It is a huge honour to serve as the Member of Parliament for Dulwich and West Norwood, which has been my home for more than 20 years. The strength of our area is in its people – its diverse and active communities and the hundreds of people who give their time and commitment to making it a better place.
Since my election in 2015, I have directly supported thousands of individual local residents facing difficult circumstances; and countless more who have contacted me about policy issues or matters of wider concern. These cases range from housing and homelessness, Universal Credit, support for autistic people, immigration matters and support for refugees and asylum seekers and working with communities to tackle air pollution and improve road safety.
I have worked hard both locally and in Parliament to tackle the issues which directly affect our community, whether the impact of the Windrush scandal, the Tories unfair planning system which allows landowners to make windfall profits at the expense of social housing, cuts to our local schools, the impact of failing privatised services like our rail companies, water and postal services, the lack of funding for mental health, the climate crisis and air pollution or the deep funding crisis affecting King’s College Hospital.
Like so many local residents, I was very concerned to learn that our local football club, Dulwich Hamlet FC had been locked out of their home ground at Champion Hill in a dispute with their landlord.
I campaigned with the club and their supporters for the return to Champion Hill and was pleased to secure an adjournment debate in Parliament raising the issues DHFC were facing and securing the support of MPs from across the House. Following the debate, I worked with the then Sports Minister and Harriet Harman to support DHFC in reaching an agreement with their landlord and the Council, leading to their return to Champion Hill.
Dulwich Hamlet play an incredible important role in our community, not only for the enjoyment of the game which it provides, but also for the role of the club in enabling talented young footballers from a diverse range of backgrounds to develop their skills and for the wider role it plays in the local community including supporting a wide range of charitable causes. I am delighted that the club are now back in their home at Champion Hill!
In 2011 the Tories and Lib Dems privatised Royal Mail. They were warned that this would lead to cuts and closures at local level, but they pressed ahead anyway. In 2016, Royal Mail announced that they planned to close the SE22 delivery office in Silvester Road and the SE27 delivery office in West Norwood.
Working with the Communication Workers Union I led the local campaign against these planned closures, organising public meetings and protests outside the delivery offices attended by hundreds of local residents. Along with local Labour councillors, I hand delivered a letter to the Chief Executive of Royal Mail urging him to think again, and coordinated a petition which was signed by more than 1,000 local residents.
Completely irresponsibly, Royal Mail pressed ahead with the closure of the Silvester Road office shortly before the Christmas peak period in 2018. This led to chaos, with parcels going undelivered, and residents having to travel to Peckham and queue for up to an hour to collect their mail. The site has been sold for housing for £7million – typical of Royal Mail’s asset stripping approach.
Since the closure, I have written to the CEO of Royal Mail to ask that urgent action is taken to resolve these issues and have met with Royal Mail many times in the past year to hold them to account. I am in regular contact with Royal Mail raising the individual concerns of constituents.
So far, the West Norwood office has remained open and I am continuing to press Royal Mail to confirm that they had dropped their terrible plans to move this service to Anerley. However, it is more important than ever to make clear the strength of opposition.
Royal Mail has also been dogged by reports of missing post and criminal fraud locally. It is clear that privatisation is failing local residents. Labour believes that Royal Mail is a universal service, not a series of assets to be stripped for private profit, and we would bring it back into public ownership.
The Black Cultural Archives, based on Windrush Square in Brixton is the only national organisation dedicated to collecting, preservice and celebrating the heritage of black people in Britain. Alongside this crucial work, the BCA supports the wider community, including Windrush citizens affected by the Government’s Hostile Environment.
Last year, the BCA found itself facing a serious funding crisis. I have been working hard in Parliament and locally to support BCA to secure sustainable funding. I wrote a letter signed by 100 MPs calling on the government to ensure the future of BCA, and I have continued to exert pressure on the government. As a result of this pressure, the Government committed to short term emergency funding for BCA and I am continuing to work closely with the trustees to secure long term sustainable funding for this vital institution.
Earlier this year, Barclay’s bank announced their plans to close their branch in West Norwood, the last bank in West Norwood to do so leaving the town centre with no banking services. Across my constituency, this is the fourth bank closure (and the third from Barclay’s) in recent years, following the closure of Barclay’s in Dulwich Village and Crystal Palace and the closure of Lloyd’s in West Dulwich.
While many people bank online, branch closures hit small businesses who rely on branches to deposit their takings and withdraw change, and older people who do not bank online very hard, and it is devastating for the local economy and community for any town centre to be left with no branches at all. This is a particularly challenging time for our local businesses who are facing competition from online retailers, as well as punishing rent and business rates increases.
Together with local Labour councillors, I met with Barclay’s and urged them to think again, but unfortunately they chose to put profit before the needs of our local community. This closure will increase financial exclusion in our area, and it is completely unacceptable. We need new legislation to ensure that our banks continue to provide branch-based services, and to stop the last branch in any town centre from being closed.
Shortly before I was first elected in 2015, Network Rail announced that they were planning to refurbish their railway arches in Brixton and Herne Hill and would be terminating the leases of existing small business tenants in order to do so. Businesses were being offered paltry compensation for the loss of their premises and their livelihoods, and only the opportunity to return on a new lease at a far higher rent.
I met with the affected businesses, joined protests and lobbied Network Rail hard. As a consequence of these representations and the strength of feeling in our local community, the businesses were offered the right to return, help finding alternative premises for the duration of the works, higher levels of compensation and reduced rents for seven years after the works were completed. However, the works have taken far too long, creating substantial ‘dead zones’ in Brixton and Herne Hill town centres, which have affected the trading environment for other businesses.
Subsequently, Network Rail has disposed of most of its arches estate to the Arch Company, which is tasked with running the arches on a commercial basis. I have repeatedly challenged the government on the terms of this sale which leave arches-based businesses vulnerable to sharp rent increases, and I am continuing to campaign with Guardians of the Arches for better protection for arches-based businesses which provide hundreds of thousands of jobs across the UK.
Thousands of my constituents rely on rail services provided by Southern Rail and GTR to commute into central London for work and school. For the past five years, we have consistently seen these private rail operators fail our local community with frequent cancellations, delays and overcrowded trains. Both operators consistently come bottom in surveys of passenger satisfaction, and both have been condemned by the rail watchdog and passenger groups.
I have consistently engaged with local residents to understand the impact of our failing rail services. In 2016, along with local Labour councillors, I surveyed more than 1,000 local residents. It was clear from the feedback that the impact of poor rail services is far more than simply inconvenience – I heard from constituents who had lost employment, whose family life and relationships were under strain, who had suffered severe mental strain as a result of being failed day after day.
I have called repeatedly for the government to intervene and to hand south London suburban rail services to Transport for London to run, a public sector organisation with the experience and track record to run reliable services.
The Labour Party is committed to bringing the railways back into public ownership, placing the needs of commuters and rail users above the profits of private companies.
In 2015, I supported Judith Kerr Primary School parents in campaigning against a proposed development on the school’s playing field to secure it for the school for the long term. The Lib-Dem Tory coalition government introduced the free schools programme, which allowed schools to be established very quickly with public funding, often in pre-existing buildings.
Sadly in the case of Judith Kerr, a lease had been signed which allowed the possibility of development on the playing field. Had this gone ahead it would have left the primary school with almost no outdoor space for play and physical activity. As a result of our campaign, the planning application was refused, and the playing fields have been secured for the long term use of the school. Increasing levels of childhood obesity, climate change and air pollution mean that ensuring our children grow up with access to outdoor space for play and exercise has never been more important.
Almost every family in Dulwich and West Norwood has a connection to our much-loved local hospital, King’s College Hospital. Both my children were born there, and my mum spent a decade working at King’s. In 2010 prior to the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government King’s had a balanced budget and made a small surplus each year. In 2011, King’s was forced to take on two additional hospitals, following the failure of the South London Healthcare Trust. At the same time, the Tories and Lib Dems took the decision to limit NHS annual budget rises to 1% a year. These decisions, decimated the finances at King’s, causing the hospital to record an annual deficit in excess of £180m last year and be placed in financial special measures with an overall debt of more than £500 million, the highest deficit and debt of any hospital in the UK ever.
The staff at King’s are amazing and work hard every single day to deliver the best possible care for patients. But they are under intolerable pressure, as demand for services continues to grow and they are not being provided with the resources they need from government. The government recently announced that £850m previously held back from NHS hospitals could now be spent, but this announcement offered not a penny of support for King’s. I have repeatedly called for a long-term investment plan for the NHS and social care sector, funded by increasing taxation on the very wealthiest in society. I have raised the crisis facing King’s repeatedly in Parliament, including leading a debate on King’s. I have joined junior doctors on the picket line, protested against funding cuts, and for increased investment in mental health services at the Maudsley Hospital across the road. I will continue to fight for our much-loved local hospital.
I am vehemently opposed to privatisation in our NHS, and recently supported staff at King’s who were faced with their jobs being outsourced to a private company. Working with representatives from Unite and Unison, we successfully fought this proposal, keeping vital facilities management jobs in the NHS.
The focus of our water industry should be on protecting the environment, delivering a safe and reliable water supply, keeping bills down and fighting climate change. The privatisation of the water industry has instead created a focus on profits for private shareholders, leaving customers paying high prices for worse services.
In my constituency, residents have been consistently failed by Thames Water over many years, with frequent leaks and bursts and water stoppages, most seriously during the 'beast from the east' cold snap in 2018, when hundreds of households were without water for several days and the arrangements for ensuring emergency supplies, particularly to vulnerable customers, were entirely inadequate.
I have raised the failures of our water industry in Parliament, and directly with Ofwat and Thames Water on many occasions. Labour is committed to bring our water industry back into public ownership. Nowhere is the need for this more clearly demonstrated than in the failings of Thames Water.
In 2015, Cineworld reported a post-tax profit of £83.8 million yet they have refused to pay workers at their Picturehouse chain the living wage or invest in employee welfare. With several branches in Dulwich and West Norwood, including the Ritzy cinema in Brixton, this has affected workers across our community.
I have supported the Ritzy living wage strike action since before I was elected in 2015. I have joined the picket line on several occasions including with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and support the boycott of Picturehouse branches. In Parliament, I have raised the workers’ concerns at Prime Minister’s Questions and challenged senior representatives from Cineworld about their treatment of staff. I will continue to press Cineworld to do the right thing and pay the living wage. More widely, a Labour government would increase the national minimum wage to the level of the independently assessed living wage, ensuring that all workers can afford to live.
I have recently been supporting families affected by the closure of Cherry Tree Nursery in West Norwood. I represented parents to the Great North Wood Education Trust which ran Cherry Tree and at the Lambeth Council Cabinet meeting to raise the impact that the closure would have on the availability of affordable high quality childcare and specialist SEND provision for local families. More recently, I have been supporting local Labour councillors and parents who are working to establish a parent-led cooperative to reopen the nursery.
This issue in our local area highlights the devastating impact that Tory and Lib Dem austerity is having on our local services. Our Councils have lost more than 60% of their funding from central government and there is now a £3.1 billion gap in the funding for children’s services across the country, resulting in devastating cuts to vital universal services like children’s centres, and many Councils struggling to meet their statutory responsibilities to the most vulnerable children.