We fly the European flag high at Barking town hall. MP’s, the council leader and majority of Cllr’s, believe that we are safer, stronger and better off in the EU.
There are two key areas where the UK’s membership of the EU has benefited Barking and Dagenham directly.
Health care and free movement
When I was deputy chair of the health scrutiny committee, I led a review into the failing maternity unit at our local Queen’s hospital in Romford, which came under Barking, Havering and Redbridge Trust. A service that was on its knees, it was providing poor health care, severely understaffed and had one of the highest death rates for mothers in the country. Inevitably the unit received consistently bad reviews.
The Trust acknowledged that they needed to change and had come up with an improvement plan, but there was a fundamental problem. They needed to address the lack of staffing to provide better care – but people living in the local area and beyond did not want to work for a maternity unit with a bad reputation – as you could well understand.
So in order to put their plan in to place and following numerous recruitment campaigns, they decide to recruit from the wider EU, from Ireland, Poland and other countries. Although it’s taken time, now staffing levels are where they should be, the care is much better and reviews much improved for the experience of women in the unit.
1 billion of funds from the European Investment Bank will be used for new urban renewal, social housing and energy efficiency investment over the next two years in the UK and has already been running since 2014.
Our borough became the first in London to benefit from a new £500m investment package for urban infrastructure, new and upgraded social housing and energy efficiency projects to be provided by the European Investment Bank. This will allow us develop and grow our borough by working with our partners in and outside London to deliver much needed infrastructure as London moves east.
We plan to use the fund for 560 new high quality affordable homes on the edge of Barking town centre and to allow for investment in schools, leisure facilities and energy efficiency measures, particularly to reduce the high cost of energy bills for our residents.
We also want to use the investment for assisting local young apprentices, low-skilled workers and long-term unemployed people from the area into work opportunities.
Urban renewal under this programme will not only improve the quality of life and health of Londoners, but create jobs where they are most needed. Across London funds from the bank have been used for investment in the M25 widening project, Heathrow terminal 5, the cycle superhighway and Crossrail. All crucial projects in ensuring the increasing number of London residents can get to and from work safely and efficiently. It is true to say that our borough could have obtained a loan from the government public works fund. But with interest rates from the EIB typically being at least 0.8% cheaper, our loan repayments will be much lower and paid off much quicker.
Being a member of the EU brings Barking and Dagenham a whole host of benefits. In the past 18 months we have secured £89 billion from the EIB to fund housing projects, and a £1 million European Social fund Grant to fund employment and skills programmes. Barking and Dagenham also benefits from the economic security that being a part of the EU provides. As more growth moves from the centre of London and flows to places like Barking and Dagenham, the economic uncertainty that leaving the EU inevitably would place those growth opportunities at risk.
For International Women’s Day this year, the Shadow Cabinet met at the Dagenham Civic Centre. They heard from some of the women who fought for and gained equal pay through their industrial action. Immortalised in the film Made In Dagenham, these sewing machinist strikers went up against management in 1968 and won equal pay on the basis that their jobs were skilled jobs, just like the men’s. The 1968 strikes at Ford’s Dagenham plant –were a key event that powered the 1970 Equal Pay Act, which guaranteed women the same treatment in the workplace as men. However the women at Fords did not finally secure Equal Pay until 1984, when against Margaret Thatcher’s wishes the European Court of Justice stepped in to ensure that the women actually received this pay. The contribution that this made to workers’ rights in Dagenham and beyond would be in jeopardy if we left the EU.
I believe that the UK being part of a reformed EU would provide far more benefits to our residents than withdrawal. So that’s why I believe that the future of our country lies with the UK being at the heart of Europe.