Cllr Ravi Govindia is the Leader of Wandsworth Council.
When people cast their votes in the forthcoming Tooting by-election on June 16th they will be able to support a fine Conservative candidate, Dan Watkins, who has very firmly established himself as a solid grassroots campaigner. Dan has that special quality of identifying community campaigns, and supporting and nurturing them without taking them over or using them to political advantage. Because Dan is not a machine politician, he came to within inches of unseating Sadiq Khan in 2015. We are so lucky to have this record of Dan Watkin’s proven success to draw upon for this by-election.
Dan’s excellent campaign was partly built on the solid achievements of a popular and successful Conservative council whose successive Conservative administrations have worked hard to deliver excellent local services at a price local people can afford. As well as delivering one of the lowest council tax bills anywhere in the country,
Wandsworth was the first local authority to offer a right-to- buy scheme and among the first to harness the private sector in revolutionising the way local services are delivered. We transformed the high-cost, inefficient, and low-quality town hall services inherited from Labour into high-achieving, affordable, and responsive ones that focus squarely on the needs of our residents. Under our stewardship Tooting has thrived.
More and more people want to live here and every part of Tooting constituency is transforming. We have backed innovative schemes to regenerate town centres like Tooting, Balham and Earlsfield and supported local businesses so that they can flourish and provide jobs and apprenticeships for our young people. Dan has been a part of that, working hard to open up local job opportunities for all.
In 2014 and this year, working with the local charity, Business Launchpad, he held a Youth Enterprise Summit with the aim to help those under 30 from disadvantaged backgrounds make a success of self-employment. Dan also set up a grant fund for disadvantaged entrepreneurs, which has helped several Tooting residents get into self-employment.
To open up a window into the world of work in 2011, Dan set up the Tooting Voluntary Force, a group of volunteers who support local environmental and community projects. The group is open to all and non-political and has done projects such as cleaning up the River Wandle, cutting back hedges, and helped run a Tooting Fun Day.
Dan is passionate about helping people into employment and other opportunities which is why he has partnered with Friends of Wandsworth Prison to help ex-offenders find work and he has used his business experience to create links between the prison and businesses.
As a local businessman, Dan knows how important it is to help smaller firms flourish. So in 2013 he developed ‘Love your Local’ a competition that tapped into the people’s love for their neighbourhoods and their desire to help them grow and becoming self-sustaining. This yearly competition allows residents to vote for their favourite local shops, who are rewarded at an awards ceremony. Revived vibrancy of Earlsfield is testament to the success of this initiative.
Flourishing communities need good and reliable transport links. One of Dan’s first local campaigns was for longer commuter trains from Earlsfield to Waterloo. An increase from 8-car to 10-car trains for commuter trains – a 25 per cent increase in capacity – has had a real impact in reducing overcrowding. Tooting has a great opportunity to get plugged into the new high speed rail network which is why Dan favours Tooting Broadway as the location for the Crossrail 2 interchange with the Northern Line. Dan organised public meeting to argue the case – it is Tooting’s turn. Improved links at Tooting Broadway will better link St George’s Hospital and help link Tooting residents to job opportunities across London.
Perhaps some of Dan’s greatest achievements are in helping safeguard what residents most love – he spearheaded the fight to save three much loved public houses by campaigning to make them assets of community value. When the Wheatsheaf at Tooting Bec was put up for sale, Dan teamed up with CAMRA and set up a community group to get the pub listed as an Asset of Community Value. In August 2013, The Wheatsheaf became the first pub in Tooting to achieve this status. This was soon followed by getting the premises locally listed and further protection under Article 4.
Before long, two further pubs, Trafalgar Arms and The Selkirk, were given Asset of Community Value. The Trafalgar Arms is now owned and run by Wandsworth’s own famed brewer – Young’s. The historic Selkirk Pub on Selkirk Road is a real focal point for our community and being off the high street is often eyed by developers. Being granted Asset of Community Value in the summer of 2015 has been its salvation.
It’s not only pubs that Dan has saved. He formed Granada Cinema Supporters with local residents and got that listed as an Asset of Community Value providing extra planning protection to this iconic and historic building at the heart of Tooting. He is working with residents in Tooting Bec to safeguard another listed asset – Tooting Lodge on Tooting Bec Road.
When the Romany Scout Hut, home to a much-loved scout troop, a playgroup and a beautiful patch of quiet open space for wildlife was under threat of redevelopment, Dan led the efforts to persuade the owners to postpone their sale. He did all the negotiating and legal work to set up a community interest company (CIC), which eventually bought the land. The new CIC then immediately leased the land back to the scouts and playgroup, and so the site was saved.
Now with Dan campaigning hard to win in Tooting, we are on the brink of a historic Conservative clean sweep in Wandsworth. Three Conservative MPs working alongside an innovative and highly successful Conservative inner city council – proof if it was ever needed that the idea that London is a Labour city is nothing but a myth.