Wandsworth Council leader Ravi Govindia on the good, the bad and the ugly of the past four years in town hall
The leader of Wandsworth Council Councillor Ravi Govindia has spoken to the Wandsworth Guardian about the good the bad and the ugly of the past four years running Town Hall.
Why should people continue voting for Wandsworth’s Tories?
“Our track record is an important place to start with. We have delivered on our pledges for nearly four decades and that’s something the electorate can trust us to continue to deliver.
“What does it cost to run a local authority and what is the quality of the service? We have maintained a low council tax, pledged to continue that and we continue to grow and improve our services. At a time when financial pressure is tight we have to find new ways of both saving and providing services.”
What are you most proud of over the last four years?
"The Northern Line extension. Getting that accepted at every level of Government. A billion pounds of private finance to deliver a major public infrastructure project is an absolutely cracking good outcome for the council. And that will start delivering - it will be an asset for generations to come.
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"I think on a more human level I'm incredibly proud of the work our troubled families team has done. These are absolutely first rate, dedicated council officers genuinely working right at the bottom of everyone's lives.
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"Waking up children and taking them to school so they don't miss out on school. I’m not doing it, I realise that, council staff are doing it. But it’s the political drive behind it and political commitment to it which I know means an awful lot to council staff delivering those very critical services.
“The third thing is the transformation in our schools. We have a growing number of outstanding schools, we have a growing number of good schools. Our primary schools, first second and third preferences - well over 87 per cent of parents actually get.” (87.4 per cent of pupils were given their first second or third choice of primary school in 2014)
“In both of them, just over 50 per cent have got their first preference and then second and third preference make up the remainder of the difference.
"But what we have said by way of a commitment to parents in Earlsfield is that we will make sure that from early this week we will be starting to make offers that are suitable because we are working with schools to help out in what is a bit of a bulge type of crisis.
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“We have grown every primary school where there is capacity to expand and will continue to make sure that each area there is pressure in primary school numbers that there is a strategy to alleviate that pressure.
"We’ve got a new school planned in Earlsfield, we’ve got a new school planned in Thamesfield and we’ve got a new school in Tooting. And of course there are also emerging free schools which provide that additional capacity that we need.”
Have the cuts to public services been a success and will they continue?
“The first thing to understand is why we are where we are and that’s entirely to do with the way the economy was handled by the last government and consequently this government is shouldering quite a stiff burden in repairing the nation’s finances.
“We’ve saved £85m and we’ve declared our hand as to what more we need to do – easily another £40m is what we need to look for in terms of savings in the course of the next administration. (In December the council announced it must save £43m by 2015)
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“So the challenge remains and I think the solutions are like what we have done so far and again make sure that we haven’t left any stone unturned to find the efficiencies and savings that always exist in a big bureaucracy like a local council. There is always scope for doing things differently and providing a saving.”
Are the huge golden handshakes to council staff justified in a time of austerity?
“Brent is a local authority I know Councillor Osborn is fond of because the former chief executive of Brent did the independent commission report for them. They paid twice as much in redundancy pay over the last administration, here and there, so it’s not true to say that we pay more than others do because we don’t.
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“The figures I gave in the council questions on Wednesday said between 2012 and 2013 in redundancy payments paid out £4.8m whereas Brent paid £10.1m.
“So you know well under half Brent’s payments is what we did. The important thing about council staff is that people have worked for Wandsworth for decades.
“One of them joined the council in 1975. This long dedicated service means they have given virtually all their working life to a local authority and of course the longer you stay in a job your actual pay is higher because you climb up the promotions ladder. Therefore what looks like overpayment is earned payment through decades of service.”
Will there be moves to change these big handouts?
“Because of the situation this council, like every council, faces on finances we are going to have to look at everything and you know I have said to the chief exec ‘there’s nothing in the council that does not need to be looked at in order to find the savings’. Everything is on the table.”
Labour has suggested Wandsworth could sell its town hall in the future. Should you?
“It’s a bit like saying sell off your record collection because you don’t play all your records at the same time.
“This is a listed building. There has got to be something about pride in your civic institutions and just selling this building doesn’t mean our financial problems will be over tomorrow – they haven’t thought through where would we go next?
Wandsworth town hall
“How would that impact on the delivery of services to our population. Wandsworth Town Hall is right in the centre of the borough. It is reachable from everywhere and every direction by buses and trains.
“They haven’t also thought through that because it is a listed building in the middle of a one-way system it has a very different value. There are other local authorities that have sold and moved on to office blocks and things like that and actually haven’t delivered the kind of savings that they thought they were promised. Next door Lambeth isn’t selling its town hall.
“The Labour Party used to talk about selling the family silver once upon a time and thought it was a bad thing to sell family silver. I don’t see that it’s a good thing to sell family silver when it’s in Wandsworth.”
Should Wandsworth sell the town hall? Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org
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