Podium: Elevate the condition of the people

Lord Archer The mayoral candidate puts forward his programme for increasing civic responsibility to Vision for London
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The Independent Culture
LONDON IS a city where many have everything, and many have nothing. Private consumer choice abounds, while public choice is rationed. Our streets are dirty, in many areas the walls are covered in offensive graffiti, our inner city public housing for the most part is a shambles. Despite endless government initiatives and countless spending programmes, the conditions in which the truly needy have to live still remain despicable. I believe that with the right policies, and by fostering a sense of civic responsibility, the new mayor can make a difference.

Conservatives are instinctively inclined towards civic responsibility and have through the ages put forward policies to alleviate hardship. It was Benjamin Disraeli, speaking in Crystal Palace in 1872, who defined the great object for his party as being "the elevation of the condition of the people". And yes, over a hundred years on, the elevation of the condition of London must be the mayor's mission.

I suggest four ways to help the vulnerable in London. Firstly, we must fight for a fairer share of resources, and a Mayor of London can and must champion that cause. Secondly, we should introduce better conceived programmes of urban regeneration. Thirdly, I have proposed a massive boost to London's voluntary sector. It is facing cutbacks in grants - yet where will we find a more appropriate, caring group of people, and a more efficient use of resources? Therefore as mayor, I would provide an annual grant of pounds 32m - averaging pounds 1m per borough - to give the voluntary sector a massive boost.

The mayor can also help the young of London. Study after study has shown that school children in the capital often suffer from poor nutrition. It is a leading factor in poor health and it also affects work in schools. Teachers report that many children come to school without having had proper breakfasts. Research shows that children who have not had an adequate breakfast are more likely to be distracted and disruptive in school. The effect of poor nutrition on individual children and on the whole class should not be underestimated.

Not only should we bring back free school milk - I believe we should go one better: a muesli bar and a choice of milk or juice. I would introduce a scheme to distribute these daily to all children in London's primary schools. The price would be quite modest. I have already been in discussions with manufacturers, and we can bring down the total cost to around pounds 14m per year.

I want to broaden my commitment to the needy in London. Here I come to the fourth way we can help: through fostering a greater sense of community, creating a culture of civic responsibility. As mayor, I would set up a vulnerability audit. Every London policy must be examined for its impact on the vulnerable (the sick, those on benefit, the disabled, the young and the elderly).

I would set up a small new body called the London Civic Responsibility Forum. It would have 10 members. Each of the 10 could invite others to help them in their task - I will leave that up to them - but I will just talk to the 10, because we need to keep this simple, direct, non-bureaucratic. The mission objectives of the forum would be to create a better sense of civic responsibility in London.

I want the Civic Responsibility Forum to improve the quality of life by addressing 10 areas of responsibility:

1. Vulnerability Impact Assessment.

2. The professional voluntary sector.

3. Neighbourhood schemes.

4. Religious Groups.

5. Businesses.

6. Community pressure groups.

7. Schools.

8. Other public community institutions such as the police, fire, hospitals.

9. The Media.

10. Mayor of London Award Scheme.

There will be those who say, "Jeffrey, these are fine hopes and aspirations, but won't the Civic Responsibility Forum be just another talking shop for the great and the good?" I have a simple answer: London has an army of good citizens who already take a vital active part in making their communities better. I know because I have worked with so many of them through charity work. Every single night in this city there are 10 or 20 events going on to raise money for community projects, with help going to people who need it. It's not hot air, it is reality, and without it our society would collapse. My project is to extend that reality, to give it a massive boost not only by providing money but by building a bridge to the new government of London. We must seize this opportunity to create a more civilised city.

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