October leader’s blog: “Take Part” and taking action for our residents

For the past month, my colleagues and I have been asking residents to give their thoughts on our future budget, and they have done just that. I hope you’ve spotted the ‘Take Part’ stalls on street corners, libraries, Under One Sky and other events. I for one have been grateful for the feedback and suggestions people have given us. Cutting £75m from our budget over the next 4 years is going to be an extremely painful process and therefore I am pleased that as a community we are having those difficult conversations to see how we can protect our community together from the cuts which are being imposed on the Council. But nonetheless, the council will continue to deliver excellent value for money services, and it is essential residents continue to help us shape that process. 

There have been some other events in October that reflect our administration’s values and priorities, that I want to go into a bit more detail on. 

Last week was the Community Champions consultation conference, which was a great opportunity to meet all the champions who do such good work in our neighbourhoods. With over 1000 Champions in the borough, it is clear how important this scheme is to Harrow. However there is always room to improve and expand on the good work already being done. Whether it’s encouraging champions to work together to help grit a side street to champions working with a local voluntary organisation to support isolated elderly people along their street there is the potential and opportunity for lots of great work to be done in the future to broaden the scheme. After a successful conference and many Champions contributing to the consultation workshops, we can look forward to working with the current champions in the future to see what ideas they may want to take further to build and expand on the great work they already do.   

This conference was followed by the Xcite job fair which took place on Wednesday 22nd October. Despite the budget pressures we’re facing, in July of this year we announced £75,000 to help fund the back to work project; this is money that will help over 300 people in the borough train for extra qualifications to help them progress in their career and learn new skills to support them in their job search. Low-pay is a real problem in Harrow and great projects like this, backed up by the necessary funding can go a long way to helping residents in our borough not only find but continue to stay in employment. 

And finally, it was a real privilege to be at the Harrow Heroes Award ceremony on Tuesday October 14th. I was honoured to present an award and listen to all the stories of the selfless and inspirational work done by all the volunteers nominated for the awards. I would like to thank the council officers for bringing together the event and once again pass on my congratulations to all those nominated.

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The Budget: the big conversation with our residents has begun

I hope everyone managed to get some time off over the summer, and have come back to work refreshed and ready to go during what will be an extremely busy period for us.

With the start of the school term I am delighted that our School Expansion program is right on track, with all of our schools ready on time for the start of the new term. It’s also a tribute to the hard work of council officers and teachers that we have managed to deliver on the Government’s pledge to provide free school lunches for all 5 -7 year olds at all our community schools.

Our Budget Consultation with residents officially launched last Thursday. With £75m of government cuts being imposed on Harrow Council, and our residents, over the next four years the Administration has always argued that we need to have a conversation with residents about what services should be protected and how the Council should be run. This consultation is the start of this process and I hope that all staff, particularly those that live in the borough, will take part in this consultation and work with residents to ensure that their voices are heard loud and clear in the Council.

On the subject of consultations, I would like to say a big thank you to all staff that completed the staff consultation on the Senior Management Structure at the Council. This is a massive decision for the organisation and its only right that staff are part of the decision making process. A report recommending that Harrow Council reinstate a Chief Executive will go to Cabinet this week, to fill the damaging void left by the previous administration, as well as putting in place a management structure that we will deliver efficiencies and savings whilst enabling us to become a leader in West London for sharing services.

Also going to Cabinet are reports that deliver on our promises made in our manifesto, around introducing on the spot fines for littering and investing the first £200,000 of £1m in services to tackle Domestic Violence and support carers in the Borough. This major initiative will tackle problems including not only domestic violence but also honour based violence. These three issues go beyond injuring (physically and mentally) the victim but also scar the whole family. While women are often the victims, these abhorrent acts impact on the whole family. I want this administration to demolish the “behind closed doors” cover that so often masks these offences and work with our different communities to make them wholly unacceptable. You will see and hear lots more from the administration on this subject going forward.

It’s been great to see Cabinet members out and about in the community. Of particular note is PH for Finance, Cllr Sachin Shah’s visit to the Citizen Advice Bureau’s office with the announcement of over a £100,000 of funding for 1 -1 advice sessions; Cllr Simon Brown’s visit to Kenmore Park and Bentley Wood School as part of his Children and Schools brief and Cllr Sue Anderson’s visit with myself to the Indian Association of Harrow and Pakistan Society of Harrow’s independence celebrations.

Finally, it was a real pleasure to meet staff at the Talk to Paul events I attended. It’s always important that staff have a chance to ensure that their views are heard, and I look forward to meeting many more of you over the coming months.

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Harrow: building for business and a busy autumn ahead

The 100th anniversary commemoration of the start of the First World War was for me, and I am sure for everyone in Harrow, a deeply moving experience. Over the coming months, we will be marking the start of this most appalling conflict in all sorts of ways across the borough – through exhibitions, a parade, a gallery exhibition and story telling activities in schools. We need to remember that 2,900 Harrovians served in the armed forces, nearly 700 of whom were wounded and 644 killed by the time of the 1918 armistice.

Their sacrifice needs to be remembered by future generations – and ensuring Harrow’s war memorials are looking their best will help us to do that. I have therefore asked council officers to begin a programme of cleaning all war memorials in the run-up to Remembrance Day. That is, I am sure you will agree, another way we can respect the memory of those who died alongside our major programme of commemorative and educational activities.

Away from national headlines, an issue which continues to attract a lot of attention locally is the London housing ‘bubble’ – a phenomenon which it seems is reaching dizzy new heights with properties going across the capital for record amounts, and in double-quick time.

House prices are rising to astronomical and simply unaffordable levels; similarly big increases in the private rental sector meaning young people can’t afford to move away from home; a chronic shortage of council houses meaning that local residents are unable to move to smaller properties to avoid paying the bedroom tax, with disabled people particularly badly affected; rogue landlords ripping off tenants who are often too scared to ask for the help they need to make their properties liveable.

As a council, we can’t stop the housing market from overheating. But there are measures we can take to give real choice to those who will otherwise struggle.

After 23 years, we are once again building council houses and regenerating estates like Grange Farm. As promised in our manifesto, this administration is beginning to address the lack of affordable housing in Harrow. In total, the Homes for Harrow strategy will lead to 500 new homes. It’s a good start, but only the tip of the iceberg. We have more work to do to support our families and the most vulnerable in Harrow.

Away from housing, I was pleased to hear about potential investment in Harrow with the proposed expansion of Crossrail through Harrow & Wealdstone. We will be following this story closely for more details. However I welcome any investment in Harrow if it will help local businesses and give our young people a chance to get skilled, well-paid jobs. A railway station on our doorstep that provides fast direct links to the city of London will, I hope, be a trigger to greater investment in the borough.

We’re looking forward to a busy September with details being released for our plans for the budget consultation, as well as the roll-out of our two manifesto pledges- the introduction of spot fines for littering and support to tackle domestic violence.  

We’re also looking forward to the Under 1 Sky festival, which will be held on the 21st September; this is always a great day for the community and we hope to see as many staff there as possible. I’d also like to say a big thank you to the community and cultural services for all their hard work in organising this fantastic event. It will showcase the best of Harrow’s young performers, and there will be a parallel march and event to mark the 60th anniversary of the borough.

Like many staff I was disappointed to see England crash out of the World Cup. While I can’t promise that it will result in finding England’s next great hope, I am pleased that we are investing £50,000 in our sports network to help families and children get active and take part in sport in this summer. So whether you are using a football ground, a squash court, pool or simply shaping up in one of Harrow’s outdoor gyms, everyone will be a winner when it comes to getting fit.

Finally, if you’ve been away during August I hope you’ve had a good holiday. I hope those about to go on leave have a great break and come back refreshed for what will be a busy autumn.

All the best

David

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Getting down to the business of building a strong community

The new administration has hit the ground running as we roll up our sleeves and get on with the job of protecting the vulnerable, supporting families, bringing together communities and finding new ways to boost local business and create jobs.

We’ve started to make bold reforms to the council, with the help of hard working officers who have put in long hours to ensure a smooth transition and we’ve already seen some very positive results.

Cllr Sachin Shah, had the honour of making the first decision of the administration, when he immediately carried over £300k into the welfare contingency fund for this year, to help families in dire need of assistance by providing them with emergency relief on anything from transport costs to white goods. This was quickly followed up by our group’s decision to save the taxpayers thousands of pounds by reducing some unnecessary committees that Councillors previously sat on.

Whilst we have made further short term progress, like the imminent introduction of the ban on spitting, and the beginning of the Council Tax Consultation Scheme, we have also started to have discussions about solutions to the longer term problems facing Harrow. Satisfaction with the council has fallen over the last few years and we are looking at undertaking a borough wide resident consultation program, to get local residents involved and a part of council decisions and developments in their area. In a similarly ambitious scheme, the recent development from our housing department that Harrow Council will be building council owned houses for the first time since the 80s promises to be just the start of our plans to deal with the housing crisis in Harrow (you may have spotted news of our ambitious plans to build hundreds of homes in the local press).

I would like to take this opportunity to thank staff; myself and the group have enjoyed working with officers so far and have been impressed by how professional and informed officers have been. We look forward to this relationship continuing.

In other news I have been to Westminster with Paul Najsarek and Simon Brown, our portfolio holder for Children, Young People and Schools, to represent the council at a meeting with the minister for Children’s regarding our services in Harrow. As leader I am keen to represent Harrow more widely and to ensure that our good work is recognised. I have met Capita and have further meetings planned with our health partners on the Health and Well-being Board and a meeting with Harrow’s fire commander.

As you know, we are having over £70 million of cuts imposed on us by central Government. This administration has already shown sound financial management, and we are going to keep that discipline while we try to pick our way through what will be a number of difficult decisions.

Looking to next week, Harrow, like the rest of the country, will be the subject of public sector industrial action next Thursday (July 10th). We recognise the Unions right to strike and over the next four years we will be working collaboratively with local trade unions to overcome the impossible situation the Government has put us in, with over £70m worth of cuts being imposed on Harrow Council and local residents.

Finally – and on a lighter note – I am delighted that Harrow has officially become a Fairtrade borough. I know its taken a while but I’m glad to see that all the hard work has paid off.

Again, I hope to meet as many of you as possible over the coming weeks and I will be at the next “Talk to Paul” events which are pencilled in for September

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From Cllr David Perry, new leader of Harrow Council

Last night, at our annual full meeting, I accepted the honour and privilege of leading Harrow Council. I’d like to use this, my first blog as leader, to introduce myself and tell you what my administration stands for.

For council staff, I know this has been a turbulent and uncertain period with changes in both administration and management. It is a tribute to our hardworking staff that the council was able to carry on delivering vital service for residents. To cite one particular example, the staff in the Mayor’s office navigated the choppy waters of last year with calm professionalism, allowing the first citizen of Harrow to carry out her Mayoral duties in the non-political way they should be conducted. For demonstrating such grace under pressure, thank you.

I believe our employees are the lifeblood of the organisation. They have the skills and expertise that help us, the members, form our decisions. I want to consult as many of them as possible in how we transform this borough.

So what does the new administration plan to do? In summary, we plan to make a difference to people in four key areas: families; communities; the vulnerable and business.

Over the coming days we will be announcing more detail in all of these four key areas. But it is important to stress that the manifesto pledges we were elected on have all come from what we were told on the doorsteps of Harrow, alongside meetings involving women’s groups, community organisations, the voluntary sector, trade unions and residents.

Whether it is building affordable homes, pledging £1m to tackle domestic violence and support carers or embarking on a programme of estate regeneration, our pledges reflect the needs of local residents.

Partnership with the community will lie at the heart of everything this administration does – from helping us to run services to taking up brushes and brooms to clean the borough together. (This last point was illustrated by our recent community clean-up day where local people worked with us to clear up a rubbish-strewn alleyway).

With a new stable administration in place, I profoundly hope the era of splits and factions has passed. It is time to return our activities to what matters – making a positive difference to people’s lives and empowering them to be a part of communities and homes they are proud to call their own.

We will of course be investing money in our key priorities. However,  there is also a difficult reality to face that Harrow Council will need to save more than £70m over the next four years. There is no avoiding the fact that making these cuts will be challenging and extremely difficult decisions will have to be made. We will work with staff every step of the way to protect frontline services; we always value the input of staff and will do all we can to ensure staff feel able to approach us and discuss their ideas or concerns.

To meet these challenges, we are going to govern in a new way, one where the administration works by consultation with staff, local people and the voluntary sector at all times. The town hall does not have all the right answers, and as a council we no longer have the chequebook to pay for all of the things we’d like to do for residents.

In the meantime, I plan to use this blog as the start of an on-going conversation with you. It is with your help that we will make a difference to Harrow.

 

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