Hillingdon Council was a famous basket case before it became Conservative led in 1998. Without an overall majority, many councillors, like myself in office for the first time, faced a legacy of a 14% tax rise and nil financial reserves combined with a backlog of difficult decisions left for us by a previous Labour administration
that had realised its time was up. Eight years later, with stability restored, a majority Conservative administration took power.
The innovations we have introduced since 2006 would not have been possible without councillors having taken direct, personal accountability for the performance of the organisation. Executive members are expected to be just that and officers have responded with enthusiasm to strong leadership. Customer satisfaction – demonstrated by crosses in boxes from voters, not ticks in boxes from government inspectors – are the yardstick by which we judge success.
In 2006, we introduced a first – no Council tax rises at all for households where one or more of the principal householders was a pensioner. Costing very little to implement, and with no bureaucracy required, this showed very clearly our Conservative commitment to support older people. Gordon Brown's 75p pension rise had not been forgotten and pensioners and the wider community voiced their support.
Since 2007, we have operated a scheme for financially viable households – not a key worker scheme, but anyone who has lived in the borough for at least ten years and can get a mortgage, but has no deposit – to enable them to buy properties at a discount with the Council's help. As well as reducing the numbers needing social housing, this has shown that Council housing policy is not just – as the BNP would claim – about asylum seekers and immigrants, helping to reduce tension. And, by placing the same residency requirements on subsequent purchasers of the homes, we can ensure a long term supply of homes for local residents who are struggling to get their own place in their local area, which makes the economy and the community more sustainable.
In 2008, we signed up another batch of street champions. More than 5,000 residents have joined up to be our eyes and ears in their community and to report matters needing attention. Service performance has jumped dramatically in response, and many people who in the past felt the Council wasn't listening now have a direct line to get things done.
In 2009, we froze Council Tax for a two year period. If David Cameron is Prime Minister next year, the Conservative promise on Council Tax will lead to a four year freeze – something residents will doubtless
be pleased to hear!
No Council is perfect – and local democracy means that there should be variations from place to place – but in Hillingdon we are looking to make the Conservatives the party of choice for quality local services, emulating the success of other councils across London and the UK where local politics is genuinely about local services.