Cllr Rachael Robathan is the Leader of Westminster City Council.
With everything else going on, it is sometimes overlooked that we are facing another set of elections this May – local elections for almost 200 local authorities across the UK, including every London Borough.
These are sometimes viewed as the Cinderella elections of the democratic process – less important and high octane than General Elections – and yet these are the elections which determine the shape of services which affect every person in the UK every single day.
From the moment you walk out of your front door you will come across the impact of local government. Everything, from the cleanliness of our streets, to planning and licensing policies which determine how cities and towns look and operate, to the support which our elderly and vulnerable residents rely on, is the responsibility of local government.
We, as Conservative Councillors, have a strong story to tell. It is these services, against challenging budget constraints, which have been so vital over the last two years. While the nation rightly applauded hospital services and NHS frontline workers, our homecare workers were equally as critical, going into the homes of the most vulnerable every day to provide vital support. And what of our refuse collectors? Without them our streets would have deteriorated rapidly.
In my experience in Westminster – as I’m sure is the case elsewhere – the last two years have served to focus attention on the importance of the services the Council provides.
Alongside our excellent social care support for Adults and Children, in Westminster we also established a volunteer network, with over 3,000 residents signing up to support those who found it more difficult to go outside to collect shopping or run other errands.
We helped over 800 rough sleepers off the streets and into permanent accommodation pathways and jobs, as well as distributing over 5,000 laptops to make sure children could continue to learn from home.
It has also been a matter of considerable pride to me when residents commented that, as they walked around the streets, they noticed how clean and well maintained our public areas are. We take great pride in our City and it shows.
It has also been really important, as the Council right at the heart of the Capital, that we did everything we could to support the business, hospitality and cultural organisations which are so much a part of what makes our City such a wonderful place in which to live and visit. Few areas felt the impact of the pandemic as acutely as the West End.
In a City where each day, pre-pandemic, our resident population of some 250,000 increased by four times that amount -. as people came in to work or visit, the impact of restrictions had a massive impact. With almost 3,700 licensed premises – more than any other Council – and as an area which not only accounts for 15 per cent of all London’s jobs but also almost ten per cent of our national business rates, there wasn’t an option to sit on the sidelines while businesses went to the wall.
We introduced al-fresco dining, creating 16,000 additional covers on our streets through temporary measures, enabling thousands of premises to continue trading and survive. These proved so popular that after full consultations these have been made permanent in many areas.
We worked with our theatres, museums, and galleries, to create an Inside Out Festival, showcasing our wonderful cultural and entertainment offer outside on our public spaces to provide access for everyone and also to remind everyone why a visit to Westminster has so much to offer.
So, as we approach these elections what is our message and what are our asks?
First, it is vital that we all make sure everyone understands the importance of these elections and that every single vote matters. As Conservatives, we understand the importance of running our Councils to deliver the best services in a cost-effective way and to work with our residents and businesses to make sure they have the support they need to make the most of their opportunities and live their lives as they wish.
Without this current network of Conservative Councils, not only will those we serve lose out, but it would also make it even more difficult going forward to hold Parliamentary or London Assembly seats, where we don’t have the strength of a Conservative Council working hand in glove with them.
Second, while these elections are emphatically about local government, not national, we do need to be able to demonstrate that our Government is listening to us and recognises the importance of having Conservative administrations running our Councils.
For those of us in London, a key part of that message is that levelling up in the red wall seats in the north does not mean that London with its own acute challenges is overlooked. Without the recovery of areas like the West End and the Business Rates it provides, the Chancellor will struggle to find the funds for these initiatives.
Finally, and most important, is that everyone reinforces the message that it is just as – if not more – important that every Conservative votes in these elections if they want the things which impact their lives every single day to continue to run smoothly.
In Westminster, we fight hard for every vote. Our councillors and candidates are already out campaigning from Paddington to Pimlico. Thanks to our central London location we hope that Conservatives both locally and nationally will follow Jacob Rees-Mogg’s lead by making their New Year’s resolution to campaign more for Westminster Conservatives. You will be very welcome!