I've said before on this blog that the nuts and bolts of local authority politics can squeeze the enthusiasm out of even the most hardened campaigners. But it is crucially important that all those leaflets, all the time talking to you on your doorstep, and all those votes actually achieves something for the people of this borough. It's been just over four months since the people of Southwark voted for a change in who runs their council. So, has it made any difference?
Southwark Labour was elected on a manifesto of creating a fairer, more equal borough and giving people a council that provided good quality services. Whilst doing this Southwark Labour is also having to contend with 25% + cuts to our budget made by the Coalition Government.
Given this context, I've listed below Labour's top 10 achievements in Southwark since 6th May. Labour has:
1. Entered a Regeneration Agreement for the £1.5 billion redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle - a deal which includes a minimum guarantee of 25% of affordable housing - following eight years of Lib Dem dither and delay;
2. Taken steps to pilot (in November) our pledge to provide every primary school pupil with a free healthy school meal;
3. Published Fire Risk Assessments for all council blocks in the borough following the tragic Lakanal fire in July 2009, in order to provide reassurance to worried residents;
4. Cut councillors allowances in order to save over £70,000 for use on front-line services;
5. Agreed a set of principles which will guide our budget-making decisions and ensure that we deliver on our manifesto commitments, rather than becoming overwhelmed by the Government's cuts. This includes given residents and backbench councillors more say over how decisions will be made.
6. Established a Democracy Commission to produce a report on how we make our council meetings and procedures more open and accessible;
7. Introduced tough new measures to limit the amount the Council spends on external consultants;
8. Commenced work on plans to regenerate Camberwell, Nunhead and Peckham – areas ignored for the past eight years;
9. Taken steps to prevent any development on vital green spaces in the borough at Nursery Row and Brayard’s Green in Nunhead;
10. Agreed to pilot food waste recycling across the borough – five years ahead of the Lib Dem’s timetabled introduction.
None of these achievements would have occurred if thousands of people in Southwark hadn't chosen to vote Labour on 6th May. It's become fashionable to say that politics doesn't make a difference. The list above shows that, even in these early days, Labour in Southwark has been able to make some really worthwhile changes.
There is another important difference which a Labour administration has brought to Southwark which isn't as easy to spot over a short period but which, in the long-term, is going to be incredibly important. Southwark now has a group of Cabinet members and councillors in control who aren't afraid to take responsibility for their actions and to make difficult (sometimes very difficult) decisions. As a new councillor it's been striking to see the Liberal Democrat Opposition consistently duck out of taking a firm position on a whole range of issues. It is partly this approach which lead to so many important decisions being kicked into the bureaucratic long grass during their eight years of running the council. So, of course, there are differences of policy and values in how Labour runs the council, but perhaps just as importantly, there is a difference in competence.