Legal aid, carers, post office closures, gay marriage and cuts to local government funding….

20130628-160316.jpgCuts to local government funding, cuts to legal aid, post office closures and supporting gay marriage and the armed forces – these were the subjects for motions past at last night’s Islington Full Council meeting.

Local carers also made a presentation to the Council. It is important to remember 1 in 8 adults is an unpaid carer. It is estimated that unpaid carers save the UK economy £119billion a year. The Council heard about how the Tory-Lib Dem government’s cuts and welfare reforms are making life even more difficult for our carers.

I made speeches in support of marriage equality and Islington’s Local Plan. In the marriage equality speech I read from Stonewall’s House of Lords Equal Marriage Bingo card. Yes this meant I got to say “sodomy”, “incest”, “aggressive homosexuals” and “lesbian Queen” in the Council Chamber.

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Stonewall equal marriage bingo card

I also made the following speech about Islington’s Local Plan and the power and importance of local government:

“Islington’s Local Plan support Islington Labour’s commitments to fairness. Our local plan helps us build new social housing, protect and support our local shops and high streets, and will provide more employment opportunities for local people.

With so many Islington families on the housing waiting list and with many people living in extremely overcrowded homes, the plan’s commitment to building 6,000 new homes is very welcome indeed.

New housing is important, but so too is greenspace. This Islington Fairness Commission noted that “despite having the least green space of any London Borough, Islington does have high quality green spaces available to the community, including 227 parks, gardens and open spaces…The Commission notes the importance of community assets such as public spaces in bringing people together. The smallest of spaces, used effectively, can really enliven densely built-up places.”

Parks and open spaces enhance our mental and physical wellbeing. It is great news that the plan includes the promise of five hectares of new or improved open public space.

We all know our local high streets are struggling so it’s fantastic that the plan includes more protection for small shops and local businesses. New developments will also be required to provide small shops within them.

We will also be able to place additional plannin

g restrictions on new betting shops and pay day loan companies. Sadly the Tory-Lib Dem government’s recent changes to “permitted development” rights makes this harder. So much for localism.

As Islington’s Local Plan demonstrates, there are many ways Councillors can make a radical and positive impact on the communities we serve.

As Labour Councillors we can champion progressive planning policies that prioritise delivering more affordable family housing. We can ask that new developments employ local people as apprentices. We can use the section 106 money from developments to fund community projects and urban regeneration.

We can use licensing to tackle obesity, alcoholism and anti-social behaviour. For example, Islington’s Local Plan allows us to restrict takeaways and fast-food chains from opening near Schools.

Our licensing team can work with trading standards to tackling rogue landlords. We can use our public health brief to address health inequalities and hold Clinical Commissioning Groups to account. Through progressive energy policies we can work to alleviate fuel poverty and lower our carbon emissions.

Islington Labour leads by example and pay all our workers the living wage. Many of our contractors do now the same.

Times are hard. We all know this. Islington has to cope with £140 million cuts every year.

Our budget has been cut nearly halved since the Tory-Lib Dem government came to power. These cuts are almost beyond comprehension.

But despite all this, local government can make a real and lasting positive difference to the communities we serve. Islington’s Local Plan embodies this. It shows that even in tough times, Islington Labour is on your side.”

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