Cllr Lewis Robinson, Conservative Group leader in Southwark and Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport, explains how even as minority coailition partners the Conservatives are having a big impact in the borough.
Many Conservatives first thoughts of Southwark will be that it must be the political fiefdom of Harriet Harman, and indeed, until 2002 Southwark for the whole of its existence had been Labour controlled. A weak minority Lib Dem administration then assumed office in 2002 but after the 2006 elections they were left with little alternative but to formalise a coalition with Conservative Councillors.
Having battled through the electoral dark days for Conservatives in the Southwark, when the Labour Party attempted but failed to wipe out our Council representation as happened in so many other inner city areas, this marked a huge turnaround in our fortunes, and a real opportunity to move the local authority out of the “dark ages”, and demonstrate to voters in an inner city London Borough the real change we could deliver.
We may be the smaller party in the coalition, but I think many observers recognise we are the driving force for changing how the Council delivers its services. Tory Executive members initiated a modernisation programme, relocating 2,000 staff from as many as 30 buildings across the Borough into a new central HQ which is part of a wider programme to save £35million over 3 years.
During the years 2003 – 2007 we successfully limited Council Tax rises to a total of £68, the lowest overall monetary increase in the whole of London in that period (although of course we had inherited a much higher base from Labour than many other authorities). This year we froze the Council Tax and it is my ambition to follow the lead of Hammersmith & Fulham Tories next year.
We have also undertaken considerable capital investment in our leisure provision, saving two Victorian public swimming baths at Dulwich and Camberwell from closure after years of under investment by Labour. We
view this as a proper “Olympic Legacy” for the children in the borough, especially considering the neighbouring boroughs of Lewisham and Lambeth who in very stark contrast have allowed their public baths to fall into neglect and closure. The public recognition that it was Conservatives who stepped in and saved these historic facilities should not be underestimated.
Acutely aware of the continuing squeeze on local government finance whoever wins the General Election we have embarked on an exciting social enterprise called “Southwark Circle” which aims to deliver improved care services for less money designed by elderly people using local networks to bring real improvements to people’s lives. The work of Southwark Circle is now being closely studied by our Party’s Policy Unit, and colleagues should contact me if they wish to look at this model.
Every London Councillor is acutely aware that the most likely date for the next General Election will coincide with all out London Council Elections, and a much higher turnout, which many are nervous about. However I believe it presents Conservative Councillors in Southwark with an opportunity to demonstrate to many more residents who have seldom voted locally, the real change we have brought to the Council, and there will be opportunities to make inroads against both Labour and the Liberal Democrats in parts of the Borough they have taken for granted with appalling low turnouts.