Cllr Kevin Davis is the Leader of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames.
KIngston Council was in a bit of a mess when we took control in 2014 – the first Conservative administration after 12 years of Lib Dem inactivity.
Our schools were in crisis with harmful bulge classes being the norm when we needed to expand our schools. Our children’s services department was judged by Ofsted to be amongst the most inadequate in the country on two occasions, thereby failing to protect the children in its care. The then Lib Dem Leader was even arrested and later imprisoned during one of those inspections.
Kingston’s roads and pavements had been neglected across the Borough with a long backlog of road repairs and potholes. Our parks had been neglected, our trees cut down and not replaced, making families turn away from areas which should have been places of joy. All this seemed to be done through a narrative of austerity that protected jobs not services.
The Lib Dems failed to build new homes leading to a housing shortage preventing our young people from buying homes. Even when small numbers of homes were built there was no attempt to get the infrastructure to support these homes.
Our streets were filled with rubbish as they cut the street cleansing routines – and recycling rates had stalled and fallen. To make it worse, residents felt neglected and shut out of any decisions that were being made.
On top of the sorry tale of a tired Lib Dem Council our residents paid the highest council tax in London.
Putting all these failings right in four years has been a challenge but we have made great strides.
We’ve supported local businesses and created new jobs, bringing a new multinational HQ to Kingston. We started 30 minutes free parking on local shopping parades to help support them and we successfully lobbied Government for the devolution of Business Rates so we keep what we earn – a campaign we started in 2014.
We have started to build more homes by regenerating our housing estates to create more Council houses and we have started a development company to build key-worker homes. We have safeguarded our green belt and pushed back against a London Mayor intent on destroying the suburbs by demolishing our post-war housing. We have started to address the problems of our borough’s infrastructure by investing in sustainable transport initiatives and working with the Government and Mayor to create better, cleaner transport links.
Our Children’s Services have been upgraded from inadequate to good, and we are delivering on our pledge to create more new schools and a new Children’s home.
We have dramatically improved the way we care for older people through closer working with the Health Service and introduced joined up records between the Council and healthcare providers. We have now also taken the decision to build a new high-needs, dementia care home.
We’ve set about improving our roads and pavements with large sums of investment whilst also installing new playground equipment and smartening our parks. Our recycling rates have also risen as we have embraced new ways of recycling and become the third best in London.
We know how important the history and culture of our Borough is. We are supporting a project to build a new museum, invested in a transformation of our libraries and helped set up “Creative Kingston” to have an artistic say in public art and cultural activities across the Borough.
By communicating with residents we have ensured that they have more of an input now than they ever did under the Lib Dems. We have started to reshape to better engage with residents and respond to their needs when they contact us.
Under the Conservatives we have become a financially independent Council. By no longer receiving revenue support grant we have the flexibility to shape the Borough. We have removed costs from the Council of £54m so effectively reducing Council Tax in real terms by a whopping 60 per cent. To ease the financial burden of rising bills on Kingston households we have frozen Council Tax this year.
We have done a lot in four years and yet four years is never enough time to turn around a borough. We may have permitted homes to be built – but they are still to be built. There is much more to do which is why we are campaigning hard to ensure our Borough does not go back to the dark days of Lib Dem rule.