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Mayoral candidates: Sian Berry (Green Party)

April 05 2008
The only woman in the contest wants to make 60 per cent of all housing developments affordable Although the current mayor has failed to hit his own target of making half of all newly built homes "affordable", Sian Berry, Green party candidate, is confident she can not only hit the target, but raise it as well. One of the main points in Ms Berry's manifesto regarding housing is in fact to make 60 per cent of all developments fit this category. But how is it possible when Ken Livingstone - whom Ms Berry has recommended Londoners to select for their second, insurance vote - has failed?

"I have been looking at the mayor's housing strategy, and it is good; but it needs to be backed up with real action and resources," she says. "We have in the past had quite a lot of speculative investment, going for a quick profit, rather than selling at affordable, discounted rates - that has very much been the pattern. But now, with the sub-prime market, long-term security will be attractive, and bring in new types of developers." These developers, Ms Berry claims, will be more interested in creating cheaper accommodation - and of course, the £4bn recently pledged by Parliament for the cause should also help. And despite the current proportionate shortfall, the Green candidate is adamant that targets are helpful and should remain. "Boris Johnson's policy of abolishing targets is just nonsense," she argues. "How is he going to make the changes he has talked about without a target? There are people who will be prepared to work with this target and put packages together."

Equally, Ms Berry believes having a target to eradicate homelessness is a sensible thing to do. "We have to do this, and putting a date on it means working with some urgency." But she is less enthusiastic about the chances of any mayor hitting Mr Livingstone's second self-imposed target. "I think we are into some risky times economically, but we have plenty of resources to create affordable homes. We will need to close all the gaps, and make sure the voluntary sector is there to steer people where they need to do. It can be done, but getting all that in place in four years, when the government does not care and we are expecting an economic downturn - well, the mayor cannot fill all the gaps him- or herself."

Funding is a key concern for Ms Berry, on anything from keeping the Citizens' Advice Bureau alive to kick-starting new projects to deal with the growing number of non-UK citizens living on the streets.

"The main thing local authorities can do is stop cutting services that help people," she says. "Camden cut the funding to the local law centre and the Citizens Advice Bureau, but these are absolutely valuable on- the-street sources of information." As a result, one of her top priorities is to ensure funding streams are more secure, so people working in them are better able to spend their time doing what they are supposed to be doing - offering a service - instead of thinking of new ideas to draw in cash. "There is a planning blight with the current funding model," she explains. "Grants are given that last six months or a year, and people spend far too much time worrying about that and not doing the jobs they are supposed to be doing. I am hoping to set up a new funding model, in which grants for new projects cover three years and more established projects could get up to 10 years. Even with the limited funding streams the mayor has, this will hopefully inspire others to be less penny-pinching."

She also advocates a plethora of different groups, dealing with their own specific area, including specific groups to work with Accession countries' nationals. "We should be going out identifying people from those communities who might be able to set up something more appropriate," she says. "Although, really, this could have been done years ago."

Despite backing a disparate approach to homelessness from the voluntary sector, Ms Berry admits she would prefer there to be more cohesion among London borough councils. "There are certain gaps in a lot of ways - mental health, for example, suffers from a lack of joined-upness. You have the same problem with waste management - the chaos of London's recycling system. I would not want to bring all social services together, but I do think it needs more co-ordination, and the mayor could put together more of a strategy, talking to neighbouring boroughs and giving them targets and aims, for example."

However, Ms Berry believes that the Green party's 'Living Wage' will be one of the fundamental changes preventing people from "slipping through the net". The wage - £7.20 an hour - would offer a "more reasonable" base rate for people in work. "All parties will be very determined to stamp out homelessness, but not all are prepared to put in the social conditions to do this," she says. "The Living Wage guarantees income for every citizen, which is not just the bare minimum, but has something of a cushion for if you fall out of work - this will insure against homelessness."
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