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Realising our aspirations

Jun 10

Today I had the pleasure and privilege of talking with Year 10 students at Bancroft’s School.  I was kindly invited to talk to the students during their assembly and give them encouragement and advice about how to reach their potential.  I was impressed with their enthusiasm and their attentiveness and enjoyed my visit thoroughly.

It is so important that our younger generations aspire to achieve their full potential and grab opportunities presented to them with both hands. Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard!

Keeping the vulnerable safe from harm

Jun 04

I was fortunate to be able to spend time with one of our most important front line services this week – The Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH).

The remit of the MASH is to bring together agencies (and their information) in order to identify risks to children at the earliest possible point and respond with the most effective interventions. This enables agencies to make the best decisions and keep children safe.

Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub

The phrase ‘unsung heroes’ is often overused, but in this case it is probably an understatement. The team of 16 with the involvement and assistance of the police screen over 300 cases a week. These high volumes of caseload were attributed to the impacts of welfare reform resulting in increased stresses and strains on households, and sadly leading to an increase in issues such as homelessness and domestic abuse.

What struck me most during my visit? Hard work, dedication and team spirit shown by all the staff; absolutely essential when working with such sensitive issues. I found the visit really informative and felt the service to be a shining example of the positive outcomes that can be achieved through multi agency working.

A leaner Council but still ambitious for the future

Jan 19

Last week Full Council agreed a report which made public the details of a major senior management review which has been carried out over the last few months.

Managing changes to our services

We face an unprecedented level of cuts imposed by the Coalition government which will see our Government grants slashed by £100m by 2018. This leaves us with a budget shortfall of £70m over the next few years. We have already found some savings by making the Council more efficient and cutting out waste. This level of cuts however, combined with rising demand for services such as refuse collection  and social care, has left the Council with a  huge and growing hole in its finances.

The report announced the reduction of management posts within the Council by a third in order to save £5m. My Cabinet and I will be working closely with the Council’s leadership team to make sure that the people in the posts that remain have the right skills the Council needs to deliver 21st century services which match up to local needs and aspiration.

Challenges we face

The challenge is so severe, that we have to rethink the way we do business from the ground up. This means making sure the Council is focusing on the most pressing local priorities, building a smaller more responsive organisation – one that may ultimately have to stop delivering some valued local services. This is the reality of the severity of the cuts being imposed on us as a Council, as public spending is cut to levels not seen since early in the last century.

We however remain ambitious and focused on delivering for our residents, seeking to support them and provide good quality services which can help them meet their aspirations.

Like many of the people these changes will affect, I share a firm commitment to public service. But we need to adapt to a new public sector landscape that may not be of our choosing but is one where locally we need to prioritise frontline services, support the aspirations of our residents and ensure that those who are most vulnerable are not cast adrift.

Changes we need to make

To reflect this, we’re changing the housing service so that it has a stronger focus on housing growth, building the affordable stock Redbridge needs for local families and so that it works more closely with the Benefits and Payments team on difficult and complex welfare issues. And at a time of crisis, making the right decisions couldn’t matter more which is why we’re adding a Chief Strategy Officer post to keep Council activity rooted in the priorities of local communities and closely monitor services of top concern for residents like customer services and complaints.

However, it’s impossible to pretend that these changes won’t hurt – they will. Neither can I promise that more difficult decisions don’t lie ahead – they do. But I am confident that these changes together with the efforts made to protect front line services will create a modern Council that helps residents and their families meet their aspirations and makes Redbridge a fairer, more equitable place to live.

 

Merry Christmas

Dec 22

Whether it’s the days drawing in or the weather getting colder, there’s something about late December for making you sit back and take stock of what happened in the outgoing year.

For me, one of the best things about 2014 was being able to say that my Cabinet and I did what we said we would do. We cut back on the allowances that Councillors get and brought them in line with the London average. We cut back on Council bureaucracy by getting rid of area committees and bringing in Local Forums. We brought in free bulky waste collection and 30 minute free parking, we’re consulting on a property licensing scheme and about to kick off a wide reaching review of the way the Council carries out enforcement. The icing on the (Christmas?) cake was being able to announce publicly that we’re delivering two new swimming pools, plugging the holes in local provision left when Ilford Swimming Pool closed over six years ago.

I feel proud to be able to say we kept our resolutions this year.

I’d like to wish everyone in Redbridge a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I’m looking forward to seeing what 2015 has in store.

Looking back at the first Local Forum

Nov 10

Local Forums kicked off  on Tuesday 28 October with the first being held in Redbridge Central Library. As I’ve written here before, Local Forums are designed to be the new space for councillors and citizens to come together to discuss the big issues that face the Borough.

Market place and Question time

The Market Place generated a good buzz.  We had 65 residents turn out for this part of the evening, and they were able to talk directly to partners and senior officers for advice and support, without having to bow to formality or protocol. The Market Place gives local people simple access to a wealth of problem solving knowledge, and we must do more to communicate this opportunity to people who could benefit from it across the Borough.

Question time at the first Local Forum

Question time at the first Local Forum

 

Around 80 people attended for the Question Time debate, where over 40 questions were asked to political group leaders, the Cabinet Member for Planning and Regeneration, and Pat Reynolds, Director of Children’s Services. I’ll be working with officers to make sure that all the technical questions that didn’t get a full answer are followed up as soon as possible.

 

Proposed plans for local development

The debate also brought up a number of big issues which both the Borough as a whole and the Council as an organisation need to face in the coming months. The first is that of local development. We have to address the huge demographic pressures that face the Borough and the need for additional infrastructure this brings with it in terms of school places, children’s and older people’s care, increasing pressure on our roads and transport system as well as the Borough’s housing supply.

This last point has been causing contention in Redbridge for some years now, with local communities very legitimately concerned about how proposed plans for local development will affect the character and quality of life in the Borough. A number of people brought up concerns of this kind again at the Local Forum last week in response to the news that we will soon start consulting on development options as part of the process to refresh our Local Plan. I won’t go into detail about each of the options here, but I would advise everyone with an interest in the future of Redbridge to read that report carefully and feed your thoughts into the consultation, launched today. I want to reiterate what Cllr Coomb said last week – the consultation is about making sure that local voices are heard, and that the Council has no prejudged decision on any of the options. The evidence will be weighed up and presented to Cabinet and Council for Councillors to decide, as mandated advocates of their communities.

Contacting the Council

A second concern was about customer contact and difficulty getting through to the Council. This was something that really resonated with a lot of people in the room. But there are no easy answers here. I have instructed officers to investigate customer access across the Council’s services to take stock of the scale of this problem and how things can be improved. I will be following this work closely.

There isn’t space room to deal with everything that was discussed at last week’s meeting in this blog, but there will be a detailed overview with a Council response to each issue raised up on the website by the end of the day today, so please keep your eyes peeled for that.

First step

While there are some kinks we need to iron out, a consensus is emerging that the first Local Forums worked well as a first step in creating a place were difficult issues facing the Borough can be deliberated – one which contains more straight-forward, direct scope for local citizens to help think through and co-produce responses. These kinds of spaces will be essential for helping rethink the relationships between the Council and local citizens as services are transformed over the next few years, and I hope to see as many residents as possible joining the conversation.

Find out how to give your views on how the Council can save £70m by 2017/18 on the Redbridge Conversation page of Redbridge i.

Liberty Credit Union

Oct 30

A few weeks ago, I spoke at the official launch of Liberty Credit Union – an exciting addition to Redbridge’s infrastructure which will help residents to save, give them access to low-cost credit and high-quality financial advice.

While the economy is growing, many families are still struggling to make ends meet. During these times many turn to payday lenders as a last resort. We need to help struggling families to understand the range of other options that are available to them, and the credit union is a fantastic way of doing this.

Debt also has an effect on people’s well being, and has deep consequences for their mental health, family life and ability to work. Through the credit union, we can help people get the financial support they need as early as possible before minor problems start snowballing into something more serious.

It’s is also a great way to encourage local investment. For every one pound saved in the credit union, over three pounds are generated for the local economy. This offers an exciting opportunity to help support local business and entrepreneurs at a time when mainstream bank loans are still hard to come by.

But that’s just one of the things we’re doing to support local businesses. We’ve launched the Enterprise Exchange, a pop-up business hub in the Ilford Exchange to give expert advice to local businesses and entrepreneurs which will run until the end of October. Work Redbridge is thriving, and thousands of people came to the jobs fair a few weeks ago to meet with local employers. We’re refreshing our Local Plan to make sure Redbridge does well out the growth the capital sees over the next few years.

Helping struggling families stand on their own two feet and make choices that are right for them is what this administration is all about. The credit union is a perfect example of what can be done through working with partner organisations across the borough and thinking holistically about how we build stronger, more resilient families, neighbourhoods and communities.

First Local Forum

Oct 24

I would like to invite you all to the first of the new Local Forums which will take place on Tuesday 28 October from 6pm at Redbridge Central Library in Ilford.

Funding crisis

As we all know, Local Government faces a crisis – the scale of which has not been seen for generations. According to some commentators there is a danger that by 2020 Councils will be reduced to providing nothing more than their core statutory services. We need to do everything in our power to stop that from happening.

Locally, our own budget gap is £70m to 2018 – an unprecedented challenge. Back office efficiency savings will only take us so far and the lion’s share of these were carried out by the previous administration. Behind the scenes, officers are working hard to completely redesign services away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach towards a system that is responsive to the needs of residents and can help them find solutions to problems that are relevant to their communities and neighbourhoods.

A different type of conversation

Local Forums are about starting a different type of conversation with residents – one which is up front about what we can and can’t do, and one which helps to establish a more collaborative, open and participatory culture.

The Market Place will give residents the opportunity to find practical support from a wide range of Council services and partner organisations. If officers cannot answer queries then and there, residents will be able to leave their contact details and a response from the relevant service will be provided after the event. Each Political Group have been allocated a Market Stall for their own use, and local Ward Members in particular are welcome. I hope that all political groups will make sure they are represented.

The Market Place will be followed by a Question Time style debate, with panellists from all the parties together with a senior officer. This is an opportunity to have a ‘big picture’ discussion with residents about the future of Redbridge and about what the Council will look like over the next few years. We will not be hiding behind officers or bureaucracy, and local citizens will be able to tell us, directly, about what they think we can do to make our Borough a better place to live in.

A new role for Councillors

As Councillors, we are serving through a period of huge upheaval, the magnitude of which I think we are all only just beginning to understand. As politicians we are going to have to provide the strong, accountable leadership to help our residents be part of that change, and sometimes that will mean delivering tough messages as well. Local Forums will, I hope, be a space for us to start off that process.

I hope to see you there.

Happy Diwali

Oct 23

Happy Diwali to everyone celebrating in Redbridge. I hope you have a great time with your friends and family.

The First 100 Days as Leader

Sep 25

I think it’s safe to say that since the election in May, myself and my fellow Cabinet Members have been faced with a steep learning curve.

As I’ve said before, the Council is facing the toughest financial pressures that have been seen for a generation and the Cabinet will have to make some extremely difficult decisions about the way the Council does business as we move towards setting a new budget in March next year. Despite the challenging circumstances though, I’m proud to be able to talk about a number of achievements the new administration has made during its first 100 days.

The first 100 days

Firstly, we’ve cut councillor allowances to make sure that people are in politics for the right reasons– to represent the communities who elected them and change things for the better. We also shook up the Council’s bureaucratic processes by getting rid of area committees and introducing local forums. This is going to be important to make sure we are having the right conversations with residents as the Council changes how it works over the next few years.

 Free thirty minute parking 

Free thirty minute parking is also in place and will be fully implemented across Redbridge by the end of September, together with the removal of parking restrictions on Bank Holidays. This is a substantial step forward in supporting local business in our town centres as customers will be able to make short visits without having to worry about the cost of parking.

Free bulky waste

We’ve extended free bulky waste collection to cover the whole of Redbridge and will be reviewing the way the Council carries out its enforcement activities to clamp down on fly tipping. We also introduced weekly street sweeping to keep our neighbourhoods spic and span, and increased funding for crime prevention. Enabling residents to take pride in the way the Borough looks and feels is one of our top priorities.

South Woodford library investment

We secured the future of South Woodford library through an investment of £600,000 to help it diversify and meet the changing needs and tastes of the local population; distributed £196,000 of match funding through the Council Community Fund and invested a further £2.15m to increase the Council’s affordable housing stock through the Purchase and Repair scheme.

The next 100 days

I’ve been working closely with the rest of the Cabinet to develop the Council’s new Corporate Strategy, which will set out the values and key priorities until 2018. Putting forward a clear vision about what the organisation stands for and where it’s going is essential to make sure we make the right decisions during the difficult times ahead.

We’ll be consulting on a property licensing scheme to improve the quality of private rented accommodation in Redbridge and tackle anti-social behavior. This will include, among other things, measures to get tough on landlords who put beds in sheds and will build on the work the Council is already carrying out with its partners to tackle the issue. We are committed to helping residents find decent housing in the borough and driving up standards in the private rented sector.

We will also publish our initial budget proposals for discussion with residents about how the Council spends money and the services it provides.

We’re busy working up a range of initiatives to support residents struggling with the cost of living, and details of the long-awaited swimming pool in Ilford will finally be published.

An exciting time despite the challenges

All in all, it’s an exciting time at the Town Hall. Despite the budget cuts and uncertainty about the future, I want the Council to be at the forefront of fairness and the fight against poverty and inequality in Redbridge. I’ll be working hard with my Cabinet to make sure that these values underpin the work that the Council does over the course of the next four years.

 

Rosh Hashanah greetings

Sep 24

Shanah Tovah to everyone in Redbridge celebrating Rosh Hashanah today.

I hope this year is as sweet as the last!