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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!

A Levels, Skills and Education

Aug 22

Congratulations to everyone in Redbridge who got their GCSE and A Level results over the last week or so! I hope you all got what you wanted and I can only imagine how great it must feel for the wait to be over and get the weight off your shoulders.

I wanted to take the opportunity to write a little bit about the importance of education and skills not just for getting a job but also for personal development and fairness.

Over the last couple of decades we’ve seen huge changes to our economy. Britain used to be called the ‘workshop of the world’, with a huge manufacturing base employing a large proportion of the UK’s population. The world has changed significantly since then and the workshop has changed too, into an office, a lab, a university, or more or less anywhere with a high-speed internet connection.

New technologies and the knowledge economy have fundamentally altered the way we work, and generate growth and prosperity. This is why training and qualifications that match up to the demand for specific skills are so important to make sure that growth happens in an equitable and sustainable way.

Redbridge schools perform highly, with a large number of local schools receiving excellent ratings from Ofsted and consistently helping students achieve well above the national average in key exams. I am confident that we are doing well at providing our young people with a top quality education that can set them up for life.  In fact, over 66 per cent of the borough’s young people go on to university, which is way above the London average (56 per cent).

But in addition to the university route, we need high quality vocational education and youth apprenticeships which meet the needs of the local labour market.

The Council is already working hard to make this happen. Since 2009 we have run our own in-house apprenticeship scheme which has placed over 90 apprentices into hard to recruit posts such as social care, highways and horticulture. The scheme helps apprentices attain nationally recognised professional qualifications which will properly equip them to develop their careers.

The Council also works closely with local private and third sector employers to help residents take advantage of employment opportunities across the Borough.

The Work Redbridge Jobs and Training Fair will take place on the Thursday 18 September from 10am in Ilford Town Hall. A wide range of employers will be there, including City Airport, Sainsbury’s, ToysRUs, Adecco and Compass, to name but a few. It’s a great opportunity to speak directly to companies who are looking for new staff now, and who will be able to give some insider tips about getting the right job, training or apprenticeship.

But education isn’t just about growth –  it makes us who we are as people. It expands our horizons and enables us to make meaningful choices. Education lies at the heart of an active and engaged citizenry who can take part in our democratic processes and shape the world around them for the better.

The fact that we take the education of younger generations so seriously in Redbridge, that we will not kick away the ladders that so many of my generation benefitted from, should be a source of pride and a considerable source of hope for the future.

Operation Liberal

Jul 31

This week saw the Council’s Trading Standards Service working with a wide range of partners to carry out another successful Operation Liberal, cracking down on rogue traders and distraction burglars operating in the borough.

Operation Liberal targets a particular type of rogue trading. This includes ‘distraction burglary’ where a trick is used to get access into someone’s home to steal something from them, through to extortion and intimidation where groups of individuals will carry out repairs on someone’s property for huge fees, threatening them with violence if they don’t pay up or if they try to speak out.

These kinds of rogue traders frequently target elderly or vulnerable people.

Operation Liberal tackles the problem head on by putting enforcement officers out on the streets to give a strong message that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated in our borough.

The team challenge traders in local hotspots to prove their credentials to make sure the work they are doing meets legal standards and has been properly solicited by the people they are working for.

I was delighted to hear that over the course of two days this month, the Trading Standards Service stopped over 42 individuals to make sure they were acting within the law. Five notices were issued by Streetscene and the Trading Standards Service advised six businesses of their legal obligations to residents.

As a Borough, crime has been falling year on year. The statistics tell us Redbridge is as safe a place to live as it ever has been. These kinds of visible enforcement activities can make Redbridge feel safer so that perceptions meet reality.

As we promised to do in our manifesto pledges, we are working towards increasing the street presence of uniformed officers to tackle anti-social behaviour.  We are getting tough on fly-tipping and making sure our streets are regularly swept.

Making a difference to these day-to-day issues will improve the quality of life for people living in Redbridge and that is exactly what the new Labour administration is all about.

My Cabinet and I are committed to making Redbridge a greener and fairer Borough, where we are all proud to live. I want to take the opportunity to commend the excellent work being done by the Trading Standards team as a step in the right direction.

Happy Eid al-Fitr

Jul 29

I would like to wish everyone in Redbridge celebrating the end of Ramadan yesterday a happy Eid al-Fitr. I can only imagine how tough it must have been this year, with the heat and the long days.

This year’s festivities are also overshadowed by the tragic events still unfolding in Middle East. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone, whatever their faith, for the safety and wellbeing of loved ones who may be affected by the conflict.

Area Committees

Jul 18

Last night’s full Council meeting saw the end of Area Committees and their replacement with Local Forums.

We feel this decision will allow many more residents to get involved in Council decision-making as the Council faces difficult challenges ahead to find more savings.

Challenging times ahead

We need to get real about the size of the challenge the Council faces.

In Redbridge, we know that by 2018 we will need to save around £70 million. This is almost twice as much as the last administration had to deliver, and what’s more, these are the savings that will pose the biggest challenge to the way the Council delivers the services that residents rely on day-in day-out.

Unfortunately, we’re already approaching the point where we can’t squeeze any more out of the back office. We’re not alone in this, two thirds of councils across the country report that they are deeply concerned that further cuts can’t be delivered without significantly affecting frontline services.

We need fresh ideas

What has this got to do with Area Committees? As the above suggests, the nature of the conversation the Council has with residents needs to change. We have to find a way of talking to residents about the ‘bigger picture’ of service transformation and our vision for how the organisation will look in 2018. We can’t continue with business as usual – without fresh ideas from officers, councillors and the public, the Council simply won’t survive.

Area committees were a costly and slow way of making decisions. They drained Council resources by placing huge demands on officer time and gave a voice to only a tiny proportion of residents – generally repeat customers with the sticking power to sit through lengthy meetings and wade through thick agendas. It also meant conversations about issues affecting the Borough as a whole rarely took place as residents were split by area.

New proposals offer a dynamic and exciting debate

Our new proposals will revamp the way the Council engages with residents, giving them the opportunity to find support from a wide range of public, private and voluntary sector organisations. It will also provide a clear and transparent forum to hold the Council’s senior management and political leadership to account.

We want to encourage dynamic and exciting debate about what really matters. We want to take advantage of online platforms and social media to make sure as many people are included in the conversation as possible. While a couple of dozen people used to turn up to area committee meetings, Redbridge i has over 80,000 registered users. The case for change is clear: we need to bring the Council up-to-date with the ways people communicate with each other in the 21st century.

Involving everyone

Too often in the past Area Committees were seen as a way of replacing surgeries and other forms of meaningful engagement. These changes mean that councillors are going to have to work harder, and can no longer hide beyond officers or bureaucratic processes. They will have to bring together their knowledge of the Council with their expert insights into their communities to become meaningful advocates for change.

These next few years is all about pushing ourselves to the limits to find innovative ways of redesigning public services in Redbridge.

That’s what the conversation at the new Local Forums will be, and everyone – all sections of the community, not just the same familiar faces– must be involved to make sure we do not leave anyone behind.