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COLIN BARROW: Westminster has flourished in face of adversity

PUBLISHED: 15:35 18 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:39 07 September 2010

The past 12 months for Westminster have been characterised by the resilience shown by its people and businesses. Despite extraordinary pressures, our economy and our communities have withstood the challenges presented by the recession and, in many cases,

The past 12 months for Westminster have been characterised by the resilience shown by its people and businesses. Despite extraordinary pressures, our economy and our communities have withstood the challenges presented by the recession and, in many cases, have flourished in the face of adversity.

Regardless of the economic gloom, parts of Westminster are currently recording record retail sales. And in local shopping centres, the lifeblood of so many of our communities, we've seen two new business improvement districts formed in the past two months, which is a real cause for optimism.

Westminster's Neighbourhood Leadership Awards - where the council seeks to acknowledge and honour those residents who have made an outstanding contribution in their community - have also shown that civic pride and voluntary action are as much a part of this city's DNA as they have ever been.

In categories ranging from working with young people to promoting community safety, we have been inundated with local candidates who contribute positively to their neighbourhoods and communities all year round.

Although it is individuals who can take most of the credit for weathering the storm, the City Council has played its part too over the past year. Our City Recovery Strategy, for example, has directly supported well over 2,000 people since October 2008 and has assisted nearly 1,500 businesses through extra advice, support and physical improvements to the business environment.

Over the course of the year, we have also doubled the capacity of our family recovery programme which is turning round the lives of some of Westminster's most disadvantaged families.

Crucially, the project is also tearing down barriers between areas of the public service in a unique but common sense way. It's a service which is designed around people, not bureaucrats, and exists to deliver results rather than tick boxes. In fact, it might just represent the future of many of our public services.

But what of the forthcoming year and decade? It would be easy, at a time of austerity, to retreat into mediocrity and scale back our vision of building the Living City for Westminster. The council's mission for the new decade, however, will be simple: we will do better with less.

Whilst our resources will certainly be fewer, our determination to deliver responsive services, promote personal responsibility and improve our public realm remains undimmed.

The finer details of next year's council agenda are still to be finalised. Two things, however, are for sure: the programme will be ambitious and it will be achieved with a council tax that will be frozen for a record third year. After all, the last thing residents need is an increased bill from us when so many people are feeling the pinch.

I wish all Westminster's residents a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

q Colin Barrow is the leader of Westminster City Council


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