Welcome to the fourth of our monthly looks at what’s happening in Lewisham and at Lewisham Council.
Lib Dems top the poll in Lewisham
First up are the European election results in the borough of Lewisham. As you might have seen, the Liberal Democrats topped the poll with the third biggest swing in the country from Labour to Lib Dems. Our vote increased from 4,000 in 2014 to 21,000 this time. Read our statement here on what the result means.
We know not everyone who voted for us this time necessarily sees themselves as Lib Dems, but we aim to give all those voting for us reasons to stay with us into the London-wide elections next year, a possible general election and the borough election in 2022. We will continue to lead the campaign to Stop Brexit, especially now that the Tories are moving towards a disastrous no-deal Brexit.
Labour’s divisions affecting services in Lewisham
The Euro elections nationally showed the dissatisfaction within Labour about the position they have taken on Brexit and the failures of leadership by Jeremy Corbyn, not least over anti-semitism in the Labour Party. Lewisham appears to be no exception. It is clear that despite some Labour activists in Lewisham still defending Corbyn, others in Lewisham Labour are angry about what their party has become. These big divisions may not always spill out in public, but they are already getting in the way of councillors focusing on the job of ensuring Lewisham gets the services that residents need.
The Chief Exec fiasco continues
We’ve reported a few times about the ongoing saga of finding a permanent replacement for Barry Quirk, who was Lewisham’s Chief Executive until 2017.
The latest is the revelation of just how expensive the whole affair has been. Ian Thomas came in as a reforming Chief Executive in May 2018 but was ousted by Mayor Damien Egan in autumn 2018. The News Shopper have gone through the just published council accounts and found out that his severance payments were £185,000, on top of the £150,000 we estimate Lewisham have already paid out for two rounds of recruitment.
What’s more worrying is that the Mayor is learning the wrong lessons from all of this. Instead of thinking about how to attract the best candidate for our borough, he’s written a job description that’s basically describing a yes-person who will just go along with whatever he says. What’s more, the article in the Municipal Journal promoting the role has a pretty big hint that only those who support Labour need apply. This comes on the back of the council recruiting a Labour former politician from Southwark as Lewisham Council’s Head of Communication.
We need the best Chief Exec we can get, not just someone who supports Labour and will go along with whatever the borough’s Mayor says.
Trouble at Glass Mill
One of the other problems we have with the Mayor and Cabinet in Lewisham is their lack of action when things go wrong and their failure to take responsibility. A case in point is what’s happening with Glass Mill Leisure Centre, run by Fusion.
Essentially Glass Mill seems locked into a spiral of decline after Fusion got their predictions wrong in their bid to run the venue and Lewisham Council setting a contract for too long a period and without adequate safeguards. On top of these problems, Lewisham fined Fusion for failing to meet performance indicators, leading to further cuts in spending by Fusion making services worse.
An action plan was agreed between the council and Fusion a few months ago, but the latest controversy shows that problems seem to be getting worse with no sign that the council are seeing this as a problem they should deal with themselves, rather than just leaving it to Fusion.
Users of Glass Mill are also being left in the dark about all this. So we're calling on Lewisham Council to:
- Publish the contract with Fusion and explain what was agreed as a contingency plan if Fusion were unable to deliver the contract
- Publish the action plan agreed with Fusion in March 2019 and
- Publish a tracker of performance so users of Glass Mill and other leisure centres can see what’s happening
- Recognise that they cannot just wait untill Fusion hand back the contract or somehow start to make a profit, and set out a strategic plan for Lewisham’s provision of leisure services
- Agree with Fusion on a new, more contstructive, penalty regime that does not involve financial penalties leading to cuts in services. For example, giving free swimming lessons to schools in Lewisham instead of financial penalties.
Too often Lewisham’s Mayor and Cabinet let things drift along because they don’t face any challenge or scrutiny from their own Labour councillors. It’s one of the reasons why we’ll continue to push for the council’s democracy review group to include more than just Labour councillors.
Do follow @LewishamLibDems on Twitter to keep up to date on these issues and more.