It’s been a hectic few weeks since the election, so I just wanted to say what we’ve been up to as we put the new council administration in place. But first I’d like to say a very big thank you to everyone who voted in the council elections (on the same date as the General Election) back in May. We had a record high turnout in Lambeth, and I’m delighted to say a huge vote for Labour which means we were re-elected with an increased majority over the Tories and Lib Dems. I and my Labour colleagues on the council promise we will do our very best to earn the trust local people have placed in us. It is very humbling to be the first administration of any party to be re-elected in Lambeth for 20 years, and the first council leader to win re-election in around 40 years.
We were all back at work on the Monday after the elections, keen to drive through the improvements local people told us they want to see during the elections. One of the biggest challenges we’ll face is the coming cuts in Government funding, which will see huge reductions in the money available to Lambeth as the new Tory-Lib Dem Government cuts the money that pays for local services. Before the election the Tories and Lib Dems threatened their cuts would be savage – now we’re about to see just how painful that will be.
Our top priority will be to do all we can to protect frontline services from the Tory-Lib Dem cuts. Funding reductions on the scale they are planning could mean closing some services, increasing charges, or rationing services to the most vulnerable. None of that is what our Labour council wants to do. So we are looking at an alternative that I hope will help protect services and even improve the quality of some services. Our idea is to establish Lambeth as Britain’s first truly ‘cooperative council’, protecting services by working more closely with local communities and the people who use the services themselves.
It makes perfect sense to do things this way. We already know it works because we’ve been trying it out for the past four years. The Sports Action Zone at the Old Lilian Baylis school site is a community-led service that has helped cut local youth crime. Community Freshview is a community-led service that gives local people the tools they need to turn derelict land into community space. On the Weir Estate, local people turned a disused launderette into a community centre where they now run a successful children’s centre. Now we want to learn from those examples and see how we can use the same approach to protect and improve other services. Lambeth’s residents are all invited to take part in a major consultation on Lambeth’s cooperative council plans – you can find out more by clicking here.
I know that approach alone won’t solve all the problems we are now facing but I really believe it can help. As well as protecting frontline services, we will sort out the underperforming housing service, drive the council harder to deliver high quality customer service in every service area, and keep working hard with our local partners to tackle worklessness and the associated poverty that scars too many of our fellow citizens’ lives here in Lambeth.
It’s a great honour to be re-elected to lead Lambeth Council for another four years. I know they are going to be tough years as we face a Tory-Lib Dem Government intent on savaging local services. But we will do our best to work with the Government and win the best possible deal for local people. Lambeth’s a great place and our residents deserve the best from their council. Every single Labour councillor will do what we can to stand up for you and the many different communities that make up this wonderful borough we all share.
(Written May 2010)