What a year 2014 has been. As I look back at all that has happened I can’t believe it has only been a year.
It has been a year of triumph and terrible sadness. The terrible loss of Alice Gross this autumn affected the whole borough but we were uplifted by the way the local community rallied around after the news of her disappearance. In times of trial the people of Ealing prove what a wonderful community this is and I am proud to represent it.
We started the year with our campaign highlighting the ‘Cost of Cameron’. Residents of the borough are living through a cost of living crisis with wages failing to keep pace with inflation and ordinary families finding it harder and harder to pay their bills. This is why we took the decision to freeze council tax once again in February. This was our fourth council tax freeze meaning council tax hasn’t gone up at all since Labour took back control of Ealing in 2010.
Just before Easter we launched our manifesto for re-election in the local elections. Our top issues were another council tax freeze, more council homes, more CCTV, 50% recycling by 2018, 500 more apprenticeships and continuing the fight to save our hospitals. This positive agenda received an enthusiastic response on the doorstep as I went round campaigning for re-election and was reflected in the election results all across the borough. Even in these difficult financial times people understand that Labour is delivering for Ealing.
The local elections were an unprecedented triumph for Labour. We have the highest proportion of councillors Labour has ever had in the borough and we had our first councillors elected in Cleveland ward. The results were a wonderful vindication of our work on the council and a clear signal that local people approve of our message.
After the results were counted it was a particular pleasure to attend the council’s annual meeting where I was reappointed as leader of the council and appointed my new cabinet. We also appointed Cllr Tej Bagha as this year’s mayor. Tej has been a wonderful servant of the borough as a councillor for the last twenty years and there is not a councillor in the chamber, from any political party, that does not share the Labour groups affection for Tej.
At the end of the summer we saw the closure of our local A&Es at Central Middlesex and Hammersmith hospitals. In the three months since we have seen waiting times increase at local hospitals and ambulances turned away because there are no beds available. Sadly this is exactly what we predicted would happen and it is why we will continue the fight to save services at Ealing and Charing Cross.
In September I completed the Ealing Half Marathon and raised money for a good cause at the same time. There a few more satisfying feelings than reaching the last lap of Lammas Park and soaking up the applause of the crowd on a fantastically sunny Sunday morning. Yet again the event was a triumph and I must pay tribute to the organisers who after only three years have turned the event into an Ealing institution.
On October 1st we heard the terrible news that Alice Gross’s body had been found. It was a profoundly sad time for everyone in the borough and the public outpouring of good will towards Alice’s family was a consolation for them at such a difficult time.
November saw the release of the first tranche of savings that have been forced upon us by the massive cuts the Tory-led Government are forcing through. Some of the proposals are currently being consulted upon but I must state that none of this is what we wanted to do. I didn’t get in politics to implement Tory cuts and closures. Throughout the budget process we have tried to protect service as much as possible but given the scale of the £96m worth of Tory cuts we are facing we have had to cut some services. The £96m means since we took control of the council we will have to make £183m worth of cuts to the council's budget.
We also launched our hospital commission together with Brent, Harrow and Hammersmith and Fulham. The four boroughs have commissioned independent experts to report back on the consequences of the Government's decision to close four local A&Es.
This December we announced that we would once again be freezing council tax for 2015/16. I hope this news gives everyone in the borough a little more to be cheerful about during the festive season.
As you can see it’s been a busy year for everyone at the Town Hall and we’re all looking forward to a well-deserved break. On behalf of everyone at the council I would like to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.