Today it’s exactly one year since I signed in as a new Assembly Member, and a lot has happened.
With Caroline Russell – also newly elected to the Green Group – I’ve worked hard to live up to my campaign promises, put forward the good ideas from my election manifesto as candidate for Mayor, and have persuaded Sadiq Khan to do some things he wouldn’t have without Greens pushing him.
Listening to Londoners’ views on housing
My first campaign after starting on the Assembly was to collect the views and amplify the voices of private renters in London. My Big Renters Survey was completed by more than 1,500 people and the results have been influential in helping keep the issue high on the agenda of the Mayor and Government.
We now have a defined London Living Rent from Sadiq Khan and rogue letting agents included in his upcoming database (originally just for landlords). I’ve also exposed the lack of letting agent enforcement from councils – this needs to improve if the Mayor’s database is to work.
In November the Assembly passed a motion I put calling for new powers over renting, including smart rent controls, for London. I was very pleased about this, especially as both the Mayor and the Labour Party nationally seem to have given up on this idea.
I also helped expose the failings in the Mayor’s new draft guidance for estate regeneration and his broken promise on giving residents a final say over any demolitions. I brought their voices into City Hall with a forum for estate campaigners to link up their campaigns and plan for action.
Standing up for equality
I’ve asked a lot of Mayor’s Questions about equality issues because our previous Mayor had done virtually nothing on this in his eight years in City Hall. The first Green motion to the Assembly called for more help for refugee children, and I’ve got the Mayor to look at how renting costs affect women and helped get gender neutral pronouns added to official forms across the GLA.
I’m most pleased that City Hall itself has now introduced name-blind shortlisting for recruitment – something that can really help reduce discrimination. The Mayor has agreed to roll this out across the GLA organisations including the police and fire service. I’m now working on getting councils to do this as well, though they have been much slower to take notice.
Putting forward good ideas
Each year the Green Group proposes formal amendments to the Mayor’s budget, and this year we included measures to spread the reach of new community-led homes to a wider range of citizens, speed up the Mayor’s green energy company, and cancel road projects to invest in healthy streets instead.
I had completed the first overview of council cuts to youth services across London so I made sure we included plans to plug this gap in our amendment. The Mayor hadn’t increased council tax as much as he could, leaving half a per cent which we proposed he used to support services for young people. The average household would pay an extra £1.49 per year for this measure – less than 3p per week.
In the budget MQT, the Mayor agreed with me when I said: “Keeping Londoners safe is about giving young people somewhere safe to go” but failed to put anything in his final budget, despite receiving many messages from young people about this too. The other AMs didn’t vote for our amendment but, like all good Green ideas, we fully expect this policy to be taken up in future years!
Pushing the Mayor to do better
An area where the Mayor has acted thanks to our pressure is on community-led housing. These new models, including co-ops and community land trusts, are a real chance for Londoners to help tackle the housing crisis by working together and there are groups across the city making plans for their areas, including for the St Ann’s hospital site in Haringey, which I visited in September.
Our budget amendment asked the Mayor to double his funding for community-led housing to £2 million per year, in order to expand the reach of his work to a wider range of people.
In the final budget, the Mayor did create new funds for these kinds of housing models, and is now increasing capacity within City Hall to support community-led homes. So we’re happy he’s listened to us on this, and will continue to press for more.
The new year in the Assembly started with our AGM this week, and I have taken on new responsibilities. I’m now chair of the Housing Committee, where we’ll be looking at new ways of providing housing and some worrying developments such as welfare changes and the rise of property guardianship.
I’m also deputy chair of the Police and Crime committee, where we’ll have a lot to do scrutinising the new Met Police Commissioner. We’ve also planned an investigation into women and the justice system in London later this year at my suggestion.
Caroline is taking over as chair of the Economy Committee and continues as deputy chair of the Environment Committee.
The growth in the number of Green councillors in this week’s local elections shows once again that when Greens get elected we work hard for our communities and, like them, I’ll continue to do that for the rest of my first term in City Hall.