There is a true housing crisis in our local area and truly comprehensive action is needed – house prices and private sector rents are soaring, and there are thousands on the waiting list for social housing. For too long, too few housing has been built and the rise of the private rented sector requires government to ensure a fairer deal for people who rent.
Brixton is changing because of the cost of housing. More affluent people are moving in, and many who grew up in Brixton are moving out to the suburbs, for bigger housing or a different kind of life. Brixton has always been a welcoming and accepting place, but it should not become one where people are closed off from this community because they cannot afford to live here.
I believe that it is action on housing that is one of the key differences between a Labour and Conservative government. We will give private renters a fairer deal, with stable three-year tenancies, a ceiling on excessive rent rises, and a ban on rip-off letting agent fees. This will be matched by action to drive up standards, tackle poor energy efficiency and crack down on rogue landlords.
Lambeth council’s pledge to build 1000 additional council homes is showing now how Labour can lead the way on building more council housing. Labour will ensure we will build more housing across our country. Though developments that build more council housing will be opposed out of hand by some, I and Labour will side with the 21,000 households on Lambeth council’s waiting list rather than backing only those who already own their home.
A Labour government will oversee the biggest house building programme for a generation, building at least 200,000 home a year by the end of the Parliament, on course to start the building of one million new homes. We will make sure that they are advertised locally first, and our plans mean that first time buyers who have lived in an area for more than three years get ‘first call’ on up to half of the homes built there.
2. Local business
There is a wealth of things we can do to support businesses our area. From simply showing our support and making an effort to shop locally, to making sure that the resources are in place to assist people in our area starting up their own business and expanding them, to making the smart choices about whether you prioritise small or large businesses when it comes to tax.
I instigated Small Business Saturday in the UK, and it’s great that through events like that we can all show our support for local businesses. I am also pleased with what the council has done in setting up the Brixton hub for start ups and other businesses in the basement of the Town Hall, and that I have been able to work in my time as a local MP to link up businesses with people who can help them export. An area like ours with a high Diaspora population has fantastic opportunities to trade around the world and working with UKTI, small business organisations, bigger private companies to try and help small businesses do this has been great.
I think small businesses need different things from government in some ways than large businesses. A Labour government will cut business rates on 1.5 million business properties instead of going ahead with the government’s further corporation tax cut which only helps a small proportion of Britain’s firms. On developments, I believe that we should have a greater say locally over the type of retail mix that’s on offer. For all their talk of localism (remember that?) I don’t believe they ever delivered the kind of say that people in our area need to have in order to help keep Brixton Brixton. Look at the campaign on the Brixton Arches, where I am insisting help be given to some of our longest established businesses and to keep the character of those arches. I am one of many who grew up going to those shops and think they are part and parcel of Brixton.
Education is one of my biggest passions. The future life chances of young people growing up in this area depend upon the education that is provided. During my time as the local MP, I visited our local schools more than 120 times, and our local teachers – and students – are working incredibly hard to make sure that young people from this area have a great start in life. Parents are too; I’ve lost count of the number of school fares and other events that I’ve been to, but they show the dedicated communities that support local schools and the hard work that goes into that.
I am proud of what Labour did for our local schools whilst it was in office. And that we opened nine new Sure Start Children’s Centres in the constituency during our time in office. We also oversaw an 80% rise in the number of local students going to university. Anybody who tells you that the financial crisis happened because Labour spent to much on schools and children’s centres is wrong. Labour didn’t get everything right – as a governor of a local primary school I saw the practical burden of too frequent changes in policy – but overall I believe very strongly that Labour did a great deal to support local schools and local education.
I disagree with much of what this government have done. They have focused resources on a small number of Free Schools without considering where that resource is needed. The new Trinity Free School in Brixton was a poor use of a multi-million pound investment into our area. Less than 20 students attended the school when it opened. If re-elected I will of course support the students there, but we will end the flawed free Schools programme and instead prioritise new schools where there are shortages of school places. We will also protect the entire education budget, from the early years to 19, so that it rises in line with inflation every year.
Unlike a Labour government, the Conservatives will not protect the education budget. Their spending plans will see spending on schools cut in real terms. We will also see more unqualified teachers. If the number of unqualified teachers continues to rise at the current rate, then nearly 50,000 unqualified teachers could be working in our country’s schools by 2020. The number of teachers leaving the profession is at a ten year-high, and the Conservatives will not address that point. Labour will.
At the last election, local Liberal Democrats campaigned on the premise that they would get rid of tuition fees. They betrayed that promise, and it has since been reported that Nick Clegg never believed that promise would be met in the first place. What the Liberal Democrats did demonstrated the danger of a Party that promises the earth but fails to deliver. It has led to a massive loss of trust, and it is an error that Labour will not make. As Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, I have responsibility within the Labour Shadow Cabinet for universities – if we are elected to government in May we will cut tuition fees to £6,000.
Too often under this government the 50 per cent of young people who don’t go to university have too often been forgotten. We will transform vocational education, introducing a new gold-standard ‘Technical Baccalaureate’ in schools and colleges for 16 to 18 year-olds, with rigorous vocational qualifications accredited by employers, a high-quality work placement and English and maths to 18. We will reform and strengthen careers advice so that young people can make informed choices about their future and understand how to access apprenticeships and university. Our young people deserve the best start in life.
Ours is one of the very best areas in the world, let alone London. We should be a magnet for leisure and cultural opportunities. I am proud that we now have the Black Cultural Archives on Windrush Square, and proud of the new leisure facilities that Labour has managed to secure locally, like the Streatham Hub in the south of the constituency. There also brilliant charitable initiatives, like the Cherry Groce Foundation, which I want to see supported so that those who are disabled can access the same cultural opportunities as other Londoners.
I talk a lot about the need for us to make sure that more local people are getting into high-quality, high-pay jobs, and I believe that the creative industries could be a great way to do that in Brixton and Lambeth. The creative industries are worth more than £36 billion a year, generate £70,000 every minute for the UK economy and employ 1.5 million people in the UK. Brixton is a huge cultural hub, why should local people not reap the economic benefits of that? I believe that we can and will if the right support is put in place.
I also believe very strongly that every child should have the right to a creative education. Labour will do this by building the need for a creative education into Ofsted inspection and we will encourage after-school clubs to offer music, drama, dance, art, sport or other creative activities. We will guarantee that our national galleries and museums continue to offer free admission, and we will encourage the Arts Council to use its grants programme to help organisations increase the number of activities they offer young people. Labour will have a race equality strategy that encompasses every area of government, because we believe that inequality in any area because of race, creed, colour, or background is wrong. We will make sure that the arts are open to all and that everyone benefits from that as a result.
There needs to be action to improve the quality of the air we breathe. I’ve lived here all my life, and it’s easy to think it is normal, but it is not. More than 3,000 in London die prematurely because of poor air quality. We need to do an incredible amount to sort this. The quick fixes and quick promises I could offer will not suffice. We need sustained action, and we can’t leave it to central government alone.
At the moment, central government makes local government pay the cost of EU fines for poor air quality, but it hoards the powers to address it from local authorities. I believe and have consistently argued that Britain is stronger as a member of the EU, not least because of the capacity it has to address issues of the environment, but I also believe that power should reside at the lowest level possible. In Britain, that means pushing power away from central government – on air pollution. At the moment, local government has the responsibility (it’s local not central government that pays EU fines) but it doesn’t have the power to take sustained action.
Pushing down responsibility without pushing down power is merely seeking to shift blame. This Conservative and Liberal Democrat government has in my view sought to address air pollution as though it were a problem of EU red tape. It is not. It’s a problem that affects the health and wellbeing of people in our area like ours, and if I am re-elected and we have a Labour government you will get sustained action to tackle it, at an EU, national and local level, day in and day out.