December 2013

HAPPY CHRISTMAS AND A PEACEFUL NEW YEAR!
 
Well, it’s that time of year when we look back over the last 12 months, and look forward to the future. So here’s my quick Review of 2013. Obviously, it’s been another hard year for many people in Mitcham and Morden. The squeeze is on and many people are struggling with the cost of living. But here in Mitcham and Morden we have a strong community and so many of you are willing to give up your time and energy to help others. I am so proud of our local community and the people who make it tick.
 
Anyway, here’s my run through some of the biggest issues of the last year. I hope you enjoy it!
 
Giving our young people real experience of work
I knock on people’s doors each week, and sadly unemployment among our young people remains one of the area’s biggest concerns, with around 800 young people in Mitcham and Morden out of work for more than a year. Helping our young people find work is one of my top priorities. So I’ve taken the bull by the horns and gone out to develop a programme to help young people get that first opportunity on the jobs ladder.
 
The placements will start next month, and I’ve convinced around 60 local businesses and voluntary groups to offer over 80 placements of 8-12 weeks to give young people a real opportunity to get good experience of a working environment. Employers include Paul Strank Roofing, Canizaro House Hotel, the Mayor of Merton and even Rolex. Most are local businesses and charities who want our young people to get on. Interviews are being held this month, so good luck to all the young people taking part. At the end of their placement, they should be better equipped for the world of work.
 
I should also thank the engineering company C2HMHill and the trade union for postal workers, the CWU, for their generosity with printing and postage so that I could produce booklets and send them out to thousands of young people who live in the area.
 
The future of St Helier in the balance
Once again, the year has been dominated by the Save St Helier campaign. Together, the community is fighting the threat to shut St Helier’s A&E, maternity, ICU, children’s and renal units, as well as 390 in-patient beds – all because our local NHS has to save £370m a year. Thank you to everyone who has got involved in the campaign, especially Lower Morden resident Sally Kenny, who has set up a local campaign and whose Save St Helier posters are up in so many people’s windows.
 
It might not feel like it, but we’re making a big difference. In the past few weeks, it looks as though work on closing the A&E, maternity unit and numerous other wards at St Helier and Epsom hospitals might have stalled. The reasons for this are complex. In part it’s due to the success of community campaigners in Lewisham, who won a high court battle to save their local hospital with the backing of their local Council.
 
I’ve been working very closely with Lewisham activists. They said that the key thing that ensured victory in Lewisham was that local GPs were against the hospital closure. That’s why I asked local residents here to contact Merton’s GPs to oppose the closure plans. If you were one of the people who contacted your GP, thank you!
 
Meanwhile it looks as though a number of GPs across a wider area have said they are not convinced that services should close at Epsom or St Helier, and since then, the people behind the plans to close services at St Helier and Epsom have gone very quiet.
 
This is not the end of the matter, of course, because there are still people in the Government who want to make these cuts. Earlier this week, the Government amended the so-called Care Bill to make it easier to close a hospital. However, the longer this goes on, the more it is clear that closing St Helier would cost more than it saves, and that GP surgeries couldn’t cope with the extra patients.
 
Improving the Colliers Wood Tower
It might not look like it from the outside, but actually it’s been a good year too for all of us who hate the ugly black Colliers Wood Tower. Progress is painfully slow, but we have kept up the pressure. Thanks to the determination of local Councillors to use environmental powers to force the owners to fix the building, the car park has been demolished, hoardings have been put up to secure the site, and a service road has been laid out. And now the owners say they are planning to start internal conversion works in the new year. Of course, we’ve heard promises before, but last month the owners came to Colliers Wood to meet residents for the first time and we can only hope that’s a good sign.
 
Meanwhile, the Council has also secured money to make the area around the tube station and the Tower look a bit nicer. As I’ve said before, this has been a very long saga, but with a new coffee shop Coffee in the Wood, the extension of the Holiday Inn, the launch of the Provenance pub and other improvements to the area, it looks as though Colliers Wood is on the up at last.
 
Sadly, one of the Colliers Wood Councillors, Gam Gurung – Britain’s first ever Gurkha to become a Councillor – lost his battle with cancer in the summer. Caroline Cooper-Marbiah has since replaced him, joining existing Councillors Laxmi Attawar and Nick Draper, and the improvements to Colliers Wood are a tribute to Gam’s (and Caroline, Laxmi and Nick’s) determination to support their local community.
 
Great work from local volunteers – but more sad news
I can’t stop saying it, but it’s a real privilege to be an MP for such a great community. Many wonderful people give up their time to make the area a better place. When you’re a Member of Parliament, you get to see so many community organisations and voluntary groups working really hard to help local residents. It’s not easy. Budgets are more stretched than ever, but I am always amazed at how many volunteers there are, and by the help they are prepared to give.
 
Our local voluntary sector is recognised across the country, regularly winning awards for the work they do. However, this year the plaudits have been tinged with sadness because last month, the night after picking up yet another national award, the head of Merton’s Voluntary Sector Council, Chris Frost, passed away suddenly in her sleep.
 
Chris was a real force of nature, and inspired many volunteers and local charities to excel. She made many friends and I know that all her colleagues in the voluntary sector miss her enormously. At this time of year, my thoughts are with her family and her many friends.
 
Award-winning Merton Council
Earlier this year, Merton Council was named the best Council in the country when it won the prestigious MJ Outstanding Council of the Year award. Obviously, that doesn’t mean it never gets anything wrong, but despite the financial problems facing all local councils, they have done a pretty good job over the past few years.
 
Since 2010, the Council has been led by Stephen Alambritis, whose previous job was at the top of the Federation of Small Businesses, and it looks as though his reputation for running things in a business-like manner is making a difference. His team have instilled financial discipline, freezing Council Tax for a record 3 years (with the promise of another freeze in 2014) and – unlike most Councils – refusing to cut Council Tax rebates for people on low incomes.
 
And although they’ve had to make tens of millions of savings, they’ve done their best to protect priority services. Unlike many other Boroughs, they’ve not only kept all our libraries open, but actually extended their hours. And last month, they announced plans to rebuild Morden swimming pool, to make it a leisure centre where the whole family can go to get fit – or just splash around. Previous plans had been overblown and relied on external funding that was never going to be given, but after going through the budget with a fine tooth comb, Stephen and his team have trimmed costs and believe it’s now affordable – and they’ll be consulting residents about the plans in the new year.
 
More great sporting opportunities
You may not have realised, but Mitcham and Morden is home to the oldest Little League in the country, so even if you’re not quite Wayne Rooney or Steven Gerrard there are still opportunities to get involved. Mitcham Little League is a great organisation, and it’s currently looking for help. So whether you have football experience or not, if you can help them put on football matches for local kids that's great. They’re also looking for volunteers to help with admin work, fundraising, working in the canteen, and so on. All they ask is for 2-3 hours of your time on a Saturday. Any potential volunteers who might be interested in becoming part of the work they do at Mitcham Little League should simply contact Mark or Daryl Ann at mark.ann@live.co.uk or darylann2012@hotmail.co.uk.
 
Thanks for your help!
 
Celebrating our country’s Parliament
Hardly a week goes by without me having the opportunity to show local groups around the Houses of Parliament. It’s an amazing building, with so much history. For instance, in the week of Guy Fawkes night, it was great to have the chance to show over 100 pupils at local primary schools around. I’ve also hosted tours for police cadets, charities, residents associations and local clubs. In the past few weeks I’ve hosted tours for members of the Merton Goan elderly group, a group from Merton Mencap and women from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and just today, I gave a tour for a group of students from South Thames College. It’s always fun to show people the voting chambers and the scene of countless rowdy Parliamentary occasions – it’s a chance for you to pretend to be David Cameron or Ed Miliband (or even me!).
 
So if you belong to a local group, a charity or residents association, and want me to organise a tour of Parliament for your members, simply email me on siobhain@mmlp.org.uk or ring my Westminster office on 020 7219 4678. These tours are always great fun!
 
A very merry Christmas
Finally, I just want to mention an annual scheme run by a local group to help people who are alone at Christmas. The festive period can be a difficult time for some of our residents, and that is why Churches Together in Mitcham offer company and activities – as well as a full 3-course home cooked Christmas Dinner – for anyone who is on their own on Christmas Day. It all takes place from 11am on Christmas Day at the Mitcham Parish Centre on Church Path. If you know anyone who might be interested they can book a place by contacting the organiser, Councillor Judy Saunders on 07720 565454 or 020 8640 1298 or judy.saunders@merton.gov.uk.
 
So there you go. Yet another example of great local people doing wonderful things to help this fantastic community of ours. A very good note on which to say goodbye. So Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year! Have a lovely time over the next few weeks.
 
My best wishes,
Siobhain McDonagh MP