New top team at council as leader pledges ‘fairer future’

Grace Williams reshuffles her top team as she promises to fight for local residents
By Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

The new cabinet at Waltham Forest Council: (back row, from left) Kizzy Gardiner, Khevyn Limbajee, Louise Mitchell, Ahsan Khan, Clyde Loakes, Alistair Strathern, Paul Douglas; (front row, from left) Sharon Waldron, Naheed Asghar, Grace Williams, Vicky Ashworth and Elizabeth Baptiste
The new cabinet at Waltham Forest Council: (back row, from left) Kizzy Gardiner, Khevyn Limbajee, Louise Mitchell, Ahsan Khan, Clyde Loakes, Alistair Strathern, Paul Douglas; (front row, from left) Sharon Waldron, Naheed Asghar, Grace Williams, Vicky Ashworth and Elizabeth Baptiste

Waltham Forest Council leader Grace Williams has re-organised her cabinet team following the local election earlier this month.

Ahsan Khan, previously responsible for community safety, has been given the key job of managing housing and will join Clyde Loakes as deputy leader. Other changes include the promotion of previously junior cabinet member Vicky Ashworth to a lead role overseeing jobs, social inclusion and equalities.

Announcing her new team cabinet this week, Cllr Williams said: “Our newly-elected Labour administration will tackle the tough challenges we face, that  have been created by government failures.

“We will offer a fairer future for all. We will fullfil our pledges to the community and will be confident about how we use our resources, powers and assets.

“Where we have outgrown old ways of doing things, we will come up with innovative ways of doing things locally.”

Cllr Williams became leader in September last year, after former leader Clare Coghill moved to Devon and became vice-chair of a housing developer that had won a council regeneration contract in Waltham Forest six months earlier.

Four councillors also have ‘commissioner’ roles in the leadership team, including former mayor Elizabeth Baptiste and newly-elected councillor Kizzy Gardiner, who was the UK’s first locum MP when she covered Stella Creasy’s maternity leave. Commissioners have an action-focused role and do not have any decision-making or voting powers, reporting directly to the council leader.

Departing cabinet members include Simon Miller, who did not stand for re-election, and Liaquat Ali, who was refused the chance to run for re-election by the local Labour Party.

Speaking at the council’s first post-election meeting on Wednesday (25th), Cllr Williams promised a “fairer future” for residents and to tackle the challenges created by “government failure”.

Her priorities include building 1,000 new council homes in the next four years, creating cultural destinations and making the borough “the best place to grow up”.

To help those struggling with the cost of living, residents receiving partial council tax support will be eligible for a £75 reduction this summer.

In the longer term, Cllr Williams announced four new youth hubs and the commissioning of a children and families centre that will focus on supporting the most disadvantaged young families.

Another of her “top priorities” will be building the 15-minute neighbourhood model to ensure everyone has a “healthy and fulfilling life” in their local area.

She said: “As we say here ‘fortune favours the brave’, so I say to the government: get out of the way, give us the power and resources we need and let us get on with building a fairer future for Waltham Forest.”

Cllr Williams began her leader’s speech by praising life under a New Labour government, compared to her experiences of racism and child poverty in 1980s “Tory Britain”.

She added: “We have a government that is once again failing a generation; my children are destined to have the same memories of growing up under the Tories.”

This sparked a heated exchange with new Conservative group leader Emma Best later in the meeting, who congratulated the new leader but accused Labour of standing for “hypocrisy”.

She described seeing someone being “stabbed through the neck” and council estates residents “trapped unwillingly on the drip-tap of the state” under New Labour.

To applause, Cllr Williams urged the opposition leader to look at “the evidence” of child poverty and criticised a “complete lack of ambition” from the Conservative Party, which she said exists in “a complete parallel universe”.

Cabinet roles in full:

Leader: Grace Williams; strategy and policy, budget, communications, events and culture.

Deputy leader and climate and air quality portfolio: Clyde Loakes; climate change, waste, transport and parking.

Deputy leader and housing and regeneration portfolio: Ahsan Khan; housing targets, regeneration schemes and regulation of private housing.

Health and wellbeing portfolio: Naheed Asghar; public health, parks, Whipps Cross Hospital development, sport and leisure.

Jobs, social inclusion and equalities portfolio: Vicky Ashworth (formerly te Velde); financial support, jobs and overseeing the University of Portsmouth project.

Public service portfolio: Paul Douglas; libraries and leisure centres, human resources, commercial operations, emergency planning and democracy.

Community safety portfolio: Khevyn Limbajee; safety and crime, working with the police, planning enforcement.

Adults portfolio: Louise Mitchell; adult social care, wellbeing and poverty reduction.

Children and young people: Alistair Strathern; schools, children’s social care, youth offending, early help and special educational needs.

Cabinet commissioners:

Shaping places: Elizabeth Baptiste 

Culture: Ros Doré 

Youth hubs and engagement: Kizzy Gardiner

Customer experience: Sharon Waldron