“We need to do better” says Hounslow Council Leader Shantanu Rajawat

LB Hounslow publishes its Corporate Plan setting out strategy for the next four years

Hounslow Council’s Corporate Plan – the realisation of how they mean to turn their election manifesto into action over the next four years – has been published in advance of the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 5 July.

A key headline is that the Council has taken back in-house some of the work that was to have been carried out by LamptonInvestment360, a wholly owned subsidiary.

Lampton Investment360 buys homes in the market and lets them for social rent. These are let to people on the council housing list, but they are not council houses. In order to secure £43 million of grant funding from the Greater London Authority the Council is having to reorganise how the work is divided between Lampton Investment360 and the Council.

In his report Ambitious for Hounslow  the newly elected Leader of Hounslow Council, Cllr Shantanu Rajawat highlights the Council’s number one priority in this time of economic crisis: ‘to prevent need arising’, ie. supporting people ‘before they reach crisis’.

See the details here: Hounslow launches Corporate Plan for the next four years

Interview with the new Leader of Hounslow Council, Shantanu Rajawat

Shantanu spoke to The Chiswick Calendar a few days before publication of his report, about his ambitions for the new administration elected in May.

“I want to try and bring the Council closer to individuals” he told me. “The pandemic has been an opportunity to reassess how we work with the community. I want to increase that.”

The Council now has a Community Solutions team, he said, which sets up at different locations around the borough with pop up stalls to answer questions about how the Council can help residents.

I had not meant to bring it up quite so early in the interview; he had only been Leader for two and a half weeks after all, so I thought I would at least give him a chance to explain his goals before I started in on the criticism, but just last week we reported on how the Council failed to help with a very simple request from a community group – a perfect example of how they are doing the very opposite of what he was suggesting.

A group of Chiswick residents who are hosting Ukrainian refugees organised a picnic as a networking opportunity for refugees to speak to others in their own language and swap experiences and information – a chance to find out about how to get a National Insurance number / Oyster card / bank account and where to access English lessons for free as well as socialising.

The organisers wanted the Council to extend the picnic invitation to all Ukrainian refugees in the borough – just the sort of community initiative you would think the Council would be pleased to assist. The answer came back that they could not contact refugees directly to let them know about this or any other community initiative because GDPR, data protection regulation, forbade it.

READ ALSO: Chiswick hosts frustrated at lack of action from Hounslow Council to support Ukrainian refugees

Image above: Picnic for Ukrainian refugees in the gardens of Chiswick House

“We need to do better”

I put it to Shantanu that has become such a clichéd response from a bureaucracy they may as well have said: “talk to the hand”; it was unacceptable.

“My understanding is that we are not able to use the data from the Government to contact refugees direct other than for very specific purposes” he told me, such as to check out the suitability of their accommodation.

The real question therefore is why had they not had the wit to create their own database as they came in contact with refugees so they could pass them useful information.

“In their defence they are a fairly new team. I have tasked officers to look at why we don’t have a database. If we don’t have one, we should do. I accept we probably need to do better and we will do. That’s a direct instruction.”

Getting back to his general theme, he talked about “passing on the power” and “getting in amongst the communities willing and able to take action.

“They have a very defined idea of what that place looks like. We need to understand that.”

Images above: Low Traffic Neighbourhood signage on Hartington Rd in Grove Park

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods – “There are probably compromises we can make”

Again the perfect cue. Residents groups in Grove Park and Strand on the Green have a very clear idea of the Low Traffic Neighbourhood scheme that has been introduced – it is confusing, it is divisive and the end result is that many Uber drivers now refuse to pick up or drop off beyond the point where the signs say “access only.”

A survey by the two main residents groups, the Grove Park Group and Strand on the Green Association found the vast majority wanted traffic restrictions to stop commuters cutting through the area adding thousands of vehicles a day to residential roads, but they also wanted changes to make the system more understandable and user friendly.

Was the Council prepared to make any changes to the traffic restrictions in Grove Park and Strand on the Green?

“We will stick to the broad principles. We need to move towards low carbon neighbourhoods … but we need to look at the signage and talk to local residents and look at the best way to improve it.”

What form would talking to local residents take? A public meeting?

“I’m not against a public meeting but with so many different views we shouldn’t just be listening to those who should loudest. Maybe we will do something hyperlocal, door to door perhaps. There are probably compromises we can make.”

When?

“Ideally very shortly after the summer. We will use the summer to think about how we do it in an effective way.”

One recurring problem is that satnavs continue to direct the unwary through the area. Had the Council done all it could to inform those who programme them of the changes? That is something  he would check, he said.

Supporting children and young people

Shantanu campaigned during the local elections on a promise to support children and young people better.

“Lily Bath is now the Cabinet Member with responsibility for that and is working with officers to provide cradle to adulthood support.

“We are very proud of our Ofsted reports – all our schools are either ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ ”

But he tells me, he is very worried about the effects of the pandemic on children.

“I am keen to promote viable apprenticeships and that starts with the Council – Lampton, [which looks after housing, recycling and green spaces]; Hounslow Highways.”

The Council also has influence over those it does business with – Heathrow for example.

“We insist on the London living wage in all our procurement contracts.”

Image above: British Airways Airbus A321-231; Photograph Anna Zvereva

Low wage economy

Two years ago, when the Covid pandemic was at its height, LB Hounslow published a report into its performance during the coronavirus emergency and its plans for recovery. The economic effects would be “significant and damaging” said Chief Executive Niall Bolger in the report.

“Aviation won’t recover for five to ten years” Council Leader Steve Curran told The Chiswick Calendar. “We have 42,000 residents whose jobs are reliant on aviation. That’s a third of the borough.”

READ ALSO: LB Hounslow economy expected to be second worst in whole of London

Economic forecasting for London placed Hounslow as the second to worst affected borough in the whole of London, because of its reliance on the aviation industry for jobs. How was that looking now, I asked Shantanu.

“The airlines are recruiting. My sense is that while things are on the correct trajectory they are moving slowly.

“It was good to see Terminal 4 reopened a couple of weeks ago.”

But, he said, “I am worried about it being a low wage economy. It feels to me like we’re in a low wage economy and I don’t think the government of the day is going to do anything about it.”

British Airways staff at Heathrow voted on Thursday (23 June) to strike over the summer over pay. Around 700 workers were balloted in largely customer-facing roles, including assisting passengers and handling baggage because, the GMB union said, BA failed to roll back a 10% pay cut imposed during the pandemic.

I spoke to him before the strike decision, so was not able to ask him about the strike, but he spoke about the limits to the Council’s influence.

“Where we have direct control, such as in the procurement process, we are already insisting on a London living wage, but ultimately we can’t compel other businesses to comply with it.”

“We are working with the Chamber of Commerce to make it clear businesses should do so for their own benefit.”

“I’m up for the challenge”

Publishing the Corporate Plan outlining how he intends to put the Labour Party’s manifesto into action he said:

“I think we did a really good job over the last eight years under Steve Curran. We’ve got some really good plans. I would like to do some tangible stuff on the climate emergency…

“I’m up for the challenge and if at the end of four years people feel they have been listened to, I feel that will be a success.”

When the Cabinet meets on Tuesday 5 July the Leader of the Opposition, Chiswick Riverside councillor Peter Thompson will join Shantanu and his Labour colleagues. The Council is comprised of 62 councillors – 52 Labour and ten Conservative. Under Cllr Steve Curran’s leadership the Opposition Leader was not invited to Cabinet but Shantanu feels it is right that he is.

Although the Leader of the opposition will not have voting rights, he will have a seat at the table as decisions are made.

“We have nothing to hide”.

The Chair of the Scrutiny Committee will also be invited.

Correction

This story has been updated with a correction. In the earlier version we wrongly stated that the building of social housing was being taken back in-house. There is no change to the arrangements for building. We confused the work done by Lampton Development360 (building) with the work done by Lampton Investment360 (buying homes in the market and letting them for social rent). The way work is divided between Lampton Investment360 and the Council will change, not the relationship between Lampton Development360 and the Council.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Further strikes likely for rail, London Underground and airports

See also: Sinkhole appears in Turnham Green Terrace

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

Support The Chiswick Calendar

The Chiswick Calendar CIC is a community resource. Please support us by buying us the equivalent of a monthly cup of coffee (or more, if you insist). Click here to support us.

We publish a weekly newsletter and update the website with local news and information daily. We are editorially independent.

To subscribe to the weekly newsletter, go here.