It is an honour to be elected as Leader of Southwark Council. I’m grateful to Southwark News for giving me this regular opportunity to speak to you about the work we’re doing across our borough.
I love Southwark. We have so much to be proud of. Fantastic parks, schools, libraries and town centres. Our council estates that provide affordable homes in the heart of one of the world’s most expensive cities. World-leading cultural institutions, businesses and hospitals. Above all the brilliant people who live and work here.
However, I also see the things we need to change. Across our country, and in Southwark, a growing number of people are struggling to get by. London’s broken housing market has left people on ordinary incomes struggling to find a home they can afford. A decade of austerity under this government and the coalition before it has taken vital resources out of our community.
As a Labour-run council, we have worked hard over the last decade to improve the lives of everyone in our borough. Helping thousands into jobs and apprenticeships. Improving our schools and care services. Building new and better council homes, and so much more. All in the face of continuing cuts to our budget. As Leader, I want to work with everyone in Southwark to keep building a better future and unlocking the amazing potential I see in every part of our community.
Never has that potential been clearer than during this pandemic. Seeing volunteers, frontline workers, public services, charities, faith groups and businesses all step up together has been truly inspiring. I want to thank you all for the part you have played. Your actions have shown incredible strength and resilience. We can all be proud of Southwark’s response.
Sadly the pandemic is far from over and our continued response to COVID-19 remains our top priority. Cases and hospital admissions are rising across London and much of the UK. The virus is spreading amongst all age groups, and we know it is not any milder than before. If action isn’t taken quickly, we risk seeing another dramatic rise in hospitalisations and, tragically, deaths.
I firmly believe that acting early, rather than having to impose more stringent measures later, is the right thing to do to save lives and jobs. The national test and trace system is simply not working well enough, with the number of tests provided in Southwark down 40 per cent last week. This leaves no choice but to look at other measures to slow the spread of the virus. So I welcome the additional restrictions that have been introduced this week and that’s why I have joined the Mayor of London in calling for further targeted restrictions to help keep us all safe. It’s vital that we all play our part by following the rules, so we can help save lives and avoid the need for a full lockdown later.
As a council, we will continue to play our part. We have moved fast to put our own local contract tracing system in place. This new service will use local expertise from across the council to follow up confirmed cases of COVID-19 with whom the NHS Test and Trace Programme has not been able to make contact. We will also continue to do all we can to support local residents and businesses through this difficult period, including supporting vulnerable residents who may need extra help.
Although COVID-19 is the most pressing and urgent issue we face, it is not our only challenge. The unequal impact of the pandemic on different communities has shone a light on wider inequalities and injustice in our society. My ambition as leader is to unite communities in Southwark so we can break down that inequality, and not just rebuild from the crisis, but build something better. A Southwark where everyone has a home, where everyone can get a decent job, where we end our carbon emissions and where everyone is empowered to make the best of their life.
COVID-19 has made this a very difficult year, but I am determined to stay ambitious for our borough and all who live here. I look forward to working with you to continue to build a better future for the people of Southwark.
Thank you and stay safe.