Leader of Islington Council, Cllr Richard Watts, writes about the council budget and Islington Labour’s commitment to making a difference for our borough.

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On Thursday 26th February, Islington Council was yet again forced to make tough choices in order to set a legal budget for the year ahead.

Since 2011, the council's funding has been cut in half by the Tory-led Government. That has meant we have had to carry out our agenda to make Islington a fairer place and to make a difference for working people, in a time of unprecedented financial pressures.

Imagine for a minute that you had to run your household with half as much money as you used to have, and you will understand the scale of what we have had to do.

The difference Islington Labour makes can be seen in our budget which protects all our libraries, children's centres, and continues to support vital adult social care. It also delivers fair pay for all our staff with our continued commitment to the Living Wage.

We have also found new ways to generate income, such as selling our expert advice in certain areas and by installing solar panels on council buildings. We’ve been able to keep job losses as low as possible, and have made some agency staff full council employees with better terms and conditions.

We were very clear at the election that we would prioritise homes, jobs and helping people with the cost of living. I know that people understand that if we had not set a legal budget, all this work to make a difference to people’s lives would have been put at risk.

I'm proud that the 47 members of the Labour Group did not duck this challenge and set a legal budget.

In contrast, the Green Party showed that they are neither serious nor up to the job of running a council. The last few weeks have shown us that their policies don’t stand-up to scrutiny, and this was the case with their amendment which proposed raiding vital funds that help us to protect the poorest people against the Tory-led Government’s welfare reforms. The Greens aren’t up to the job – just look at Brighton where they couldn’t set a budget this week or even collect the rubbish.

We are committed to making a difference for Islington, and that's what my administration will continue to do.

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Cllr Richard Watts

Leader of Islington Council 

Council Budget Passes – Tough Choices, Right Priorities

Leader of Islington Council, Cllr Richard Watts, writes about the council budget and Islington Labour’s commitment to making a difference for our borough. On Thursday 26th February, Islington Council was...

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Cllr Asima Shaikh has been appointed as the new Council Executive Member for Economic and Community Development. 

Cllr Shaikh brings with her a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge, having previously worked for the Greater London Authority, several London boroughs and in central Government. Her experience of project management and policy development make her an excellent addition to the Council's Executive. 

Cllr Shaikh said: "I'm delighted to join the Council's Executive and I'm really looking forward to getting to work to make our borough a fairer place. 

"Too many people are out of work in Islington, and employment is a top priority for this Labour administration. I'm looking forward to helping create better services to help get people into work, and to working together with local businesses to secure more opportunities for local residents. 

"The many community groups and charities in our borough play a vital role in making Islington a better and fairer place for everyone. I will continue to work closely with them to support residents at a time of massive cuts from the Tory-led Government."

Cllr Shaikh was elected in May 2014 as a councillor for Finsbury Park ward and tweets @ashaikhn7 

New Executive Member ready to get to work

Cllr Asima Shaikh has been appointed as the new Council Executive Member for Economic and Community Development.  Cllr Shaikh brings with her a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge, having...

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A Tory Minister has once again shown how out of touch he and his party are with Islington. 

Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, took to Sky News on Monday 19th January to attack Islington Labour's ground-breaking 20mph speed limit policy. 

In 2013, Islington Labour agreed to introduce 20mph speed limits on all the roads in the borough that the council controls. This policy has made roads safer for all residents - including pedestrians and cyclists. 

Other London Boroughs have followed Islington's lead, with Lewisham last week becoming the newest member of the 20mph borough club. 

However, Mr Pickles decided to attack this successful policy, describing it as “unreasonable” and that it “brings the law into contempt.”

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Cllr Claudia Webbe, Executive Member for Environment and Transport (pictured), has today written to Mr Pickles challenging him on his views and pointing out the evidence which shows that the 20mph policy is right for Islington. You can read Cllr Webbe's letter here.

Commenting on Mr Pickles remarks, Cllr Webbe said: “We brought in a 20mph limit to make Islington’s roads safer for everyone, with strong backing from our community. Our 20mph policy is also part of improving air quality in the borough and has seen public health benefits as a result of encouraging more active travel amongst residents – such as walking and cycling.

“Since 2013, other councils across the country have followed our lead and are also introducing 20mph to make their roads safer. Police in Islington are helping to enforce the 20mph limit.

“We’re very disappointed the communities secretary doesn’t support our work to create safer streets for people who walk, cycle and drive in Islington.

“I’d like to invite him to visit Islington and explain to local people why he thinks cars and lorries should be driving faster through our streets, past our homes and schools.”

The road safety charity, Brake, have also criticised Mr Pickles' comments, adding: "We disagree with Mr Pickles’ comments and we’re in support of Islington Borough Council, who received widespread local support.  The minister has got it entirely the wrong way round. It’s our view that decision makers should look carefully at where 30mph limits are kept. 

The GO20 campaign is all about defending everyone’s right to walk and cycle in their neighbourhood, encouraging people to make healthier and more sustainable travel choices. 

It’s clear that 20mph limits in communities like Islington can help make boroughs healthier, and more active.  We  would expect a Government minister to support that view and we are surprised and disappointed at his comments."

Research shows that on urban roads with low traffic speeds any 1mph reduction in average speed can reduce the collision frequency by around 6%. There is also clear evidence confirming the greater chance of survival of pedestrians at lower speeds, with The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) finding a 2.5% chance of a pedestrian being fatally injured when struck at 20mph, compared to a 20% chance at 30mph. 

Since the introduction of the policy, the council has worked with colleagues in the police to explain the new speed limits to local motorists. Having carried out 24 targeted ‘stop and advise’ speed reduction operations across 13 different locations, and speaking with more than 900 motorists, from October 2014 the police are now enforcing the speed limits and issuing fixed penalty notices where appropriate. 

Since 2011, the Tory-led Government and Mr Pickles have cut funding to Islington by half. Despite this, Islington Labour has protected vital public services by delivering tough choices, with the right priorities.

Pictured Above - Cllr Claudia Webbe with local police officers enforcing the 20mph speed limits.  

 

Tory Minister out of touch with Islington

A Tory Minister has once again shown how out of touch he and his party are with Islington.  Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, took...

On Wednesday 14th January, Cllr Rakhia Ismail resigned from Islington Council's Executive as Lead Member for Community Development for personal reasons. 

A copy of Cllr Ismail's letter of resignation to Cllr Richard Watts, Leader of the Council, can be found here. 

Cllr Watts' reply can be found here

Cllr Ismail will continue to serve the Holloway ward on the Council. 

Cllr Ismail's resignation from Council's Executive

On Wednesday 14th January, Cllr Rakhia Ismail resigned from Islington Council's Executive as Lead Member for Community Development for personal reasons.  A copy of Cllr Ismail's letter of resignation to...

A blog from Cllr Claudia Webbe, Executive Member for Environment and Transport at Islington Council - 

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Today, we welcomed another London Borough to the club of local authorities that are taking steps to make our roads safer for all road users and pedestrians. 

At last night's Cabinet Meeting in Lewisham, the Mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, and his colleagues voted to introduce 20mph speed limits on all the borough's roads that the council controls. 

I'm delighted that Lewisham has joined Islington and a number of other London Boroughs in adopting this progressive policy. Islington introduced our 20mph limit policy in 2013 and remains the only local authority to enforce the limits with our partners in the police. 

Our decision wasn’t simply based on making our roads safer. It was also about improving the quality of life for people in our borough and making it a better place to live. This includes improving health outcomes by encouraging active travel and also working towards reducing air pollution in the borough. 

Since launching our policy, we have worked with the police to firstly make drivers aware of the new limits and then - as I wrote about in October - we began enforcing the policy with the police. 

But we mustn't stop there.

We need the Mayor of London to take his responsibilities to make our roads safer seriously.

Currently, local councils can only implement 20mph zones on the roads we directly manage. The major routes through our communities are managed by Transport for London (TFL) and are known as 'red routes'. So far the Mayor has refused to implement 20mph on red routes and we need to keep the pressure up on him to make him see sense. 

I hope that we can continue to work across London to encourage more boroughs to adopt 20mph zones and to lobby the Mayor to adopt the safer limits on the roads TfL manages. 

Another step towards safer roads in London

A blog from Cllr Claudia Webbe, Executive Member for Environment and Transport at Islington Council -  Today, we welcomed another London Borough to the club of local authorities that are...

Today (7th January 2015), Islington Labour published the council's budget for the year ahead (2015/16) - you can read the report here. 

Once again, the massive cuts imposed on Islington by the Tory-led Government have led to tough choices having to be made. Since 2011, the council's government funding has been cut in half and this year Islington has been the 9th worst cut local council in the country. 

But by sticking to the right priorities, Islington Labour is continuing to make a difference for our borough. The budget protects libraries, children's centres, leisure centres, school crossing patrols and vital services like adult social care for those with moderate needs. 

Below, Cllr Richard Watts, Leader of Islington Council, writes about the budget and the difference we making for the borough - 

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Today we have published the council's budget for the year ahead. 

The Tory-led Government's massive cuts to the council have meant tough choices, but I think we have the right priorities and we are making our borough a fairer place by protecting vital services in this budget. 

Despite the Government cutting funding to the council in half, Islington Labour is making a difference. 

We've helped our local schools achieve some of the best GCSE results in the country. In 2010, our results ranked 143rd out of 151 local areas in the country – now they’re the 34th best - and well over 90% of our schools are rated as Outstanding or Good. 

Our efforts to tackle the housing crisis have seen over 1,500 new genuinely affordable homes, prioritised for local people, built since 2010 - and we have plans to deliver another 1,500 by 2019.

We’ve seen youth unemployment fall dramatically in the last year and we’ve helped hundreds of parents back into work.

And because we have the right priorities, with fairness being at the heart of every decision we take, we pay the Living Wage to more of our staff than any other council.

But we are having to make tough choices in this budget because of the cuts imposed on the council by the Tory-led Government. We will be increasing Council Tax by 1.99%, which to the average household will mean a 40p a week rise. This will still mean that Council Tax in Islington is lower than in Hackney, Haringey and Camden and lower than the London average – but it will help us to protect vital services like libraries, children's centres and school crossing patrols.

The Government’s cuts will also see dedicated staff leave the council, mostly through voluntary redundancy, and there will be fewer lorries to collect recycling, meaning some items will no longer be collected from the doorstep.

The budget proposals I’m sharing with you today show how hard it is becoming to cope with the Tory-led Government’s continued cuts, but they also show how hard we have fought to protect services and stick to the right priorities.

This budget will protect libraries, children's centres, leisure centres and swimming pools, the ecology centre, and vital services like school crossing patrols and adult social care for those with moderate needs. 

But we cannot afford a government that continues with cuts at this pace and scale. That’s why we need a Labour Government to be elected on 7th May.

If you have any questions about the proposals I am sharing today, please do contact me by emailing – richard.watts@islington.gov.uk  

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Cllr Richard Watts
Leader of Islington Council 
@RichardWatts01

- The council budget will be presented to a meeting of the Full Council on 26th February 2015. 

Tough choices, right priorities

Today (7th January 2015), Islington Labour published the council's budget for the year ahead (2015/16) - you can read the report here.  Once again, the massive cuts imposed on Islington...

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Islington Labour has announced radical plans to take on the scourge of homes in the borough being bought-up and left empty, a practice known as 'buy-to-leave'. 

Buy-to-leave is adding to the housing crisis facing Islington and London, and is making it even harder for local people to find an affordable home. According to council research, as many as a third or more of homes in some new developments are potentially vacant.

Under plans the council has drawn-up and is currently consulting on, new homes could not be left unoccupied or unused for longer than three months. If a property is left unoccupied for more than three months, legal action could be taken and those persistently breaking the rules could be fined or face going to prison. 

Cllr James Murray, Executive Member for Housing and Development, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4's 'Today Programme' about the proposals. You can listen again below - 

Cllr Murray commented: "It's wrong when new homes sit there empty purely to as investments, when Londoners are desperately trying to find somewhere to live. Our new proposals would make sure that all new homes in Islington occupied - we want to send a message that 'buy-to-leave' is unacceptable."

You can respond to the consultation before 30th January 2015 by clicking here.

Islington Labour is delivering the biggest building programme in a generation of affordable homes and homes for social rent. The Council will build 2,000 new affordable homes by 2015, and is committed to delivering a further 1,500 new homes for social rent by 2019. 

We are also committed to making a difference to residents who live in private rented accommodation. We are soon to open a not-for-profit lettings agency that will offer private tenants and landlords a trusted and affordable alternative to expensive or rogue lettings agents.

Taking on the scourge of 'buy-to-leave'

Islington Labour has announced radical plans to take on the scourge of homes in the borough being bought-up and left empty, a practice known as 'buy-to-leave'.  Buy-to-leave is adding to...

New rules that make it easier for local people to have their say had their first outing at last night's (4th December) Islington Council Meeting.

Unprecedented changes to the Council's constitution put forward by Islington Labour now mean that members of the public can ask questions without submitting them in advance.

The Youth Council also now have a chance to ask questions directly to their elected representatives, and five members of the Youth Council took the chance to grill councillors on issues that matter to young people in the borough. 

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Further changes to allow the views of local people into the heart of the Council have seen restrictions on petitions rolled back. Cllr Olly Parker (Mildmay), pictured above, submitted a petition of over 5,000 signatures to save the Buffalo Bar at Highbury Corner. The petition calls for the leaseholders and freeholders of the building, which has been home to the Buffalo Bar at Highbury Corner for almost 15 years, to work with the bar to keep it alive. 

The Council Meeting also agreed to renew the Council Tax Support Scheme, which helps some of the most hard-pressed residents in the borough with the cost of council tax. The scheme also includes a £125,000 welfare provision fund that provides more support for the most vulnerable residents. Despite the savage cuts imposed on Islington by the Tory-led Government, which will see the council's funding cut in half by next year, Islington Labour has committed to provide this support and to continue the £100 older person council tax discount. 

An important part of Council Meetings is the opportunity for councillors to bring motions about key issues. At last night's meeting, motions on cuts to the fire service, tax-dodging and air quality were debated. 

Fire Cuts Makes Islington Less Safe - 

In January 2013, the Tory Mayor of London announced plans to cut £45million from London’s fire service. Islington Labour, along with the local community and trade unions, ran a campaign against the closures and passed a motion at the Full Council Meeting in January 2013 opposing the closures. 

Despite the huge opposition of the community, firefighters and evidence which showed that the closures would put Islington at risk, the Tory Mayor’s cuts were implemented in January 2014 and saw 10 fire stations closed, including Clerkenwell and Kingsland stations that serve Islington. Firefighters from Clerkenwell were the first on the scene of the 7/7 terrorist attacks.

As Islington Labour warned would happen, the latest figures released by the London Fire Brigade have shown that fire response times have increased in wards across Islington and London.

After passionate speeches from Cllr Paul Convery (Caledonian) and Cllr Alice Donovan (Clerkenwell), the motion was passed calling on the Tory Mayor to reconsider his decision to reduce the number of fire appliances and firefighters in light of the worsening response times. 

Tackling Tax-Dodging Businesses, Locally and Globally - 

Public services rely on funding from central government and other sources, such as the business rates that local companies pay. The Tory-led Government has imposed savage cuts on Islington, meaning that the Council's funding will be cut in half by 2016. In the face of these disproportionate and unfair cuts, collecting business rates has never been more important. 

The vast majority of local firms do the right thing and pay the tax that they owe. Sadly, some businesses are going to ever more extraordinary lengths to avoid paying their tax. Some companies are inventing 'ghost tenants' to avoid paying; others are creating 'shell' companies and using liquidation rules to dodge their bills. Others are even using charities to try and get away without paying their fair share of tax. 

The Council uses all the powers it has to collect the tax we are owed and will continue to pursue companies and landlords that avoid their tax. 

Tax-dodging also hits developing countries across the world. Research by Christian Aid has found that the money that developing countries lose each year because of the tax arrangements of big business is very nearly one-and-a-half times what they receive in aid. 

Following speeches by Cllr Andy Hull (Highbury West) and Cllr Marian Spall (Hillrise), the Council Meeting supported the motion unanimously and welcomed the campaign by Action Aid to highlight the impact tax-dodging has on public services in this country and across the world. 

Air Quality - 

We take air quality in Islington very seriously and are already doing much to tackle the problem - including becoming the first local authority in the country to introduce a 20mph zone on all Council managed roads and fighting a campaign asking the Tory Mayor of London to make all buses at Holloway Bus Garage hybrid models. 

As a Council, we also have the greenest fleet in the country and have put in place measures to tackle engine idling.

The Tory Mayor of London has proposed that an area covering the Central London Congestion Charging zone become an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). The proposed ULEZ would be introduced in 2020 and would mean that only the cleanest vehicles would be able to drive through the zone, or older vehicles travelling in the area would have to pay a daily charge. 

At last night's meeting, all Labour councillors supported a sensible amended motion that agreed any future consideration of whether to extend the proposed Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), should be evidence-led and put the impact on local residents at the heart of any decision. Sadly, this amended motion was voted against by the opposition councillor at the meeting.

In order to learn more about where the pollution in our borough comes from, an Air Quality Source Apportionment Study has been commissioned. We already know that TfL buses, coaches and HGVs are the biggest contributors to poor air quality, but a better understanding of where the hotspots are will help the Council to make the right policy choices.

A second report will also be completed in the New Year that will look at the cost-benefit analysis of any expansion of the ULEZ.

At the moment, we know that expanding the ULEZ to cover the whole borough would see 20,000 people forced to change their cars or be forced to pay a daily charge. There are also no clear modelled exemptions in the Tory Mayor's proposals for disabled residents or small businesses. 

Speaking on the amended motion, Cllr Claudia Webbe, Executive Member for Environment, commented: "Until we see clear commitments from the Mayor with modelled data to support them, it would be premature to demand the current boundaries of the ULEZ be expanded and the introduction of the scheme brought forward.

"It cannot be right for us to demand that the ULEZ be expanded when we have little knowledge of how the thousands of our residents that would be affected would be supported through the change.

"That isn't the sensible thing to do, nor is it the right thing to do by our residents."

The next Council Meeting will take place on 26th February 2015, when councillors will consider the Council's budget for the year ahead.  

 

 

A more open Council tackling the issues that matter

New rules that make it easier for local people to have their say had their first outing at last night's (4th December) Islington Council Meeting. Unprecedented changes to the Council's...

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Islington Labour is committed to making our borough a fairer place and tackling one of the major drivers of unfairness in Islington, unemployment, is the focus of a radical report published today. 

The Islington Employment Commission - the first of its kind in the country - has spent the last nine months gathering evidence about why, despite there being 1.34 jobs for every working age person in Islington, almost 40,000 local people are not in work. 

Despite the image some people choose to depict of Islington as a wealthy borough, the reality is that there is a huge divide between rich and poor and we actually have one of the highest rates of child poverty in the country. In fact, a higher proportion of our children grow up in households where no adult works than anywhere else in the country.

Lifting people out of poverty by getting more people into work will do more than anything else to improve lives of the poorest in our borough.

Our report makes it clear that action is needed to tackle unemployment in Islington, including better help for those who need it most and more local control over employment services. 

In creating this report, the Commission visited job centres, job clubs, businesses, charities, and schools, and spoke to unemployed people directly to gather evidence about what needed to change. 

The Commission has made many observations and three core calls to action about what must be done to help tackle unemployment: 

  • Targeting support for those who need it most, especially those who aren't well, are disabled, or who have been out of work for a long time. There are lots of services and resources, but they are not always well co-ordinated, and we need to work better together to radically improve the employment support system.
  • Employers need to be given a single place where they can easily recruit the people they need locally. There are many benefits to working locally for employers and employees, and employers should work with local services to create real change for the community.
  • The best support to help young people find the careers they deserve, including creating a stronger link between employers and schools to make sure that all Islington young people get the high quality careers education they need

The Commission also found that employment services commissioned and managed by the Government are simply not delivering for local people.

The report calls on Government to devolve employment services to the local level, instead of funding many different agencies separately. This would help areas like Islington target resources where they are needed most, and make sure that services work for local areas and the types of opportunities on offer.

Cllr Robert Khan, Co-Chair of the Islington Employment Commission, said: "Islington has long-standing problems around unemployment, which is far higher than it should be and a major cause of poverty. We've spoken to a huge range of people, from unemployed residents to local business owners, about the issues that stop people getting into work.

"Today, we are calling for radical change to help get local people into jobs they can keep and ultimately enjoy."

Cllr Richard Watts, Leader of Islington Council, said: "Islington has an unemployment crisis, with more kids growing up in households where no adult works than anywhere else in the country. I welcome the Commission's report, and as a council we're committed to making this vision happen.

"The success of the Commission will be judged not just by how much we can reduce unemployment, but by how much of the drop is those currently excluded from the labour market. The better off residents of our borough enjoy the benefits of an economy that is, for them at least, thriving. I want all of our residents to enjoy a part of that success."

You can read the Commission's full report here or a summary of the main findings here. 

Pictured: Islington Labour councillors at the launch of the Islington Employment Commission.  

 

Radical plan to tackle unemployment

Islington Labour is committed to making our borough a fairer place and tackling one of the major drivers of unfairness in Islington, unemployment, is the focus of a radical report...

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A blog by Islington Council’s Armed Forces Champion, Cllr Gary Poole (St Mary’s ward) – 

The beginning of November marks a poignant period in the civic year for our borough. This year, as we mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, the remembrance events of the past week have an added significance. 

The crowds that have flocked to the Tower of London to see the magnificent and powerful poppies demonstrate the importance to people of remembering those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for us.

Here in Islington, 9,400 army personnel and residents lost their lives between 1914-1918. That’s almost equivalent to the entire population of one whole ward of our borough. 

The fields of France and Belgium, the sands of Egypt and the beaches of Gallipoli, all saw ordinary people from Islington fall in service of their country. 

To emphasise and remember that it was ordinary people from Islington that went to fight in the First World War, but never returned home, Islington Council has established the ‘The Streets They Left Behind’ project.

Today, we have launched the next part of the project – an interactive map which shows where each of the people who died during the First World War lived. Each soldiers’ former home is marked by a poppy on the map, and when clicked displays details about their military action during the war, and their last resting places. 

The locations have been compiled from the Islington Book of Remembrance, which commemorates the 13,000 men, women and children of Islington who died as a result of war from the beginning of the Boer War (1899), to the 1950s.

You may have already seen some of the plaques that have been placed on streets across our borough, which commemorate the men who lived in those streets and lost their lives in the First World War. 

Here's a piece BBC London did about the plaques - 

This project aims to highlight the impact on the communities back home of the loss of so many Islingtonians, and to remember the soldiers’ great sacrifice. Communities, families and workplaces were torn apart by the loss of so many and we hope that It will be an invaluable resource for schools and other groups wishing to study the impact of the First World War on their communities. 

There are many events and exhibitions taking place as we mark the centenary of the First World War and you can find details of these here, including information about the ‘Islington during the First World War’ exhibition at Islington Central Library. 

I am proud that the people of our borough won’t forget the sacrifice of those that fell in the Great War, and the sacrifice of so many others in conflicts that came after. 

We will remember them. 

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Pictured: Islington Labour councillors at Spa Green Memorial on Sunday 9th November 2014. 

The Streets They Left Behind

A blog by Islington Council’s Armed Forces Champion, Cllr Gary Poole (St Mary’s ward) –  The beginning of November marks a poignant period in the civic year for our borough....

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