Council meetings

Agenda item

Annual Mayoral Report


The Mayor delivered the following address:


“Deputy Lieutenant, Freemen and Women of the Borough, Chair, Councillors,

Members of Parliament, Honoured Guests


Not Twenty but Fifty years ago today the Beatles would have been putting the

finishing touches to the Sgt Pepper Album that was to change the way the

world thought about popular music.  Swinging London was where everyone

wanted to be and as they said “It's getting better all the time”


But there was much that needed to change. Cathy Come Home may have

been a work of fiction but it had made the meaning of being homeless a

reality, The Aberfan disaster had appalled the nation and the war in Vietnam

continued to escalate.


Nevertheless there was a real sense of optimism that change for the better

was possible which Sgt Pepper reflected.  Today we face just as many

challenges and in some cases the same ones are back but today’s response

seems to be an angry and pessimistic populism. Of course it may be that

looking back to a time when you were young inevitably creates a rosy glow

about how the world used to be – so perhaps we need to look at what today’s

young people are doing.


Three quarters of voters under 24 voted Remain and they turned out in equal

numbers to other age groups too dispelling the myth that young people can’t

be bothered. If only 16 and 17 year olds had been allowed to vote as they

were in the Scottish referendum how different things might have been.


In a little over a year’s time Lewisham will face an election and by that time I

will be 64 and according to Lennon and McCartney should be “Doing the

Garden, digging the weeds” though “Staying out till quarter to three” sounds

like more fun.  Either way I will be standing down as mayor but it is not my

intention tonight to reflect on the time I have served this borough.  I will as

usual briefly look back over the past 12 months and then forward to

challenges and opportunities that face us in the coming year.


Governments come and go – we are sad when a man with the intelligence

and integrity of President Obama leaves the stage but we know that before

long there will be more elections and further change.  The vote to leave the

EU was different however.  For many it made us feel that the very basis on

which we had lived our lives as European Citizens was being threatened by

our fellow citizens who wanted to build walls and shut out the world.  Then in

the days that followed we saw a return to the sort of open racism and displays

of hatred that we thought had been left behind.


If some of us who were born and raised in Britain felt like that how much

worse must it have been for those who had chosen to make this their home

and were now being told they were not wanted here. 


There are 24,000 residents of Lewisham who are EU nationals and many

have been in touch with us seeking help with their situation.  Many of them

are doing important jobs that serve this community and the wider city.  Last

week I wrote to the Prime Minister adding my support to the demand that

guarantees be given now by our Government that EU nationals currently here

can stay. They should not be used as chips in a bargaining process.


The young will have to live with the consequences of a decision that they may

understandably feel was been made by angry and perhaps ill-informed older

people – as the consequences of that decision become clear they may well

become angry themselves and those of us who share their view have a duty

to make sure we work with them to create an optimistic alternative.


Here in London we know that such an alternative is possible. The election of

Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London, the scale of his victory and the way it was

celebrated by this city made us feel proud to be Londoners and gives us

genuine cause for optimism about the future.


The international links that the residents of this borough have are extensive

and the Council has continued to play its part through both formal twinning

arrangements and other informal links.  One of the things I did following the

Leave vote was to write to my opposite numbers in Charlottenberg

Wilmersdorf and Anthony to assure them that our links with them began

before Britain joined the EU and would continue after we left – if anything

those links will be more important in the future.


It has been a particular pleasure to see our links with Matagalpa in Nicaragua

become stronger again and Cllrs Muldoon and Jeffery were outstanding

ambassadors for the Borough when visiting Matagalpa last year.


We have endeavoured to fulfil our international obligations towards those

forced to flee their homes in Syria in the face of a brutal civil war. Thanks to

the support of our community and Lewisham Citizens in particular we have

now been able to help several families settle here and also assisted some

unaccompanied young people to be reunited with relatives in the UK. But the

attitude taken by our Government has been shameful.  Throughout their

efforts have been slow and lukewarm but the about turn on the “Dubs”

children was a disgrace.


We were honoured to be joined by Lord Dubs himself at our annual Holocaust

Memorial day event as well as the Chief Executive of Holocaust Memorial Day



I am making no changes to my cabinet this year.  We have continued to work

effectively together as a team over the last year and I thank them for the work

they have undertaken both individually and collectively as well as the support

they have given me personally – there are no easy jobs in the cabinet but

each in their own way has addressed the growing challenges we face.


Alan Smith has agreed to serve as Deputy Mayor for the coming year and Kris

will again serve as Mayoress. I have been fortunate to enjoy the support and

advice of my specialist advisers Wozzy Brewster, Robin Stott and Len

Hamilton. They are a source of both ideas and challenge which I value



The Young Mayor programme continues to develop and engage our young

citizens and it was a particular pleasure to see for only the second time a

female candidate succeed this year and indeed another female candidate be

elected as Deputy Young Mayor.  Congratulations to Kayla Sh’ay and Tekisha

Henry. The programme is now in its 13th year and the enthusiasm it

engenders continues and if anything grows.


For the last few years I have been welcoming Primary School students who

serve on their School Councils to the Town Hall. The Young Mayors and the

supporting team and advisers have been a great help with these visits and

even those young people who are as yet too young to take part in the election

know all about it and in some cases are making clear their intention to run just

as soon as they can.


The connection between the Council and the Armed Forces is a significant

one and I thank our Deputy Lieutenant, Jane Davis, for her help in maintaining

that link. Cllr James J Walsh on has made a great contribution during his first

year as our representative for Reserve Forces and Cadet Associations as has

Cllr Damien Egan who has Cabinet responsibility for the Armed Forces



At Lewisham’s Armed Forces Day last June we remembered both the Battle

of the Somme and the Naval Battle of Jutland. Some of us were privileged to

see a remarkable documentary film made in 1916 which was shown in the

Broadway Theatre accompanied by a 40 piece orchestra that played a new

score specially composed by Laura Rossi.


Earlier we had unveiled a further two Victoria Cross memorial stones to

recognise people who were born in this borough and were awarded the V.C.

for their valour during WWI.  Two more unveilings will take place later this



The Mayoress and I were delighted to present Charlotte from the Lavender

Trust with a cheque for £12,000 earlier this evening. Thanks are due to the

small band of people who help Kris - Sandra Jones, Dennis Hunter, Roisin

Bennett, and Charlotte Gibson and of course Derek Johnson not to mention

his family! More volunteers always welcome.


Events this year have included quiz nights at the Rivoli Ballroom, a musical

Valentine’s curry evening, Golf day, Pink Friday, bucket collections, and of

course the runners in the London Marathon. Not forgetting the Christmas

carol service presided over by Father Owen.  Money raised this year has

been supplemented by the Council’s successful entry into the New Year’s Day

parade where Lewisham came 8th among other London boroughs.


Perhaps the most shocking thing over the last year has been the way that

truth has not only become subject to interpretation in the light of

circumstances but for some politicians an irritation if not an irrelevance.


Once an opinion has been expressed, often without any facts to substantiate

it, Social Media repeats and expands on it allowing the politician who in all

likelihood fed the opinion to the media outlet in the first place to claim

overwhelming support for their concerns.  Efforts to establish the facts are

ignored or even dismissed as lies.


It would be disturbing enough if local councillors were to behave in such a

way but for the holder of the most powerful office on the planet to do so is

truly the stuff of nightmares.  Yet those who framed the American Constitution

had the foresight to create checks and balances which have proved resilient

in the past and may yet see sound government reasserted there.


Nearer home it seems that we have a Prime Minster who is determined to not

only lead us out of Europe but to do so in way which maximizes the damage

caused.  But we won’t feel the effects for some time to come and here we find

ourselves struggling with another truth conundrum.


As attentions spans have shortened and rolling news has become the norm

an expectation has grown that the impact of decisions will be instant and if

they are not this disproves the argument.  So because there has not yet been

economic disaster as a result of the Brexit vote Leave supporters argue that

there never will be and the warnings from its opponents were based on false

information.  Never mind that the fall in the pound is already causing problems

- It will be years before we know the full extent of the damage done and no

doubt by then the blame will be placed elsewhere.


But this issue of delayed consequences is of real and direct relevance to us

here in Lewisham as we address the twin challenges of declining resources

and rising demand.


The current Government is deliberately misleading the nation about the

significance and impact of its austerity policies.  Those policies will reduce the

size and nature of many public services yet the Government narrative is

rather different.  They simply refuse to acknowledge what they are doing and

when real effects become visible those who deliver or use the service are



As I was working on this speech we saw exactly this disconnect illustrated.

Chris Hopson, the Chief Executive of NHS Providers, the body representing

NHS Trusts said the NHS faced “An unbridgeable gap with worrying

implications for patients and staff” he went on to say a further £2.5B was

needed to meet the Government target of treating 95% of A&E patients in four

hours”.  What was the Government response? They said the report “fails to

acknowledge that the NHS has a strong plan to improve performance –

backed by £2B for Social Care and £100m for A&E in the budget”


Let’s be clear the people who run our hospitals say they need £2.5B on top of

the money Local Government needs for Social Care and the Government

simply says it’s not true.  Over the next year when you read the stories about

further crises in the NHS remember this exchange.


A few weeks ago the Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountants and

the Institute for Government published “Performance Tracker” – a data driven

analysis of government performance in running public services.  This is the

first time this has been done in this way and it looks at five areas of public

services that are experiencing significant financial problems at present.


This report didn’t get a lot of attention but it contains some important

messages that will inform what we do during the coming year and beyond. 

Essentially it demonstrates that the 2010 Austerity programme which was

originally viewed as a one-off period of pain following the 2008 financial crisis,

before an economic recovery led to a return to business-as-usual, was largely

successful in terms of reducing expenditure and minimising the impact on



In contrast the 2015 programme is failing and there has been a dramatic

deterioration of services - increased waiting times in hospitals, and record

deficits, a 40% increase in delayed transfers and a sharp rise in violence in



The report describes a Government in denial about the disaster it is causing. 

It’s worth quoting directly from the report. They said:-


The facts established by the data do not appear to be feeding into decision-making.

Instead the pattern in this Parliament has been one of the Government:


  • failing to develop alternative strategies despite the clear warning signs
  • in the data


  • continuing to pursue approaches that are no longer working


  • being forced into emergency actions in response to public concern; and


  • providing emergency cash to bail out deeply troubled services.


Before I go any further I want to say something about the staff who work for

this council and all those other public services.  If the first phase of austerity

was successful it is because of their extraordinary efforts. In the face of wage

cuts and the departure of thousands of their colleagues they worked harder,


longer and more effectively to sustain vital services. Their reward is to be

blamed this time round when things inevitably fail because Government isn’t



I want those who work in Lewisham whether for this Council or other public

services to hear very clearly that they will not be blamed here – they deserve

our thanks and praise – whether we are decision makers or service users we

depend on them and they have not let us down nor will they.



Against this background we need to focus our effort on those things where we

can make a difference either directly or by working together with others.  In

some cases we will have to expend considerable effort to achieve what may

be quite short term gains but in others we need to lay the foundations that will

produce better outcomes for future generations.


Faced with challenges on this scale and such a negative external outlook

there is an understandable temptation to default to protest and complaint and

as someone who grew up in the 60s I do not for a moment underestimate how

satisfying that can be.


But when faced with the everyday experiences of the citizens of this borough

and their need for better housing, better care and a safer environment we

have a duty to use whatever powers and resources are at our disposal, resist

the luxury of blaming others and do our damndest to make a difference.


I intend to continue striving to make a difference in this borough until the

moment I leave office.


Both Health and Social Care face unprecedented difficulties.  In the short term

the concerted efforts led by the Local Government Association successfully

made the case for an injection of cash into Social Care which happened in the

budget.  But that is little more than a sticking plaster and a stable, long term

plan must be developed quickly.


Without that both the Social Care provided by this and other councils will

remain at risk and so will the NHS itself.  The report I referred to earlier has a

damning verdict on Sustainability and Transformation Plans – or STPs as they

are known.  They conclude that the STPs “are nowhere near the concrete

organisational (and political) plans needed to prevent recurring overspending

and service deterioration. The Government needs to show how STPs can

deliver, or find a new approach, before the freeze in NHS funding built into the

next two years’ plans really bites.”


The STPs were created in a typically secretive, top down NHS Management

way and while the broad thrust of improving community based services to

reduce the need for Hospital admissions is one we can all support there is no

indication of how the radical  transformation needed to make this a reality will

be resourced.


Councils need to do all we can to make this work but we also need to warn

our residents of the risks involved and be prepared to take whatever action is

necessary to protect our NHS locally.  The Secretary of State appears to have

learned very little from the defeat we inflicted on him last time he tried to

downgrade Lewisham Hospital and we must be ready to respond if he tries



Just as we were led to believe that the NHS was to be protected from the

effects of austerity so too we were told that schools would be protected too. 

Yet we have seen is Government set about changing the way that schools are

funded with the deliberate intention of taking resources away from London. 

The losses will be compounded by other pressures beyond the control of

schools but which Government does not intend to fund.


The London Boroughs working together have won a concession that the loss

because of the changes will be capped at 3% but the other pressures add a

further 8%.  Parents and Schools have been campaigning for Fair Funding

and we will continue to make the case for our schools to be properly



Last year I spoke about the Lewisham Education Commission and when it

reported it was clear that the way forward was for a school-led system of

improvement in our Borough. The Lewisham Education Challenge Partnership

is now at work seeking to replicate the success of our Primary schools in

working together to raise standards in our Secondary Schools.


It is all too easy as we grapple with these immediate issues to lose sight of

things which require attention now but will take years to resolve.  But in some

cases there is an urgency that should concentrate our minds and lead us to

take action so that future generations will be able breath more easily – and I

do mean that literally.


This January pollution levels in London were so bad that Mayor Khan issued

his first “very high” alert. When levels reach this point the government’s Daily

Air Quality Index recommends that even healthy members of the public

“reduce physical exertion, particularly outdoors”.


Failure to act threatens the health of our fellow citizens and the wellbeing of

our whole city.  Sadiq Khan has made it clear just how much of a priority Air

Quality needs to be and in December we finalised an excellent report setting

out Lewisham’s 5 year strategy. 


We need to act on that Strategy supporting the actions of the Mayor. Later

this year the T Charge will come into force and further down the road we will

see the introduction of an Ultra Low Emission Zone. The Sustainable

Development Select Committee endorsed the report and urged us to

champion Air Quality inside and outside the Borough.


They are right about the need to raise the profile of this issue and I intend to

do that over the coming year.  To that end I am appointing Cllr McGeevor as

our Champion for Air Quality and I have asked her to work with Cllr Onikosi

and Robin Stott, my Environmental Adviser and our officers firstly to make our

residents better aware of the issue and how they can help but also to advise

on any additional measures we can consider that will make an impact.


For some families the issue of poor Air Quality has become a personal

tragedy. Lewisham resident Rosamund Roberta’s daughter, Ella, died as a

result of childhood Asthma.  She has set up the Ella Roberta Family

Foundation which is doing amazing work including raising awareness of the

links between air quality and asthma.


If Air Quality is something that needs to be given greater recognition as a

priority Housing has in recent years been firmly established as the top

concern on almost everyone’s list and here in Lewisham we have continued to

play our part.  Place Ladywell has grabbed the headlines with its award

winning approach to the Temporary Accommodation and we will shortly start

to use the learning from that scheme to increase the pace at which we can

deliver permanent accommodation.


Sadiq Khan has shown a drive and commitment to delivering a solution to the

Housing crisis that is refreshing and it is a pleasure working with him on the

new “Homes for Londoners” Board.  Only through a partnership between City

Hall, the Boroughs, the Housing Associations and the House builders can we

begin to meet the city’s housing needs.


I was shown an email from a local resident recently bemoaning what had

happened to Lewisham Town centre and urging us to rein in the planners.  I

do understand that seeing the borough changing as we accommodate

London’s growing population is frustrating for some but if London is to deliver

the 50,000 new homes each year far from reining in the Planners we need to

give them the green light to use their skills and imagination to work along with

their colleagues to find ways to build more not less - even in a borough as

crowded as Lewisham.


I am sure that resident was not alone in her concerns but tonight there will

something like 1,800 Lewisham families living in Temporary Accommodation

– most of which will be nothing like the quality of Place Ladywell – and their

prospects of getting a permanent home will be severely hindered if we do not

all accept that it is our duty to build at greater densities and to do so at a

considerably greater pace than heretofore.


London has continued to be the economic powerhouse of the UK economy

and while Brexit may eventually change this it continues to be a place that

attracts investment from across the globe yet the same poverty that Cathy

Come Home portrayed is still with us fifty years on. Indeed to be poor in a city

which is getting richer must be even more dispiriting.


As part of their austerity programme Government has sought to reduce

welfare spending and done so with an apparent indifference to the

consequences for individuals and families. However in this local authority we

have striven to act in ways which protect the least well off in our community. 


We pay the London living wage and encourage others to do the same.  The

welfare benefits we administer must follow government guidelines but the staff

at all levels who work in this area do everything in their power to be fair and

caring in difficult circumstances.


But we can always do more and the Lewisham Poverty Commission that will

look at both the effectiveness of what we do now and what more we can do. It

involves both Executive and Scrutiny councillors as well as a range of external

experts.  I look forward to receiving its report later in the year.


One way me may be able to help our residents is through cutting the cost of

energy.  There are some innovative schemes being developed which may

make it easier to change to more economical providers but also deliver some

wider benefits for the Borough.  We have a very good track record as a

Council in relation to energy and there are some great local schemes like

South East London Community Energy. Over the next few months I want us

to take a good look at whether we can do something to build on this.


As your mayor I am asked to attend many events but few are as humbling as

the presentation of long service awards to Foster parents – the stories told by

those remarkable individuals are inspiring.  They change young lives year

after year and enable us to discharge our duties in a ways that we can be

proud of.


But Looked after Children continue to face challenges even with great support

and the transition to independent adult life is a particularly challenging time. 

They have been hit by one of those welfare changes I mentioned a few

moments ago.  Last year Government decided that work allowances for care

leavers without children would be withdrawn leaving those claiming Universal

Credit up to £72 per month worse off.


Some Local Authorities have tried to help by exempting Care Leavers from

Council Tax until they are 25.  I want Lewisham to look at doing the same and

I will be asking for a report to come forward as part of our budget making that

examines the cost and benefits of doing this here.


It is important that we do not lose sight of just how much this Council has

been able to achieve despite 7 years of austerity.


Some things are on a grand scale – we have seen improvements to the

infrastructure of the borough – new schools, new leisure facilities and of

course new homes. Other have been less obvious but have changed lives for

the better like the 134 individuals who have completed apprenticeships with

the Council itself.


The Bakerloo line is coming to Lewisham, We were one of the few Boroughs

to achieve UNESCO recognition as a Baby Friendly borough, Beckenham

Place Park is being transformed and thousands of new trees are being

planted there, by bringing the Bailiff service in house we have saved money

and can provide a more sensitive service, our partners like Lewisham Homes

and Phoenix Housing have their own success stories to tell to – I could go on

– and on – but I won’t. 


My point is that while we have to focus on stopping the worst excesses of

Austerity and fight against the threats to the services the people of this

borough rely on we must not lose sight of the good that is being done.  Anger,

negativity and pessimism will not achieve change but if we remain positive

and optimistic about this great Borough and this great City of London we can

play our part in helping ensure that things really do get a little better all the



I want to conclude by saying something about how this council works with its

community and in particular those groups large and small, young and old,

spiritual and secular that work within our borough.  They are not just a sector

we need to have a policy for; they are not a problem to be managed but the

very life blood of Lewisham.


Those of you who are regulars here will have heard me speak before about

the influence of Andy Hawkins, a former Council Leader I was privileged to

work with. A significant part of Andy’s legacy was a strong and close

relationship between Council and community. I have endeavoured to build on

that and we have found ways to work together for the good of the people.

As we face difficult times it is a strength and a comfort that we have such a

relationship and it is something which is different here to many other places

where there is less warmth or even open hostility.


That connection both with community groups and the individuals who so

selflessly work with them must be nurtured and it will be needed even more in

the years ahead.


Tonight I simply want to thank the thousands of citizens of this borough who

have in so many different ways made a difference – and perhaps it was

people like them that Lennon and McCartney had in mind when they penned

the words “I get by with a little help from my friends”


We all know people who make genuinely extraordinary contributions to our

community – but I’m not sure we honour them as we should.  The Chair, Cllr

Millbank, Cllr Michael and I have looked at how we can change that and we

will shortly bring forward a proposal to create a citizenship award scheme that

will enable residents and councillors to nominate some of those amazing



I have to confess that the length of these speeches has increased over the

years but we are now at the end and while it's wonderful to be here, It's

certainly a thrill, You're such a lovely audience – I’m afraid I don’t really want

to take you home with me – so we’ll make do with a cup of tea and a bite to

eat outside in the Foyer once the remaining formal business in concluded.”


The meeting closed at 8.56pm

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