It is an honour and privilege to accept the leadership of a leading council and I do so with both humility and trepidation.
The leadership of Westminster is an exceptional role because of the uniqueness of the city, which represents the best of Britain. From the vitality and talent of new communities around the Harrow Road to the grandeur of Palace and Parliament, to the world’s most famous shopping street. Theatre which attracts a global audience to London, and the creative enterprise of Soho.
And I start from strong foundations given the legacy of programmes from my predecessor Colin Barrow – from shared services to Family Recovery.
My first challenge is to makes sure that the council plays its role in helping London host the Olympics and celebrate the Diamond Jubilee. We will play our part by making sure that Westminster is clean and well kept for the celebrations and the Games. We’ll help keep Westminster safe, assist visitors, support event organisations, co-ordinate operations and manage the traffic. We are the foundation upon which London presents its case to the world.
Ladders of opportunity for all
But we are not just about managing the city. I will sum up my goal for Westminster as wanting to create ladders of opportunity for people to achieve what they want for themselves and their families.
My experience in business, in politics and in my personal life is that if you help people and work with their aspirations, then the vast majority will grasp the opportunities they are offered.
By doing so we can help people become more self reliant and allow them to take more responsibility for their neighbourhoods, which I think will strengthen our city. But Westminster won’t forget the basics. We’ll have an absolute focus on clean streets, and low tax.
But these things are not an end in themselves. Our policies have to be judged as to how far they enable people to better their lives.
For many that does mean clean and safe streets and decent schools.
Westminster has made immense strides in improving education standards in recent years with pupils grasping the opportunities that our drive to improve schools offers to them. And we will welcome applications for more Free Schools and Academy Schools in Westminster.
And our streets and squares remain attractive places to live and work through the ceaseless work of our officers.
All that helps create the sort of neighbourhoods where people respect one another.
But for some we need to do more. We must give to those who need it a pathway out of poverty and dependency. This is something I learned from my time running our housing department and speaking to people living on our council estates. Too many families were overcrowded and their homes needed refurbishment.
That’s why we’ll start work this year on a major programme to renew our council estates – creating better homes, more jobs and greener neighbourhoods.
We’ll work with the police to tackle gang culture. Our Your Choice programme addresses this directly, and we’ll support the community to deter children from a life in gangs.
It also means enabling people to start and grow their businesses. We’ve helped many people into jobs and training and we’re funding a brilliant new centre for start up businesses near Piccadilly, which can house 1,000 new businesses.
Sound Finance for better services
These initiatives will help strengthen communities, but at the core of any Conservative Council should be sound finance. I am proud that that Westminster proposes no increase in Council Tax for the fifth consecutive year. This will help low and middle income families who are struggling at this time
This is no accident. This is what happens when talented councillors and able officers work together to make our money go further.
The evidence for that is all around the council. We can look forward to an improved street cleansing because we’ve negotiated our contractor so that 22 extra street sweepers are being put back into local communities at no extra cost to the taxpayer.
And in social services we have increased the numbers of adults receiving personalised services so that they have greater freedom and created a modern dementia centre at Westbourne Park Road, fulfilling our duty to the most vulnerable members of our community. All delivered within a smaller budget.
Yesterday Stephen Greenhalgh, Merrick Cockell and I told Eric Pickles that we have revised upwards the predicted savings from Tri Borough by £7m to £40m a year by 2016, creating the resources to improve services and keep council tax affordable.
Those three initiatives- and there are many more – illustrate how Conservatives can make public money go further for the benefit of everyone.
A new agenda for jobs
But as Leader I want to drive forward a new agenda that uses the talents of citizens and business and sets new standards in public service. So, over the next year we will have establish our new Tri Borough services; start work on a new initiative to tackle domestic abuse and start one of the first employee mutuals in the country, providing services to schools. We will also launch the Sir Simon Milton Foundation which will inspire a new generation through the memory of one of our greatest public servants.
But the fundamental challenge facing all councils is how they can encourage enterprise and support job creation. We will also work with business to create the conditions where they grow. Next week we will unveil our 2012 employment pledge with businesses to offer over 2,000 job and training opportunities to young people across Westminster. Employers doing their bit for the good of the city, creating ladders of opportunity.
Times are difficult, but I am taking on the leadership of a Conservative Council because I think that our party is best placed to support business, devolve power and make the best use of public money. And in doing so we will change lives for the better.