Best wishes for 2014 from the Southwark Liberal Democrats' team!
We thought this would be a good time to reflect on some of the key campaigns and issues in Southwark throughout 2013. So below is a snapshot of some of the actions taken and victories won by Liberal Democrat councillors in Southwark.
With local elections in May, 2014 is set to be even more eventful...
- We exposed Labour waste at the council by finding out through a council question that it had spent £11,000 on plastic cups in just two years. Put end to end, the 637,000 cups would stretch from Southwark to Southend!
- We warmly welcomed the injection of £21m government cash into the borough for public health projects - but told the council it needed to review its priorities for what the money is spent on. The council is choosing not to prioritise sexual health and drug addiction, two of the biggest health issues in the borough.
- We put forward a costed plan to limit Council Tax Support cuts for low-income households, using a combination of extra income from council tax on second homes and government grant. Unfortunately our proposals were rejected by all Labour councillors, who chose to pass on the full cut. The decision resulted in thousands of low-income residents being hauled to court later in the year when they fell into council tax arrears.
- We also kept up pressure on the council about the botched regeneration of the Heygate estate after the Masterplan was passed by its planning committee. We said the legacy of the project must not be local people getting ripped off, and vowed to continue to be on the side of residents over developers.
- Poorly thought-out plans for a new bail hostel in Bermondsey came to light, which were immediately challenged by local Liberal Democrat councillors and nearby residents. After weeks of anger and confusion - and a local campaign against the proposals - the council finally backed down in May, admitting it was the wrong site after all.
- Fallen war heroes from Southwark will be honoured by having a street named after them, following a suggestion put forward by Liberal Democrat councillor for Chaucer ward Poddy Clark. It gained the agreement of the leader of the council after Cllr Clark wrote to him about the idea.
- Labour councillors were left red-faced after voting to cut an official Council Assembly meeting short so they could get to a drinks reception for the new Labour Mayor. Liberal Democrat councillor Lisa Rajan said all councillors had a duty to get value for money, adding, "Cutting public meetings short so councillors to go a swanky drinks reception is ridiculous and a complete waste of taxpayer cash," she said.
- We called for the council to stop the dither and delay over the future of Elephant & Castle shopping centre and consider using a Compulsory Purchase Order to force the owners to get on with building a new centre. The shopping centre was eventually sold to new owners in December, who gave a promise to demolish the old centre and rebuild a brand new one.
- Liberal Democrat campaigners - including councillors, London Assembly members and Simon Hughes MP - voiced opposition to the Tory Mayor of London's cuts to local fire services, which eventually resulted in Southwark Fire Station being closed down.
- At June's Council Assembly meeting, Southwark Liberal Democrats called for a cross-party working group to be set up to assess the impact of welfare reform and benefit changes on residents in the borough. The idea went to a vote but was rejected by Labour councillors.
- Our research on childcare costs in Southwark - showing that childcare could be more expensive than sending a child to private school - was reported in a feature article in the Southwark News. We also held a focus group with local parents, discussing new ideas to cut the cost of childcare and make it easier for Mums and Dads to find out what help they are entitled to.
- Liberal Democrat Education Minister David Laws MP visited East Dulwich to talk to local parents and councillors about new schools. It followed a campaign by Liberal Democrat councillors in East Dulwich for a new school in the area to help address the growing shortage of school places.
- Southwark Liberal Democrats urged residents to have their say on plans to extend the Northern Line, which is set to cause huge disruption to people living around Kennington Park. It remains an ongoing campaign issue for Liberal Democrat council candidates in Newington ward.
- We slated Southwark Council as 'out of touch' for its decision to keep key Heygate estate regeneration documents secret despite an official ruling that they should be published. The council is now spending thousands of pounds on legal fees to keep the viability information under wraps.
- We announced that a Liberal Democrat-run Southwark Council would invest in new homes using the council's pension fund, rather than investing in tobacco as is currently the case. This would help ease the local housing shortage at the same time as making strong financial returns for the staff pension pot.
- At the Liberal Democrat's national annual conference, Southwark Liberal Democrats made the case for new taxes to be introduced for foreign property investors to help prevent them buying up new flats and leaving them empty. It was on the back of the 'Homes Not Investments' campaign already launched by Simon Hughes MP.
- Liberal Democrat conference also saw the announcement that the Coalition Government would fund free school meals for all infant school children. We welcomed the news, and gave a "cast iron guarantee" that Liberal Democrats would retain free school meals for all primary school children in the borough if we win control of the council in 2014.
- Liberal Democrat councillors dressed up in green to call for Southwark Council to go carbon neutralby 2018, reducing energy use in schools, libraries and other council buildings. The proposal was rejected by Labour councillors who voted against the idea at Council Assembly.
- We highlighted new figures showing that Southwark is now the second worst area in the country for fly-tipping, with the number of reported cases of dumped rubbish more than doubling in just a few years. We said the council needs to reverse cuts to street cleaning budgets and get tough by prosecuting repeat fly-tippers.
- A roundtable with local businesses was held, hosted by Simon Hughes MP, where we discussed issues affecting firms in Southwark and how they could better be supported by the council, central government and City Hall.
- Research by Liberal Democrat councillors exposed the fact that the council had only used £52,000 of its £700,000 supposed 'welfare hardship fund', with the rest sitting unspent in the council's bank account. This was despite thousands of low-income residents being taken to court for council tax arrears.
- Our 'Wireless Southwark' campaign for free public WiFi in the borough was launched by Tower Bridge with Cllr Anood Al-Samerai and Simon Hughes MP. If Liberal Democrats win control of the council in 2014, free public WiFi will be rolled out along the riverside and in town centres.
- We uncovered the fact that Southwark Council hasnot spent a single penny of the £100,000 High Street Innovation Fund given by the Government after EIGHTEEN MONTHS sitting in the council's bank account. This is despite small local firms trading on high streets and markets feeling the squeeze.
- Along with local Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes, we launched our 'Five Point Plan' for business and enterprise in the borough at a meeting on the Old Kent Road with Dragon's Den TV star Theo Paphitis. Theo Paphitis gave a rousing speech about the need to support small shops, saying our Five Point Plan was "spot on"!
- We won a huge victory when the council finally caved in on tobacco investment after a hard-fought campaign by Cathedrals ward Liberal Democrat councillor David Noakes. After months of saying that investing council pension funds into tobacco firms wasn't an issue for the council's leadership, the leader of the council finally admitted there was a problem and said pension fund holders will be asked if they want to bring an end to unethical investments.
- Southwark Liberal Democrats organised and hosted a well-attended Southwark Cycling Summit for local bike riders to discuss road safety and facilities for cyclists. The event was held only weeks after a spate of tragic cycling accidents on London's roads, including the death of local resident Richard Muzira in Camberwell.
- The event went hand-in-hand with the publication of a new Southwark Cycling Vision, which calls for segregated cycle lanes on all main roads and the installation of hundreds of new cycle stands across the borough.
- Southwark Park Athletics Track is set to re-open after a petition by local Liberal Democrats to restore it to its former glory. Funds are now being made available by the council and other sources for a full refurbishment of the track and changing rooms.