The Green Shoots of Progress (or Lack Thereof)

Just a brief post today (yes, I can tell you’re disappointed) as there are two things preoccupying me, as I shall discuss below.

It seems fitting that on the day George Osborne delivers his Autumn Statement, in which he will announce that his “Age of Austerity” will continue for yet another year longer than planned, London is seeing its first snowfall of the winter. With lacklustre economic performance and falling benefit payments, staying warm is increasingly a privilege. When Osborne rises to speak at 12:30 today, we all know that some of his announcements will have massive human costs. After 3 years of spending cuts, the budget deficit is virtually the same size as it was in 2010, and that is even with the Tories having broken their pledge to maintain the NHS budget in real terms, as the Shadow Health Secretary has finally secured an official admission of this.

But there remains little point in speculating as to the contents of an announcement due in just over four hours.  And also, I feel we need a little good news.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote two posts on how Labour councils have been mixed in terms of their use in protecting their communities from the worst aspects of the spending cuts, and I cited the London borough of Lambeth as an administration which could be doing a bit more. Well, the council has a new leader, Lib Peck, as Steve Reed was elected MP for Croydon North (a consistency just outside of Lambeth) with 64% of the vote. I digress. One of the first acts of the new administration was to announce a “Street Detox Commission”, which will examine the council’s powers to remove or at least limit the number and prominence of betting shops, pawnbrokers, payday lenders and fast food outlets on the borough’s streets. Further to this, it will examine its ability to promote credit unions as a co-operative source of affordable credit.

Lambeth would not have to spend a lot of money, and yet it could restrict a large number of corporate vultures’ means of exploiting the poor and the young. Lambeth, like many parts of south London is particularly riddled with such businesses: lenders charging 400% interest on credit, bookies with somewhat scruffy looking people shuffling into them (Streatham High Road alone has three branches of William Hill). It’s disgusting that they’ve been permitted to proliferate in such a way. Anything that can be done to remove these dangerous and heartless businesses from our streets is to be welcomed. I will listen to news of the commission with interest.