Last week the annual meeting of the Ward of Cheap – called ‘Wardmote’ or meeting of citizens in the City – took place in the beautiful surroundings of the Goldsmiths’ Hall. Over 50 local City workers and residents attended to receive a report from and quizzed the Alderman and three local Councillors. There were questions about road safety at Ludgate Circus, access for black cabs to Bank Junction, congestion, air quality, the Corporation’s gender identity survey and the tradition of the City’s political independence. In addition, the meeting debated and adopted two resolutions one on rough sleeping and one regarding diversity.
This was the first Wardmote chaired by our new Alderman Robert-Hughes Penney. Robert thanked attendees for joining the meeting and tabling questions for debate followed by an update from the Ward of Cheap team Common Councillors. Together with Deputy Alastair Moss and Nick Bensted-Smith JP we work closely together to represent the Ward of Cheap and the City. As a team we cover different policy areas such as planning and transportation, policing, education, rough sleeping, environment, culture, investment and economic crime. It is an absolute privilege to represent the best Ward in the City – I know I am bias – and work with welcoming and committed ward colleagues.
During 2018/19 I have focused my work as Common Councillor on four main areas:
- Environment – including cleaner air initiatives and promoting a plastic free city
- Cultural Mile
- Rough sleeping
- Policy and Resources Committee
- Diversity and social mobility
- Policing, Cyber Crime and Safer City Partnership
Education and culture
The City of London is best known as a global centre for financial and professional services – and rightly so. But there is so much more to the City. The City for example has a long tradition of supporting education. In addition, many Livery Companies actively support a wide range of schools and apprenticeships.
As a City Councillor I am a Governor for The City Academy in Hackney – one of the schools in the country recognised for achieving the best progression of young people. This shows how the City can make a real difference to London. My next priority is to ensure we link our City schools more closely to the businesses in the Square Mile.
As a member of the Culture, Heritage and Libraries Committee I support our investment in the City’s Cultural Mile development and strategy to attract more visitors.
As a member the Port Health and Environmental Services Committee I have supported initiatives to increase charging points for electric vehicles and reduce the usage of plastics in the City.
One of the local residents tabled an important resolution to ask the Corporation to update the Ward on what action has been taken and is being planned to address increasing issue of rough sleeping in London. As deputy chair of a recently formed sub-committee looking at coordinating and improving action around homelessness and rough sleeping I responded on behalf of the team.
During the debate it was noted that in last months of 2018 individual rough sleepers increased significantly by 99 people to 212, indicating an increase of 87%. This compared with only 6% across London and is well above that of all other comparative local authorities according to a recent report from the Director of Children’s Services.
The Wardmote welcomed the creating of a new homelessness and rough sleeping sub committee, and supports its members to call upon the City of London Corporation to take urgent action to address the complex issues linked to rough sleeping and homelessness. Something we fully support as a team.
I was able to inform ward members that earlier last year Councillors decided to set up a dedicated homelessness and rough sleeping sub-committee to bring together different parts of the Corporation, City Police and partners such as St Mungo’s. As members of the Police Committee Nick and I supported the creation of this sub-committee, and as this is a key priority for our team I agreed to become Deputy Chair of the sub-committee to push for action.
The Corporation has taken several measures including:
- A specialist Rough Sleeper outreach team to engage directly with individuals on the streets
- A monthly emergency provision offering immediate access to safe overnight space
- Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) to help safeguard the most vulnerable people in our community – when the weather has been extreme for an extended period, we secure additional capacity with local partners and the City’s churches
- Supporting the Mayor of London’s pan-London strategy, including for example campaign to urge members of the public to donate to specialist charities rather than individuals
- Partnership with Tower Hamlets on two projects – No First Night Out and Rough Sleeping Navigators, and with Hackney in a shared Housing First approach
This shows the City is taking action, but as the numbers of rough sleepers continue to rise it is clear more needs to be done including potential creation of a day centre to provide access to health and housing support and support a repeal of the 1824 Vagrancy Act which unnecessarily criminalises rough sleeping.
Policy and Resources
Last year I was elected to the Policy and Resources Committee. This is the main decision-making Committee within the City Corporation. As such I have been involved in a wide range of projects and decisions ranging from:
- Investments in a new Court building, to
- Enhancing the Corporation’s London Living Wage commitment,
- Investing in skills and apprenticeships, and
- Setting up a pilot scheme in Islington to support children during summer holidays with programme providing activities, healthy meals and learning opportunities
Diversity and social mobility
The buzz, cultural offer and diversity is what makes London great. People and talent are now more than ever important to businesses. My first job in the UK was for the Equal Opportunities Commission. I am using this experience and passion for equality to promote diversity and social mobility in the City.
For example by ensuring that the City raises the Pride Flag at Guildhall in July, to speaking at the LGBT network of one of our Ward businesses, Investec. Or by raising questions about how the City is protecting the rights of EU citizens through Brexit. As 18% of City workers come from the EU. And indeed 40% come from outside the UK.
I also joined a working group to recommend changes to the Corporation to improve diversity in our democratic representation.
At the Wardmote the importance of actions to enhance the diversity of the Court of Common Council – full meeting of Councillors and Aldermen – to better represent its wider constituency was supported.
It was noted during the debate that only 23% of the current Court of Common Council are women and only 10% are from BAME background. This sits uncomfortable low against for example a target of 30% of women in political representation set by the Commonwealth. The Corporation was therefore asked in a resolution adopted at the meeting what targets and actions have been agreed to enhance the diversity of the Court of Common Council.
As a team we fully support the resolution – increasing diversity and inclusion is a priority for us. Clear focus needed to look at strengthening women and BAME representation, but also important to look at wider issues such as social mobility into the City.
Since I joined the working group last year the Policy and Resources asset an aspiration to achieve increased representation at the next Common Council elections in 2021 of 30% women and 15% BAME candidate. The working group made 20 recommendations of which so far 7 have been approved; one was rejected – those approved so far are:
- Allow use of term ‘Chair’ and ‘Common Councillor’ rather than Chairman and Common Councilman. Decided to keep term Alderman.
- Nudge on internal Council ballot papers – to mark current women and BAME representation on Committees
- Voluntary Members Diversity Charter
- Unconscious bias training for Councillors and Aldermen
- Consider diversity of panel discussions hosted and attended by the Corporation
Request update from livery companies on their own diversity initiatives