Friday, December 10, 2010

Tuition Fees and Educational Maintenance Allowance

Last night's vote on tuition fees will be a blow to many families living in South Camberwell and Southwark. The prospect of incurring £30,000 or more of debt is not a good one, particularly when you take into account the fact that the average income in our borough is just £16,000.

I take the view that if we value education as a society we should be prepared to pay for it. Is it better for our country that we raise our educational attainment? Yes, of course it is. In an increasingly competitive world it is vital that the UK does not fall behind other economies in terms of having a highly skilled and educated workforce. I believe that the decision to triple tuition fees is a short-term fix which has no medium or long term merit. If just one young person is deterred from higher education as a result of this change, then I believe it is a retrograde step.

At the same time the abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance ('EMA') which has funded poorer 16-18 year olds in further education will also have a dire impact. At an event at Southwark college with Ed Miliband on Wednesday many students spoke about the fact that their decision to stay in further education had only been made possible because of the EMA. Without it they would have had to leave school as their parents would not have been able to support them.

So two changes of policy which will harm our education system, and will trample on the ambition of so many young people from our borough.

I find Simon Hughes position on these measures appalling. He pledged to protect his constituents by voting against any rise in tuition fees, but his abstention meant that the vote was won by the government. There are circumstances in which an abstention can be a matter of principle. There can be circumstances in which an abstention can be politically expedient. But in the case of Simon Hughes, an abstention was a betrayal of his constituents and a simple broken promise. Can we ever believe anything he ever says in the future?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Another Month!

I've just realised that it is a month since I blogged! And it has been another incredibly busy month. The Labour Party elected a new Leader in Manchester. I had been backing David Miliband in the contest, but I am absolutely delighted with the impact which Ed Miliband has had since his election. A really good performance at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday has put the seal on an excellent start.

Last Thursday I spoke at a conference held at Tate Modern on 'Investing in Southwark'. It was a hugely successful event organised by the Council and New London Architecture and gave me an opportunity to express my support for regeneration and in particular tall buildings in the borough.

This week I attended the AGM of the Beormund Centre and at the same time spoke with some of those protesting against the proposed Thames Tunnel development at Kings Stairs Garden. As part of the 'super sewer' proposal Thames Water are currently proposing to excavate major shafts at the Alfred Salter playground at Druid Street and the park at Kings Stairs Gardens. I have already made clear that I am utterly opposed to these sites and believe that Thames Water should look at other possible sites either within or outside the borough. Whilst the tunnel is a positive and necessary improvement to our water treatment, this should not be at the expense of a children's playground or a green space which needs preserving and enhancing.

I am hoping that we will be able to organise a public meeting in the near future to discuss how we take our opposition to these sites forward.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Southwark Labour's 4th Annual Conference

Yesterday saw another truly successful Southwark Labour Conference - a mixture of speeches, policy making and discussion, and a chance to catch up with friends old and new.

We had great contributions from Tessa Jowell, Harriet Harman, and two of my former Deputy Leaders Susan Elan Jones and Alison McGovern who are both now Labour MPs.

Two workshops discussed the challenge facing us as a Council with our housing stock and next year's budget led by Ian Wingfield and Richard Livingstone.

The packed day concluded with presentations from each of my Cabinet colleagues on their achievements to date and greatest challenge ahead. There was spontaneous applause for Barrie Hargrove when he spoke about his introduction of food waste recycling this year, 5 years ahead of the LibDem's scheduled start date, and the plans to make Burgess Park a truly outstanding park for Southwark's residents. Ian Wingfield gave a terrific and rousing speech to end this part of the day!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Labour's Leadership Election

Ballot papers have been sent out today for Labour's Leadership election. This is an historic election, the first time since 1994 that Labour members will have voted for a new Leader. So it is important that we make the right choice and elect a leader who has the experience and judgement to lead the Labour Party and the country. After some very careful thought my own choice for Leader is David Miliband. I do think he has the edge over the other candidates in terms of his experience and appeal.

All of the other candidates have real merits and qualities. Ed Miliband was a great speaker at our Southwark Borough Conference last year and has the potential to be a great Party Leader. But my view is that his time has not yet arrived.

It does look like it will be a very close contest between David and Ed. I am not sure that they would personally see their campaigns as 'New' versus 'Old' Labour - it is a shame that some of their supporters have portrayed it in this way. Both Milibands are forward-thinking politicians who have served the Labour Party well, and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so in the future. There is no doubt that whatever their differences on strategy and tactics, they both want to see the return of a Labour Government.

But on balance my view is that David has the edge in terms of who is most likely to appeal not only to Labour supporters, but to the wider electorate, and to secure a Labour election victory - whenever that election comes!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

IFS Slam Coalition Budget

The Institute of Fiscal Studies criticism of the Coalition Government's budget is not good news. It comes on the same day as Anatole Kaletsky heavily criticised the Government's 'macho' attitude towards making spending cuts, which he fears will send us into a disastrous recession next year.

Now pundits and 'think tanks' can be wrong, but it really does seem that people are starting to wake up to the real damage that the Coalition's budget has already done and will do in the coming months and years. The reaction of "Deputy PM" Nick Clegg was typically vacuous - will there come a time when he engages his brain before speaking on any subject?

There is a choice for this Government to make - stop the posturing cuts now and take us back into recovery in a sensible and measured way, as proposed by the last Labour Government. The risks of and actual damage which will be done if the Coalition continues as it is currently doing are simply too great. It is time some Lib Dems with a conscience started to recognise this fact.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Maydew House

Last night the Cabinet took the decision to permanently rehouse the residents of Maydew House in order that 'Decent Homes' works can be carried out. It was not an easy decision and the length of the meeting demonstrated the consideration which we had to give to the issues raised by residents of the block and other external experts employed by the Council.

At the end of the day two factors weighed heavily on our decision. Firstly, we could not contemplate any resident or visitor to the block coming into contact with asbestos fibres displaced during the duration of the works and secondly we could not risk leaving residents living on a building site for up to two years, including losing basic services for lengthy periods during those works. However much thought and consideration goes into the project management of works such as this there are inevitably things that go wrong, and with the added difficulties which already existed in this project those further problems would make life unbearable for anyone still resident in the block.

We would not have chosen to make this decision at this time, but the previous LibDem / Tory administration had thrown the future of the block into doubt and created a level of uncertainty which was unfair on the majority of residents and needed resolution sooner rather than later.

Absolutely no decision has been made about the longer term future of the block. We want to keep all of our housing stock if possible and last night's decision has no bearing on any wider strategy. So we could see no advantage in further postponing last night's decision, despite being urged by the local MP. The reality is that unlike the local MP, who appears to be in permanent opposition whilst in Government, an Administration has to make decisions on the basis of the facts as they are presented, and not as we would wish them to be.

I know some residents will have been upset and angered by our decision. But I hope that everyone understands that we made the decision for the right reasons of health, safety and the proper living conditions of all Maydew's residents.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Southwark's Democracy Commission

Last week I gave evidence to Southwark's Democracy Commission about how we might improve Council Assembly in future and make it more accessible to the public. Too often our current meetings feel fairly bizarre affairs, with lots of political posturing and not much light thrown on some of the big local issues which affect us in Southwark. With some confidential information being unwisely thrown out during the course of debate by the opposition, our recent discussion of the Elephant and Castle regeneration must have seemed odd, to say the least!

Some of the questions which I posed to the Commission were (a) whether we always had to hold our meetings at Southwark Town Hall on Wednesday evenings? (b) Whether members' questions serve any valuable purpose at the present time? (c) How we make it easier for deputations and members of the public to attend and participate in our meetings? (d) Can meetings be webcast and is there the possibility for interactive questioning and participation?

We also discussed the possibility of returning some decision-making powers to Council Assembly. In opposition we were critical of the last Administration's decision to keep our borough's Housing Strategy as a Cabinet decision. It seems to me that responsibility for our housing policy should better lie with all members of the council. There may be other instances where this could be done.

The Lib Dems have a fairly long shopping-list of areas where they claim we can improve local democracy. Some of their points have a Year Zero feeling to them; it is almost as if they had not been in power for the past 8 years! It is worth remembering that the reason why Labour established the Democracy Commission was because the previous administration did everything they could to make Council Assembly a pointless meeting which they almost treated with disdain. I am confident that everyting that we do as a new administration will reverse that course.

Monday, August 02, 2010


A word about my cat, Curlywurly, who had to be put to sleep on Friday. He was only 15 months old, but he had been diagnosed with a horrible and rapid illness. He was a real 'Whiskas' cat, had a wonderful personality and brought a lot of joy in his short life. This photo was taken by my colleague Fiona when she was cat-sitting last year!

Southwark's Town Halls

Southwark has three Town Hall buildings - one in Spa Road, Bermondsey; another on the Walworth Road and the third, Southwark Town Hall, on the Peckham Road. All of them require major capital investment in order to make them user-friendly public buildings. And when that capital of approximately £20 million has been found we need to find a real use and purpose for them, and a revenue stream for maintaining them.

Why is this important? Well, in short we are likely to be facing unprecedented cuts in funding from central government - £76 million over the next 4 years - and unless we look long and hard at everything that we are spending our money on we will be limiting our options for finding the savings which we need.

None of the buildings provide good modern office facilities for our council staff, and so the major capital investment cannot be avoided if we are to continue using them into the future. Nor can we just hand them over for public or community use without investment which is needed to make the buildings DDA compliant.

The argument for maintaining Spa Road has historically been to maintain a council 'presence' in the north of the borough. But with over 2000 council employees now working out of the council's offices at 160 Tooley Street I am not sure that this argument remains. There is certainly a "Council presence" in Bermondsey!

Walworth is a difficult building. The council chamber there is too small for Southwark's 63 member council, and it is not obvious what use we can give to it.

Southwark Town Hall houses our current Council Chamber, but I was interested (and alarmed) to hear that some of the feedback received by our Democracy Commission has already criticised the public gallery as being poor - preventing sight of many of the councillors participating in debate. If we are to meet the aspirations of opening up our local democracy to the public we need to make sure that at least they can witness our meetings! But the Town Hall represents an important presence in Camberwell, and would be sorely missed by the local community.

What is the answer to this financial and democratic conundrum? I'm not sure. But I think we are fast moving to a point where we can no longer ignore these issues or simply indulge a wish to maintain the three Town Halls just because they exist.

This is one of those issues and debates which we are bound to see more of in the next couple of years, as we are faced with increasingly difficult financial options. Let me know if you have any thoughts.

A Progress Report

So we are now 75 days into Southwark's Labour Administration and it is worth taking stock of what we have achieved and what programmes we have started.

We have signed two major regeneration deals which had been progressing at a snails-pace under the last administration. At the Elephant and Castle we will see the major redevelopment of an area of Central London, and at Potters Field next to Tower Bridge we will see the completion of the regeneration of this part of our riverside.

We have cut Councillors allowances by over £70,000 - reversing the increases which the previous administration introduced over the past 4 years.

We have saved the green spaces at Nursery Row Park and Brayard's Green, which had been under threat from developers and the last administration.

And we have made it harder for the Council to employ external consultants - just last year Southwark spent over £12 million on consultants. We simply cannot afford to do that at a time when we are facing huge budget cuts from central government.

We are already looking at options to introduce our Free Healthy School Meals policy and in order to meet our pledge to make every council home warm, dry and safe. There is still a long way to go, but we are pushing ahead with our Labour programme to bring a fairer future for all in Southwark.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Southwark Trades Union Council

This evening I spoke at a meeting of the Southwark Trades Union Council. It is safe to say that I had a frank exchange of views with some of those present at the meeting who appeared to have mistaken me for George Osborne! But I suppose that some may argue that being harangued and heckled by Ted Knight is a sign of political arrival.

With absolute justification many of those present at the meeting are worried about the budget cuts which are coming - and the impact they will have on their jobs, homes, health and aspirations. We have already seen the loss of the Building Schools for the Future budget in most local authorities, and there is worse to come.

Although there are strong arguments to be made against these budget cuts I have to be realistic about the decisions which I make as Council Leader. I don't have the luxury of dealing with imaginary and non- existent budgets and will have to deal with the reality of the sums passed to us by the Coalition Government. So I say to those who oppose any cuts and choose not to accept any reality whatever it may be - I will oppose and argue against any cuts unless and until they come, but I will do nothing which jeopardises the council's ability to provide the best services which it can to those who are most reliant upon those services.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Deal on the Elephant and Castle

Last Wednesday Southwark's Cabinet took the decision to enter into a Regeneration Agreement with Lend Lease to redevelop the Elephant and Castle - a £1.5 billion 15 year project which will transform this part of South London.

In November the previous administration had entered into a Heads of Terms with Lend Lease, but those failed to include any mention of affordable housing, the shopping centre or any leisure facilities. In the 8 weeks since we took office all of these issues have been addressed. We now have a minimum guarantee of at least 25% affordable housing on the site; the shopping centre will be the subject of a compulsory purchase order if no deal can be reached between Lend Lease and St Modwens (the shopping centre owner) and there will be a new leisure centre on the site of the current leisure centre.

In obtaining a guarantee on affordable housing we have had to lose some guaranteed profit which would have come to the Council in 15 years time. We thought this was the right choice to make, as it reflects our political priorities for the Elephant and Castle to be a truly mixed community.

Amazingly the Liberal Democrats have opposed the deal! Despite the fact that they failed to progress the deal during their 8 years in office - 8 years of dither and delay - they now appear to think that it would have been preferable to have no guarantee of affordable housing.

Labour pledged to move forward with the regeneration of the borough, and the Elephant and Castle is crucial to that objective. It is a deal I am proud of and I am confident it will be one of many regeneration projects which we see in Southwark over the next four years.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Busy Times!

So the first month as Leader of the Council has been incredibly busy - nearly every day has meetings starting at 8 and running through to at least 8 in the evening!

But there is a lot to learn about projects which the Council is involved with; and innumerable people who want to speak to myself and the new Cabinet about the role which they might play in taking those projects forward.

Tomorrow we will have our first Cabinet meeting, and one of the first decisions which we will be taking is to agree our 'Vision for Southwark' over the next four years. This is more than just signing off our manifesto commitments, but will also provide us with a narrative about how we want to change Southwark and make the Council a more efficient body.

As well as fostering innovation and imagination, I want us to get to a point where everyone within the the council deals with council money as if it were their own; and with every member of the public as if they were a valued member of the family. If we all operate with these two thoughts in mind I have no doubt that we can deliver more efficient services for our residents.

And in South Camberwell the work goes on! We re-start our mobile surgery programme in a couple of weeks time, and just yesterday Veronica, Stephen and myself welcomed the new floral/plant dog to the top of Dog Kennel Hill! We're hoping that local people might be able to name the dog over the next few weeks. It is a very imaginative creation, and brightens up the planting at the top of the hill as people wait at the traffic lights.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Leader of the Council

On Wednesday night I was privileged to have been elected as Leader of the Council. On the same night I appointed my Cabinet for the forthcoming year. We have many challenges ahead as we try to implement a positive programme of change for our borough against a background of threatened "savage cuts" to public services from the coalition government.

Some of the immediate challenges which we face include the terms on which we enter into any deal for the regeneration of the Elephant and Castle; making every council home warm, dry and safe, and finding funding so that we can implement our pledge to introduce free healthy school meals for all primary school children in the borough.

You can read more on the Southwark council website at

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Labour Win Southwark!

Labour won the council elections which took place last Thursday! After 8 years of Lib Dem / Tory rule we picked up 7 seats to end the elections with 35 councillors; the Lib Dems went down to 25 and the Tories were left with just 3.
If you've been reading my blog over the past few months you will know how frustrated I have been with some of the Lib Dem's campaigning - and in particular their deliberate distortions of what we have been saying.
Well it looks as if Labour's very positive message won the day - and the negative campaign of the Lib Dems was rejected.
Why did we win so well? In the north and middle of the borough I believe that voters were passing a judgment on the council and choosing between the competing policies and pledges. Whilst Simon Hughes' vote went up in Bermondsey and Old Southwark, voters chose to vote Labour in the local elections in the same constituency.
In College Ward in the south of the borough it does seem as if the Tories were squeezed by the fact that the local elections were taking place on the same day as the general election.
In South Camberwell our 4 years of work and campaigning paid off and we won all 3 seats. I am delighted that Cllr Stephen Govier will now be joining Veronica and I on the Labour benches in the Town Hall!
And the victory means that I am now the Leader-elect of the Council! A slightly daunting and humbling prospect, but one which I am really looking forward to, and a role in which I intend to deliver on Labour's manifesto pledges and priorities.
A big thank you to all the residents of South Camberwell who voted Labour on May 6th. We will not let you down!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why do the Lib Dems Lie?

Today an advert appears in Southwark News promoting Simon Hughes and his colleagues. In the small print of the advert allegations are made about Labour wanting to move services to Brixton Town Hall and Labour's plans to introduce an Arms Length Management Organisation ('ALMO') to manage Southwark's housing stock.

Both of these allegations are lies. On the first the Lib Dems have chosen to deliberately twist a perfectly reasonable proposal to try and cut waste and back-office costs across two boroughs. As I have said before, the Lib Dems have no positive proposals about how they are going to try and deal with the difficult financial times ahead, but they are happy to attack anyone who has!

On the second, I have no idea where the allegation comes from! It is simply made up. Purely and simply - a lie, an untruth.

Not even Simon Hughes beleives it. On 7th April 2010 in a Parliamentary debate on housing he said this:

"There are currently four parties on the council: there are councillors from the Liberal Democrats, Labour and Conservatives, along with one Green councillor. All those parties in Southwark have always supported the view that the council should retain control of its housing stock and not divest itself of that stock."

That remains the case today. As the Lib Dems well know.

So why does Mr Hughes deliberately try to mislead voters now. It is pathetic politics and he should be ashamed of himself for being party to it.

Peckham Rye candidates report that Lib Dems in that ward are telling Labour voters that there are no Labour candidates standing in the elections - so they have to vote Lib Dem! You make your minds up - does it sound like new 'breaking the mould' politics to you?!


I doubt that there is any politician - or even political activist - who hasn't walked away from a door they have just canvassed or a voter that they have tried to persuade and made a wry or dubious comment to a colleague about the voters' true voting intentions or views. And I doubt that there are many people who can honestly say that they have never said anything out of earshot about a friend, family member, colleague or acquaintance which they would not want to say to that person's face!

So just think how horrific it must be if those private words were repeated back to the other person. How would you feel? Horrifed? Embarrassed? And if the words you used were excessive - the horror and embarrassment must be so much greater. And what would you think of the person who had gone back and repeated your words?

So it must have been great fun for the media yesterday to report to Gillian Duffy what Gordon Brown had said about her. I don't suppose for a moment they thought about the hurt they might cause to her - no doubt they were just interested in landing the Prime Minister in a whole load of trouble.

Of course in a perfect world nobody says anything about anybody else behind their back which is disrepectful or hurtful. But we do not live in a perfect world. We live in a world where human beings act in a human way and make mistakes.

So I just think that this is a story about human nature - which has hurt and embarrassed everyone involved.

But does it make me think that Gordon Brown has got the big decisions about the economy wrong over the past 2 years? Or that his knowledge and experience are not the best on offer for the future of our economy as we emerge from this recession? No, not at all. At the end of the day it is the decisions on the big issues which matter. And Gordon Brown has got those right.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

East Dulwich Estate Hustings Meeting

The East Dulwich Estate Tenants and Residents Association organises a local election Hustings Meeting every four years and invites all parties to send a speaker. Last night I was joined by Oliver Wooler, one of the Tory candiates for South Camberwell, and Jenny Jones, a Green Party candidate, for a good debate on some of the issues and challenges facing us.

It was clear from the questions put to us that people on the East Dulwich Estate are really dissatisfied with the housing management service in Southwark. Labour has already pledged to reintroduce a Strategic Director of Housing and have a clear management structure re-imposed on this failing department.

But I thought it was really telling that despite numerous e-mails to their Group Leader, the Lib Dems chose to send no one to represent them at the Hustings. It just shows how little they care about South Camberwell ward and Camberwell in general.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Reality Check!

Before anyone gets too carried away with the idea of Saintly Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems providing the answers to all of our political ills, it is worth just remembering a few facts about the Lib Dems record here in Southwark. After all, they have been "breaking the mould" by running things here since 2002!

1. We now have the worst run council in inner-London. That's not just my verdict, it is the verdict of the Audit Commission.
(Southwark is rated as 'adequate' - all other Inner London boroughs judged to be performing 'well' ore 'excellently')
2. We have the 3rd worst council tax collection rate in the country - over £7 million goes uncollected each year. In the rest of the country they would collect at least another £5 million!
3. Our recycling rate is the 6th worst in the country. See the story below!
4. Our adult social care service has fallen from an excellent rating to being one of the 8 worst in the country - again, not just my view, but the view of the independent CQC watchdog.
5. Our housing service has been red flagged by the Audit Commission - they don't think the council is capable of bringing our council housing up to an acceptable standard with the plans currently in place. This is a truly damning indictment for the second largest landlord in the country - with 18,000 unfit homes.
6. We have the highest levels of childhood obesity in England.

And after 8 years in charge the Lib Dem Council Leader says Southwark should be treated like a country in the developing world! [South London Press - 16th April 2010]

This is not "a new politics". It is a real demonstration that the Lib Dems in charge of Southwark have made things worse and not better.

So don't get drawn in by any media hype or imagine that Mr Clegg and his party offer some politial utopia. We have seen them in charge in Southwark for 8 years - and the reality is terrible!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Southwark Labour's Manifesto

If you haven't already received a hard copy of Southwark Labour's manifesto, you can read it online here

I am really proud of our positive commitments and pledges for the next four years.

Labour's Pledge to Double Recycling

In the local election campaign here in Southwark Labour has pledged to double recycling. The last full year figures showed recycling had reached 21% in Southwark - so our pledge means that we will take it to 42%.

The national average last year was nearly 38%, up from 22.5% four years before. That's an increase of 15.5%. In contrast Southwark has only increased its' recycling rate by less than 10% in the same period. So not only are we far behind the national average, we are not keeping pace with the national rate of improvement.

We can do far more to make recycling easier, by offering food recycling; by recycling tetra-pak; and just by increasing the range of items which can be doorstep recycled. As a flat-dweller I know that it has been difficult to recycle in Southwark - even when you want to.

In contrast to Labour's clear pledge, the ruling Lib Dems are pledging to make the borugh's recycling rate more than ten times the rate achieved under Labour. I'm not sure what that means, but I'm guessing that it's a pledge to increase recycling to between 30% and 40%. In 2006 the Libs promised to increase recycling to 30%, but they have fallen way short. They appear to be apologists for the contractors Veolia, and once again do not demonstrate any leadership or passion on this subject.

They need to understand that in order to make things happen you need to show political leadership, even if that involves making tough decisions. But I know that in Southwark recycling is a clear priority, and a Labour Council will deliver on its' pledge.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Road Ahead

I've just been catching up with last night's Labour election broadcast - it's well worth a look here

What's your plan Lib Dems?

Two weeks ago Southwark Labour launched its' manifesto for the local election campaign. You can read it here. I think we've got a full programme for the next 4 years, with many good ideas for sorting out some of the big problems for Southwark. I was particularly pleased to see that Labour's national manifesto published yesterday included a commitment to provide free healthy school meals - echoing our own local pledge to introduce free healthy school meals for all of our primary school pupils.

But I have been baffled by the absence of any manifesto or ideas from the Lib Dems who run the Council. Three weeks before they are asking people to support them in the local elections I have yet to see a leaflet which says what they will do, rather than what Labour won't do! After 8 years in power you would have thought that they would want to take pride in any achievements and set out their agenda for the next 4 years. But try though I might I can find nothing, anywhere!

Perhaps it is because we have the worst run council in London (that's official - don't just take my word for it!), the third worst council tax collection in the country, the sixth worst recycling record in England and a housing department which has been condemned by the Audit Commission that the Lib Dems are avoiding talking about their record. But to have no ideas for the future is just pathetic. I have to say it is consistent with everything which senior officers have told me over the past two years - that the Council's political executive have provided absolutely no leadership.

It is great to have good 'pavement politicians', people who will stand up for your street, but you also need people in charge of the Council who have a strategy and a vision for where our borough should be. Labour has such a strategy and vision, and at the moment we seem to be the only party which does. We don't just want power for the sake of it, or to share out the special responsibility allowances. We want power so that we can make Southwark a better place to live, and create a future which is fair for all in our borough.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Camberwell & Peckham Fundraiser

With Labour only 2 points behind the Conservatives in the latest opinion polls and a good budget from Alistair Darling on Wednesday, it was great to look forward to the coming elections and raise some money at the Sun and Doves last night.

Harriet Harman was on great form, and the guest speaker Peter Mandelson, reminded us why it is so important for the country to re-elect a Labour Government. On every major financial decision in the past 18 months Gordon Brown and Labour have been right, and George Osborne has been wrong. From saving Northern Rock and the other major banks to nvesting in public services, the effects of this recession have not been as painful as those in the 1980's and 1990's. Although there are tough times ahead I know who I'd prefer to carry on making the right decisions.

I was also pleased to launch our Southwark Labour manifesto - and our 7 key pledges for our borough. With the Lib Dems in Southwark refusing to debate their record and local issues and instead spending all their time calling for the election of a Tory government, I am confident that our local campaign and pledges will win widespread support.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cll Ade Lasaki joins Southwark Labour

South Bermondsey councillor Adedokun Lasaki yesterday quit the Lib Dems and joined Southwark Labour. Coming just 6 weeks ahead of the local elections this represents a real boost for us as Ade particularly cited his anger at the current administration's housing policies as a reason for his leaving the Lib Dems. He shared our incredulity at the fact that the Libs handed over control of one of our major departments to the Tories in 2006, and has become increasingly concerned at the fact that the Tory policies which have been pursued have made matters worse for many tenants and leaseholders right across Southwark.

Only yesterday evening I was talking to a council tenant in Coplestone Road who has experienced difficulties getting repairs done to her home, so all councillors know the reality of the frustration which Ade feels.

Ade Lasaki has been a councillor in South Bermondsey since 2006, and involved in the tenants movement in Southwark for 25 years, so he is a man of genuine experience and knowledge, and his decision to join Southwark Labour is all the more significant.

The current council leadership's ardour for the Tories continues, and tonight the Leader of the Lib Dems and the Leader of the Tories on the council will be proposing a motion which calls for the election of a Conservative Government. So whilst Nick Clegg might try and pretend he willwork with either of the major parties, there is no such pretence in Southwark where the true blue colours of the Lib Dem leadership are obvious.

But it is also this obsession with a right wing agenda which has driven Ade Lasaki away from the Lib Dems and drove Danny McCarthy away before him. No doubt many voters in Southwark will be having the same concerns that a vote for the Lib Dems is really a vote for the Tories.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Hamlet resurfaced - well nearly!

Modest fanfare - The Hamlet has been resurfaced!

Premature end of fanfare - part of The Hamlet has not been resurfaced!

I was staggered to learn yesterday that although the vast majority of The Hamlet had been resurfaced (after a particularly long-running campaign and over 40 years of deterioration) the section to the left of the entrance from Champion Hill had been ignored by the men with the asphalt last week! This means that those residents at numbers 1 to 8 of The Hamlet have still not seen the benefit of the decision taken by Camberwell Community Council at the end of last year to resurface the road.

After being alterted by local residents to this omission I have been in touch with the Council's roads team and am anxiously awaiting a response as to why this bit of road has been ignored! Hopefully it was just an oversight and this section of the road will be resurfaced this week!

The mystery of how Southwark Council operates continues!


This the text of a reply I have just received to my enquiry -

"Dear Councillor John,

From our pre works inspections we were concerned over the integrity of the existing carriageway which was badly spalled and coming loose in places. In a worst case scenario, if we were obliged to carry out a full depth reconstruction due to the poor condition of the sub strata then we might exceed our £80k budget, if all the roads in the Hamlet were to be treated

We therefore elected to proceed with caution and initially undertake the milling off / excavation and resurfacing of the section from the round about or round the circular route and back to Champion Hill. During the milling off / excavation the condition of the exposed sub strata proved to be in better condition than expected.

Once we had confirmation that the budget was sufficient for the remaining two side roads we instructed the contractor to programme the works, which we expect to be undertaken in April / May. We are intending to letter drop the residents informing them of the slight delay in completing the remaining work."

So it looks like the resurfacing celebrations can go ahead - but not for a few months yet!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Dulwich and West Norwood Fundraiser

Southwark will still include three wards from Tessa Jowell's constituency of Dulwich and West Norwood after the next General Election, and last night I was pleased to attend a fundraising dinner for the constituency Labour Party, where Aliastair Campbell was the guest speaker.

Alastair is devoting a huge amount of time and energy to the re-election of the Labour Government, and he is a compelling speaker. And Tessa reminded us to ask those people who are currently wavering between Labour and Tory whether they really want George Osborne as the next Chancellor. There is no doubt that he is a weak link among many on the Tory side.

Lambeth Leader Steve Reed and I said a few words at the end of the evening, which had proved hugely successful, and raised a great sum for the election campaigns.

Monday, March 01, 2010

What is the election about....?

All this weekend was spent in South Camberwell talking to residents about how they might vote on May 6th in local and national elections. Veronica, Stephen and I have been getting a good reaction from voters who seem to recognise the hard work we have been putting in - not only in the past few months, but since Veronica and I were first elected in 2002.

Local elections are about getting the right representatives for your local area - and in doing that there is a balance to achieve between making sure that you get the councillors who will do most for the area, and also ensuring that your political views are represented. But there is a third aspect which can sometimes get overlooked, and that is making sure that your vote makes a difference to the larger picture in the borough; that the councillors who represent you are going to make a difference to the strategic choices and direction which the council takes.

It has been very frustrating being in opposition since 2002, particularly as we have been powerless to change the structures which cause so many of the problems we experience day-to-day in our casework. For example, housing repairs on our council estates are incredibly frustrating. It seems that more often than not repairs are not completed adequately, and however loudly we protest the system for dealing with housing repairs fails to respond. So we need to change the system!

I suppose the point that I'm making is that it is incredibly frustrating working to improve peoples' lives when it has been impossible to change the structures which cause the problems which people experience.

The Lib Dems and Tories have been running Southwark since 2002. In that time I really do feel that there has been a lack of strategic or 'big picture' thinking. Yes, local politics is about my street or your street, but without a wider vision and ambition nothing can or will improve.

So I hope that voters have that third consideration in mind when they are deciding how to use their vote on May 6th.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Debate on Free School Meals

I have just been looking at a discussion about our free school meals policy on the East Dulwich Forum website. Some of the contributors attacked the policy as (a) wasteful expenditure at a time when we should be making cuts (b) unnecessary, as they should not be paying for children to be fed and (c) only put forward by Labour to win votes.

OK, so let's look at those three objections.

(a) Southwark Council has spent £180 million on consultants, temps and agency staff over the past 4 years - with spending in this area having risen by £2 million this past year alone. It spends more than any other London borough on communications and publicity - approximately £5 million each year. Each year the council has failed to collect £7 million in council tax. For me, this is wasteful and wasteful expenditure. Call me dangerously left-wing, but I would prefer to use £2.5 million of that money on providing a nutritious and healthy school meal to every primary school child. Yes, we will need to make cuts, and we will, but we also need to tackle some of the really important issues the borough faces - such as childhood obesity, child poverty and inequality. Of course, you are at liberty to say that these issues are nothing to do with you or your money and walk by on the other side of the road. But I think that the vast majority of people in Southwark will want to know that their council is doing all that it can to solve some of these issues. So your conclusion that free school meals is wasteful expenditure = my conclusion that it is an investment to improve life chances.

(b) Any universal benefit will always throw up those who say, why should we be paying for something that others can or should be paying for themselves. Why not target the benefit to those who really need it or use the money in a more focussed fashion? A reasonable point, if all targetted benefits were taken up by those who were entitled. But we know that this does not happen, and that in Southwark 1800 children each year do not take advantage of their entitlement to free school meals. These can sometimes be the children who turn up at lunchtime with their packed lunches full of the cheapest sweets, biscuits and crisps. To my mind a policy which seeks to meet the nutritional needs of those 1800 is well worth pursuing. Let's not visit the sins of the parent upon the child! We might criticise the parent for failing to provide a healthy lunch for their child, but that is no reason to condemn the child to eating that unhealthy lunch.

And if middle-class parents who pay their council tax also benefit from the policy whilst their children are at primary school, then so be it. What is the problem with that? You pay your tax - you get a visible benefit. You pay your tax - you get the NHS. Is that good or bad? What if you don't have children and are unlikely to ever benefit from the policy? Well, I hope that you will recognise that the policy is intended to tackle particular problems which will benefit us all - better educational attainment by improved concentration after lunch; and reduced expenditure on health issues arising from unhealthy eating in early years. The benefits of living in a community where society still matters!

(c) Is the policy put forward by Labour to win votes? Well, it would be a weird political party which advocated policies it hoped would lose it votes! Is it cheap populism? Well, I hope it's a popular policy, but I don't understand why that's a bad thing, particularly if it provides the benefits which we believe it will.

Southwark Labour want to put a clear choice before the voters of Southwark on May 6th, and it looks as if this policy will provide a clear choice for the electorate. It is opposed by all the other political parties!

At the end of the day local politics should be local, but it doesn't always have to be micro - just about my street. It also needs to be strategic for the borough, and with this policy we are tackling some of the bigs issues which in your daily life you may never see or experience, but which exist nonetheless. It's a big idea to tackle some big problems!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Here's What You Could Have Had .....

Last night Southwark set a council tax budget which sees council tax frozen for next year. However, Labour's budget amendment which would have seen a 2% cut in council tax bills and the introduction of free healthy school meals for every primary school child in the borough was voted down by a coalition of Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Green councillors. It was particularly disappointing that Southwark's Green councillor opposed our free school meals policy.

Labour's alternative budget would have seen us introduce measures which would have begun to tackle some of our fundamental problems - childhood obesity and child poverty, as well as rolling back many of the cuts, closures and price hikes which have been introduced by the ruling coalition in the past 4 years.

It was fairly predictable that the Lib Dems would not want to debate the merits of our free school
meals policy, but I was surprised that they voted to end the debate after just 10 minutes. Are they afraid of debating policy? Well it certainly looks like they are!

So if you would have welcomed a few more pounds in your pocket and the introduction of some truly innovative policies to improve life chances in our borough, then you could have had it from Labour's budget amendment last night. But if you still want those outcomes you can have it if a Labour council is elected on May 6th.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Free Healthy School Meals for Primary School pupils

Today I was delighted to launch our local election pledge that a Labour Council will provide every primary school pupil at a Southwark School with a free school meal. This is the text of an article I have written for Progress Online:-

"Southwark Labour's announcement that it will provide free healthy school meals for all primary school children across the borough was the first of a number of positive key pledges which we believe will deliver us control of the Council on May 6th.

It is a policy which an increasing number of Labour Groups and authorities are supporting - for many of us simply because it reflects the very best of progressive Labour politics. It is a policy which cuts across boundaries of class and income, and addresses the critical problems of childhood obesity and ill-health.

Some critics of the policy have said to me that it just benefits middle-class families. But in the present economic climate everyone is feeling the pinch, particularly those who live just above the current free school meals threshold. In Southwark we also believe that it is vitally it important that Labour continues to appeal to middle-class voters – those who helped elect and re-elect a Labour Government at three successive general elections and may currently be disaffected – and who will surely welcome a policy which will potentially save them £7 per week per child at a Southwark primary school.

But this is fundamentally a policy which will help poorer families, by removing the stigma and social barriers which continue to be attached to recipients of free school meals and by offering a healthy and nutritious midday meal to those 1,800 pupils who are already entitled to free school meals but do not take advantage of that entitlement. With a recent study by Leeds University showing that only 1% of packed lunches taken to school contain the nutritional content that a child needs, the rationale for ensuring that children eat a healthy meal at school could not be stronger.

Southwark’s Lib Dem/Tory administration has overseen the borough’s childhood obesity figures rise to shocking levels, so that we now have the worst rates in England. With council tax collection rates the worst in London; our recycling rate the 6th worst in the country; an adult social care service whose performance has plummeted to one of the eight worst in the country and no plan for how to finish Decent Homes works, it’s little wonder that Southwark’s political executive is even regarded as “dysfunctional” by senior council officers.

But however compelling your critical narrative of any administration may be, there still has to be a positive reason for a voter to support you. The Tories failure nationally to offer that positive alternative has left them looking fairly insubstantial - a triumph of spin over substance.

So Southwark Labour's support for a Free School Meals policy reflects that desire to offer our residents a positive alternative to the rudderless Lib Dems; a policy to enthuse our activists and supporters; a real reason to vote Labour."

You can read more at Progress Online

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

80 Days to Save Maydew House

My colleague Val Shawcross has said that there are just 80 days left to save Maydew House, a tower block of 144 local authority flats in Rotherhithe which the LibDem/Tory Administration had decided to empty and sell off for private housing. On the 21st of January a public meeting was held at which residents were told that the Council intended to move them out of their homes from April onwards. The decision was due to be ratified by the Executive at their meeting last week - just 19days after the "public consultation" meeting!

Unsurprisingly residents and Southwark's Labour Group didn't think this was an entirely appropriate way to act, and in the face of a growing campaign the LibDems have now backed down, deciding to kick any formal decision on the future of Maydew House into the post-local election "long grass" of June. Local elections are due to take place in Southwark on May 6th!

Several lessons can be learned from this experience. Firstly, the LibDems are clearly happy to sell off our council housing stock to private developers. Theirs are not 'secret plans' - they are plans which they are implementing when they can get away with it.

Secondly, the level of consultation they consider appropriate is pathetic. To expect residents who have lived in a block for 20 or 30 years to get out of their homes in just over 2 months is inhuman and irresponsible.

Thirdly, no council housing in Southwark is safe from the LibDems. Their words are pledges to retain council housing; their actions are to get rid of it. So what estate, or block or house which is currently owned by the Council will not be sold off to private developers if the LibDems continue in power in Southwark after May 6th? The truth is that we cannot believe any pledge that they may make, and that nothing is safe.

So it is not just the case that we have 80 days to save Maydew House - we have 80 days to save our entire stock of social housing in Southwark.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Southwark's "Small is Beautiful" Scheme in Chaos

Southwark has been operating the "Small is Beautiful" scheme which is designed to provide financial incentives to tenants of council properties who have more rooms and bedrooms than they need. Most typically this situation arises when families move away from home leaving older parents behind. These tenants will then move to smaller properties, freeing up their old properties for families living in over-crowded conditions.

Tenants moving from the larger properties receive a financial incentive of £750 for every bedroom that they give up, plus £750 to help pay for moving costs.

This week I found out that all payments under the scheme have been halted until at least April. This means that many older tenants I have spoken to simply cannot afford to move, and the problems further down the housing ladder continue.

This is a truly ludicrous situation. Overcrowding is one of the major problems facing many families in Southwark, so to bring a halt to this sensible scheme at this time makes absolutely no sense. If the scheme required more funding, it should have been found. With Southwark's council tax collection rate under the LibDems and Tories being the third worst in the country (with £7 million of council tax going uncollected each year), and money being lavished on £150 million new offices in Tooley Street, it is scandalous that basic services are suffering at this time.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Southwark Council Officer Accused of Spreading Scare Stories

The Labour and Liberal Democrat Groups on the Council are each supported by a Political Assistant. Last week, the LibDems Assistant, Dan Falchikov, was identified by the Daily Mirror's Kevin Maguire as the man who had been sitting opposite him on a train journey boasting that he has planted a story in the Evening Standard about 'secret Labour plans' to close Kingston's A & E Department. The story was clearly false.

Two things for Southwark residents to mull over. Firstly, it is clear that any claim about "secret Labour plans for Southwark" (which will undoubtedly turn up) should be treated with the greatest degree of caution as it is likely that self-confessed exaggerater Mr Falchikov will have had a hand in their creation, and secondly, what is the 'manifesto' that he was claiming to have to write in front of Kevin Maguire? Surely he is not writing the LibDems manifesto for the forthcoming local elections? That cannot be a job for a paid council employee?

You can read more here and here

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cleaner Greener and Safer Applications

The deadline for Cleaner, Greener and Safer applications for Camberwell has now passed, so I thought it would be useful to give an update of a couple of those that Veronica and I have submitted for South Camberwell:-

1. A speed reader sign on Champion Hill. This remains a road where vehicles frequently travel over the 20 mph speed limit, so we thought it would be helpful if a sign which flashed vehicles speeds if they exceeded the limit could be installed. It might even slow some of them down!

2. A community notice board at the junction of Bromar Road and Grove Hill Road. This is currently a fairly barren area of paving, and could do with some focus or brightening up. The idea comes from one of the residents of Grove Hill Road who I was speaking to recently.
3. A mini-roundabout at the junction of Malfort, Ivanhoe and Avondale Rise. Last year residents contacted us with their concerns about this becoming an accident black spot, so hopefully we can use some of the CGS funding to reduce speeds and accident risks here.
4. Planting in the beds at the top of Grove Lane. This is a repeat of the application I submitted years ago and which resulted in the installation of statues of a wolf and sheep. Whilst the statues are charming - it is not what we asked for! So some planting to generally improve the condition of the beds would be welcome.

I hope that some, if not all, of these applications will be successful. I will post updates when I have any further news!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Camberwell Planning Meeting

Last night Camberwell Community Council met to consider a number of planning applications, two of which concerned South Camberwell. The longest application of the evening concerned an application by the Salvation Army to redevelop Springfield Lodge, at the tope of Grove Hill Road. Veronica and I have both been approached by residents who have concerns about this application, and so we were disqualified from sitting on the Planning Committee. However, we took advantage of our role as ward councillors to make representations to the Committee.

Whilst the redevelopment of the site is welcome, the particular design submitted was not, particularly as it would have an impact on the amount of sunlight, daylight and overshadowing received by neighbouring properties. It is regrettable when residents have to suffer any negative consequences from the redevelopment of any site, and I felt that it was an unacceptable loss of amenity for neighbouring properties in this case.

Despite our best efforts, and some forceful submissions, our colleagues on the Committee granted the application permission to proceed. This was a disappointing outcome, as I believe a reconsideration of the design by the Salvation Army could have overcome many of the current complaints. We will just have to hope that the impact will not be too negative.

The second application concerning South Camberwell was for the removal of a tree in Grove Park. This was fairly controversial as two years ago an unscrupulous developer removed a number of trees from a neighbouring plot in breach of a Tree Preservation Order. As a consequence of that act all applications concerning TPOs now come to Community Council. However, in this case the offending tree has been found to be the cause of some terrible subsidence, with cracks to a property increasing at the rate of 1.5mm a month.

Permission was given for the removal of the tree, so I now hope that the misery suffered by residents of the property in question soon comes to an end, and that the subsidence is 'fixed' as soon as possible.