Mayor's annual report
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Mayor's annual report

Read Damien Egan, Mayor of Lewisham's speech at our annual general meeting on 23 May 2018.

Working together

Thank you everyone for being here this evening for the first council meeting of this new administration, it's great to see our council chamber so full of friends and colleagues.

I am so proud to be standing here as your new Labour mayor of Lewisham.

And I am even prouder to be here alongside 54 newly elected Labour Party councillors.

I want to thank the people of Lewisham for putting your trust in us and for putting your trust in me to lead our borough. Our election result is testament to both our record in Lewisham and a clear mandate for the things we have set out to achieve in the next four years.

Fighting the election was made so much easier because of the record we were able to stand on. Steve Bullock achieved so much as our mayor over the last 16 years, including:

  • ensuring that every secondary school in Lewisham was rebuilt
  • creating the Young Mayor’s Programme, now in its 14th year. A programme that has now been rolled out in councils across the country and across the world, inspiring thousands of young people to get engaged in politics
  • investing in our green spaces so that Lewisham’s parks are among the best in the world with 15 Green Flag parks.

I'll let you into a little secret, Steve texted me earlier to send us his best wishes today – from a bar in Portugal! He is enjoying a very well deserved holiday and he promises he is here with us in spirit.

On behalf of all of us, thank you Steve and Kris Hibbert for everything you achieved for our borough. Personally I would like to thank you for all the support and guidance you have given me, including giving me the opportunity to serve as cabinet member for housing.

And while there will be more opportunities over the next year to formally thank Steve and reflect on his outstanding legacy, I would also like to assure you that Steve’s service to borough has not yet concluded.

When Steve was looking back on his time as leader he gave me one main observation:

He said, it’s much easier being a mayor with a Labour government than being a mayor with a Tory government.

And he knows that more than most, because he did eight years with both.

And my goodness don't we all here know the difference.

What this council has achieved since 2010 has been remarkable in the face of the savage cuts imposed on us. 

When I became a councillor eight years ago, none of us ever imagined that our budget would be cut from £400 million to just £230 million. And it's not over yet. Far from it. The Government now want to cut our budget by another £50 million pounds on top of everything we've already endured.

We see this impact not as numbers on a spreadsheet, but as having serious consequences in every service that we provide:

  • There are more children living in poverty, including those from working households. Lewisham has over four times the number of children living in poverty than in Richmond. 
  • The mental health of our residents falls well below the London average. Cuts to our mental health services mean that the growing number of adults in Lewisham that are suffering from mental ill health aren't getting the support they need.
  • We have seen a sharp increase in homelessness. When we go home tonight, we need to remember that over 500 Lewisham families will be going back to B&Bs and 2,000 families will be living in temporary accommodation – experiences that I promise you, those families will never forget. 

But we must never forget that even in the brutal reality of austerity, it is Labour councils that are making a difference by working together with our communities.

We provide beacons of hope, like:

  • approving the building of 500 new council houses, the first in Lewisham for a generation
  • joining the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Programme
  • becoming a living wage council
  • supporting our primary schools to remain good or outstanding
  • protecting every Sure Start Centre from closure when other councils have closed theirs
  • and created the award-winning pop-up village PLACE/Ladywell to provide desperately-needed homes for homeless families.

All these achievements were made in the last administration. And only possible because of the councillors who served over the last four years.

Our councillors give so much of their time, experience and commitment – and free evenings – working to protect Lewisham’s most vulnerable residents and to make our borough a better place.

And I would particularly like to take this opportunity to thank those councillors who are not serving in this new administration.

Between them, they gave us decades of experience. We will miss you. As a small token of our thanks I would like to ask those former councillors who are here today to come up as we would like to present you with a certificate recognising your service to Lewisham.

And of course we also remember our friend and colleague, Councillor Crada Onuegbu and also those former councillors that can't be here today:

Now we have a new generation of councillors, and we warmly welcome you. Thank you for taking up the challenge. I hope it's one you will find as rewarding as I have.

We know we have an incredibly difficult journey ahead of us.

The outlook might look bleak, and at times it will feel bleak, but as we’ve already seen there is so much we can do by working together.

But our council does need to change and build on what we've achieved. Our council today must do more to fight cuts.

Under my leadership, Lewisham will be a campaigning, anti-austerity council.

Challenging government cuts, finding creative and imaginative ways to articulate the real story of austerity in our communities, including using legal challenges against the Government when we believe they’re acting illegally – as we did in the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign.

We will stop using terms like savings and efficiencies when we’re talking about job losses and redundancies.

And we will be open about the cuts government is forcing us to make, we will be honest about the impact they’re really having.

Lewisham has a radical and pioneering history:

  • Labour MP for Deptford, Leslie Plummer, introduced the first Racial Discrimination Bill.
  • We set up the Women’s’ Rights Working Party – the first council in England and Wales to set up a committee that concentrated solely on supporting the rights of women in our council.
  • We set up the UK’s first self-build council housing project in the 1980s.

Being elected as Mayor of Lewisham, you naturally think of those people who have led our council in the past.

A common thread that has been fostered and developed in our borough, right back to at least Andy Hawkins in the early 1970s has been our proud tradition of working together, alongside local residents and local community groups.

And it’s great to see so many of those groups represented here today.

We like to call this way of working, the ‘Lewisham way'. We are lucky to have a diverse and dedicated voluntary and community sector. A community that has a strong sense of democracy, social solidarity and commitment to fairness.

And as we look ahead, I will ensure Lewisham Council continues to work with and values our voluntary and community sector, building on our traditions. We know that we work best when we're working together.

It was in this sense of collaboration that we worked together to write a manifesto in the election that set out a bold and radical vision for the next stage in Lewisham's story.

Working with over 500 local Labour Party members, scores of resident experts and community groups.

It was in this spirit that groups like:

  • the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign
  • Lewisham Refugees Network
  • Shelter
  • Lewisham Pensioners Forum
  • the National Education Union
  • Parents Engage
  • Lewisham Cyclists
  • Deptford Folk 
  • Lewisham Labour BAME Forum
  • RUSS Community Land Trust
  • the Lewisham Disability Coalition
  • and LGBT Lewisham

all collaborated in our manifesto creation process. We thank everyone who helped us build our community vision.

At the election I was proud to stand as a Labour and Co-operative Party candidate.

As we build a more co-operative council we will seek to empowerour community. And part of doing that means reviewing how our community can hold us to account and how decisions are made.

We will be launching a local democracy review which will have concluded in time for its recommendations to come to this AGM meeting next year.

I want us to have an honest and open look at our processes and ask ourselves, are they really working, and if not, let’s try another way.
 
The principles of the local democracy review will be to share more power.

I have made a start by bringing to you the changes in our constitution that will enable me to share more powers and to empower my cabinet.

We must also review how our cabinet can share power with all councillors.

And importantly, how we as a council share power with our community.

So there is much to do in the years ahead. Just over 100 commitments that we will deliver for the borough we love.

One of the personal pledges I have made is a commitment to electing more councillors from black, asian and minority ethnic communities. All parties should be committing to supporting the election of more BAME councillors and I will make it my mission through training, mentoring and through political pressure – that in four years’ time we are more reflective of the communities we represent.

We have of course, fantastic BAME role models in our council who inspire many through their leadership.

We welcome our new chief executive, Ian Thomas.

Ian – welcome to Lewisham. I am looking forward to working with you to shape the future we all want to see for our borough.

Thank you to Janet Senior who we are so grateful for serving as our acting chief executive for most of the last 12 months.

On a very personal note, I want to thank Councillor Janet Daby. It seems that you performed so well as my deputy mayor that we may be losing you to Parliament! Huge congratulations to you Janet on being selected as Labour’s candidate in the Lewisham East by-election. I can't wait to get out on the doorstep to campaign for you.

Earlier today we appointed a new deputy mayor and I am proud that it is Councillor Chris Best.

Chris is our longest-serving councillor and has a depth of knowledge that is already proving invaluable to me and the rest of the team.

Alongside Chris I want to welcome back into the cabinet Councillors Kevin Bonavia and Joe Dromey, as well as welcoming a number of new faces:

Councillors:

  • Amanda de Ryk
  • Paul Bell
  • Joani Reid
  • Chris Barnham
  • Brenda Dacres
  • Sophie McGeevor
  • and Jonathan Slater.

Welcome to you all.

We also have other new council appointments.

Congratulations to all our chairs of scrutiny committees:

  • to Councillor Bill Brown our new Chair of Overview and Scrutiny
  • to Councillor Joan Millbank our new Chair of Labour Group
  • to Councillor Andre Bourne our Vice Chair of Council.

And to Councillor Jacq Paschoud, our new chair of council. I look forward to working with you. Just as I have big shoes to fill following Steve, so does Jacq.

Jimi Adefiranye – I think we will all agree was an excellent chair of council not just in these meetings but also as a champion for Lewisham over the past seven years. We have this gift for you and Sandra, it's a photo album of your best bits as our chair of council. Jimi please come to the front.

There are some other important people here today I would like to thank.

My mum and sister Roxanne are here with us tonight. My little sister Jasmine is doing her GCSEs which she decided were more important than sitting there listening to me – although I assume she's watching us on the webcast!

My family have been with my every step of way, supporting me and I really wouldn't be in this position now were it not for all your hard work too. I cannot thank you enough for everything you do for me.

I would like to introduce you all to Liane Segal, my mayoress.

I should say that of all announcements I have made over the past few weeks, the appointment of Liane as mayoress of Lewisham has seen the most interest on social media and I've had so many positive messages. Liane – my Facebook has been buzzing – I’ve never been so popular!

Over the coming year councillors will have the opportunity to hear Liane's story as she tours the borough at events and continues her work in local schools.

Liane will be a powerful ambassador for our borough at a time when it feels like the world has become less tolerant and moreprejudiced. Reports of anti-aemitism, racism, islamophobia and hate crimes are all on the rise. Liane's story as a child refugee on the Kindertransport fleeing Nazi Germany should remind us all what happens when hate is left to go unchallenged.

Liane – we are all privileged and honoured that you will be representing us this year and we're all looking forward to working with you. I will now come up to present Liane with her official badge of office and install you as the mayoress of Lewisham.

Liane's story is still as relevant today as it was all those years ago. Refugees have not been consigned to history. Today over 20 million people worldwide have been made refugees, many fleeing war and conflict.

But by working together, with our local community, we have been able to welcome 15 refugee families into our borough from Syria and from Iraq.

Over the next four years, working together with our community, our target is to welcome a further 100 refugee families into Lewisham as we become a sanctuary borough for migrants and London's lead borough in refugee resettlement.

Even in times of austerity, Lewisham is showing that by working together we can make a difference.

And that goes across all the services that we provide.

In education, Lewisham has the best early years education in the country and we have amongst the best primary schools in London, so we know we need to work together with our school heads, teachers, governors, teaching unions and parents to improve our secondary schools too.

In housing, our record is one to be proud of. But we have to work together to achieve much more. We have promised 1,000 new social homes, four new pop-up developments for homeless families like PLACE/Ladywell, and a borough-wide landlord licensing scheme for private renters.

In health, we will be working together to resist any attempts to close Lewisham A&E or downgrade our hospital, and will be working hard to protect our home care staff by signing UNISON's Ethical Care Charter. Most of all we will be fighting to protect social care budgets which we know are going to be placed under huge pressure from government cuts.

On community safety, at a time of growing and heartbreaking violence on our streets, we will work together with the police, our hospitals and our mental health services to develop a new public health approach to youth violence.

On jobs and skills, we live in the wealthiest city in Europe but we know that wealth is not fairly distributed. By working together with local employers we will double the number of living wage employers in Lewisham, and expand our apprenticeship programme offering our young people a route into the jobs and opportunities our city has to offer.

On the environment, we will work together with local community groups, establishing a new Greening Fund to enhance our green spaces, paid for by a levy on private developers. We will clean our air by making it easier to cycle in the borough and build a new segregated cycle superhighway connecting Downham to Deptford.

We have much to do. We have set out an ambitious, radical, left agenda.

I want Lewisham to be leading the way. A pioneering borough once again. A borough that others look to follow.

Most of all I want to lead a borough that promotes fairness, promotes equality, fights to protect our diversity and works together to put our communities at the heart of everything we do.

We have a lot to do.

Let's get to work.

Thank you.