Camden is a place of contrasts. While many residents enjoy some of the most prosperous lives in the country, there are parts of the borough that fare much worse. One of the starkest figures I have seen is a difference in male life expectancy in Camden. There is a gulf of 11 years between the wards with the highest and lowest rates.
Now Camden council has launched an equality taskforce – which I will chair – with two key aims. The first is to better understand what influences inequality in the borough. The second is to explore how now ways of funding and delivering public services can help tackle it. I am pleased to chair this taskforce.
The council has recently committed to finding new solutions to inequality through the Camden Plan. The analysis and recommendations from this taskforce will identify what needs to be done to implement the plan. I hope this will result in real changes to the way services are delivered in the borough and help tackle some of the most ingrained inequality.
I believe that good public services can play a huge role in eliminating discrimination, increasing opportunity and improving the capabilities of our most disadvantaged communities.
It is important that the taskforce explores how the nature and style of service delivery can make services more accessible and meaningful for different groups.
I am under no illusions that this is an ambitious project, but I was attracted to the role by the distinct focus on local public services and the strong political commitment to the work. I aim to bring independent challenge and a critical eye to the work of the taskforce.
My experience both with Sure Start and the Social Exclusion Taskforce has convinced me that only concerted effort working with all agencies can result in real change – and that it usually takes much longer than expected. Persistent focus on our aims, along with flexibility on the answers, are vital ingredients.
For the taskforce to be a success it needs to be inclusive; not only of those directly affected by inequality, but of all members of Camden’s community who can contribute to finding the solutions to these problems.
As well as analysis of relevant data we will be having conversations with the community, other public services and businesses, exploring in detail what really matters. We will also be engaging with national experts to complement this approach. We are very keen to hear people’s experiences and ideas and work collaboratively in producing our recommendations.
One example of this evidence is a piece of research the council commissioned from The Young Foundation. The research explores the cumulative impact of local and national spending cuts on some of the most vulnerable people who live in the borough. This is not a large-scale quantitative study; its value lies in the deep insight it offers in to the lives of some of Camden’s most vulnerable residents.
I am aware of the Islington Fairness Commission and I think we can learn from this work as well. However, Camden’s taskforce will adopt a forensic focus on the role of public services in tackling inequality while Islington’s scope was much wider, with income inequality being a key theme.
Although income inequality is a critical factor, the role of local government in tackling this is – in my view – limited. Camden’s taskforce is focused on systemic reform in local public services.
Can services both ameliorate the impact of inequality in the short term, while narrowing gaps in outcomes between groups in the longer term? Nationally things are getting tougher, but with new freedoms for local authorities, Camden, and others can really make a difference.