Cllr Ravi Govindia, who was appointed Leader at a Wandsworth Full Council meeting on Wednesday night, has also vowed to encourage more Free Schools in deprived parts of the borough as part of an agenda that will focus on delivering increased choice and opportunity.
Cllr Govindia, who arrived in Britain from Uganda at the age of 17 following the expulsion of Ugandan Asians by Idi Amin, said:
“My experiences have led me to place a high value on individual freedom and personal choice. I want young people in Wandsworth to have the choice of owning a stake in their home. I want parents to have the choice about which school to send their child and I want to find ways of letting more homes on local estates to people who are working to encourage self-help and investment in the local economy.”
It is in areas like housing where Cllr Govindia has promised greatest reform. He says that council housing should be ‘aspirational’ not ‘a last resort’. Wandsworth will look at implementing a housing allocation policy which gives greater priority to working households. Available data suggests that less than one in three council homes are going to people in employment.
Under current legislation homeless households, many of whom are not working, can insist on being placed in temporary housing until they are offered social housing. This limits the number of council homes that can be made available to other applicants. The Government has proposed changes to legislation which, if enacted, will mean that councils no longer have to provide homeless applicants who refuse a suitable offer of private rented housing with temporary accommodation and then social housing.
The new Leader also promised to look at innovative solutions to help people onto the property ladder. Early ideas include a possible new deposit scheme, funded from housing receipts and future development, which is paid back once the property is sold.
“Just as Right to Buy has helped millions of people since the 80s, we need to look at new ways of helping a new generation of young people into home ownership,” he said. “Ideas such as a new deposit scheme would help end what is fast becoming a generational divide between those who can afford a stake in their property and those that cannot.”
The new leader wants to create more educational choice in Wandsworth by encouraging Free Schools in deprived parts of the borough. “Many hard working parents scrimp and save so they can opt out of a schools system that does not offer them enough choice,” he said.
“We have got some great schools in Wandsworth but I want every parent to know that they have the chance to do something different for their child. If they want to start their own school we should be there to help them – wherever they live. Free schools are not just for the more affluent areas they should work in all parts of the borough.”
Cllr Govindia also named the campaign to save Barn Elms Playing Fields as a top priority. Thames Water plans to turn this popular greenfield sports and leisure space into a giant construction compound as part of the Thames Tunnel Super Sewer scheme.
“We simply cannot allow a utility company to trample one of London’s last remain stretches of unspoilt riverbank. We will intensify our campaign in the weeks ahead and will do everything in our power to protect this prized greenfield site.”
Finally, he paid tribute to Cllr Edward Lister who steps down as leader, following 19 years in charge, to become London’s deputy mayor for planning.
“Wandsworth has carved a reputation over the years as a bold, ambitious council delivering the best value for money local services in the country. We will continue to lead and reform, but with the focus on responding to the new challenges that we face today. I want Wandsworth to be a borough synonymous with choice, opportunity and aspiration.”
Both the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, have welcomed the appointment.
Mr Pickles said:
“I know that Ravi Govindia will build on Wandsworth's reputation as a council that has delivered both the lowest council tax in the country and some of the best services. I very much welcome his appointment and wish him every success in building on the work of Edward Lister."
Mr Johnson said:
'Wandsworth has for a long time led from the front. This is a fantastic appointment and I wish Cllr Govindia many congratulations in his new role as successor to Eddie Lister, who I am delighted has agreed to join my team at City Hall. Ravi is a dedicated and experienced Councillor and Cabinet member with many great achievements under his belt.
“There are many I could list, but notably, his key role in transforming Wandsworth's riverside and his work on the regeneration of Nine Elms should be applauded. I am watching what he comes up with next with great anticipation.'