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James Hatts

Interview: Val Shawcross, Labour candidate in Bermondsey & Old Southwark

Val Shawcross is no stranger to readers of the London SE1 website - she's represented Lambeth & Southwark on the London Assembly for the past decade and has even posted on the SE1 forum from time to time.

Val Shawcross AM
Val Shawcross
Wordle representation of this interview generated
Wordle representation of this interview generated at wordle.net

Last month we asked users of the SE1 website what they would most like to ask their local parliamentary candidates. We put a selection of those questions to the Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative candidates. Here's what Labour's Val Shawcross had to say.

"I've been in Lambeth, Southwark and London politics for 10 years. What I've learnt about Bermondsey is that we're on the front line of regeneration here. I think all parties are keen to promote regeneration, but there are also problems caused by success and it gets very sharp when we're talking about building developments affecting people's homes.

"I do feel that we're on the interface of change in this area. All the time I see planning and traffic and social issues that arise from that. From a social point of view, we had several years of antisocial behaviour around Rotherhithe and a lot of that is to do with fact that there is a wealthier, gentrified community around the river and the hinterland where people are still very deprived and people don't necessary have the resources.

"Certainly around London Bridge the cleavage line is between the super-modern developments, the super-tall buildings and the long-standing community in some rather nice brick-built buildings which would be lovely if only they were refurbished.

"Competition for land between the community and the central London, global economy is one of the key issues."

Croydon champion or Bermondsey champion?

What does Val think about some of the leaflets put out by Lib Dem candidate Simon Hughes which describe her as "Gordon Brown's Croydon Commuter"? (She used to be the leader of Croydon Council.)

"I've been representing the area for 10 years now and I'm not ashamed of what I've done previously," she says.

"I thought that there was some rather dirty politics going on there if you read what Simon's written about me in his leaflets. I have never put the council tax up anywhere by over 200 per cent. That is complete b*****ks. He's made that up. I'm not a Croydon councillor now; I haven't been for 10 years. There isn't a picture of me on the Croydon tram in any of my leaflets. It's a bit petty and nasty.

"I got a CBE for my work as leader of Croydon Council. It was a very successful council. I've learnt a lot from that experience and I can bring it to try and help people in Bermondsey and Old Southwark.

"Considering I cover a large area, I certainly have made connections in this community. I've been working with the East Street market traders for over five years now. I got involved long-term on many of the big planning issues like Downtown.

"All over Bermondsey and Old Southwark you'll find people who know me and have worked with me. But I'm certainly not going to be ashamed of having been a successful leader of a council not so very far away."

Cuts in public expenditure

Several questions submitted by SE1 website users were related to the prospect of cuts in public expenditure and the effect this might have on the most vulnerable.

"I think the difference between Labour and the Tories is that we will make cuts only as we have to and will do everything we can to protect the vulnerable in our community and protect essential services.

"The Tories are gung-ho to make cuts, they do not believe in a large state and they do not believe in high-quality public services. They believe in low taxes. It's one of the crucial differences between us.

"Personally I used to work for the Commonwealth Secretariat and I have done a lot of work around the world. I believe very strongly that one of the things that makes Britain a successful economy is that we have a successful public sector.

"The reason why international companies want to come here is because it is a safe, pleasant environment, there is public healthcare, good schools, a nice environment, art, culture and lively things to do.

"I think investing in the public sector is, by knock-on, also a good investment in the private sector and the business economy. All of my hands-on experience tells me that."

MPs' expenses and second homes

"Should people who abuse public money to enrich themselves go to prison?" asks one user of the SE1 website.

"Yes," is Val's immediate answer. "I do think that too many MPs have got away with it. I feel very angry about the MPs of all parties and I suppose particularly my own who let everyone down by creaming the system as much as they could. Even if what they were doing was legal it was bloody greedy."

"I also feel quite angry about the MPs who weren't creaming the system themselves but sort of collaborated in keeping it all quiet by not voting for the Freedom of Information Act exposure of expenses. Thousands and thousands of Labour members and volunteers have been particularly let down by those people."

Crossrail

Crossrail may not be coming to SE1, but one Waterloo resident wants to know whether the parties will protect London jobs by ensuring that the east-west rail link goes ahead.

"I'm really keen on Crossrail. I'm transport spokesman for the Labour Group at City Hall and am going to be chair of the transport committee again after May.

"I think that London really needs that big investment. It's not just that at the moment that the population is still growing and most of our forms of transport are very overcrowded but we need the construction jobs – it's 15 billion of investment – and you will get more jobs and investment along the route."

"It wasn't in the Liberal Democrat manifesto – either the London or the national one – which surprised me because I think locally most Liberals are in support of it. It certainly isn't in the Conservatives manifesto and they've been very iffy about it.

"Even though the stations don't land in Bermondsey and Old Southwark there will be a big impact."

Digital Economy Act

Another resident asks where the candidates stand on the controversial Digital Economy Act.

"I was really disappointed that they rushed the Digital Economy Bill through as there's some really big issues there about balancing the financial interests of companies – we want British IT and music companies to do well – and consumer rights.

"I think we should be looking now to see if there's anything we can do on the secondary elements of that legislation as I think there will probably have to be statutory instruments moved."

ID cards

One constituent wants to know about Val's stance on ID cards.

"I think I'm comfortable with Labour's national manifesto position which is let's have ID cards available as a facility for people to have if they want them, but let's not make them compulsory," says Val.

"My brother is classic example of someone who would like to have one, as he doesn't have a passport and he never intends to travel but he would quite like to have some proof of identity to carry around with him. He actually couldn't get one because you have to have a passport at the moment to have one, which is a bit of a contradiction in terms."

"I look at it more as an identity theft issue rather than a security issue, and I'm sure that's why people are getting nervous because they see it as a human rights issue."

Environment

"How will you ensure that this country will be ecologically accountable to future generations?" asks another resident.

"Being at City Hall I've had the benefit of being briefed by some of the best people in the country. I heard a fantastic presentation by Sir David King, the former chief scientific officer, on climate change. Utterly convincing.

"One of the things he explained to us was how the quickest, the best, the biggest and the cheapest gains in reducing carbon in the atmosphere could be achieved by insulation.

"I think what we need is a big programme of insulating homes of all ages, including flats which tend to get left out at the moment. I think there's a job to be done in achieving that.

"I think public transport is hugely important. I did support Ken Livingstone's congestion zone because I do think we've got to get people out of petrol-burning cars and into public transport, onto their feet and onto bikes.

"I do think we need a decentralised energy strategy for London which would basically mean localised energy production. In that way you would have much less wastage. Moving electricity around the grid is massively wasteful, and therefore we're generating more CO2 than we should be."

Postal service

A Grange ward resident wants to know how their MP can improve the postal service in SE1 to make it more reliable and less prone to theft.

"I've been doing some work on that," she replies. I'm going to try and get a meeting with the Post Office nationally about that. I've done that previously when we had similar problems in Kennington.

"There are clearly some local management problems within our local postal service because when I twittered out on the topic and when I entered the SE1 thread I got loads of very tragic stories back about things going missing. They weren't one-offs; there are quite a lot of people having regular problems.

"I've had problems with my own freepost – my Labour Party freepost is supposed to go to the Co-Operative Party on Weston Street and I've been getting an amazing amount of other people's post.

"It is something we've got to pursue with the Post Office but ultimately it's probably about improving the management of the local depot."

Single 30-50 year-olds

A South Bermondsey resident asks why single 30 to 50 year-olds who live alone are overlooked by the political parties amid all the rhetoric about hard-working families.

"Your single city-dweller potentially can have a very good life in London, but I think that's about making sure that London works well around them, and making sure that there's a hospital when they need and public transport when they need it and we have a good arts sector and leisure offer."

"People need to come forward with their problems, but the question doesn't really capture what is bearing down on that particular singleton."

Elephant & Castle

Several residents posed questions relating to the Elephant & Castle regeneration, how the area's MP can assist the process and how existing amenities can be maintained over the 15+ year programme.

"I think the problem with a very grand project like that is that you get a kind of blight. You don't get enough investment going on in the area because everybody's waiting for it to happen; it gets delayed and delayed.

"There's always a problem with an overly large, overly complex project with too many mutual interdependences. It's like a pack of cards: one thing falls over and everything falls down.

"I don't think people understand that Southwark is a very small borough. It doesn't have much capacity. The council has an arrogant attitude – it thinks it can take everything on and succeed and I think they don't come asking for help enough from the GLA or other agencies. I don't think they recognise their own limitations.

"I think the role for the MP is actually whipping along all the agencies because the council alone cannot deliver something so big, difficult and complex and they've already got into such trouble with it."

She adds that the fact that most of the Heygate Estate tenants have moved out before the new local housing is ready "casts a shadow over the whole scheme".

Youth unemployment

"Labour Party's manifesto is very strong on making firm promises: 200,000 Future Jobs Fund places for young people, making sure everybody under 24 who's unemployed for six months or more gets an apprenticeship or a training place.

"Youth unemployment is probably the number one economic issue for the Labour Party. We do not want to lose a generation.

"Locally, I think the issue is about regeneration. Here we are on the front line of regeneration. Somehow or other, big regeneration projects which could have helped local people get jobs get stalled. There has to be a top-down and a bottom-up approach where local and national government meet on these things."

Knife crime

A Cathedrals ward resident asks about what can be done to tackle knife crime.

"People should be focusing on the kids not the weapon because it's the behaviour that's the problem," says Val. This is about trying to tackle gang culture.

"I strongly believe in the need for a formal youth service provision for everybody. I think all young people should have a right to go to youth provision."

She also calls for police to collaborate across borough boundaries to prevent gangs moving into areas where they are not recognised by local officers in order to cause trouble."

Lambeth – Southwark cooperation

Lib Dem and Labour politicians in Southwark and Lambeth have been trading insults over the prospect of the two boroughs working more closely together if Labour wins control of both councils. As the London Assembly member for Lambeth and Southwark, Val has a unique overview of the situation. What does she think?

"I think it shows how out of touch with the reality of the modern world Southwark's Liberal Democrat leadership is that they don't see the sense of this. There are already around London sub-regional groupings of boroughs to do waste disposal.

"The point of having three or four boroughs together that let a contract for waste disposal or recycling is that you get a really good deal. And yet you see Southwark, almost uniquely now in London, is a standalone waste authority.

"So why is Southwark's recycling so low? Why are we paying such high council taxes? Because Southwark wants to be an island and it's wrong. Southwark could actually be giving better value for money to the council tax-payer."

Val says she helped introduce collaborative procurement into the fire service across Britain when she chaired the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority.

Two jobs or one?

I ask Val whether she would intend to resign from the London Assembly in the event of her being elected to parliament.

"I don't believe that you should do two jobs in public life. I think that if you're elected to one constituency that's what you should do. That's why I didn't stay on as a councillor. I would be trying to sort out the right date to stand down as a GLA member.

"Apart from anything else, people overlook just how massive an area it is to serve properly ... you have to focus and focus and focus.

"I just think that being the MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark would be a fabulously interesting jobs, with its difficulties and lots of creative opportunities, and I would really want to do it to its fullest extent."

Most important issue?

Finally, a Bankside resident asks what is the most important issue facing Bermondsey and Old Southwark constituents about which the local MP can do something and what would the candidates intend to do.

"I think the MP can do something about the economy because it's not just about being in Parliament and voting for legislation or not. There is a public life role and a leadership role that you can take and bring people round the table.

"You become a kind of grand community development worker and I've had some experience of that now as the London Assembly member ... I think there is a lot you can do but you have to plan ahead and focus and not just be tactical; you have to look at what the long-term opportunities are."

• Visit our Election 2010 pages to see all the candidates standing in Bermondsey & Old Southwark

• Val's website is at www.valshawcross.com

• Interviews with Simon Hughes (Lib Dem) and Loanna Morrison (Conservative) will be published shortly

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