virtually anyone. A business, a neighbour, an expert, a friend, a colleagues, and of course local government or your local Councillor. They can come from your street, your city, country or anywhere in the world.

For local government this presents a very real threat; if the council wasn’t helpful before then you had one disgruntled resident, now everyone knows about it – and if the council isn’t supporting me then why should I pay my taxes to keep them employed?

But of course it also offers an opportunity to reinvigorate the relationship between public and the state, to work together to achieve common goals and to generally create a more healthy, happy and supportive civic sphere.

It is what we are doing in Lambeth through the Cooperative Council.

Residents ability to demand change and improvement is rapidly changing (although not by everyone at the same pace) and Local Government must adapt to be able to respond, to support the the fastest movers without leaving behind those in need of more basic levels of support. The old ways, if they were adequate in any case, need now to be directed to serve communities how they need to be served.

The relationship is moving from a “we want, you deliver” to a “how can we deliver this together.”

In Lambeth we are trying to create deeper and more supportive structures within and between communities, so they are better able to seek and find the support they need. We have to engage the strengths of the public and its capacity for reciprocity, not only because people with supportive social networks make for better outcomes, but because it leads to a more equal and happy society. In saying that there will always be a need for support services provided directly by Councils, especially given the varying failures of private sector forays into issues around welfare, employment and social care.

But for the many, however they are connected whether on the same street, through business or a community around race, parenthood or climate change, support to connect to affect, to improve or unite will be supported when needed.

You wouldn’t tell your postman to leave a parcel with a stranger. But you might with someone you know on your street. We are creating opportunities and spaces to bring neighbours together through our community freshviews, safer streets days or street parties – these might just be saving someone a trip to the post Office Depot on a Saturday. But who knows how else that neighbourhood might be able to support itself?

For my generation “Everybody needs good neighbours” is well known and more relevant, especially in London with lots of people moving in and out from diverse backgrounds all the time. Strong neighbourhoods won’t solve everything but it can’t hurt to see what they can solve.