Cameron attacks sculpture that’s part of the transformation of Brixton Market

Brixton Village has been transformed bringing jobs and investment to Brixton - but that hasn't stopped the Tories attacking it

Brixton Market has been transformed over the past two years. The old Granville Arcade was full of empty units with an air of dereliction and neglect about it. Today, renamed Brixton Village, it is a thriving hub of micro-businesses bustling with customers all spending their money in our town centre. The Observer described Brixton Village as ‘the most exciting food scene in London’, and it’s brought real regeneration to the area with new businesses, jobs, customers and investment coming to Brixton.

How astonishing, then, that the Tory Prime Minister David Cameron should choose an aspect of this fantastically successful example of local, urban regeneration as the target for a politically-inspired attack this week. Speaking at the launch of the Tory local government campaign in Derbyshire, Mr Cameron criticised Lambeth for ‘wasting’ money that’s transformed the town centre. The particular object of his scorn was the fox and cherries sculpture that forms part of the regeneration scheme. But the value of the investment that’s come to Brixton as a result of the overall scheme is many, many times more than the total cost spent in helping it happen. What a shame the Prime Minister has chosen to play party political games rather than recognise and celebrate the fact that Lambeth Council, working with local entrepreneurs and the market owners, has achieved a prize that’s so far eluded his government by creating the environment for economic growth.

It may be, of course, that some researcher in Conservative Central Office came up with the idea to attack the sculpture in Brixton Market and the Prime Minister made his speech without finding out what’s really going on. So I’ve written to the Mr Cameron and invited him to come down to visit Brixton Village with me. I’ll happily buy him lunch at one of the many exciting micro-restaurants he’ll find there. And I’ll pay in Brixton Pounds (the B£20 note features the fox and cherries sculpture on the reverse) so he can see how a community and its council can come together to promote civic pride and local business in a way that’s truly transformative. It’ll be interesting to see if he accepts my invitation. I’ll be sure to let you know.

You can read Observer food critic Jay Rayner’s review of Brixton market here, or another review from the Metro newspaper here

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Education commissioners: a gimmick that will hold schools back

Councils are best placed to help schools tackle the many external factors that influence achievement in the classroom

Over the past fifteen years local councils have helped drive dramatic improvements in schools’ performance.   They have supported parents, teachers and school governors to achieve more, boosted by unprecedented investment in schools by the previous Labour government.  The number of failing schools has fallen dramatically while those rated outstanding has soared.   We cannot be complacent about this, there’s still more to do, but it’s clear that local government plays a key role.

Since the General Election, the Tory-led Government has set out to smash up the education system, breaking the ties between schools and local councils, and seeking instead to run every school from Whitehall.  With over 20,000 schools they’ve now realised they are too remote and don’t have enough staff to support and monitor all of them.  So they’ve come up with a new idea – a ‘middle tier’ of education commissioners as an intermediate point between Whitehall and individual schools.  Well they’ve clearly been somewhere else for the past few decades, but they’ll be surprised to learn that’s exactly the role local councils have already been playing.

Councils drove improvement by doing precisely the things now proposed for education commissioners.  Local government is close enough to schools to spot problems early on and intervene before they escalate.  It regulates fair access and plans investment in new schools for growing populations.  It ensures that parents and the wider local community have a voice.  It forms federations of schools so better performing schools can support weaker schools to improve.  It replaces failing heads and governing bodies, and provides strategic services including IT, financial systems and HR as well as guidance on national policy.

The Government wants schools, unhooked from local councils, to join national chains of academies.  These could certainly provide some support services, and non-chain schools can purchase them from whoever they like.  But none of this provides the local perspective, or local accountability, that is essential to making education work for the different communities it serves.  A local perspective is critical when it comes to making sure there are enough school places available in the right places for every child that needs one.   Critically, neither academy chains nor education commissioners divorced from the rest of local council services can deliver the wider children’s services agenda.  That includes identifying children at risk of abuse and bringing in social services to support them and their families, helping young offenders get their lives back on track, and offering appropriate education to children with physical and mental disabilities. All of those vital services work better if they are run as closely as possible to schools.

Schools don’t educate children in isolation from other factors that affect their ability to learn.  Some students perform poorly at school because they drift into crime and anti-social behaviour, some come from dysfunctional families, some children’s concentration is impaired by poor nutrition, or they may live in substandard or overcrowded homes.    Local government may not directly control all these things, but we can influence all the services that tackle them and that puts councils in the best position to bring them together to improve poor performance at school.

Councils do not need to take back control of free schools and independent academies in order to act as the ‘middle tier’.  The world’s moved on, and school provision has become more pluralistic.  Innovation is a good thing, as long as we resist the more outlandish Government attempts to let whacky creationists or unqualified teachers get their hands on our children.  Local authorities already work alongside a growing range of reputable school providers, although legislation is required to ensure we have the powers to intervene when things go wrong.   But because we need local authorities to play a different role from the past doesn’t mean we should deny them any role in the future.  It makes no sense to close off the chance of bringing different local services together in pursuit of higher standards.

The creation of local education commissioners, like local police commissioners or supremoes in other public services, simply fragments the ability of local communities to tie up resources in ways that meet local needs.  It is just another vanity project from Government ministers who love to lord it over local communities, throwing out gimmicks they can point to as their legacy.  But the only legacy of this particular gimmick will be the further fragmentation of local government, a reduction in our ability to address the many and complex issues that hold some schools back, and it’ll cost us an extra £15m at a time of cut-backs in frontline services.

Labour councils today are shaping a new role for local government that’s more open, locally accountable and pluralistic than in the past.  We can do that by joining up services in ways that make more sense to the people who use them, rather than delivering each service as if the others didn’t exist.   Local government is the only tier of government that can bring things together in this way.  We have outgrown the narrow mentality that sees our communities only through the narrow prism of a single-service provider.  Imposing education commissioners takes us in the wrong direction.  We don’t need to invent a new ‘middle tier’ between national government and local schools.  It already exists, and it’s called local government.

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Labour protects local services as the Tory-Lib Dem axe cuts hard

This 'cuts map' shows how the Government has targeted cuts on the poorest parts of the country - including Lambeth

The Tories and Lib Dems in Government have chosen to cut Lambeth’s net budget by nearly one third.  Prime Minister David Cameron said ‘we’re all in this together’ when he promised that the broadest shoulders would bear the heaviest burden in paying down the cost of bailing out the banks.  But he has done the opposite.  Britain’s poorest communities and poorest families are losing the most.  A map published by researchers at Newcastle City Council shows how the axe has fallen.  Based on funding per head of population, the poorest areas in the country – urban areas in inner London and the north of England – have lost over £100 funding per person.  By contrast, wealthier parts of the South-East where social problems are far fewer have seen an increase in funding.  It couldn’t be starker.  You’d expect this kind of vindictiveness from Tories, but it’s the active support of the Lib Dems – a party that once claimed to stand for fairness – that’s been the most surprising.  Not a single Lib Dem councillor in Lambeth has objected to this.  In fact, at last week’s council meeting, they sought instead to justify their own government’s onslaught against the people of Lambeth.

By the time the funding cuts have all been made, Lambeth will lose £94.5m a year out of a total budget that was once around £300m.  Our Labour councillors are doing our best to manage that devastating reduction in a way that minimises the damage to our community.  We made a number of promises that we are determined to keep:  we committed to:

  • Protect services that matter most to local people
  • Cut the back office to protect the front line
  • Protect the most vulnerable
  • Support people’s aspirations for a better quality of life including better housing, schools, and a clean environment
  • Keep people safe and secure

Our budget aims to do all those things, although the funding reductions are so severe it’s not possible to protect everyone from pain.  It is, though, a major achievement that over two-thirds of the funding cuts in Lambeth have been made to back-office services rather than the frontline.  In total, 97% of our cuts have been made without closing services down.  Instead of closing services, where we’ve faced funding cuts we’ve aimed to share services with other organisations to save costs, or are providing them in different ways rather than cut them completely.

We’ve also worked hard to make our assets work harder for local people than ever before – that means looking again at how we can create partnerships, use our buildings better, and rethink how we use our cash reserves.  The result of this has been truly impressive.  We’ve just opened a new leisure centre in Clapham at no cost to the public, with a new library opening later this month, and work under way to build a new leisure centre, ice rink and swimming pool in Streatham.  We’ve found a way to keep all our other libraries open under greater community control, and we’re cutting the cost of council buildings by reducing the number we use and getting out of leases for old, run-down buildings that cost more to maintain.  We’re reduced the number of temporary staff from 22% under the Tories and Lib Dems to below 7% today.  We’re selling off underused buildings to provide the funding for new primary schools.  And most impressive of all, we’re able to guarantee to upgrade every substandard council home in Lambeth over the next five years by selling off uneconomic properties and using our cash reserves to bring empty homes back into use so they generate a rental income for the council.

We have made no changes to who is eligible for care services among our older and disabled population.  We have maintained funding for our squad of PCSOs that support the local police under police command.  We have protected frontline services that keep young people out of gangs.  And we’ve found the money to build a new centre to protect the victims of domestic violence.  With so many household budgets under pressure, we’ve also frozen council tax with no increase at all for the fourth year running.

Despite the Government’s decision to hit local people with an unfair share of funding cuts we remain adamant that we will not let the Government make victims of our residents.  We cannot magic away the pain of all the cuts, but we’ve done our best to support our community through these most difficult times.

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Gove’s obsession means Lambeth kids miss out on primary places

Elmgreen School in Lambeth is Britain's only parent-promoted secondary school - but Michael Gove's obsession with ideology is preventing this kind of innovation elsewhere

One of the first things the new Conservative-Lib Dem Government did on taking office was cancel Labour’s school-building programme. As a result, London faces a dramatic shortage of places, particularly at primary school level. According to London Councils, there will be 80,000 children across London without a permanent school place by 2014. They’ll either be in classes with more than 30 pupils in them, in portakabins, or being taught at home. It’s a worrying time for parents right across the capital, including here in Lambeth.

Our Labour council has been pushing the Government to think again. Giving children the best start in life – including a place at a good local school – is one of the most important investments we make as a society. We all benefit from it.

Last week I went to see the Government Education Secretary Michael Gove MP. I made the point that his cuts had left Lambeth £70m short of the funding we need to provide new primary school places. The problem is most acute in the south of the borough in Streatham and West Norwood. What’s strange is that although the Government says there’s no money to build the schools we need (remember, that’s primary school places in the south), he has announced funding for secondary school places in other parts of Lambeth. He’s given Durand Academy in Brixton £17m to build a secondary school in Kent for just 200 local children, and he’s offered Katherine Birbalsingh, known in sections of the press as the ‘Tory teacher’ because of her attacks on state schools at Tory Party Conference, around £10m to set up a secondary school in the north of the borough. I asked Mr Gove why he was offering money to build secondary schools when we already have enough secondary places, rather than the primary school places parents need. His thinking makes no sense at all.

Lambeth will soon run out of primary school places in Streatham and West Norwood unless we find the money to build new ones. So, reluctantly, we have had to sell off some council-owned land to raise funds. The old Lilian Baylis school site in Kennington has been used as a community sports and arts centre since the school relocated to a brand new building. The Lib Dems and Tories tried to sell off the whole site to developers when they ran the council. Labour saved it so the community could continue to benefit from the well used facilities. We came up with an innovative idea – we handed half the site to a community trust so that the sports and arts activities could continue, and we sold the other half to raise money to build the new schools local children need. A sensible approach. Unless you’re Michael Gove that is. He had his eye on the site for Katherine Birbalsingh’s so-called ‘free’ secondary school (the one we don’t need, remember, because we have enough secondary places already). Ms Birbalsingh has taken to the media to attack Lambeth for this decision – although all we’re doing is making sure there are school places for children where they are needed, rather than where they are not.

It’s a very strange world indeed where Tory politicians’ vanity projects are considered more important than providing school places for the children who need them. Lambeth’s pragmatic about who runs the schools – all we want is good schools that have the confidence of local parents. What a shame we have a Government that seems to be ignoring the fate of children at the 24,000 state schools while they pursue their ideological obsession with 24 free schools.

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Protecting children at risk of harm

I spent a day out with Lambeth's child protection teams to gain a better understanding of the vital work they do

Protecting children at risk of abuse is one of the most important things a council does. The work carried out by teams of professional social workers only hits the headlines if something goes tragically wrong. The social workers do a tough and demanding job, and on the whole they do it extremely well in very difficult circumstances. I spent a day out with our child protection teams finding out more about the work they do in Lambeth. All the cases I refer to in this article have been anonymised to protect people’s identities.

I sat in on a case conference to see how the professionals decide whether a child needs protection and what that might include. The mother – let’s call her Miss A – was a foreign national who, because of her immigration status, was not entitled to public support in terms of housing or financial benefits. She appeared to have some difficulty understanding the process taking place despite very sympathetic treatment from the social workers. Miss A has recently had a baby but is living in temporary lodgings with a co-tenant she doesn’t know and who objects to having the baby in the communal living areas. The baby has no separate sleeping area of its own. Miss A has a medical condition that she is failing to treat properly despite being at risk of collapsing unconscious. If that were to happen she has no plans for who would look after her child. The father lives elsewhere in London, she appears to have no close friends, has never worked, and her family all live abroad in her home country. There are clear risks to the child’s wellbeing and the team are keen to try and minimise these.

The case conference includes social workers, police, health visitors and an experienced social worker who chairs the proceedings. Decisions are taken about the kind of support the mother should receive. It strikes me that she seems rather confused by what’s going on and I later suggest that unaccompanied adults who are involved in this kind of process might benefit from the support of a volunteer who’s gone through a similar experience and who could act as their friend, explaining what’s going on in a friendly and impartial way.

After the case conference, I join a social worker on a home visit. We get in her car and drive a mile or so away to a flat in a converted Victorian house. We meet Mrs B, an African woman in her late 40s, mother of six children. Two of her daughters, both under 16, have got involved with a violent youth gang and Mrs B is at her wits’ end with worry about how she can regain control over them. They frequently stay away for days on end, apparently abusing drugs and alcohol. They are not present, as they should be, for the social workers’ visit. They have lost all respect for their heritage and culture, both have been arrested for involvement in offending – some of it seriously violent. Both have been excluded from school. Frequent appearances at court mean little to them as they receive extensions to their community sentences – wearing electronic tags and taking part in community reparations that they simply ignore without any serious consequences.

Mrs B feels she has been prevented by British law from using traditional models of discipline common in her home culture that she believes would have kept her daughters out of trouble. There seems to be a real issue about the lenience of punishment given to the girls – instead of learning to respect the law they are learning that it won’t do anything serious to stop them. That cannot be right. I discuss with Mrs B and the social worker whether we need a different approach. The Boston model, first trialled in the United States, brings together community leaders and public service leaders to confront young offenders with two stark choices: either they accept the support on offer to steer them away from offending, or they face serious consequences that might include custodial sentences or intensive foster care placements with foster carers experienced at controlling unruly young people. It seems to work in the US and I wonder whether a similar approach here would help mothers like Mrs B regain the control they have lost over their children.

I’m also impressed by another initiative to help struggling parents recently introduced in Lambeth. The Council has joined up with Home Start UK to get volunteers who have experience in bringing up children in difficult circumstances to support parents who need their help. This is a great project, offering support that really makes a difference for families in addition to the support available from the Council. It strikes me as a great example of what we’re trying to achieve with our cooperative council proposals.

Back at the office, I join the referrals team to see how vulnerable children are identified and allocated support. I’m astonished to learn that there are 22,000 referrals a year, including from the police and schools. That’s nearly 500 a week, most of them highly urgent. The majority of cases involve some kind of domestic violence and this is often associated with drugs or alcohol abuse. The assessment team officers review the cases and pass them on to the social work teams best able to investigate and offer support. The council is keen to support children in their own families where it’s safe to do so, but will take them into care if there is a serious and immediate risk of harm. In a few weeks’ time the council’s referrals team will be relocated to work alongside the police so that it’s easier to cross-refer past criminal records of adults who are reported to them, leading to better decision-making about which children are at risk.

I was deeply impressed by the professionalism, dedication and commitment of Lambeth’s child protection teams. They really do an important job for which they get little public thanks. What could matter more than protecting some of our community’s most vulnerable children from harm? It was a privilege to spend some time with these people, and I will continue to work with them to explore some of the ideas for improving the excellent service they offer.

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Riots: we need to understand the causes to find the right solutions

Curry's in Brixton was one of many stores attacked by gangs of looters

Two weeks after a wave of riots shocked the nation a debate is raging about what caused them and what we do about them. Thousands of people have been arrested and the courts are handing down tough prison sentences. They are right to do that because the looters are not just being punished for the goods they stole but for the widespread fear and panic they helped create as part of a lawless mob.

 So what lay behind the riots? Was it a sudden outbreak of lawlessness that inexplicably gripped thousands of people over a few nights in August? Was it, as the Prime Minister says, a sign of the moral decline of the nation?

Reducing this to a simple matter of morality misses the point. I do not for one second excuse the behaviour of the looters, but there is a problem that’s been festering in parts of urban Britain for decades that successive governments have failed to address and the current government is making worse. That is a sense of disaffection from mainstream society felt by too many young people in our poorest communities.

Lambeth is like many other urban areas across Britain. On our poorest social housing estates, the majority of children are born into a household on benefits; three in five adults of working age have no job; one in every two children lives in a single parent household; and there is a much higher proportion of dysfunctional families than in the population as a whole. With some of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe, many teenagers are having children of their own with little experience of good parenting to draw on and no stable relationship to rely on for support. Many young people do not know adults with steady jobs and many have no experience of a stable home life with clear boundaries set for their behaviour. They feel they have no legitimate way of accessing the affluent lifestyle they see beyond the boundaries of the estate where they live, and the only people they know making plenty of money are in gangs dealing drugs. Children learn the lessons they see around them, and the lesson some children are learning is that mainstream society has little to offer them.

Many of these young people have adopted the ‘gangsta’ culture imported from cities in the United States and fed to them through films, videos and music. They seem blind to the fact that, unlike impoverished American communities, they have access to free world-class healthcare, free and generally good state schools, a relatively generous benefits system, better social housing, a more supportive criminal justice system, a much less violent community in which to live, and for young Londoners even free public transport. But disaffection is not just about the reality of their situation, it is about how they perceive their lives compared to what they see in other communities around them. They need to be made to understand the value of what is available to them, and withdrawing elements of it from serious law-breakers is one part of doing that.

Most of the rioters came from poor, urban areas. They got involved not because of any lack of morality in society in general, but because the higher levels of poverty and social exclusion in the communities where they live have led to them becoming alienated from society. It’s a fact seen across the world that poor people are more likely to be involved in this kind of disorder than the better off. There’s a reason the riots hit Tottenham and Brixton but not Windsor and Reigate. Of course there are exceptions. The cases of well paid professionals who got involved are there for all to see, and the vast majority of poor people are decent and law-abiding. But that does not detract from the fact that the majority of looters came from poor urban backgrounds, and this was a factor in what happened.

It’s important we identify the right causes if we want to find solutions that work. There’s not been much finger-pointing at the way the Government’s targeted their cuts because no one wants to be accused of excusing the looters’ criminal behaviour. But understanding the problem is not the same as excusing it. The places that were hardest hit by rioting are all inner-city areas that have been singled out by the Government for a disproportionate share of funding cuts. Lambeth is losing nearly one third of our total available budget, while wealthier areas like Surrey, Richmond and Berkshire are losing almost nothing.

The problems that led to the rioting date back many years before the current Government was elected, but cutting funding for poorer areas on the scale the Government has chosen makes it much harder to maintain programmes that tackle gang membership, reduce teenage pregnancy, get people back to work and fund positive activities for young people living in crowded estates. On top of that, the Government is making direct cuts that fall most heavily on these same communities. The slashing of the Education Maintenance Allowance affects poor young people who otherwise can’t afford to stay on in education. The Government’s 23% cuts in youth offending services earlier this year closed many early intervention services that prevent young people from offending because the Government insists that the reduced budget must be spent instead on services that shepherd young offenders through the court system. We’d do better to stop them getting there in the first place. Poorer people on estates, if they work at all, are more likely to be in low-paid or casual jobs at greater risk of redundancy because of cut-backs. Youth unemployment is soaring. This Government did not cause the problem, but they are piling the misery on our poorest communities and should not be surprised when signs of disaffection become visible.

Violent youth gangs are a grim feature in many of London’s poorest communities. On some social housing estates in south London a majority of young people are gang members, not because they necessarily want to be but because they are coerced into joining by peer pressure including threats of violence if they refuse. Once involved, they are pressured into adopting the gang’s norms of behaviour, including taking part in violent assaults often involving knives or guns, drug dealing, and sexualised behaviour including rape. Many parents are at their wits’ end with worry, feeling unsupported and unable to prevent their children sliding into criminality that wrecks their lives as well as the community they are part of. Government threats to evict parents such as these, people who have done nothing wrong themselves, would only make matters worse. The problem with gangs is not new – Lambeth published a ground-breaking report on the matter in 2008 and followed it up with a big increase in funding for services designed to break the cycle of gang violence. But Government funding cuts that disproportionately target poorer areas like ours mean we now have fewer resources to carry out this work.

So what is needed to put things right? Above all, we need a national assault on poverty of every kind – not just financial poverty, but poverty of aspiration and poverty of opportunity. To be effective, this must be delivered locally, estate by estate, family by family, with the full engagement of the local community so it’s not seen as yet another top-down strategy imposed from the outside. This is what Lambeth is already doing with our limited resources, and it is why local government must be central to any solution: it is councils that have the detailed information about local communities, existing relationships with community leaders, and knowledge of local voluntary and community organisations that will be key to meeting the different needs of each community. These interventions will include help for parents who are struggling to bring up their children, support for community leaders to impose moral pressure on young people at risk of joining gangs, more positive activities for young people to keep them busy and develop new interests, after-school classes and homework clubs to improve learning, financial support to keep young people in education and higher education, training for jobs, peer mentoring, activities designed to expose young people to the opportunities available to them in one of the world’s greatest cities.

Doing this effectively will cost money, and that could come from a reversal of the Government’s decision to hit poorer areas with the biggest cuts and sharing the burden fairly instead. Not doing it will cost even more because society will have to pay the price of failure – including more people living on benefits rather than in work, more people in jail rather than contributing to society, and higher levels of crime to tackle and clear up after. Responsibility is a two-way street: we want people to feel more responsible to society, but we also need them to feel they are a full part of that society.

Whenever a social problem suddenly explodes there’s an urge to simplify the causes then promote simplistic solutions that miss the point. The rioting was inexcusable and lawless, but on its own inflicting tougher punishments on law-breakers from poor backgrounds doesn’t help them learn that society has something positive to offer them. It’s more likely to entrench them in the belief that society is against them, leading to further disaffected behaviour. Evicting parents who are already struggling to bring up their children makes their task even harder and, as a consequence, their children are more likely to become repeat offenders. We must retain a sense of proportion in our response. The causes behind the riots are many and complex, but we must identify those causes honestly if we are going to solve the problems that saw Britain’s cities explode on those dreadful few nights in August.

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Brixton recovers after night of disorder

Brixton is quickly returning to normal after last night’s disgraceful looting and disorder. Let’s be clear about one thing first: this was no re-run of 1981. What we saw last night was a mob of mainly young people taking advantage of the violence in Tottenham the night before to stage copycat activities so they could break into local shops. They targeted businesses selling mobile phones, video games, electronic goods including plasma screen TV sets, and sports clothing. It seems they used social media to move quickly in an attempt to out-run the police. There is universal condemnation from across the community this morning for what was nothing more than criminality and opportunistic theft.

I went on a walkabout around Brixton first thing and saw the clean-up operation in full swing. The damaged shops are being secured. Broken glass and litter – some of it left over from the Brixton Splash event yesterday afternoon – was being cleaned away. The Council is working with businesses and the police to make sure our town centre is restored to normal working as quickly as possible.

With the tube station closed and the high street cordoned off by the police there were crowds of people wondering how to get to work, but the buses were still running through. The media were very visible with TV cameras, notepads and interview mics out in force. But the good people of Brixton were making one thing very loud and very clear – this is a great place to live, community relations are good, there is strong support for the sensitive policing we’ve seen in recent years. No gang of looters is going to jeopardise that. This is a community that works and we will all rally round to condemn those responsible for last night’s hooliganism.

The Council has offered the police our full support. We have CCTV footage that will be made available to help identify the ringleaders. There were some extraordinary reports of people driving up to Curry’s on Effra Road in cars to help themselves to electronic goods. If their number plates were caught on CCTV they can expect to be brought to book. Brixton is an open and tolerant place, but we do not tolerate lawlessness.

This afternoon the council will host a meeting for community leaders and business owners to share information about what happened last night. More importantly, we will also offer help to get our businesses and communities back on their feet where they’ve suffered any damage. We are calling on London’s Mayor and the Metropolitan Police to make sure there are enough policein Brixton over the coming days to prevent any attempt to repeat last night’s disorder.

I was astonished to find Ms Cupcake, owner of a bakery on Brixton’s Coldharbour Lane, out in Brixton this morning handing out brightly-coloured iced cakes. She told me this was no day to sell cakes, and she wanted to show the world the true face of Brixton –smiling, generous, and big-hearted. So she came out to spread a little love in the form of her cupcakes. That for me is what Brixton’s really about. And that’s why last night’s incidents will not scar our community. This is a community that is strong, cohesive, and proud of itself. No mindless thugs are going to damage that.

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