Saturday, October 15, 2011

Council Assembly on the Disturbances

I have been reflecting on Wednesday's Council Assembly, which provided the first opportunity for all councillors to come together to discuss the cause, effect and possible solutions to the disturbances which took place across the borough on August 8th. In my speech I concentrated on the fact that the response of residents to the disturbances was what truly demonstrated the spirit of Southwark, rather than the disturbances themselves, although with youth unemployment running at over 25% there are some serious issues which need to be addressed. There were many thoughtful contributions from Labour members, who reflected on their own experiences on August 8th; the brave work of the Police, and the Council's response to what had occurred.

However, I believe that it was striking that the Lib Dem Group Leader used her three minutes of speaking time to rail against the injustice of the way in which the debate had been organised, and how Southwark Labour had prevented her from speaking! It demonstrated a lack of any vision or any possible solutions.

But it occurred to me that Lib Dems in Southwark lack a vision or strategy on all of the big issues.

They oppose our Housing Investment Programme and offer up a continuation of their works whilst in office as an alternative. But that was a programme without a timetable and without a budget - in fact it had a £400 million hole - and which would have meant more council homes in or borough would be non-decent than decent in 5 years time.

They criticise our approach to regeneration, but offer up nothing as an alternative other than passing more responsibility to the community for decision-making. But that is not a vision or a strategy; it is a cop out, and represents a return to the dither and delay which paralysed the council from 2002 - 2010.

They advocate the strengthening of Community Councils; but don't spell out what they want them to do with increased powers - other than to remove power from the Administration which does have a vision and a strategy to take Southwark forward.

They oppose Free Healthy School Meals as a policy and response to the fact that Southwark has the worst childhood obesity rates, and offer up the Community Games as the response to this vital health issue. But the Community Games ran throughout their period of office, and childhood obesity got worse, not better.

They shamelessly support everything that the Coalition Government has done from the tripling of tuition fees to the abolition of EMA to the ransacking of the NHS to the destruction of the benefits system and the massive reductions in housing benefit. The local Lib Dem MP even blamed the Council for Michael Gove's imposition of two free schools on Southwark.

Southwark Lib Dems represent the politics of opposition for the sake of opposition. They offer no genuine alternative strategies or vision. It is a bankrupt approach to the problems of our borough.

Why am I saying this at this time? Because Southwark is facing some of the biggest economic and social problems that it ever has. These serious and difficult times require serious and difficult choices to be made and serious politicians to take them. The politics of the playground; of pretending there is some easy answer; of deliberate distortion - offer no solutions.

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