What is your proudest achievement as a councillor?
I am proud of having worked as a member of the Thurrock Council executive, leading a team of members and officials into changing the financial approach that had been the status quo into a path which was commercially-enthusiastic, wise on investments, and commissioning a full bottom/up review of the services which residents use and depend. These measures have taken us from a council which was struggling to get by, year-on-year, to a council which has now been self-sufficient for nearly half decade, and we are currently forecasting being self-sufficient years into the next decade. Our reforms have enabled us to maintain (and improve in some instances) the quality of services residents use, and also enabled us to freeze council tax this year – something less than 5% of councils in the UK have been able to do.
Which of your projects has made the biggest impact for your community?
Setting up the Stanford-le-Hope War Memorial Restoration Group, which fundraised to restore the town’s war memorial ahead of the centenary remembrance events in 2014 and 2018. A group of local people (including myself) fundraised, and secured enough money to have the memorial professionally cleaned, lettering re-embossed, fitted up-lighters, and erected a flag pole for the union flag. The war memorial is central in our town so our efforts attracted a good deal of support. We even got donations from previous residents of Stanford-le-Hope who had immigrated to Australia decades ago!
What’s the highlight of your time as a councillor so far?
There are so many, it is hard to point and say “this” or “that”. One particular pride-of-passion in me that I have driven as the Cabinet Member for Finance is to review the way we collect debts from residents. I believe there are those who want to pay, but find that they can’t; there are those that can pay, but chose not to; and I believe there is more that local government may be able to do to help educate young persons leaving care and education about the long-term challenges of racking up debt/getting in above their heads. I held a Fair Debt Summit with key stakeholders (CAB, council, schools etc.) and we have introduced new ways for people to reach out if they need help dealing with their council tax debt, embarked on a committal process for those who habitually and deliberately do not pay their debts, and introduced an education package into secondary schools to help young people learn tips on managing money and avoiding debt later in life.
How was the awards ceremony?
When at the ceremony, I took a step back and looked at who was in attendance – it was attended by people of multiple political persuasions; a great split between male and female members; there were time-served councillors and young councillors there; and there were representatives from all types of council – unitary, county etc. The ceremony was very well run and enjoyable, and when listening to the nominees’ stories, there were lots of excellent ideas in addition to what we were nominated for. It was a fantastic evening for recognition, meeting a diverse crowd, and getting some great inspiration!
LGiU and CCLA’s Cllr Achievement Awards are the only awards celebrating the important work of councillors and the highlight of the year for elected members across England! If you know a councillor deserving of recognition for their hard work, make sure you put them forward today. For more information about the awards please check out our project page.