Lewisham is a one-party state - it only has Labour councillors. And those councillors have a strong interest in not rocking the boat. But Lewisham Lib Dems are committed to keeping tabs on what Labour are doing in Lewisham.
One of the ways we work to keep tabs on Labour is the monthly full council meeting, where members of the public can ask questions of the Mayor and Cabinet.
So what did we learn from this month’s council meeting?
Drift at the top
First, the council is drifting along without effective leadership. The new chief executive Ian Thomas appointed just last year was ousted by Mayor Damien Egan (Ian has since been snatched up by Lib Dem Kingston Council).
There doesn’t seem to be anyone getting a grip at the top of the council – our questions revealed that the council has spent over a million pounds on security to keep out protestors at the Tidemill Garden development - with the money being spent on a firm they don’t even want to use with a track record of anti-trade union activity.
The council should never have got into this mess and to continue paying out hundreds of thousands of pounds each month when services are being cut is unacceptable.
And elsewhere, the lack of grip means Lewisham Labour are letting projects slip.
Our questions show that by the mid-point of this year, they’ve spent just a tiny 14% of the schools capital budget and 20% of the housing capital budget. And they're now pushing back vital projects into future years.
This is money they’ve chosen not to spend – all the while complaining that central government funding cuts are the cause of all the problems in the council.
Bottom of the table for recycling
And poor management is also apparent in council services. Our question showed that on recycling, those paying £60 a year for garden recycling have their garden waste dumped in with the free food waste service as if they’re the same thing (so why pay the charge for the garden service?).
No wonder Lewisham has one of the worst recycling rates in London.
Need to try harder on education
We have great heads and teachers in Lewisham but our secondary schools continue to struggle – although there has been some progress due mainly to the efforts of the hard working staff.
Our primary schools have a good record, but a third of parents go outside the borough for their kids secondary education, Lewisham has the highest rate of exclusions of any London borough and secondary schools in Lewisham achieve worse results than the average for England despite all the focus on secondary education in London in recent years.
Poor housing from Lewisham
We’ve also been challenging the council over Eros House – the ex-office block in Catford that was turned into flats, and which has become increasingly squalid, as reported by the Independent in December. Lewisham have been happy to temporarily house homeless families there despite the damp, failed heating and security concerns. With pressure on the council, they’re now being tougher on the landlord and hopefully things are improving.
We’ll be there in Feburary too to stop Labour letting down Lewisham. If there are questions you want to ask the council please let us know by 10th February, using the comments box below.