The recent budget announcements may not seem like they contained a great deal for local Southwark residents.
Yet, masked behind the fiasco of the National Insurance Contributions U-turn, the budget did highlight some changes which may help towards improving lives for ordinary hard working Southwark residents.
One of the key areas of focus on the London Assembly, which involves close cross-party working with all Assembly Members, is the case for additional devolution to the Mayor, which in turn will allow London more control over future investment and growth. The publication of the London Devolution Agreement in the budget outlined additional devolution in key areas including infrastructure, business rates, criminal justice, congestion, health and employment support.
Housing, particularly the lack of genuinely affordable housing, continues to be the top issue in an inner London borough like Southwark with spiralling rents charged to tenants in the private rented sector. Southwark Council has an ambitious target to build 11,000 new council homes by 2043, with the first 1,500 to be delivered by 2018. This new funding arrangement, and a strong partnership between City Hall and Southwark Council will help the Mayor in building new projects with less dependence on the Government and could bring forward building to the benefit of Southwark residents.
A number of Southwark businesses will feel the disproportionate impact of the increase in Business Rates, due to come into force from 1 April 2017 – in some parts of SE1 some businesses would see their rates increase by almost 80%. Like most local authorities, Southwark Council collects business rates where the majority of the income goes straight to central government, and the additional increase collected may not be distributed to local businesses. The announcement from the Chancellor to explore options for London to have additional powers over the administration of business rates will help the Mayor and Southwark Council to determine where best to spend and how increases are worked out.
With the months of uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote it is positive to see the Mayor being given the powers to allow London to succeed. Although the vote seems like a life-time ago, Article 50 will finally be triggered by the government later this month. In light of this, Sadiq Khan has launched a new campaign calling on the Prime Minister to give the right to remain in the UK to EU Nationals. As a representative for a strong remain voting borough like Southwark, I support this they should not be used as pawns in the EU-exit negotiations. In London there are over one million EU citizens living and contributing to our great city and we must uphold and embrace the notion that London is Open.