I'll put education first, says Siobhan Benita
Siobhan Benita quit her job as a senior Civil Servant to run as an independent candidate in this May's London Mayoral Election. The independent candidate sets out her vision for a better London.
I am standing as the only independent candidate in this year’s London Mayoral election. Like so many people, I am tired of traditional politicians fighting old party battles instead of addressing real issues that matter to the public. The Mayoral election is an opportunity for voters to elect an individual – not a political party. It’s an opportunity to vote for a person who is representative and understands real Londoners.
I have lived in London all my life - my mum came here from India when she was 10 years old. I’m a mum of two beautiful girls. We live in Kingston (sixty per cent of Londoners live in the outer boroughs like me) and I love raising my family here in the capital. It is by any measure a fantastic city.
I am aware, however, that there is another, less joyous side to London. It’s a side where people don’t have equality of opportunity, can’t find work, don’t have a place to call home and where they are trapped in poverty. It can also be a very violent side and there are too many people for whom day-to-day life in London is brutal, frightening and hopeless. We saw with last year’s riots just how much damage can be done when enough people with nothing to lose vent their frustration and fury. As Mayor, I will address these issues head on. I will place much more emphasis on improving social mobility, creating opportunities, preventing crime and improving London’s education system.
I’m not a single issue candidate. I have a full range of polices, which will help to boost economic growth, make transport more affordable and increase available housing in London.
Unlike the other candidates, I have produced an education and youth manifesto because I want every child in London to have the best possible opportunities. The way in which we educate our children isn't working. London needs 167 new primary schools by 2015, just to meet the current projected shortfall of some 70,000 places.
But it’s not just numbers of places that’s an issue; many parents have simply lost faith in the standard of education their children are receiving. That’s why so many parents feel pressured into paying for expensive tutoring which is fast becoming a ‘hidden tax’ in the hope of getting their children into better schools. Other parents are abandoning the state education system altogether.
I'm proposing that the Mayor should have overall responsibility for London’s libraries. Not only would this help in modernising London libraries, but by cutting out the bureaucracy of having 33 different boroughs running their own libraries, we could save an estimated £80 million.
Education is only part of the solution; we need to think about how we treat young Londoners and ensure that we’re giving them an opportunity to have their voices heard.
During the campaign, lots of mums have told me that it’s the day to day issues that they care about most, the things in their local areas that they want fixing. That could be anything from litter and dogs’ mess to urban foxes, dangerous dogs or poor street lighting. I would require every borough – within the first six months of my mayoralty – to provide me with a list of the top five issues that their residents care about most. I promise I will hold boroughs to account each year for improvements in these areas. The Mayor does have to make some big decisions on infrastructure and investment affecting London’s future but they should also look after the small things that affect Londoner’s everyday lives.
I have lots more ideas and polices to share, from the creation of a season ticket for part time workers, to lobbying companies and businesses to offer more flexible working. As a full time working mum I know how frustrating and hard trying to balance the demands of work and home can be. I'll be paying close attention to what you think about the Mayor of London election and how I could make life better for families across the city.