Cllr Damian White is the Leader of Havering Council.
With local elections in London due in May, it gives me an opportunity to take stock of the last four years of achievements of a Conservative administration at Havering Council – an outer London Borough.
When I am out canvasing, I am sure I will get asked the questions of why vote Conservative again? What have you ever done for me? How have you made a difference?
All good questions to ask.
I have been the Leader of the Council since 2018, and we have seen plenty of change in our local community – and the priorities we need to focus on. The community has become more diverse in some parts like Romford but also remained the same in others.
The top issues I hear about are clean streets, road and pavement repairs, rubbish collections, public safety, homes, leisure facilities, good schools, and access to other services.
It was therefore important that when setting the budget in 2019, we took these issues into account. The decisions we took in 2018 have framed our Council since and started to create a legacy for our residents, and a solid foundation for us to take to the electorate for another mandate.
I am deeply proud to have brought forward one of the largest investment programmes in the boroughs highway network since its creation, spending £12 million a year – up from £2 million when I took over. This is one of the largest investment budgets in London, and certainly for any outer London borough and has meant that over 100 miles of roads and pavements have been rebuilt and repaired. Looking forward, it is our aim to continue with this programme to clear the backlog of work by the end of the next Council period.
Residents have said that crime and the fear of crime is a major concern to them. So, to support the work of the Metropolitan Police, we invested in six police officers to work in our borough and increased the Bobbies on the beat. We have been able to address policing issues that would otherwise be forgotten by the London Mayor, such as dealing with the county lines drug trade and car crime – two major issues locally. As a result of our investment in policing, our team have made over 200 arrests, making them one of the most effective council funded police teams in London.
This approach of supporting our police and keeping our residents safe will always remain a priority for us locally.
Our environment matters to us. As the third largest London Borough, we have so much to be thankful for. This is why we increased road sweeping and street cleansing by 33 per cent and launched an Autumn Blitz to help ‘recover’ the borough back to how it should be after Covid. Despite the significant challenges we face as a community, investment in clean streets will always continue.
We are graced with excellent parks and green spaces and I know how important these have been especially through Covid. The borough is lucky to now have a record 16 Green flags.
But unlike many other local authorities, we have also invested in our leisure facilities. In the last four years we have opened two leisure centres with a third opening next year in the south of the borough. One of them, in Romford, also has an ice rink, in addition to the other expected facilities.
These investments generate much needed income that meant that we could support our borough’s children with 60,000 free swim sessions over school holidays and offer free gym membership to our children in care. If returned in May, supporting our children to benefit from being physically active would form a cornerstone of our offering.
Our Conservative-run council has one of the largest new council house-building programmes in the country. We are replacing tired and outdated bedsit accommodation with new purpose build homes, on mixed tenure estates, built by local firms – and creating opportunities for the longer-term unemployed to retrain. Bringing this forward and the legacy that it will leave behind, is our council’s proudest achievement.
The library offer has not changed; in addition to books it also offers a place for many young people to study and use the computers free of charge, which is especially important for those who are unable to do so at home. The aim of the next four years will be to help foster a greater sense of vision for our libraries as we move towards a community hub model.
All of this shows that as a Conservative administration we have listened and made sure the most important front line services have continued and improved.
We have also noted the changing views of our residents. Climate change is quite clearly one of the biggest issues affecting us all. Last year I directed officers at the council to draw up a plan of action in how we can respond. I have set an ambitious target that the council achieves Carbon neutral by 2040 and that we show leadership and work in partnership with residents, businesses, and other stakeholders to achieve this for the whole borough.
So what will this mean to us at the next election? This is always a big question for us but our record in Havering is there to be seen. We have set our legacies for the future and repaired the errors of the past administrations.
You can of course never be sure what the result will be and we know national politics also impacts local politics. This is why our focus on the local community and engaging with our residents has always been our greatest strength. Our Borough is lucky to have an excellent campaigning Member of Parliament, Andrew Rosindell MP, who works hand in glove with our council candidates to create a united team at the election. This unity and passion for our borough will shine through everything we do.