Last night, I went to a public meeting in Putney about the impact of government cuts to schools budgets which will mean schools in this borough will be worse off by over £9m over the next 3 years.
Not a single Tory cllr was there. Justine Greening, MP for Putney and Secretary of State for Education was invited but she was not there either. She chose instead to attend a meeting of local allotment keepers.
There was 1 Tory council candidate. Even as wave after wave of parents and teachers spoke of the impact the cuts are having on their schools, he told them all they were mistaken, the numbers were incorrect, the cuts were an illusion.
His response is something that residents in Wandsworth have come to expect.
The recent decision by Wandsworth Council to fell 51 mature Chestnut trees on Tooting Common tells a similar story – a Council that doesn’t listen and ignores what residents are telling it.
The Council never intended to consult residents on its plan. It wanted to cut down this cherished landmark in secret. The two community groups that were told of the plan were effectively given gagging orders.
Residents came to Wandsworth Town Hall to request public consultation on the felling on Chestnut Avenue – residents groups had been told to keep the Council’s plans secret
Consultation only happened at all because the then MP, Sadiq Khan, forced the Council’s hand but by then the council had already bid for the money it needed so the consultation was designed in such a way as to get the answer the council wanted – not to hear the genuine views of the residents affected.
As it became clear that residents did not support the plan and did not feel the consultation had been fairly worded – as witnessed by the 6,500 people who signed a petition – rather than rethink, listen, adapt, the Council chose instead to sink over £21,000 into security measures – including a 10 foot steel wall.
Confidentially agreements, untruths, shifting sands, tall walls, guard dogs were all put in place to ensure the Council, not its residents, would be calling the shots.
The new avenue of saplings (not semi-mature 15 foot trees as we’d been promised), feels like a permanent rebuke to the residents of Furzedown for asking to be heard.
A similar story played out at a recent Let’s Talk meeting I attended in Shaftesbury Ward.
I jotted down what some of the residents had to say:
“is there a pattern here of not listening?”, “I’m really dissatisfied by the consultation process”, “We don’t feel listened to”, “your consultation doesn’t allow residents to say what they want”, “misinformation and misrepresentation”, “what is consultation for if not to listen to the people who elect you?”, “You, Sir, are shouting at us and you don’t listen”.
Rather than recognising that they are accountable to their voters, the Wandsworth Tory culture has become one where the administration seems to believe it is the voters’ responsibility to get in line with what it wants and with the untruths it wants to peddle.
Why is this happening? Perhaps, as Cllr Cousins, a former Tory cllr who now sits as an independent, alluded to in a recent blog, after 40 years the Council has simply developed a culture in which people who disagree are somehow outsiders. He suggest that the shouting, the ignoring, the lack of empathy from the Conservative councillors is simply reflective of this culture.
Cllr Cousins’ blog is here: http://jamescousins.com/2017/10/shaftesbury-lets-talk-a-symptom-of-cultural-failure/
It’s more than that, in my view. This Tory Council defends or denies Tory government cuts – to education, to the NHS, to policing, to local government budgets, by forcing through measures that residents simply don’t support.
Truth, accountability and the will of local people have been the casualties of this Council’s failure to oppose government austerity.
If ever we needed an illustration of what unopposed Tory cuts to local government look like – there is an avenue of saplings that no one wanted. And there is a lone Tory at a public meeting about cuts to school denying that anything is amiss.
At the recent Shaftesbury’s Lets Talk, this was summed up for me by one of the Tory cllrs on the panel. He shouted at the residents who he is elected to represent; “you’re being listened to, you’re just not getting your way”.