Labour leader pledges to listen and learn from tough lessons of her first year
- Credit: Camden Labour Party
Georgia Gould could have at least three reasons to celebrate next month, although only one of them is definite. Not only will she turn 32, but she hopes to be returned to the council as a councillor for Kentish Town, and be reinstated as the borough’s leader.
However her time as leader has been marked by the Chalcots Estate evacuation, just over a month after she took on the role.
Campaigners, including Lib Dem candidate in Belsize Tom Simon, have since said the decision to evacuate was taken prematurely. But Cllr Gould said she offered to put measures in place, to keep tenants in their homes, but this wasn’t enough.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen fear like that, people were scared to stay in their own homes.”
“We knew the deep disruption the evacuation would cause, and I spoke to the fire brigade and pressed them on it. We offered to pay for fire trucks to be outside the blocks, but they were unequivocal it was unsafe for them to stay.“
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“I don’t think we had a choice. Anyone who was there, two weeks after Grenfell, hearing people were not safe to stay in their beds, would have made that decision. It was a difficult, but everyone’s advice was clear.
However she admitted one of her regrets about the evacuation.
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“Residents have said that our communication could have been better, but we did the best we could in difficult circumstances, and there’s a lot to learn.”
She also acknowledges there’s “a lot of anger” over the Chalcots and “people sometimes don’t trust us,” she said.
However it looks as though lessons weren’t learned quickly enough. Despite appointing a director of resident safety, and starting an inquiry into the Chalcots, last week Camden’s coroner Mary Hassell criticised the council over a fatal fire on November 21 in Daleham Gardens.
Ms Hassell raised concerns that the council hadn’t got anybody appointed to check smoke detectors were fully operational.
Ms Gould said: “We did have fire officers, and the fire brigade regularly do checks. There was a lot going on, but we are ready to learn from it.
“Making sure our residents are safe is my number one priority,” she said.
Cllr Gould wants to lead the council by “listening, taking people with us, and by being there when things get tough.”
There are current rumours that if Labour enjoy a good day at the ballot box on May 3, the opposition could be severely reduced. But Cllr Gould doesn’t believe this would result in a lack of scrutiny in council decisions.
“We’re clear that we want to be accountable to residents, and open. I’ve opened up council meetings to residents, to hold us to account directly. Our approach is about bringing them in, and listening to them.”