Watts says Tory cuts ‘undermine’ Islington’s anti-knife crime efforts after Town Hall stabbing

Islington Council Leader Richard Watts. Photograph: Islington Council

The leader of Islington Council has accused the government of “undermining” efforts to tackle knife crime after a man was stabbed to death outside the Town Hall.

Richard Watts was speaking to a packed council chamber after his re-election as leader last night (24 May) at Islington Council’s annual meeting.

His remarks follow Monday evening’s fatal stabbing outside Islington Town Hall on Upper Street, in which a man died of multiple stab wounds.

Cllr Watts, who was re-elected unanimously, said: “The awful knifing outside this building earlier in the week will have shocked and appalled residents, and it shows the total disregard that criminals have for life and for the communities their actions affect.

“We have invested heavily to create our integrated gangs team, though its planned youth provision, to create mentoring, to make safety improvements into our estates. But there is no complacency. We have much more to do.

“But these efforts are undermined by the government’s cuts to our incredibly hard-working police force.”

‘Fundamental’ change

Cllr Watts also promised a “fundamental” change in how the council provides public services to improve prevention and early intervention and tackle the social problems which can lead to crime.

“Our borough has more than its fair share of social problems”, he said. “I’ve set us the objective of being the best council in the country at prevention and early intervention in some of those problems.

“Because too often public services seem arranged around the convenience of those delivering them, not around recognising that people have got a whole range of challenges and opportunities and strengths in their life, and it’s our job to support them in all of those, not just one at a time.

“And over the next few months we are going to set out a fundamental programme of changing the way this council does its business in order to do that.”

Earlier in his remarks, Cllr Watts joked that some might wonder “why we bothered” with the “expense and the effort” of the 3 May local elections in Islington, given that the voters returned the same balance of 47 Labour councillors and one Green councillor.

‘Bitter opposition’

But he said the elections “really matter” as “a chance for the people of this borough to have their say on how this council is run”, and that he had not taken anything for granted.

He repeated his congratulations to Cllr Caroline Russell, Islington’s only Green and opposition councillor, on her re-election in Highbury East, to general applause from the chamber.

Cllr Watts continued: “For those who say we don’t have opposition, I say this. We have a bitter opposition every day to our plans to make the borough a fairer place.

“It’s called a Tory government whose job it is to stand up for the few, not the many. I am delighted so many people in Islington took the opportunity to send them a message on the third of May.”

Cllr Watts’s re-election as council leader was proposed by Cllr Andy Hull of Highbury West ward, who is also executive member for finance, performance and community safety, and seconded by Cllr Rowena Champion, of Barnsbury ward.