Jennette Arnold
London assembly member for North East London — fighting your corner at City Hall

The annual reshuffle of the London Assembly is complete.

At its Annual Meeting last week, all Assembly Members present voted for new leadership in what will be an important year for City Hall as it gears up for next May’s London Mayor and Assembly elections.

Jennette Arnold OBE AM was confirmed as the new Chair of the London Assembly.

Chair of the London Assembly, Jennette Arnold OBE AM said:

“In this new year, as we approach the Assembly and Mayoral Elections in May 2016, we must remain focussed on our key role and what more we can do for London.

“Our job is to make sure that everyone in the capital gets the value for money and the transparency they deserve. We provide Londoners with the reassurance that back-room deals, under-the-table tactics and simple bad business decisions are not allowed to happen. After all we are elected to hold the Mayor and his functional bodies to account.”

Click here to view Jennette Arnold OBE AM Acceptance Speech.

 

 

 

At the end of last year, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, disgracefully equated vulnerable sections of society to ‘cornflakes’ in his infamous Margaret Thatcher speech.  He also went on to state that inequality is ‘natural’ and ‘essential’.  His oxymoronic cure for inequality (which in London equates to thousands using foodbanks and sleeping rough whilst the ‘super-rich’ thrive) is to cause further hardship for vulnerable groups because, he believes, it is healthy to foster a ‘spirit of envy’.

It is shameful that the Mayor of a city as diverse and wealthy as London can advocate such a view and get away with it.  Despite the reams of evidence that demonstrate the structural inequality across the capital, the Mayor keeps his fingers in his ears and lets the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  It is made even worse that this is due not only to his general incompetence, but also to his genuine, personal outlook on society – as demonstrated in his speech at the Margaret Thatcher lecture.

My cost of living report, Falling Further Behind, is a rebuttal to the Mayor’s dangerous ‘cornflake economics’ and underlines the structural inequality that exists in London and the actions that he can take to lower the barriers to success, which are outlined in the paragraphs that follow.

The evidence in my report shows that Londoners from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds face barriers to success due to low pay; employment discrimination; food poverty; lack of appropriate childcare provision; high public transport fares; and high rents.  A report by the Runnymede Trust for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community in 2012 found that 25% of the unemployment rate for Black and Asian men and women is a result of prejudice and direct discrimination.  The report also found that BAME women face discrimination ‘at every stage of the recruitment process.’  London’s Poverty Profile shows that half of all people in poverty in London are from BAME backgrounds.

Londoners with disabilities face barriers due to a smaller supply of suitable, accessible housing; cuts to disability allowances; food poverty; inaccessible public transport; lack of specialised childcare provision; and barriers to employment.  This in turn, has forced many to turn to food banks and risk their health by cutting back on heating so they can afford the bills.  According to the London Cost of Living Survey, 74% of disabled Londoners have cut back on heating their homes in order to afford their energy bills.

Women face various barriers due to a lack of affordable childcare; low pay and low pensions; insecure employment contracts; public transport safety concerns; and widespread sexual discrimination.  Once again, the Mayor falls short when addressing this inequality.  Indeed, in February 2014, the Mayor claimed women are not ‘anywhere near’ achieving equal employment opportunities in the labour market, but that his own pool of advisers, in which ‘almost half’ of the staff are women, was an example of how things could be done.  However, it turns out that only 4 of his 14 paid advisers are actually women (28%).

The inequality story for young and older Londoners can also not just be dismissed as a result of, what the Mayor, in his speech, put down to, ‘natural and God-given talent’.  Children and young people are facing barriers to success due to hunger impacting on their education; being forced to pay out high rents for accomodation; the cancellation of the education maintenance allowance; increased university tuition fees; and a lack of job opportunities.  Meanwhile, elder Londoners are facing hardship due to high energy bills; malnutrition; and rising costs of everyday necessities.  As highlighted in my report, it also appears that Londoners are retiring later than people in other parts of the UK with 11% of those aged 65 and over in work compared with the national average of 9.5%.  In the North East, this figure is 6% (Source: ONS Annual Population Survey).

The negative impact of the cost-of-living crisis extends to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, too.  Those who identify as LGBT face societal discrimination which feeds into employment opportunities and, notably, housing.  Due to a high risk of domestic abuse, LGBT Londoners who are victims of abuse also struggle from a lack of emergency accomodation in the city.  Studies have also shown that the vast majority of homelessness services work with people who identify as LGBT.

Whilst the Mayor takes economic advice from the back of his cereal box, my report suggests that Londoners across the city are suffering.  I urge the Mayor to take steps to address this inequality to help those groups protected under the Equality Act 2010.  I believe that action can be taken on these issues and that inequality is not inevitable.  It is certainly not ‘essential’ as the Mayor suggests.  Boris argues that vulnerable Londoners require inequality and envy to ‘shake’ them to the top, but it is he that needs to be shaken into action.  The evidence and recommendations outlined in my report show that the barriers facing vulnerable groups are not ‘natural’, but structural, and it is time for the Mayor to recognise this and work to make London a city of equal opportunity for all, instead of a city of inevitable and, as he argues, justifiable inequality for the majority.

At yesterday’s Mayor’s Question Time, I called on Mayor Boris Johnson to use his powers and money to help young Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Londoners who are being disproportionately affected by the high rates of unemployment – through dedicated skills, education and training programmes to get people off the unemployment register and into work.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)’s recent report, Labour market status by ethnic group, shows that the unemployment rate among Pakistani and Bangladeshi people aged 16-24 is 46%, and for young Black people it is 45%, compared with 19% for White British people aged between 16-24.

The Mayor has a responsibility to ensure that all BME Londoners have the same opportunities as other people in London, and I am very concerned that the Government’s own figures suggest that this is not the case across our city and across my constituency of Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest. Levels of unemployment across all groups in London are unacceptable – and I’m a firm advocate of policies aimed at full employment – but the disproportionate rates of joblessness for BME people are simply disgraceful.

The Mayor agreed with my point in Mayor’s Question Time, which is a start, but I remain concerned that he couldn’t give me specific details about the programmes he has put in place to specifically target young BME Londoners to help them find employment.

Since yesterday’s meeting, I have written to the Mayor to ask him for specific details of any programmes he has put in place to help tackle unemployment and support young BME people to get the skills and qualifications needed to enter the job market. I repeat my call for him to put his words into action and ensure that all Londoners – regardless of ethnicity – can benefit from the job opportunities that our great city can offer.

At today’s Mayor’s Question Time, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, announced that thirty-three of London’s biggest and most dangerous road junctions will be re-designed to make them safer and less threatening for cyclists and pedestrians, in a programme costing £290 million.

Gyratories at Archway, Highbury Corner and the Nag’s Head in Islington, together with the Apex Junction and Old Street Roundabout in Hackney, will, according to the Mayor, get a complete overhaul to make them safer for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers.

In a move that will cost Transport for London (TfL) nearly £300 million, the Mayor has promised to build two-way roads, segregated cycle tracks and new traffic-free public spaces across London – detailed designs for which are due to be published next month, with work scheduled to begin on the improvement works in the latter part of this year.

I welcome the Mayor’s announcement to re-design some of the largest and most dangerous junctions in my constituency across Hackney and Islington. The gyratories and junctions in question have always been sources of frustration for commuters, and places with a high number of accidents and, most sadly, fatalities for Londoners.

I regret that none of the junctions included in this programme fall within the London Borough of Waltham Forest, but, nonetheless, this major project to re-design the main junctions across Hackney and Islington cannot come soon enough. I have regularly challenged the Mayor to act on this issue off the back of numerous complaints and concerns I have had from my constituents, and I am very pleased to see that he has taken my views on board when making this important announcement.

As always, the detail of the scheme is what I am most interested in – rather than the Mayor’s rhetoric – so we now wait for the Mayor and Transport for London to put these words into action. I look forward to seeing the Mayor’s detailed plans, budgets and timelines for these improvements, which he has promised to publish next month, and I just hope that Boris delivers on this promise. If it’s done right, this programme will reduce congestion, improve road safety and, most importantly, save Londoners’ lives and the Mayor must do all he can to make sure this happens.

Last month, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, decided to call in the planning application for the Mount Pleasant site that stretches across the London Boroughs of Islington and Camden. This means that he decided to circumvent both local Councils and, as a result, he alone will now act as the Planning Authority and make the decision alone whether or not to grant the Royal Mail Group (RMG) permission to go ahead with their plans for the site.

I and my colleague, Assembly Member Dismore, who represents the people of Camden, had previously written to the Mayor to ask him not to do so, but he failed to listen to our demands and called in the application nonetheless.

Our letter to the Mayor, which asked him not to call in the application was based on the following:

1) there was a significant and almost universal voice in the local community on both the Camden and Islington sides for him not to act alone and to leave it to the local Councils to resolve;

2) it cannot be right for one man alone, with only limited local accountability, to have the final say on such an important planning application for the area. Local Councillors not only know the locality far better than Boris, but they are much more accountable to their residents and will put local people’s considerations at the forefront of the decision-making process, rather than the Mayor who might be more easily swayed by the shareholders of the developers;

3) by calling in the planning application, he is undermining local democracy and is setting a worrying precedent whereby private developers that are not getting everything their own way will simply write to the Mayor to ask him to circumvent Councils, democratically-elected Councillors and the people that they represent; and

4) the plans for the site as they currently stand only have a pitiful 12% of the housing units listed as being affordable housing. Islington Council wanted the figure nearer a much better 50%, but RMG were having none of it and the Mayor clearly agrees. Boris has already hit Londoners by setting ‘affordable’ housing at 80% of the market value, and now he seems to think that having a mere 12% of housing units classified as affordable is acceptable. We’ll soon see a situation where inner London will see itself being hollowed out to be left as the playground of the rich.

In Mayor’s Question Time, I challenged Boris on this terrible decision to call in the Mount Pleasant planning application, a video of which you can see here.

Not only did he fail to offer any real explanation for why he has called in the application, and certainly gave no sign that he will change his mind, but he criticised me for standing up for the people I am elected to represent.

It leaves me wondering more everyday who the Mayor actually represents, and, to me, it gets clearer by the day that he only stands up for the wealthy majority, has little interest in proper democratic processes and is prepared to put money before people.

Rest assured, I will continue the fight to get him to reconsider this short-sighted and financially-driven decision, and urge all local residents to contribute to mine and Assembly Member Dismore’s public consultation, which can be accessed here.

I’ve published my end-of-year report for 2013, which you can read here: My Year on the London Assembly.

As I sat down to write it, it reminded me of just what a privilege it is to serve the people of London, and, in particular, those who live in my constituency of North East London – covering Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest. We have had some tremendous successes in that time across all matters, including transport, regeneration, education, housing and homelessness, policing and employment and training opportunities for young people.

Don’t forget to click on the hyperlinks within the report to read more about my work, and I look forward to continuing the fight at City Hall in 2014.

I was delighted to be invited to the Mayor of London’s Black History Month debate at City Hall on Monday, which focused on the history of businesses and entrepreneurship from the perspective of black people in Britain.

Tim Campbell, the Mayor’s Ambassador for Training and Enterprise and former winner of The Apprentice, chaired the debate in front of an audience that included young people from the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in Islington.

London is a wonderfully diverse city, and Black History Month enables us all to celebrate this. I am pleased that the Mayor has held an event to mark Black History Month this year, something that he has not done previously, and hope that he continues in this vein over the remainder of his Mayoralty.

I was especially pleased to host the young people and their teacher from the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, who got the opportunity to ask questions to the panel and get an insight into the workings of City Hall.

I wish everyone a happy Black History Month, and hope that, however you are marking it, your celebrations are fun-filled and provide the opportunity to celebrate the history and diversity of our fantastic capital.