Liberal Democrat councils in London and across the country have been working on ways to help their residents and local businesses through the recession. Vince Cable is leading the debate nationally, and Liberal Democrats in local government are supplying answers to the real problems on the ground.
In Islington, the Liberal Democrats inherited a basket case council from the loony-left. Labour-run Islington was the proverbial case of bad local government, with enormous levels of debt and the highest council tax in the capital. Labour Islington was a tabloid favourite with scandals, sky-high spending, and crazy policies.
The Lib Dems have since put Islington on its soundest financial footing ever, and now our council tax is one of the lowest in London. We’ve pledged to keep it that way. Making sure that residents have that extra bit of money in their pockets will help them through the tough times. We now also give a £20 direct debit discount on council tax, giving £800,000 a year back in cash to Islington residents.
It’s because we put the council on a firm financial footing that we are now in a position to actively engage with the local community and put money into recession-busting initiatives.
We are putting money into our local credit union to help people get small, low-interest loans when they really need it – like if the cooker or fridge breaks down.
When times are tough, more and more people look for financial advice. Good advice can make the difference between coping and going under, so we are going to invest more in advice services. This will cover debt advice, credit checks, savings and loans advice, energy efficiency advice and financial support. To make sure the advice reaches people who need it most, we’re taking it into schools, children’s centres, libraries – even stalls in street markets.
Since the Lib Dems were elected here we’ve worked hard on cutting the borough’s carbon emissions as part of the global effort against climate change. This has paid dividends in the current economic environment: thanks to green initiatives the council itself now saves £700,000 on energy bills. Through Islington’s Climate Change Partnership we provide help and advice for local businesses and residents to help them cut their own energy costs as well as reduce their emissions.
We’re working closely with local businesses, and the council now offers free advice to local enterprises and entrepreneurs. We’re introducing a procurement code that supports the use of local suppliers where available, and we’ve also reduced the timescale for paying invoices from local firms from thirty to ten days.
Local Government can and should take a lead in helping residents through the recession. Without doubt, 2009 promises to be the most challenging year since the Liberal Democrats took control of Islington, but it’s our sound financial management which means that we are able to take decisive action now to help residents and local businesses.
Wherever you live, make sure you get in touch with your local councillors to check that they’re doing their bit to help the community in this difficult time.
* Cllr James Kempton is the Liberal Democrat leader of Islington Council.