Fairness Commissions in other London Boroughs and cities are essentially about anti-poverty. They are a welcome recognition of the need to revive the former anti-poverty strategy approach of Councils in the 1980s and 1990s. At the core of the concept of ‘fairness’ is the growing wealth inequalities across the country, made worse by such things as people being paid below a Living Wage, zero hours contracts, and cuts to benefits both for those in work and the unemployed.
Fairness Commissions are a means to an end NOT an the end in themselves. The END is the try and halt the growing wealth diversity, and improve the incomes and living standards and opportunities for the least wealthy.
The Webb Memorial Trust, which is mentioned in the Cabinet report recently commissioned some work on poverty, inequality and Commissions for the All Party Parliamentary Group on poverty. A number issues have emerged from Commissions elsewhere in the country that raise a number of questions for the Croydon one to consider.
Pay differentials. Are there other ways to reduce the wide disparities in income between the wealthiest and poorest households? Whilst the Living Wage focuses on the lowest paid, should the pay ratios with higher earners be reduced. Should there be a cut in the pay of senior officers starting with the Chief Executive?
Living Wage. I discuss this at http://historyandsocialaction.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/can-croydon-become-living-wage-borough.html
Debt and credit: How can support be given to develop the credit union sector to provide an alternative to pay day loans and competitive banking services for people on low incomes? Is it possible to have a bye-law restricting the activity of pay day loan companies?
Increasing job opportunities for local people. How can new local businesses and social enterprises be created with a clear strategy and action plan? How can employers be encouraged to increase the proportion of local people they employ?
Tackling youth unemployment. Can larger businesses be persuaded to effect a step change in their engagement with local people, guaranteeing to provide an agreed % of work experience placements every year and committing to increasing apprenticeship and other local employment opportunities?
Targeted support for mothers. Can employers be persuaded to
develop a targeted package of employment support to mothers, especially for those groups of women with particularly low rates of employment, combining advice on childcare, training, volunteering, and employment options?
Health. Can greater and more integrated provision of preventative and community based health and social care services, particularly for the elderly and the large gap in life expectancy between the least and most deprived areas be achieved? Can increased attention be given improving the physical health care of people with mental health problems?
Housing. Can a London living rent formula be developed? How can newly developed homes be prevented from standing empty? Can more premises over shops be brought into residential use?
Internet Access. Can a partnership be developed in which universities and the creative digital industries, play a role in making free access to wireless internet universal across the Borough?
Reducing energy bills. Should the Council and Housing Associations assess the feasibility of becoming an affordable energy provider?
Food banks. What support should be given to food banks and other providers of emergency food relief?
Enhancing democracy. More more needs to be done to encourage voter registration and increase the number of voters?
Implementation. There will be a problem of moving from identifying achievable recommendations to implementation and action where recommendations are too general or too ambitious. What will happen after the Commission has reported and published its recommendations? Who will be responsible for implementing the next stage?
Partnership and Consensus. ‘Beyond partnership and calls for more collaboration between public, private and third sector bodies, there has been little in any of the reports about alternative political strategies or recommendations about how tackling poverty and inequality might be advanced in the cut and thrust of public and political life. This is perhaps not surprising given the commission model and the nature of the process. However, the extent to which partnership and consensus alone can deliver the change that is required to significantly reduce poverty and inequality is debatable.’
Anyone who has been involved in partnership processes over the last two or three decades know how difficult they are to work in, especially when small partners like the community and voluntary sector, get marginalised and trodden all over.
A key issue for the Cabinet to consider is whether the proposed £200k cost of servicing the Commission is a typical officer trick witnessed over the years in many Councils. The paper does not give a budget breakdown so it does not show how much money will be needed to fund it this financial year 2014/15 and next year 2015/16 up to the end of the January 2016 when the Commission is timetabled to publish its Final Report.
A small project team is certainly needed to support the Commission, but these could come from existing staff seconded from Departments that are undergoing staff cuts. The experience of the team in public engagement and effective partnership work will be vital, Taken into account my experience of teams servicing other partnerships and enquiries this is a potential Achilles Heel.
The Cabinet report can be accessed at https://secure.croydon.gov.uk/akscroydon/users/public/admin/kab14.pl?operation=SUBMIT&meet=27&cmte=CAB&grpid=public&arc=1