British Asia News Network
London: Baroness Sandip Verma will be standing as a candidate to be elected Mayor for the city of Leicester, a process that will take place in May this year. The highly influential and global leader who holds several key ministerial appointments, as well as advisory roles in policy formation and development, since she entered the House of Lords in 2006 will be a strong contender for the most diverse city of Britain. The realistic Baroness, known in the circles for her inclusiveness, adept at simplifying complex issues, strategic and hands on managerial skills and being a self assured leader, spoke to British Asia News about the upcoming Mayoral elections, her stance, and much more. This is the first part of the interview, where she opens her heart to the issues that she feels her party can tackle effectively if brought to power in the city in the coming months.
"It's a great privilege and honour to be selected to stand as the Conservative Representative for Leicester. Leicester is my home, this is where I grew up, it shaped me. My grandfather was there from the 1930s, my father from the 1960s. It's the place that I love and I want to see change for the better there," said the Baroness.
The Mayoral candidate
What agenda does she have for the city that was one of the richest cities in Europe but is now one of the least thriving cities in the country? "This is because we have got leadership in Leicester that doesn't understand the importance of business investment, good education, and the fact that people need to have jobs that are at least minimum wage. We need jobs that are better paid, better recognised for high knowledge, and better technical skills."
"Why should politicians assume that just because they've had the same people voting for them year in and year out, that they should be taken for granted. The people of Leicester deserve better and I am hoping and having the opportunity to be able to show people that there are alternatives."
Baroness Verma's focus will be to create more jobs by bringing in investments into the city. "We have two brilliant universities. Why should people come here and then leave because they have no potential for a good job in Leicester? I want the people in Leicester to know that there is somebody here who is willing to fight for business investment in the cities, for those better paid jobs. I want to see crime go down, I want to see lots good things happen to the city where people can actually say they've got leisure activities, as well as being able to go to work and not have to come across pollution on the way," she said.
The Baroness worked for the department of International Development which went through a series of reforms under her leadership. She looked at supply chain diversity and opportunities to broaden the base, through deep dives into DFID and innovative delivery partners to bring fresh thinking into the department. Baroness Verma look a lifespan approach to policy development and through consultations, initiated the design of policy papers to tackle global violence against women and girls, focussing on using men and boys as agents of change. These experiences will be key to tackling the issues concerning the city that posses its unique problems owing to its diverse population.
How important is diversity and inclusion for Leicester
"One of the passions I have had for the longest time that I can remember is the passion and challenges that women and girls face. I've been a champion for the Prime Minister. I've done work around women and girls, race and ethnicity for many years. I still feel while we may have some minor improvements in the gender question, I think the ethnicity question still remains one that by-in-large people have failed to tackle. Some of it is around our own inabilities as a community to come together and fight the battle collectively. I think we need to realise that there may be many issues that we don't agree on, but the one issue that we should all agree on is that the colour of your skin does matter," said the Baroness.
"I'll give you an example: in Leicester, one of the most diverse cities in the country, public sector workers of ethnic sector minorities is probably around 11% less paid than their average co-worker who is white. I think that's unacceptable."
A strong and committed advocate of diversity and inclusion, the Baroness is strongly involved in initiatives to create an inclusive work environment. Baroness Verma was appointed by the former Prime Minister David Cameron as the government's global champion to tackle violence against women and girls overseas. She visited many countries, including Bangladesh, India, Zambia, and South Africa where she worked with governments and NGOs to raise awareness and help shift social norms and reset certain cultural practices.
Her work with governments in policy development and sharing examples of best practice has helped pave the way for governments to explore reforms in the judiciary and police systems. Leading from the front, she has actively used DFID's global leadership reputation to deliver strong messages in challenging environments. The department's corporate efficiencies and internal processes of people management went through dramatic changes whilst she held overall responsibility for working with the civil society, NGOs, and other government bodies on issues that included all forms of inclusion - including disability, ageism, gender, and LGBT rights.
She carried out a large consultation on the prevention of domestic violence, laying a strong blueprint for DFID to develop an informed and responsive policy to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls.
Stop the unnecessary waste of money in Leicester
"The current mayor has decided to dig up roads and create cycle lanes everywhere. A very noble move, for sure. But if you're making roads from double to single lanes and make sure that during traffic time all that we're going to do is spurt out carbon dioxide, how is that going to help the environment? How is that going to stop pollution?"
"I would honestly say, the amount of money I've seen wasted in the city in the last so many years by a bunch of irresponsible people who have no idea about the wisdom of spending public money, I think it's a shame that nobody has been able to question them, and we now need to put that charge to them. Why have they wasted so much money?"
"My government from 2010 till date has given 1.25 billion pounds extra to this local authority. Where has that money gone? Where are those jobs? Who has benefitted?," questioned Baroness Verma.
The Baroness is not responsive about the environmental situation in Leicester without a reason. The issue is close to her heart because she has been closely associated with the sector, working with the Nuclear Regulatory body as a Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Civil Nuclear Police, and with executive teams of all decommissioned sites in the UK, including Sellafield. She represented the UK at international conferences like the IAEA and worked with international partners on collaborative co-operations and good practices.
She promoted British business, expertise, and innovation by showcasing UK-based companies and research institutions internationally and in partnership with the UKTI. Baroness Verma rewrote the white paper for the geological decommissioned nuclear waste facility programme, to broaden the scope of interest for local communities to participate, consult, and gauge expressions of interest in hosting an underground disposal facility.
Varied experiences perfect for a Mayoral candidate
The Baroness is one of the most experienced ministers around, holding key positions in ministries of International Development, Education, Health, Welfare and Pensions, Department of Climate and Energy Change, and a plethora of non-ministerial roles which have included being an Advisor on the Board of Sir John Cass Foundation and UN Women, UK. All these roles and experiences have taught her "how to work with other groups."
"The challenges that people are facing on a day-to-day basis, not just in developing countries, but here in the UK: ordinary men and women have to manage because people are not taking their issues seriously enough. That is why I feel that if you are going to try and see change you can't wait for somebody else to be the changer. You have to be the one who's going to try to instigate it from the front."
"I've enjoyed every minute of politics. I have despaired at the state of politics in the UK today, particularly after the referendum vote. I've despaired the level of the debate, the tone of the debate. I think it's become unfriendly, nasty. It's not representative of the issues that are being faced across the country and I think people really do need to challenge what their members of Parliament are doing, because if we are to become a country that brings people together, then we need to show that we from the top are taking responsibility for the way we approach politics. In the House of Lords, the one thing that I've learnt is that we have to get along with everybody. The consensus has to be built. There is no majority of one party over another. So it's really important that we try to reach out and convince other people that our argument is better. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose.
"But we must not delegate words and actions to the gutter-levels of politics that we are seeing today. We need to rise above that to make sure that as a country we are bringing people together, not dividing them, not being intolerant to different opinions, but to learn how to bring those opinions together."
To be continued...