Election 2014: Wandsworth Council opposition leader Rex Osborn says Labour can keep council tax low and stop cuts
The leader of the Wandsworth Labour group has reflected on the last four years in opposition and claims they could maintain Wandsworth's low council tax crown but also prevent the swathing cuts made to frontline services.
Last week the leader of Wandsworth Council, Ravi Govindia, gave his side of the good, the bad and the ugly of the last four years in power.
Why should people vote for their local labour candidates this election?
"For a Council which puts local services ahead of big bonuses for high paid town hall officials. We'll freeze Council Tax while setting a new agenda for the Council.
"We'd restore One O'Clock Clubs and Lollipop men and women scrapped by the Conservatives, and employ more staff to deal with littering, fly tipping and potholes.
Protesters against the loss of lollipop men and women
"We'd plan better to deliver new primary places in the areas where they're needed, and we'd give residents a greater say in the planning and development process so they can shape their neighbourhood and high streets - with greater protection for our local shops and pubs.
How has the last four years shaped/strengthened the opposition?
"Despite being outnumbered by the Tories on the Council, we've fought and won some important battles, such as stopping the Council charging children to play in Battersea Park, and ensuring York Gardens library stayed open.
Protesters in Battersea Park
"We've also exposed some big flaws in Council finances, and some opportunities - ways in which we could offer better services without spending more money."
Where do you think Wandsworth Council failed people over the last four years?
"The Council has cut services rather than tackled its addiction to high pay. Wandsworth has the highest paid Council chief executive in the country – earning more than £270,000 - and pays £3m in bonuses to top staff.
"The Tories have also been soft in allowing overdevelopment to run rampant in the borough; and more recently, they have seriously miscalculated how many primary school places are needed. Many parents are distressed to discover how hard it is to find a place for their child. This is a problem that the Wandsworth Tories created by selling off so many schools and letting them be turned into luxury flats."
How is it possible to keep council tax low and avoid these major cuts to public services the council have been hammering through (as pledged in Labour's manifesto)?
"We launched an independent commission, composed of local government experts, to look into Wandsworth Council’s finances - to help us develop a plan which is bold but cost-neutral.
"Council tax amounts to a tiny proportion of the budget in Wandsworth – less than 10per cent. Most of the Council’s money comes from central government grants and service charges. So as government grants are cut, councils are left with no choice but to make cuts.
"The difference under a Labour-run Council would be that we would start by tackling high pay and save money by working with other boroughs – rather than cutting valued frontline services.
"Our pledges on housing are not paid for out of council tax - there is a completely separate and very healthy source of funds earmarked for housing - nothing to do with council tax."
How would you cut £43m from the council's budget over the next year?
"There are some areas where money can be saved without damaging services - consolidating council sites more efficiently, and possibly in the long term selling the Town Hall and moving into more modern and efficient office facilities; stepping up the Council's co-operation with other boroughs to purchase services jointly – a move which the independent commission said could save tens of millions of pounds. And of course, we’d also phase out the excessive Town Hall bonus scheme, saving £3m a year."
Why should the council consider selling the town hall?
"The Town Hall is a beautiful, listed building, but it is old and not fit for purpose as a modern office. In a more modern facility, the council could get more staff and services under one roof, meaning we could also sell off some of the other facilities it owns.
Wandsworth Town Hall
"Wandsworth could raise funds from the sale, and move into more modern and efficient offices, no longer incurring the costs of maintaining a listed building. That would leave us more to spend on the things that matter to residents like local services."
The political establishment is frequently criticised for too few women and being mired in sexism.
However, the Labour Party is putting forward three female candidates in the Bedford ward and on Saturday, May 10, they held a rally campaigning specifically for women.
40 women turned up for the occasion, not just Labour Party members, but those who felt strongly about the serious problem of a lack of female representation in politics.
Sophia Parker, one of the Labour candidates for Bedford ward, said: 'Women want their voices to be heard about local issues and we need to do much more to make that happen. "The amazing number of women who turned up on Saturday, from all walks of life, shows how important this is."
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