Monday saw the 31st council budget from a Liberal/Lib Dem administration in Sutton.
The budget was presented by Cllr Simon Wales, Deputy Leader and Lead Member for Resources, stating that, “Producing a budget is a team effort and I am grateful to all those who have played a part in getting us to this stage.”
To demonstrate this we had a total of 12 of our councillors contributing to the debate on the night. In contrast, and in these times of severe and significant pressure on council’s budgets affecting social care, schools and homelessness, the Conservative opposition had only two of their eight councillors with anything at all to say on the matter.
Even the two independent councillors felt the budget was important enough for them to contribute to the debate, even if Cllr Mattey’s fantastical ramblings took us off to La La Land.
My Lib Dem colleagues talked passionately about what the Government’s cuts meant for the services the council provides, and the innovative ways we have tried to mitigate the damage through shared services, new service delivery vehicles and targeted solutions. In particular Cllr Crossby welcomed the £1.25m that will be spent to transform Sutton’s performance in tackling domestic violence and abuse.
But it was Cllr Abellan’s speech that I felt summed up the way things are done under a Liberal Democrat administration. It is so good that I have reproduced it in full:
We’ve heard many great speeches so far tonight and if there is one clear message that stands out it’s that we are delivering value for money, working hard for every resident and keeping our borough one of the best places to live, work and raise a family.
But don’t just take my word for it. Our Ipsos Mori surveys continue to show remarkable levels of satisfaction with our services, our recent peer review demonstrated that we’re already one of the best Councils and if this wasn’t enough, last summer, Carshalton Central residents put their trust in us once again by electing Councillor Chris Williams.
Mr Mayor, this last year has seen another assault on local Government from this Tory Government but despite the challenges, we are proud to present a balanced budget this evening.
And the challenges have been great but we have rolled up our sleeves, got on with the job and as we’ve heard tonight, found innovative ways to deliver good value for money for all our residents.
Innovative by sharing services with other boroughs when necessary and by developing an approach that delivers the best outcomes for our residents. By finding millions of pounds of savings with a new waste contract that will help us to significantly increase our recycling rates.
Transformative by improving our partnerships and leading on the Sutton Plan. Or by investing money to deliver a world-leading hub for cancer research and treatment right here in Sutton.
As Liberal Democrats we believe that no one should be left behind and that’s why despite these difficult financial times, our decision to spend over 1 million pounds to tackle domestic violence is something we are very proud of.
Mr Mayor, what have we learned from the opposition this evening?
We’ve learned that they continue to support damaging cuts from this Tory Government.
We’ve learned that they still have no vision for Sutton, no credible policies, no costed plan, no alternative budget, no leadership.
And as we’ve heard tonight from Cllr Crowley, they confirmed that they would only reveal their plans for Sutton the year of the election. So here is the Tory plan, we hibernate for 3 years and come out at election time.
How can Sutton residents trust them to spend their money wisely?
Mr Mayor, in these times when politics is being used to divide us – middle class and working class, young and old, immigrant, EU citizens, the values that unite this group of Cllrs are needed more than ever if we are to continue to keep a compassionate, tolerant and cohesive community here in Sutton.
We are not career politicians. We believe that our communities are stronger when decisions are made as close to our residents as possible. That no one should be left behind. We are immersed in our communities in many different shapes and forms and our engagement did not start and does not end with our position as Cllrs. We see this is a strength that keeps us in touch with our residents, help us stay grounded, not lose sight of what matters to residents and to understand that behind every policy, every decision, there are thousands of lives. These values have helped us build a healthy and trustworthy relationship with Sutton residents over the years.
So as we enter into the last year of this administration, let’s be proud of this budget, let’s congratulate the work of our officers and strengthen our partnerships but let’s continue to champion these values and not forget that we have a lot more work to do . I commend this budget.
This heartfelt speech was followed by the Conservatives’ second and final contribution from Cllr Garratt. I summed it up in my own speech as “A presentation of alternative facts, and a plea for more funding for cycling and bridges.” It aptly demonstrated the Conservatives complete failure to understand how the budget pressures we face require fundamental and substantive changes in the way councils operate, not just salami slicing or shuffling money around. Over the last three years, under the leadership of Cllr Crowley, the opposition has failed to offer any solutions or ideas, and seek only to oppose, insinuate and undermine our efforts. They offer no policies, and have no principles.
Independent Councillor Graham Whitham correctly predicted the fence-sitting of the Conservatives in abstaining from voting either for or against the budget, and reminded them curtly that the reason they had been elected was to make decisions, but by abstaining in this and the many other decisions they have the opportunity to participate in, they were abdicating that responsibility.
As Cllr Wales highlighted, here was an opportunity for the opposition to support the voices of their colleagues in Conservative-run councils, for even they are calling on their government to cease this onslaught on council budgets. But no, they clearly supported their Government’s policies whilst accepting no responsibility for the harsh cuts being imposed on their residents as a result. Shameful.
Muhammad, Steve and I have had lots of casework to keep us busy this autumn. Here is an update on some of what your ward councillors have been up to and some items we think you might find of interest:
Redevelopment of Lidl Store in Beddington Gardens
Lidl have alerted residents informally of their plans to redevelop their Wallington store. We had been advised that their aims were to improve the look of the store, improve the customer experience, and expand the parking facilities. To do this they propose underground parking with access moved to the right hand side of the store, and it would necessitate the demolition of the existing building. The new building would also incorporate some flats on top to provide much needed residential accommodation for the borough. We saw that a planning application went in in December, but has now been withdrawn. We understand that new management at Lidl have changed the plans for the store and so the application is being redrafted to take account of that. We will keep you informed.
Not only does flyposting look untidy, it can cause problems with sightlines for motorists at junctions such as here in Ross Parade. We have been reporting any flyposting we come across to get it removed and so the council can advise the culprits that it is an offence to flypost. I am on a mission removing out of date planning notifications from lampposts as they look so scrappy.
Faulty traffic lights
We noticed that the green light at the Sainsburys junction on Stafford Road with Woodcote Road had not been working for some time. We reported this to Transport for London who have responsibility for traffic lights and it has now been repaired.
There were panels missing from the bus shelter in Woodcote Road which meant it was useless at sheltering waiting bus passengers from the elements. We contacted Transport for London asking for panels to be reinstated, which they have now done. Tom Brake your MP has also asked for benches to be put in and we hope to see this implemented soon.
Parking issues and enforcement requests
Obstructive parking is one of the most regular complaints we hear about as your ward councillors. In the past few months we have been asked for additional parking enforcement patrols in Beddington Gardens due to parents blocking access in the vicinity of Bandon Hill Primary School; in Ross Road in connection with the Nursery there; and in the area around Wallington Girls School. We are currently liaising with residents and the nursery in Ross Road to see if solutions can be found, and as part of a bigger strategic approach the council will be doing work over the next four years looking at how the parking pressures the borough faces might be alleviated, possibly through controlled parking zones. Any proposals will be worked up and consulted on with residents, and have a range of options that can be tailored to fit the problem.
Fixing bollards and other obstructions
We were alerted to and secured repair/replacement of the bollards at Bridge Road off Clarendon Road, and at the Shotfield entrance to the library. We also continue to report any wobbly kerbstones, overgrown hedges and flytipping we come across.
Local Flooding Issues
We advised you of local flooding issues as a result of the June downpours. As a result the council has secured some funding to look into ways to reduce the flooding issues at the railway bridge in Demesne Road.
We have been monitoring and assisting residents with a number of planning applications including opposing backgarden development at 109 Boundary Road, rear of 13-23 Boundary Road and in Woodcote Avenue; advising on residential conversions in Holmwood Gardens and Woodcote Avenue; providing information on the St Bernadett’s application and advising Wallington Girls’ School on their application to improve their library.
Please note that Muhammad does not get involved in ward planning applications as he is a member of the Planning Committee at the council. This ensures that he fulfils his obligations to view each application brought to the committee with an open mind and without pre-determination.
Road safety measures
We have assisted local residents in petitioning for speed reduction measures in Clyde Road and yellow lines at the junctions with Carew Road and Ross Road. The petition will be formally presented by residents to the Beddington & Wallington Local Committee on 10th January when we hope that the committee will agree to look into these matters.
We also previously secured funding from the same committee to make safety improvements in Elgin Road and we have been working with residents to decide what measures would be best within the limited budget. We have also arranged for improved signage in respect of the one-way stretch of Boundary Road, and yellow lining at pinch points in Woodcote Road. Residents have called for a one-way scheme to be implemented in Tharp Road and we are supporting residents in the surrounding area in calling for a study of the consequential traffic impacts before any scheme is agreed.
Working with the Wallington Community
We are very lucky in Wallington to have such community-minded businesses and residents with lots of bright ideas for bringing people together. We have therefore been very pleased to assist in the Festive Lights Switch-on and the Spirit of Wallington Awards delivered by the Wallington Facebook Group. Both events were well attended and well received. There are more plans for the new year including a repeat of the fantastic music festival, and hopefully something sports-related. Watch this space! We have also continued to support the Wallington Community Group which provides information on the wide programme of activities and groups in Wallington available for the over 50s. We also attended the Wallington and Council Remembrance Day services in November.
We would like to take this opportunity to wish all our residents a very Merry Christmas, a restful holiday period and a Happy New Year
Steve Cook, Jayne McCoy, Muhammad Sadiq
Liberal Democrat Councillors for Wallington South
London Borough of Sutton
All the work the council does and the decisions it makes are in the public domain and largely accessible through its website. However as this is often embedded in committee reports and paperwork you need to know what you are looking for or put in an FOI.
So in an attempt to make it simpler I thought I would do a series of posts setting out current activities in the areas covered by my committee portfolio – the Housing, Economy & Business Committee.
I have previously posted about Housing, so now it is the turn of ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
All the council’s work to boost the local economy is badged as OPPORTUNITY SUTTON and is overseen by the Opportunity Sutton team.
This area of work is huge so I will have to break it down into parts on separate posts.
EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING
Partnership working for better jobs
The council works closely with JobCentrePlus; local training providers such as Carshalton College, Sutton and District Training, JACE Training, Sutton College and Orchard Hill College; local business representatives including the Sutton Chamber and Successful Sutton; MENCAP; Epsom & St Helier University NHS Trust and SHP, bringing these partners together with council departments covering Education, Revenues and Benefits, Housing Services and Public Health. Together we work at improving the employment opportunities for people living in the borough. As a group we are called the Sutton Economic Support Taskforce which I chair.
Making apprenticeships easy
The Council paid SENSE Communications to set up and run an online Sutton Apprenticeship Hub bringing together information and apprenticeship opportunities all in one place. The Hub is useful for students looking for apprenticeship places, for businesses looking for apprentices, and is full of information about apprenticeships useful to businesses, students, teachers and parents.
Offering council apprenticeships
Sutton Council aims to lead by example by offering a number of quality apprenticeships at the council. It currently employs 12 apprentices and is recruiting for a further 2. We were very proud to see one of our apprentices working in the Opportunity Sutton team achieve the ‘Apprentice of the Year’ awarded by London Borough Councils.
Improved training for local jobs
The council’s Sutton Skills Match programme brings together local businesses, schools and training providers so that employers can advise of the skills and training that is required for them to offer employment to local people. As a result of this relevant information the training providers have adapted their training programmes to better meet the local need, and businesses are working with schools to talk about career pathways. An excellent example of this work is Sutton & District Training taking over the Building Lives program which offers training in construction skills that offer a direct route into work with local construction firms.
Working with schools
The council works closely with local schools helping them with work experience placements and providing special courses to help students be work-ready.
Annual Careers Fair
Each year the council organises a careers fair for young people aged 14 to 24 with the help of the partners above.
Supporting disabled and disadvantaged residents into work
Through the Our Place scheme helping people with mental health conditions and the new DWP Work and Health Programme the council offers targeted interventions to help and support people with barriers to employment get into the workplace. Last year it successfully completed an EU funded scheme to help a number of lone parents into work. The Our Place scheme has now placed 30 people with mental health conditions into paid work with 4 recently achieving a full year of employment.
Developing budding entrepreneurs
The council employs Successful Sutton to provide business training and advice to people thinking of or just getting started with new businesses. Together they are running a special project called POP UP SUTTON providing free monthly stalls in Sutton town centre accompanied by a programme of business advice and support for entrepreneurs wanting to try out their business ideas and products.
Working with local boroughs for a wider employment offer
Sutton is part of the South London Partnership which also includes the boroughs of Croydon, Kingston, Merton and Richmond. Sutton is leading on a programme of work to improve residents’ skills across the five boroughs, drawing on our local experience. This also involves supporting the area based reviews of further education providers. Cllr Ruth Dombey takes the lead on this area in the South London Partnership.
Skilling up residents for London Cancer Hub careers
Together with our partners the council is working to ensure there are opportunities in place offering health, science and social care training so that there is a pool of talent within our local community that the London Cancer Hub can draw on. The potential careers that the London Cancer Hub can offer will be huge and wide ranging and we want local people to be able to get the maximum advantage from having this illustrious campus on their doorstep.
Creating new jobs
Opportunity Sutton is working to attract new businesses to Sutton, and offers help and support to existing businesses so they thrive and grow. In both cases this leads to new job opportunities for local people.
The council reviews its progress in ensuring its residents can find work or training as part of an Economy Watch document that it publishes quarterly. I am pleased to report that Sutton has higher than average economically active residents at 82% of the population, and increasing. The number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance is on a downward trend across all age ranges, and there is an increasing number of business start ups.
Sutton Council is promoting apprenticeships as good value for local businesses and offering great opportunities for young people.
Last year it launched the Sutton Apprenticeship Hub which brings together information, apprenticeship opportunities and people seeking apprenticeships all in the one place.
The site is currently listing 270 vacancies in the local area and highlighting a number of success stories to inspire.
And leading by example the council has a great track record of taking on apprentices, employing 12 at present, with another 2 just being recruited.
We are also extremely proud of the recent success of one of our apprentices working in the Opportunity Sutton Team, who won the London Borough Councils’ Apprentice of the Year Award seeing off stiff competition from across London.
Delivering an Apprenticeship Hub was in the Sutton Lib Dem 2014 manifesto so we are delighted to see it launched and bringing businesses and job seekers together to improve local skills.
Once again our residents here in Sutton are being fed toxic literature from our local Tories full of lies and smears against the Lib Dems.
We saw these tactics in the Wallington South by-election, and observed the ruthless Tory in-fighting during and after the EU referendum, so perhaps we should not be surprised when the local Conservatives employ them here yet again.
In the Wallington by-election they circulated made up stories of high rise buildings planned for the car park, the selling off of heritage buildings, and removal of pedestrian crossings, none of which proved true.
Now they are peddling lies about The Lodge claiming the council sold it off when in fact it remains in council ownership and has been leased to a local charity to retain it in community use – just as residents asked us to.
The Conservatives also claim in their leaflets that the Belmont site is too small for a secondary school despite knowing that plans are being drafted to build a 6-form entry secondary school that will offer fantastic opportunities for our young people due to its co-location with the London Cancer Hub. Sutton actually has an excellent track record for delivering school places at its award winning and high performing schools.
A smear campaign
Worse still is the Conservatives’ deliberate and grubby smear campaign to trash the reputation of hard-working local Lib Dems. They slyly insinuate that the allegations against the councillor who resigned is connected with the council, and leak internal email conversations to imply Cllr Mathys meant something she didn’t in a campaign that amounts to bullying. Anyone who works with Wendy knows she always has the best interests of the borough’s young people at heart and fights tooth and nail to get the best deal for them despite the Tory cuts imposed on councils. Nor does our MP Tom Brake escape from their malicious smears, or indeed ex-councillors who are no longer around to defend themselves. Legal action has had to be taken against the Conservative libel because it is pure fiction.
Tory resignation in disgust
So unpleasant have Tory tactics become since the last election that one of their own Cllr Graham Whitham, twice the leader of the Conservative council group, resigned his membership of the Conservatives in absolute disgust at the nasty party they had become both nationally and locally. Cllr Whitham was one of those Conservatives who always conducted himself with honour and reasonableness and with whom I have been pleased to work. It is sad for him that he felt that his party had strayed so far beyond the pale in its tactics that he could no longer be a member.
So when the Conservatives come knocking, be sure to ask them if they condone the use of smears as campaign tools, and stand by the lies in their leaflets.
A high performing and caring Council
The Liberal Democrat run Sutton council is regularly quoted in best practice examples by the Local Government Association and others and receives awards. It’s recent peer review was glowing and we have one of the highest resident satisfaction ratings in the UK.
Our residents tell us the reason they keep voting The Liberal Democrats back in here is because they trust us to do our best for them, and be honest with them about the issues we face. We engage widely and regularly with our residents, work alongside them in the community ourselves, and we are not afraid to consult on the difficult issues as well as the good ones. And we listen, because we are here to try our best to deliver the borough our residents want.
All the work the council does and the decisions it makes are in the public domain and largely accessible through its website. However as this is often embedded in committee reports and paperwork you need to know what you are looking for or put in an FOI.
So in an attempt to make it simpler I thought I would do a series of posts setting out current activities in the areas covered by my committee portfolio.
I will start with HOUSING
Sutton is building council houses for the first time for many years
Previously the government took money away from Sutton to pay for housing in other places. When the rules were changed we immediately took the opportunity to start building again. We now have planning permission to start building 93 new homes across three sites.
Council housing protected for Sutton residents
You need to have lived in Sutton for at least two years to be eligible for council housing in the borough.
Council tenancies for Life
When councils were given the freedom to do away with tenancies for life we consulted with tenants and abided by their wish to retain lifetime tenancies. Unfortunately the Housing & Planning Bill recently passed by Parliament no longer allows us to do this so new tenancies granted will not be for life.
Improving existing council homes
The council has spent £140 million over the past 4 years improving people’s council properties. This has included installing new kitchens and bathrooms, new windows and doors, and major renovation projects like Balaam House and Chaucer House. Many of these measures will improve the energy efficiency of these properties resulting in lower heating bills.
Increasing the number of houses for purchase and rent
The council has been encouraging developers to build new homes in Sutton. We have done this by marketing Sutton and by having positive working relationships with developers. This has enabled us to ensure family houses are built as well as one and two bedrooms flats, and that developers make contributions to improve the area around their development. We have also worked hard to get a good amount of affordable homes delivered as part of private developments.
The work on delivering a new Local Plan means our planning polices will direct housing development to suitable locations and demand high quality, sustainable design that works well with the area.
The regeneration of the Durand Estate is now in its third phase with a total of over 700 homes (250 net additional homes) due to be provided under the Partnership working with Affinity Sutton, Rydons and the residents. The area has been transformed and renamed The Lavenders.
Setting up a council owned housing development company to deliver homes
Called Sutton Living Ltd this company means the council can buy empty properties and rent them out, build new homes for sale or rent, or partner with house builders or social housing providers to help deliver additional housing. As the council knows what type of housing residents need in the borough it can use Sutton Living to deliver the right type of housing, and keep prices affordable. It also has a policy of ensuring new properties, whether to rent or sell, are offered to Sutton residents first. It also enabled the council to get extra help from the London Mayor through becoming a Housing Zone. Any profits generated will either be reinvested in delivering more housing or given back to the council to spend on services for residents.
New specialist housing
This year the council opened Dymond House, a new facility especially to house people with Dementia, as well as people with learning disabilities and a reablement centre.
In Cheam Elizabeth House was rebuilt to provide high quality sheltered housing for older people replacing the outdated original building which had no lifts and communal bathrooms.
And it was not long ago that bespoke-designed housing was built for people with learning disabilities to enable them to live more independently outside of institutions following the closure of Orchard Hill.
Helping people into the private rented sector
The council works with good landlords to encourage them to offer quality accommodation to residents. The council can help with deposits and housing allowance transfers.
The council also takes a hard line against landlords that break the regulations they must abide by and put tenants at risk. We have had a number of successful prosecutions against such landlords.
Lobbying Government on behalf of Sutton residents
We responded to consultations on the Housing & Planning Bill highlighting that it would make finding local affordable housing even harder, cause council tenants to face insecurity and eviction and reduce the amount of social housing available and deter social housing being built.
I am pleased to announce that the Liberal Democrat candidate Steve Cook was elected to be the new councillor in Wallington South.
The results were as follows:
Liberal Democrats 1251
Total votes 2834 Turnout 35.4%
A huge thank you to the residents who voted for Steve, and for all the help we had in the by-election from Liberal Democrats across the country.
But if Steve thought getting elected was hard work, wait until he sees what we expect of him as a Sutton Councillor!
When political candidates put out dishonest information in their literature when seeking office, how can they be trusted to show honesty and integrity should they be elected?
Sadly the Wallington South residents have been subjected to the unpleasant tactics of vague and unsubstantiated insinuations as well as outright fabrications from opposition candidates in the by-election.
The Independent candidate has suddenly invented a second incinerator, UKIP have nothing but smears and allegations to peddle, and the Conservative messages contain yet more fabrications deliberately to plant doubt in people’s minds – the same tactic they used in their General Election campaign to ruthlessly eliminate the Liberal Democrats.
To address just a few of the worst claims:
The Wallington town centre improvement scheme was only completed in 2011 – why would we plan to do any further works, especially as the current scheme was so well received by local people?
As the custodians of public money councils are subject to very high levels of scrutiny – often viewed as excess bureaucracy. Yes council assets could be sold off to the highest bidder, however as Liberal Democrats we listen to the views of our residents. Our residents told us that they would prefer our heritable properties to continue in community use so when voluntary sector organisations like Ecolocal and SCVS offer to take on the costs and provide a service to the community from the buildings we think that is a good deal saving the council money but retaining the buildings.
Lib Dem, Conservative and Labour run boroughs of Kingston, Croydon, Merton and Sutton jointly agreed to enter into a contract with Viridor to cease the use of the landfill site in Sutton and have their waste treated instead in an Energy Recovery Facility. But only the Lib Dems in Sutton have been honest enough to stand by that decision and try to explain to its residents how incineration techniques have become the modern and safe way to deal with waste across Europe, and how having the facility in Sutton will improve air quality, save taxpayers money, and mean funding for improvements to the Beddington area.
The decision about whether to sell the Wallington public hall site or have the council develop it itself has not yet been made. There has been no developer interest in the site so talk of mosques and tall buildings are pure myths. Also a bit hypocritical of the Conservative candidate to have raised this spectre given Rosemount was built when the Tories had control of the council, and now they have taken power in Kingston they are being criticised by residents there for approving new tower blocks.
As for Lib Dems not listening to residents, when local people were loud and clear about their opposition to the McDonalds drive-through proposed for Stafford Road the Conservatives were tweeting that they ‘didn’t see a problem with it.’ Fortunately the Lib Dems did champion their residents and together we stopped McDonalds.
There is a reason that Sutton residents have trusted the Liberal Democrats to run the council for the last 29 years, and that is because we are honest and we listen to our residents. We cannot always deliver everything our residents ask for, but they know that we do what it is in our power to do. Basic things like keeping the streets clean and well maintained, our parks and open spaces of a high standard for everyone to enjoy, and supporting and encouraging businesses to thrive and grow. Residents told us they want to be ‘green’ and protect the environment, and so Sutton has been at the forefront on issues of sustainability with its BedZed development, One Planet Borough accreditation and Sustainable Suburb initiative.
And, as for any individual or organisation, it is impossible to get everything 100% right. But when things do go wrong residents have seen the council be transparent and most importantly, learn lessons and make changes to improve.
So after 29 years of Lib Dem control we have seen Sutton voted one of the best places to bring up a family, our schools and green spaces winning awards, the fastest house sales, and one of the highest levels of resident satisfaction with its borough in the country.
I have heard these election smear campaigns dismissed as just to be expected in politics. I disagree. Politics and politicians have a bad name because of such tactics. Just because you are a politician it does not mean that this is the way you have to behave. Yes it is harder to be an honest politician, and to tell people the truth rather than what they want to hear. To make difficult decisions and try to explain why they are necessary, rather than taking a populist stance that sounds good but makes no actual contribution to solving the problem.
I know what kind of politician I try to be, and the kind of politician I want representing me, which is why I am a Liberal Democrat. Not perfect, but honest, prepared to stand up for all members of society, and most of all, principled. The Liberal Democrat Party is made up of people like Steve Cook, whose drive is purely to do his best for his fellow residents. Steve saw how the Lib Dems work with people locally, and decided that was the way to do things, the way he could give something back to his community. I hope he gets the chance to.