Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter, speaks to Peray Ahmet about the big issues facing Haringey in 2024
Haringey Council leader Peray Ahmet has discussed some of the biggest issues facing the borough and how the Labour administration has delivered on its promises in an interview this week with the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
Asked about the council’s backlog of housing repairs, which has seen the council come in for much criticism over the last twelve months, Cllr Ahmet says she is “confident” the civic centre will turn it around but “things are not going to change overnight”.
To attack the issue the council previously set up a housing improvement board and drew up a housing improvement plan. Speaking on how the situation was looking currently, Cllr Ahmet said: “I think it’s moving in the right direction, we have a good team in place, the lead members are on top of it, I think the issue is the time it’s going to take to turn it around.”
The council leader said firmly that she had no regrets about bringing the housing repairs service in-house, which happened early on under her leadership, as it had given them “direct control”.
But she did admit that perhaps the “extent of the problem” at the time in June 2022 wasn’t “as known” as it was now, adding that when they took control of the service “it wasn’t a pretty picture”.
However, Cllr Ahmet is keen to reassure residents she wants to “get this right” and said: “That’s the key, it’s not about my reputation, it’s about people’s living conditions.”
Another key local issue is hate crime. In October there was a 750% month-on-month increase in antisemitism in the borough following the Hamas attack on Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza. This has included a number of high-profile cases of hate crimes against Jewish people, particualrly in South Tottenham.
In response Cllr Ahmet said the council had been working closely with the Met Police in a ” joint strategy” that included taking daily calls with police and members of the community, although this has since dropped to twice a week.
The council leader said that as an authority the focus was on implementing a fast response to hate crimes and making sure there was “community assurance”.
Another key issue is the £16.3million budget gap the council needs to close to balance next year’s budget. Pressures on social services have led to many councils across London overspending and Cllr Ahmet said “over 70%” of Haringey’s budget currently went to adult and children’s social care.
She stressed the effect of 14 years of austerity and said issues like this were London-wide.
“We’re disappointed with what came out in terms of the Autumn Statement [from the government], it’s just not enough,” Cllr Ahmet said.
“There’s a really hardcore reality here – the demand for social care is not being acknowledged by the government.”
Cllr Ahmet is “confident” they will close the budget gap, but added there would be tough decisions to be made. She assured there was focus on doing this without compromising the safety and care of residents.
“We don’t want to be a council that is just reactive, and just dealing with social care.”
The Labour leader mentioned there was “a lot going on” in terms of other key service areas such as housing supply, with the 3,000 council homes programme and the recent insourcing of leisure facilities.
When Cllr Ahmet first became leader back in 2021 she pledged to tackle what she said was a lack of community engagement, insufficient provision for early years children and youth crime.
She highlighted two engagement programmes with residents in Wood Green and Tottenham and said they were “quite successful” and “solid examples” of embedding “that [co-production] way of working”.
Cllr Ahmet added that Broadwater Farm Estate’s regeneration project, where 85% of residents responded to a ballot to back plans to provide 300 new social homes, was “very good”.
She said the council had set up a number of stakeholder groups to increase engagement with communities that made up a significant part of the borough but weren’t directly engaging with the council. This includes the Somali and Latin American community.
But the council leader made the clear that work didn’t stop here. She said: “We’re two and a half years in, we have to be clear we still have a way to go. I’m not going to be satisfied with a couple of projects.
“This is a whole culture change that we’re working on as an organisation and we’re fully on board.”
In terms of early years, Cllr Ahmet mentioned Ofsted ratings from 2023 where 97% of Haringey schools were rated good or outstanding. She said when it came to early years, issues arose because of the lack of subsidies for parents and said this needed national level campaigns to address and enable families to go into work and not pay a “fortune” on childcare.
She also noted the scope of the council’s early years strategy, including the importance of health care, and the “big push” for free schools meals. She added the council along with other local authorities were also looking at vaccination and immunisation implementation.
“That’s been hugely helpful [free school meals], because education is one aspect, families have other needs as well,” she said.
In terms of tackling youth crime she said children’s services were doing “a lot of work” on a pilot project with the police around stop-and-search.
Cllr Ahmet added: “It’s about the impact of stop-and-search on young people and looking at the trauma that that can cause them. They’re working really closely with the police on that, it’s a really important piece of work.”