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Russell King: Wandsworth - Delivering low taxes and world class public services

Taxcutter_1 Russell King is a Wandsworth councillor and delivered these remarks at yesterday evening's awards event.  He is pictured accepting his award from Jonathan Isaby of The Daily Telegraph.

It was a great honour to go up and collect the 'Best Taxcutter Award' on behalf of Wandsworth Council at the ConservativeHome awards ceremony.

The award was certainly well deserved. Wandsworth currently has the lowest Council tax in the country (£354.80 for a band D equivalent) and has had the lowest average tax over the last 26 years (the Conservatives took power from the loony left in 1978).

However, the story of low tax only tells half the Wandsworth Story. Wandsworth also provides some of the best (if not the best) services in the country. For example, Wandsworth is only one of five authorities in to have both the maximum four stars for current performance and is assessed as 'improving strongly'.

Can anything be a better example of 'Modern Compassionate Conservatism' than providing excellent services that protect the most vulnerable in our society while protecting the same people from the very regressive Council tax (on average the bottom fifth of households pay 8% of their income compared to the top fifth who pay less than 1%)?

So what is Wandsworth's secret and can it be repeated at a National level so that we have excellent public services and low levels of taxation?

Wandsworth's secret is something that we call the Wandsworth Way. Although we have branded it, it is a commonly used management technique and is the secret behind many of the world's most successful companies including Toyota and General Electric. In management speak it is known as 'Continuous Improvement'. Continuous improvement is simply about looking at everything you do and asking this simple question: Is there a better way?

At Wandsworth, thinking in the 'Wandsworth Way' is an integral part of the culture of both the Conservative Councillors (I suspect that even the Labour Councillors have had this culture rub off on them to a limited extent although I don't think they will ever admit it) and most importantly the Council Officers. I am constantly blown away by how impressive our Officers are. They are constantly asking: 'is there a better way?' They are always coming up with better ways of delivering services while reducing costs. We do not rely on a small group of people to come up with ideas for improving things, the whole Council is constantly looking for ways of making things better. What can be more different than the prevailing culture in Whitehall which is still infested with the Sir Humphrey Appleby approach to Government? It is not just the Home Office that is not 'Fit for purpose' - it is the whole Civil Service culture.

My message to David Cameron and the Shadow Cabinet is a simple one. When we regain power, if you want to deliver both great public services and low taxes, you are going to have to reform the culture of the Civil Service and transform it into one that believes in Continuous Improvement and is constantly asking the question: Is there a better way? This will not be easy but by making that change Britain will be able look forward to World Class public services, low taxes, and generations of Conservative Government (just like Wandsworth Council).


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