2023 has been a year of our community achieving remarkable things together. Let’s take a moment to celebrate just a few of them.
Where better to start than with our young people and their exam results. This year they did brilliantly well, achieving above the national average, and above 2019 when exams were last externally marked pre-pandemic. I’m sure you’ll want to join me in congratulating them and our wonderful Southwark schools, 98% of which are now rated Good or Outstanding.
Last week I visited Ark Walworth secondary school to hear about their inspiring work and to celebrate another big Southwark achievement. What was that you may ask? Well this autumn marked ten years since Labour rolled out free health school meals for all Southwark primary school children. It’s been a decade of doing the right thing.
I’m delighted to say we marked this anniversary by extending free healthy meals in our secondary schools, to 1,500 more families on low income. Having had lunch with the children at Ark, I can attest to how good they are. It was even better to hear the teachers and young people team talk about the huge difference they make. Helping children stay healthy, concentrate, learn and succeed and providing a lifeline for families who are struggling to make ends meet.
It’s not just supporting our young people that we are leading the way on.
This year we had the stunning news that we are building more new council homes and more new social rent homes in Southwark than any other borough in the country. A truly remarkable achievement. Including over 3,000 new council homes either built or on site being built. It’s been deeply heart-warming to meet so many families as they move into these homes and to hear the difference they make to their lives.
This year we also opened the doors to our sixth new Library since 2010. The Una Marson Library is located at the heart of the Aylesbury estate and, in the words of the first residents who walked in, it’s ‘absolutely beautiful’ and ‘something to be truly proud of’. It’s not the only Library we’ve opened this year either. In the summer the Kingswood Library reopened in its new home on Seeley Drive.
We’ve also been upgrading our leisure centres. In the summer, the council took over directly running all eight. Since then we’ve been investing in them, improving changing rooms, gym equipment and much more besides. So when making your New Year resolutions, don’t forget to put signing up to Southwark Leisure on your list!
It’s not just young people, homes, libraries and leisure centres we’ve been investing in, it’s our whole community.
This month I helped to cut the ribbon at the new Spring Community Hub in Camberwell. One of over 300 community run projects across Southwark that the council funds to provide vital support for local people. It’s been inspiring to visit so many of them this year and to hear from local people, volunteers and workers about the amazing things they are doing to make our borough a better place for all.
We’ve also been working hand in hand with many of these groups to make sure our council Cost of Living Fund reaches residents who need it most. Last winter, the council put this extra money into the pockets of over 30,000 households who were struggling to get buy. I’m glad to say the fund is open again now, providing a £100 vouchers to eligible households to help with essential expenses this winter.
I also want to thank all of the local employers who’ve stepped up this year to pay more. In November, the Living Wage Foundation recognized the work employers and the council are doing together in our borough to lift people out of poverty pay. Awarding Southwark the status of ‘Living Wage Place’, they praised our collective work to promote fair pay. With 312 local employers now signed up to the London Living Wage, meaning a guarantee of fairer pay for nearly five thousand workers.
Our Southwark Parks also kept their 30 green flags awards, in recognition of their high standards, and thanks to the brilliant work of the council’s parks team, local residents and friends of parks groups who look after them so well.
On the subject of nature, it’s worth mentioning the 5,000 trees we will be planting across Southwark this winter. Taking us to over 100,000 on council land.
Another great example of Southwark leading the way is our Through Her Eyes campaign. It uses a fantastic short film, staring local young people, to help teenage boys rethink how they behave towards women and girls. Helping them see ‘through her eyes’ the harm that catcalling and unwanted advances do. It’s not only being used in secondary schools across Southwark, and played on the big screen at Peckhamplex, it’s now being used in over a thousand schools across London too.
There is much more to celebrate. We’ve rolled out thousands of energy saving LED street lighting, installed over 1,200 EV charging points, 106 cycle hangers and invested over £135,000 in a host of projects to improve our town centres.
It’s a remarkable list of achievements and I want to thank all of the volunteers, schools, local business, community groups, council staff, residents and councillors involved.
This list stands in stark contrast to the national picture, and the overwhelming sense that our country is going backwards. With falling pay, rising bills and public services – from our hospitals to our courts – at breaking point.
I will leave you with one final thought for the New Year. If we can achieve so much in Southwark. Because we have Labour run council working hand in hand with our community, and despite years of cuts imposed by successive Conservative and Liberal Democrat Governments. Just think how much more we could achieve as a country with Labour in power in parliament too, rebuilding a Britain we can all be proud of.
I want to wish you and your family a wonderful festive period and a very happy new year.