Leader’s New Year Message
Cllr Richard Watts

I get lots of people coming to my advice surgeries, even more so since becoming Leader of the Council in October. What has really struck me this year is the new faces, people who’ve never needed help before but suddenly don’t know where to turn. One lady told me she’d worked all her life but with her hours suddenly cut back she’d been forced to go to a foodbank because she couldn’t afford to pay the latest massive gas bill and feed her family. Another came, at breaking point because Atos had told him he was ‘fit for work’ when he knew he wasn’t. He was terrified he would lose his home as a result.

Nobody should spend this Christmas forced to choose between heating or eating. Nobody should be worrying that this will be their last Christmas in the home they’ve lived in for years, because they can’t afford to stay there.

We’re doing everything we can as a Council to help people manage the rising cost of living and stand up for those affected by the government’s cuts. Things like saving families £500 per year per child with free, nutritious school meals for all our primary school children – a policy that’s now going to be partially rolled out across the country because Islington has shown it works. Keeping our council housing rents as low as possible and taking the Mayor of London to court because he’s trying to increase rents in the borough. Paying the London Living Wage to all our staff. And with fuel prices rocketing and the private companies reporting ever bigger profits, we’ve even started generating our own power. 700 homes in Bunhill are already enjoying cheaper, greener energy from the Bunhill Energy Centre. Soon at least 500 more homes will see the same benefit with a ground breaking project that takes waste heat from London Underground tunnels and pipes it into the heat network to warm local homes.

I wish I could say that our actions meant nobody needed to come to our advice surgeries in desperation. But with a fourth year of this Government attacking some of the most vulnerable people in society, this sadly isn’t a Christmas wish I’m going to see fulfilled.

What I can promise in 2014 is this Labour Council will continue standing up for our community and even as our budgets continue to be slashed by the Government, we’ll keep prioritising spending what we have on making a difference in tough times.

We’ll keep up the fight to save our vital public services, from our post offices and  fire stations to our much loved local Whittington Hospital. We’ll keep tackling the unemployment crisis by working with businesses to create jobs and setting up a new Employment Commission to better help people get skills and support. And we’ll keep building the new genuinely affordable council housing Islington desperately needs – the borough’s biggest house building programme for 30 years.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

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