Cllr Damian White is the Leader of Havering Council.
One issue that tends to dominate when talking about local government performance is the state of our roads.
The situation in many parts of the country is so bad that the AA has likened the situation to a ‘national emergency’. They reported that nine out of ten drivers say that there has been a significant deterioration in the past decade.
In our part of London in Havering, this a problem I know only too well. When my Conservative-led administration was elected last May, we inherited a situation where our residents told us that the state of our road and pavements, and particularly the proliferation of potholes, was their biggest concern.
In response, we have just agreed to spend £40 million over the next four years fixing the problem in what is one of the biggest road and pavement improvement programmes in the country.
This goes way beyond the £895,000 given to us by the Department of Transport, which has been useful in identifying short-term fixes. It is clear to me that we need to be focused on a much longer, more strategic, programme of road and pavement improvements to carry us over the next five years and beyond.
In doing so, we will be fixing 7.5 miles of roads and around 1,000 potholes a month on what is the second biggest road network in London.
What this shows is that, even during times of austerity, Conservative-led councils like mine can still champion the issues that matter to our residents the most. Investment in roads is much more than laying asphalt. It is about improving connectivity, building pride in where people live, and championing our borough as a place that is open for business when it comes to economic growth.
The investment is part of a much wider plan where we are being as clear as possible about what we want to achieve for our community over the next year and beyond. We used to call it a “Corporate Plan”, which is a terrible term because it suggests an inward-looking process which is more about the bureaucracy of the organisation than the place.
The Havering Plan is very outward-looking, carrying just four priorities, of which the road improvement is an integral part. The focus is on improving our neighbourhoods, by giving people a helping hand in life by ensuring that there is an appropriate safety net, making life better by creating new jobs, skills and business opportunities, and by making life easier through the investment in transport and digital connectivity, of which our £40 million investment programme is part.
By publishing our Havering Plan as an external (not internal) document, we are being as clear and transparent as possible with our community about how their council is spending their money. In many ways, our community has helped to shape our plan.
The Havering Plan embodies the principles of what I believe are the foundations of every good Conservative council: a dedication to providing value for money and keeping council tax increases low, ensuring that people are proud of where they live, setting an environment in which people can fulfil their ambitions, and providing a safety net through investment in children and adult social care.
Like all councils, we know that we need more money to do the job. Local government has taken the brunt of the Government’s austerity agenda, but it is incumbent on all of us to spend less time moaning, and more time putting out energy into where we can get the best return on our limited resources. In Havering, our sleeves are rolled up delivering on that premise.