Teresa O’Neill: How we won a fifth consecutive landslide election victory in Bexley

30 May

Cllr Teresa O’Neill  is the Leader of Bexley Council.

On May 5th, Bexley’s Conservative team delivered the most successful election result of the night.

While the media claimed the Conservatives were being wiped out in London, we quietly delivered our fifth election landslide in a row, an unprecedented achievement. We won 51 per cent of the vote and 33 of the 45 seats, and only lost one seat, one we only had by a few votes anyway.

Residents from all areas of the Borough gave us a decisive endorsement, and a clear mandate to carry on running our Council. Of course, as this did not fit with the media narrative, this achievement did not seem to be covered on the news.

But why have we won a fifth landslide? There are several key reasons. Firstly, we have a strong record of delivering on our pledges. Every one of our 2018 pledges was delivered in full, but so have all the pledges we have made since 2006. Four years ago, we said we would plant a thousand new street trees and residents could see for themselves we have done that – indeed some of the residents helped care for the new trees as they started to grow.

We pledged to deliver an outstanding Children’s Services, and residents can read the Ofsted assessment saying the service is outstanding.

But it’s about more than that. Our Councillors care about our Borough, and want it to be successful. That was reflected in our positive, forward-looking campaign. Our campaign message of Making Bexley Even Better resonated, and we know that residents share our love for where we live; after all they have chosen to make their homes and raise their families in Bexley. And 75 per cent of residents recommend Bexley to their friends and family as a great place to live.

By stark contrast, the Labour opposition spent all their time telling people what they disliked about our borough, and how it was such a terrible place. One of their candidates even claimed the ward they were hoping to represent was “a dive” and urged people to avoid it – then they wonder why they lost…

We also have a strong record of investing in services and in the things that matter to residents. Again, residents in Thamesmead and Sidcup can see their new libraries being built right in front of their eyes. Local businesses know we were there for them during the pandemic, not least of all through the £9m of support payments we made to help them survive and bounce back from covid. They can see our record on recycling, being named the top borough in London for recycling for 17 years in a row and they know from their direct experience that we have some of the top performing schools in the country.

Then there is the financial stability which underpins everything. It’s been a hard couple of years for everyone because of the pandemic, and that has hit council finances hard. But while residents can see Labour neighbour, Croydon, declaring bankruptcy and closing and cutting services, we have received one independent audit report saying our finances are a “good news story” while a Cipfa report says Bexley’s political leadership has a clear grasp on the financial situation post-covid.

But it’s more than that. We’re honest with residents and share everything in full. As an example, our budget for 2021/22 was subject to over four months of consultation, and we received thousands of responses. Cabinet members read them all and we were able to take some of the ideas suggested by residents and incorporate them into our plans. We didn’t pretend everything was rosy; we said this is what we need to do, help us get there together.

By contrast, Labour Greenwich’s recent budget consultation lasted a couple of weeks and generated just a handful of responses, and people were only asked whether they supported the Council’s plans or not.

Of course, there is a lot we need to do. The Fair Funding review needs to happen quickly. The delays have only made the discrepancies in funding clearer. As an example, if we received the same level of funding as Greenwich then we could cut Council Tax immediately by 70 per cent. The Government needs to get on with this review now.

I’m proud of what we achieved in this election. To win five landslide victories in a row isn’t a fluke. Or anything to do with whatever is happening elsewhere. It was achieved because we focus relentlessly on our residents and making our Borough better, now and into the future. We always will.

Teresa O’Neill: Our budget will make Bexley even better

8 Mar

Cllr Teresa O’Neill  is the Leader of Bexley Council.

Tomorrow Bexley’s Conservative Councillors will formally present our budget for 2022/23 – a budget will increase funding for key services such as waste collections and street cleaning, maintaining our parks, complete the building of two new libraries, increase the amount of affordable housing across the Borough and further flood prevention measures.

It has been a difficult two years for everyone, with the pandemic hitting all Councils hard. Plans for 2020 and 2021 had to be changed at a moment’s notice but we’re proud of how our Council responded – setting up a hot food delivery network to ensure vulnerable or isolated residents received a meal every day, or providing millions of pounds of support for local businesses to keep them afloat.

And while we have watched neighbouring Labour Councils like Greenwich make savage cuts to key services or in the case of Croydon go bankrupt, here we have done what all good Conservative Councils do; roll up our sleeves, work hard and see what we need to do.

Yes, we have increased Council Tax but we really want the Government to get on with the fair funding review – if we received the same level of funding as Greenwich, we could actually reduce our Council Tax bills by 70 per cent tomorrow. And while we propose a 1.9 per cent increase this year, residents remember when Labour ran Bexley they increased Council Tax by 40 per cent in 4 years and they can see Mayor Sadiq Khan’s 8.8 per cent rise too while the funding from the Mayor for transport has been cut drastically.

As a result of that work, our 2021/22 budget was in balance and we were able to increase funding for key services; our 2022 budget goes much further, with an eight per cent increase in the overall budget.

This means more investment for highways maintenance and street cleaning, but also for the things that make Bexley such a great place – over the last few weeks we have planted over 61,000 new daffodil bulbs across the Borough, ready for spring.

But it’s not all about being a financially responsible Council, independently rated as being efficient and effective, continuing to deliver value for money. It’s not all about being, as CIPFA noted, having political leadership with understands the challenges facing the organisation with clear commitment to manage the medium term financial resilience of the organisation, important as that is.

It’s not just about building new libraries, having an outstanding children’s services, opening Changing Rooms bathrooms for people with disabilities, being the only Council in the country to open two new schools for children with special needs or leading London for recycling for the 17th year in a row.

It’s also about keeping our word. Every single manifesto pledge we made in 2018 has been delivered in full, exactly as promised.

In fact, we have delivered every manifesto pledge since being elected in 2006.

And all of these achievements also have one other thing in common. All of them were opposed by Bexley’s Labour Councillors. They voted against funding two new SEN schools, opposed the investment in new libraries and new playgrounds; and Labour opposed high quality new affordable housing and homes for first-time buyers built in  the Borough, and have even pledged to scrap plans for new mixed tenure developments that create communities and offer homes for all.

We go into this year’s election with a demonstrably proven record for delivering for residents, delivering what we promise and delivering for our Borough. Residents know when we say we will do something, we do it.

And that’s what we will continue to do if given the honour of running Bexley again in May.

 

Gareth Johnson: An Outer London Congestion Charge would be catastrophic for Dartford

29 Apr

Gareth Johnson is the MP for Dartford.

Since the announcement that an Outer London Congestion Charge for London is being investigated by the London Mayor, I have been inundated with messages from Dartford residents opposed to the idea.

The proposed border tax, dubbed Labour’s Dartford car tax, would charge all vehicles registered outside of London, £3.50 every time they cross the boundary into any London borough.

This charge would be catastrophic for Dartfordians, as well as the hundreds of thousands of motorists who cross the border into London every day for work, leisure, or simply to go to the supermarket.  It would have an impact on pubs, takeaways, shops, hairdressers, and many more of the same businesses hardest hit during the pandemic.

The Mayor of London’s financial stability plan, published in January, proposes a seven-days-a-week charge of £3.50 for all motorists using a vehicle registered outside Greater London, rising to £5.50 for the most polluting vehicles.

As many of us know, the border around London does not run along major routes. Instead, it straddles residential roads. In Dartford, for example, there are residential roads located in Kent where it isn’t possible to drive out of the road, without entering the London Borough of Bexley. With this seven-days-a week charge, hundreds of my constituents will pay over £1,200 a year just to be able to drive out of their road each day. It would create a financial wall around London and set Londoners against their neighbours.

The people who will pay this charge have no say over who the London Mayor is; it is a form of taxation without representation or accountability. It is for this reason that I have introduced a Bill in the House of Commons to stop this charge.

My Ten-Minute Rule Bill ‘Road User Charging (Outer London) Bill: A Bill to provide that the Mayor of London may not impose charges for driving in Outer London; and for connected purposes’ is unlikely to make it into law; these Bills rarely do. Yet it will help to highlight what is a form of blackmail by the London Mayor. He is showing how hard he can hit people outside of London unless the Government gives in to his demands for even more subsidies.

To date, more than 26,500 people have signed a petition opposed to this idea and I hope my Bill will send a strong message that the London Mayor cannot impose rules affecting people outside of the capital’s jurisdiction.

The London Mayor knows that the ring of seats around London, with the exception of Slough, are Conservative. He also knows that, generally speaking, outer London areas are more likely to vote Conservative than inner London seats. He knows who he is hitting with this idea.  It is the most divisive issue ever conceived by a London Mayor and it needs to be stopped. It will have a profound impact, not just on the counties around London, but on the outer London boroughs. It is an abuse of power and it needs to end.

During a debate on the issue in Westminster Hall last month, Rachel Maclean, the Transport Minister, confirmed the proposal is not supported by the Government. She described it as “a border tax levied on people outside London by a Mayor they were not able to vote for or, indeed, vote out.”

I fully understand why Sadiq Khan wants to raise more finances. But even if you accept that transport in London is under-funded, there are other ways of raising money or spending less. With this proposal, he is saying to people outside of London, I will charge you to visit loved ones, to use the station, or even for just driving out of your road.

This proposed tax would be devastating for people living both outside and inside of London. It will create a barrier around London, and it needs to be stopped.

Louie French: We need to ensure our pubs and clubs survive the winter

5 Jan

Cllr Louie French is the Deputy Leader of Bexley Council. He was the Conservative candidate for Eltham in the 2019 General Election.

As we leave the nightmare year that was 2020, we must learn lessons from the pandemic. Understandably, the immediate focus of policymakers and people across the country are on how we contain the latest spike in cases, protect the most vulnerable in our society, and ensure that the NHS has the capacity to treat patients. Improvements in the evidence base and testing should help inform decision-making, alongside the rapid rollout of vaccinations.

However, we must not lose sight of the negative externalities and wider impact of Covid related restrictions, particularly as we look to the future and what we want our country to look like post Brexit and the virus.

For many of us, a safe return to our local pub, bar, sports or social club will be high on our Christmas wish list given the limitations of interacting socially online. Try to picture the scene in springtime. The government, NHS and scientists have successfully vaccinated the most vulnerable members of society, infection rates and restrictions are much lower, the economy is rebounding strongly and the sunnier days are encouraging more people to return to their local. Perhaps for a glass of English wine with old friends, Sunday lunch with family or a post-match drink with teammates ahead of a sizzling summer of sporting events.

But for this to become a reality, we need to act now to ensure they survive the winter and people have jobs to return to once furlough ends.

Whilst the majority of businesses have faced significant headwinds in 2020 and calls for help are likely to grow in January, few sectors have been hit as hard as hospitality and leisure, especially local pubs and clubs throughout the year. With the first round of government support grants and greater flexibility for use of outdoor spaces, many businesses spent thousands to make their premises as Covid-secure as possible for re-opening. They then adapted their business models as local restrictions changed, were asked to close in November, and after a short period of stocking up on scotch eggs and serving substantial meals in December, were asked to close their doors again at one of the busiest trading times of the year.

Despite additional funding of £1,000 for wet led pubs and support grants for businesses required to close, industry analysis estimates that an average sized pub is losing approximately £600 each week while closed. Evidently, an unsustainable situation for many indebted business owners.

In Bexley, we have listened very carefully to our local business networks and conducted our own economic analysis of where extra support is urgently needed and could be targeted beyond the existing national grant schemes this winter. Unsurprisingly, the hospitality industry, particularly pubs and clubs that make most of their revenues behind the bar and through events, were high on the risk of closures and the subsequent negative impacts on our communities and local economy.

Consequently, we took the decision that we needed to act, and as part of the additional restrictions grant funding provided to local councils by the government to support a range of businesses, we have used our discretion to launch a special winter support scheme of approximately £1 million for local independent pubs, bars and licensed sports and social clubs to apply.

The top-up grants range between £6,000 and £14,000 (depending on the size of the business) and we expect to help over a hundred pubs, bars and clubs. These include local cricket, football, rugby and tennis clubs across Bexley, which highlights that this support scheme is about much more than a drinking culture.

Pubs and a variety of clubs now offer vital community spaces, which are often family-friendly and even before Covid, were providing environments to help with issues such as isolation and loneliness. For example, a number of local pubs traditionally open on Christmas Day to prevent people being alone, and in our part of the country, we have witnessed the organic growth of micropubs that are designed to promote conversations between customers. As a councillor, it is also not uncommon for residents and groups to request a meeting in one of these venues, which can be lively at times, and I witnessed first-hand the incredible community work some pubs undertook during the first lockdown such as providing freshly cooked meals for local hospitals.

Hopefully, this additional funding will help these much-loved community assets survive the winter and thrive again in the future when restrictions are relaxed. By sharing this story and highlighting that action can be taken now without requiring any changes in government policy, I also hope that others will be encouraged to support their local pubs and clubs this winter.

Whilst most businesses just want the freedom to open, and the debates will continue over the effectiveness of the tier system and lockdowns, it is clear that with more businesses closed under the Tier 3 and 4 restrictions, additional support will be required to help keep the lights on this winter. From an economic perspective, I believe that the government would be well advised to channel any additional funding via these council-led schemes so that they can use their local knowledge to better target business support, reduce fraud risks, make payments efficiently, and in this case, back British Pubs and Clubs.

David Leaf: In Bexley, we will keep on delivering top rated services – while Labour resorts to scaremongering

30 Nov

Cllr David Leaf is the Cabinet Member for Resources on Bexley Council.

You can tell it’s nearly Christmas, as its always at this time of the year that Bexley’s Labour councillors and their supporters, claim everything is a disaster and that the Council is about to go into bankruptcy.

They’ve actually now been making this claim every year since 2013. Then, they stated that if we were re-elected, the council would either go bankrupt or Council Tax would rise by 40 per cent – none of which happened.

Seven years since they first made that claim, we continue to be rated as an efficient effective Council which delivers value for money for our residents, and our budget plans for 2021/22 are almost completed, four months before they need to be, and our budget will be in balance. Our services continue to be among the best-rated services in local government, and the fruits of investments, such as investing in new street cleaning machinery (which Labour voted against doing), see services improving or being modernised.

Our manifesto pledges from 2018 have all been delivered, and satisfaction from the residents we serve with council services remains high. Roads are being repaired, children’s social care services are helping those in need, vulnerable adults continue to receive care, we remain number one for recycling as we have been for the last 15 years. We’ve also secured funding to build two new schools for children with special needs.

And we’re also delivering new facilities for residents – a new BMX bike park in Barnehurst, a new park, playground, and wildlife area in Sidcup and a new library is being built in Thamesmead. We also lobbied for and now have two Covid testing centres, are working with colleagues on Dartford to reduce infection rates, and are working hard to create centres for vaccinations.

By contrast, in the last month alone, Labour-run Croydon has actually gone bankrupt with a £50 million plus budget gap, Labour-run Transport for London has gone bankrupt for the second time and had to be bailed out by the Conservative Government for the second time. We see Labour-run Lewisham with a £24 million budget gap, Ealing with a £28 million budget gap, Brent with a £29 million one, and Greenwich with a £60 million budget gap over next four years.

No wonder Bexley’s Labour councillors and their supporters want to distract from that shambolic record by real life Labour administrations by trotting out these usual fictions about Bexley, alongside criticising every budget proposal while never actually putting forward any ideas or solutions of their own – the same pattern as usual of course.

What’s shocking this year is that Labour councillors who should know better are frightening the life out of council staff by making all sorts of claims about how they will all lose their jobs; our staff work really hard and to see Labour councillors almost salivating at potential job losses is sickening. Staff I speak to have been really upset by these statements, when what is needed is a calm approach.

Yes, there will be changes to the way the Council is run, or how services are provided.

This is a difficult time for local government, the impact of Covid has been felt across the sector, and across all services. Here in Bexley, much of our income from fees and charges vanished overnight – eg parking income which helps fund highways maintenance and school road safety projects disappeared overnight. There are some Labour supporters who think generating income for services like school road safety projects through parking income is wrong, but of course, as said above, they oppose generating income to help save lives without actually coming up with how to fund it instead.

Like all councils, we have had huge costs appear out of the blue – for example, from scratch we set up a food delivery network, getting hot food to vulnerable residents during the lockdown, making sure those on their own and in need of help got the support they needed. Some 3,000 meals were being delivered, and we had a team of people collecting medicines and prescriptions for those unable to leave their homes. It has cost the council millions of pounds overnight, money that is gradually being recouped from Central Government.

The test of any Council is how they find a way through sudden and unexpected events like this.

One approach is to go into panic mode, hide away and hope everything will be fine (a la Croydon) or lead from the front, make decisions quickly and calmly, work hard all the time to ensure services continue to be delivered, even if in different ways for a while. That is what we were elected to do, and what we have always done.

Yes, there are some difficult choices to make, but as Bexley residents have shown over four elections by electing us with decisive mandates, they trust us to lead the Borough, make difficult decisions when they need to be made, and ensure that we are planning for the long term while making sure services continue to be delivered. The consequences of not doing that can be seen in Croydon, Brent, Lewisham, Greenwich, and at Transport for London.

Amy Selman: How to be a campaigner and a governor – lessons from Johnson’s time as London’s mayor

16 Nov

Amy Selman was policy adviser to Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London from 2010-2016.

Much was written about the personalities of the key players within Downing Street this week – and the consequent drama and intrigue captures the interest of the Westminster classes.

Less headline-grabbing are the methods of working which may also need a refresh in order to reassure Conservative MPs that the Prime Minister’s team is working for one of their ultimate goals – re-election in their constituencies.

It is too glib to say that campaigners can’t deliver in government. MPs know this because of the impressive record of many of their local council leaders, who tend to stay in office for longer, and run successful re-election campaigns.

In London as Mayor, Boris Johnson snapped up key local leaders, from Stephen Greenhalgh, Mike Freer and Theresa O’Neill (then leaders of Hammersmith & Fulham, Barnet and Bexley councils respectively), to replicate at the city level what they had done for their boroughs.

This team, managed first by Simon Milton as Chief of Staff, and then by Edward Lister, helped the Mayor run a united team of both civil servants and politicians. Some observations:

Gearing everything towards delivery – publish a traffic light system

The first is that the machinery of government can and wants to work for you, and the best way to consolidate that is through your manifesto.

Leaders are elected on a platform, and the civil service’s duty is to help execute it. A focus on delivering policies that voters chose is key to getting the machinery working. At City Hall, this was done by a diligent senior team who produced a monthly traffic light scoresheet for each 2012 manifesto commitment, and brought those in charge of implementing it to an Investment and Performance Board, with minutes that were almost wholly public.

This meant some difficult conversations both with heads of such agencies as Transport for London, and with the Deputy Mayors appointed to oversee them, but the process both integrated the teams and served as red flags when commitments were under threat.

The traffic light system was not always the favourite part of people’s work – more exciting, glamorous comms opportunities would capture daily headlines  – but the Chief of Staff and Permanent Secretary ensured that this core business had to be met first.

Adapt delivery for campaigning materials – so providing a record

The Board papers allowed the political team to extrapolate for London’s Conservative MPs achievements they could use in campaigning materials, such as those that CCHQ provided borough versions of newsletters.

Conservative MPs need regular red meat – material they can use to campaign on a record. Progress on manifesto commitments are the way to provide that, regardless of daily stories that blow hot and cold. Donors, too, want to see a scorecard that can reassuree them that core policies are being worked on.

Brand your successes.

Johnson’s team also instigated the appropriate branding for schemes – such as, at the insistence of Richard Blakeway, one of the Deputy Mayors, that all new part-funded Homes for London were attributed to the Mayor’s office as well as the private housebuilder.

There is a current debate about this practice in relation to UK Government schemes in Scotland.  It should be settled immediately: if taxpayer money is being spent in any part of the UK, the brand of Her Majesty’s Government must be displayed.

Adapt set pieces with bitesize briefings for MPs to use

Set pieces such as the Budget are another amalgamation of campaigning and governing. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne was a master of this fusion, and would pass on long shopping lists from London to civil servant teams, which would then whittle it down to list concrete commitments.

One example is the Long-Term Economic Plan for London of 2015, which adapted the work of the independent London Finance Commission – triangulating between Whitehall, local enterprise partnerships and other regional demands that the then Government was facing to ensure a fair share of investment.

Bitesize briefings based on the LTEP ensured that the huge sums pledged by the Treasury could be translated into local schemes and MP campaigning wins – such as nine new housing zones and two new tube stations. Mayors and regional MP leaders have a huge role to play in similar processes, and should feel that they are working with others as one team all along.

Create a network of insiders at all Party ranks

As Mayor, one of Johnson’s most frequent requests was: ‘what’s happening?’

These were not idle queries” rather, he created a network of allies to help respond to whatever target audiences were talking about: advisers and senior civil servants on forensic London issues; Tory MPs on constituent postbag audits (along with the gossip from dining clubs and the terrace), local council activists on doorstep concerns.

Remember who put you there – so get out and about.

Machiavelli wrote that “he who becomes a prince through the favour of the people should always keep on good terms with them”.  Jonathan Powell’s twentieth century addition was “and if his popularity goes down, his party becomes restless”.

For a mayor known only by his first name, the key to keeping on good terms was to get out and about. In a non-Covid-19 world, I’m sure that we would have seen a Prime Minister Johnson out and about in high streets across the country.

The rotating local London People’s Question Times, as with David Cameron’s Cameron Directs, created a discipline of looking at how wider policies were improving specific areas.

Instead of talking about body-worn cameras or free school places in the abstract, we would have to produce the figures for a borough and explain the exact nature of their benefits.

This helped local campaigners, along with such activities as the boost of a star-power walk, opening of one of London’s 100 new Pocket Parks or regeneration flagships such as Battersea Power station. There was never any tension at the dual nature of these events, with political visits coupled to official events -and Ministers are itching to get back to this even in a virtual world.

Respect the Grid, but don’t expect it to deliver key messages to target audiences

City Hall straddles – without fully controlling – policy areas, agencies and delivery bodies. Whitehall of course has this writ far larger. So the temptation to try and centralise announcements is natural: but in London, it rarely worked seamlessly, and with the audiences the Mayor wanted.

The grid is really a tool for journalists and Westminster, not for voters. It is important, especially if a key audience is the Tory backbenches, who need a Minister for The Today Programme, Newsnight and social media. To get to the voters, a string of random announcements on a topic such as transport should be consolidated into key messages repeated – which meansresisting the need to feed the news cycle beast.

Use the authentic voice – no-one writes to connect like Johnson

The style and reach of Johnson’s Monday Daily Telegraph column did more to focus on priorities than set speeches in warehouses or hard-hatted engineering visits.

Not that it was always disciplined: we would often reassure Numbers 10 and 11 on a Sunday that he would publicly support a new NHS or tax initiative…only for Monday morning’s paper to be a musing on ski holidays or working habits

But the Mayor’s authentic voice though cut through to core voters. And it became clear that when other Ministers wrote diary columns – in the Spectator for the Tory faithful, or in Grazia for new audiences – these would get far more discussion than press release columns.

After a difficult period that no post-war Prime Minister has had to grapple with, a refocus on what the Conservative Party promised voters in 2019, and how each constituency will feel the benefits, would help the Government to regroup. Time to return both governing and the campaign to Tory ground.

Peter Craske: Community pride in Bexley is stronger than ever

28 Aug

Cllr Peter Craske is the Cabinet Member for Places on Bexley Council.

This has been a hard time for everyone, but in Bexley one of the most positive things has been seeing our community come together, even more than we usually do. In the first week of lockdown, our volunteer bureau asked for help, and within a few days over 600 residents signed up.

I was one of them, and I spent two months as part of a group of people delivering hot food to vulnerable residents across the Borough.

For those residents, living alone but used to seeing lots of friends or family regularly, or just being able to say hello to their neighbours, this has been a very difficult time, suddenly faced with being on their own all the time.

Our daily visits became of huge importance for them, someone to talk to for one thing, but also it gave them comfort that, even if no-one else could drop food or goods over, they would get a hot meal everyday. If they needed anything, whether that was essential supplies or medicines collected, we could report that back to the central hub and it would be dropped round. That Hub was also supported by another group of volunteers as well as brilliant Council staff who played a key role in getting essential supplies and food to those who needed it.

For a Conservative borough, like Bexley, community spirit has always been the bedrock of what makes our borough tick, and every day thousands of people volunteer in all sorts of ways, from running charities to organising Scout or Brownie packs. It is just that this crisis has really brought this to the forefront, and we have lots of new volunteers helping out.

One example has been the reaction to the frankly upsetting amounts of litter that has been dropped in parks, even though there are plenty of bins to use. It has been an issue across the country of course – think of the scenes at Bournemouth Beach – but here, while a few people moaned about it on social media while, of course, never actually doing anything to help, we’ve set up a new Parks Volunteer Service, and in the first week of it being launched, 130 residents signed up, to help pick up litter.

They were astonished at the sheer volumes of litter a small minority of people were dropping and even though our parks have plenty of bins and we doubled the number of crews emptying them and picking up litter from the ground, they could see that despite our commitment it was proving an immense challenge – and they wanted to help.

This is both fantastic and unsurprising.

When we set up our Community Litter Picking scheme three years ago, we were unsure how it would go, but we now have over 350 people taking part and making a difference.

Pride in our Borough and standing together as a community has always been a fundamental part of what makes Bexley such a great place, and one of the reasons why 75 per cent of residents recommend it to others as a place to live.

Naturally not everyone agrees with this. Bexley’s Labour Councillors, fresh from a fourth landslide defeat, and who believe it is the role of the state to do everything all the time, opposed the creation of these types of schemes. At a recent Council meeting, one Labour councillor actually condemned volunteering projects like this as a “cheapskate charter.”

But, as with everything else they do, Labour’s sneering attitude remains firmly in the minority.

The real spirit of our Borough, which is encapsulated in our “Do it For Bexley” message, is seen by everyone who rolls up their sleeves, getting on with life, making the community better for everyone.