Two weeks ago the Southwark Team Staff awards were held at Vinopolis on the South Bank. Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey was the special guest. The awards were to those teams of workers on the Council who had achieved great results over the past year, and I was privileged to present an award to the team behind the Southwark Community Games.
There has been some negative press coverage about this event but I will not be joining in with those who have complained about it. All I saw on the evening were some brilliantly enthused staff who were excited about the event, and who were clearly motivated by being part of a great evening. It is sometimes the staff at Southwark who get caught in the political "cross-fire", so it is important to recognise the hard work they do in some really challenging circumstances.
In the year ahead I think Southwark Council will face some real difficulties over how we meet our obligation to bring out housing stock up to the Government's 'Decent Homes' standard. Current estimates are that we have a £100 million shortfall in the budget although I have heard rumours that this could rise to over £300 million. The Council simply does not have this sort of capital available - so some hard choices will have to be faced. The aggressive partisan approach taken on every issue by the current Tory/LibDem administration means that we rarely discuss issues on a cross-party basis. This is a shame - especially concerning the future of our housing stock, where I would have thought some collective thinking may be helpful. Labour's door is always open. A new approach to politics is almost the mantra of the current LibDem and Tory national party leaders, but in Southwark it has fallen on deaf ears!
After both Labour and the LibDems campaigning vigorously in the Riverside by-election, the result was virtually a 'no change' from 2006. The Libs vote increased by 34 while ours went up by 39. This has been presented as alternatively a) a swing from Labour to the LibDems and/or b) a greater increase in the Libs vote than ours. I don't understand those propositions as to me it looks like our vote increased fractionally more than theirs - albeit 5! It would have been great to have achieved a greater swing or increase in the vote, but at the end of the day we were in a LibDem stronghold, and the national picture has not been kind to Labour recently. But the parallels with the result of the East Walworth by-election in 2004 are clear, when we went on to pick up two of the Council seats in 2006. The LibDems ran an unremittingly negative campaign but at the end of the day the electorate had a good selection of candidates to choose from. Cormac Hollingsworth for Labour was a superb candidate and will make a great councillor. I do not know Anood Al-Samerai who won for the LibDems, but wish her well as an elected councillor.
And so 2007 draws to a close! May I take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and New Year!