This issue of Lambeth Life is very special to me as it sees in my first term as Mayor of Lambeth. However, it also comes at the most crucial and challenging time for our country, our city, and our borough. While we are living with the omnipresent uncertainty of Brexit, we are also dealing with the daily reality of knife crime on the streets of London. I want to use this opportunity to draw attention to these issues facing our community and to present my vision for a Lambeth which takes a progressive and proactive approach toward them.
I’m proud to say my family and I made up a few of the estimated one million people who marched to show our support for the EU – and a People’s Vote to stay in the bloc – in March.
The consequences of leaving the EU would be bad under any administration. Thanks to the slow-motion crisis which has engulfed Parliament over the past months, however, there is now a risk they will be downright catastrophic for our economy, our country and our values. This is even more the case if Britain crashes out without a deal.
In Lambeth, the borough I am proud to have served as councillor and now as mayor, the consequences of Brexit – never mind a no-deal scenario – could be severe.
Of course, as elected representatives, we are working every day to defend jobs and our community ethos from Brexit, as well as campaigning for the vote that is thirsted for by millions of London residents.
In the meantime, however, my council has published research showing the potential impact locally of leaving the world’s largest trading bloc.
At the time of writing, little has changed in Lambeth. It is a borough loved by the people who live here and adored by all those who visit – they know it is an open and cosmopolitan community. Workers have travelled from all four corners of the globe to live here.
There are signs, however, that life in Lambeth has already subtly changed in the nearly three years since the EU referendum:
• Inflation is pushing up prices in shops, hitting south Londoners’ spending power, while the local authority’s ability to generate revenue is under pressure.
• Falling migration from the rest of the EU is affecting employment, the capacity to grow for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the sense of community.
As a restauranteur, I see every day the skills, dedication and work ethos brought to Lambeth by migrants from across Europe. People running other types of business, from corner shops to corporates, often tell me they have witnessed the same.
Lambeth is still a great place to live, work, eat and have fun but it is clear to me how the borough has been able to thrive because of the EU rather than in spite of it.
As such, the economic and cultural impact of the bloc is entwined with our borough. To pick just a few examples:
• Some 42,500 Lambeth residents were born in EU nations other than Britain.
• There are around 7,000 people each from Portugal and Poland living in our borough, as well as thousands more from Ireland, France, Italy and Germany and Spain. There are also smaller numbers from Lithuania, Romania and Turkey and Kurdish regions.
• Key sectors such as health, business admin, science and food and accommodation rely on EU workers to staff their businesses.
• Other sectors in which the council is seeking to grow, such as digital and the creative industries, also have a high proportion of EU workers.
• While eight per cent of the current UK construction workforce comes from the EU, on some Lambeth contracts this figure is up to 60 per cent. A shortfall of workers in one industry today could put at risk the houses of our residents tomorrow.
And you can add to all of this the £581m received by London over six years from the EU’s programmes to support small businesses and those people furthest from the labour market.
There is now a clear case for exploring ideas beyond the Prime Minister’s deal which has repeatedly been rejected by Parliament. I want to see a confirmatory public vote on any final deal. Brexit must be delayed – and I hope it can ultimately be averted. Lambeth and London will always have the potential to succeed – but let’s hold a People’s Vote to save this borough, our capital city and our country from an act of national self-harm.
No Londoner – or indeed, anyone living in Britain – can claim to be unaffected by knife crime.
Those who have died in this type of brutal assault are, of course, the people whose names we see wreathed in sadness almost every week in our newspapers.
Some 285 people were killed by a knife or sharp instrument in 2017/18 – the highest number since records began. Every one of these victims is a story of a life lost, the potential to achieve stolen and of immeasurable grief inflicted on friends and family.
And it is London, sadly, that has captured the greatest share of the headlines, with 14,769 crimes involving knives recorded here in 2017/18.
It is a grim phenomenon and one that affects all of us beyond the immediate victims. Knife crime changes the way we live, how we judge individual threats and sometimes even the decisions we make on the places we feel comfortable to go to when travelling on our own.
The causes are too many to be considered in detail here and have already filled countless books and pamphlets from groups as varied as academics, police chiefs, MPs or councillors, of which I am one.
Issues such as poverty, drugs, gang culture, and education and life opportunities have all been legitimately advanced to explain why knife crime is on the rise.
What is also clear, however, is that crime – and especially violent crime – rises when police numbers fall.
Look at the number of officers has tumbled since 2010. Their total size of police forces fell by 20,000 in England and Wales in the eight years to last March.
At the same time, youth services – which used to provide a safe and fun place for children after school, at weekends and over the summer – have been cut. It is no surprise that more people are coming to harm on streets across the country.
I would like to see perpetrators brought together with the parents of victims so the criminals who menace our children can be confronted with the impact of their wrongdoing. Yes, this is unorthodox but, if used early on in the life of an offender, it has been shown to steer them away from pursuing a life of violence.
Similarly I would like to see more investment in youth services, our schools and more support provided to parents who are struggling to provide a stable home for their children, young people who could be tempted into gang life, after-school activities, sports clubs, music clubs and encourage local businesses to provide more internships/apprenticeships and local charities to provide more voluntary work opportunities so that young people can find ways of developing their lives.
This is not about “new” tactics to tackle knife crime versus old methods. It is simply a recognition that the obvious need to reverse police cuts must be accompanied by strategies to change the culture, particularly in inner cities, where deprivation and varying school standards mean children are often put at risk.
Teachers, police, parents and community leaders can all play a part in lowering the shocking levels of knife crime. It is a problem that affects us all – so let’s all play a part in delivering the solution.