This is a guest post, by Cllr Rabina Khan, formerly of Tower Hamlets First and now an independent candidate for Tower Hamlets Mayor.
The first thing I will do if elected as Mayor of Tower Hamlets is sit down with the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Commissioners. While this council continues to be recognised nationally as a high performing authority leading in many key policy areas, last year’s report by PriceWaterhouse Coopers identified governance failures in certain areas and addressing these must be our first priority – along with restoring confidence in our institutions and processes – so that we can move beyond recent challenges to best protect local people facing a wide range of adversities in difficult times.
I want to be a mayor for women, a mayor for housing and a mayor who stands up against austerity. Women need more role models in public life. Of the seventeen directly elected mayors in Britain, only four are women. I hope that I can be part of breaking that evident glass ceiling, following the recent influx of record numbers of women to Parliament and an election which for the first time saw female party leaders – Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood – take the stage and arguably totally transform the debate.
Every study has shown that austerity, and before it the recession, have hit women harder than men. Women’s unemployment, and particularly BME women’s unemployment, is a serious concern. That’s why I’m pledging to establish a brand new Women’s Employment Hub to ensure local women are presented with job opportunities and are equipped with the skills needed for the workplace.
Under my leadership as cabinet member for housing for the last five years, Tower Hamlets has seen more than 4000 social and affordable homes built – more than any other council in Britain as recognised by central government repeatedly awarding us the highest ‘New Homes Bonus’. We’ve established the landmark Preventing Homelessness Fund, refused to pass on cuts in council tax benefit and said no to Bedroom Tax evictions. But the housing waiting list continues to grow, so I’ve drawn up detailed plans to build 5,500 affordable homes by 2018.
Tenants know I’m someone who has always been on their side – and I’ll hold social landlords to account to make sure they promote real tenant leadership and decision-making. I’m also promising a better deal for Leaseholders – capping punitive charges and making our system fairer.
Over the last four years Tower Hamlets has blazed a trail on behalf of local people, fighting austerity and latent child poverty that continues to blight the East End. We’ve restored education maintenance allowances scrapped by central government, introduced universal free school meals in primary schools and introduced university grants to ensure that poverty cannot be a barrier to achievement.
We were the first council to pay workers the London Living Wage. Now I’m campaigning for a Living Rent. My brand new Mayor’s Employment Board and enterprise strategy will deliver 20,000 sustainable jobs and training opportunities, along with 8,000 new apprenticeships. As a working mum I understand what a juggling exercise life can be, so we’ll provide more nursery places to help parents into work. I’ll also abolish charges for bulk-waste collection.
Some have tried to make this election about the recent court judgment. Former mayor, Lutfur Rahman has made clear his intention to appeal. But that is his battle and this is mine. This election cannot be about the past, when the future presents such stark challenges to the poor and the vulnerable. We need to start a fresh chapter in our politics, opening up local democracy and leaving no-one outside. My People’s Question Time events across the borough will enable local people directly to hold me to account, along with key officials from the council and – I hope – partner organisations such as the police and the health service.
I’ll extend filming to all council committees, answer questions in full council, cabinet and the scrutiny committee. I’ll hold a regular press briefings. There will be no mayoral car. Grants will be determined in an open and transparent manner. I’ll review the council’s relationship with Rich Mix, and launch a brand new culture strategy to engage with all the rich spectrum of culture and talent throughout the East End. And anyone who knows me will tell you I’m my own woman.
The general election has returned a reactionary Conservative government hellbent on rolling back the state no matter the human consequences. At the same time we have a Labour Party bashing immigrants and backing the lowering of the benefit cap as its leadership candidates compete to see who can lurch most to the right. Even locally John Biggs has refused to guarantee lifeline policies such as the EMA. This area needs a mayor who can be relied upon to be on local people’s side. I hope you will put your trust in me to be that mayor.