This is my last message to you before I step down as Leader of Southwark Council on Wednesday, and I wish I was saying goodbye at a happier time.
I must tell you that the number of Covid-19 cases in Southwark has been increasing. Numbers are now rising across London and much of the country. We all need to help prevent the spread of the virus by following the rules. We must all:
wash our hands regularly
wear a face covering on transport and in enclosed spaces
keep our distance from others (and now only meet socially with up to six people)
self-isolate and get tested if we have symptoms.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit London back in March, I decided to stay on and help Southwark and London navigate the crisis. I’m proud of the way our borough and city have supported residents and businesses, and although we still have tough times ahead, we are in a much better place to handle a second wave than we were back in the spring. I can’t put off my departure forever, and so on Wednesday I will step down and a new Leader will be elected by Council Assembly.
I became Leader in 2010 and over the last ten years I have led the borough through good times and bad. We have celebrated the Olympics, welcomed Her Majesty the Queen to the Shard, and always delivered on our commitments – from free healthy school meals to free swim and gym, introducing the London Living Wage and the ethical care charter, to making every council home warm, dry and safe and committing to building 11,000 new council homes. But it is what we should always be doing as a good local council – thinking radically to help our residents and improving their life chances.
Of course, we have also faced austerity, riots, terror, the housing crisis and the dreadful fallout from the Grenfell tragedy, and throughout made the right – sometimes difficult – choices for our residents.
As Leader I have always been clear that we should never tolerate anyone failing to reach their potential because of their home, their school, their environment or their job prospects. The fact that many more people in our borough have found a job or a home in our borough since 2010 is something to be celebrated.
Tackling inequality and improving the life chances of our residents has been my driving force since 2010. We have broken down barriers and inequalities – whether it is through our major investment in improving our council housing or supporting aspiring students through the Youth Fund or any other of our inspiring initiatives.
Over the coming months we will face massive financial challenges which will force us to take difficult decisions about the services we can offer. But I do take comfort from the fact that without the investment, growth and prudent financial management of the past decade those challenges would be far greater. And we will need to reassure our diverse communities that they will continue to be safe and that everyone will prosper as a valued individual in our borough.
When I delayed my departure six months ago I had some idea of the massive impact which Covid-19 was going to have on our borough and our city. We have all been touched in some way by this disease, and the economic and social impact of the pandemic has been deeper and harsher than anyone could have feared. At Southwark Council, we responded swiftly and effectively to the pandemic – changing the way we operate entirely and introducing services and support, which did not exist before March.
Leaving this role at this time is difficult. But thank you for all your support and for helping me to deliver a fairer future for all in the best borough, in the best city, in the best country in the world. Southwark is and will continue to be the best place in the world.
With my very best wishes,