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Camden Council sets out ‘bold answer’ to cuts

Camden residents are really feeling the strains of the recession, despite our very best efforts to protect the most vulnerable, and the impact of £83m-worth of government cuts continues to hit council services hard.

We are determined to offer an alternative, more innovative, response to the cuts; prioritising vital frontline services for the vulnerable and those most in need. Tackling inequality is our number one priority. Over the last two years Camden has worked hard to protect our most vulnerable residents from the worst of the cuts in services such as Early Years, where we proudly continue to be one of the country’s highest spending councils.

For many of our residents the future has never seemed more uncertain; the reality of recession and government-led public sector cuts means that household incomes for many in Camden are falling and will continue to fall. Equally, the changing social policy landscape, with welfare reform and new social housing policies, pose real risks to the rich social mix of our community.

Sadly, like other public sector partners, we predict further and deeper government cuts. We are therefore preparing to take a more radical view of how we design and deliver public services in the future, to ensure that Camden remains a place that works for everyone.

To help Camden understand the impact of local and national service cuts on some of our most vulnerable residents, we commissioned The Young Foundation to carry out some ambitious new research. Those interviewed were a selection of people most likely to be affected by multiple changes to services, maintenance or benefit entitlements.

This is not a large scale quantitative piece of research, its value lies in the deep insight it offers in to the lives of some of our most vulnerable residents. Our focus has been on gathering and telling stories about individual local lives, finding residents whose experiences reflect those around them and spending time with these people through focus groups and ethnographies.

Our research has already revealed heart breaking accounts of the very real struggles that people are experiencing and their fears for the future. But we have also heard amazing stories of resilience and communities coming together to offer support.

Camden recently launched the Equality Taskforce, to help us get to grips with the challenges presented in the Young Foundation’s research. Chaired by Naomi Eisenstadt, this taskforce will draw upon research and other sources of evidence to help shape council policy as well as developing long-term solutions that we can deliver with our public sector partners.

The work of the Equality Taskforce will build on what Camden has already done; in prioritising childcare, committing to build more social housing, and tackling fuel poverty and climate change by insulating more homes.

Camden’s Equality Taskforce will follow in the footsteps of other creative responses to cuts, such as our pioneering Education Commission, which kick-started a series of measures to boost the educational attainment of the borough’s children and young people.

Another example is our creation of a time limited £2m People’s Fund to soften the blow of funding cuts on voluntary and community sector groups, giving them breathing space to find alternative funding. This meant no third sector organisations closed due to government-led reductions in our grant funding.

The council remains one of the largest net contributors to the voluntary and community sector in Camden, but we are looking for innovative solutions that provide tangible and sustainable solutions for our communities over the longer term. We continue to face our biggest financial challenge ever and there is no end in sight. The challenge is likely to continue for as long as a decade and indeed as a council we expect pressure from central government to cut our budgets again by a further £40-£50m after 2014.

Despite this, our ultimate priority is to make sure that Camden remains a place where everyone has a chance to succeed and where nobody gets left behind.

The Equality Taskforce will play a crucial role, enabling Camden to deliver services that genuinely help people escape poverty, boosting the life chances of every resident regardless of their social status or background.

To those who question the future role of local authorities, Camden’s Equality Taskforce provides a bold answer and will help the council to define a much clearer role as a local strategic and democratic leader in an uncertain future.

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