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Mayor's annual report

Read Damien Egan, Mayor of Lewisham's speech at our annual general meeting on 3 April 2019.

It’s amazing to think that it’s one year since last May’s council elections.

One year that I’ve been your Mayor.

One year since 15 new councillors joined our council, one year for all of us to figure out how we work best as a team, working together.

One year, too, for our community groups, our faith groups to get to know me better, get to know the new council better and build the historic relationships that this council values with its community sector.

And so it’s understandable that we look back on and review what we have done in the last year. But it is also important that we look ahead, always seeking to learn and to improve and to renew our sense of purpose.

Government cuts can make councils feel that they have fewer choices, less freedom and in many ways that is correct, of course it is, but we mustn’t under-estimate our power that we have, as an authority, and the power our community has to help our residents live their best lives.

And go today on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and no doubt other social media apps that I’ve never heard of. As you go through all the beautiful pictures of holiday selfies, the meals out, the loved up couples - you’ll see the hashtag ‘living my best life’. There are over 2 million tags on Instagram alone.

It’s become part of the zeitgeist of our time.

But it’s one that speaks to the same values of aspiration and ambition that every generation seeks and its one that the generations of political leaders through the ages have sought to get to grips with.

But how does it look today? If we take a hard, honest look at our borough, can we really say that our next generation are living their best life?

One of the fundamentals to living well and being happy is having security. When I look at my generation and generation below me, I can’t remember a time when we’ve ever been more anxious.

The rapid shift in wealth between the rich and poor means most people will have less, and their futures look more difficult.

Job insecurity, coupled with rising “flexibility”, and automation means many cannot think ahead in their careers in months, let alone years.

Housing insecurity means buying a home is a distant dream for most. The new norm is paying private landlords on insecure contracts, leaving you with no idea of how much you’ll be paying or where you will be living from one year to the next.

The hollowing out of our welfare system meaning that the safety net to pick you up and help you get back on your feet again isn’t a guarantee.

And this is all against a growing backdrop of increasing division within communities and rising hate crime. And the fear and anxiety caused by Brexit is adding to that insecurity.

So it isn’t alarmist to say that it is a scary time. And by no means does that anxiety rest only with young people. But we are living in an age where living standards are falling from one generation to the next. It is quite unprecedented in our lifetimes.

So what do we do? Against that depressing picture I’ve just painted?

As a council we were elected on a bold and radical platform to help our residents live their best lives today, and that’s what we’re doing.

The most important place to start is a renewed focus on education and the early years. We can be proud that our early years services in Lewisham are amongst the best in the country. Our primary schools are amongst the best in London. And now, we can also begin to feel that same pride in our secondary schools too.

After two inspections that said they Required Improvement, I was delighted to hear last week that Prendergast Ladywell received a ‘Good’ rating in their Ofsted inspection. This comes in what has been a positive year for our secondaries.

And it’s important, because we know our community haven’t always had confidence in our secondary schools. But our schools are changing that, and we are helping them.

Our schools are working together through the Lewisham Learning Partnership. At our conference in January, former Education Secretary Estelle Morris came to reiterate to us the importance of building a strong and high-performing Lewisham family of schools and that’s why in my Cabinet I have placed a strong focus on school performance.

Our young people have a mass of talent and potential. Spend just five minutes with the Young Mayor and his advisors, go to Lewisham Music, Lewisham Youth Theatre, any of our youth clubs and you’ll see that.

There is absolutely no reason why we should accept that young people from Lewisham schools could do any less well than young people from other parts of the capital.

And so we welcome the fact that things are improving.

  • The number of children who passed English and Maths GCSEs rose more than the national average in the last two years.
  • We’re moving up the London league tables.
  • Really importantly, there are signs too, that parents recognise the great work that our schools are doing and we have seen an increase in the number of parents making a Lewisham school their first choice for their children.

The rock solid foundations that a good education can give you, can open up the world.

But our support doesn’t end at the school gates.

Supporting a vibrant business base is vital to Lewisham’s future as a sustainable and modern borough.

I’d like to thank the organisations working with us through the Lewisham Deal - Goldsmith’s, the hospital trust, Lewisham College, Lewisham Homes and Phoenix Community Housing.

Working together with the Council on procurement, finding opportunities to support local suppliers and local businesses so we can retain more of the Lewisham pound in our community, supporting more local jobs.

Combined with our work on getting more businesses signed up to pay the London Living Wage, together we are making real differences. And as a Council we are leading by example.

I’m proud to say that since the election, 50 agency staff at Lewisham Council have been moved off of agency contracts and onto permanent Council contracts.

Changing lives for those people. Just one example from a young guy I met in the Planning team, he told me that after three years on agency, being on a permanent contract will make his life so much easier because he has found it difficult to rent a flat because private landlords wouldn’t take someone on who was a temp. Now 50 is great.

But my challenge to the Council is to get to 100 by the time that I’m stood here next year.

One of the programmes I’m most proud of is the Lewisham Mayor’s Apprenticeship programme.

I’m proud that we are expanding our offer to launch a further 250 high quality apprenticeships and we have now opened them out so that they are available to people of any age.

I met some of the apprentices recently and one story that touched me was that of a young woman called Tia.

Tia was working in security. She felt her job wasn’t going anywhere. She told me how she had received an email from the Council about the variety of apprenticeships we offer. She was always interested in gardening but wasn’t sure how to change her career. She applied to our scheme, and is now a horticulture apprentice at Beckenham Place Park. Tia is helping us to open up that beautiful park so it can be enjoyed by the whole community for years to come, and gaining recognised qualifications and skills in a job she loves and wants to continue her career in.

We alone won’t solve the crisis in our economy and the crisis in job insecurity. But if all councils followed Lewisham’s lead, imagine these stories being echoed all across the country. So to live your best life, education is important, and having a secure job is important.

But Housing is a fundamental human right. But a human right that this government has been happy to sacrifice. Insecurity of housing and rising costs means a whole generation have put up with years and years of house shares, years and years of moving around, when they really need a secure place of their own.

Housing was the key issue that our residents raised with us on the doorstep last May.

It’s easy to see why. There are over 10,000 families on the housing waiting list, 2,000 families in temporary accommodation and 600 families who will go home tonight to emergency hostels and bed and breakfasts.

At the heart of our new corporate strategy is a commitment to deliver 1,000 new social homes. The biggest social housing programme Lewisham has ever seen and in the coming weeks, we will be announcing the 28 different sites that will make up this new social housebuilding programme.

And we know that not everyone can get social housing, so we are building our own council-owned, private rented homes too. With German-style, long term contracts, with rent control, right here in Lewisham because renters need security too.

Now, building homes is hard. It takes time and we cannot do it alone. Private developers need to play their part too.

We’ve already seen an 11% increase in social housing in developer-led projects since the election. This is a step in the right direction but we need to go much further.

We want more social homes, yes, but we also need to clarify what a social home is, because trust me, developers have very different ideas.

So I thank Sadiq Khan for leading a consistent approach across London. Our social housing terms now match the GLA, match Shelter and support schemes that will not be one penny more than London Affordable Rent.

And in Lewisham, as is our way, we will go further.

Our social homes will include life-time tenancies and I would like to thank those housing associations who have already made the switch to life-time tenancies in Lewisham.

That is the type of leadership I want to see across all housing providers.

In housing, particularly at the sharp end, we are seeing the numbers of people who are street homeless also rise. You cannot walk in our city without literally seeing how this crisis has got worse.

A few weeks ago in the early hours of the morning I joined 20 volunteers who every couple of months go out at night to check the number of homeless people in our borough so we can understand who is sleeping rough and more importantly how we can best help them. That night I met 7 people who were street homeless. And what it really drove home to me, was just how reliant homeless people have become on the generosity of charities and community groups who try to give the support that government has taken away.

It is because of that rise in street homelessness that I was proud at the very beginning of my Mayoralty to make the 999 Club in Deptford my official Mayor’s charity. And over the last year I would like to thank everybody who has taken part in events from fundraising dinners to golf days, raising money at the panto and collecting at the shopping centre and even carol singing!

I’m proud to announce that in the last year, we have raised £12,000 for the 999 Club. On behalf of all of us, I’d like to thank the 999 Club for everything that they do in Lewisham and we know they will be able to put this to good use. It’s also a challenge for us because we’ll have to raise more next year!

So we are doing what we can in the most difficult of circumstances.

Next year, our budget will be £243 million a cut in real terms, from £420 million in 2010.

Cuts have hit all service areas of the Council.

One area hit hard by austerity has been youth services. We are proud that we will continue investing in a youth service in Lewisham, but we need more support in our young people from government.

Ironically, I received a letter from the Justice Minister, Edward Argar. The Minister had just visited our Youth Offending Service and wrote to say how impressed he was by, in his words, ‘the fantastic work that they do’. He highlighted the work the Youth Offending Service does to safeguard our young people and promote best practice with others.

He’s right, and so I wrote back to thank him for his visit and his kind words. I said we in Lewisham are always happy to offer services to other authorities who may need support. But I did have to question him on supporting a policy of austerity that cuts funding to preventative services that put young people in a Youth Offending Service in the first place.

We have seen dramatic cuts to Lewisham’s youth services, and to youth clubs across the capital and across the country. Cuts to the mental health services that young people can access, cuts to schools and a £1 billion cut to the Met Police. It really is a tragedy for our young people.

But despite this tough picture again, Lewisham is leading the way to help our young people live better lives. An approach that is now building across London. In June our new framework to tackle serious youth violence and knife crime using our public health approach will be launched and will feed directly into Sadiq Khan’s new Violence Reduction Unit.

We know this strategy cannot come from the Council alone. Central to our new approach is community dialogue

  • working together to deliver whole system change.
  • working together to share the insights that we have
  • working together to keep our young people safe.

Our Youth Offending Service is one of many examples where Lewisham excels in being quietly good. When I became a councillor, and even more so now, I’d always come across examples where we would demonstrate excellence but maybe didn’t always tell people about it.

We have a duty to talk up what we are doing, not just to our residents but importantly for those outside our borough boundaries who need to see the difference a bold and ambitious council can make.

Even when we are up against it, Lewisham pioneers new ideas to help people live their best life.

In public health this year we announced we will be the first council to ban junk food advertising.

With one in three children in Lewisham overweight we were the first London Borough to adopt the Sugar Smart programme. And now Lewisham Council leads the country with over 100 local businesses and restaurants signed up to reduce sugar.

Whether it’s in social care and the launching of our new publicly owned Homecare service to challenge private providers, we need to tell people about it.

We need to tell people about the success that we are having in our schools, the innovative solutions that we are finding to house our residents and those personal stories of the people benefitting from our apprenticeship programme and being given permanent contracts.

And we need to tell people that we have signed up to Unison’s Ethical Care Charter.

We hosted the first ever Eleanor Marx Schools Awards with the GMB, recognising inspiring young women who show a commitment to improving the lives of others here in Lewisham.

This year we published for the first time an annual Modern Slavery Transparency Statement.

Just last week we launched an overhaul of our parking policies with a focus on improving air quality.

We will charge people more for higher polluting vehicles.

But we will invest more in the work that we are doing to clean the air on our streets.

We need to tell people that we were awarded £37m by Sadiq Khan and the GLA to build more council housing and that comes on top of £2 million to plant trees across our borough, support the growth of our artistic and creative businesses and even now installing new drinking water fountains to reduce plastic waste.

All investment we have attracted because we are trusted to deliver ambitious plans.

We want our residents to live their best lives and enjoy living in Lewisham too.

We should be proud of the huge investment that is going into our green spaces.

The work in Beckenham Place Park that has seen visitor numbers double and a wild swimming pool to open for the summer which is going to be amazing.

Our green spaces and our parks were last month ranked best in London by ‘Parks for London’.

We have much to be proud of.

I’m very aware of how lucky we are as a Council to be building on such solid foundations. Particularly the last 16 years under my predecessor Steve Bullock.

In these years we have seen a lot of change in our borough:

  • Every secondary school in Lewisham rebuilt
  • Steve rebuilt or refurbished every leisure centre in the borough. And who can forget that Steve always opened a new swimming pool by getting his trunks on and having a swim for the cameras!
  • And, most importantly, in the good times, building up the council’s resources so that after nine years of austerity we are still able to make a difference today.

Alongside Steve, of course every step of the way was Kris Hibbert. And I’m sure Steve would say he wouldn’t have been able to do it without Kris, I know we would.

  • Kris was a pioneer helping set up the first local government committee on women’s issues anywhere in Britain, right here in Lewisham. We’ve had that pioneering tradition for a while!
  • Kris has also made an outstanding contribution to improving the life chances of so many young people in Lewisham. Giving up so much of her time as Vice Chair of the Lewisham School Governors Association. Kris has been a governor in Lewisham for 29 years.
  • And Kris also led our fundraising work for the Lavender Trust, the previous Mayor’s charity. Through Kris’s drive, determination and energy with her committees, that has led to Lewisham raising £225,000 to support younger women with breast cancer.

So I am delighted to announce both Steve and Kris will be awarded Freedom of the Borough of Lewisham later this year. The highest honour that we can bestow, and our way of saying thank you for the huge commitment that you both have personally made to our borough. Thank you.

One of the ways of working that is very much developed here locally and very much a Lewisham Way of working is a commitment to the community and our voluntary sector. And also ensuring Lewisham’s commitment to equality. Being committed to equalities is easy to say. But a commitment to equalities needs to be backed up by action.

We live in one of the most diverse places on the planet.

We need to do more to understand the adverse life chances that many in our community face. I am really excited that we have appointed two new Advisers to myself and the Council to reflect this challenge. Our two new advisers should be seen as a resource to support all of us.

So thank you Royston John and thank you Barbara Gray, we all look forward to working with you.

I want to thank Chris Best, my Deputy Mayor and all my Cabinet for all the hard work they’ve done this year and for all their support. I am delighted that Andre Bourne will be joining the team as our new Cabinet Member for Culture. I would like to thank Councillors for all their work in all those committee meetings this year, particularly our out-going Chairs, Pauline Morrison, Susan Wise, Suzannah Clark, Skip Amrani and Alan Hall.

I would also like to thank the staff at Lewisham at every single level. Doing an amazing job for us in the most difficult of circumstances.

And one area that we really need to say thank you to our community for, is the support we are receiving as we work to become a Sanctuary Borough for refugees, migrants and asylum seekers.

We are expecting the first of our 100 new refugee families to arrive by the summer.

Our values of celebrating our borough’s diversity and respecting all communities is something we are proud of, but we know are values that are facing challenge.

Personally, I worry too about the toxicity that is creeping into our society, that is creeping into our politics, promoted by the rise of fake, distorted and cynical news in the press, peddled through social media. We mustn’t lose our respect, our tolerance or our humanity for each other. When I speak about some of the challenges I’ve faced in the past year, people say 'well that’s politics, what do you expect?'. But politics doesn’t have to be combative and hostile. We can get on with the job we’ve been elected to do, work collaboratively, collegiately and challenge each other so that we can, together, achieve the ambitious programme we’re all committed to.

And so I thank those who are leading by example. Our local faith leaders. Despite all the challenges thrown at them, they continue to resist division, continue to come together, learning from one another, bringing communities together. Thank you all for your continued support, friendship and solidarity within our borough.

And so finally, as in the coming months we prepare to welcome our new generation of refugees, we also pay tribute to an inspirational woman who came to our country 80 years ago this year, on the Kindertransport.

Last year, Liane Segal became our Mayoress. Liane’s story, as a child refugee fleeing Nazi persecution, is sadly still relevant today as ever, and I thank Liane for all the work she has done this year, particularly her work supporting our refugee events. I know that her story has inspired Lewisham’s new refugees. Just as it inspired me when I met Liane, and just as it has inspires us all.

With hate crime, Islamophobia and antisemitism all on the rise in our country, Liane reminds us all we have more in common than divides us. I can’t think of a more fitting way to end my annual report than by showing again our appreciation for Liane.

Thank you.