24 September 2013

What the Lib Dems really think of free, healthy school meals in Southwark

(Click on the picture above to listen to the Southwark Lib Dem speech on free healthy school meals for primary school children.)

Last week Southwark Liberal Democrats got more than a little unwanted attention. They appeared on national TV a number of times and in pretty much every national newspaper because of their hypocrisy over Free Healthy School Meals.

Labour introduced free healthy school meals for all Primary School children in Southwark when we were elected in 2010, one of a tiny number of local authorities to do so. It has proved to be an incredibly successful policy, ensuring that every child is getting a healthy, hot meal inside them, boosting educational attainment, removing stigma and tackling childhood obesity.

Surprising then that Southwark Lib Dems have opposed it vehemently for the past three and a half years. Then, just before their national conference a few weeks ago they came up against a problem: Their national party was about to back the policy! This was particularly troublesome for them, because they had employed every dirty trick they could think of in order to oppose the policy, including putting out this leaflet, suggesting Labour was giving food to "rich kids" along with a picture of an Eton Schoolboy. (Anyone who knows anything about the socio-economic make-up of our borough and our schools knows this is nonsense.)

One way that they tried to wriggle out of this was by saying that they had only opposed it on the grounds of cost:

There are a multitude of sources showing this is nonsense, not least their infamous leaflet. But I think the starkest example is the speech posted above, which is Southwark Lib Dem Councillor Mark Gettleston, speaking at a council meeting in 2011, in which he claims that the council had lots of money to spend at that time, but his Party still thought spending money on Free Healthy School Meals was a waste of money.

Proof that the only way to safeguard this treasured local policy is to vote for your Southwark Labour candidates in May 2014.

13 September 2013

Talking Free, Healthy School Meals at Francesca Cabrini Primary School

It was great to speak to so many parents at St Francesca Cabrini Primary School today.  We were letting people know about Southwark Labour's hugely successful Free, Healthy School Meals policy.  Since investing in this policy after we took control of the council in 2010, more and more evidence is showing that it is helping kids to concentrate at school and tackle obesity.  Most importantly, it ensures that every primary child at school in Southwark is getting a good quality, cooked meal in the middle of the school day.

This is a great policy which Victoria, Renata and I are very proud our Party has introduced (in the teeth of some vicious and misleading opposition from local Liberal Democrats).

You may also be interested in some national coverage on Southwark's school meals policy in the past week

1 September 2013

Inaugural meeting of the Peckham Rye Responsible Dog Owners Association

On Saturday morning I went along to the first meeting of the Peckham Rye Responsible Dog Owners Association (PRRDOA).  This is a group set up by local dog owners who were concerned that their voice  was not being heard loud and clear.  Local residents Dave Hardy and Nick Simpson in particular have been leading the way in getting this group organised.
In truth, the catalyst for this group hasn’t been a wholly positive issue.  The council recently launched a survey across the borough to collect residents views about dog related issues in parks and green spaces.  I think everyone now accepts that the wording of some of the questions could have been better.  As a result, dog owners in Peckham Rye clearly felt that there was a need to get their views across to the council via a new group.

But positive things often come out of these situations.  There were at least 50 dog owners in the Clock House Pub – an excellent turnout for a Saturday morning.  The meeting was really constructive and lots of good ideas were discussed about how to improve things for local dog walkers and park users more generally.  Nick Simpson set out very clearly the aims of the group and emphasised that they wanted to encourage responsible dog ownership and walking. The PRRDOA is keen to ensure members keep dogs on leads in the designated areas and that people clear up dog mess.  Nick said he wanted the group to be a body that the council could talk to (and vice versa) about dog walking in the park.  He also said that some felt that a small minority of irresponsible owners had given the vast majority an undeserved bad name.  He wanted that to stop and for people to recognise that dog walkers are an important group of park users. 

I spoke briefly to ensure that people knew the position of the Peckham Rye Labour Councillors. On dog control areas in the park, we feel that the balance is currently about right and we don’t think they should be extended.  We also want to ensure that there is proper enforcement regarding keeping dogs on leads and clearing up mess, but that this needs to be done in a polite and respectful manner. There has been some concern about the way dog owners are sometimes spoken to by council staff.

Cllr Barrie Hargrove, our excellent Cabinet Member with responsibility for parks, also came along and spoke.  Barrie said that he didn’t think there was a particular problem with dogs in Peckham Rye Park.  Barrie also said that the council took its responsibility to ensure safety and cleanliness in parks (and on streets) very seriously and that the survey was an attempt to gather views on this.  Barrie also said he recognised there might be some issues with the survey and that the results would be looked at with this in mind. 

There was then a lively discussion which included suggestions for future activities including meet ups in the park, a “poo pick up” session and the the flagging of dog mess the highlight it and ensure it’s picked up. 

Nick Simpson is going to be circulating the official minutes of the meeting soon and is also in the process of setting up a website.  Nick and others are also going to meet directly with Barrie and council officers to get into the detail of some of the issues discussed.  I’m also going to get hold of some stats on dog related incidents in Peckham Rye and send them to the group.  Victoria, Renata and I look forward to coming along to future meetings and keeping up the dialogue with PRRDOA.