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Opinion: Building a fairer society

PUBLISHED: 08:30 21 March 2020

Mayor of Hackney, Philip Glanville. Picture: Gary Manhine/Hackney Council

Mayor of Hackney, Philip Glanville. Picture: Gary Manhine/Hackney Council

Gary Manhine: 07989 418 474 gary@manhinephoto.co.uk

I understand the anxiety and worry that the coronavirus outbreak may be causing you and your family.

I share these concerns, and over the last week, I have met with council leaders from across London, joined a phone call with the minister for local government and met with the council’s chief executive and public health director to discuss our preparedness in keeping residents and staff safe.

The council is working very closely with Public Health England, the NHS and other partners to manage the spread of the virus and ensure that those affected are getting the support they need.

You can play your part too – by ensuring that you take the simple steps that everyone is being urged to take by medical professionals.

You should wash your hands more regularly and for longer, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and avoid close contact with people who are unwell. If you think you have symptoms, you should use the NHS 111 service and follow the advice. There is more detailed advice and links to information on the coronavirus page and we will update you about any action we need to take as a borough.

Last week, I was proud to stand up for Hackney’s residents in parliament – giving evidence to MPs about why the government should invest in a new generation of council housebuilding and why new environmental legislation must make sure industry plays a bigger role in tackling the climate emergency.

On Monday, I told the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee how a failed decade of false starts on housing policy – and 10 housing ministers in 10 years – meant we are still not building the number of council homes we need.

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The government consulted nearly two years ago on changing the rules on how money from Right to Buy sales is reinvested into social housebuilding. They haven’t even bothered to publish the results – let alone take action.

On Tuesday, I gave evidence to a committee of MPs set up to scrutinise and amend the government’s Environment Bill – urging them to ensure that producers and industry are compelled to meet new rules and standards.

In Hackney, as many of you will know we’ve declared a climate emergency, and are taking some of the most robust action in the country in response, including measures to plant tens of thousands of new trees, reclaim our streets from cars for walking and cycling, tackle poor air quality by reducing emissions from cars, reduce single-use plastics, improve recycling rates and promote green energy.

So the chancellor’s budget was a great opportunity for the government to take Hackney’s lead and demonstrate its ambition. Instead, his proposals showed that while ministers claim the decade of austerity is over, it is clearly not.

There was no mention of the huge funding gaps in places like Hackney to deliver adult social care or provide support for children with special educational needs. And while some new money for housebuilding was announced, the devil will be in the detail.

By 2022, Hackney will have lost more than half of its core funding from central government – the biggest cut per household of any London borough. This huge squeeze on our finances is why the council’s budget – agreed last month – includes an increase of 90p a week in council tax for most people.

Increasing council tax isn’t an easy decision, but we need to do it to help fund vital services. We know that some people will struggle with this, so we’ve increased the amount of support available to the 27,000 people on low incomes who qualify for our council tax reduction scheme.

However, our budget also set out ambitious plans to make Hackney fairer, safer, healthier and more sustainable.

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