The final Council Assembly meeting of the current administration took place on Wednesday (26 March), discussing the various parties’ ‘Vision for Southwark’ in the run up to local elections on 22 May.
The meeting started, as usual, with a number of ‘deputations’ from residents wanting to address councillors about a particular concern. The most engaging of these was a deputation from residents of Draper House, who have recently been in the regional news with their complaints about being ‘prisoners’ behind scaffolding on the block for two years, as a result of mismanagement by the council and its housing contractors.
Council Assembly also heard a deputation about encouraging residents and school children to cut down meat consumption, and another from a resident with a number of long-standing issues with the council. Interestingly, Labour councillors voted to block a fourth deputation speaking, which consisted of a local family in Newington angry about council homes being sold-off in their area.
The themed debate on ‘Vision for Southwark’ gave councillors on all sides a chance to put forward their ideas going into the coming local election period. It was generally quite a constructive debate, with numerous speakers from the main parties lining up to speak.
From the Liberal Democrat side, the main speaker was group leader Cllr Anood Al-Samerai, who focussed on the key Liberal Democrat 2014 manifesto policies of homes, kids, jobs and a council tax cut. Surrey Docks ward representative Cllr Lisa Rajan then followed up with a good speech on the strong record of the previous Lib Dem administration that ran Southwark 2002-2010.
After speakers from other parties, Cllr Rosie Shimell (East Dulwich) then spoke in favour of Southwark Liberal Democrats’ offer of free childcare hours for all 2, 3 and 4-year olds in the borough. Childcare costs, she said, are “simply unsustainable for many families” in Southwark. Cllr Shimell urged the current Labour administration to stop its “dither and delay” over childcare and offer something useful to parents rather than simply creating another long-winded and expensive ‘commission’ to look at the problem.
Former Liberal Democrat cabinet member Cllr Paul Noblet (Surrey Docks) added to discussions about the previous Lib Dem-run council, arguing that most Labour ‘successes’ in the borough were actually on the back of previous policies put in place by the Lib Dems.
In the Member Questions section of the meeting, Cllr Anood Al-Samerai returned to the topic of childcare, asking what the budget is for the council’s recently announced ‘commission’ will cost. “We do not have a cost at the this present time,” came the reply – despite the commission already being launched on Tuesday!
Cathedrals ward councillor Adele Morris asked about noise complaints in her ward early in the morning, and urged the council to restore funding for a 24-hour noise team. Her ward colleague, Cllr David Noakes, then asked for reassurance that residents in Blackfriars would not lost their homes if a new planning policy encouraging tall buildings is introduced in the area.
A number of ‘non-themed’ motions were discussed, including on a variety of local ward issues such as broadband speeds in the Rotherhithe peninsula and damp problems in housing blocks.
The issue of payday lenders was also debated – during which all Labour councillors present bizarrely voted AGAINST a Lib Dem proposal to support a new credit union on Walworth Road!
The meeting finished positively, with various speeches from councillors of all sides who are not re-standing to continue as a councillor in May – amongst them Conservative councillor Toby Eckersley, who is the longest serving councillor in Southwark, and former council leader Cllr Nick Stanton (Liberal Democrat member for Riverside ward).
Best wishes to all councillors from across the political divide who are standing down in May!