Conversation with Cllr Roger Lawrence, Leader of the Council
How did you come to live in Wolverhampton?
I moved down to Wolverhampton in 1976 from Stockport in Manchester where I had been working for social services. I had an 18 month contract with the NACAB Tribunal Representation Unit, working as an action researcher. I wrote the project up in Tribunal Representation the role of advice and advocacy services, Bedford Square press 1981. Eighteen month contract and I’m still here 30 years later! The place and I must just get on.
What did you do before you became Leader of the Labour group?
I worked for 21 Years for Sandwell MBC doing various jobs in the council. I became part time when I was elected Leader of the Council in 2002 and finished at the end of 2004 to be a full-time politician. As a student of course I did the usual holiday jobs, hospital portering, shelf stacking and working on a poverty project in New York.
What brought you into politics?
Beer. I joined the Labour Party in 1979 in despair at Mrs Thatcher’s election, went to a couple of meetings and found them a friendly bunch to have a drink with afterwards. In 1982 after the SDP split we lost the branch treasurer so, as the only regular without a job, I became treasurer of Penn Ward. We needed a local candidate, Chris Windre and I tossed up for it and I lost (the election too – worst ever Labour result in Penn!)
Council politics is often seen as being about little more than overgrown bushes and trees, why does local government matter?
Spending £250m a year in revenues, £100m in capital schemes is just a bit more than pavement politics, important as they are. I want our city to be a place of choice for people to live, work and play. I want us to have balanced, safe neighbourhoods, good schools and facilities and yes clean streets too! We borrow the city, we don’t own it, we pass it on to our young people eventually – that is an important responsibility. They’ll remember if we let them down.
What challenges do you think will face the Wolverhampton City Council in 2013?
2013 will pose significant challenges for Wolverhampton City Council. The unfair Government are not only continuing but areas like Wolverhampton are being hit harder than wealthier areas, and this is on top of the likelihood that changes to the way Government-funded benefits are administered will create a greater uptake of council services – but no new funding.
As an organisation Wolverhampton City Council will continue to deliver on its established savings programme. We have already delivered savings in excess of £80 million over the last five financial years and will continue to identify ways we can work more efficiently. However, the extent of Government-imposed cuts means that we cannot deliver all of the savings required of us by Government through efficiencies alone. Difficult decisions lie ahead. As the council leader I remain committed to ensuring that where the council has to make savings they are implemented in a fair and open way, with the least harm to the citizens of Wolverhampton.
One of the things that makes me proudest of our great city is the character and resilience of its citizens. I know that despite the challenges that lie ahead our communities will pull together.
What do you do to relax and unwind?
I enjoy walking in Shropshire, a beer at the end of the day, wildlife photography – holidays and travelling. I watch the Wolves but that’s more punishment than pleasure, I watch cricket at Edgbaston when I can and take advantage of many more of the city’s facilities, Grand Theatre, West Park, Dunstall Park Racecourse, the dogs and speedway at Manmore Green, Valley Park, Northicote Farm, the list goes on.
Finally, if you could change one thing in Wolverhampton what would it be?
Peoples attitudes towards it. Local people need to express more strongly the pride they have and outside should see the place as it is, not the same 1950’s throwback.
Most Londoners would find Barcelona on a map more easily than the Black Country and Warsaw more easily than Wolverhampton!