Labour’s victory in Harrow was, I believe, put in place eight months prior to the election when the Labour group headed out into the community to speak to residents about how the council could help them. We held open meetings with women’s groups, community organisations, the voluntary sector, trade unions and residents to hear people’s opinions on how Harrow council can make a difference to their lives.
From this consultation we produced a manifesto that prioritised the concerns people told us about on the doorstep and in these meetings. Whether it was building affordable homes, pledging £1m to tackle domestic violence and support carers, or providing a period of free parking in our district shopping centres, our manifesto reflected the needs of local residents and those organisations that will be working with the council to help local residents.
This is more than just empty rhetoric. Partnership with the community will be at the heart of everything this administration does, from helping us to run services to taking up brushes and brooms to clean the borough together. This last point was illustrated during the campaign when: in the course of talking to people on their doorsteps, we devised a community clean-up day where local people worked with us to clear up rubbish-strewn alleyway that had attracted numerous complaints.
This is local politics at its best – councillors bringing people together to make a real and positive difference to their area. Actions speak louder than words, and at a time when all political parties must deal with the mistrust and disconnect between the public and politicians, residents will vote on what they can see for themselves – local politicians out in the street, making a difference for their community.
I plan to make this down-your-street approach a priority for my administration. For example, I have made it a condition of being a Labour councillor in Harrow that you have to spend at least an hour a week volunteering for a local charity or voluntary organisation. Councillors should be rooted in the area that they serve; none of us are interested in being political careerists who see a brief stint at their local authority as the fast lane to Westminster. We are here to serve the community.
Harrow council will need to save more than £70m over the next four years, and the challenge is to limit the damage that will do to our services such as day centres, special needs bus services, care for the elderly – all those critical activities that support the needy and vulnerable.
To manage this, will build on the ethos of the cooperative council and create a model of local government where the administration works with local people and the voluntary sector every step of the way. The council does not always know best, and it certainly no longer has the chequebook to pay for all of its policies.
I am proud that the Labour councillors in Harrow encompass all ages, ethnicities and professions ranging from small business owners and trade unionists to lawyers, NHS workers and carers; the great strength of local government, and of this administration, is that we ourselves are local residents who experience the same issues and problems as everyone else in our community.
We will work collectively with the community so that local people can be confident their voice is as clear as any in the council chamber. The Labour group will work with residents, community organisations and local voluntary group to bring about real and positive change in Harrow.
David Perry is leader of Harrow council
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.