Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Labour Group, Westminster City Council, said;
“It pains me to say this, but 2013 is likely to be one of the toughest years yet for many Westminster residents. With £80 million already slashed from the Council’s budget over the last two years, further Government cuts of £30 million over the next two years will hit the most vulnerable very hard indeed. The Conservatives said that these cuts were needed to get the debt down and the economy moving. Yet, since 2010 we have seen the debt grow and we are now approaching a triple-dip recession.
And on top of this, Westminster’s housing crisis continues to rage with more and more families being uprooted from their communities and scattered across London and further afield as the Housing Benefit changes hit those in low-paid West End jobs living in private rented property.
Many of the Council’s cuts will hit front line services to young people, the elderly and the disabled. But they will also hit residents living in some of the more prosperous parts of Westminster as the cuts will mean less money for street sweeping, refuse collection, pavement and road repairs and for libraries. The Conservative cuts will hit St John’s Wood, Maida Vale and Pimlico as well as Church Street and north Paddington.
And so, too, will the Mayor’s police and fire service cuts affect everyone. Police stations all over Westminster are currently under review with four of the six police stations said to be under threat of closure. The closure of the Greycoat Place Fire Station has already been mooted as one of the Mayor’s cuts.
There are no easy options left. So far, half the cuts made by the Council have hit front line services. Such is the scale of the further cuts to come that front line services are now much more likely to be hit hard by the latest slashing of services.
So what can be done to save local services?
First, it means working listening to local residents to hear how the recent cuts have affected their lives and to listen to their priorities for the future. Labour Councillors will be launching a major consultation and we will be inviting local residents and community groups to tell us their priorities for local services over the coming few years.
Second, Labour Councillors have always been close to the people we represent. As ‘One Nation’ Labour, we will be standing up for residents throughout Westminster. We will give a voice to all, no matter where they live. For example, fear of crime is consistently top of residents’ concerns wherever they live and we will ensure that this priority is clearly understood by the Council, the Mayor and the Government.
Third, it means rooting out the continued waste and profligacy at City Hall. How on earth can Westminster Conservatives possible justify spending £3 million a year on ‘Communications and Policy’ when front-line services to the vulnerable are being cut? We will be asking residents what they think of this blatant unfairness. Labour wants the money to go where it benefits the community and not to be spent on Conservative Party political propaganda.
Fourth, it means working with local residents to stop the Conservatives’ ‘slash and burn’ approach to local services. Services that take years of hard work to build up can be destroyed for ever once they are closed down. Once a library is closed and sold off it is impossible to re-open it. The task for Labour Councillors and the community is to ensure that we find ways of keeping services running. The Conservatives’ ‘scorched earth’ policies need to be challenged at every opportunity.
Fifth, one of the ways out this mess is to give local people more control and more say over their local area. That is why we have been such strong supporters of the Queen’s Park Community Council ever since it was first suggested by local people. We will also be putting forward proposals for a Small Business Loan Fund to help local people start small businesses in the north Paddington and Church Street areas, the area of highest unemployment. We will also be working with London Mutual to establish a Credit Union presence so that residents have a real alternative to the legal and illegal loan sharks that plague our communities. We will also be promoting ‘Small Business Saturday’ to encourage residents to use their local High Streets more, as a way of boosting jobs and business growth. We want to give local people a bigger stake in their society.
Yes, 2013 is going to be tough. Of course we will be exposing the incompetence of Westminster Council whenever and wherever we find it. But we will also be working with local residents to chart a path through these tough times.”