Vision for Southwark

by Anood Al-Samerai on 28 March, 2014

This week we had our final full council meeting of the four year term and it was all quite emotional. I am very sad that long serving Lib Dem councillors are standing down and I wish them all the very best for their next chapters.

The theme of the meeting was Vision for Southwark and you would have expected Labour to be talking about their policies. But instead they were very much on our agenda and I felt really proud of my council group – their creativity and their commitment. The Liberal Democrats have a strong record from when we ran the council, Labour has been bad at fighting on the side of residents for the last four years and we are the ones who are now leading the way.

I can remember growing up in Southwark. The streets were knee deep in litter. Council tax was one of the highest in London and the schools were so bad that the Labour gov’t had taken control away from the council to give it to a construction company.

Thanks to Cllr Stanton and other colleagues Southwark was transformed between 2002 and 2010. It has now become a place of aspiration and ambition and the council itself has become professional and functional.

Since 2010 I actually agree with some of the things where Labour has done well by following the Lib Dem lead. Such as finishing Canada Water Library, the recycling centre on the Old Kent Road and the leisure centre in Camberwell.

But there have, of course, been areas of disagreement. For me and my group it is so much about housing.

Selling off council homes, failing to get affordable ones in new developments and getting the basics wrong on housing repairs like damp.

It’s a shame that Labour didn’t have the guts to take a deputation this week from Mohammed (they voted against hearing from him at the meeting). He’s someone whose family has lived in Lorrimore Road for over 20 years. They’re overcrowded and have medical issues. Last year they had to watch the empty family sized council home next door be auctioned off to a buy to let landlord. Because it was worth more than £300,000.

Now Labour claim that it’s all right to buy sales or that the Lib Dems did it too, but that doesn’t help Mohammed and his family now. When the waiting list has gone up to 20,000 no council should be selling off council homes.

We also have this grand promise of new council homes. A ‘clear policy’ we are told. Of 10,000 (according to Grange Labour) or 11,000 according to Southwark Labour. And over 25 years if you read cabinet reports – or over 30 years if you listen to the Labour Leader.

But the record speaks for itself. The Lib Dems in Southwark were actually building five times as many council homes a year as Labour. Even though the Labour government made it harder for councils to build council homes back then.

And I know that the Leader of the Council doesn’t think it’s a problem that the north of the borough is flooded with luxury flats for foreign investors. But I do. In fact, I think it’s a scandal.

Taking affordable housing money and spending it elsewhere may make perfect sense on paper. But in real life it means that real people who have grown up in Borough, Bermondsey or Rotherhithe can no longer find places they can afford to live. They are excluded from the very regeneration which is meant to benefit them and the mixed communities which make Southwark special are ripped apart.

I am astounded by the complete arrogance of a party which thinks people in Bermondsey will vote for them at the same time as they vote for affordable housing money from the old Bermondsey Town Hall to be spent over three miles away.

As well as Labour failing on housing I am stunned by the lack of vision in their vision.

I am proud to be the Leader of an Opposition which has set the agenda and led the way over the past 4 years on the key issues which are now being debated during the election campaign.

Lib Dems have been saying give tenants kitchens and bathrooms, Labour suddenly follows.

Lib Dems have been saying do up the athletics track, Labour finally allocates the money.

Lib Dems have been saying built new schools, Labour have eventually realised that this is what’s needed.

But they’ve had four years. And none of these things have happened. And four years ago these things were radical – that’s why we were suggesting them then. But now we need to move the debate further forwards.

And it’s great that Lib Dems have set the agenda for this election campaign. Homes, kids, jobs and a council tax cut. But although they’ve started talking about our priorities, it’s all hot air and vague promises from Labour.

On homes and jobs, it’s numbers plucked from the air rather than serious and detailed plans.

On childcare it’s a bureaucratic commission reporting in December instead of free hours for parents now.

And on money, it’s promises which have been scrabbled together since the budget last month and are, therefore, completely uncosted.

Unlike a clear and costed commitment from the Lib Dems – signed off by the Finance Director – to cut council tax for all residents.

At the end of the day it is up to the electorate. But based on previous history Labour might get round to doing something radical in about 30 years time – after the Lib Dems have pushed them to do so.

Well I want to change the world now and the way to do that is to vote for the Lib Dem vision in May!

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