As I look forward to the year ahead, I feel it is important to reflect on the year we have shared since I became Leader of the Council last January. It was an unquestionably fast-paced first year in the job. Events such as the Westminster Bridge attack and other major incidents across the country have tested our capability, but we should be proud of how Westminster responded every time. Most obviously, the council supported the response to the Grenfell Tower fire in June. We are still yet to fully understand how the world of local government and public services will change as a result of this tragedy but I know we will adapt and change as the far reaching implications of this tragedy become clearer.
As well as responding to challenges during 2017, we have also taken positive and proactive action for the people of Westminster. In the last year we have set out new policies which will increase the number of affordable and social homes across the city.
Throughout 2018, you will hear more from the Council about our My Westminster programme of activity to bring our neighbourhoods together and further improve the city for residents, businesses and visitors.
We will shortly be launching the My Westminster Fund for community groups to bid into with proposals to strengthen cohesion across the city. The My Westminster Club will be rolled out for the benefit of our thirteen to fifteen year olds. It is designed to broaden the horizons of our young people by encouraging them to take part in cultural or sporting activities, volunteer to make a difference to local good causes and access high quality work experience with the most inspirational and iconic employers in the city most iconic employers.
I have set this direction because I believe we have to continually challenge ourselves to make Westminster a better place to live and focus. For Westminster City Council, 2018 will bring a renewed emphasis on creating a city where all can achieve, not just the fortunate few.
You may have also seen that we are taking a strong new stance against irresponsible and rogue landlords. The law allows people to let their property for up to 90 days in a calendar year and I have no problem with people short-term letting on this basis. I am however, determined to tackle those involved in ‘nightly letting’ properties are let out all year round on a commercial basis, frequently for one-to-two nights at a time. Our Housing Standards Task Force will consider all possible angles for prosecution where we suspect people are illegally or irresponsibly letting their properties out. We will also partner with major landowners and managing agents to ensure those who do choose to let their properties on a short-term basis do so in line with the law and without damaging the wider residential community.
Finally, we are taking action to support the more than 25,000 Westminster residents who are registered as EU nationals. I have been clear that people who have chosen to move to Westminster and make their home here should be made to feel as welcome as possible to remain in the UK after the country leaves the European Union next March. We have launched a support service in partnership with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and we will be running a series of public events during 2018 to information reassure our residents affected by the decision to leave the EU about their rights and status in the UK.
Of course 2018 will bring new challenges as well as fresh opportunities. But I am confident that we are well placed to meet these challenges and continue to improve the City of Westminster and I look forward to growing our already strong partnership throughout 2018.
I hope you enjoy a prosperous and happy New Year.