Damian White: Why filling in potholes in Havering is our priority

It is incumbent on all of us to spend less time moaning, and more time putting out energy into where we can get the best return on our limited resources.

Cllr Damian White is the Leader of Havering Council.

One issue that tends to dominate when talking about local government performance is the state of our roads.

The situation in many parts of the country is so bad that the AA has likened the situation to a ‘national emergency’. They reported that nine out of ten drivers say that there has been a significant deterioration in the past decade.

In our part of London in Havering, this a problem I know only too well. When my Conservative-led administration was elected last May, we inherited a situation where our residents told us that the state of our road and pavements, and particularly the proliferation of potholes, was their biggest concern.

In response, we have just agreed to spend £40 million over the next four years fixing the problem in what is one of the biggest road and pavement improvement programmes in the country.

This goes way beyond the £895,000 given to us by the Department of Transport, which has been useful in identifying short-term fixes. It is clear to me that we need to be focused on a much longer, more strategic, programme of road and pavement improvements to carry us over the next five years and beyond.

In doing so, we will be fixing 7.5 miles of roads and around 1,000 potholes a month on what is the second biggest road network in London.

What this shows is that, even during times of austerity, Conservative-led councils like mine can still champion the issues that matter to our residents the most. Investment in roads is much more than laying asphalt. It is about improving connectivity, building pride in where people live, and championing our borough as a place that is open for business when it comes to economic growth.

The investment is part of a much wider plan where we are being as clear as possible about what we want to achieve for our community over the next year and beyond. We used to call it a “Corporate Plan”, which is a terrible term because it suggests an inward-looking process which is more about the bureaucracy of the organisation than the place.

The Havering Plan is very outward-looking, carrying just four priorities, of which the road improvement is an integral part. The focus is on improving our neighbourhoods, by giving people a helping hand in life by ensuring that there is an appropriate safety net, making life better by creating new jobs, skills and business opportunities, and by making life easier through the investment in transport and digital connectivity, of which our £40 million investment programme is part.

By publishing our Havering Plan as an external (not internal) document, we are being as clear and transparent as possible with our community about how their council is spending their money. In many ways, our community has helped to shape our plan.

The Havering Plan embodies the principles of what I believe are the foundations of every good Conservative council: a dedication to providing value for money and keeping council tax increases low, ensuring that people are proud of where they live, setting an environment in which people can fulfil their ambitions, and providing a safety net through investment in children and adult social care.

Like all councils, we know that we need more money to do the job. Local government has taken the brunt of the Government’s austerity agenda, but it is incumbent on all of us to spend less time moaning, and more time putting out energy into where we can get the best return on our limited resources. In Havering, our sleeves are rolled up delivering on that premise.

A snap election and a Tory nightmare. Losing seats in London without gaining them elsewhere.

The point here is the electoral trade-off between what could plausibly happen in the capital and the provinces – with Corbyn entering Downing Street in consequence.

Someone senior at CCHQ really doesn’t want a general election any time soon.  He or she has told the Sun that the Conservatives would lose a snap poll “because they are woefully underprepared to fight one”.  Other highlights from the story: “secret party projections instead put Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10, at the helm of a rainbow coalition government including the SNP and the Lib Dems”; CCHQ’s database “is badly out of date” and “the Tories currently don’t even have an opinion polling firm under contract”.

All this helps to flesh out answers to some of the questions we asked last weekend about how Downing Street, CCHQ and the Party more widely would cope with a sudden election.  Some of them were about the manifesto – such as what on earth it would say about Brexit policy, and whether both Leavers and Remainers would revolt.  Others were about the machine, and were at least as pressing.  The Party has got used to outsourcing its general election campaigns.  Who would run one now were a poll to happen?  Lynton Crosby is reported to be advising Boris Johnson.  In any event, he is implicated in the 2017 bungled campaign.  Furthermore, there’s no evidence that – in the absence of up to date data – he would grasp at such a poisoned chalice in any event.

The Sun also cites “analysis by centre-right think tank Onward”: “of the 317 seats that the Tories won in 2017, 40 are held by a margin of five per cent or smaller – and Labour hold second place in 35 of them”.  Will Tanner, its Director, is quoted, but it may be worth noting that a member of the think-tank’s advisory board is one of the few Conservative strategists who emerged from the last election with his reputation enhanced.  James Kanagasooriam sits on it.  He helped to mastermind the Tory advance in Scotland.

Let’s try to bring some of the figures that Tanner quotes to life.  Here are the Conservative-held seats in Greater London together with their majorities:

  • Hornchurch and Upminster: 17,723
  • Old Bexley and Sidcup: 15,466
  • Beckenham: 15,087
  • Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner: 13,980
  • Romford: 13,778
  • Sutton and Cheam: 12,698
  • Croydon South: 11,406
  • Bromley and Chiselhurst: 9,590
  • Bexleyheath and Crayford: 9,078
  • Chelsea and Fulham: 8,188
  • Wimbledon: 5,622
  • Uxbridge and Ruislip South: 5,034

  • Cities of London and Westminster: 3,148
  • Chingford and Wood Green: 2,438
  • Harrow East: 1,757
  • Finchley and Golders Green: 1,657
  • Putney: 1,554
  • Hendon: 1,072
  • Chipping Barnet: 353
  • Richmond Park: 45

Now what follows must be heavily qualified – not least by recognising, at the start, that those who write political commentary tend to live in or near London, which can distort their perspective on Britain as whole.

Here are some other cautionary notes.  Were there to be a Liberal Democrat revival in parts of Greater London, it would be likely to depress Labour’s vote more than the Conservatives’.  Local factors matter: so, for example, the Jewish vote in parts of north-west London make the Party’s prospects in Finchley & Golders Green, Hendon and Chipping Barnet a bit better than they look on paper.  And some of the MPs who hold Greater Londom seats are strong constituency campaigners.

None the less, let us as a rough starting-point count any seat in this list with a majority of less than 5000 as a marginal.  Were Labour (plus the Liberal Democrats in one case) to take them all, the Party would lose the following from a new Parliament: Zac Goldsmith, Theresa Villiers, Matthew Offord, Justine Greening, Mike Freer, Bob Blackman, Iain Duncan Smith and Mark Field.  Stephen Hammond and Boris Johnson would be on the cusp.

Essentially, the Party could be left with one constituency in inner London – Chelsea and Fulham – and a string of seats in outer London that sometimes identify more with the counties that border them than the capital.

This takes us to the crunch.  Obviously, not all of Greater London is Remain Central.  Some boroughs voted to Leave the EU in 2016: Barking and Dagenham, Bexley, Sutton, Havering and Hillingdon.  Others’ backing for Remain was not emphatic: so in Newham, for example, Remain took 53 per cent of the vote.

None the less, London bucked the national trend and voted Remain – scooping more than 70 per cent of the poll in some areas.  And Labour’s policy is now creeping Remainwards – towards extending Article 50, for example.  This is likely to act as a minus to the party in much of provincial Britain but as a plus most of London.

You will point out that a snap general election might not be swung by Brexit at all: after all, the last one wasn’t.  But the capital has been trending to Labour in any event.  In 2015, its share of the vote in the capital increased by 7.1 per cent points compared with 2010. This was the largest increase in Labour’s share of the vote in any nation or region of the UK.

In short, it’s plausible to imagine, in the event of a snap poll, Brexit not helping the Conservatives much in provincial Britain, but it harming them to a significant degree in London.  Nationally, it would shed lots of former Remain voters without gaining many new Leave ones.  Kanagasooriam is certainly alive to the possibility.

Which is why, in the ideal world that doesn’t exist, the Party is best off getting past March 29, presuming no extension; electing a new leader to set a firm direction for trade talks (or wider negotiations in the event of No Deal), and building a truly national appeal during the run-up to 2022.  Whoever gave the Sun its story seems to be thinking in the same way.

Damian White: An independent report has found that four of the five most efficient councils in England are Conservative

In Havering, we have saved £79 million over the past four years. Yet we have improved the lives of the people we serve,

Cllr Damian White is the Leader of Havering Council.

A major report has just been published which reveals the country’s most effective councils.

For years now, the word ‘efficiency’ has often been used when trying to determine the country’s best councils and it is no real surprise that that same old names come up – often linked to low council tax.

This report is different.  Rather than looking at ‘efficiency’ alone, it focuses on what councils have been achieving for the money that is available. In others words, how are councils using the limited resources at their disposal to improve the lives of the people they serve?

It may not be a surprise to people here to learn that four of the five best councils in the UK are Conservative-led councils, but what may surprise you is the names of them:  Leicestershire, East Riding of Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and, my own, Havering.

They may not be the traditional flagship Conservative-led councils, but they are the ones leading the way when it comes to getting best bang for our buck.

The council performance index has been published in an index by IMpower which measures productivity.  Havering, it says, is the most effective council in London and fifth overall in the country.

The report says:

“Despite the challenges, some local authorities are managing to outperform their peers, achieving better outcomes for less money.

“The index enables us to answer, pound for pound, which councils are spending their money most effectively and getting the best outcomes for citizens.”

Specifically, it measures outcomes against resources through six different lenses: children’s social care; older people; all age disability; health and social care interface; housing and homelessness; and waste and recycling.

The report shows that councils like mine are doing much more than keeping the lights on. Translated, the performance measures shed a light on services that makes such a difference to people’s lives. From making sure that carers have the right support in place to look after loved ones, through to ensuring that that the right help is in place when elderly people are discharged from hospital. From helping looked-after children to reach their full potential through to safely reducing the number of children in our care by providing greater levels of support to families experiencing problems.

Often this kind of work is out of the public’s gaze unless there is a catastrophic failure – but it is the type of work that makes such a difference.

What are we doing differently in Havering? We have a laser-like focus on making sure that every single penny is spent in the most effective way. In short, austerity has forced us to think this way. It has forced us to look at new ways of delivering services and new ways to boost productivity.

However, this way of thinking has not had a detrimental impact on our community – quite the opposite.

That is why Havering, even though we have had to save £79 million over the past four years, is on an improvement curve rather than a downturn when it comes to improving the lives of local people.

I am not suggesting that we are at the end of the journey in Havering – far from it. The reality is that we have only just started the journey and there is still much more work to do. Yet this report buries the Labour myth that you cannot take out cost while still being effective.