How much positive change has Labour achieved since it came into power?
December 16, 2022
Cllr Will Sweet - leader of the opposition and Cllr Simon Hogg - leader of Wandsworth Council
The Labour administration in Wandsworth has issued itself a report card six months after the end of a period of 44 years of opposition.
It claims that, in that short period, it has brought about positive change to improve local people’s lives and worked towards making the borough a fairer, more compassionate and sustainable place to live.
Along with new homes being delivered, there has been cost-of-living support provided to more vulnerable residents and action has been taken on climate change and air pollution.
However, the Conservatives say they have not been impressed with Labour’s start and tabled a motion for debate at a recent council meeting outlining what they say are the administration’s shortcomings claiming it has ‘abandoned the sensible approach that made Wandsworth Council work so well.
Labour believes that it has improved the availability of genuinely affordable housing in the borough by prioritising 1000 homes for council rent, pausing the selling of council properties, switching existing sites that are under development for council rent and buying more properties to create homes for local people. Life-time tenancies are being introduced and the council is also working to end homelessness with a new team tackling the problem.
However, the Conservatives point out that even the Administration’s own paper admits “compared to the existing policy, in absolute terms, this will mean fewer units available for letting, which will have a direct impact on allocations and housing queues” and that the Housing Revenue Account has been burdened with £268m in debt, raising the prospect that the Account’s business plan may prove unviable, compromising the funds required to maintain council housing stock.
The cancellation of the Alton estate regeneration scheme is condemned, which the opposition says lets residents down by causing years of delay to new homes, jobs and community facilities, which a council report admits will have “negative equality impacts”.
The Conservatives have also criticised the boycott of the opening of Battersea Power Station and said Labour councillors have talked down the Nine Elms Regeneration which, it is claimed, will deliver over 20,000 new homes and 25,000 new jobs.
The council believes it has earned praise for its support for families. The Wandsworth Connected scheme delivered free or low-cost activities and free school meals during the summer holidays. The council has also launched a scheme to support struggling families with uniform costs and a School Food Strategy is being developed, including breakfast clubs. Ofsted inspectors have praised progress in services for children with special needs and disabilities.
Grants have been give to local groups to deliver cost-of-living support part of a new approach to work much more effectively with the voluntary sector, including a Shaping the Future Vision event in October to discuss shared challenges.
A £5m cost-of-living support package has been implemented, including more crisis support, money for Citizens Advice Wandsworth, winter payments, free COVID tests for frontline workers, a £130 Cost of Living payment for pensioners, warm spaces, a new independent Cost of Living Commission and an online Cost of Living Hub.
The Conservatives have reservations about the way that Wandsworth Grant Fund monies have been disbursed, which they say has been done in a manner which circumvents the democratic scrutiny of the Grants Sub-Committee. They argue that the new Administration’s approach places ideology above achieving better outcomes for residents – particularly the most vulnerable adding that it demonstrates a disregard for prudent financial management and a disdain for transparency. Conservative proposals for monitoring of the impact of cost-of-living support packages were opposed by Labour councillors.
The council says it has taken action to eradicate health inequalities, including an increased focus on mental health support, and work by occupational therapists to clear the backlog of assessments.
Future Streets – a package of cleaner, greener and safer travel options including a new Walking and Cycling Strategy and more School Streets has been implemented and tough action is also being taken against Lime hire bikes obstructing pavements.
While welcoming the move taken against Lime, the opposition says Labour has failed to deliver a sustainable solution for hire bikes in the borough. Labour councillors voted down a Conservative proposal to designate parking bays for hire bikes with fines for providers in the event of non-compliance.
The Conservatives point out that Labour's record on active travel is not perfect after it cancelled the summer pedestrianisation of Northcote Road, ignoring a petition of 5,000 residents and a deputation of concerned businesses who wanted to retain it as well as offers from the opposition to work together to find a way to make the scheme financially sustainable.
Nevertheless, Wandsworth has become the first inner London borough to receive a CDP A grade for its climate action. A new science-based target has been set to become a zero-carbon borough by 2043. A Citizens Assembly on air quality has been announced, a Sustainability Partnership has been launched, all council vehicles will be zero emission and there are now bike hangers available to local people, as well as more electric vehicle charging points.
The council is providing free monthly mega skips to prevent fly tipping and help people dispose of bulky waste are now monthly, and the council is working towards expanding food waste collections.
Labour is working making Wandsworth a Borough of Sanctuary , plus finding homes for 7 65 Ukrainian refugees. It is also trying to make the borough safer. tackling domestic abuse and violence , by providing more staff and working closer with victims.
The Conservatives point out that Labour has not honoured its election pledge to cut Council Tax next year and committed £1m to give its Leader extra staff, posts which it says are unexplained and were not required under the previous Administration.
They also contend that Labour has deleted a series of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) from the Council’s Corporate Plan, meaning that performance in key service areas will not be publicly reported in open committee. It is claimed that Labour has committed £15m of reserves to new programmes without identifying savings elsewhere.
Council leader Simon Hogg said, “We are working hard to make Wandsworth fairer, compassionate and more sustainable. We’ve hit the ground running with a whole range of policies including building a thousand new homes for council rent, extensive support for people during the Cost-of-Living crisis and significant action on the climate emergency, all for the same low council tax.
“It’s important that we bring local people with us on this journey, and that we all work together to make this the fantastic borough we know it can be. We promise we will work tirelessly for the residents of Wandsworth.”
Cllr Will Sweet, Leader of the Wandsworth Conservative Group, countered, “We have tried to work constructively with the new Administration over the past six months in order to deliver for residents at this critical time. Instead of working together on behalf of residents the Labour Administration has abandoned the sensible approach that made Wandsworth Council work so well. "
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