HOW WESTMINSTER LABOUR HAS SUCCEEDED IN GETTING THE CONSERVATIVES TO IMPLEMENT MANY OF LABOUR’S 2018 MANIFESTO COMMITMENTS
In the run-up to the 2018 Westminster City Council Elections, Westminster Labour campaigned on a wide range of issues to secure improvements in local housing, planning and environmental matters. These commitments were set out in an ambitious but deliverable Labour manifesto for those elections, building on years of work putting pressure on the council.
Again and again, the Conservatives ignored Labour’s calls for action and, in some cases, even denied that a problem existed.
However, the results of the elections were a huge wake-up call for the Conservatives. Labour won its first ever seat in the West End, won two more seats in Maida Vale and won its first seat in Bayswater for almost 30 years. Overall, Labour won over 40% of the votes, less than 2% behind the Conservatives.
Immediately following the elections, the Conservatives realised that Labour’s popular and practical policies struck a strong chord with residents and started to implement many of Labour’s manifesto promises.
There is no doubt that since May 2018, Labour is leading the way on many aspects of the Council’s actions. There is no doubt that a Labour Council would have transformed life for so many Westminster residents. But, less than 18 months later, the Conservatives have followed Labour’s lead on the following 15 key issues:
- City West Homes scrapped
Labour’s Manifesto promise – “Labour is deeply concerned about the declining performance of CityWest Homes, particularly following the recent debacles over the introduction of the new call centre and the Morgan Sindall repairs contract. Labour will put CityWest on notice that if its performance does not rapidly improve it will be removed from managing Westminster’s Council properties.”
The Conservative record – For over a year, before and immediately after the election, the Conservatives ignored Labour’s calls for action and, in some cases, even denied that a problem existed. All we heard was first, a denial that there was a problem with City West Homes’ performance, and then, ‘warm words’ that action would be taken. Then, when the problems got worse, they blamed tenants and leaseholders for exaggerating the problems and blamed Labour Councillors for ‘making them up” – unanswered calls, failure to respond to emails, promised repairs not completed, botched repairs, complaints about unbelievably sky-high major works bills and more.
Now – In September 2018, Westminster City Council announced plans to bring its housing service back in house. The Cabinet Member for Housing said:
“We believe there is no option now other than to bring the management of council housing under the Council’s direct control. We believe that this will be the most effective way of driving through the improvements that our residents need to see.”
- Property outside Westminster sold
Labour’s Manifesto promise – “Under Labour Westminster Council will no longer build or buy homes for permanent tenancies outside Westminster, such as the recent purchase of properties in Hounslow.”
Now – In September 2019, Westminster City Council announced plans to sell the 24 homes in Hounslow it bought in 2016. Labour will continue to press the Council to stop purchasing properties outside Westminster.
- Empty Property Rates premium raised from 50% to 100%
Labour’s Manifesto promise – “Labour will fully use the Empty Property Premium on Council Tax and campaign for its level to be increased.”
The Conservative record – Labour has been campaigning for the Empty Property Premium to be raised to 100% for many years, but at every turn it was opposed by the Conservatives. In December 2012, Conservative Councillor Melvyn Caplan, cabinet member for Finance, said:
“We think that charging more than 100 per cent is penalising people, given that council tax is meant to be a charge for services you receive. Plus, you could waste a fortune trying to find out if properties are empty or not.”
In July 2014, Councillor Daniel Astaire, Conservative cabinet member for Housing, said:
“We don’t think the Empty Homes Premium works. Privately owned property is owned for a number of reasons by a number of people and it’s not our part to interfere. The way to build homes is not to tax existing homes and stop people investing and buying in our city. We are a low-tax borough, we are proud of being a low-tax borough and we don’t think this [the premium] will make any meaningful difference in the city.”
Now – In February 2019, Westminster City Council agreed to raise the Empty Property Premium from 50% to 100%:
“The current 50% premium on the Council’s 156 properties that have been empty for over 2 years provides around £48k per annum in additional Council Tax income. The 2019/20 Council Tax Discounts and Council Tax base report presented to Cabinet in December 2018 included a recommendation increase the premium in 2019/20 from 50% to 100% will double this figure to £96K (based on the current profile of empty properties in the borough).”
- Planning Committee meeting open to residents to speak
Labour’s Manifesto promise – “Labour will enable residents to present their case at planning committee meetings, as they are able to do in almost all other Councils.”
The Conservative record – In April 2015, Labour Councillors put down the following motion at the Council meeting:
“This Council agrees to allow the public to speak at the weekly Westminster Planning Committee meetings – in the same way as the public are allowed to speak at practically every other Planning Committee in London and the rest of the UK. This would be a small but significant step forward in the process of restoring public confidence in local democracy in Westminster.”
All Conservative Councillors voted against Labour’s motion.
- A Planning (Major Applications) Sub-Committee established
Labour’s Manifesto promise – “Labour will create a Strategic Planning Committee to decide major planning applications, with a larger than normal membership to prevent major applications being dominated by the whims of over-powerful individual councillors.”
Now – In October 2018 Westminster City Council established a Planning (Major Applications) Sub-Committee
- New rules on accepting hospitality from developers
Labour’s Manifesto pledge – “Labour Councillors will work to achieve the highest standards of propriety on planning matters, and unlike the practice of Conservative Councillors over many years; we will not accept hospitality from individual developers and their agents.”
The Conservative record – Westminster former Deputy Leader and Planning Committee Chairman Robert Davis “Received gifts or hospitality from property firms involved in half of the planning applications his committee ruled on in 2016, an investigation revealed”. He chaired the planning committee for 17 years but a detailed analysis of the 120 planning applications he considered in 2016 showed he was entertained by the applicant or their agents in 63 cases, and his committee granted permission on all but five of those occasions. One Tory councillor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Developers treated Davis like Louis XVIth when he walked in the room. They gave him platforms to speak on and introduced him to their most famous friends. They treated him like a god.”
Now – In October 2018, Davis resigned from the Council and “the Cabinet agreed all members and officers are to be reminded regarding the clear rules on gifts and hospitality.
- Soho Special Policy Area declared
Labour’s Manifesto promise – “Labour understands that the character and future of the wider West End is under threat due to over-commercialisation, and that bold measures are needed to reverse this decline and protect the West End’s unique character. Labour will look at how the Council’s special policy area framework can be used to protect a wider range of building uses such as live music venues in Soho, Chinese and East Asian cultural activities in Chinatown, and LGBTI venues near Old Compton Street. We will also support the implementation of the new ‘agent of change’ regulations to protect longstanding venues.”
- Car-free developments to be introduced
Labour’s Manifesto promise – “We would seek the introduction of new ‘car-free’ developments to tackle both air pollution and the housing crisis.”
Now – The current draft of the City Plan para 28.6 says “Given the high levels of public transport provision and accessibility to jobs, leisure and shopping facilities in Westminster, we have taken the view that new development should be predominantly car free.” Labour are still pushing the council to be more ambitious so that all new developments are fully car free (save for disabled provision) and to remove the loopholes being left in the City Plan.
- Youth Services funding partially restored
Labour’s Manifesto promise – “Labour will restore core funding to Westminster’s youth clubs to ensure they have the security and stability they need to plan for the future”
The Conservative record – Westminster Conservatives made cuts of 91% to youth services since 2014, more than nearly every other council in the country, research shows. Around £2.4 million was cut from the Youth Services budget.
As recently as May 2019, a Westminster Council spokesman said: “Huge cuts to local authority budgets by the government have led to difficult funding decisions for councils across the country in recent years, including on youth services.
Now – In June 2019, Westminster City Council agreed that, from September, the Council will spend £500,000 per year on youth clubs, sports clubs and training courses” after admitting it needs to “win back trust”.
- Rubbish dumping mobile app enhanced
Labour’s Manifesto promise – “Labour will also ensure the Council develops a smartphone App to make it easier for residents to raise concerns through its ‘report-it function’.”
Now – In August 2019, Westminster City Council “rolled-out a more simple and intuitive way for the public to report waste and highways issues, with more categories to be added in the coming months”
- London Living Wage agreed
Labour’s Manifesto promise – “As well as supporting the living wage through Council contracting, Labour will reform the way in which the Council procures its goods and services.”
The Conservative record – In April 2017, Westminster Labour Group called on Westminster Council to join 15 other London local authorities and the Greater London Authority in committing to pay the London Living Wage to all their staff and contractors. The Labour Group submitted a motion to Full Council on May 3rd 2017 that would require the Council to ensure that in any new contracts the Council ensures its contractors pay staff working for Westminster at least the London Living Wage. At the Council meeting all Conservative Councillors voted against Labour’s motion.
Now – In July, Westminster City Council adopted the London Living Wage for contractors after voting in favour of a Labour motion at full Council.
- 20mph speed limits on Westminster roads to be introduced
Labour’s Manifesto promise – “After years of Labour campaigning, Westminster Council is now introducing 20mph zones near the city’s schools. Labour will go further, in consultation with local residents, with the aim of introducing a 20mph speed limit on all residential roads.”
The Conservative record – In May 2011, Labour called on Westminster Council to introduce 20mph zones in traffic “hotspots”. This was opposed by the Conservatives.
In April 2014, Labour made a commitment to consulting Westminster residents on introducing 20mph speed limits on individual streets. This was opposed by the Conservatives.
Now – In September 2019, Westminster Council announced:
“We are proposing 20mph speed limits across the city in our drive to make Westminster a safer, healthier and cleaner environment for everyone. Reducing speeds reduces the severity of accidents and makes it safer to walk and cycle – helping improve public space and encourage healthier, more active lifestyles.”
- More Santander bike hire stations in north Paddington
Labour’s Manifesto promise – “Labour will work with TfL to expand the range of the Santander Cycle Hire Scheme across all of Westminster, utilising funds from CIL and Section 106 Agreements to help bring the scheme into new areas.”
Now – In September 2019, proposals to expand the Santander cycle scheme to north Paddington were announced. Westminster City Council’s Transport Officer has applied for Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) funding for 3 new Santander Cycle Hire stations which will be part of the North West Westminster Cycle Hire expansion. The following three sites have been identified for the location of the docking stations:
- Harrow Road/Bravington Road
- Maida Hill Market
- Harrow Road/Sutherland Avenue
The results for the CIL bids will be announced around November this year.
- Food Waste recycling trials introduced
Labour’s Manifesto promise – “Labour…will explore opportunities where appropriate to support community composting and the recycling of food waste.”
The Conservative record – At the Council meeting on 23rd January 2019, Cabinet Member for the Environment Councillor Tim Mitchell, said he opposed introducing a food waste collection service for residents.
Now – In October 2019, the Council has announced it will be running food waste recycling pilots in Harrow Road, Vincent Square, Churchill, Abbey Road and Regent’s Park wards
- Support for a Tourist levy
Labour’s Manifesto promise – “We will work with other boroughs to campaign for the ability to introduce a small tourist levy, similar to that applied in other global cities, at a low daily rate that would apply to all hotels, B&Bs and lawful short-term rentals/Airbnb. The proceeds would be used to tackle illegal renting for short-term let (e.g. Airbnb), illegal subletting and to improve rubbish collection, public toilets and other elements of the city’s public realm.”
The Conservative record – In November 2018, the Council’s Deputy Leader said: “with uncertainty over Brexit, we understand that now is not the best time to implement a new tax.”
Now – In October 2019, the Leader of the Council wrote:
“Our conviction is a modest levy will help with that and not hit the tourism trade. The idea is that money raised would go straight into those services which make the City look attractive and therefore help boost tourism: for example, improved city management, more frequent street cleaning and better lighting.”