Author Archives: Working for Walthamstow

The Power To Say No And Be Heard: What Are People Powered Public Services?

Power is not more meetings – with or without MPs. It’s not even more reports. Police and Crime Commissioners and Clinical Commissioning Groups show the folly of providing more professionals without any actual day to day accountability to the public. It’s also not just about choice. Or voice. Power is the difference between being given the ability to choose between two poor quality options, and the right to say no to either.  Power is the difference between being ignored by service providers and being listened to when you say something isn’t working. Power is services competing for your attention rather than struggling to get theirs.”

The following is the full text of a speech Stella gave to the CBI on Thursday 30th October at the launch of their new report into Public Service Reform

I want to start with an apology as many of you were expecting Rachel Reeves tonight. It’s a bit like booking tickets for a Minogue and getting Dannii not Kylie. Or thinking you’ve downloaded James Bond on Blinkbox and it turns out to be Johnny English. Or worse still, tuning in to see Andrea in the X-factor and getting Stevi.

However I’m grateful to the CBI for inviting me as I think their report is really fascinating and challenging. I also want to also take up Cathy’s challenge about honest politicians. Henry Kissinger famously said of politicians “Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation”.

I want to share my own shock at being elected and thinking that, when we started, we would get a job description. You are given an envelope at the count. But it simply says inside ‘Go to parliament on Monday’. So if you think we are all making it up as we go along – at least we have an envelope, on the back of which we can write.

The truth is that it is hard for many of us to think of blue skies when there are such dark clouds around:

  • £163 million is being spent daily on interest paid on personal debt– the equivalent of buying Christiano Ronaldo AND Gareth Bale or the cost of over 5,000 qualified nurses for a year. In one day.
  • The nature of the jobs being created — chiefly, those at the bottom of the pay scale — explains why tax revenue is not being generated as fast as expected. Even now, the economic recovery once forecast is almost two years behind.
  • Because it is not just families struggling with their finances. Our deficit is actually rising, not falling – and this doesn’t include promises made to future generations around provision of healthcare or pensions.
  • If George Osborne was a finance director of your company, and kept getting his numbers wrong like this and then kept asking you for more cash! your shareholders would want to sack him too!

Little wonder that when times are tight the idea of having someone to blame is appealing- whether immigrants, welfare claimants, unmarried mothers or climate change deniers- or all of them.

But I think the frustration that the electorate feels isn’t just about cash, whether in your pocket or in the public finances. It is deeper than that. It’s about a sense of change and knowing whether it is a good or bad thing.

Previous generations have faced big enemies but they, slow moving, clear targets: prejudicial laws, corrupt monopolies, visible poverty. In our world today, things are moving so fast that it is hard to keep up with the targets: Is it big business? Is it authoritarian governments?  Is it uneducated prejudice? Is it educated prejudice? Is it all of the above?!

Frankly, in answering these concerns and building a country that can thrive in the global economy, if we focus on the money we have, rather than outcomes we seek, it is a recipe for failure.

No one knows that better than this Government –their record is now a growing catalogue of the problems that come from trying to muddle through change rather than face it head on.

  • Closing fourteen prisons, and so creating a shortage of capacity and provoking Ministers to have to change tack and commission new even more expensive ‘Titan’ prison projects
  • Road projects like the A14 withdrawn, and then re-instigated two years at a much higher price
  • And not forgetting the bedroom tax which is costing more than it saves

In raising these examples, I know it is not enough to be an opposition. In fact, I think it is even more important when faced with this to set out the alternative. To show we are here to do more than be better at managing difficult public spending decisions nicely.

Let me be explicit- Labour is clear we need to balance the books. To get our national debt falling by the end of the next parliament. Ed Balls at our conference set out our red line that we will not have any policy in the manifesto paid for by new borrowing. There are and will be tough choices to be made. But our Zero Based Budget review is rooted in a recognition that the best way to do this is to think long term and ask how we can actually prevent, rather than ameliorate, waste.

And by waste I mean of both public funds and public potential. My colleague Chris Leslie will be setting out the detail of how this will work in the coming weeks – and given how hard he’s worked, it is more than my life is worth to pre-empt it!

But my point is to say we get it. We know that reducing national debt and living within our means is the starting point, not the end, of good governance. That debt makes long term planning harder to do and undermines our ability to reform and innovate.

And innovate we must. Because the world we face now is different from the world in 2010, let alone 1997 or 1945. Think of just some of the challenges our generation- and by that I mean all of us here in the room not just of a certain age- face:

  • In a country working longer hours than ever and where there are now more people over the age of 65 than under 16 who is going to look after us as we grow up or get old?
  • We have the lowest rate of social mobility in the world so how are we going to change the fact our fathers incomes will determine not only his retirement but our careers and our kids chances at university?
  • One in every ten pounds we spend on healthcare goes on the problems caused by diabetes, who is going to stop our kids being fat and our families being frail?
  • And in a world where air pollution is getting worse how will any of us breathe?

The one thing we can see as we look at the world around us and the world to come is that our old systems and institutions will struggle to cope with any one of those priorities let alone all of them. That we cannot go on as we are.

To do this, the first thing that has to be reformed is our take on politics, of the idea that all we need are 650 MPs to get this right. That doesn’t make sense of how either change happens or the changes we have to make. This is a job for us all.

Making that happens means doing the thing that politicians sometimes seem to find hardest to do: give away control. To show that we know the public really do know best. And that politicians should interfere less. That we need– as Ed Miliband has argued- people powered public services.

Terms like people power and empowerment are often bandied around- but like fat free the devil is in the detail. Let me try to set out what we think this means for public services and why we think this will not only save money, but also get better outcomes.

People power requires the public to have much greater rights, not simply to access services, but to directly shape and change them both for themselves and their communities. To be able from the grassroots to reform services to meet their needs, not have their needs decided for them. Because whether its parents getting involved in their kids early education, or helping people with chronic conditions manage their care it gets the best results.

Now at this point you may wish to quote Oscar Wilde on the problem with socialism being that it takes too many evenings. Or Boris Johnson – that people go and see their MPs when they have run out of better ideas.

Let me be clear. Power is not more meetings – with or without MPs. It’s not even more reports. Police and Crime Commissioners and Clinical Commissioning Groups show the folly of providing more professionals without any actual day to day accountability to the public.

It’s also not just about choice. Or voice. Power is the difference between being given the ability to choose between two poor quality options, and the right to say no to either.  Power is the difference between being ignored by service providers and being listened to when you say something isn’t working. Power is services competing for your attention rather than struggling to get theirs.

  • Personal care payments have started to revolutionise the provision of social and health care.
  • Steve Reed’s amazing work in Lambeth with Tenant management organisations like the Blenheim Gardens project show possible not just to deliver better services, but also surpluses in managing estates previously considered uninhabitable.
  • In Plymouth an energy cooperative is predicted to save the city’s residents £1m a year, and investing in renewable sources.

Examples of saving money and securing better outcomes. Rights backed up by three key tools – information, advocacy and redress.

Information and access to it is the best way to shine a light for users on what their money can really buy. We know many service providers try to pre-empt service user decisions, or block their ability to pool their funding. That’s why we sought through the Consumer Rights Bill to make sure information on all public sector contracts and services was available and why I’m disappointed that the Government opposed this.

Projects like “I want great Care” which collects patient feedback for hospitals highlight how information helps both service providers and users improve standards of care. Data can also drive innovation too – as Camden Council found by releasing data for a public hackathon with users, technical experts and council officers. They created tools to better target housing repair services, address street cleaning- and identify gaps in data which might be holding back further service improvement potential.

So I welcome challenge and ideas from CBI about how digital can help services reform- but we need you to be even more radical. Your report talks of booking doctors appointments online. As a local MP I can tell you my second most popular campaign at present after tackling rip off estate agents – as I do represent somewhere in London!– is healthcare access. This is about people struggling to get GP appointment, and so either putting off treatment and becoming much more sick and so costing more to treat or ending up at A&E. Yet doctors also tell me that as much as 40% of their appointments are missed.

So we don’t just need online booking. We need to find ways to share all appointment times and records, create missed appointment alerts, circulate free slots at short notice for those waiting. To build links with pharmacists. Track what happens next. And above all give patients the powers to get doctors to respond to when people want to see them – and where.

Too much of my casework as an MP is public service decision making done badly, leaving me to be the person – the independent advocate and adviser- who hassles providers to get it right or tells a resident something isn’t possible. If we truly empower the public ‘ you should go and see your MP about that’ will stop being an acceptable brush off.

Again, this report talks of publishing schools data- I wish we could have all the school catchment areas published so that parents could make better decisions first time and I would deal with fewer requests for appeals as a result.

In Nottingham, one study showed that 40% of cases dealt with by advice agencies involved preventable failure in the public sector. Right now this government is losing 45% of appeals against work capability assessment tests highlighting how expensive poor decision making is- and how it is hitting the most vulnerable the hardest.

Advocacy isn’t just about when things go wrong- it is also about breaking down the barriers which hold people back and lock in waste. With 50% of jobs not being advertised but filled by word of mouth, too many employers miss out on talent that isn’t part of their network, and too many job seekers never get a look in because they aren’t ‘in the know’. The Backr project is changing that by creating advocates for unemployed to break into those networks. Who then, in turn, help others get on as well.

And finally we need redress- because its no good having rights that aren’t backed up. And that means clear lines of accountability instead of fragmentation. The NHS is now a merry go round of acronyms and public bodies- CCGs, PPGs, CQCs, NHS England, Patientwatch, Hospital trusts- making it a process of attrition to complain rather than resolution. That’s why we have pledged to repeal the Health and Social Care Act– and we won’t stop there.

Liz Kendall’s ground breaking work on integrated care shows people power is about starting with the person first. We want to create truly integrated care, with one point of contact, one care coordinator and one team working with the patient. Working across different agencies- health, social care, mental health and housing – from the perspective of the person whose involvement matters the most. The user.

Now at this point some of you may raise an eyebrow thinking this way of working could upset the producers of public services. As someone who spends most of my life working with service providers in both public, voluntary and private sector, to put right problems for my constituents, I find it offensive that any are always seen as a foe rather than friend to users. ‘Computer says no’ is an attitude to be found in all sectors- as is professionalism and a deep commitment to care.

The challenge lies in reforming services to get the best out of each other rather than set ourselves against each other. Unison’s care workers partnerships with their clients and Worcester University enabling patients to interview student nurse applicants are examples that show, first hand, innovations already taking place that is changing this relationship.

Which? have highlighted that many public service users fail to complain about services for fear of reprisal. Let me be clear. Labour will always be in the corner of those vulnerable people who are not heard – challenging the culture as well as the structure which cuts them out of decision making.

  • To be able to pick the service that works for them – whoever offers it.
  • To hold to account those who don’t respect those they work for- whether through sanctions for doctors who don’t offer appointments or the ability to sack tenant management officers who don’t respond to their tenants.
  • Or, as Ann Coffey has argued today, empowering young people themselves to help fight sexual exploitation.

The world has long moved on since my predecessor as Walthamstow MP Clem Atlee introduced the NHS. Or even from when Tony Blair began the choice agenda. Interestingly, both never sent an email or text whilst in office! But this isn’t about technology. Through all this work is a common thread, the progressive thread, that has always been at the heart of Labour – a recognition that we should want for everyone; every child, every parent, what we would want for our own.

Labour’s commitment to people powered public services reflects how, whatever the level of resource, we know services which harness the day-to-day insights of users create value and value for money. Put simply the public really do know best- and we think it is about time we didn’t just ask them what they want but gave them the chance- and responsibility- to make it happen.


Press Release: Stella Brings Uma to Walthamstow to Inspire the Next Generation!

Uma, Stuart and Stella took a selfie with the young attendees at the Sangam!

Uma, Stuart and Stella took a selfie with the young attendees at the Sangam!

Local MP Stella Creasy has spoken about why she asked Uma Kumaran, prospective parliamentary candidate for Harrow East, to come to Walthamstow and tackling disengagement amongst young people from the political process. She said:

“As soon as I met Uma I thought she was one to watch! That’s why I wanted to bring her here today to our local Tamil Saturday school to talk to Walthamstow’s young people to encourage them to think about democracy. With her expertise and energy Uma will make a fantastic MP and I hope after speaking to her many of our local young residents will feel inspired to join her in working within our community for social justice. I want to thank all the pupils at the Sangam and their parents as well as the volunteers who run the project for such a wonderful visit.’

Speaking about the importance of challenging presumptions about who takes part in politics with young people Stella said:

‘We have to face up to some very worrying evidence that young people are not participating in the political process, especially those from minority community backgrounds as well as young women. That means their voices may not be heard and so we miss out on their contribution to our future. All of us benefit when we challenge prejudices about who gets involved in politics, as the evidence shows that diversity brings strength to our decision making processes and our country as a result. Whether in Walthamstow or Harrow we have young people with bags of talent who benefit from role models like Uma to show them they can do it too and as the MP I want to encourage them to aim as high as Uma.’

Speaking about her visit Uma said:

‘I know Stella is proud of Walthamstow and talking today to the young people here at the Sangam I could understand why. My parents fled to Britain over 30 years ago in the midst of civil war in Sri Lanka and they worked hard to rebuild their lives and raise a family in Harrow. Now I want to serve my country and my community – what is fantastic about talking to people here in Walthamstow is that there are many young people here like me who want to make a difference too.’

The Tamil Sangam is a Saturday school which meets each weekend to support the educational achievement of young people from the Tamil diaspora in walthamstow and is run by volunteers. It is estimated there are over 2000 families who speak Tamil in Waltham Forest, and the Sangam teaches around 60 children each week at Willowfield School.



  1. Uma Kumaran is 28 years old and is the Labour candidate for the Harrow East Her parents moved to Harrow to escape the civil war in Sri Lanka where her grandfather was a civil servant and trades unionist. She is the first candidate of Tamil heritage standing for parliamentary elections in Europe.
  2. The 2010 census showed there were 2,350 Tamil speakers in Waltham Forest. MORI research shows a 16 point difference in voting at the 2010 election between white and non white voters, and an 11 point difference between young men and young women under the age of 25 in voting. See here for more detail:
  3. Stella Creasy is the Labour and Cooperative MP for Walthamstow. Stuart Emmerson also joined the event and is the Labour Councillor for William Morris Ward.

Circular Firing Up Squad: What Do Women Who Take Part Say?

Currently in the British parliament there are more male MPs than there have ever been women elected. Changing this requires challenging the prejudice women face within our society, and also building the ability of women to take part in public life. The Circular Firing Up Squad is a safe place where women are encouraged to support and challenge one another in order to build confidence and leadership potential.  The skills and techniques women learn in these workshops enable them to support their own, and each others, personal development and activism.

These workshops will be of interest to anyone thinking they would like to change the world but not sure how to do it.  We want to bring women of all ages and backgrounds to work together for a more socially just, fairer and equal society.

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Working for Walthamstow: Administrative Assistant Vacancy

An opportunity has arisen to join my team Working for Walthamstow. This role involves providing administrative support to the day-to-day running of Stella’s office and in particular assisting with the financial and logistical administration of a busy constituency team. The hours of this role are flexible, and it may suit someone with caring or studying responsibilities. Continue reading

Walthamstow’s Edinburgh Primary School Buddies Go to Number 10!

The children at Edinburgh Primary made these beautiful buddies to highlight the campaign to ensure every child can go to school and asked me to ensure the Prime Minister was aware of their concerns. I’m very grateful to local student Amber Marshall who has been doing work experience in my office and who helped us make this great short film to show the children the journey of their buddies right upto Number 10.

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Press Release: Home Sweet Home Campaigners Take Over Town Square to Highlight E17 Housing Horrors

HSH logoMembers of the Walthamstow Home Sweet Home Campaign will be in Walthamstow Town Square on Saturday 9 August from 1.30pm as part of their campaign to improve access to quality housing for all local residents.  They have organised a ‘listening space’ for residents to tell their stories about the good and bad in Walthamstow’s letting agents, landlords and estate agents.

Speaking about the campaign local MP Stella Creasy said:

‘Housing is one of the top issues Walthamstow residents raise with me – its little wonder so many feel they are getting a raw deal with house prices and rents shooting sky high in the last year. The problems residents face we are campaigning on are not just about the cost of housing- we have heard about many problems with damp to extortionate fees and rent hikes as well as misleading information and charges which distort the prices people face to rent or own in our community.

These awards are our way of fighting back as a community and holding to account those seeking to exploit London’s housing shortage as well as recognising the good agents and landlords who do treat people fairly. I hope residents will join us to show we won’t tolerate this behaviour and make sure Walthamstow can be a Home Sweet Home for everyone’

The campaigners have organised the E17 Local Living SOS Awards to highlight agents and landlord behaviour. On  they day they will be spinning the ‘wheel of misfortune’ with some of the common problems tenants and home seekers face in Walthamstow, as well as a model house to show the poor conditions some in the local community face. They have been working with the Movement for Change in Walthamstow to help tenants and residents challenge poor behaviour. Nomination forms for the awards scheme can be found on Stella Creasy’s website. Nominations close on 1 September 2014.


  • Land Registry data shows that Watlham Forest  has had the highest annual price increase of  26.3 per cent, increase taking the average price of buying a property in  Chingford, Leytonstone and Walthamstow to £327,784.
  • According to the 2011 Census, about one in four households in Waltham Forest (26 per cent) now live in private rented accommodation, up from 16 per cent in 2001. Average rental values for new tenancies in London (£1,348pcm) were £116 more expensive per month when compared to average rental values in May 2013 (£1,232pcm) According to the Homelet Rental Index, the average increase in Rents in East London in the last year was 9.3%, with the average rent now £1,366 compared to £1,249 in 2013.
  • Campaigners working with Stella Creasy MP and the Movement for Change started the Home Sweet Home campaign in Walthamstow in 2014 following evidence of the problems many residents faced accessing housing.
  • The campaigners have run a series of workshops and events to identify the causes of rising rents and house prices in Walthamstow in the last year including meetings in parliament with experts and local workshops around Walthamstow.
  • The categories for the E17 Local Living SOS awards cover landlords, letting agents, estate agents and social housing providers and categories include ‘Best’ and ‘Worst’ letting agent, ‘best’ or worst’ offer to completion and  even ‘Most Inventive Excuse’!. The deadline for nominations is Monday 1 September 2014.
  • To find out more about this campaign or to become involved please contact Ruby on 020 8521 1223 or

The Walthamstow Housing Awards- Nominate the Good, Bad and Ugly of Walthamstow’s Housing Now!

HSH logoAs part of our Housing campaign here in Walthamstow we have decided to hold landlords, letting agents and estate agents to account for their conduct by creating our very own Housing Awards to highlight the good, the bad and the ugly of our local housing. I’d now like to encourage all residents to contribute to this scheme by contributing their nominations for these awards.

We’ve split the awards up into four categories:
All nominations are confidential – categories include topics such as from ‘Best’ and ‘Worst’ letting agent, ‘best’ or worst’ offer to completion and  even ‘Most Inventive Excuse’!

Please encourage as many local residents as possible to nominate – the deadline for nominations is Monday 1 September 2014. If you would like to get involved in this this campaign please contact Ruby on 020 8521 1223 or