Richard Olszewski is a Labour councillor and candidate for the Camden Council from Fortune Green ward in the local election 2018.
UkpoliticsPL: Your name sounds very Polish and I suppose it is not a coincidence?
Richard Olszewski: No, both my parents were Polish and they came to Britain after the war in 1947. I was born in Chiswick and my family lived in west London, it is obviously a big concentration of Poles historically. My mother was originally from Piotrków Trybunalski and my father from Lublin but they met only after the war. As a teenager I loved spending summer holidays in Poland, though these days unfortunately I don’t go there as much. I definitely would love to visit more often, especially as my daughter is keen to see Poland. I can still understand Poles on the street. I find it fascinating to learn.
How many times have you already stood in the local elections?
I served three terms as a local councillor in Camden and now I am seeking election for the fourth time.
How is the canvassing going?
I am taking nothing for granted. I have a very narrow majority of just seventeen so I am working very hard to win as much support as I can. But I am being positive in putting the Labour Party’s case and I also meet quite a few Poles as I go from doors to doors.
What do you tell them?
In the context of Brexit I give them a very simple message that they are welcome in Britain and welcome in Camden because the Labour Party wants Britain ideally to remain in the EU and we value the contribution that Poles make to our borough and to the country as a whole. I also talk to them about day-to-day political and social issues that are important to them in the same way as they are important for everyone else: schools for their children, crime and safety in their neighbourhoods, housing, which is a serious problem in London because it is so expensive. Poles seem very engaged in the very same issues as everyone else
British political system may seem a little complicated to people who arrived in Britain recently. Could you tell us a bit more about what a councillor can do?
Councillors are in charge of or have oversight over some of the basic services that people use, such as schools, social services, social care, whether for children or for older adults. We also have a role in making decisions on public health, to improve individual people’s life, provide social housing for people on lower incomes. In Camden, we do try to build more housing for people on low incomes. We also represent local areas. My ward for example is only about one kilometre wide, so it is a very small part of Camden, and I try to represent its interest as a community but I am also available to individual people to come to me if they have a particular problem and I will try and help them. That could be finding a place for their child in school or solving a housing problem.
What achievement are you most proud of as a councillor?
We have built an extension for a very popular primary school for young children. This was opposed by my political opponents in the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties but we fought a hard campaign for the council to sell some of its redundant land and use the money from that for a new school building which opened in September. It is a fantastic facility for families in my area. I am very proud of that.
If you win, what are your plans for next years?
We are trying to provide as much affordable housing, housing on low rents, as we can. We are continuing to invest in our school and social care for adults. We will also be working hard to try and help our people get jobs in the booming parts of London economy, in creative and technological industries because a lot of people are unfortunately excluded from London prosperity. So we will be trying to work with schools, colleges and business to help people get well-paid jobs that can lead to rewarding careers.
Unfortunately, nationally we are working in the environment in which the government has been making huge cuts in funding the councils like Camden, so we are trying to find imaginative ways to protect our public services and also try to improve them. That involves us trying to be as efficient as we can with the limited resources that we have but we can also work in partnership with other organisations who can help us to provide access to these services. We work with parts of the NHS in providing the basic health services for people. We will work with all sorts of business to provide apprenticeships, early training and access to work. And generally we will try to attract businesses to the borough that will also provide job opportunities for people locally.
We are also doing our best to build council housing in Camden. In recent years we built 200 council houses which I am very proud of. We have a ten-year investment programme of 1bn pounds but only 2% of the founding for that comes from the central government so we have to find resources form other places in order to invest in housing, schools and local community facilities.
I also joined the3million pledge to support EU citizens throughout the process of Brexit, that includes among others campaigning for maintaining EU citizens voting rights.
When people will be voting, do you think that they should vote for a party, Labour, Conservatives or other, or vote on a more individual bases for particular candidates, particular people?
I think the way we campaign in these elections is as political parties because it defines what we stand for. Our parties define what we stand for as individuals and what our approach will be to running the council and make political decisions. We have a 1bn pound budget – money I am in charge of as a member of the cabinet – and they require difficult decisions for competing demands. It is important that people know what is your political thinking about the best way to use these resources. Voters can make their choice between a party on the left like Labour and a party on the right like the Conservatives. But it is also important that people look at who the individuals are who represent them because as councillors we have to be engaged in all parts of the community including people who do not vote for us and make judgement about how well you are working for your specific local area.
It is often said that Labour may gain a lot of seats in London. Do you agree?
I never make predictions. I think politicians should respect the voters. We fight hard to get as much support as we can. Labour is trying to have as many councillors elected as we can in order to stand against the conservative government nationally. How many councillors we succeed in getting elected is a decision for the voters. It is up for them to decide. I am always positive about the case that Labour puts to the people because I think we seek a fairer distribution of wealth and better chances in life for everyone but especially for those on low incomes and at a disadvantage.