May 24 2013 Latest news:
by Flora Drury
Monday, June 25, 2012
A quick glance over the list of areas which the council’s cabinet member for communities covers reveals a very diverse range of responsibilities.
Community safety, engagement with the police and domestic violence sit alongside recreation, leisure, libraries and community hubs – not to mention equalities as well as complaints and member enquiries.
But that diversity is what makes it a fascinating portfolio, according to Tottenham Green councillor Richard Watson, who has just taken over the role from Cllr Bernice Vanier.
“That is one of the interesting things about it,” he says. “But it does all hang together under the community heading – even libraries and leisure is a community outlet we provide.”
Cllr Watson is one of the youngest members of the cabinet – he is unclear whether the title of “youngest cabinet member” belongs to him or to Cllr Alan Strickland, who has responsibility for regeneration – but in no way does that mean he lacks the experience needed for his new role.
The 30-year-old has been involved in politics from a young age, starting at school and carrying on into his time at Warwick University, where he studied history and then took a master’s degree in international relations.
Straight after that, he arrived in Haringey to work for the council, moving across to NHS Enfield about four years ago.
It was then that the Lincolnshire-born councillor could start to consider becoming seriously involved in politics – while working for the council he had been “politically restricted”, meaning that he couldn’t stand for election as a councillor but could be a member of a party.
“I’ve always wanted to make a difference to the local community – you cannot just sit and moan, you have got to try to make a difference.”
It’s another reason why his role in the cabinet is a good choice for the young councillor – many of the things his portfolio covers will make tangible differences to every resident’s life.
Take community safety, a hot topic in the wake of last August’s riots. Cllr Watson is hoping to further strengthen ties with Haringey police to continue to tackle crime in the borough.
He also talks of plans to work with young people to try to tackle the gang problems which, in some parts of the borough, are making people’s lives a misery.
“We have got to ensure we are doing everything we can,” he explained.
Another area where Cllr Watson wants to ensure the council is doing everything it can is engagement between official bodies and residents – another of the problem areas highlighted by last summer’s riots.
This year, Cllr Watson hopes to find ways to improve how the council interacts with the community.
“It is a fantastic opportunity to look at how we are making a difference. We’ve learnt a lot in terms of what the issues are. For us, it is a time to take stock and see where we go with a reduced budget.”
But that’s not to forget the libraries, which Cllr Watson wants to see become about more than just books, but also provide other services for residents.
“I would like to ensure they become real hubs within the communities,” he explained, adding that he plans to visit every library in the borough in the next four months.
The more Cllr Watson talks, the more you realise this role is no small undertaking, especially considering that he still works part-time for Enfield NHS in a challenging role and is arranging his forthcoming wedding.
Not that the amount of work seems to worry him – he admits with a smile as we part: “I’ll be here until 10pm tonight.”