WERA Chair, Dave McEvoy met with our local MP, Chuka Umunna at his Constituency Office for an Interview, on 1st March.
Below is a transcript of the interview.
What have you achieved during your time as an MP?
I gave five specific practical pledges, policy related but what I would do as an MP.
1. I would carry on holding on holding surgeries in the same locations as Keith Hill, and also add another location in Brixton, which I have done.
2. I said I would be the first MP to establish an office within the constituency, and I have done that.
3. I said I would give up my then job as a solicitor, to devote my time to doing my functions as MP. I did the day after I was elected.
4. I would be fully transparent and accountable. All my expenses and allowances are published on my website.
5. I would regularly do people’s question times, which I have done one all over the constituency, with another one currently being arranged.
Those were the five practical things which I committed to do, and I have applied for further money to have more staff, but this enables me to provide a better service to my constituency.
For wider policies, some of the issues I have been more affected by emotionally is the youth violence particularly within the borough, and it is an acute problem for us in Lambeth, as well as other boroughs such as Southwark, Lewisham and Hackney. Almost immediately after my election, it became an even bigger issue than it already was with the death of Zac Olumegbon in June 2010 and the incidents of violence and the tragedies we have seen carries on, and have carried on through to July 2011 with the murder of Nana Darko-Frempong in Tulse Hill, and so the first parliamentary debate which I initiated and held in the House of Commons was on serious youth violence, I have been in very close contact with ministers on this issue and have pressed them for funding, as I don’t think they have provided Lambeth with enough funding to provide adequate youth provision, which is one way to tackle the issue. I have also quite recently become the chairman of the London gangs forum, which basically takes learning and best practice from across all the different boroughs and encourage to learn from each other. This brings together the London boroughs, the home office and other third sector organisations who otherwise are not keyed in and so that is one way I can use to power my office to bring people together and we will be feeding into the governments gun crime consultation which has recently opened, and will submit a report.
A top down solution is not the answer to this problem; it has to be a bottom up with the community working with the different agencies.
Secondly, housing is an issue for many people, in respect to those who are subject to the austerity cuts on benefits, which is making people’s lives hard, but also the ongoing problems we have with lack of investment in social housing stock. I have been working closely with the council, to address not just the provision from Lambeth living but also I have been working with lots of the other registered social landlords and housing associations on individual casework which people have, but also working with them to put pressure on the government to provide money to complete the decent homes updates. I have met with ministers and raised questions in the House of Commons about this, since I was elected.
Thirdly, the other big issue is education. The government have put forward its calibration of the academies programme. I am slightly hesitant about the academies programme, but I am clear it has to be about the local people and local governing bodies to decide. What was very clear to me was that in making the decision whether or not to adopt academy status, the governors just felt they didn’t understand the issues or have access to the information to make an informed decision. I worked with my other Lambeth colleague MP’s, we convened some round tables with school governors and head teachers to discuss and share views on whether or not to adopt academy status and in the course of that we had about 200 governors across Lambeth come along to the events we hosted for them in the house of commons. There are many other things, the other thing is obviously the school places issue. I have met with Cllr Pete Robbins who leads on Children and Young People’s Services and with Tessa Jowell and Kate Hoey. We went to the Department for Education to meet with Michael Gove to press for more money to address the acute problem we have with primary school places.
There are many others, but those are just some of the highlights.
Would you say it’s been a successful two years for you?
I am pleased that where we can we have helped thousands of constituents with individual casework, but what I find frustrating at a national level is not being in government. I am a member of the shadow cabinet, and we have a constitutional agreement to hold the government to account, but we are not the ones in control of the levers, and there are so many decisions they are making which I think are bad for my community.
Back when you were a Parliamentary Candidate, you listed the biggest challenges in the constituency as:
the economy and the ongoing recession; anti-social behaviour, prostitution and burglary; ensuring that the supply of school places meets demand; ensuring that everyone has access to high quality, affordable, decent housing and housing services; funding for the provision of activities for our youth; the regeneration of Streatham High Road and our main thoroughfares; improved public transport links to the area; and, promoting environmentally sustainable living in the area and reducing the litter and pollution on our streets.
How do you feel this has changed since you’ve been our MP?
I think the Safer Neighbourhood Team’s which Labour established government in all of the wards. In the eight wards in my constituency have been doing fantastic sterling work with the Safer Neighbourhood Panels to address some of these issues, and I think ASB is still an ongoing issue, and is one of the reasons why I thought ASBOs were a good thing. If you had a problem family causing misery to the rest of a block or estate, it helped provide further powers to those in authority to address that. I think it’s still an ongoing issue and this is one of the reasons why I oppose the government’s 20% cut in police funding. We agree with the independent inspector of policing who says that a 12% cut is sustainable and will not affect policing, but 20% is way above and beyond. If we learnt anything from the unrest we had in the borough, it is that police numbers matter.