Councillor Gillian Ford Chair of Havering Residents Association (H.R.A)
I was first elected in 2002 having previously been a youth representative on a local community group and a school governor. My family have been amazing and have always been supportive encouraging me to agree to represent the Residents Association in the local election. I also decided to study for a degree that proved invaluable in building my confidence to question and challenge. Having been told by a woman Councillor that I should remember I was a woman in a man’s domain, I took on the challenge.
Since that time I have represented local authorities at a national and international level including in the development of the Better Care Fund, the development of Health and Wellbeing Boards, Bright Futures for Children, Parity in mental health and am currently helping to develop a Council Scrutiny model for Children’s Services that can be rolled out across the UK on behalf of the DfE. Life and personal experiences have certainly helped me contribute to some big agendas and even the bad experiences can filter into making changes for others.
The challenges Havering faces are immense. Government funding does not meet the demands in adult and children’s social care, the ‘Levelling Up’ agenda will have an impact on London through the new proposed framework, the climate agenda is not a case of ‘if we do this’, it is a ‘must do this’ scenario, and the development of the Integrated Care Systems will need to be understood as to the impact at the local level. Residents are facing their own financial challenges with rising food costs, energy costs, and pay not matching inflation. The stark reality is that many of our residents face a reduction in income and fuel and food poverty. Money, is always the elephant in the room, but as an authority, we will have to consider what can we do differently, collaboratively and through empowerment. Our residents depend on us for services, support and the well-being of our communities. We cannot do this without knowing what the current administration has failed to reveal. The current budget has unmet savings, yet the Administration want to make more savings. The question is how are they going to achieve this if they failed before?
Havering Council under the current administration has failed to deal with the basics that have an impact on our daily lives. Highways maintenance has deteriorated, road surface programmes have failed to deliver in priority roads, open green spaces have been sold off for development, and the voice of the public has been quashed through the constraints on Councillors ability to act as the critical friend.
COVID-19 has had a huge impact on our health services and businesses. We, therefore, need to work closely with our health partners to see how we can deliver the services that are needed and ensure learning and skills are matched to work opportunities, alongside making businesses feel welcome in Havering. We need to work with our Police partners to ensure Havering is a safe place to live including by driving out knife crime, and closer to home we have to deal with the Town Hall exodus of staff and the morale of the remaining staff, which is at an all-time low.
This cannot be allowed to continue and it is for this reason that the H.R.A have developed a document of pledges and commitments that will challenge and tackle the deficiencies within Council services and areas to develop with our partners. We will start by listening to and valuing staff, and collectively we will identify system failures. To deliver the services, we need to have a skilled workforce that feels they are part of the big picture. We will need to get a real grasp on the budget and the lack of impact assessments. We will work with our partners to develop policies and strategies that will enhance life for Havering’s residents and we will work with residents to tackle the big agendas, including climate and the need to deliver housing and the necessary infrastructure.
We cannot review all services in the first year due to a depleted workforce and financial constraints. We can however start with the services that are failing or not delivering, and transfer the learning from the services that are successful and effective. We need to be looking beyond Havering’s boundary to see the good practice is taking place in other authorities across the country and recognise and celebrate where we are doing well.
My life journey has empowered me to keep challenging and making positive difference when and wherever I can, and I truly believe that it is time for change in Havering and hope you can support the H.R.A.