Schools funding update

Thank you to the many residents who got in contact with our Labour councillors, asking them to oppose the attempt by Bromley council to take £1 million from local primary schools’ budgets (which they did).

The Council was unsuccessful and will be funding the gap from their reserves.

Local schools remain under huge pressure from cuts even now and Labour councillors thank everyone for supporting local headteachers and staff, who are working incredibly hard during such difficult times to provide children with a good education.

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Bromley sets council tax

The Conservatives controlling Bromley Council agreed a 5.79% council tax increase (of which 4.99% is from the council, with 2% specifically to fund social care) The Tories also passed an unimpressive and unimaginative budget which will do little to help vulnerable residents.

As we knew would happen our alternative budget, which was fully costed, balanced and met the challenges faced by the Government’s savage cuts in local government funding over the past nine years, was voted down by the Tories.

Our proposals included:

Saving our high streets and supporting local businesses

In Penge and other shopping areas like the high street, we’d provide funding for small businesses, invest to reopen empty shop properties, offer tax incentives for start-ups and promote schemes to create more jobs locally with local housing associations and community groups. Our vision is for vibrant High Streets people want to buy from and secure, decently paid jobs for residents.

More jobs and businesses will lead to people spending more money in Penge. The resulting funds would lead to increased investment in safety, security, paths and rubbish collection.

Delivering affordable homes and cracking down on dodgy landlords

We would have looked to create more places local people can actually afford to live in – some of it on modular homes aimed at a fast solution to temporary accommodation, the rest of to house residents on our waiting list, many of them currently in over- crowded or unfit properties. We would also introduce a landlord registration scheme to monitor the behaviour of landlords and letting agencies to make sure they comply with the law.

Tackling crime and youth violence

Our budget would pay for the Council to recruit a proactive and dedicated Youth Violence officer working in our communities. We would put money into saving lives and, by recognising the symptoms and causes behind disaffected youths and those affected by mental health issues, put early interventions in place to reduce the risk of getting involved in drugs, violence or gangs and hopefully prevent any more young lives being lost in Bromley.

We continue to push for ideas like these, for better local services, more spending on bin collections, street cleaning and for a council that puts local people’s needs first.

Please come to our Christmas party!

Local Labour Councillors are holding a free community Christmas Party this Saturday – all local residents welcome!

The event is organised by Cllr Kathy Bance, Cllr Kevin Brook and Cllr Simon Jeal to wish seasons greetings to all in Penge and Cator. A buffet and soft drinks will be provided. Party go-ers are welcome to bring their own drinks, including alcoholic ones if wished.

The Labour Councillors Community Christmas Party details are as follows:

When? Saturday 8th December, from 7pm
Where? Melvin Hall (SE20 8EU)
How much? Free!
What to bring? A buffet and soft drinks will be provided but please feel free to
bring your own drink/alcohol.

No need to book – just turn up!

Helping our community this Christmas

As 2018 comes to an end, we would like to wish everyone happy holidays and
the very best for the New Year. We also invite you to join us at our free community Christmas Party on Saturday 8th December, 7pm at Melvin Hall (SE20 8EU) a buffet and soft drinks will be provided but please feel free to bring your own drink/alcohol.
Bromley Labour and Conservative councillors and party members are working together to support Bromley Brighter Beginnings this Christmas. It is a charity supporting local families in financial hardship, as well as women and children in domestic violence refuges. Their Christmas appeal is collecting donations to provide hampers with toys, games and food, giving families a welcome boost over the Christmas period.
We know this is just one of many appeals local groups and residents are running in the lead up to Christmas as more people than ever are feeling the impact of austerity and cuts to local services. Thank you to the charities doing amazing work locally and to everyone who is donating. You can also donate at:

  • Living Well’s Christmas appeal is asking for donations to prepare the 150 food bags they give out to local people the week before Christmas. See their website or Facebook page for a full list of items they need. Drop off at Holy Trinity Church on Lennard Road at certain times or at the donation bin in Sainsburys.
  • Melvin Hall Community Centre are collecting toys and small gifts for women and children in Bromley and Croydon Women’s Aid’s refuges. Donations can be dropped at the hall during the day or by contacting Cllr Kathy Bance at kathy.bance@ bromley.gov.uk

Food Hygiene- our push to raise standards in Penge

How clean is your favourite place to eat? Take a look next time you pop in.

Penge has a diverse range of popular and even award winning places to eat out, but there are a number of our restaurants, cafes and food outlets that do not have the “acceptable” Level 3 Food Hygiene Rating with the Food Standards Agency.

Labour Councillors  have made contact with all those places rated below a level 3 and have encouraged them to complete the outstanding works and reapply for their next inspection.

Please do check the rating on display or ask the next time you pop out for a takeaway or bite to eat- to demonstrate to owners the importance of having clean and safe places to eat locally.

Councillors walk over fire for local charity

Three Labour Councillors participated in a ‘firewalk’ challenge this weekend to raise money for St Christopher’s Hospice.

The charity challenged local supporters to walk over hot coals barefoot to support the work they do for the community. Labour Councillors Kevin Brooks, Simon Jeal and Josh King volunteered to step up, or over, the plate. Their sponsorship page is still open for donations to the local hospice.

Councillor Jeal (Penge & Cator) said: “I’m pretty risk averse so it’s not my sort of thing at all. But the team at St Christopher’s do amazing work for local residents and their families, so walking across fire was the least I could do to support them.

Councillor Kevin Brooks (Penge & Cator) added, “Being the second time I have done a firewalk I was much less nervous. A massive thanks must go to all our sponsors who raised money for St Christopher’s, a truly local community charity.

Councillor Josh King (Clockhouse) had more personal reasons for participating, “When I was asked if I wanted to do a firewalk for St. Christopher’s the answer was a quick yes as members of my family have benefited from the hospice’s excellent care. The thought of walking on hot coals was pretty scary but in the event it was really easy and painless. I’d do it again for a good cause. “

The Labour Councillors participated in a team walking in memory Steve Murphy – a local resident and ardent charity supporter who passed away in the hospice last year.

They have raised just over half its target so far, with more pledged. To donate to St Christopher’s Hospice visit their sponsorship page. 

Councillors support new winter shelter

Rising numbers of people sleeping on our streets is a concern nationally and in Bromley. Labour councillors are working  hard to find practical solutions to support those who find themselves without a roof over their heads.

Labour Councillors have long been involved with Bromley Winter Shelter, and now Cllr Kathy Bance is working with them to expand the amount of help they can provide over the coldest months of the year.

The national Conservative government’s record on supporting those who have no choice but to sleep rough is shameful. The number of people dying whilst destitute on our streets has doubled on their watch over just 5 years.

Whilst Bromley council recently launched its homelessness strategy, Labour Councillors know this is a council which has often failed to even accurately count the number of people sleeping rough, let alone tackle the problem of hidden homelessness and the large
housing waiting list.

To provide immediate support, last year Labour Councillors took part in a sponsored sleep-out to raise money for Bromley Homeless Shelter, which provides meals and beds to local rough sleepers during the winter, they are taking part in the fundraiser again this year.

Councillor Kathy Bance has been working with the Shelter and local churches to begin operating a second shelter in the North of the borough, starting this winter. It will
increase the number of people the shelter can provide support to and get more people off of the streets during what can be very cold and wet winter nights.

It doesn’t have to be like this – Labour’s national manifesto would start by making 4,000 homes available for former rough sleepers (& 100,000 affordable homes overall), as well as stopping the damaging cuts to vital homelessness services which keep people warm, dry and alive. See Labour’s manifesto pledges for Housing & Homelessness.

Councillor update: Housing

One of our pledges during the local election campaign was to try and tackle the lack of affordable, good quality housing to buy and rent in our area.

Since the election we have been working through council committees and at Bromley’s (LBB) Homelessness Forum to try and deliver on our pledge. One area we have focused on is challenging developers who avoid providing the required amount of ‘affordable housing’ of new builds. Many developers use an ‘Independent Viability Study’ to argue that affordable housing isn’t commercially viable for them and instead offer what was called ‘Section 106 money’ (now the ‘Community Infrastructure Levy’) to go towards building affordable housing, in many cases however, the money is used for other purposes than building any housing! Bromley’s housing director has responded by saying that they are now robustly tackling this issue in order that more
affordable units will be built.
We are also liaising closely with Clarion Housing, who have been out with us on visits to local estates to resolve issues such as lack of repairs and responding to our residents. We are supporting Bromley’s Modular housing plans as LBB have identified sites so that good quality housing can be erected quickly and which will enable our residents to stay in Bromley. While they sold off all council housing decades ago LBB are also now committed to identifying empty buildings and land that can be used to meet this housing crisis, they have even indicated they may consider building housing again!

Phenomenal Women

I’d be the first to be skeptical of a politician invoking Maya Angelou’s poetry in a speech. But Dawn Butler absolutely pulled off her reading of ‘Phenomenal Woman’ at the London Labour Women’s conference last weekend. Whether the participants, including myself and our chair Sarah Armstrong, pulled off the call and answer refrain of the poem’s title I’m less certain, but the point of empowerment and fun was made!

Dawn, the shadow Equalities Minister, was incredibly refreshing. A politician who chose not to make a speech!! One who apologised ‘in advance’ to all the first time attenders of a Labour meeting (of which there were many) for CLP meetings, but advised them to ‘stick with it’. One who admitted she ‘hates talking about Brexit almost as much as I hate Brexit’. And one, when challenged about having a crowd of controversial advisers, simply started with ‘I wish! I’ve just got one and all she does is moan about being over-worked, though she’s right to be fair’.

Although she was simply took questions from the diverse group of women, Dawn’s message came across loud and clear: Labour are ready to form a government. We have the people and the policies to do it. She gave the example of the gender pay gap  – the Tories have implemented our idea of paygap reporting but missed the vital ‘teeth’ in our policy to refuse public sector contracts to firms who don’t take action to close it. Personally, she made no bones about looking forward to being the first Cabinet Minister for Equalities, when (not ‘if’) the ‘Shadow’ in her job title disappears.

Her other message and that of the whole conference was also clear – women, especially BAME women, should go to their local meetings, speak up, take posts and put themselves forward for office.

Although the quality of our shadow Cabinet shone out, the rest of the conference was also excellent.

The workshop on public speaking had a leading adviser, who has worked with several Labour politicians and other high profile people, giving her top tips. Many of which were actionably specific, though I fear her main plea ‘don’t be boring!’ can be a tall order!

The digital workshop was super practical – as branch digital/social media officer I’ve come away with a ‘to do’ list (there’s a Labour wordpress template, who knew!? A new look coming here soon!).

The BAME Faces Matter workshop shared a number of new initiatives coming under Labour’s Democracy Review, including a Bernie Grant leadership programme for BAME activists and a toolkit of ideas for CLP BAME Officers.

Labour’s commitment to a Community Organising approach was exemplified in the Community Organising: Power and Negotiation workshop, which ran a training taster demonstrating the influence relational power exerted by a strong group of residents and activists can have.

The final panel session was also cheering. Which it needed to be as it was held in an exceptionally cold church. (Members of the local party shuddered as they reminisced about a fundraiser held there years ago where Neil Kinnock spoke at great length while they all froze!). Thankfully the panel kept it brief and interesting. They shared the passions that had brought them into politics (mostly to their own surprise in some cases) and answered questions on topics covering female leadership in the party, childcare at CLP meetings and pay gap disputes.

This was apparently the first event of its kind for a decade, which is testament to Maggie, the London Women’s Officer. Apparently over half of London Labour members are female, but there is apparently some way to go to making half of London Labour’s CLP posts female and especially Chairs.

So ladies, put yourself forward and encourage others to – whether that’s coming along to a first meeting. The Jo Cox Leadership programme (women) and Bernie Grant (BAME) leadership scheme are currently (or soon will be) open for a new round of applicants too.  As Maggie pointed out, Dawn Butler put her hand up at her first meeting at one point. You never know where it will lead…

Motion calls for end to sale of arms to Saudi Arabia

The Penge and Cator Labour branch passed a motion last week to raise awareness of the devastating war in Yemen
Proposed by local Labour member Patricia Gilbert, it aims to raise awareness of the human costs of the war in Yemen. The motion, combined with other efforts across the country, will add to growing pressure the UK government to cease arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The full text of the motion, which was passed unanimously and unamended at last week’s branch meeting, is below:

Emergency motion for branch meeting: The UK government must stop its complicity in the devastating war in Yemen, stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia and work towards an end to the conflict

On 15th October 2018, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen warned that the country faced the worst famine for 100 years (ref1) if airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition are not halted and stated that 12 to 13 million people are at risk of starvation within months.

Since the Saudi-led coalition commenced its military campaign against Yemen in 2015, after the Houthi rebels, now allied with former President Saleh, took power, civilians have been attacked with impunity and the country has been devastated. In 2017, the UN verified (Ref2) over 325 attacks on schools, health facilities, markets, roads, bridges and even water points and called for attacks against hospitals, schools and other protected civilian structures and facilities to stop immediately. On 9 August 2018, a Saudi bomb was dropped on a school bus (ref3) killing at least 40 children between the ages of 6 and 11.

Over three million people have been internally displaced and untold thousands have been killed, mainly as a result of the Saudi coalition bombing campaign. Last year the worst cholera outbreak in the world affected 200,000 people. Over 22 million people are reliant on humanitarian aid. Millions of children are unable to go to school.

While the Houthi rebels have also committed human rights violations, the UN reports that the Saudi Arabia-led coalition supporting President Hadi’s government continues to be the leading cause of civilian casualties in the conflict. Amnesty International reports (ref4) that the Saudi-led coalition has committed serious violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law with impunity, including sea, air and land blockades that have prevented the delivery of international aid, helped the spread of deadly diseases and led to acute malnutrition across the country.

Throughout this catastrophic conflict, the British government has refused to stop selling combat aircraft, missiles and bombs to Saudi Arabia, despite overwhelming evidence (ref5) that these are being used in violation of International Humanitarian Law. Amnesty International reports (ref6) that last year, the UK issued arms exports worth £2.94 billion to Saudi Arabia in a period of just nine months.

Other countries, including Spain and Germany, have stopped arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Lynn Maalouf of Amnesty International states:

“There is no reasonable explanation by states such as the US and the UK that would justify their continued support and irresponsible arms flows to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, when there is extensive evidence that these have resulted in enormous harm to Yemenis for the past three years.”

In August 2018, our Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, asked:

“How much longer is this Tory government going to continue arming and advising a Saudi air force that cannot tell or does not see the difference between a legitimate military target and a bus full of children, a family wedding, or a civilian food market?

Therefore, this branch/CLP demands that the UK government:

  1. Ends its transfers of arms to the Saudi Arabia-led Coalition carrying out illegal and indiscriminate airstrikes in Yemen.
  2. Supports the World Food Programme’s call7 for new entry points for humanitarian and commercial food imports and a free-flow of commercial and humanitarian food inside the country.
  3. Pushes for an immediate and permanent ceasefire to the conflict in Yemen.

Proposed by Patricia Gilbert

REFERENCES

Ref1 Yemen on brink of ‘world’s worst famine in 100 years’ if war continues https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/oct/15/yemen-on-brink-worst-famine-100-years-un

Ref2 Report from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/under-secretary-general-humanitarian-affairs-and-emergency-relief-coordinator-11

Ref3 The schoolboys on a field trip in Yemen were chatting and laughing. Then came the airstrike https://edition.cnn.com/2018/08/13/middleeast/yemen-children-school-bus-strike-intl/index.html

Ref4 Yemen 2017/2018 https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/yemen/report-yemen/

Ref5 UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia https://www.caat.org.uk/campaigns/stop-arming-saudi/arms-sales

Ref6: Exposed: British-made bombs used on civilian targets in Yemen https://www.amnesty.org.uk/exposed-british-made-bombs-used-civilian-targets-yemen

Ref7 Yemen: ‘Time is running out’ to head off devastating famine, warns UN food agency chief https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/09/1019752