I’ve spent nearly 40 years in public life in London and the last 22 years of my life representing Barking and Dagenham as the Member of Parliament. Working to improve the quality of life and create greater equality for all has been my enduring commitment as a public servant.
When I was first elected in 1994 I’d never met so many great grandmothers who lived within walking distance of their great grandchildren. Many families had lived in Barking for years in housing that was mostly owned by the council, and there was a traditional East End sense of community and belonging.
But Barking & Dagenham has changed. And it has been the pace of change which has taken place in recent years which has left many people feeling they’ve lost that sense of community and feel they are losing out.
The number of council-owned homes has halved from 40,000 to 20,000 due to the Right to Buy. Until recently, there were very few new, affordable homes being built to replace those that went through the Right to Buy. Despite a drop in the crime statistics for the borough and despite every ward having a dedicated police team, people still don’t feel safe in the streets. And since Marks and Spencer closed, everyone feels we need more and better shops and more places to eat.
But despite our problems we also have much to celebrate in Barking & Dagenham.
In 2009 I turned the first turf to start work on the new Barking Hospital site and I was so glad to see it completed this year. There used to be a maternity ward in the former hospital before I became the MP and I am so glad that we now have babies born in the borough again.
But I know we have more to do to bring our local hospitals and community based health services up to the standard they should be. I will continue my unannounced visits at Queen’s Hospital and King George’s hospital.
I have campaigned to make sure that GP Surgeries in the borough stop using 0845 numbers, so you don’t get charged excessively when trying to make an appointment. There are now only two surgeries using these premium numbers and I won’t rest until they offer patients a cheaper number to call.
I have been fighting for years to improve our local hospitals. I thought we’d won the battle to keep the A&E at King George open, but the health authorities came back with yet another plan to close the A&E. We need those A&E facilities in the borough. This is madness. Queens A&E cannot cope with the number of patients it has coming through it’s doors already. We need to see more and better health services in Barking & Dagenham before we start to contemplate changes in the services that the local hospitals provide.
There are many other challenges we face locally.
We have many fine new school buildings which have been built in the last ten years, but we need more school places for children in the borough.
We need more affordable housing to make sure the sons and daughters of Barking and Dagenham residents enjoy a home close to their families.
We’ve got to tackle the problems caused by ‘Buy to Let’.
We need to make sure that our streets are safer and that there are places to go and things to do for our young people.
There is always more to do. My team and I work really hard to address all the issues which matter to local people in their local community, from re-siting a bus stop to improving street cleaning, to dealing with incidents of anti-social behaviour to introducing new residents’ parking schemes.
But we can’t work alone. It’s by listening to concerns on the doorstep, at my coffee afternoons, at street meetings and in my surgeries that we hear about what needs to be done. And even if we don’t always succeed, we do always try.