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Thank you, Speaker
It’s good to be back and see familiar faces in person.
This is the first time most of us have been back in this chamber since the start of the Covid pandemic.
And I’d like to thank you to everyone who’s made it possible.
Over the last year, we have had over 15,000 residents login to stream Council meetings online and when you think about how many people used to come to our meetings in person, it’s quite the achievement. And I want to thank all those who has worked hard to make that happen.
A particular thank you to Chamu and James, you’ve been amazing, Suki, Petra, Katharine and our legal teams, Charlotte, Clare, Kevin and all our colleagues in governance and IT.
The Government hasn’t made it easy for you, and you’ve had next to no time to put this together and you’ve done really well. Thank you.
My speech today is going to set out how we are going to recover as a Council and as a community.
A recovery that builds on our achievements over the past three years.
Tonight, I’ll talk about how we will push forward our efforts to make our borough greener; our communities healthier; our local jobs more secure; and make the work of this council even more inclusive.
The cost of Covid
But first I want to acknowledge that this year has been a painful one for many in our borough.
Throughout this year, and I think it’s the most difficult year in our borough’s history, Lewisham has stood together as we always do, and as we always will.
But 598 people in the borough have now lost their lives due to Covid: people’s grandparents, mums and dads, partners.
I’ve spoken to staff from Lewisham Hospital and they’ve told me heart-breaking stories about how overwhelmed they were during the last year.
They told me how some people died without family around them and they had to work around the clock to make people as comfortable as they possibly could. As best they could.
And the ripples are felt through the NHS, right down to each cancelled surgery, each postponed test, each missed healthcheck.
The full impact of Covid won’t be known for years.
One thing we do know – and I say this despite the phenomenal NHS vaccine effort – and Dominic Cummings is right – this Government let people down when they needed them the most. They have repeatedly been too slow to respond.
And as a result, the UK and Lewisham are home to some of the highest levels of deaths from Covid in the world.
That truth needs to be investigated, it needs to be understood and Lewisham’s voice needs to be heard in next year’s public inquiry.
Covid’s inflicted too high a price on our community.
The rise of food banks in our borough is an inspiring example of the community coming together to help those most in need. But nobody who lives in one of Europe’s richest cities should ever have to rely on food bank to feed their family.
Yet, from Catford to Crofton, Downham to Deptford, and Lewisham to Lee – Lewisham’s community, often led by our faith groups, have been out there, helping those in need.
This year, I again launched a Mayor’s Appeal and, once again, Lewisham residents dug deep.
In the last three years, we have now raised over £250,000 together.
To everyone who donated, thank you for your generosity and for your support.
To celebrate Lewisham’s volunteers, at our AGM last year I appointed not one, but three Mayoresses. And what a trio they have been!
Dawn Atkinson, Christina Norman and Natasha Ricketts. Alongside Keith Walton and a small dedicated team of volunteers, they run the Evelyn Community Store in Deptford.
I hope the whole of Lewisham is as proud of our Mayoresses as I am.
And I am delighted that they have all agreed to continue in their roles for another year.
During this year they have raised the profile of food poverty in our community.
They’ve had Keir Starmer and Sadiq Khan down to help out.
They caught the attention of Marcus Rashford.
And they wowed the Chief Executives of Tesco and Waitrose who donated a brand new van to get food out to those who need it.
They are also vaccinating around the clock; mentoring, developing and supporting young people; and inspiring young girls, and boys, around Lewisham as three remarkably talented women.
Their work shouldn’t be needed, but it is, and I thank them, and all our volunteers, from the bottom of my heart, for doing it.
Now usually in my AGM speech, I give our Mayoresses the opportunity to share their reflections of the last year. Unfortunately, due to social distancing, they cannot be here in person tonight, but in true superstar fashion they have been kind enough to film this message for us.
Thank you Dawn, Christina and Natasha, can we have a round of applause for the work they are doing please.
It seems extraordinary to me that – despite everything that our community has been through and all the help that is so obviously needed here – this Government is continuing to impose sweeping cuts in Lewisham.
I think anyone who is watching has probably heard me say this before. And I make no apologies for saying it again, because people should understand the impact austerity has had on this council.
In 2010, this council’s budget in real terms was over £400 million.
Today it stands at £243 million.
And, over four years, another £40 million will be cut from our borough.
We’ve lost half our staff, and while we have incredible people doing incredible things, and I’m going to talk about some of that today, with proper, fair funding, we could do so much more, and our community needs so much more.
But we have no choice but to deliver a legal budget.
If we didn’t, the Government would send their commissioners to make cuts for us – cuts set to their right-wing priorities.
Now, the Tories think that by getting local councils to make their cuts, people won’t notice.
Well, in Lewisham we know full well that the cuts come direct from the Tories.
We need a Labour government and Lewisham residents agree. Thousands upon thousands of them.
The political picture
And I would like to thank all those who put their trust in us and voted Labour earlier this month.
Thank you for your overwhelming support for Sadiq Khan and Len Duvall, our Assembly Member. And congratulations to our very own Sakina Sheikh who has been elected onto the London Assembly, congratulations Sakina.
I am also delighted tonight that we can formally welcome our four new Labour councillors Samantha Latouche, Jack Lavery, James Royton.
And we welcome back Rachel Onikosi. Rachel was elected in Bellingham following the sad and tragic death of our friend and colleague Sue Hordijenko.
Sue was such a loving person who cared so deeply for the people she served.
Sue, you’re very much missed, and our thoughts and prayers are with you.
I promise we will never take a single vote for granted.
Which is why we will continue to go out, knock on doors, and listen to our residents – hearing your concerns all year round. Gratefully joined by hundreds of Labour activists and trade unionists from across our borough.
But we do need to be honest with ourselves: that Labour’s success in Lewisham and London was not replicated across the country.
And until we’re able to build a Labour Party that can appeal in all parts of the country, we won’t have the Labour government which people in Lewisham want and desperately need.
As well as being out on the doorsteps of Lewisham, I did some calling outside of London too.
And I need to be honest with you – the responses there were very different to those I was hearing locally.
People who had voted Labour all their lives told me they weren’t going to do so again.
Because, they thought Labour nationally was snobby and patronising, obsessed with talking to ourselves, and intolerant of people with different views.
It was hard to hear, but we have to hear it.
It often seemed to be men who were most at a loss with Labour.
As I spoke to them, I felt I could hear my Dad’s voice. And it resonated with me. And really got me thinking. I was reminded of some the values I was taught growing up:
Fairness – whether that’s paying your taxes, paying your bills, or making sure you’ve bought your round at the pub.
Generosity – not just with money, but, more importantly, with your time.
And openness – going out of your way to help others – no matter where they’re from or what their politics. Who cares. Finding common ground rather than obsessing about what divides us.
Too many people today who’ve played by the rules and done the right thing feel they’ve been left behind.
And they’re right – they have been left behind.
And many of those people went out earlier this month and – maybe for only the first or second time in their lives – voted Conservative.
I bet they can’t believe they’re having to do it.
Indeed, there were reports of a record vote among NHS workers for the Tories.
That doesn’t make those workers bigots.
It doesn’t make them selfish or greedy.
And it doesn’t make them too stupid to know what’s really best for them.
They are people of values.
Labour’s response cannot be to write them off as a lost cause.
Our job is to win back their trust, their confidence and, hopefully in time, their support.
And we need to be grateful for that support.
There’s a lot to do. We start by really listening, to what people are really telling us – and not just to the loudest voices on Twitter and Facebook.
Social media has been a real lifeline for some during this pandemic – helping families, friends and communities come together.
But we all know that it can also be a pit of misinformation, abuse, and trolling. Where some people will literally say whatever to chase likes and retweets.
One of the best – and most invaluable – parts of my job as Mayor is being able to get out and meet people across the borough to hear their concerns and experiences first-hand.
I think it’s a very important part of my job.
Due to Covid, over the past year, I’ve been able to do that a lot less.
But you always want to know what people think. This year has really taught me just what a biased view we can get the more we rely on Twitter and some social media.
We’ve all got to use it better.
This last month we’ve been able to knock on doors and meet residents across the borough again.
Have those long and honest, real chats again.
And the residents I spoke to were proud of our borough.
They love Lewisham.
They spoke about the incredible effort the council had made during the pandemic and, even if they disagreed with something we’d done, they always thanked us for listening and knew we were trying our best.
Even when we don’t always get it right first time. As the 850 people who signed up for our online LTN public meeting know, we are a listening Council. We will listen, and we will learn, and we will always try to get things right.
But many of the real concerns people raise on the doorstep, and really care about, are often not those we see online.
Most of the people I talked to on the doorsteps talked about all sorts of things actually.
But one reoccurring theme was security.
Having a secure job that pays enough so you can have a decent standard of living – you can pay the bills, eat well, book a holiday with your family.
Having a secure home, something you can afford and enjoy living in, and long-term contracts for those who rent.
And, for those who own their own businesses or are self-employed, having the security of not constantly feeling you are struggling to keep up.
When I thought about it, those concerns I heard on the doorsteps of Lewisham weren’t so very different from the concerns I heard anywhere else.
Due to a decade of austerity and Conservative governments, wealth in our country has shifted further and faster towards the super-rich.
And – for the first time in living memory – parents know that their children are less likely to live as comfortably as they have.
Nationally, Labour needs to show how it will address insecurity and inequality and give our young people a much, much better shot.
Here in Lewisham, we need to understand that. As in all Labour-run councils, all eyes are on us.
We don’t just have to deliver for local residents.
We also have to show the country what Labour can achieve when we’re in office.
And we have to answer that question we’ve seen asked a lot in recent weeks: not just what our party is against, but what is Labour for?
So, yes, we must campaign against austerity and the suffering it causes in our community. Absolutely.
But we must also set out a positive vision for the future.
Telling people what we have done and will do, not just what we can’t do.
And we need to start this now.
I am incredibly proud of the bold and transformative manifesto we stood on three years ago.
It wasn’t just words and empty rhetoric.
We worked really hard with hundreds of people to put that together.
It was a call to action.
Action that we’re delivering.
It’s been a busy three years!
I can announce tonight that, together, we have approved the building of 970 new social homes since the start of this administration. A major step forward for those families who are stuck in emergency hostels and bed & breakfasts, some of the very worst housing that children should not have to grow up in.
We have brought in planning changes to crack down on rogue landlords, stopping family homes being turned into squalid HMOs, serving 1,500 notices on private landlords legally forcing them to fix up those homes.
And we have introduced a new Residents’ Charter here in Lewisham for estate regeneration because we know some people have understandable concerns. We guarantee residents will be at the heart of redeveloping their estates, and, most importantly, guarantee an offer of a new home to existing residents on the estates where they live.
We are proud of our parks. And we’ve opened South East London’s biggest – Beckenham Place Park, and planted 12,000 new trees there. After a ‘splashy’ start, park visitors have gone from two hundred thousand to five hundred thousand. Fantastic.
We have amongst the fastest increase in recycling anywhere in the country, here in Lewisham.
We have launched 26 brand new School Streets.
We have built Green Screens around some of our most polluted playgrounds.
And added over 100 new Electric Vehicle charging points. And we have built 100 cycle hangers too, with more to come.
Working with Sadiq Khan, our air is cleaner, and we’re working with him to make it cleaner still. And since 2018, we have reduced Lewisham’s carbon emissions by one hundred thousand tons.
And we’re divesting our pension funds away from fossil fuels
As an employer, we’ve been reducing our reliance on private agencies from day one of this administration. Today over 200 staff have been lifted off agency contracts and given Council contracts, with full labour rights.
We have insourced services, taking them off private companies.
- Our building maintenance team – insourced
- Our fostering recruitment – insourced
- Homelessness prevention – insourced
- Bailiffs – insourced
- Family support – insourced.
And looking ahead,
- our parks team – will be insourced
- our security team – insourced
- our cleaners – insourced.
We don’t rule out working with private companies. But our preferred approach is an in-house service.
We signed the UNISON Ethical Care Charter, and we’re ensuring all of our care workers are getting better pay and conditions, and an hourly rate above the London Living Wage.
Our young people need the best start.
Working together, we’ve pushed children’s mental health and wellbeing up the local health agenda – securing an extra £2 million for child and adolescent mental health services, and we’ve launched new Mental Health Support Teams in 19 schools, where parents, teachers and children are telling us they need it first.
We have reduced the number of children permanently excluded from school by two thirds, now down to just 21 children last year, keeping more young people in the classroom where they belong.
We provided Free School Meals in the school holidays when the government wouldn’t commit, benefitting 11,000 Lewisham families.
Our Youth Offending Service is getting real results. We have reduced the number of Lewisham young people entering the criminal justice system by 30%, compared to the London average of 5%.
We have significantly reduced the number of Lewisham young people that end up in custody from 44, to just 10.
It’s no wonder this team, our Youth Offending team, is winning national awards for their life-changing work. Right here, in Lewisham. The best in the country.
That’s a tiny, tiny snapshot of just some of the things we’ve achieved.
And we’ve done all of this while making sure that the way our council works better reflects our values and our community:
We’ve made significant progress in race equality – increasing the diversity of our senior management team to 43% of people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. This needs to expand through all parts and all levels of this council.
In our schools, the national average for Black, Asian and minority ethnic school governors is 4%. Here in Lewisham, we’ve focussed on recruitment and mentoring so that we’re now up to 29%, and that’s growing. And it’s important we keep that going until our governors reflect our schools.
We launched the Birmingham and Lewisham Black African and Caribbean Health Inequalities Review – a significant, landmark intervention that will improve health, not just in Birmingham and Lewisham, but better-informed decision-makers in health in the rest of the country and around the world. It’s ground-breaking.
And thanks to the hard work of many, and our community coming together, I can also announce tonight that we have been officially recognised as a Borough of Sanctuary. A fantastic achievement and a watershed commitment for Lewisham as we become a national leader in refugee resettlement.
Fairness, generosity, openness: these are some of our core values.
They’ve driven our work over the past three years.
And our Labour values are at the core of our ambitions for the future.
So as we look to the future and consider what our next steps should be, tonight we outline “Future Lewisham”
It’s our Covid recovery plan. A forward-looking vision for a future that all of us can be part of.
We won’t be doing this on our own, but alongside our friends in health, Goldsmiths and Lewisham College, Lewisham Homes and Phoenix, local businesses and, of course, our voluntary and community sector.
Together, we will lead a greener future.
For us, the climate emergency is not an empty slogan. It can’t be.
Our next steps will be our greenest yet, continuing our efforts to preserve our climate for future generations.
In Lewisham we’re leading the way in reducing carbon and we’re cleaning the air we breathe.
But more needs to be done, and we will need everyone’s help and support to do it.
And I want to see our council making more visual improvements to your streets – helping us all walk and cycle more, and creating safer spaces for children to play. With more people using our award winning parks, we will invest in them to make them even more enjoyable and protect them for future generations.
Everyone deserves a healthy and well future.
No matter what your background or where you’re from – it’s fundamental to enjoying life.
And it’s not just the responsibility of the NHS. Our health and wellbeing is impacted by where and how we live, the air we breathe, the food we eat and the friends and family we have around us.
And in an ever uncertain and unequal world, we must act on the causes of health inequalities and support good mental health and wellbeing for everyone.
Together, we will build a more economically secure future.
We’re working now to get Lewisham back in business helping more people build the skills they need to get the best jobs that our city has to offer.
And as London’s ‘small business borough’ we will be encouraging you to shop local.
This year our businesses have shown that they’re adaptable and such a valued part of our community, now it’s our turn to support them and continue making Lewisham a genuinely business friendly borough.
And finally, our guiding principle: a future we all have a part in.
Lewisham’s community response to Covid was incredible.
We will continue to work together as one borough to harness the power of the volunteering and the community spirit that has helped get us through the last year.
And winning London Borough of Culture 2022 was a huge achievement for us, and is a real chance for Lewisham to shine. Borough of Culture will provide opportunities for all of us to enjoy, and we can show the rest of London, the country, the world – what Lewisham has to offer and showcase our local home grown talent.
Close: thank you
Everything we’ve achieved over the past three years, and everything we’ll achieve in the future, comes from our community pulling together.
Over the past year, we’ve seen that more than ever in the incredible response we’ve had to the pandemic.
So as I come to a close tonight, I want to say a big thank you to the people of Lewisham.
Those in our health services.
Our own council staff. From those working on the frontline, to those keeping the show on the road – our refuse teams, our street cleaners, our parks teams. Thank you to all of you.
Thank you to those of you supporting the Council. Thank you to Royston John and Barbara Gray for your support and for making sure we are pushing ahead at pace on action to tackle race equality.
Sitting behind every one of our achievements is hard work from members of my cabinet, members of this council, officers of this council.
Thank you to my fantastic cabinet team, joined tonight by Kim Powell, and thank you to every one of our councillors – from scrutiny chairs and Group Officers to those running our new task & finish groups. Without you we would never have come as far as we have these past three years.
Thank you to Brenda Dacres for stepping up as our new Deputy Mayor. Brenda is a hardworking, compassionate and collaborative councillor. Values that are important to me and that are critical to our success as a council.
Brenda is known and respected across the borough. She has the political and professional experience that will help us drive through the changes we want to see in our shared future. I know Brenda will continue to serve our borough well.
Finally, a huge thank you to Chris Best, who has served with distinction over her years on this council, but particularly over the last three.
Chris has made Lewisham Council a national trailblazer on reducing obesity, working with restaurants, schools and businesses, we became the first to ban junk food advertising, thanks to Chris.
She has led the recruitment of a cohort of over 1,000 local champions, trained in adult safeguarding. Smart work. Quietly changing lives.
And I have only heard positive things about how Chris has helped older residents stay connected throughout the pandemic, working with our fantastic Positive Ageing Council and Lewisham Pensioners Forum. And I know that we’re both looking forward, when we can, to meet up again in person.
And a special shout out to Iris Till who is representing the Positive Ageing Council today.
Chris has done all of this while being, of course, an excellent ward councillor for Sydenham.
When Chris stepped into the Deputy Mayor’s role it was to help during the first year of our new administration. Very quickly, we knew we needed to extend that. We came to depend on Chris’s experience, wisdom and ability to get things done. Chris has been there to share her counsel not just to me, but to others in the Council too and on behalf of all of us, thank you for stepping up to serve.
Chris, I am pleased you will be staying in the cabinet, and thank you for all your support and friendship.
Speaker, that concludes my annual address.
Thank you to everyone for your hard work and support.
We have achieved a lot in a short space of time, and working together we will achieve much more.