The Pavement (TP) - What response do you have to the suggestions that the rough sleepers headcounts have been fixed, by, among others, the Met?
Ken Livingstone (KL) - Nothing has come to my attention to make me think that rough sleeper counts in London are 'fixed'. London boroughs are responsible for making sure they are carried out and tend to do them in partnership with not only the police but also voluntary sector homelessness organisations. The Government provides strict guidance on how street counts should be done and, as far as I am aware, this guidance is followed.
TP - Should we see homeless issues coming under the Greater London Authority (GLA) rather than having individual councils dictating action from their own 'homeless strategies'? Wouldn't such a move be more logical and give a fairer deal for those who at present feel that some councils make things difficult for them, and so force them into other boroughs?
KL - This coming year will see the transfer of housing powers from the London Housing Board to me. This means that I will take on the responsibility for producing London's Housing Strategy. I completely agree that we need a co-ordinated regional approach to tackling and reducing homelessness and will use my new powers to ensure that this is an integral part of the Strategy.
TP - Can you answer readers' fears that hosting the Olympics will involve moving them out of the way - hiding them from the sports' tourists?
KL - Hosting the 2012 Games is a unique opportunity to showcase the very best of London to millions of visitors and viewers from all over the world. I and other stakeholders are keen to explore how all Londoners, including homeless people, can help to make the best of this opportunity. London's diversity played a big part in winning the Games, and we are fully committed to ensuring that all London's communities are involved in, and will benefit from, the Games: this means involving everyone, and certainly not excluding or hiding anyone. If we can achieve the benefits from the Games, which we believe are possible - including thousands of new affordable homes, new training and employment opportunities and an improved urban environment - then we have every chance of the Olympics making a valuable contribution to tackling homelessness in the capital.
TP - Then do you envisage any role for homeless people in the 2012 Olympics?
KL - We are at a very early stage in planning for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games: early work has focused on setting up the bodies that will prepare for the Games, and on essential elements of the construction programme in the part of east London which will become the Olympic Park. Myself and other stake-holders in the Games are committed to ensuring that we take the best possible advantage of the Games to improve opportunities for all Londoners, including homeless people and we have already started working with community and voluntary agencies and local authorities so this can be achieved. In particular, there will be opportunities for homeless people to further develop their skills by becoming involved in the volunteering programme, which needs 70,000 people in a wide range of roles to ensure that the Games run smoothly.
TP - Why are the Homeless Surgeries that ran at St Martin's no longer running? Some readers miss Glenda Jackson, MP, coming to listen if they had problems, and the help she gave.
KL - When I first started my surgeries, in 2001, they provided an excellent opportunity for homeless people to put forward their views and seek GLA support in overcoming practical difficulties. Over the years, they became far less well-attended and popular and I think this was probably because of the improved services and advice for homeless people being offered by both the statutory and voluntary sectors. I therefore decided to suspend the surgeries, at least temporarily, but will continue to keep the situation under review.