Council leader's message for a challenging year ahead

We all know that the coming year is likely to be difficult.  We know that the real economy is in recession. We know that unemployment will increase. We know that money will be tight.  This year will be challenging for us all.  As a Council, we cannot and

We all know that the coming year is likely to be difficult. We know that the real economy is in recession. We know that unemployment will increase. We know that money will be tight. This year will be challenging for us all. As a Council, we cannot and will not shirk our responsibilities. We will concentrate on helping people and businesses through these difficult times. Moreover, we will not stop serving our communities, but actually seek to raise our standard of service.

These are not just words. We have been saving money and building up reserves for precisely such an occasion as this. We now intend to use some of that money. We will boost the health and prosperity of Westminster through a City Recovery programme, by expanding our Family Recovery initiative and making 100 visible improvements by May to smarten the centre of the City.

Our efforts will not simply be specific projects, but across the board. All our main services will commit to building a cleaner, safer and healthier city. Our spending on local neighbourhood projects will pass the £1 million mark. In February, we will set a level of council tax that will show our determination to make a difference. In March, I'll set out our new commitments for the year ahead and report on the completion of nearly 30 projects of our One City programme. In May, we'll deliver on our first set of 100 street improvements, particularly a renewed Marble Arch. And in June, we'll be able to update you on 17 initiatives in our City Recovery programme and launch our summer promotion of the West End.

In the second half of the year, the initial phase of our family recovery programme will be completed. We will have made significant progress with our Building Schools for the Future project, having completed four school building programmes and started construction at a further three, added over 60 volunteers through our city guide scheme, improved customer service, completed a new drive to deliver clean streets in Westminster and started a £4 million investment programme in children's and adult services provision.

Of course, this isn't simply about the recession. It's about preparing for 2012. When the Olympics arrive, we want people to see a London that is the greatest city on earth. And we want to involve you, our community leaders, to make that happen. We need your support to build stronger communities, to increase volunteering, help local business prosper and get people into education and employment.

But spending money is only one half of the equation. By carefully looking at our own costs we can make sure that we spend your money where it is most needed. We're aiming to make £30 million of savings over the next year, so we can keep council tax down and invest less money on administration and more on frontline services, where it makes the biggest difference.

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We'll also be working to unify public services. It won't be easy. Public services are notoriously fragmented. This leads to duplication, waste and inefficiency. By working together we can share knowledge, people and information to make more of what we have.

Above all, we will continue to fight for the interests of those we serve. We'll make the strongest case to central government to get additional resources for Westminster, and make sure it is recognised as a motor for the rest of the UK. We'll ask the Prime Minister to reconsider cuts to London's children's services budgets and to restore more of the business rate to Westminster. We will also ask Government to consider our arguments on housing policy where we can house more people if we have more local control.

In summary, and despite the recession, I want us to be the best. Westminster should be a city where high quality local government enables people to flourish and have more control over their lives; where people think it worthwhile to volunteer and participate in their local communities.

Individually and collectively we face major challenges this year, and I promise you that Westminster City Council will help you meet the problems we face, together.

My warmest regards and best wishes for the New Year.

Cllr Colin Barrow


Westminster City Council