QUESTION AND ANSWER
You’ve asked me a few questions during the campaign which I’d like to offer my thoughts on.
Q You are the only councillor we ever seem to hear of or hear from – are we missing something?
A No. The Council has published the number of questions the 60 councillors raised on behalf of local residents between October 2015 and September 2017 – basically the middle half of the 2014-2018 Council. The two West Hill councillors between them raised 23 questions on behalf of local residents – and took home over £42,000 in allowances for their troubles. This works out at over £1,800 per resident they tried to help. Incidentally I gather they got no criticism for the party leadership for this. One of the candidates for another party who is currently a councillor in another Ward did fewer than one case per week. It is not as though there is nothing needs doing in West Hill – in the same period I did over 2,500 bits of local casework on matters raised with me by your good selves or which I have seen during my walkabouts or in response to my newsletters.
Q Are Wandsworth services really as good as some people would have us believe – that is not what I see when I look at the potholes, the litter and so on?
A Wandsworth is a ‘failing’ council. Fifteen years ago Wandsworth was one of the top councils in the country – judged 4* (‘excellent’) for education, for social services and for overall standard of services. But, using the same criteria as were applied in those days, Wandsworth is now a 1* council. For over two years Wandsworth Children’s Services have been failing to look after our most vulnerable youngsters and has needed outside intervention. We have the highest proportion of adult care homes requiring improvement of any SW London Borough – ranked 21st out of 32 in London. We are the sixth worst authority in the COUNTRY for recycling – a pathetic 21.9%. Of course like every council we do some things well too: our schools are excellent, for example. (I was at Southmead Primary last week talking about local history – I had the pleasure of doing the same at Ronald Ross and Our Lady Queen of Heaven recently. What a great bunch of kids and teachers we have!) But even here many schools have had to appeal to parents for extra funds while St Cecilia’s now only does sport once a fortnight because budget cuts mean they can’t afford the staff. Overall we are not meeting the standard set by our neighbouring councils.
Q Do failing children’s services or relatively low-standard care homes really matter to this Council?
A Apparently not – how often have you any reference to putting these matters right in the pile of literature coming through your letterboxes? I have been sitting on the Improvement Board that the government has imposed on Wandsworth until we start looking after our children properly for the last two years and have managed to improve the quality of information being used but the lack of resources being made available is very depressing. It is simply not a priority.
Q Are you really ‘independent’?
A Yes. Over the last years I have voted with Labour and Conservatives (most things that come before Council are agreed by all parties); with the Conservatives against Labour; with Labour against the Conservatives; and against both Conservative and Labour. The reason I am independent is that I want to vote in favour of what I believe is the right thing, not what the Party tells me I have to think. So for example I voted against turning Battersea Park into a racetrack (that has stopped) and was the only councillor against imposing sprinklers in all our 10+ storey blocks against the wishes of residents (not stopped yet but getting close, I believe). I also proposed the motion asking our MPs to press the government to give full rights to our European Union national friends when neither Party saw fit to do so (though they all supported it in the end).
Q You are independent – what influence can you have as one voice among 60?
A When I went Independent I did presume I would lose influence over Council policy. Actually the opposite has happened: I am finding that one independent voice arguing on the basis of evidence (I am one of the very few councillors who is a scientist and is used to interpreting numbers) is more effective for the Ward than finding ourselves lumbered with three councillors in a group of 30 or 40 others who just have to parrot the Party line on everything.
Q Where do you stand on Council tax?
A Although there has been a lot of talk about it, Council Tax is really a bit of a red herring. Labour and Conservative have both said they will freeze it for two years and by law they could only raise it by an extra 2% (about 27p a week at Band D) – any more would need a local referendum which no Council has ever tried. I don’t personally think Labour’s spending plans stack up but if they don’t they won’t be able to balance the books by CT rises, it would have to be by different service cuts. However, I have come to a view that we should be raising it by that 27p a week – it would raise nearly an extra £2 million a year, not enough to answer all our failing services by any means but a move in the right direction, in my view. If we want clean streets, reasonable roads and, most of all, safe vulnerable children and adults then we have to be prepared to pay a fair sum for it.