Local leadership in Watford

When I was standing to be the Elected Mayor of Watford in 2018, Sir Vince Cable kindly came to help the campaign several times. When asked by local journalists why electing Lib Dems in local government mattered, his answer was always a straightforward one; because up and down the country we provide caring and competent local leadership. During the coronavirus pandemic I have seen Lib Dem-run councils doing just that.

As soon as the scale of this emergency became clear, Watford’s Liberal Democrat councillors and campaigners started to phone hundreds of older residents to ask them if they were alright and to find out what help they might need. This was extremely well received and meant that we were able to identify many people in particular need at a very early stage.

From the very outset it was clear that the whole way the council operated would have to change with many staff moved to new priority areas. Our approach has focused on making sure that our town is caring for all those in need, that key services are maintained, we engage with our residents and that Watford remains as connected and positive as possible.

Many people wanted to know what they could do to support those more vulnerable than themselves during the lockdown. To make sure that local volunteer effort was coordinated and effective we worked with local voluntary groups to set up ‘Watford Helps’. Over 1,000 people have signed up and are helping people to get the food and medicines that they need and making friendly phone calls to those who are lonely or isolated.

We have brought forward local grant schemes to support charities financially and set up a community fund with our Community and Voluntary Service. This has already secured donations of over £120,000 from local businesses, councillors and residents. It is being used to help groups that are assisting with the coronavirus response and enabling local charities facing a sudden loss of income to survive.

We have expanded our existing scheme to make sure that the households on the lowest incomes pay no council tax at all. Every rough sleeper and person experiencing homelessness in the town has been given accommodation and ongoing support to help them turn their lives around. We intend to make sure that this emergency results in a giant step forwards in our work to end homelessness in Watford.

I know that many people support the Liberal Democrats locally because we ‘keep in touch all year round’ and have a record of getting things done. During this pandemic we have made sure that key services continue to operate effectively. Every bin has been collected on the day it was meant to, the capacity of our burial services has increased and our finance team has worked around the clock to make grant and hardship payments to hundreds of local businesses.

I have sent out regular email updates to local residents providing information about local services, how to get help, how to volunteer and other useful information. I have also held a weekly ‘Facebook Live’ event to answer questions from residents, a weekly virtual meeting with local businesses and answered questions each week on a local radio station. I have also had weekly meetings with the leader of the opposition group and every councillor has had a daily email update. We were conscious that some of those most in need of help and support might not have access to the internet. Every household in Watford received a leaflet in early April setting out the support available, how to volunteer, health advice and changes to our services.

It is understandable that much of the coverage of this crisis has focused on the impact on physical health and our economy. However, this situation has exacerbated problems of loneliness, isolation and mental ill-health. Almost everyone will have felt bored, fed up or down in the dumps during the lockdown. So We have brought cultural leaders in the town together for a ‘Watford Together’ initiative. We set up a new website and Facebook page to help people through this pandemic as through cultural activity

This has resulted in lots of local residents taking part in online exercise classes, a variety of virtual art and performance sessions and the opportunity to showcase talented local performers. I even got the chance to read a bedtime story and now host a weekly pub quiz with Watford FC legend Luther Blissett which raises money for our community fund.

There is no doubt about the scale of the challenges we face in responding to the coronavirus and its aftermath. But our party should take pride in the efforts of Liberal Democrat councils, councillors and campaigners across the country. We are providing local leadership so that we care for the most vulnerable, deliver key frontline services and bring our communities together.

* Peter Taylor is the Liberal Democrat Elected Mayor of Watford.

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One Comment

  • R A Underhill 1st May '20 - 12:12pm

    Watford also has good communications.
    1) Look at the journey time from the BR station to Euston,
    2) or take the Metropolitan line from Metroland to the west end of London.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metro-land.
    Imagine that a replacement was needed for Wembley stadium
    It should be accessible to Heathrow, Newcastle, Manchester, and Liverpool
    and avoid upsetting sports fans with long memories.
    Ask the former chairman of Watford football club to play some music at the opening.
    Invite the Lib Dem President.

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