It takes a certain type of character to quit a well-paid job in the civil service and run as an independent candidate in this coming Mayoral election. That’s just what west London born Siobhan Benita did when she left her Department of Health posting. Disenchanted by the current system, she is setting out to change it. In the process she’s making waves and putting some very important issues on the table, that whoever wins on May 3rd will have to consider as well. This mum of two is giving the establishment a good old shakedown and has added a refreshing element to the election. Definitely one to watch…
WLM recently caught up with Siobhan:
What do you think is the single most important issue facing London today?
We have such a shortage of affordable housing for families and young professionals. I’m putting together a proposal for this group in the middle that are overlooked. This group are on a moderate income but can’t get onto the housing ladder. One of the policies in my manifesto is a fixed price housing market, which would be regulated by the mayor and would allow people who are saving and get into the market.
Many parents found out this week that their children didn’t get into their choice primary school. Your education plan pledges to build 167 new primary schools. How quickly do you hope to implement this if elected?
I am the only candidate that has an education and youth manifesto. Although it’s not in the legal remit of the mayor there are lots of things that the mayor does that do not require legislation. There are so many things wrong with the education system that I don’t think the mayor can stand back and be passive any longer. I’ve identified three main issues: the shortage of primary schools, the transition to secondary school and the skills we are teaching our children. Those are three areas that the mayor can make a difference.
On primary school places, just like the mayor has done and will continue to lobby for big investment projects, the mayor must lobby for new schools to be built. We know already that there will be 70,000 children that need spaces and currently there is no plan in place. Boroughs have been saying this long ago and now the mayor has to get involved.
In terms of timeline, the funds need to be allocated now to start building which would take 10-20 months. This is urgent.
How do you plan to tackle the pressures secondary schools will soon face with the baby boom?
There will be a knock-on effect and some boroughs are starting to feel the pinch. It’s not quite as urgent as the primary level, but the next issue will be secondary schools. This is a pure demographic planning issue. We need to ensure that our public service provides excellent schools for the city.
As part of your education agenda you talk about preparing the future work force for the global market. How do you plan to keep students in school longer and give them a competitive edge?
I would like to see a much more bespoke approach to education. This shouldn’t be a ‘one size fits all’ model. Certain groups in our education system are falling behind and we need to target those groups. The mayor can work with schools, teachers and the boroughs to address some of the issues facing these groups.
The other area is to get the businesses more involved. The business community feels that students are leaving the system without the appropriate skill set to compete on the global market. They want to work closely with schools to train students with real skills to keep jobs in London and remain a global leader especially in the tech sector.
Your platform has an underlying environmental element throughout it. What key environmental issues would you like to see enforced more proactively?
Air quality is a major issue in London. We have the worst air quality for a major city in the world. I want to go back and focus on congestion— which the congestion zone was meant to do but hasn’t really had an impact. I want to look at a variable pricing model on the congestion zone and discourage people from driving during those peak periods.
I would also roll out much faster than the other candidates the lane rental and charging scheme and make utility companies pay for digging up the roads. This causes major traffic issues throughout the city and leads to more pollution.
Another area is energy efficiency in homes. I want to work with the public to insulate their homes. One of the reasons schemes aren’t being taken up is because people do not want to clear their loft out to insulate it. So lets help people do this. This has a massive knock-on effect that benefits both homeowners and the environment.
Can you elaborate on your plans to expand Heathrow and why you feel this is a more viable option? How will this impact the west London?
You either decide to increase airport demand or you don’t. I respect the green line, which is not to expand, but realistically demand for air traffic is going to keep going up especially from an economy perspective. So if you accept the idea of increasing capacity, the best solution is to increase the hub airport we currently have rather than create a brand new one. It’s the best solution economically and also environmentally.
For west London this is hugely beneficial. This brings much needed investment to the area. Other areas in London have had a huge influx due to the Olympics and west London has been slightly ignored. Just the construction alone would bring in 60,000 jobs. These jobs unlike traditional construction jobs, would then convert into permanent jobs because of the new runway.
A major concern of residents is the noise issue. However, the government has such a strong negotiating hand with the airlines that they can force them to bring in a noise reduction program by which the third runway will only be granted if it is enforced. This is a very feasible option given the new planes that are now available on the market.
One of your key points to creating a cleaner city is dealing with dog mess. This has become a big problem on our city streets (especially with buggies and children) and sadly it really shouldn’t be. Most councils do have signs prohibiting it which appear to have no impact. How do you plan to actually enforce a “poop and scoop” culture in London?
A lot of the campaign focuses on the large issues, however it’s also the small issues at the local level that concern citizens. If I become mayor within my first six months I would ask each borough to ask their residents what their concerns are—anything from dog mess, urban foxes etc. Once we have identified the five main issues for each borough, I will hold them accountable to find resolutions. This shines the light on the local issues and brings these problems into the spotlight.
If you were to become mayor and look back at your term, what do you hope would be your biggest achievement?
Definitely my education and youth manifesto. I want a much fairer and smoother education system for our children. I also want young people to feel that they a voice in London—which is why I want to have a direct line with my Young Mayor initiative.
Favourite Book: The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
Favourite Film: Shaun of the Dead
Favourite Shop: Kingston Centre
Favourite Food: Indian
Favourite place to hang out with your family: At home
For more information on Siobhan, please visit: