Council Assembly report—Local business, cycle safety and dodgy investments

Yesterday evening (Wed 27 Nov), councillors in Southwark met for November's Council Assembly, on the theme of Local Business and Enterprise.

colourlogoThe meeting started on a solemn note with a minute's silence for three recent deaths: Richard Muzira, the cyclist killed in Camberwell recently; Grace Jones, the oldest resident of Southwark (and Britain); and Lesley Hammond, Greater London Council member for Dulwich 1981-1986.

Public deputations from local groups were then heard, beginning with BBI UK talking to councillors about their ambition to help budding entrepreneurs. This was followed by Latin American Business in Southwark, who made a strong case for a Latin American Quarter to be part of the regeneration of Elephant & Castle, and finally the Tower Bridge Road Alliance on their work to create a successful business community group their area.

Themed debate

The themed debate began with the Cabinet Member for Economic Wellbeing speaking about what the council has done to support people into work.

Cllr Adele Morris then responded for the Liberal Democrats, outlining our vision to boost the local economy, create jobs and support small businesses. She also made reference to a local shop in her own ward of Cathedrals, which says it has seen its profits drop by 80% since a chain supermarket moved across the road.

Photo: Creative Commons license

A Conservative councillor then spoke about Small Business Saturday, before the main Liberal Democrat motion proposing large supermarkets are charged a levy of up to 8.5% to level the playing field for smaller shops and put money back into local high streets. Unfortunately this was voted against by Labour, who were worried about its effect on big businesses in the area. They argued that such a levy could only be done on a London-wide basis - effectively kicking the issue into the long grass.

There was also some debate on payday loan shops, bookmakers and pawnbrokers. The Liberal Democrats proposed that the council looks into giving business rate discounts where appropriate to encourage mixed high streets, and the council has agreed to do this.

Members' questions

Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Anood Al-Samerai opened up Members' Questions with an urgent question on cycle safety, in reference to the recent deaths of cyclists in Camberwell and across London. She pushed the council to look at installing segregated cycle lanes on main roads.

Amongst other questions, Cllr Adele Morris asked the Leader of the Council whether he would consider investing some of the staff pension fund into new homes in the borough, as the Liberal Democrats have pledged to do. Labour first said they would consider it, then said they opposed it - leading to Cllr Morris to accuse them of being confused over the issue!

Other debate

Following members questions, a debate was put forward on The Blue marketplace in Bermondsey. Cllr Paul Kyriacou spoke for the Liberal Democrats as a local ward councillor who has had years of involvement in the area. This was followed by Cllr Nick Stanton, who said marketplaces like The Blue need "long-term nurturing, investment and care".

Councillor Paul Kyriacou

When this debate was over, a few minutes remained for the final debate of the night on a Liberal Democrat motion about ending the council'scontroversial investments in tobacco firms and the arms trade. A powerful speech from Cllr David Noakes, who has been leading the campaign to end the dodgy practice, including reading out a line from an Evening Standard article in 2010 in which the Cabinet Member for Resources & Finance said he would deal with the issue soon. Three and a half years without action now looks like "dither and delay", said Cllr Noakes.

The evening finished with council reports, including a controversial Area Action Plan for Canada Water which divided councillors. Voicing fears previously raised at planning committee, the Liberal Democrat group voted against the plan, which nonetheless went through because of the Labour group's backing.

  • Southwark Council's next Council Assembly meeting is on Wed 22 January 2014 (Theme: Active Communities and the Elderly)

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