Thursday, September 29, 2011

Guy Fawkes Night

Firstly, let's be absolutely clear - Southwark Council never 'banned' Guy Fawkes night or Fireworks Night because of political correctness. In an attempt to replace the many events and festivals which the Council supports each year, but which we have had to significantly cut back this year because of the Government's cuts of £34 million to our budget (with another £50 million more cuts to come) our events team had tried to create something which was more than 'Guy Fawkes' night, and brought some fresh thinking and ideas to an event to be staged in the south of the borough in Dulwich Park.

The name chosen for the event 'The Colour Thief' was a mistake, but I believe that the idea for the event was a good one.

However, Dulwich Lib Dem councillors - in particular James Barber and Robin Crookshank Hilton, thought that the name of the event could be exploited for some political gain and ran off to the newspapers with their story. The ensuing coverage made the event impossible to stage. So Cllrs Barber and Crookshank Hilton have ensured that Dulwich Park does not get an event this Autumn. This must have been their intention - so to that extent they have had a great political success.

Instead, the Council will stage a fireworks display in Southwark Park, and I am sure that it will be a great success. I hope that residents or children disappointed by the decision to cancel the Dulwich Park event will be able to participate in the event in Southwark Park - there is no reason why they should miss out.

The Council will consult residents in the south of the borough on an event to be held there next year. I hope that a little more maturity can be brought to the discussion of what that event should be than has been evident in the past few weeks from Dulwich Lib Dem councillors.

Free Healthy School Meals

It was great that Harriet Harman mentioned our Southwark Labour policy to provide Free Healthy School Meals to all of the primary school children in the borough during her Labour Conference speech today.

At a time when young people are really being hit hard by this Coalition Government I am incredibly proud of the work we are doing and the choices which we have made in Southwark - not only Free Healthy School Meals, but also our Youth Fund, helping 16-18 year olds through their further education by topping-up the Government's EMA replacement; giving scholarships to some of our poorest but most able students in order to pay their tuition fees through University, and giving valuable work experience and internships to another 2000 pupils.

We cannot solve all of the problems we face in Southwark, but we can try and demonstrate that we have real faith in Southwark's young people and that we want to help them achieve their ambitions. By the policies we are pursuing and the action we are taking Southwark's students must know that in an era when the Government appears to have given up on them, Southwark's Labour Council never will.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Southwark Borough Conference 2011

Southwark Labour's 5th Annual Borough Conference took place last Saturday - with guest speakers Harriet Harman, Ken Livingstone and Val Shawcross, and a number of 'Break Out' sessions looking at particular policy areas. The sessions on Young People, Crime, the 'Big Society' to the 'Good Society' and Libraries were all well attended and generated loads of great ideas which we will be trying to include in our policy development over the coming months.

I think that our Borough Conference remains fairly unique within the Labour Party - an opportunity for all members in the borough to come together to discuss issues of concern and develop policy for the future.

Many issues were raised from the floor, including that of evicting those convicted of involvement in the recent disturbances from council housing. But I think we were able to explain our approach and put it in the context of all of the other work which we are doing following those disturbances- including our innovative Youth Fund and Community Conversations - which put any worried minds at rest. There has been a lot of heat and not much light generated over the issue of post-disturbance evictions. Our fundamental approach in Southwark is that anyone convicted of involvement in the riots will have a face to face interview; their individual circumstances will be considered and all options for dealing with their case considered, including the possibility of bringing possession proceedings. However, the other options available include no further action; demoted tenancies; acceptable behaviour contracts and anti-social behaviour orders.

But a good day on Saturday looking ahead to the Mayoral and GLA elections, with real enthusiasm from our membership for what Southwark Labour is doing in power.