As the employment figures this week demonstrate ahead of the pre-budget report we are in the midst of a severe global recession which will impact nationally but have serious consequences locally as well. The party nationally has offered good ideas about how to tackle recession, but Conservative councils should be doing more to demonstrate effective local policies to help maintain household incomes, improve job prospects and mitigate unemployment.
Westminster, at the heart of London is facing an historic challenge to maintain the wellbeing of our residents and the prosperity of the city’s businesses. That is why we have drawn together a far-reaching 15-point package of measures aimed at helping residents and business in central London fight the economic downturn.
I hope that this might serve as a blueprint for how Conservative councils can respond to the current difficulties and combine fiscal prudence with targeted measures to mitigate the downturn. The key measures include an extra car-free day for the West End to boost income for the capital’s premier shopping streets, loans for those struggling with mortgages and a recommended freeze on council tax for 2009 – 2010.
Other initiatives include paying invoices from smaller business within seven to ten days as opposed to the 30-day target set by government; creating the UK’s first council-run group apprenticeship scheme to employ, train and hire out apprentices to potential employers and boosting local shops by revamping district shopping centres with a renewed focus on the city’s more deprived areas.
We can deliver this programme, because we have, to borrow a phrase, mended the roof while the sun was shining. A ruthless focus on efficiency has meant we’ve built up reserves and kept the council tax affordable.
Major Westminster businesses and community organisations will also meet at a special council convened economic summit on November 27th to discuss the best way to put this programme into practice, to use their expertise and build a coalition of support behind the agreed measures.
They will help families, encourage enterprise, improve skills and demonstrate to residents that their city will respond, lead and act in the face of unprecedented economic crisis.
However, they are the start of a process of recovery, not the final word or even the best solutions.
The world’s new economic realities require a fundamentally different approach to previous recessions where local authorities cut jobs and services in response.
We are in new territory and this is a new approach from Westminster, as a leading Conservative authority. I’ve been looking at how our predecessors chose to approach hard times when in the 1970s and early 1980s recessions services were reduced, jobs were cut and charges increased.
We have chosen a different path, not just business as usual, but better business and improved services at lower costs to meet the challenges ahead.
And we will be challenging central government to ask them to help us in terms of lessening regulation, releasing funding and returning to the people of Westminster, their just rewards.