Councillor Watts thanked the Mayor and welcomed Linzi Roberts-Egan, the new Chief Executive, to the meeting. Councillor Watts also thanked Maggie Kufeldt for her contribution to the council and wished her the best in her new role.
Councillor Watts noted the government’s recent one year spending announcement and expressed his disappointment that the government had not acted on its previous announcement that austerity was over. Councillor Watts had been involved in budget discussions with government through his role at the Local Government Association. The budget cuts would not be as immediate as in previous years, however since 2010 the Council’s budget had been cut by around £270m a year. Councillor Watts was proud at how the Council had stood up to the austerity agenda and also how the Council had protected the services that residents value most. Councillor Watts had written to the government prior to the spending review demanding proper funding for local government, money to deliver genuinely affordable council housing, support for early intervention to keep young people safe, changing national policies to ensure that local authorities are funded and supported to tackle the climate emergency, and reform of the grossly unfair business rates system to ensure that small local businesses receive a fair deal. These demands had not been met through the spending announcement. Councillor Watts said that the spending announcement was not the end of austerity, it was a continued attack on public services by the government. Councillor Watts said that the Council would continue to challenge the government on these matters as austerity had decimated the services that local communities rely on.
Councillor Watts said he was surprised to read allegations that the Council had done nothing to act on the climate emergency. This was not true. The Council was developing a detailed action plan to achieve net zero carbon by 2030 and the Council was committed to holding a public consultation on the plan. The Council had lobbied the government to provide the resources to allow the Council to make its plans a reality. The Council had successfully lobbied for the government to restore the climate change levy exemption for renewable energy which made it cheaper for local authorities to purchase energy from renewable sources. All council decisions were now required to consider the climate change implications and their contribution to achieving net zero carbon by 2030. New key performance indicators had been agreed to enable the council to evaluate its progress on carbon reduction. The council had continued to decarbonise its pension fund and was working on plans to stop heavy goods vehicles from driving on residential roads in the borough. The Council had also lobbied the Mayor of London to deliver all electric buses at the Holloway bus garage. The Leader was delighted to confirm that the Mayor of London had taken this into account and the 43 bus route was one of the first all-electric double decker bus routes in the country. Councillor Watts thanked Fossil Free Islington and other campaign groups for engaging constructively with the Council and said that their input would inform the council’s plans. Islington Council had a strong track record on carbon reduction, meeting its previous target of a 40% carbon reduction by 2020 a number of years early. Councillor Watts recognised that there was more to do and said that this would be discussed further in the petition debate.
Councillor Watts thanked all the council staff who were planning for a possible ‘No Deal’ Brexit. Leaving the EU without a deal would present many challenges and the council was preparing for all eventualities. The reality was that food, fuel and medicines came to the borough through the English Channel and transport delays could result in disrupted supplies of essential goods. This would have significant consequences for local people.
Councillor Watts said the national political rhetoric was inflaming community tensions and this was disgraceful. Councillor Watts used to work with Jo Cox and said that to use her memory to argue for government policy was disgraceful. Islington knew what happened when far right rhetoric played to the fears of vulnerable people, as that is what led to the Finsbury Park terror attack. The consequences of politicians inflaming community tensions were severe and real people were the victims of this. Councillor Watts said that Islington would stand up for a united and cohesive community no matter the result of the Brexit process. Islington would stand together and stand against hatred.