Congratulations on your election, Madam Mayor, and thank you for agreeing to serve another year.
And congratulations to Mohammed Bakhtiar on his election to the role of Deputy Mayor.
My heartfelt congratulations to all of you here who have been elected to represent this borough – to those of you who are returning – welcome back. I see many friendly and experienced faces on all sides of the chamber. As we move forward, we are going to be tested and we are going to depend on your experience.
And a special welcome to those on both sides who are new, a lot is going to rest on your shoulders.
I will now formally nominate my Leadership Team.
Kim Taylor-Smith – Deputy leader with responsibility for Grenfell and Housing
Mary Weale – Lead member for Finance and Modernisation
Emma Will – Lead member for Families, Children and Schools
Sarah Addenbrooke – Lead member for Adult Social Care
William Pascall – Lead member for Streets, Planning and Transport
David Lindsay – Lead member for Healthy City Living
Catherine Faulks – Lead member for Skills and Enterprise
Gerard Hargreaves – Lead member for Communities and Culture
We need to reach out to all our communities to start the long, slow process of rebuilding trust. This chamber is where it starts. Amongst us we have diverse backgrounds, histories and experience. Each of us has different stories to tell and we need to use them to reconnect to those who feel we are out of touch.
I would like to quote from a speech made recently by the Conservative MP Kwasi Kwarteng.
"The suspicion today is that as the royal borough has got wealthier and wealthier, the political class, the people running the borough have really forgotten some of the less advantaged members of their community, while there is massive compassion, I don’t think there’s enough empathy as to how important this issue actually is and how seriously people of different faiths and certainly different communities take this issue. There is a danger that people reciting stats, reciting facts simply lose sight of that human element.”
He is right. Kim and I have been at the inquiry every day this week. We should hold close the personal stories that are being told. Anyone who has been there, anyone who watched or heard those who speak of the loss of those they loved, will have felt their grief and their desolation.
So this is a sombre meeting. In the past, mayor-making meeting has been a joyful occasion. But not tonight. This is not the time for a party, it is not the time for pomp and pageantry, it’s a time for facing up to the challenges before us. As we meet these challenges, we look to you, Madam Mayor, both for continuity and steadfastness and also for leadership as we modernise the Council. I know that you will be selling your mayoral cars and setting an example to us all with your new, electric one.
Earlier this year, we commissioned a report from the Centre for Public Scrutiny, which was intended to help us reach out beyond these four walls.
We have now received their report, we are reviewing it and will bring recommendations back to this chamber in July. I want to reassure you that we will be coming back with clear and firm proposals to make this a truly listening borough. We will put proposals to the communities affected and respond to their feedback.
At a minimum, we will be opening up full council meetings to public participation and reinstating the Grenfell Scrutiny Committee.
The important thing is that we are properly held to account by the people we serve. And we will be judged by what we do and not what we say.
We are currently being judged for our past actions. As I said, the Grenfell inquiry began on Monday. The testimonies are powerful, emotional and dignified. What we have heard so far this week serves to remind us of our responsibility.
It is our responsibility to ensure that the whole, unvarnished truth is told. We will not shy away from that, nor from the implications and the consequences of telling the truth.
We have handed over hundreds of thousands of documents to the police and to the inquiry. We will give them both everything they ask for and everything they need in order to find out what happened.
We owe it to those who have died, to those left behind, those who lost everything, and those who will continue to carry the emotional burden of Grenfell. And we must make sure such a tragedy can never happen again.
The Conservative party won the election. It is our duty to lead, to take responsibility, to be accountable and to be answerable to our residents
However, we must be realistic about what that means. It is true that we have been mandated to deliver the policies which we put before the electorate.
But let me be very clear. And I say this to my own councillors directly – and to all residents north and south of this borough - a mandate only stretches so far.
Yes, we have been elected as the majority party with seats to spare. Yes, we are entitled – obliged – to deliver the manifesto on which we were elected.
But we cannot – should not - claim to have the full support of an undivided borough. The political map of this borough sends a message and lays down a challenge.
We must adapt and be flexible and willing to listen actively to all our communities, to engage, think and change – and never ever to assume we know best.
The challenge for us all – Tories, Liberal Democrats and Labour members – is to recognise this and to work to heal wounds, mend bridges and reach out to all communities. Agree where we can, challenge honestly and openheartedly where we don’t.
Robert, you lead the opposition and it is your role to hold us to account. I know you will challenge us firmly and fairly.
But I ask this of you and your colleagues – where we can reach consensus, let us work together. Let us look for what unites us in our mutual goal to support all our residents.
I am not looking to co-opt you. We have our differences – and we always will.
And that is a good thing. Difference – the clash of ideas – is the lifeblood of democracy, it is healthy. It is vital. But through that clash, through debate, let us keep our eyes on the prize – to make this borough better. It really is about people not politics.
My hope is that whenever possible we can be a united chamber, a united council representing a united borough.
Because there is much that unites us, as residents of this borough, as Londoners. People have, for decades, come here from all corners of the world to make this place their home, to pursue their ambitions and fulfil their aspirations. In our diversity, we each add to, and embellish each other’s experiences…
As the Council’s Leadership Team, we will ensure that we listen to all residents and support the full range of voices to be heard. We will engage our communities in council decision-making, so those voices really count. And we will take decisions in an open and transparent way.
I know Robert will challenge me and that his team will hold us to account. But let us not instinctively seek out what divides us, but let us look to what unites us.