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Opinion

Wed, 13:35

I am gradually amassing a large pile of Christmas presents in my bedroom; my husband, not usually the complaining type, mutters about not being able to reach his sock drawer because of the volume of the pile and wonders aloud whether our grandchildren will really appreciate the number of gifts we have for them.

Sir Robin Wales

On behalf of everyone at Newham Council, I wish you a happy, healthy and safe Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

The festive period is one of the busiest times of the year for the NHS. It’s estimated that up to 40 per cent of people who visit A&E do not need to.

Last Saturday was ‘Small Business Saturday’. I visited a number of Newham small firms to discuss how things are going. Small and independent businesses are the heart of our local economy. They make a vital contribution to the community, providing jobs and adding to the borough’s character. It’s all too easy to bypass them in favour of large chains.

As the festive season approaches, it is often only too easy to get involved in all the fun and goodies of the season – while forgetting the core values that underpin this very special time of the year.

In recent years, as I have met people and explained to them what it is I do for a living, I hear them say: “You know what? I can’t recall the last time I ordered smoked salmon in a restaurant”. “Why?”, I ask. “Because it’s not very nice, is it?” And they are often right.

Fixed Odds gambling at a High Street bookmaker's

A quarter of all local authorities in the country, led by Newham Council in east London, have joined forces to use legislation to block betting shops clustering in high streets with unregulated casino-style gambling. They want the £100-a-spin maximum stakes on fixed odds gaming machines to be cut to just £2. This, they say, would reduce “extraneous profits” that attract so many betting shops to high streets with the “crime and anti-social behaviour” associated with them. Newham says police are called to incidents involving a betting shop every day in its area.

But the Bookmakers Association says there is no evidence that reducing the stake to £2 will have any impact on problem gambling, despite what the Mayor of Newham claims. Most gamblers stop after reaching their voluntary limits, it maintains...

In less than six months we face the most important general election for a generation. Do we want a society and economy that work for ordinary people, or a country that’s increasingly unequal, unjust and unfair?

My favourite story about the First World War is about the British and German soldiers who played football together in No Man’s Land on Christmas Day, 1914.

I first came to Newham in 1989 and worked here regularly over the next eight years. I remember being struck by the energy and friendliness of the people here.

Stratford Broadway

Traders have voted for a £1.2m scheme to promote Stratford town centre. The 250 businesses around Stratford Broadway, the High Street and Great Eastern Road up to Maryland Point are to pay a levy over five years to create a bustling night-time economy. The advantage is night security, opting-in to buy services such as waste, recycling and electricity and a joint loyalty card scheme for shoppers. But critics say such schemes are too easy to go wrong, with lack of transparency by the private companies set up to run them which could “skim off” funds for their own profit...

Housing Benefit cuts... affecting private-rented and council tenants

New figures from the Ministry of Justice reveal the number of tenants evicted by their landlords is at a record high. A peak in repossessions has been blamed on Housing Benefit cuts and a growing trend of ‘revenge evictions’ by private landlords serving notice on tenants who ask for repairs or maintenance. The homelessness charity Shelter has identified Newham, Waltham Forest, Barking and Dagenham among some of London’s ‘hot spots’ where families are most likely to lose their home. The Bedroom Tax at the centre of the controversy aims to move families on when children leave home to ‘free up’ properties. That’s the theory, according to one government minister who argues that people with room to spare should downsize their personal circumstances...

If you have had a cough for three weeks or more you should make an appointment to see your GP. It may be nothing serious, but if you are, or have been a smoker, and are suffering from breathlessness as well, it could be an early symptom of lung cancer.

I encourage residents and businesses to once again get behind an appeal for toys that will see youngsters most in need not missing out this Christmas.

This year, I organised a Summer School for Newham sixteen and seventeen year olds. Twelve enthusiastic young people gained a first-hand insight into politics. Students worked with my office in Westminster and experienced civic life at the council and at the grass roots.

On December 13 new European food labelling regulations come into play…. yet again. Strange isn’t it, that in today’s world with more labelling, more food hygiene practices in play and more information on food packaging than we could ever hope to comprehend, all supposedly to protect us the consumers, we have more food allergies and obesity than ever before.

One for the road... just how many is too much to drive?

Exactly 50 years ago the Government launched a TV ad campaign urging motorists not to drink and drive. A legal limit was introduced in 1964 of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to reduce Britain’s annual road death toll. The Grim Reaper’s tally has been going down year-on-year ever since. The safety lobby, however, wants to go further. Campaigners on Monday—the start of Road Safety Week—called for the limit to be reduced by 75 per cent, down to 20mg. But motoring groups say the “anti-libertarian” move ignores scientific evidence that the ‘danger’ limit is as high as 95mg. That’s why, they point out, the limit was set at 80mg...

Driving back from Westminster, I witness the crowds flocking to see the unique and awe inspiring ceramic poppy field at the Tower of London. It is a red carpet of 888,246 poppies, one for each British and Colonial life lost in the First World War.

Ebola first began to dominate our headlines earlier this year. I must confess that I had barely been aware of this dreadful disease up to then. This is despite the fact that it was first identified as long ago as 1976 when it was named after a village headmaster who contracted it during a trip to the Ebola River in Zaire.

The recent revelation that over 50 per cent of Newham children are still living in poverty is not only extremely disappointing it is just not acceptable.

Protests outside the Newham Business Forum, Old town hall Stratford (photo: Arnaud Stephenson)

The government’s latest crackdown on immigration means that from this month tougher regulations on visas are being slapped on universities and colleges that sponsor overseas students. It follows a clamp-down on abuses where the government says bogus colleges have offered worthless, unrecognised “study courses” to get visas for equally bogus students. The 2014 Immigration Act means that a college would lose its ‘trusted sponsorship’ status if just one-in-10 student is refused a visa. Four such establishments in Newham in east London have already had their licenses revoked this year. But the Act could also force other colleges relying on overseas students to the wall, such as East Ham’s Oxford College of London which has been locked in a seven-year planning battle with the local authority over its status as an educational establishment—a double blow for its 380 students...

Poppies growing in an east London school garden

This year’s Remembrance Day on November 11 and the Poppy Day Appeal for the Royal British Legion marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. We still wear the bright red poppies of the Fields of Flanders to remember the fallen a century ago and from every war since. But many today question why we should commemorate warefare at all. To some, like Rob Ferguson of the Newham Stop the War Coalition, it marks senseless slaughter on the battlefield. But for others, like Dr Stephen Clarke of the Royal British Legion, Remembrance honours the fallen and supports those who have lost their loved ones or those who fought for their country and returned invalided...

Since my brief career as a nurse – which was an unmitigated disaster; I talked too much, asked too many questions and made disparaging remarks about the culture of the hospital, but that’s several stories for another time – I have always been interested in health. I was angry to discover that Newham people actually have a shorter life expectancy than folk in Essex; according to the 2011 census, twice as many people in one of our Newham wards describe themselves as ‘in very bad health’ than in more affluent areas. And while I am prepared to accept that some of it is down to the East End belief that shopping and raising a glass to the lips are exercise, I regret to say that some of the blame must rest with the authorities concerned.

Become a flu fighter and get the flu jab. Last year, more Newham residents vulnerable to flu received a free jab than in any other part of London. This includes pregnant women and people with long-term conditions such as diabetes. Plus, 75 per cent of residents over 65 years old received a flu jab last year. This means that less people in Newham got the flu.

The House of Commons voted by 274 votes to 12 this month in favour of recognising Palestinian statehood. I was pleased MPs had the chance to debate this important issue, and voted in favour. I received around 1,000 emails on the subject – one of the largest postbags I have ever had. But recognising another country is a matter for the Government, not for Parliament. Ministers made it clear after the vote that they would not be recognising Palestine any time soon.

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