Thank you for inviting me here to speak to you tonight.
I want to start by acknowledging the important working relationship the Council has with the WPA and many of its members, both at an officer and a member level.
Westminster is a wonderful city but one that only works when there is a true partnership between the city council, its residents, the voluntary sector, the GLA, national government and of course businesses and representative groups such as the WPA.
Partnership is essential in order to address some of the most pressing issues in our city –the need for good jobs, affordable housing, and tackling the climate emergency.
When we first took over the leadership of the council last year, there were two key things that were really important to us.
- Ensuring that Westminster is a Council that delivers effective services, but which combines this with a commitment to social justice. And
- Putting residents front and centre – doing our best to involve them more in our decision-making and improving the way that the council consults and engages with our communities.
And we have to be honest that the council did not always get this right in the past, a message we heard repeatedly on the doorstep from our residents.
I also know that when I and some of my colleagues pointed this out pre-election there may have been some concerns amongst people in this room about what approach a Labour administration might take towards the business community. However, I hope over the last year we have been able to show that we want to build and strengthen pragmatic, productive relationships with business focused on delivering outcomes that make life better for our residents and for the city as a whole.
As an administration, we want to make sure that we were as transparent as we can be about where we want to go and how we want to get there.
We recently launched our Delivery Plan, which sets out our ambitions for a Fairer Westminster and seeks to hold us accountable for what we aim to achieve over the next year.
Above all, our priority is to make fundamental improvements to the lives of our residents, and the immediate focus for us over the past year has been to use every lever at our disposal to mitigate the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis.
It can be difficult to understand that, when you look at the part of the city we’re in now, that Westminster also has some of the worst deprivation in the country.
Almost a quarter of Westminster’s households are classed as vulnerable. That, to me, is shameful.
So as a Council we have taken decisive action through an unprecedented £14m package of support to address the cost-of-living crisis, bringing together council investment alongside government funding. In addition to this support we will be providing free school meals across early years providers, primary and secondary schools and have set up a £1m rent support fund to help council tenants not currently receiving Government welfare support. (Pause)
Our Responsible Economy team, who are a key player in our administration’s approach to business, have been working hard to strengthen the ways in which networks of businesses and employers contribute to delivering community benefit.
I am grateful to the many members here who have mobilised and contributed to the success of our Responsible Business Network, by collaborating with organisations across the City to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. We see those relationships as absolutely key to our longer-term ambitions – getting local people into local jobs right across our city.
But our vision goes beyond that too – it’s part of our own ambition as a Council to have a workforce, both within the council and across the city, which is more representative of the communities we represent.
By making changes to our own recruitment practices, we have been able to make changes – 100% of our most recent intake of Digital Business apprentices were from Westminster and 95% identified as having a global majority background –and we are working with local organisations to drive forward this agenda as well.
And earlier this week we launched our Responsible Procurement & Commissioning Strategy that sets a clear framework to guide the Council’s work with our suppliers on community wealth building to deliver responsible business and sustainable development.
In June we will also be launching our Fairer Economy strategy that will set out for the first time a clear strategic vision and plan for how we can make sure all our residents benefit from the many economic opportunities here in Westminster.
And, as many of you know, we are committed to delivering our Fairer Westminster objectives through changes to our planning policies – through our ongoing revisions to the City Plan and our Affordable Housing SPD, which will go out for final consultation in the early summer. Through these changes we want to ensure that we are better able to build the social and genuinely affordable homes that our residents need, both on our land and in partnership with the private sector, while also addressing climate change by setting out what a ‘retrofit first’ policy means in practice.
Tackling the climate challenge is a key priority for us and I’m proud of the work that has been done in recent months.
The Sustainable City Charter is a great example of successful partnership working – and we’ve worked with the WPA to develop an overarching climate action pledge for any organisations which own or occupy non-domestic buildings in Westminster.
I am delighted that we have had over 80 Westminster organisations expressing interest in the Charter, and more than 20 of those have gone on to become full signatories.
The council’s partnership with the WPA on the Charter since its inception has been absolutely critical to this project being a success; providing invaluable insight into the priorities of the property industry in Westminster as well as providing a sounding board for feedback on the various elements of the Charter, as it evolved from a concept into a reality.
I’d particularly like to thank Charles Begley and Andrea Williams at the WPA for their efforts as they have worked seamlessly alongside officers from the council to develop and launch the Charter – and to continue its development.
I also want to thank those of you in this room who have signed up to the Charter, and especially to those who have also agreed to sit on the Technical Working Group or the Steering Group for the Charter so that you can help drive this work forward to the next stage.
Finally, that brings me to another charter which is of real significance for the Council and me personally – our ‘Westminster Against Dirty Money’ charter.
The horrors of the war in Ukraine brought a long overdue spotlight to the far reaching impact of oligarch investments and in particular, how London has evolved into a laundromat for dirty money from across the world.
But the problem goes beyond Russian oligarchs to many others who see some of the most exclusive or high-profile parts of Westminster as places to rinse or stash their money.
This is not only damaging the reputation of our city by supporting authoritarianism abroad, but it is draining the vitality of out of areas with empty or under-used homes. And as you may have heard me say many times over the last year opaque businesses and anonymous property ownership is damaging our high streets too with the plague of Candy Shops and Tat shops that clearly don’t turn a profit, but which are dragging down Oxford Street, short changing the tax payer and fleecing our visitors.
That’s why I am proud to have launched this charter – the first of its kind in the UK – which brings together the council, NWEC, HOLBA and the Fair Tax Foundation to shine a fresh light on bad practices ranging from masking the real overseas owners of properties and businesses to deliberately obscuring company ownership structures. (Pause)
Our plans for our city are ambitious – but they are driven by a feeling that things have felt unfair for too many, for too long.
This is our chance to help right the ship – to secure a better future for our people, our city, and our environment, and above all to build a Fairer Westminster – in partnership with you.