In 2012, Steve Bullock, one of the country’s first elected mayors, will enter his tenth year as the Mayor for Lewisham.
Over the last year, the borough has been affected by the riots in August, suffered dramatic surges in knife crime and gang violence and now many of its residents will face the risk of eviction from their homes in the New Year.
EastLondonLines interviewed Mayor Steve Bullock to find out what he feels will be the most pressing issues of 2012. We asked our readers to tell us what questions they want to be answered via Twitter.
ELL: In what way will the housing crisis issue dominate politics in Lewisham over the next year?
Mayor Bullock: “In particular I’m concerned about the benefit changes that will force people out of their homes because of the way benefits are going to be capped and that will put huge pressure on local authority housing.”
ELL: In December, Lewisham was found to be in the top ten local authorities with the highest repossession claims, putting residents at a greater risk of losing their homes. How do you plan to address the crisis?
Mayor Bullock: “The answer is we need more housing, its partly about supply but also about explaining to government ministers that housing in London is different to anywhere else. The demand for rented housing is actually going up so we will be trying to increase the number of new homes. Shockingly recent figures have shown that there is currently the lowest number of staff building new homes for years. That can’t go on.”
ELL: What will be done to help those being evicted from their homes?
Mayor Bullock: “It depends on their reasons for being evicted. If they are in social rented accommodation and they haven’t been paying their rent then we won’t be doing very much. If on the other hand, they are being unfairly evicted by private landlords then we will be offering them advice and we may well have a housing responsibility if they are evicted.”
ELL: One plan to tackle London’s housing crisis has been Ken Livingstone’s proposals to introduce a ‘living rent’ for London, which will work similarly to a ‘living wage’ by putting a cap on rents as opposed to housing benefits. What are your thoughts?
Mayor Bullock: “Interesting idea but I don’t know how he intends to fund it. One of the big charges of the London living wage, which this is a development of, is that Lewisham council will have to put a lot of money into making the London living wage. If the subsidy of housing rent is going to be from the private sector then I need to know where the funding is coming from to make it happen.”
ELL: Another major issue has been an increase in knife crime, which had risen by over 60 per cent since 2008 in the borough. How do you plan to deal with the issue?
Mayor Bullock: “We work very closely with the police and one of our priorities is tackling street violence and we are conscious that a high number of people in our borough are carrying knives.
“Schools are vital for changing this and we need to challenge young people’s assumptions that they have to carry knives for their own safety. We want to further reduce people carrying weapons by targeting schools and raising pupils’ awareness of the dangers of carrying weapons.
ELL: What is being done to support third sector and voluntary organisations in the borough?
Mayor Bullock: “We’ve put aside a part of the council’s budget to let groups bid for funding for new ideas and we’re very conscious that in the difficult times we have at the moment the work that will be done by community groups will be absolutely vital to the borough. We’re very aware that people with new, different ideas should be given an opportunity to develop ideas. They deliver services and speak up for people and we want to develop this as much as possible in the New Year.”
ELL: How do the creative industries in Lewisham feature in your plan for 2012?
Mayor Bullock: “The creative industry is very important for Lewisham particularly for New Cross. It is a significant area for local employment but it is an area that has little money at the moment. We are hoping to put more money into this next year and we want to work closely with organisations, help them with bids for funding and business management.”
ELL: A high number of businesses in Lewisham were affected by the August disorder and many are still suffering from the damage. How will you continue to deal with this problem?
Mayor Bullock: “Businesses in Lewisham were not as damaged to some of the neighboring areas. This was to some extent because the police in Lewisham did a fantastic job and I like to think it was also because we have a strong community that prevented many people from taking part.
“We are presently working with businesses to try and identify ways we can use some of the resources that have been made available so they are more equipped to compete in what is a very competitive environment.”
ELL: How does your additional position on the board for the Local Government Employers Work Place Program, that provides the strategic and policy direction for the Local Government Group’s workforce activities, affect your role as Mayor?
Mayor Bullock: “A good question. It means that on current issues, around areas such as pensions, I have been involved in the work that affects not only the thousands of staff who work for us here in Lewisham, but also people living in the area, as everyone will be aware of the massive industrial action that affected everybody. If I can help get these issues resolved then not having to resort to industrial action in Lewisham will be a benefit for the people of Lewisham. It’s not that the work I do on the board is completely separate from Lewisham but it concerns the issues that are important here.”