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

I am delighted that the National Youth Theatre have been awarded funding from the Mayor’s Young Londoners Fund to partner with Samuel Rhodes School in Islington. This will develop a model of creative education and employment opportunities to help young people understand the positive choices open to them and to achieve their potential, in spite of the learning barriers they may experience.

This project combines two things which are close to my heart. Firstly, the National Youth Theatre is a charity which I have supported for many years. It is great to have such a fantastic initiative within my constituency, encouraging the careers of such luminaries as Dame Helen Mirren, Daniel Craig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Hugh Bonneville, Catherine Tate, Matt Smith and Zawe Ashton.

The National Youth Theatre aims to give free and affordable opportunities both onstage and backstage to young people aged 14-25 from all corners of the UK. They seek out the most diverse and the most talented through an active audition programme and community engagement. These young people are then offered unique, life-changing experiences working with some of the UK’s leading professional directors, writers, producers, designers and stage managers. Ultimately, the calibre of their output is invariably superb and electrifying to watch.

The second element of the project which is close to my heart is its focus upon offering Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) support. This is why I am particularly pleased that the National Youth Theatre is partnering with Samuel Rhodes School. It matters to me that SEND pupils have access to the same opportunities as their peers, and I applaud the work of the Samuel Rhodes School in working to make this possible.

The partnership between the two organisations will start this autumn and last for three years. During this time pupils will engage with National Youth Theatre’s Associate Artist practitioners and their young Members. This inclusive approach will support the engagement of young people from Samuel Rhodes with the full range of what the National Youth Theatre offers. The long term goal of the project is to reduce the vulnerability of the young people involved, moving them away from risks of criminality and helping them to make positive choices about their futures.

I would to thank the Mayor of London for his part in making this vital collaborative project possible, but I particularly want to applaud the National Youth Theatre and Samuel Rhodes for their tireless commitment to supporting some of our most vulnerable, but promising young people. I await the results with anticipation and look forward to hearing about how the partnership progresses.

Photograph shows National Youth Theatre inclusion programme workshop with Highshore School. Photography by Alessandra Davison.  

Renters are at the mercy of landlords after new Shelter figures revealed that 1 in 22 private renters in Waltham Forest; 1 in 33 private renters in Hackney; and 1 in 49 private renters in Islington face eviction each year. This comes six months after Boris Johnson launched his voluntary London Rental Standard (LRS) which, despite aiming to get 100,000 of London’s 300,000 landlords signed up to better protections for tenants, has only 13,499 landlords on board according to the most recent City Hall figures.

The new research shows that in total 2,249 privately renting households in Hackney; 2,066 in Waltham Forest and 1,307 in Islington faced claims of eviction last year. This means 1 in 33 households facing eviction in Hackney; 1 in 22 in Waltham Forest and 1 in 49 in Islington. Waltham Forest, Hackney and Islington have the 5th, 6th and 25th highest eviction rate in the England, respectively.

The report from housing charity Shelter found that the high cost and volatile nature of the London house rental market meant that “it can take just one thing, like losing your job or falling ill, to put your home at risk.” Since 2011 private sector rents in London have soared by 21% and recent estimates found that 39% of private rented sector tenants now live in poverty – a larger share than in either the social or owner-occupying tenures.

The number of people facing dramatic rent rises and evictions showed that the capitals rental market wasn’t working for many Londoners. The Mayor of London’s voluntary approach to landlord regulation is not working and I call for stronger statutory protection for private renters.

The fact that up to 1 in 22 renters across my constituency have faced eviction in the last year shows how challenging it can be to rent in the capital. Boris Johnson pledged to get 100,000 landlords signed up to his minimum standards scheme yet to date only 13,500 landlords have joined.

With 40% of private sector renters living in poverty, rents rising and complaints soaring, Boris’s soft touch approach does little to help the majority of London’s renters. Without proper statutory protection, many renters are left at the mercy of landlords.

Instead of another empty voluntary initiative we need to see real action to ensure decent standards and fair treatment in the private rented sector. Things like longer tenancies and caps on rent increases would make a real difference to the people who call Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest their home.

Whilst most landlords treat their tenants properly these figures suggest that renters have very little protections and too easily face the threat of eviction.


The latest Shelter report, Repossession and Eviction Hotspots, including borough by borough breakdowns is available here.

The numbers of accredited landlords are available on the GLA’s London Rental Standard web page.

The London Poverty Profile 2013 (p.7) found that 39% of private renters now live in poverty.

The Valuation Office Agency states that between June 2011 and June 2014 private rents in London rose 21%

Shelter reports a 47 per cent increase in private sector tenant complaints in London in the last five years (to 18,700) (p20)

Analysis of the latest figures from the Skills Funding Agency by London Assembly Member Jennette Arnold OBE, has shown that the number of people in Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest starting apprenticeships has fallen for the second year running. The figures have cast major doubt on Boris Johnson’s ability to fulfil his election pledge to deliver 250,000 apprenticeships by 2016.

The provisional figures show that only 38,550 apprenticeships were started Londonwide in the 2013/14 academic year, down 6,520 on last year’s numbers. In Hackney the overall number of apprenticeshipsstarted dropped by 120 last year from 1,180 in 2012/13 to 1,060 in 2013/14; in Islington the numbers dropped from 890 in 2012/13 to 730 in 2013/14; and in Waltham Forest the numbers dropped from 1,710 in 2012/13 to 1,570 in 2013/14. This is the second year in a row in which the number of apprenticeship starts has fallen.

In June this year the Londonwide Local Enterprise Partnership stated that the capital would need to increase the number of apprentices by 19% each year if it is to hit the Mayor’s target. Despite that warning, London now has the second lowest apprenticeship start rate in the UK with only the North East lagging behind it. By contrast the North West saw almost double London’s number of apprenticeship starts.

Jennette Arnold OBE AM, Labour London Assembly Member for Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest, said:

“It is deeply worrying that for the second year running the number of apprenticeshipsstarted across Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest has fallen, making it clearer than ever that Boris Johnson’s target is not going to be met.

“Good quality apprenticeships are vital to getting our young people the skills, training and expertise they need to succeed in the jobs market; particularly in a city as competitive as London.

“Last year’s fall in apprenticeships was a clear signal that the Mayor needed to do more to encourage companies to take on apprentices and work closely with local councils, yet little appears to have been done and we have now seen two years of falls in the number of apprenticeships being started. Boris Johnson’s inability to get more businesses signed up for apprenticeships is not only leaving London falling behind the rest of the country, but letting down the young Londoners who are desperately seeking these kind of opportunities. It is important to distinguish the Mayor’s work from that of local Councils, who are all working very hard on their own merits to secure apprenticeships for young Londoners, but no matter how hard Councils and others try, without the clout and influence of the Mayor, and without him pulling his weight then we’re not going to hit our target. I urge Mayor Johnson to work harder on securing good apprenticeship opportunities for young Londoners and challenge him not to make it a hat-trick of year-on-year decreases in the number of apprenticeships being offered.”



The number of apprenticeships started by region:

Region 2011/12 2012/13 2013/14  
  Full Year Full Year
Full Year
North East 38,340 35,870 30,020  
North West 89,310 84,180 70,640  
Yorkshire and The Humber 64,200 59,900  
East Midlands 46,790 49,010 39,290
West Midlands 60,470 62,430 51,400
East of England 45,820 46,220 39,870
London 47,230 45,070 38,550
South East 66,850 68,960 58,690
South West 55,950 52,540 45,200
England Total 515,000 504,200 426,200
Other 5,600 6,040 6,220
Grand Total 520,600 510,200 432,400

Source: Breakdown by geography, equality & diversity and sector subject area: starts 2013/14

The London Enterprise Panel Skills and Employment Working Group, Apprenticeships Update can be found here.

Latest figures show that forces in Hackney face a 8% vacancy rate; Islington 8%; and Waltham Forest 11%. This leaves Hackney without 17 sergeants and 35 constables; Islington without 9 sergeants and 38 constables; and Waltham Forest without 19 sergeants and 53 constables. Figures also show a £13.7m Met underspend on police officer pay, suggesting that that vacancies have been sitting open as part of a cost saving exercise.

New figures obtained by my colleague, Labour London Assembly Member Joanne McCartney, show that in May this year (the latest period available) there were 1,209 vacancies for police sergeants and constables across the capital’s borough forces.

The high vacancy rates come on top of significant cuts in police numbers since the Government came to power, with official figures showing 171 police officers and PCSOs cut from Hackney’s streets; and 161 from Islington’s streets (although, conversely, an increase of 19 officers and PCSOs on Waltham Forest’s streets) between May 2010 and May 2014, and 4,694 from London’s streets overall. A report last year also found that the Met’s proportion of officers deemed ‘visible’ was the third lowest in England and Wales.

Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest are three of 14 London boroughs with vacancy rates of over 6%, with five facing double digit deficits, including Waltham Forest. Harrow is shown to have the highest percentage of vacancies, with 15% of its sergeant and constable posts unfilled. Waltham Forest had the highest overall number, with 72 vacancies from a force of 664.

The figures were revealed after HMIC warned that “forces across England and Wales plan to achieve most of their savings by reducing the number of police officers, PCSOs and police staff… most of the savings [of the MPS] come from reducing the size of the workforce.”

In his manifesto Boris Johnson pledged to put more officers on the beat. In reality what we have seen is a net decrease of 313 police officers and PCSOs cut from my constituency’s streets since this Government came to power. Now we learn that on top of that between 8%-11% of Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest’s sergeants and constables are missing due to unfilled vacancies, that’s 171 extra officers who should be on the streets of Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest. It is an absolute scandal that police numbers have been allowed to fall this low, these vacancies are leaving a gaping hole at the heart of the our local police force.

Whilst a small churn in the number of officers is to be expected, these are deeply concerning figures. With 52 police officer positions unfilled in Hackney; 47 unfilled in Islington; and 72 in Waltham Forest, we need to ask not only what impact that has on policing, but why the Mayor of London Boris Johnson has allowed it to happen in the first place. Either the depth of officer morale is so low they are haemorrhaging officers, or these posts are being kept open to keep costs down. Either way the Mayor should take immediate action to ensure our police force is up to strength and vacancies are filled as quickly as possible.


New research on private sector rent levels shows that, at the current rate of rent inflation, average London rents will be £1,625 a month by April 2016. The average figures for all dwellings in Islington will be £1,815.29 per month, in Hackney will be £1,688.89 and in Waltham Forest will be £1,079.76. The forecasts, compiled by Tom Copley AM, are based on an average of rent rises between October 2011 and October 2013 as recorded by the Valuation Office Agency. For outer London average rents will rise to £1,350, and for inner London average rents will rise to £1,805.

The analysis shows that, should the current level of rent inflation continue, high rents will become a significant problem in outer-London, where rents have tended to be lower than inner London (see map below). London rents are forecast to rise at five times the England average.

I’m backing calls for the Mayor to launch an investigation into unsustainable rent increases and establish proposals for a mechanism to stabilise rents in London. The current rate of rent inflation is sucking demand out of the economy, and making London ever more unaffordable for people who work in the capital, which could impact on London’s economic growth.

These figures are a shocking indication of what residents in Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest and across our city can expect to pay in rent by the end of Boris Johnson’s mayoralty. The current rate of rent inflation is making London unaffordable for people who live here, even those on ‘good’ salaries. With home-ownership an ever distant dream for many, it is time Boris Johnson used his position and launched an investigation into unsustainable rent rises and possible mechanisms for tackling them. Otherwise, we will see a devastating hollowing out of our great city, which will simply end up becoming the playground of the rich.

Britain has one of the least-regulated private rented markets in Europe. When more and more people have no choice but to rent we have to ensure that renting is a stable option, particularly for the growing number of families who live in rented accommodation. There are good landlords who do right by their tenants, but there are an increasing number who do not. So far the Mayor has only adopted trivial voluntary schemes to improve standards, it is time he treated this issue with the seriousness it deserves. There are over 800,000 private rented households in London. If he doesn’t act these people will continue to be squeezed, quality of life will decline and London’s economy will be held back.

It is even more pressing given the Mayor’s recent actions to redefine the criteria for affordable housing, which now sits at up to 80% of the market value. If Boris thinks that £1,452.23 per month, £1,351.11 per month and £863.80 per month (i.e. 80% of the predicted average market value come 2016) – for Islington, Hackney and Waltham Forest, respectively – is ‘affordable’, then he really is out of touch with the reality that millions of Londoners live every day. And, when we look at the Mayor’s decision to call in the Mount Pleasant planning application in Islington, which has a pitiful 12% of the proposed housing units classified as affordable, it’s clear that something needs to be done immediately to investigate what can be done to stop the renting crisis we face across London.

Projected private rent increases in April 2016, (darker shade of red indicates higher increase):

Rent Rise by 2016

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.

Yesterday’s news that Boris has agreed to call in the Mount Pleasant application is a dreadful blow for local democracy. It is disappointing, if not surprising, that the now private developers – Royal Mail Group – tried to go above the heads of Islington and Camden Councils because they weren’t getting it all their own way; but it is disgraceful that Boris has decided to grant RMG their wish by calling in the application to City Hall.

The Mayor has said that his decision is based on trying to speed up the application to get on with building thousands of homes, but he fails to say that the reason for the ongoing discussions between RMG and Islington and Camden Councils was because the Councils were pushing RMG to increase the number of affordable housing units – which, in RMG’s latest plans, stands at an appalling 12% of the total number of units.

What is worrying is that the Mayor has shown bad form before about going above the heads of local councils with the Convoy’s Wharf development in Lewisham. If he repeats this with the Mount Pleasant development and grants RMG their planning permission after the hearing, he will, once again, demonstrate how apathetic he is about properly addressing the housing crisis that London is facing so that ordinary people can afford to live here. He is pushing us towards the situation where we’ll see a hollowing out of our great city, where houses in central London will simply become the playground of the rich and wealthy.

Rest assured, I will continue to fight on behalf of Islington Council and the residents who will be affected by this. The right to decide on this planning application must be handed back to local, elected officials and, more importantly, the residents of Islington and Camden that the Councillors are here to represent.