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A legacy of more for less in Westminster where life is better

ColinbarrowCllr Colin Barrow on his decision to stand down as leader of Westminster City Council and how life has been improved in the heart of London

Relinquishing the leadership of a great council is never an easy decision. I've made it now because I'm turning sixty this year and want to devote the next stage of my life to helping others learn from the experiences I have had in business and politics.

I will leave the leadership of Westminster but I am not turning my back on the Conservative Party. I intend to play a full and active role in the work of the party in the future. I want to build on, and advocate for a far more radical approach to Localism. I have strong ideas about a more businesslike approach to local government and I want to work to support the excellent work that our government and Michael Gove are doing to reform our education system.

Not many business people get to spend fifteen years in front bench positions in both urban and rural councils. On election to Suffolk, I found myself appointed Deputy Leader of the Opposition on my first day in office, on the basis that my business experience would be essential to making the financial case for returning the Conservatives to office in Suffolk. After I moved to London, and was elected to Westminster, Sir Simon Milton asked me to join his cabinet and I did so, working on economic development, parking and finance.

I hope, though this is for others to judge, that the record will show that in the past few years my colleagues and I have made life in central London significantly better for residents, business and visitors. The evidence for this can be found in ground breaking policies like family recovery; where we have pioneered a new comprehensive approach to dealing with problem families. It can also be found in the major improvements we've made to the West End with the restoration of Marble Arch, the renewal of Piccadilly and a new Leicester Square which will open in time for the Olympics.

The single thing I am most proud of is the focus we have given to education and the subsequent significant and sustained improvement in GCSE results. This will leave a lasting legacy for a children in terms of opportunities to work and succeed in life. The Sunday Times highlighted this last weekend, showing how Westminster was beating other areas with high deprivation. We never forget that much of Westminster is a relatively deprived area, although some very rich people live here.

I am also proud of the fact that we deliver clean streets and low tax year in, year out. Low tax through efficient spending, does not happen by accident. It takes application and determination. There are always demands for new spending and always areas pleading their special case. Particularly in the light of the necessary public spending reductions we had to be pretty ruthless to push politicians and officers to accept cuts and be clear about focusing on things that make the most difference to people's lives.

We identified £60m in savings, of which around 80 per cent are back office cuts.  The Labour Party, said that the world would end. They opposed our Tri borough project, claiming it would mean the death of local democracy. It hasn't. It has enhanced what we do, and saved money. You can deliver more for less and every Conservative council should remember this when setting their 2012 budgets.

What matters in the end than the verdict of the people we serve. These Conservative policies have delivered record satisfaction ratings, and ensured the re-election of a Conservative authority in the heart of London.  I have not done this on my own. It's been achieved through the teamwork of a strong and united cabinet, the support and advice of colleagues and friends at all levels of government and close working with two other great councils, Hammersmith and Kensington.

I should perhaps close with a comment on the controversy on parking. Central London is congested. We thought it was right to change the regime, but many people clearly disagree. We are listening to what they say, we are taking stock and will announce the result of our deliberations when we have considered the evidence. But I took the decision to leave the leadership of Westminster last summer, and stayed until now, precisely because once we had taken a controversial decision together, I owed it to my group to see that through.

I will serve as Leader until my successor is elected by the Council in early March. Then as now, I shall be a foot soldier in David Cameron's drive to reform and renew Britain. And I will take with me many happy memories of ten years working for Westminster.


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