100 days of Labour Redbridge: Brutal dictatorship, or caring leadership?
PUBLISHED: 12:00 20 September 2014
If the words “bulky waste”, “Dick Turpin” and “local forums” don’t spring to mind when you think of Redbridge’s first majority Labour council, then you’ve not been paying close enough attention.
Leader Cllr Jas Athwal’s administration marks 100 days in office today, with Labour claiming to have already delivered the majority of its pledges.
Local forums, descendants of the axed area committees, have sparked most controversy. Opposition Tory councillors described the move as “a brutal display of dictatorship”, and group leader Cllr Paul Canal went as far as to liken Cllr Athwal to the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin.
A crackdown on rogue landlords has also come into force, tying in nicely with national housing pledges made by Labour leader Ed Miliband on a campaign rally in Redbridge ahead of May’s council election.
His visit is one of several in recent months by Labour big-hitters such as former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell and shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt. Ahead of the council election, pollsters described the borough as “on a knife-edge”.
What’s been achieved?
Bulky waste collections
Not the most glamourous of policies, but nevertheless significant. Until last week, only disabled residents, those over 60, and Jobseeker’s Allowance recipients were entitled to free collections. Now all residents of the borough can have their unwanted mattresses and freezers - among other things - taken away if booked.
Ilford town centre is the now the only part of Redbridge where you can’t park for up to 30 minutes without charge - and there you have 20 minutes. The policy is aimed at boosting trade and has been welcomed by Redbridge Chamber of Commerce. The council also axed parking charges at Seven Kings and Goodmayes parks - that was because the pay stations weren’t making enough to pay for themselves.
Over the summer, the council ran an amnesty for unlicensed landlords, warning them they faced substantial fines if they remained registered after August 31.
Super-strength alcohol crackdown
Retailers applying for new licences to sell booze in Ilford town centre are now prevented from selling strong beer and cider. Those with existing licences don’t have to stop, though some have voluntarily signed up to the scheme, which is aimed at curbing street-drinking and anti-social behaviour.
And the constituency of Ilford North, held by Tory MP Lee Scott, is high on Labour’s list of target marginals, with deputy council leader Cllr Wes Streeting set to stand at next May’s general election.
There are also policies more pedestrian in ilk, sometimes almost literally. This month, the council introduced 30 minutes of free parking in on-street pay and display bays.
Last week, free bulky waste collections, including items such as old mattresses and fridges, became available for all residents.
Cllr Athwal may be proud of the progress his new council has made, but others are less convinced.
“Old Labour on steroids” is how Cllr Canal puts it, accusing the administration of a lack of experience and turning the borough into a “playground for left wing student politics”.
He said: “The real work, tackling Labour’s deficit legacy, has not even started.
“We need to find £40million of efficiency savings. They don’t seem to know what to do or how to do it.”
But Labour believes its vision is unambiguous. Cllr Athwal said: “We’re clear about what we stand for: protecting those services that people value most and making sure that cuts are applied fairly, with protection for vulnerable children and adults.”
And on the Tories, he added: “I think it’s fair to say that we’ve had more heat than light from the Conservatives so far, but I hope they’ll engage more constructively on some of the big decisions that will shape the borough for decades to come.”
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