London Assembly Hustings 2024

09 April 2024

Our joint hustings on 4 April gave local people the opportunity to share their concerns with candidates who want to represent Brent and Harrow in the London Assembly elections on 2 May. Community ConneX’s partners in this event were HAD (Harrow Association of Disabled People), Mind in Harrow and Harrow Carers

An invitation to speak at the hustings was sent to all the political parties; we were pleased to host Krupesh Hirani (Labour), Stefan Bucovineanul-Volosenuic (Conservative), Ian Price (Reform UK), Jonny Singh (Liberal Democrat) and Caroline Russell standing in for Nida Al-Fulaij (Green Party).

The hustings, attended by over 80 people, began with the candidates introducing themselves and their pledges.

The London Assembly candidates

Krupesh Hirani

Krupesh Hirani (Labour)

Krupesh is the current London Assembly member for Brent and Harrow. He spoke about his background with disability rights organisations. He said that his lifelong support for learning disability issues guided the work he does at City Hall.

Krupesh spoke about his active role in projects such as wheelchair accessibility for all new housing projects, step-free access at tube stations, and holding TfL to account for disability equality training for bus drivers.

Stefan Bucovineanul-Volosenuic

Stefan Bucovineanul-Volosenuic (Conservative)

Stefan reflected on his Ukrainian–Romanian roots and how establishing a life in the UK motivated his commitment to give back to his local community.

He urged people to “leave politics behind” on disability issues, and quoted health inequality statistics as a reason to “act fast” – for example, people with a learning disability have a lower life expectancy than the general public.

Ian Price

Ian Price (Reform UK)

Ian pledged to scrap ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) saying that people with a learning disability are often hit hardest by the policy for vehicles to meet exhaust emission standards.

He advocated freedom of movement for Londoners as a key principle and supported step-free access on public transport. Ian also voiced his opposition to 20 mph speed limits and the Mayor of London’s push for electric vehicles.

Jonny Singh

Jonny Singh (Liberal Democrat)

Jonny spoke of his former military career and subsequent aid work where he worked alongside marginalised people throughout the world. He also went on to volunteer with students with special needs.

He called for step-free access in all tube stations by 2030 and for mandatory disability-aware evacuation plans for new builds. Jonny backed the creation of a disability champion post at City Hall.

Caroline Russell

Caroline Russell (Green Party)

Caroline said that she would campaign for more disability-accessible public toilets throughout London. She described London’s “loo deserts” and said that she had secured an agreement from Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, to spend £3 million on improving public lavatories.

Tabled questions

In the lead-up to the hustings Community ConneX, HAD (Harrow Association of Disabled People), Mind in Harrow, and Harrow Carers asked our supporters to submit questions that would be put to the candidates.

Deven Pillay (CEO of Community ConneX) and David House (Campaigns Assistant) led this session. Each candidate, selected randomly, was given 2 minutes to respond to 4 questions.

Deven Pillay and David House

Deven Pillay (left), David House (right)

Question 1: How do you intend to ensure funding is assigned to accessible mental health care and support for all?

This question was asked by Gillian Pearse.

Gillian Pearse

Gillian Pearse

Candidates’ answers:

Ian said his party would scrap Net Zero (eliminating carbon emissions by replacing petrol and diesel engines with renewable energy) and use the money on disability projects.

Caroline said we need more investment in disability and mental health services from central government. She also advocated for ‘Right Care, Right Person’, which is a partnership between the Metropolitan Police and the NHS to change the way emergency services respond to mental health calls.

Krupesh stressed the need for local and central government to work together. He also pointed out that where mental health needs are not met locally through social services, NHS intervention at a later stage will be more expensive. He said that more money needs to be put into prevention to enhance positive mental health in London.

Jonny said that we need to prioritise mental health for children and young people, as they have been adversely affected by Covid and the cost of living crisis. He also said that the broader impacts of poor mental health affect the economy with people needing to take time off work. Jonny said that innovative thinking was needed to ensure that businesses are able to support their staff.

Stefan said that he trusted Susan Hall (standing in the Mayoral Election) to run services efficiently and find the money to help people with disabilities. He mentioned working with TfL and felt that the money spent on consultants is an inefficiency. He advised people not to blame the government or local authorities but instead to find funding through efficient management.

Question 2: There is a lack of police on the streets. People do not feel safe going into areas such as local parks. What will you do about this? 

This question was asked by Tim Stockman.

Tim Stockman

Tim Stockman

Candidates’ answers:

Stefan said the Metropolitan Police Service is the worst performing force in the country. He praised officers but said that lack of management was at fault. He said that with approximately 68,000 streets in the capital and up to 35,000 police officers, it would be possible to patrol all the streets with 5,000 officers. He said that we have the technology to report issues like overcrowding and rubbish on our streets but not the will. Stefan said people shouldn’t hide behind blaming the Tories or Boris Johnson and that if elected, he wants to return to borough-based policing.

Krupesh said that neighbourhood policing would help to rebuild the trust people have lost in the police. He described how police presence was reduced drastically during his time as a councillor for Brent. He said that £1 billion funding had been cut by the Home Office. If Sadiq Khan were re-elected, in partnership with a Labour government, he would ensure an increase of 1,300 police officers.

Caroline drew attention to reports of misogyny, sexism, racism and homophobia in the Metropolitan Police. She said it was a huge job ahead to rebuild trust and confidence without which there would be no consent for policing. She backed more neighbourhood policing but added that the police need to cut back on disproportional measures such as stop and search. Caroline highlighted the need for the police to act against a rise in Islamophobia, antisemitism and hate crimes against LGBTQ communities.

Jonny expressed the need for recruitment from, and representation of, local communities. He said that retention is an issue: expertise is lost as police officers leave the force when they should be better supported. He said that police time targets mainly young, poor and minority ethnic people but should instead focus on serious crime – instead of policing laughing gas or minor drug offences. Jonny said that the Liberal Democrats would review policing by setting up separate forces for protests and royal events, which would free up community police.

Ian shared the news that the only police station with a front desk in Harrow will be temporarily closed. He pointed out that as part of the Borough Command Unit with Brent and Barnet, funding is not prioritised to Harrow. He claimed that despite Harrow residents funding a third of the police budget, Harrow gets only 5% of police officers.

Question 3: Not all tube stations have wheelchair access and often not enough staff to support you. I’ve been going to Notting Hill Carnival, but I’m not able to go on the train with all my friends. What will you do about this?

This question was asked by Brendan Chivasa.

Brendan Chivasa

Brendan Chivasa

Candidates’ answers:

Krupesh said that there had been a 33% increase in accessible stations but that City Hall needs to do more. He said that he wants to work with Network Rail and Thameslink to create step-free access in stations in North West London.

Stefan said that the lack of accessibility in transport was due to a lack of financing. He claimed that planning did not encompass disability needs. He also suggested cutting City Hall jobs with salaries of over £100,000 and investing in accessibility instead.

Ian empathised with Brendan about wanting to enjoy Carnival. He said that not even half of all stations on the Northern Line are accessible. His solution was to cut back on Net Zero and divert the money to accessible stations.

Jonny said there was consensus on the need for step-free access. He said that it would take time and money but that it was a priority. He said that the question showed the need for a voice for disabled people to be embedded in decision-making at City Hall.

Caroline acknowledged the work done by Sadiq Khan to get TfL’s finances in order. She said that creativity was needed to ensure step-free access because many of our stations are old. She said that priority would be given to interchange stations and to those close to essential services such as hospitals.

Question 4: What policies are in your party’s manifesto to support carers and what will you do if elected to promote them?

This question was asked by Sandy Bowman.

Sandy Bowman

Sandy Bowman

Candidates’ answers:

Caroline said that the Green Party is focusing on affordability. Her party will help families by rolling out free school meals for all year groups. They will also reduce the difference people pay across fare zones. She said a Rent Commissioner would be appointed to tackle the sharp increase in rents throughout London.

Jonny shared his family’s experience of caring for his father. He said the Liberal Democrats will call for paid carers’ leave. He stressed the need to reform social care in the UK so that the challenges of an ageing population would not overwhelm the NHS. There is, said Jonny, a raft of policies to support carers and his party would be the voice of carers.

Ian pointed out that his party has a contract rather than a manifesto. He conceded that Reform UK does not have policies about carers specifically but that carers should not be paying tax on their low incomes. He said that his party would ensure that people earning up to £20,000 would not pay income tax.

Stefan said that the anti-crime measures that the Conservatives were proposing would bring down insurance premiums, which would leave people with more money. He said that savings made would, in time, help to finance social care. He also suggested raising prices for tourists.

Krupesh explained how carers have lost out on changes to Personal Independence Payments. He said that whoever is in power should reverse the changes. He also said that Labour would scrap the bedroom tax which discriminates against disabled people who require extra space for large wheelchairs and mobility equipment.

Questions from the floor

This session was led by Adam Gabsi from HAD. Here, members of the audience were given the opportunity to ask about issues that they felt strongly about. Questions ranged from asking candidates about their affiliations with overseas organisations to the urgent need to tackle hate crime. We also heard questions on why autistic people are no longer eligible for social housing, and why there is no equalities committee at City Hall.

Adam Gabsi

Adam Gabsi

Feedback

Here’s what some attendees thought about the hustings.

James Corbett found the hustings very useful especially as it “gave people with disabilities the power to speak”. He said the event had definitely helped him to decide who he would vote for. Overall, he was “quite pleased” with the candidates’ responses.

James Corbett

James Corbett

Ashraf Mohammed said it was great to hear from so many local people, although he found the candidates’ responses “rather bland”. He also felt there were too many party political statements; he was interested in learning more about the candidates’ individual commitments. Ashraf is still undecided about who will get his vote.

Ashraf Mohammed

Ashraf Mohammed

Maurice Hoffman thought the hustings gave residents a “good opportunity to see the candidates”, but that it hadn’t really helped him to decide who to vote for. He also felt that some candidates did not fully understand the role of a London Assembly Member.

Maurice Hoffman

Maurice Hoffman

Elizabeth Hugo said that the hustings had helped her decide who to vote for on 2 May. She felt that she had clarity on issues for disabled people in Harrow and also “how the main contenders will respond”. Elizabeth said that the candidates’ responses were “quite honest, informative and revealing”.

Elizabeth Hugo

Elizabeth Hugo

 

 

 

 

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