Cllr Teresa O’Neill OBE, Leader of the London Borough of Bexley, reflects on the election victory of two years ago and how we’re already starting to plan for the post-COVID19 world.
Two years ago, Bexley residents went out to vote, and elected us to run our Borough for a fourth term of office.
It was our fourth landslide victory as well, but this was the most decisive mandate of them all.
We were honoured to receive 55% of all votes cast – our highest ever vote share – but we also saw a 12% increase in our vote share and we won 7% more seats.
It was a truly humbling mandate and we were all back at work the next day, continuing to repay that trust, and continue delivering high quality council services. Mandates of that scale, at election after election, don’t happen by accident.
Residents can see how hard we work to keep our Borough performing at such a consistently high level, and while our opponents post negative claims or comments about our Borough on social media, we just keep on working all year round, speaking to real people about real things.
As we have always done, we speak for the silent majority of people in Bexley who just want to see good Council services being delivered, value for money, and who want to obtain help when they need it, and trust us to get on with it. We have always run Bexley as if we were managing our own budgets, maximising value for every pound we spend on services.
Our services continue to be rated as among the best in London or the country. Within a few weeks of being re-elected, our Children’s Services were independently inspected by Ofsted – who rated them as “Outstanding”.
An independent inspection of the whole Council concluded Bexley was strongly led, a Council with a clear vision and ambition, respected by other bodies from Government to local Councils across the country, with a reputation for having strong financial foundations in place.
Independent auditors judged our administration to be efficient and effective, delivering value for money for Bexley taxpayers.
We now have the most successful apprenticeship scheme in London. Our parks have won more awards and thanks to all our efforts, Danson Park was named as London’s Best Park. We are the best Borough in London for recycling for the 15th year in a row.
Of course there are those who disagree with that, who would rather see a badly run, inefficient Council, and it’s funny now to look back, but before the election, it was being claimed we were going to suffer a massive defeat, that London would have no Conservative councils at all, and locally, Labour candidates were boasting of how they were going to win a minimum of 22 seats and very likely win control.
Of course Bexley residents didn’t want or agree with that and gave them fewer seats than before, and within a year one of their Councillors had quit, fed up with their continual internal wars.
Our borough has always been one where we work hard together, shaping our future together. We don’t spend our time looking inward, we are always planning the future.
Those who spent the election and indeed the previous four years running down our Borough, and claiming everything about Bexley was awful, got the clearest rejection of that attitude from residents on 3rd May 2018 as it’s possible to get.
Two years later though we did not expect to find ourselves working around the clock to lead our Borough through this global pandemic, but I’m incredibly proud of what we are all doing at the moment.
Within hours of the lockdown being announced we had set up the Coronavirus helpline to co-ordinate our responses. This has been receiving around 60 calls a day, and those who call needing help have been getting it quickly.
We were talking to government, nationally and across London, to plan what needed to be done, and offer help to those who needed it.
Within a couple of days we had set up one of the country’s first free parking for key workers schemes, which now has over 3,000 participants.
We set up the project to deliver food parcels and other supplies to vulnerable adults across the Borough, working closely with partners and with an army of volunteers – 600 of whom signed up with a couple of days of our appeal being launched.
The Civic Office is full of food and supplies, being batched up by Council staff reassigned from their other work and volunteers, which is despatched for delivery on a daily basis, 7 days a week.
We’ve completed 500 welfare visits to vulnerable residents, and have delivered medicines to over 300 people who cannot get out themselves.
Day to day services have been continuing as best they can. One example is that, with so much less traffic on the roads, our highway teams have been out doing lots of work such a re-painting road signs or markings, which would usually be much harder to do.
We’ve also been working to reinstate Council meetings, with trial virtual meetings carried out to test the system, and we are commencing meetings this week.
We’re now starting to focus on how we recover from this, and looking at how services can be re-introduced with social distancing measures in place.
There are no easy, instant off the shelf answers either. For example, how can leisure centres re-open and operate in way that ensures people are two metres apart?
There are a lot of challenges ahead, but, as always, we will deal with them head on, quietly, calmly, without any dramas.
That’s what we’ve been doing over the last month, that’s what we’ve done since first being elected in 2006, that’s what we’ve been doing since 2018, and that’s what we will do in the years ahead.
Stay safe, and be kind.