Leader’s Speech, Full Council, 8 November 2017
Thank you Lord Mayor.
It is a privilege to be Leader of this great Council, and to give this speech, on the day we return democracy to this historic building.
Tonight is about more than setting a budget. Tonight is about believing in something. And being honest with people about what you do believe.
We believe in trusting the people we serve. They know best about how to run their lives, not the state.
We believe that the state does not always know best. But we have to protect vulnerable people and intervene when markets are clearly not working, for example in housing.
We believe that people should have the right to retain - and to spend - the money that they have earned for themselves.
And we fundamentally believe that everyone should have a right to participate in their community. Everyone should have a stake in the place that they call home.
We are the custodians of this City. No more than that.
We represent the whole of our community and we spend their money, not our money on services for the benefit of all.
And our services remain the best in local government.
The Budget we present this evening sets out how we prudently plan to spend more than eight hundred million pounds next year.
This Budget is built on our values. Quintessentially Westminster values. But above all honest values.
Last June, just four days after the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower, we held our first ever My Westminster community day.
I am intensely proud of how Westminster showed it is one united community that day. And we are going to build on this.
That is why, this evening, I am introducing three new strands to the My Westminster Programme.
The My Westminster Programme puts my values and beliefs into action.
It offers our residents practical and progressive ideas to strengthen community identity.
It offers big, bold initiatives which will focus on the things that are really important to our residents.
As I said, I trust the people we serve.
They know best about their lives not the state.
The My Westminster Fund puts to good use the money left over from this cycle of our successful ward budget programme.
Our taxpayer’s hard earned cash will be spent by them on projects they want.
Community groups will be able to bid for funding to deliver grassroots projects.
Projects which will:
New community projects, targeted at real problems, identified by the community itself.
It is because I believe in people that I believe in the power of the My Westminster Fund.
It will make a real difference to our city and the lives of those most in need.
This is community action, backed up by our outstanding council services.
Services which protect the vulnerable and step in when markets are not working.
The best example of a market which is failing to deliver for everyone is housing.
Earlier this year I set out a new approach to delivering affordable housing in the city.
I have made it clear to developers that; if you want to build in our city, you build for our city.
But we also have to do more to tackle Westminster’s rogue and irresponsible private landlords.
To do this, we will set up the My Westminster Housing Standards Task Force.
We will invest an additional two hundred thousand pounds to complement the money we recently won from government to tackle rogue landlords.
This crack new team will face down the worst offenders in the city.
I know the chaos that has been inflicted on many of our neighbourhoods by irresponsible short-term letting.
Of course, there are many people who legitimately and responsibly let out their homes to make some extra cash whilst they are away on holiday. I do not have an issue with people using their property in this way.
But there are some who treat short-term letting as an entirely commercial enterprise.
Lord Mayor, this evening I want to send a clear message to our residents. I get it.
We will no longer put up with short lets that now blight our neighbours on a near industrial scale.
I have warned before that ninety days means ninety days.
But the industry hasn’t listened. It has done nothing does nothing to curb its reckless abuse of our city.
So tonight I am announcing the enactment of the following, three point plan.
I will send the new My Westminster Housing Standards Task Force after those abusing the system.
The team will consist of officers from environmental health, trading standards, planning enforcement as well as City Inspectors.
And they will use all the tools at our disposal to go after those who neglect their responsibility to the rest of the neighbourhood.
We will conduct health and safety investigations.
We will enquire about insurance compliance.
We will issue fines.
In short, we will make it as difficult as possible to damage the lives of the residents and our neighbourhoods.
I will ask the Great Estates, who own vast swathes of the city, to sign up to a Considerate Landlords Charter.
Signatories will agree to drive irresponsible short letters out of their properties for good.
I will ramp up a lobbying campaign calling on the government to introduce a new tax on short-term letting.
It is unacceptable that a company that reportedly pays only two hundred thousand pounds a year in tax can cost a single local authority more than that in enforcement alone.
Politicians have to be brave. And, in delivering this three point plan, I am standing up for our city.
Lord Mayor, on Monday afternoon, I held a summit to come up with fresh ideas to tackle the challenges posed by our day-time street population.
In response to the concerns of residents and businesses, we are going to do more to support those on our streets to turn their lives around.
At the same time we will tackle the begging;
the street fouling;
and the anti-social behaviour issues witnessed by many of our neighbourhoods.
And tonight I am announcing an investment of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds to create the My Westminster Integrated Street Unit.
Modelled on our successful Integrated Gangs Unit, this new team will bring together council resources with those of our partners to tackle this mounting challenge.
Lord Mayor, whether you voted remain or leave, and like sixty nine percent of our residents I voted to remain, a significant number of our residents now feel worried about their future in the UK.
I strongly believe that we have an obligation to support the many thousands of EU citizens who call Westminster their home, and who contribute greatly to our city.
I take the obligation seriously and that is why I am launching a new My Westminster advice and support service to EU citizens living in Westminster who do not hold UK passports.
This service will help people navigate the British Citizen Application process, and offer general support and advice on their rights.
This service will be backed by fifty thousand pounds worth of investment, demonstrating our commitment to Westminster’s EU citizens.
My message is clear. For EU citizens in Westminster, nothing changed on the twenty third of June twenty sixteen; you remain our residents and valued members of our community.
We want you to continue to call our great city home and we are going to support you because you are part of who we are.
I am leading this council to stand up for ALL our residents and to provide exceptional services to the city.
For the same reason I am investing one hundred thousand pounds to kick start the My Westminster Club.
The Young Westminster Foundation has undertaken research which shows that twenty percent of our young people are not at all aware of the many opportunities open to them in Westminster.
As a mother of two Westminster children, I see our city through their eyes. And I believe we can improve our offer to their generation.
Designed with the expert insight of our outstanding Youth Council, the My Westminster Club will help our young people grow into exceptional Westminster citizens.
It will offer our teenagers:
Lord Mayor, I liken it to the outstanding Duke of Edinburgh Scheme... but without the camping!
But for all the investment we can make, we must always remember it is the people’s money; and we want people to be able to retain the money they earn, to spend it on what they want and need.
The people who need low council taxes the most are not the rich.
They are those who work hard to get by, and who aspire to live in a modern world class city.
That is why, a month ago, I proposed that Westminster residents who live on the most valuable real estate in the country could voluntarily double their council tax contribution.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the response I have received to the Westminster Community Contribution from across the social spectrum.
Tomorrow we will launch a formal consultation on the introduction of the community contribution for those residents living in houses worth over ten million pounds.
This is a trial, a bold experiment, but one that I hope many of our residents will support us with.
If we can generate enough income through a voluntary contribution from the wealthiest Westminster residents, we will be able to leave more money in the pocket of the vast majority of our residents.
This evening we set out three new strands of the three million pound My Westminster Programme.
I have outlined how we will invest:
But these are just the headlines. The My Westminster Programme is packed full of creative new initiatives. Some of which my Cabinet colleagues will outline this evening.
We offer Westminster a comprehensive programme of activity, underpinned by a sound budget.
Combined, these will help make Westminster a closer community;
It is a plan built on the solid foundation of our administration’s values. And values matter.
I promise to stick to these values as Leader of this Council.
And I am proud to put my name to the budget before you this evening, which I now commend to the chamber.