RESTORE OUR WAR MEMORIALS
Something I think that Greenwich Borough can be most proud of is our contribution to Britain’s military forces; brave men and women who laid their lives on the line and fought to secure a better future for their countrymen and whose contribution to our nation’s glorious past has been deservedly recognised through war memorials in the borough. However, with the centenary of World War One already upon us, Greenwich’s war memorials have been subject to shameful neglect and many are in a dreadful state. This simply will not do.
I sat through a Remembrance Day sermon in 2008 where the Rev John Neal criticised the state of the Eltham war memorial. In 2012 and 2013 I wrote motions for Full Council making clear that it was vital that our war memorials were restored before the centenary of World War One. The Labour Councillors all agreed, but nothing has been done.
SAVE ROCHESTER WAY SOCIAL CLUB
A pressing issue which has been at the forefront of my mind and the mind of many of the people in the borough is the issue of Rochester Way Social Club, which Greenwich Council decided to close down earlier in the year.
The original decision to close down the club was an appalling thought-through one, as many people in the borough, particularly those of the older generation, depend on the club for their social life and indeed, the Rochester Way Social Club has for many years been a social hub for those in Eltham and prior to its closing, was an indispensable facility to the working class community in the borough.
A sustained campaign by residents to fight for the 100 year old social club came to the council meeting last week, where they were assured by Cllr Chris Kirby that “the future of the club needs to be viable and we need to engage with local residents as to what the future will be.” All well and good, but this council have talked the talk about engagement on previous issues but failed to walk the walk. Sadly, so it proved once again.
As soon as the campaigners had left the council chamber, Council Leader Denise Hyland, in response to a question I put to her on the subject of the club’s future, stated that the club “was not viable” and that the council’s intention “is to bring that forward into Social Housing.” That is to say, this Labour-led council told residents one thing and promised engagement and as soon as their backs were turned, showed their true colours and said the exact opposite.
Coming from a modest background myself, I know exactly how important social hubs like the Rochester Way Social Club are to working class communities and I find the hypocrisy, obfuscation and misrepresentation of the council deplorable. What really saddens me, however, is that this is far from an isolated incident of democratic deficit and a lack of concern for the interests of working class people from this Labour council.
Ordinary working class people who need social hubs like the Rochester Way Social Club and who need representatives who actually look out for their interests and who they can trust to say what they mean and mean what they say.
It’s sad, but people in this borough simply cannot trust this council to look out for them and to stick to their word- Labour have proved that time and time again. The people of Greenwich deserve better.
WE NEED BETTER SOCIAL HOUSING IN THE NORTH OF THE BOROUGH
Talking to people in Eltham, one of the top issues for them all year round, not just going into an election, is housing. I grew up in a council-owned house in Eltham myself and so know how important it is that comfortable, affordable social housing is available for all who need it.
The standard of social housing in this part of the borough is extremely poor, with many council-owned properties in damp and squalid conditions.
After the floods over Christmas 2013, some families in Eltham were having to live in spare accommodation eight months down the line, with some having to live out of their summer houses because of the Labour-led Greenwich Council's abject failure to take action. However, this is a problem that has pervaded for some time in Eltham.
Much of the social housing in Eltham is of very poor quality that simply is not fit for purpose, as evidenced by the Council's own forecasts in August 2014 predicting that the number of homes set to miss the Decent Homes Standard in April will rise further the following year.
This is simply not good enough; the bare minimum that families in Eltham deserve are comfortable and affordable homes to live in.
Instead, they have been let down by a Labour Council who have concentrated all their efforts in the north of the borough and neglected Eltham, while the local MP claims that Eltham “does not need” more housing. This is patently not true.
Eltham urgently needs more affordable social housing for young people who want to get on the housing ladder in the long term and this is something which I am very passionate about and have pressed the Council on.
If I am elected as Eltham's Member of Parliament, I will make affordable social housing a priority and make sure that it is available for all who need it.
I want to make sure that those brave men and women who served this country so gallantly are given the recognition they deserve and am calling on Greenwich Council to restore and update all war memorials in the borough. This restoration work wouldn’t be terribly expensive, but it needs to be done to a good standard and following my pressure a survey has been conducted of most war memorials so we know what needs to be done.
This is not a political campaign, it is about forcing the Council to act when everyone agrees that restoration is the right thing to do. I handed over a petition of over 500 signatures to the Council meeting at the start of November and that made a real point about how much our community cares about our war memorials, but there is much more work to be done, as the Council simply are not on the ball about this.
I think work must be done to make good any damage from weathering, aging and any other wear and tear over the years; secondly, the memorials should be updated to reflect the achievements of all those who have given their lives for Britain since the First World War.
Greenwich’s war memorials are a mark of the bravery, commitment and selflessness of the best of our past and it is shameful that the Labour council have allowed the memorials to deteriorate to this extent- something must be done to improve them ahead of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 2016.
GREENWICH BOROUGH NEEDS A GRAMMAR SCHOOL
Since 2010, 3,120 new apprenticeships have been created in the royal borough of Greenwich; with the national average doubled by this Government and youth employment falling 253,000 over the past year, the biggest fall since records began. Yet more can still be done to secure a better future for the young people of this borough and make sure that all young people have the best possible chance of getting the skills and opportunities they need to get ahead in the world of work.
Greenwich’s GCSE results exceeded expectations last year, with three quarters of students achieving A* to C grades in English and two third achieving the same in Mathematics. However, as a teacher of many years, I know that university is not for everyone and that is why the excellent work that this Government to boost the number of apprenticeships for is so important in making sure that all young people have access to all the opportunities they need to get on in life.
The Greenwich University Technical College is an institution which has achieved fantastic results, not only in helping young people gain good GCSEs in the core subjects, but also in helping young people build confidence in their own abilities and get the qualifications they need to give themselves the best possible start in life and I would to see more done to support it and help the UTC inspire further generations to reach their potential.
For young people who are academic and have ambitions of going to university, however, the big elephant in the room is Greenwich’s lack of a grammar school. Currently, there is a mad panic every spring as aspirational parents rush to the nearest grammar schools in Bexley and Bromley.
Even if their children are successful in getting a place at a grammar school in those areas, which is by no means easy (I saw a stat for a recent year that of the 4,500 students applying for a place at a Bexley grammar school just 1294 were deemed to be worth of consideration) that is an arduous commute every morning and a borough like Greenwich that has seen its GCSE results improve dramatically over the last couple of years has to be looking to strengthen its core educational base or risk dropping back to the low standards of results we seen in previous years.
The borough’s lack of a grammar school and this rush for grammar school places in neighbouring boroughs threatens to jeopardise all the good work that has been done to push up standards in Greenwich schools and is something which must be immediately addressed.
In order to achieve this, and secure a better future for young people of all backgrounds and abilities within the borough, the continuation of the excellent work this government has done to boost the number of internships for young people must be combined with serious consideration of the creation of a grammar school for young people in Greenwich and I urge the council to bear that latter point into mind as we look towards creating more opportunities in and out of the classroom to give young people in Greenwich the best possible start in adult life.
For more on this, check out my interview with the head teacher of Bexley Grammar school and hear firsthand about their importance.