David Cameron’s local council gets funding increase whilst Lewisham gets huge cut

Yesterday’s local government settlement confirmed the funding Lewisham Council will receive over the next two years. We will see an additional £30m cut in our ‘spending power’ by 2016.

This cut does not come as a surprise. We are preparing to find savings of more than £85m over the next four years, on top of the £86m we have already been forced to make.

However, this pain isn’t been felt in every council in the country. David Cameron’s county council, Oxfordshire, will see its funding increase by £2.23m. Cheshire East, George Osborne’s local council, will see a rise of £2.64m. And Brentwood council, in Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles’ constituency, receives an increase of £0.1m.

 council cuts

 The increases to these three local councils are relatively small. But they are hugely significant when compared to the cuts we’re facing here in Lewisham. Government Ministers are deliberately cutting funding in poorer areas right across the country whilst protecting councils in their own back yards. It is deeply unfair and means that their constituents are being protected from the worst of their austerity measures.

The top Primary School in London!

Congratulations to Grinling Gibbons Primary School in Deptford, unveiled as the top Primary School in London earlier today. Official figures from the Department of Education show that 100% of children achieve level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths, and an incredible 86% of children are achieving level 5 in those subjects.

But it is not just Grinling Gibbons performing well. I’m pleased to say that Lewisham’s primary schools are the 4th best in the country in getting children to level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths. 83% of our children achieve this level which gives them a great platform to go on and achieve in secondary school.

Thanks to all the staff and governors at those schools whose hard work made that possible.

Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir bid for Christmas No 1

The Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir have launched a charity single, ‘A Bridge Over you, and hope to get to No 1 in time for Christmas. The Choir came together for the BBC Series Sing While you Work with Gareth Malone OBE and have been performing together ever since. You can find out more about them (and buy their single!) on their website.

Building new homes in Lewisham

 The next stage of the Council’s house building programme was agreed at last week’s Mayor and Cabinet.  The latest plans are for the development of a further 94 new council homes on six identified plots of underused council land in New Cross, Blackheath and Forest Hill. These will contribute to the target of  250 new homes to be built by 2017 agreed earlier this year.

I am hopeful that we will be able to build many more than 250 – we have identified enough land to build almost 600 – but we will need to make the finances work. In the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor announced that he will raise the local government housing borrowing cap by £300m, something which I have argued for regularly over the last few years. I will ensure that Lewisham are able to access a share of this additional borrowing allowing us to deliver more homes.

To maximise the number of homes we can build, we are also considering building homes that could be sold on the open market. We would use the profits to cross-subside the development of many more genuinely affordable homes. The figures to support this are quite dramatic. For example, a programme for the construction of 300 homes for social rent would cost the same as a programme for the construction of 370 social rented homes and 90 homes for private sale, giving a total 460 desperately needed new homes in Lewisham. We will need to look at this in more detail but I am hopeful it will lead to a much larger development programme.

We will break ground on the first new council homes in the new year and I am looking forward to visiting the site as they are built. Because we are building them ourselves we are able use local contractors who pay the living wage and employ apprentices, ensuring the benefits of the development remain local.

As I have said before, London is in the midst of a housing crisis. The homes we are building are just a small element of what we need to do to solve the problem. We must continue to work alongside private developers and housing associations to build homes for sale and rent in increasing numbers. The Mayor of London last week set a target to build 42,000 new homes a year for the next decade. We currently build around 20,000 homes a year in London and doubling this number will be a huge challenge. But the 42,000 figure should be seen as a minimum – London Councils estimate we need many more than that to meet London’s growing housing need.

Nelson Mandela

When the history books are written centuries from now there will be three names from the 20th century held up as the greatest statesmen of that era – Sir Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Nelson Mandela.  And of those three it will be Mandela who stands out as a colossus, a secular saint – a man who freed his own people and gave hope to the world.

Those of us who have been alive at the same time as Nelson Mandela are blessed.  We know the heights a human being can reach, we know that bitterness, anger and violence can be trumped by forgiveness, humility and love.

Yet the man who did that was also one of the strongest men this earth has known – strong enough to endure the prison years and strong enough to carry the hopes of a continent on his back.

A man hugely skilled in the art of politics and who offered not just idealism but the ability to lead his divided country through a time of great risk to become a nation that could takes its place among the family of nations once more.

We all in our own ways hope that our epitaph will be that we made the world a better place for our families, our communities even our nations – Nelson Mandela made the world a better place for every last inhabitant of our planet.

Whatever we believe, whatever our faith I am sure we all sense this was a man whose soul will live on, the flames of hope and inspiration that he lit will burn on through the years and at times of great darkness and fear they will help us to turn again towards the light and know that things can change for the better.

The day Nelson Mandela walked to freedom was a day that changed our world – tonight Nelson Mandela is free again, free of all earthly cares, free to go on changing our world for the better for as long as we remember him.

Steve Bullock