Stephen pushes Minister for a public vote

During an Urgent Question today in the Chamber of the House of Commons, Stephen asked DExEU Minister Robin Walker whether the Government would commit to a public vote in the event that the Prime Minister's deal is passed by Parliament. The Ministerial response confirmed that a public vote is "not something this Government would ever support".

Speaking after the exchange, Stephen said: "This is a very disappointing response from the Minister. As we are now faced with the Prime Minister's deeply flawed deal and the prospect of a disastrous No Deal, I am backing a public vote to prevent a damaging form of Brexit being forced on our country".

Stephen presses Minister on police numbers

Earlier today Stephen asked Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins MP whether the Government now accepts that its cuts to police officer numbers have gone too far. The exchange came during Home Office oral questions in the Chamber of the House of Commons.

The Minister responded by acknowledging that demands on police officers have intensified in recent years, but she stopped short of denouncing the cuts.

Speaking after the exchange, Stephen said: "This answer was very disappointing. It is clear to everyone involved how damaging the cuts to police numbers have been. This week Cressida Dick, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and Britain's most senior police officer, linked falling policing numbers to the worrying rise in violent crime. It's now time for the Government to admit this too".

Stephen Timms speaks to Twickenham Labour Party

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Yesterday, Stephen addressed a meeting of Twickenham Constituency Labour Party on the topic of Universal Credit. As the centre piece of the Government’s welfare reform programme, Universal Credit replaces six means tested benefits, rolling the provision into one monthly payment. Stephen explained that even though the concept driving this change is sound, the delivery of the new benefit has been grossly mismanaged, causing severe hardship and driving many further into poverty.

The blueprint for change was set out by the Coalition Government in 2010. Iain Duncan Smith – then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions - outlined his intention to deliver the changeover to Universal Credit by October 2017. To date, the migration from JSA and ESA benefits has not yet begun and the Government now admits that the full process will not be completed until 2023. In reality the wait could be much longer still.

Speaking after the event, Stephen said: “There was total naivety in Government about the scale of the change they were embarking on back in 2010. Nine years later, chickens have come home to roost and the most vulnerable are saddled with a punitive system which drives them into poverty. Those claiming UC must wait at least five weeks to be eligible for their first payment. Increasingly, because they have nothing else to live on, claimants are receiving advanced payments from the Government, so they are in debt right from the very start of their claim. The Government should pause the Universal Credit roll out and fix the problems before it causes further hardship”.

A recent written answer from the Department for Work and Payments revealed that 57% of Universal Credit applicants receive an advance payment. These payments are loans which claimants must begin to repay after their first benefits cheque is received. The link between the problematic roll out of Universal Credit and the increasing rise in foodbank use has recently been admitted by the Government.

Stephen visits Brampton graduates

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Stephen has joined year six pupils at the end of their week-long course about journalism and university life. The 30 children ‘graduated’ from Birkbeck at a ceremony at its site in University Square, Stratford, last week.

IntoUniversity, a national charity that provides youth centres for education and homework help, organised the event. The charity has a centre in East Ham.

Brampton pupil Mariam Issawo Mohammed, 10, said: “This week has helped me realise that journalism is really important so that we know what is going on in our country. I go to IntoUniversity’s homework club too and I really enjoy socialising with people. The people at homework club really do help and the staff are really kind.”

Speaking after the visit, Stephen said: “It was very interesting to hear from the children about the things they’ve learned and thought about this week.

“Age 10 might seem very young to be thinking about university but, in fact, it’s a good idea for children and their parents to start finding out about the opportunities and benefits that university study can bring well in advance.

“I’d encourage adults and young people to take advantage of the range of events that Birkbeck offers to local people.”

Stephen hosts launch of Indus Peace Park Project

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Stephen has hosted an event in Parliament on behalf of the Newham Rotary Club where the club revealed plans for the Indus Peace Park Project. The project aims to create a peace park on the border of India and Pakistan by August 2022.

The Indus Peace Park Project is an initiative being led and supported by The Rotarians. They plan to secure an area of ten hectares of land - five hectares in Pakistan; five hectares in India - on either side of the border. The Park would be maintained by Rotarians and young people from both countries.

Those behind the project say: “Our goal is to create an ‘Oasis of Peace’ where Indians and Pakistanis can celebrate and share their cultures... to memorialise the immense pain and sacrifices of men, women, and children who lost their lives, and those that were sadly displaced during Partition (in 1947), and to mark 75 years of separation and the beginning of a peaceful and collaborative future.”

The launch event coincided with heightened tensions between India and Pakistan after violence last week over the disputed region of Kashmir. Those in attendance included Afzal Khan MP, Lord Navnit Dholakia OBE, Rotarian Kees van der Pol, who chairs the Indus Peace Park Project committee, and Rotarians from the UK, India and Pakistan, and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Stephen backs Fairtrade Fortnight campaign for cocoa farmers

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Stephen has met with farmers from the Ivory Coast, Rwanda and the Dominican Republic at a reception in Parliament. The event was held as part of Fairtrade Fortnight, which sees communities, schools, businesses and faith groups up and down the country holding events in support of farmers from developing countries.

The Fairtrade Foundation’s campaign ‘She Deserves a Living Income’ is shining a light on the poverty facing cocoa farmers in West Africa, where 60% of cocoa is grown, who earn as little as 74p per day and are unable to pay for essentials like food, send their children to school or buy medicine if they fall sick.

Speaking at the reception, Stephen said: “I am delighted to support Fairtrade Fortnight and the She Deserves a Living Income campaign, which celebrates the hard work of women cocoa farmers and calls on all of us to do more to increase their incomes. In our constituency I know there are many people who support Fairtrade and will be out there buying and gifting Fairtrade chocolate and other goods to help farmers get a better deal.”

A new report from the Fairtrade Foundation, launched at the event in Parliament, reveals women cocoa farmers often carry the greatest burden and yet get the least reward. It calls on the government and businesses to ensure farmers earn living incomes by 2030 in line with the UN’s Global Goals to end poverty.

Awa Traoré, who is also the director of Fairtrade cocoa co-operative, CAYAT, gave a speech about how a living income of £1.86 could transform the lives of cocoa farmers, and why it is vital to empower women. Ms Traoré said: “Women are very important in the development process. If you want to change the lives of producers, you have to focus on women. In our community we use the Fairtrade premium to redress the balance: to train women, to teach them how to read and write to empower them and we have developed activities that create income for them.”

Stephen attends London’s Air Ambulance reception

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Stephen has attended a reception in the House of Commons celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of London’s Air Ambulance Charity. He was joined by a number of MPs, ex-patients and operational staff.

London’s Air Ambulance charity provides pioneering care across the city and delivers an advanced trauma team to London’s most seriously injured patients. They treated sixty seven patients in East Ham last year, often landing in Central Park. They claim it takes on average two minutes to reach someone in need and are often able to treat five patients a day, bringing the hospital to a critical scene.

Speaking after the event, Stephen said: “I was pleased to meet some of the staff who make the remarkable efforts of London’s Air Ambulance possible. The life-saving work they do in East Ham and the rest of the city is vital, and I shall continue to support them.”

Stephen hosts launch of ‘Boost your Broadband’

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Yesterday, Stephen hosted the Parliamentary launch of the ‘Boost your Broadband’ initiative. The scheme has been introduced by the UK communications regulator Ofcom, supported by consumer organisation Which? It centres around the website www.boostyourbroadband.com and aims to help people to choose the right broadband service for them.

The website guides consumers through three simple steps: helping them identify what broadband is available in their area, providing advice on what to look out for and giving tips on how to shop around. As a former Minister for Digital Britain, and having worked for fifteen years in the telecommunications industry before entering Parliament, Stephen follows broadband developments closely.

Speaking after the event, Stephen said: “Good, affordable broadband is important for everyone – including, for example, to make a Universal Credit claim. Fifteen years ago, as Minister responsible, I received the UK’s first ever official 3G call. Now 4G is everywhere and we are planning for 5G. The speed of change is extraordinary. The right choice for a family this month may not be right a few months later. I commend Ofcom’s new initiative to provide better information to consumers.”

Stephen serves on the committee of the Parliamentary ICT Forum, PICTFOR, and closely follows parliamentary developments in the area of telecommunications.

Stephen calls for Universal Credit five-week wait to be scrapped

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Yesterday, Stephen spoke in the House of Commons Chamber as part of the Department for Work and Pensions Estimates Debate. He used the opportunity to criticise the current five-week wait between claimants applying for universal credit and being entitled to their first payment.

Arguing that this wait - along with other flaws in the implementation of the system - is pushing some of the most vulnerable people in our society further into poverty, Stephen highlighted damning statistics from the Trussel Trust which link the roll-out of Universal Credit to an increase in the use of food banks. The charity has found that the increase in referrals to food banks was 52% in areas where the benefit has been rolled out for 12 months or more. This compares with a significantly lower increase of 13% in places which have only had Universal Credit for three months or less.

Stephen also made reference to a recent written answer from the Department for Work and Pensions, revealing that 57% of new universal credit claimants are receiving an advance payment before the benefit itself is paid. This advance takes the form of a loan from the Department, meaning that the majority of Universal Credits claimants are forced into debt to the DWP right from the beginning of their claim.

When the controversial policy was first introduced, it was defended by the then Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith as helping to more accurately reflect the world of work. In his view, claimants should be able to use the money from their last pay cheque to tide them over the five-week wait period.

However, Stephen strongly rejected this rationale and explained why during yesterday’s debate. Speaking in the Chamber, Stephen said: “There are some obvious problems with that justification. For example, what about those who are paid weekly?”. He continued: “According to the latest annual survey of hours and earnings, 16.2% are paid weekly and 2.9% are paid fortnightly. What are those people supposed to do during this five-week gap? ”.

Stephen has been a long-standing critic of the Government’s welfare policy, calling for the roll-out of Universal Credit to be paused and fixed before any more damage can be done.

Stephen voices support for "Lift the Ban"

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Stephen has shown his support for a Bill going through Parliament this Wednesday 20 February aimed at allowing people seeking asylum in the UK the right to work.

The 10 Minute Rule Bill, brought by Catherine West, Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, and supported by a cross-party coalition of MPs, would let asylum seekers apply for work six months after making their claim for asylum. Under current rules people seeking asylum can only apply for the right to work twelve months after submitting their claim.

The Home Office aims to process all initial asylum claims within six months, but 48% go beyond that target. This means that asylum seekers are essentially banned from working while they wait for a decision on their application, living on the £5.39 a day the government provides in Asylum Support. Even after twelve months, individuals can only apply for jobs on the government’s narrow ‘Shortage Occupation List’ which includes roles like classical ballet dancer and nuclear waste disposer.

Stephen said: “As of September 2018, there were 585 supported asylum seekers living in Newham, which represents the highest figure since 2007. I have spoken to many individuals in my advice surgeries who have been waiting on their asylum claim for many months, or even years.”

“Giving asylum seekers the right to work would allow them to use their skills and live in dignity. It would offer those who have risked everything to find safety the best chance of integrating into their communities. It is – quite frankly – the sensible thing to do. This bill has my full support.”

Leave to bring in the bill was granted through a voice vote. While 10 Minute Rule Bills (a type of Private Member’s Bill) rarely become law, they can be an important step in gauging support and creating publicity around an issue.

Stephen criticises breast screening transfer

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Stephen has asked the Government for an explanation of damage caused to the Central and East London breast screening service.  It was transferred last year from Barts Health NHS Trust to the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.

The controversial move took place amidst warnings of an inadequate number of staff at the Royal Free.  Stephen wrote to Public Health England ahead of the transfer, warning of problems, but it went ahead nevertheless.  Afterwards, the number of women invited to breast screening appointments collapsed, from 3,000 per month to 1,100.

In the Commons, Stephen asked Ministers why the transfer was approved, despite warnings from patient groups, staff and MPs.  Responding for the Department of Health, Jackie Doyle-Price acknowledged that the service offered to women “plummeted” after the move in April last year.  She failed, however, to say why the transfer took place, merely reconfirming that the award of the contract to the Royal Free was approved by both NHS England’s London region and NHS England’s commercial executive group. Stephen asked who was accountable for the failure; the Minister didn’t answer.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said “I am deeply disappointed that Ministers are refusing to take responsibility for this disastrous transfer.  Large numbers of women have missed out on screening as a result. This is unacceptable."

“I will continue pursuing this, to find out why the warnings were ignored.”

Stephen hosts NASSA reception

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Yesterday Stephen sponsored an event for the Newham All Star Sports Academy, also known as ‘NASSA’. The Academy, which runs basketball clubs for young people across the borough, held its annual achievement awards ceremony in Parliament and Stephen attended in his role as patron of the group.

NASSA basketball teams have been hugely successful in recent years and have won trophies at every level. They have represented the UK internationally and contributed to dramatically raising the profile of the sport locally. Yesterday’s event was attended by many of the young basketballers who currently or have previously played for NASSA teams, and several took to the stage to talk passionately about the various opportunities the clubs have offered them.

Speaking after the event, Stephen said: “This was a celebration of the transformative power of sport in the lives of young people. Those who spoke made clear that NASSA is not just a team but a family. It has given a positive focus to countless youngsters, and made our borough safer. NASSA’s ‘Carry a Basketball, Not a Blade’ campaign has become famous and helped lots of young people avoid the pitfalls of violence. I applaud all of those who contribute to this excellent organisation, doing so much to help Newham’s youngsters secure a bright future”.

Backed by the Metropolitan Police, NASSA’s anti-knife campaign is estimated to reach 3,000 children and young people across the borough every year. NASSA is the first London club to achieve the Five Star Club mark from Basketball England. Yesterday’s event was also attended by former-Captain of the Great Britain Basketball team, Drew Sullivan, who presented the awards alongside Stephen.

Stephen launches report on faith and development

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Last week, Stephen hosted the launch of a major report on faith, development and the Sustainable Development Goals in Parliament.

‘Keeping Faith in 2030: Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals’ was launched at the House of Commons at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society, which Stephen chairs. The report’s authors, Emma Tomalin of Leeds University and Dr Jörg Haustein of SOAS, discussed its key themes together with Professor Carole Rakodi of the University of Birmingham and Emma Bridger from the United Society Partners in the Gospel.

The report emphasises the importance of understanding religious dynamics and the role of faith communities and actors for sustainable development. It particularly explores how faith actors are interacting with the UN Sustainable Development Goals in practice.

The panel highlighted the need to bring in faith actors as full development partners within sector conversations. They emphasised the need for religious literacy to be increased in NGOs and governments, both abroad and in the UK. They also recommended more investment to spread knowledge about the SDGs to local faith actors to enable them to fully participate in the sustainable development agenda.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: “Since launching the APPG in 2012 we’ve known that overseas development is one area we are seeing faith-based organisations make particular impact. Understanding that religion is deeply embedded in societies and people's lives across the world is key to best development practice, so I’m delighted to be able to highlight this important research.”

The full report can be downloaded here.

Stephen urges bishop to axe academisation plan

Stephen has joined seven other MPs in writing to the Rt Rev Alan Williams – the Bishop of Brentwood Diocese – to axe plans to turn Catholic schools into academies. Other signatories include Jon Cruddas, Dame Margaret Hodge, Lyn Brown, Mike Gapes, Wes Streeting, John Cryer and Stella Creasy. The group urged Bishop Williams to scrap proposals to form a multi-academies trust (MAT).

The letter stated: “We ask you to fully consider what would be lost by forming a Catholic MAT. There is ample evidence across the boroughs we represent of the positive influence and impact of local authority involvement – whether for admissions, buildings, expansion, SEND/Inclusion or School Improvement support – working in partnership with the Diocese.

“We believe there to be [a] strong case for remaining part of the local family of schools within our boroughs. The evidence suggests neither financial nor school improvement benefits necessarily accrue from academisation.”

Catholic church leaders are minded to convert all the schools in the Dicoese into academies by September. Under the plans the Diocese’s primaries and secondaries would combine to form Catholic Multi-Academy Trusts. The Diocese have argued that tighter budgets and challenges from people hostile to Catholic education have prompted the move.

The Diocese are yet to comment on the MPs letter.

Stephen hosts reception for Scope for Change

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Stephen has today hosted the Scope for Change graduation ceremony in the Houses of Parliament. Scope for Change is run by the charity, Scope. It is the charity’s flagship campaign training programme.

Over the past six months, Scope has trained and supported a group of young disabled people aged 18-25 to plan, launch and run their own campaigns to make change on the disability issues that matter to them. The programme provided one-to-one support and training to a group of twelve people, and gave them the skills, tools and confidence they need to make change happen. 

The graduation ceremony celebrated the end of the programme. During the ceremony the Scope for Change campaigners presented their campaigns. These included improving access and facilities in hospitals in York and changing the attitudes to people with invisible disabilities.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said “I was delighted to host the ceremony today. The Scope for Change campaign has offered these young people the chance to make tangible differences in a wide variety of fields. The participants can be rightly proud of what their campaigns achieved on both local and national levels.

“The staff at Scope should be congratulated for planning and running this important programme.”

Government admits delays in UC has caused rise in food bank use

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Stephen has forced the government - for the first time - to admit that the he increased use of food banks is partly down to problems in rolling out universal credit.

The work and pensions secretary said she was "absolutely clear there were challenges with the initial roll-out" of the benefit and that the difficulty in accessing money was "one of the causes" of the rise.

Stephen, speaking at Oral Questions in the House of Commons, pressed the Secretary if State further. In response, she said “…I have acknowledged that people having difficulty accessing the money on time as one of the causes of the growth in food banks, but we have tried to address that.”

According to the Resolution Foundation think tank, 2.2 million families are expected to gain under the system, with an average increase in income of £41 a week. However, 3.2 million families are also expected to be worse off, with an average loss of £48 a week.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said “I’m pleased Amber Rudd has - belatedly - recognised that Universal Credit has forced people into using food banks. Up until now Ministers have always denied that, so I welcome the change of heart.

“Where I don’t agree with the Secretary of State is that she implied early hiccups were the problem, but actually it was the five-week delay between claiming universal credit and then being entitled to benefits.”

Stephen tables Early Day Motion on TOEIC

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Last week, Stephen tabled an Early Day Motion calling on the government to allow over 35,000 students the chance of re-taking the Test of English International Communication. Many of the students had their visas curtailed having been accused by the Home Office of cheating when sitting the original test.

The EDM comes ahead of the planned launch of an All Party Parliamentary Group to look into the actions taken by the government and how they have affected the lives of the students. The APPG will aim to take testimony from students as well as from legal professionals and mental health practitioners, and will produce a report that will include recommendations for changes in Government policy.

The decision taken in 2014 by the then Home Secretary Theresa May to revoke or deny the visas of 35,870 students has been seen by many across the legal and political professions to be an overreaction. In 2016, the Home Affairs Select Committee was highly critical of the actions taken by May’s department in the TOEIC case, saying that the scandal “raises serious questions about the conduct of the Home Office”.

Having tabled the EDM, Stephen said: “I hope this motion can help persuade the Government to re-think its handling of this issue. The treatment of these students has been appalling.

“Supporters of our campaign should ask their local MP to sign EDM 2061. The more MPs who sign, the stronger our case for students affected to sit another test in the UK, and to be permitted to complete their studies.”

Migrant Voice’s Executive Director Nazek Ramadan, added: “This is the next step in the campaign to get justice for the students. I encourage all MP’s to sign this EDM. I hope the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister take note of the awful situation they have put the students in and take action immediately.”

Stephen writes to Home Secretary about Windrush deportations

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Stephen has written to the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, outlining his concerns about the government restarting chartered deportation flights to Jamaica.

The returns last week was the first to Jamaica since the Home Office suspended the flights last April after the Windrush scandal where at least 63 people had been wrongly deported to Jamaica.

The government stated that all those who were deported on the flight to Jamaica on Wednesday had been convicted of a crime, but Stephen - and other MPs - remain concerned that Ministers have not yet proved it has the processes in place to ensure the wrong people do not end up on these flights.

The decision to resume mass deportations has been viewed as “inappropriate” by campaigners on the basis that the “Windrush Lessons Learned Review” is yet to be concluded.

After sending the letter, Stephen said: “The Government must take urgent action to ensure all of the Windrush generation are treated fairly and legally, and the hostile environment policy must be ended. Otherwise, this scandal will only continue with further injustices.”

To read Stephen’s letter in full, click here.

Stephen unites with Cancer Research UK for World Cancer Day

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Stephen has given his support to those affected by cancer and the NHS staff who care for them at a special Westminster event for World Cancer Day, earlier this week. He met with campaigners from Cancer Research UK to learn about the charity’s latest research and show his support for all those working to ensure more people survive cancer.

Every year, 850 people in East Ham are diagnosed with cancer and in the UK 1 in 2 people will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lifetime.

World Cancer Day (4 February) is an opportunity for people, organisations and countries to work together, raise awareness and take action to beat cancer.

At the event, Stephen said: “World Cancer Day helps to raise awareness of the scale of the challenge and the role we can all play in the fight against the disease. Cancer affects us all – here in the UK and all around the world. We can all work together to beat it, not just the hard-working researchers and NHS staff who help to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

“Small actions really can make a big difference to the lives of people with cancer. That’s why I’m urging people in East Ham to show their support all year round.”

Early diagnosis is a vital part of ensuring more people survive cancer. The Government has made a commitment to diagnose 75% of cancer cases in England at stage one or stage two by 2028.

However, to reach this target the NHS needs a long-term plan for the cancer workforce. Without this, there will not be enough specialist staff to meet the present pressures or cope with the growing and ageing population.

Stephen attends launch of 'Beyond Bricks'

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Stephen has attended a parliamentary reception to discuss the link between mental health problems and inadequate housing. The event was organised by the charity, Mind.

Mind organised the event with the aim of kick-starting conversations to make sure the rights of people with mental health problems are firmly on the housing agenda.

The event saw the launch of a short film called Beyond Bricks. The video shows three people with mental health problems - Nadia, Gabbi and Sarah. They describe the serious impact poor housing can have on our mental health.

Stephen listened to the experiences of people affected by poor social housing and the impact of this on their mental health. He showed his commitment to ‘Beyond Bricks’ for mental health and housing in East Ham by signing Mind’s pledge board. This commits Stephen to press the government to place mental health at the heart of future housing policy.

Speaking afterwards, Stephen said: “I was glad to attend this important event and intrigued to hear from people affected by poor mental health. Around one in four people in Newham will experience a mental health problem in any given year, and previous research by Mind found more than two in five people with mental health problems living in social housing have seen their mental health deteriorate as a result of where they live.

“I regularly hear from many constituents who tell me they’re not getting the support they need when it comes to living in and accessing suitable housing. I’m committed to doing all I can to transform this so that everyone in Newham gets the information, advice and access to the housing that they need and deserve, to help people recover and stay well. It’s vital we collectively go ‘Beyond Bricks’ in East Ham which will help prevent things from going wrong further down the line.”