Recognition for our Teachers

Teachers are fast becoming the forgotten frontline in the covid recovery. There appears to be ample support within the labour movement calling for NHS pay rises, better working conditions for those in the gig economy, and greater protections for shopworkers – all valid and necessary campaigns – but very little by way of supporting those in the education sector.

Are we that quick to forget how teachers sacrificed their safety to look after the children of NHS staff and other keyworkers during successive lockdowns? It was teachers who facilitated the work of our frontline heroes, yet there seems to be little recognition of their contribution during the pandemic.

The education sector, along with everything else has been subject to over a decade of Tory neglect and harsh cuts to funding. Now, following the pandemic the government has unveiled a pitiful £1.4bn recovery package that will equate to around £6,000 per primary school – barely touching the sides. Labour is calling for a £15bn comprehensive package which would include:

  • Small group or one-on-one tutoring.
  • Breakfast clubs and activities for every child.
  • Quality mental health support for children.
  • Continued professional development for teachers.
  • Targeted extra investment from early years to further education to support young people who struggled most with learning in lockdown.

I have no doubt that if delivered this would reduce the educational impact of the pandemic on children. Having lost eight weeks plus of education it is totally understandable that there needs to be a focus on ‘catching up’ so that we can ensure children who missed key milestones do not miss out on opportunities later in life. However, most of the deliverables stand to put additional strain on teachers, creating more work and stress for no extra benefits.

Even before the pandemic the education sector was haemorrhaging teachers in record numbers. As someone married to a primary school teacher, I have seen first-hand the realities of the teaching profession – leaving for work at 6am, returning home at 7pm to continue marking and completing other tasks until 10pm. Yet teachers are only contracted to work approx. seven hours per day.

Neither the ‘Vision and mission’ or the ‘Priority outcomes’ of the Department for Education’s 2021/22 Delivery Plan mentions teachers. The Tory education recovery strategy does not mention teachers, and Labour’s plan only references that there will be more training and development on offer. I bumped into a teacher recently who was on three weeks leave due to stress and exhaustion. How on earth can we expect ‘outstanding’ outcomes when children are reliant on educators who are regularly pushed to physical and emotional extremes?

This week’s call from Wes Streeting MP to reduce class sizes, which have grown across the board by 20% under a Tory government are welcome, and whilst the priority is given to supporting children, it will undoubtedly have benefits for teachers. This is a good start but more needs to be done. We need to make a better offer for our teachers and as a start I would suggest the following:

  • Teachers working hours need regulation, which means that our expectation of what they should be delivering needs regulation.
  • Clear role parameters need to be set, as too many teachers are now operating as social workers and in extremes some are performing basic parental duties such as potty training.
  • The pay needs to be re-evaluated to reflect the challenges of modern teaching in a post-Covid world, as does the training and skills development.
  • Quality mental health support must be provided on-site for teachers to reduce the need for stress leave and create a more positive teaching environment.
  • Schools must be given funding to employ more support staff, to help deliver extra-curricular activities such as breakfast clubs and catch-up provisions.

There is a real worry that the education recovery strategy will prove to be the straw that broke the camels back for what is fast becoming a fragile education system in England. The best way to support our children, ensuring that no child is left behind, is to ensure our educators have the support they need to deliver outstanding outcomes.

Promoting Active Travel in Barking and Dagenham

Barking and Dagenham Council in association with Vandome Cycles, Sustrans and Be First offer a fantastic range of cycle training options across the borough for children and adults. Whether residents are new to cycling, or just want to brush up on their skills. Training is free and available to anyone who lives, works or studies in the borough.

The council is currently developing a new Walking and Cycling Strategy and steering committee member Councillor Andrew Achilleos, the Member Champion for Climate Change, has been looking at ways to encourage residents to make shorter journeys on foot or by bike.

Cllr Achilleos said: “We know that travelling from one side of the borough to another, or from somewhere like Marks Gate to Dagenham East is difficult without a car. However, research shows that a high percentage of people are still driving five minutes up the road for a pint of milk.

“That’s why we are trying to make it more appealing and easier for residents to walk or cycle short distances by improving existing cycle networks, creating new ones, and changing the character of our streets. The Walking and Cycling Strategy is about creating routes that work for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to better connect growth areas and existing communities across the borough.”

Active travel has a number of benefits, not least reducing emissions and helping to keep people fit and healthy. During a recent meeting it came to light that Councillor Achilleos could not ride a bike, so on Thursday 15 July he met up with cycle instructors from Vandome Cycles for some training.

Cllr Achilleos explained: “I like to practice what I preach and if I can pick up cycling at 34, anyone can do it. When I got on the bike it was a case of finding the confidence in myself to stay upright, once I had that it was a fun experience. Richard from Vandome Cycles was a great instructor and I would encourage residents of all ages to book in on a training course during the summer!”

Sessions are held from 4pm to 8pm on Wednesdays at Jim Peters Stadium in Mayesbrook Park. You can receive one-to-one training from a qualified instructor in the following:

  • Basic cycle skills: Practice off-road and learn the basics. Improve your skills to cycle confidently through your local area.
  • Urban cycle skills: Practice off-road and then move on to quiet roads to refresh your cycling technique.
  • Advanced cycle skills: Learn how to improve your cycle skills at complex junctions, in heavy traffic or at night.

Why not arrange your first session for free today?

Contact Vandome Cycles by email: info@vandomecycles.co.uk or call 020 8220 3075.

Jobs, a Green Recovery and our National Story

‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’ seems to have become the 1997-esq Labour Party mantra of the Covid-era. The economic impact of Covid-19 has left over 500,000 young people out of work and nearly 2 million working age people unemployed nationally, so the sentiment behind our message is on point.

That being said, ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’ can’t mean a new supermarket for every town, or an entirely digital future which I fear would produce an economy built on sand. Our new mantra must create good meaningful work which moves us away from the society theorised by David Graeber in ‘Bullshit Jobs’. It seems obvious to me that we should tread the path of a ‘green recovery’ from the pandemic, investing in job creation across sectors such as manufacturing, construction, energy production and agriculture.

I probably have very few if any of the answers that the Labour Party needs, but it seems to me that we should embark upon a pragmatic retelling of our national story that empowers and fundamentally employs communities in meaningful green work.

Part of the problem at present is that many jobs offer little by way of emotional or motivational reward, there are millions of people working just to live. I would argue that social structures in the UK perpetuate the use of individuals as a means to drive economic growth which, in turn devalues and undermines their Labour – giving many a sense of worthlessness. A good contrast to this would be to look at the world of work during times of war. Though it was hard in the factories and working the land, people felt they were contributing rather than being used in the war effort. Their work had meaning and national importance. They were part of something bigger.

The pandemic provides us with a unique opportunity to change the drivers of our economy and to create jobs which offer individuals well paid work of value that contributes to wider society. Retelling our national story means bringing people back in from the cold across rural areas and those hit hardest by the pandemic, providing the skills training necessary for them to shape our future and a new national identity rooted in green industries.

Whilst Labour have spoken about a retraining programme it doesn’t go far enough. A recent document from Friends of the Earth “An emergency plan on green jobs for young people” suggests a £40 billion green infrastructure programme creating 1 million jobs, and a £10 billion a year scheme to create 250,000 green apprenticeships in England and Wales is necessary. This may seem like a colossal investment, but the same document outlines that 1 year at the current rate of youth unemployment could cost up to £39 billion in wage scarring across local economies.

At present, adaptations for climate change and the ‘green agenda’ feel like an inconvenience, or something unimportant to many. This is especially true in more deprived areas. It is perceived as a middle-class problem and our policies thus far have failed to resonate with the working-classes – unsurprisingly people do not want to hear about trees, solar panels, and electric vehicle infrastructure when they can’t afford to feed their children.

However, as we stare down the barrel of a once-in-a-lifetime simultaneous employment and environmental crisis, now is the time to marry up our green ambitions with the economic needs of the nation. Putting the emphasis on decent work for decent pay with ‘saving our planet in the process’ as a by-line is the way to bring people with us. If we fail to offer ‘real’ work that includes people in the national story, there is a risk of disenfranchising millions of people from our journey as we rebuild Britain and reconfigure society.

World Wildlife Day 2021

This letter was published in The Barking and Dagenham Post on Wednesday 3 March 2021.

Wednesday 3 March is World Wildlife Day. As I sit down to write this letter the sun is shining, and the daffodils are in bloom adding a splash of colour to Barking and Dagenham. Soon we will be greeted by tulips, bluebells and blossom. All signs that whilst our lives have undergone huge change, the world continues to turn.

Last year many of us discovered for the first time, that nature can have a profoundly positive impact on our physical and mental well-being. When inner city families had only concrete jungles for exercise, we in Barking and Dagenham had award-winning parks to explore. Adding to this, the council embarked on an ambitious planting project which delivered the ‘Forest of Thanks’ – 32,000 trees in Parsloes Park for future generations to enjoy.

We share our borough with a diverse range of wildlife, from the newts in our ponds and the kingfishers along our streams, to the pied wagtails in our carparks. As lockdown eases and we slip back into old routines I hope residents will continue to explore the outdoors. Take a moment and you may be surprised to find there are natural marvels in the most unexpected of places.

World Wildlife Day also provides an opportunity to recognise that we are part of something bigger, and that the choices we make locally have a ripple effect across the country and beyond. Faced with a climate and ecological crisis, the decisions we make in Barking and Dagenham this year both as individuals and as a community could not be more important.

Councillor Andrew AchilleosMember Champion for Climate Change

Why I’m standing to be a Labour London Assembly candidate

First published on LabourList: https://labourlist.org/2020/01/andrew-achilleos-why-im-standing-to-be-a-labour-london-assembly-candidate

I’m standing to be Labour’s GLA candidate for Havering and Redbridge because I know just how much local people need a strong Labour voice to represent their interests in City Hall.

The Tories have held Havering and Redbridge for 20 years, leaving residents across two boroughs without a seat at the table on the issues that matter.

If members put their faith in me when ballots drop next week, we can change that.

Having worked for Jon Cruddas MP over the last eight years, I’ve made a name for myself by consistently winning elections against the odds. I’m the candidate best placed to beat Keith Prince because I did it two months ago when he organised the Tory campaign against us.

If selected I hope to stand on a bold agenda;

  • I will work across sectors to improve air quality and lead a green transformation thatmakes our parks and open spaces the best in London;
  • I will campaign for more investment in the Metropolitan Police and work alongside Labour colleagues to champion a multi-agency approach to violent crime; and
  • I will put council housing at the forefront of my campaign. I’ll challenge ’viability’ models and hold developers to account, ensuring we build truly affordable council homes.

As Deputy Chair of Overview and Scrutiny in Barking and Dagenham I have first-hand experience of being a ‘critical friend’ and if I make it to City Hall. I won’t be afraid to speak up for Havering and Redbridge.

These aren’t just words on a screen, I have a proven record of delivery.

My work for Jon Cruddas has seen us save Dagenham police station twice, halt plans to build a super-prison in the area, save the iconic Civic Centre which is now a university and I’m currently organising Jon’s campaign against a mass waste incinerator which would damage air quality.

I have always been passionate about the environment, and since being elected as a Labour Councillor in Barking and Dagenham I have worked tirelessly to make the area cleaner and greener.

Over the last two years I have; introduced a motion to phase out single use plastics, led an in-depth scrutiny review into environmental sustainability, fundraised to get nature book ‘The Lost Words’ into every primary school, and I am a key stakeholder helping to shape our Air Quality Action Plan.

In January 2019 Barking and Dagenham also adopted the Mental Health Charter which I drafted, aiming to end stigma and discrimination – supporting those in need across our community.

It is fair to say over the last eight years in the Labour movement I have gone from strength to strength. However, like many in London, my life hasn’t always been plain sailing.

I started out working down the markets in Walthamstow and Harringay. I grafted all through my education and I know what it’s like to make the choice between eating or paying the bills. I also found myself homeless for just over four years – a low priority for limited council housing stock, whilst not earning enough to rent privately. These aren’t unique experiences.

As a Labour GLA candidate I would be a strong advocate for council housing, the environment, police investment, improving transport networks and supporting our local high streets. Above all I will be a strong voice for Havering and Redbridge, making sure that the outer boroughs are not forgotten in the 2020 Labour manifesto for London.

Having lived and worked in the GLA constituency for most of my life it would be a great honour to represent Labour this May. That’s why I’m asking members to vote for me in the coming weeks. Together we can secure a Labour victory in Havering and Redbridge.

Solidarity in Dagenham and Rainham

This was first published by LabourList on 20.12.19. Original article here: https://labourlist.org/2019/12/solidarity-in-dagenham-and-rainham-how-labour-held-the-key-tory-target/?fbclid=IwAR0ZezwCu_dPqVwMm2nG3GJwiIZv4yiMe3Q62GBX-yyUQmHFwD29p0kJvKk

I felt I should write this before the bandwagon rolled through town and everyone started talking about how they saved Dagenham and Rainham. From day one, we were told in no uncertain terms that we would not be receiving wider support – despite being a key Tory target.

We ran the entirety of the campaign on a shoestring and, until the last week, with a very diminished team from previous years. With a core team composed of four people and the same seven to 15 people turning up to canvass daily, we were all pretty tapped out by half-time.

One of the most trying moments was when we had to get 45,000 leaflets delivered in one week. I walked 72 miles in five days and so did the rest of team Cruddas. If I say I’m going to do something, for good or ill, it gets done and by a huge team effort we got them delivered.

We had a clear strategy, which was a mixture of suppressing the Tory vote in Havering and turning out the Labour vote in Dagenham. The one thing we didn’t count on was the nature of our core working-class voters. It is a very Dagenham trait that instead of discussing the point, you’ll get a smile and a thumbs up on the door before being punished at the ballot box.

The fact is that for months Labour have been telling the people in our community that, having voted to leave the EU in 2016, their vote counts for nothing. Our national policies didn’t exactly strike a chord with our voters either – communities like ours don’t want freebies or handouts, they want decent education and vocational opportunities for their children and meaningful work. They want to feel pride in the lives that they lead. It’s as simple as that. Many people in our area felt patronised by Labour’s policies. I bet it was the same across the ‘red wall’ in the North.

So, we got smiles and a thumbs up from every doorstep until polling day when ‘our people’ said that after pledging their support, they hadn’t voted for us. However, in Dagenham and Rainham we have a habit of bucking the national trend – much to the annoyance of the Tories. This is primarily because we don’t take our lead from the national or regional strategies.

In Dagenham and Rainham, we set our own agenda, our own priorities, and we campaign in the community all year round on issues that matter in local people’s lives. Our win was also down to Jon’s Brexit position, which managed to cut through the Tories ‘get Brexit done’ mantra.

We knew that our voters were out there, and that we had enough to edge the win but with our small team there was no way we could get to all of them with GOTV materials. Mobilisation on polling day was something that I couldn’t bring myself to contemplate even as close as a week out.

However, after the MRP polling was released a week before polling day, despite being five points behind throughout the campaign, suddenly people started to wake up. It is all well and good flooding seats with support for a token win, but it just isn’t worth it if it costs us elsewhere.

For much of the campaign it felt like we were on our own with our backs against the wall. Which is why, when people from all over London flooded into the campaign room with a week to go, it was an incredibly moving act of solidarity that I will never forget.

Every door, every phone call, every leaflet, every person that came to help. If we had done anything differently, we would have lost the seat. A solid strategy and the people to deliver it is all we need – nationally we have one but not the other.

I’m still waiting for someone to ask how we won in 2015 and 2017 against the odds. I hope that this time the party really does seek to learn lessons from both extraordinary victories and defeats. In the coming months I would urge members to vote for a leader that can speak to communities in areas like ours and put forward a strategy that can rebuild all of Britain.

100 Years of Council Housing – Let’s Celebrate by Building Some

This year marked 100 years since the Addison Act – legislation that paved the way for councils to build social housing. What better way to celebrate and honour this ground-breaking Act than to get councils building again? There are somewhere in the region of 11,000 local authorities in the United Kingdom, if all of them pledged to build just 20 homes on secure fixed tenancies, at traditional social rents that is nearly a quarter of a million truly affordable homes.

Whilst I champion council housing, I also understand the need for mixed tenancies as well, I myself benefited from a 65% market rent ‘working persons’ option which lifted me out of homelessness in 2015. However, the majority of people on housing waiting lists cannot afford the standardised ‘affordable’ option which comes in at 80% of market rents.

The Mayor of London has gone some way to address this with the ‘London Living Rent’ and ‘London Affordable Rent’ – which is close to traditional social rents, but I think local authorities can go one better.

Councils should correlate affordability to average local wage levels, ensuring that ‘affordable’ means no more than a third of the average local wage on a borough by borough basis.

We’ll be told that this isn’t viable. However, the truth of the matter is that if the political will is there it can be done. It’s time to challenge the notion of ‘viability’. Basing a development on a 15-35 year return hikes the rents up and is contrary to the interests of millions across the country, pushing many further away from the security of a home.

The political system is so caught up in electoral cycles that for the most part we have stopped signing off on legacy projects. I expect a new home to be standing and habitable for generations. If councils, developers and ALMOs base their models on a 45-65 year return, we can start to make real meaningful inroads that provide housing at lower, traditional rent levels.

I’m running to be Labour’s GLA candidate for Havering and Redbridge and if I am selected housing will play a large role in my campaign. I’ll fight to deliver more council housing but make sure that we aren’t overdeveloping to the detriment of existing communities. That means sustainable place making and bringing the community with us on all decisions.

I’ll advocate like for like on all regeneration projects to ensure that families and community networks are preserved, and people aren’t moved on against their wishes. Regeneration shouldn’t be a code-word for social cleansing.

I’m also in full support of the Mayor of London’s call for rent controls. If I make it to City Hall, I’ll work with the Mayor and local authorities to extend licensing schemes, delivering more rights for renters.

There is much more to say but for now I will end where I began.

This year marked 100 years since the Addison Act – legislation that paved the way for councils to build social housing. What better way to celebrate and honour this ground-breaking Act than to get councils building again?

Halt Airport Expansion and Invest in a Green Transformation

Firstly, it is important to recognise that supporting the environment doesn’t mean neglecting the economy. However, after declaring an environmental and climate emergency it would be hypocritical to support airport expansion and the increased emissions that come with it. That is why I recently announced my opposition to the London City Airport master plan.

As a key stakeholder in the local air quality action plan, and having organised a campaign against waste incineration which would increase emissions across the south of Havering, I know all too well about the damaging impact poor air has on human health and biodiversity.

A report from the British Lung Foundation earlier this year highlighted that Havering has the fourth highest rate of lung disease related deaths per annum in London, and that Redbridge has the fourteenth highest. The British Heart Foundation recently reported that our area broke World Health Organisation limits for particulate matter and emissions. It is easy to link these two reports.

The flight path of City Airport runs directly over the south of the constituency and across areas like Newham, Tower Hamlets and Barking and Dagenham – I’ve seen the emission dispersal maps and with a prevailing easterly wind, Havering and Redbridge are set to take an environmental hit if these plans are agreed.

Opposing airport expansion doesn’t mean I want to see the country ground to a halt. There are proactive measures we can take that support the environment and contribute to a green and prosperous economy. Here are just a couple;

Renewable energy

At present Havering and Redbridge produces 47 megawatts of renewable energy. I want to see this hit 95 megawatts via local energy providers investing in solar, wind and sea that can collectively break the hold of large fossil fuel providers.

This year in Barking and Dagenham, we launched our own energy provider; Beam Energy which uses 100% renewables – I am led to believe that Redbridge are going to sign up to the company, increasing bargaining power and bringing down costs for residents. Investing in green energy also supports the creation of more skilled jobs in the power industry.

Housing and construction

Across Havering and Redbridge only 32.5% of the housing stock is insulated to a high standard. For best practice on energy efficiency we need look no further than the award-winning work of Norwich Council and the Goldsmith Street Estate. Built to Passivhaus energy efficiency standards it promises a 70% reduction in fuel bills. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/13/observer-view-on-stirling-prize-winning-goldsmith-street

I want to see councils delivering similar schemes to Norwich, but I want us to go further; per tonne cement and steel release an average 1000kg and 1800kg of carbon into the atmosphere. It’s time to move away from environmentally damaging forms of construction.

After listening to Southwark Councillor Leo Pollack at Labour Conference this year I am convinced that we can take a bolder approach. I would like to see council owned construction companies and a switch to Cross Laminated Timber as an alternative to cement and steel – call me a dreamer but I’d also like to see the green belt reforested and effectively managed, creating a sustainable source of CLT building materials and thousands of jobs across all of the outer boroughs.