Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Southwark Cathedral Funeral of Mayor Tayo Situ

Yesterday 1200 people packed Southwark Cathedral for the funeral of our Mayor, Cllr Tayo Situ, who died two weeks ago. It was an inspirational service which celebrated Tayo's life. I was honoured to play a part, paying tribute to Tayo and carrying the Mayoral Chain behind his coffin.

This is the tribute I gave:

"It is a great privilege to have been asked by his family to pay tribute today to the life of my friend, the Mayor of Southwark, Cllr Tayo Situ.

Tayo has been taken from us far too early, but at a time when as our serving Mayor, he was able to show to so many more people in our borough, across the rest of London and indeed the World all of those qualities for which we knew him and for which he had earned our respect – warmth, humour, integrity, friendliness and devotion to those causes and things which he cared about so deeply – his family, his church, his community and his borough of Southwark.

I first met Tayo in 2002 – we were both elected to the Council in the local elections that year. Tayo had been active in the community of Peckham for a long time before then – in particular he had helped to lead his community’s response to the tragic death of Damilola Taylor in 2000.

As a councillor and Labour Group member it was always clear that his was a voice in Group meetings of quiet authority and I shall miss his thoughtful contributions to discussions and debates.

Tayo was always busy – he would inevitably be en route from one meeting to another – not only fulfilling his role of community champion for Southwark, but also as a leading figure within the Nigerian community in London.

In opposition Tayo played a leading role in Southwark’s Labour Group. For six years he was our lead spokesperson on Equalities issues. It was a role which he fulfilled perfectly, dealing with some issues which were very difficult for us as a borough in an utterly straightforward way. He was not an advocate for special treatment or excuses or privileges for any section of our community, but merely agued that where there was an injustice we should do all that we could to put that right.

In the 2006 local elections Tayo deployed “Team Situ”– with Michael and Johnson following in their father’s footsteps on the campaign trail. He had trained them well! I know he was so proud of Michael being elected last May as a councillor in Livesey ward – in fact he was so proud of all of his children Elizabeth, Michael, Johnson, Victoria, Victor and his devoted and beloved wife, Abike -

You have good reason to be proud of him too.

After our victory in the local elections last year Tayo and I sat down to discuss what role he could play in our first year as an administration. I suggested that he should be Mayor – he was such a great role model for our community. He was attracted to the idea, but wasn’t sure he wanted to do it this year. I persisted, he thought about it some more, and decided that as I had asked he would be honoured. I am so pleased that I persisted and that he agreed to be our Mayor.

During his mayoralty Tayo was determined that we should celebrate Southwark and in particular the achievements and successes of the vast majority of young people in our borough, who work hard to achieve their potential, who stay out of trouble and contribute in so many different ways to making our borough a better place to live.

Whenever and wherever I saw Tayo his face would light up and he would give the warmest of greetings – more often that not he would say ‘Ahhh My Leader’ – which I was able to pre-empt over the past year giving a little bow and an even warmer welcome to ‘Mr Mayor’.

The only time when that smile was absent was in December last year when he called me into the Mayor’s parlour to tell me that he would have to go into hospital as his specialist had found something which required investigation. There was no doubt that he feared what might be the consequence of that investigation. And I recall the dreadful night not so many weeks ago when he telephoned me to tell me that the Doctors had just given him a poor prognosis.

But throughout this period I know that he found strength from his faith, his family and his many friends. People from all walks of life were drawn to Tayo, whatever the circumstances they met him in. I think it must have been that innate sense that here was a good man. I recall the wooden cross lying on his hospital pillow which he said had been given to him by one of the nurses treating him.

Tayo was a man who had made some huge choices in his life. He had chosen his Christian faith. He had chosen to come to the United Kingdom to study, live and raise his family. He had chosen to become involved in public life and stand up for his community. But it was we as his colleagues on the Council he who had chosen him to be our Mayor over the past twelve months – without doubt it was the right choice for us to have made.

He was the best of Southwark. As a friend I will miss him, as a borough Southwark will miss him, and we are all much poorer for the passing of our “friendly Mayor”."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre

On Tuesday at our Southwark Cabinet meeting we took the decision to enter into an agreement with St Modwen, the owners of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, and Lend Lease, our partners in the Elephant & Castle redevelopment, with regard to the rebuilding of the shopping centre.

Under the Regeneration Agreement, which we signed last year with Lend Lease, provision was made for us to compulsorily purchase the shopping centre on behalf of Lend Lease if no agreement could be reached on the future of the centre with St Modwen. No specific time was provided for within the agreement and it was anticipated that given the current uncertainty in the retail market that the shopping centre regeneration was likely to be at the end of the 15 year programme.

Happily our prospective agreement with St Modwen and Lend Lease brings that regeneration forward, but it is the result of some very tough negotiations by all parties.

The original vision for the Elephant & Castle regeneration envisaged the demolition and rebuilding of the shopping centre - increasing the permeability of the whole area and punching through the railway arches to open up the new housing on the Heygate site to the shopping centre and the transport links there. Over the past twelve months both Lend Lease and St Modwen have explored options which do not involve wholesale demolition, but rather envisage stripping the centre back to its' core and building and extending around that core. At the same time access into and through the centre would be improved in all directions, and the links through the railway arches provided.

It took me a lot of persuading that anything other than demolition was the way forward, but having seen some of the thinking and plans put forward I can see that it is possible to create a new shopping centre for the Elephant & Castle and achieve the objective of making it a new and open gateway to the housing on the Heygate.

There is a lot more work to do on these plans, and the local community will be able to start their conversation with St Modwen and Lend Lease at the Forum which is due to be held on the 26th of May. But the momentum behind this project from the political leadership of this council is unstoppable -and we are determined to deliver on our commitment of regenerating the Elephant and Castle for the benefit of the local community, Southwark and London.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Councillor Allowance Savings top £100,000

With the changes we are making to the structure of the Cabinet, the removal of one full Cabinet place and the introduction of four Deputy Cabinet members, Southwark's Labour Administration will have achieved savings of over £100,000 on the amount of money which we spend on councillor's allowances over the past 12 months. All of this money is contributing to the savings which we need to make so that we can carry on trying to provide high quality front-line services for Southwark's residents.

Within days of taking office last year we reversed Lib Dem/Tory increases and were able to make savings of over £70,000. This years changes will add another £30,000 to that sum.

Some have criticised our decision to introduce allowances of approximately £2,700 for the Deputy Cabinet members - but taken in the context of our overall savings I believe that we are demonstrating real efficiency.

We have already brought an end to the dither and delay of the previous administration - providing clear political leadership right across the borough. This is an administration which makes savings and delivers results for the people of Southwark.

A Tour of the Aylesbury with Grant Shapps

This morning Grant Shapps, the Housing Minister, came down to the Aylesbury Estate to see how the Council is taking the project forward. The government undermined the project last November by removing £170 million of PFI credits, but since then we have taken stock and are approaching the project in a slightly different way.

The plans to build 4000 new homes on the existing Aylesbury site are ambitious, and depend on us being able to drive up land values in the early stages of the project. So it is at the early stages that the finances are most difficult. Whilst we were not expecting the Minister to provide any immediate financial help, he clearly demonstrated his interest in this major regeneration project.

We will be letting him know further details about how the finances work for the next phase of the scheme, as much will be affected by the Government's changes to housing benefit and grant subsidy for new homes. So the Minister indicated that he would like to look at the next phase as a 'case study'.

Delivering the Aylesbury regeneration will not be easy, but we have the political commitment and determination to make sure that it happens!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cllr Tayo Situ, the Mayor of Southwark

My friend and colleague, and our Mayor of Southwark Cllr Tayo Situ died yesterday after a brave fight against cancer. His death is a grievous blow to his family, all those who knew him and to our borough of Southwark.

Tayo was one of life's truly gentle men. His life was informed by his religion and his devotion to his family and community. Even before his election as a councillor for Peckham Ward in 2002 Tayo was a respected community leader, and an effective representative of the Nigerian community in London and the United Kingdom.

After our election victory last May I discussed with Tayo what role he might take on in the new administration, and persuaded him that it would be an honour for his Labour colleagues if he were to become the new Mayor and First Citizen of our borough. He agreed, and I know from every conversation which I had with him since last May that he regarded it as a great privilege to be the Mayor of Southwark, and undertook the role with genuine pride and dignity. He met people and took part in events which he thoroughly enjoyed - and which showed him to be a great representative for our community and borough.

Tayo was also delighted to have seen his son, Michael, elected as a councillor in Livesey Ward last year.

He will be greatly missed by us all.

Friday, May 06, 2011

The Lane By-Election

A quick word on the result of The Lane by-election yesterday, which saw Rowenna Davis elected as a councillor with a majority of well over 2,000; the Lib Dems knocked into third place behind the Green Party; and a turnout of nearly 40%.

In short the result was stunning! This was the only local election taking place in London yesterday, and it saw a swing from the Lib Dems to Labour of 12.4%. In the best Peter Snow traditions our calculations suggest that if, just if, this swing were repeated across Southwark at the next local elections Labour would win 60 seats, and the Lib Dems would be reduced to just 3! Whilst I don't discount the possibility, even I have to admit that the prospect is pretty overwhelming!

Cllr Rowenna Davis will be a great asset for The Lane. She ran a superb and upbeat campaign, and I know that the many voters who met her were impressed by her. And Rowenna shares the commitment of our entire Labour Group to create a fairer future for all in Southwark - delivering free healthy school meals; improved housing; increased recycling and major regeneration projects which benefit the borough.

So well done to Rowenna and Southwark Labour!