In a series presented by DevComms we have an interview with Cllr Shantanu Rajawat, the leader of the London Borough Hounslow, discussing his role one year on from the local elections.
1. As we approach the one-year anniversary of you becoming Leader, what have you found to be the most surprising thing about the role?
How varied, challenging and rewarding the role is. We are lucky to have residents who are really committed to Hounslow and want it to be a thriving place that meets their needs and aspirations as well as a wealth of voluntary and community groups who stand ready to support. The appetite for success is huge.
Local Government has real power despite massive financial and social challenges and staying innovative and responsive despite the very real need that exists is a constant challenge.
2. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing your Borough?
The pandemic exposed real structural inequalities which whilst easy to identify, will take a number of years to address and will require constant focus, even when there are other challenges which might be urgent and need immediate attention.
Financially, the Borough is in a sound position however the scale of our ambition in House Building and the Green Agenda will require out of the box thinking to unlock funding sources which might not have been previously thought of.
3. What do you think have been your greatest successes over the last year?
Reforming the way the Council engages with the public so we have more open conversations which might not tell us what we think we want to hear and being agile to that.
Starting the work on our equalities, diversity and inclusion strategy which had more consultation responses than any other consultation run by the Council.
Starting to map out the work to achieve our manifesto commitments in a way that is outcome based and create lasting impact.
4. What are your priorities for development and housing in the coming year?
We are looking for long term partners who are interested in creating communities rather than buildings. Who are willing to be real partners in our ambitions for the Borough.
Estate regenerations will be key to helping with our ambitious targets and as such we are looking for development partners who will tap into the hopes and aspirations of those living on our estates and unlock an inclusive vision of what our estates could be for the benefit of those who live there.
5. What are your priorities for engagement with local residents, community stakeholders and local groups in both development proposals and wider council decision making?
Engagement needs to be early and open to change. Our communities do not respond well to pre-determined ideas that appear imposed. The canvass must start blank and conversations need to be honest and open.
Once the canvass is populated, that which is promised must be delivered and the conversation must not stop, the best partners are those who do not step back once the first brick is laid.
6. If you had one message for those looking to deliver investment in your borough, what would it be?
We are very much open for business and we are ambitious for the Borough. I have made the promise to our residents, voluntary groups and businesses that this will be a listening Council. Co-design is the way of the future.
There is huge potential and ambition in the Borough and there is lots of scope to be partners with us on this journey. Despite national challenges which play out locally, if you can work with a blank canvass, your partnership will be welcomed and valued.
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