Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter, talks to newly in-post council leader Peray Ahmet
The new leader of Haringey Council says she hoped fellow Labour councillors would unite behind her as she outlined her vision for a more collaborative council.
Peray Ahmet revealed she stood to be leader to try to bring unity to the Labour group and stressed her commitment to the policies set out in the manifesto on which she and her colleagues were elected three years ago.
But while she pointed out there would be continuities between her leadership and that of her predecessor, Joseph Ejiofor, one of her key aims is to ensure residents become more involved in decision-making.
Divisions within the Labour group came to the fore the day after Cllr Ahmet was elected council leader, when former chair Cllr James Chiriyankandath quit the party claiming a group of rival Labour councillors had opposed all that Cllr Ejiofor’s administration had sought to achieve.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Ahmet said: “My reason for standing to be leader was to try and bring some unity to the [Labour] group.
“Essentially, we are the local Labour Party, and we will work as one when we need to.”
She added: “Me and the previous leader are part of same party and group. We had a manifesto and have commitments, and I fully intend to continue to fulfil those commitments.
“I think we need to build on the manifesto commitments, if anything, and as a party we will obviously be embarking on the next round of manifesto conversations.”
A lifelong Haringey resident, Cllr Ahmet said that as a council officer and frontline youth worker she had always worked with groups that were traditionally termed “hard-to-reach” or “disadvantaged”.
She said she was keen to draw in people who had not traditionally been heard or involved in decision-making as part of what she termed a “co-production process”.
“My aim for the rest of this year is to embed that in everything we do, from building homes to engaging with young people,” Cllr Ahmet explained.
“Whatever we do has to be for people who live and work in this area, who live and work in the borough.”
The new leader said the council had previously focused on “bricks and mortar”, and she wanted to switch to a “people-first” approach to development that emphasised “placemaking” and “building communities”.
This will inform her administration’s approach to the 2,600-home High Road West scheme in Tottenham and the Wards Corner development in Seven Sisters, as well as the council’s existing housing stock, she said.
Cllr Ahmet is ward councillor for Noel Park, where leaseholders on a council estate were hit with huge bills for repair work – some initially totalling more than £100,000.
The council recently faced criticism over its handling of leaseholders’ freedom of information requests and its failure to send asbestos reports to them for more than a year.
“I have committed to bring my fresh eyes to this situation to see if I can improve the offer and communicate a lot more,” Cllr Ahmet said.
“I think one of the issues there was people not feeling listened to, and there does seem to be a theme throughout that people do not feel listened to – and that has to change.”
As the borough recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic and multiple lockdowns, Cllr Ahmet’s administration will focus on early years childcare and tackling youth crime.
The mother of a child who was born during the pandemic, she said her interactions with her local children’s centre had highlighted some of the issues that families were facing.
“It has to be about support for those children’s centres and for the sector – really putting early years at the core of everything we are doing,” Cllr Ahmet explained.
“There is not a lot actually designed for under-fives. There are some good projects out there, and we have some fantastic children’s centres, but we really do need to show our commitment to them and, where possible, how we can expand and strengthen that offer.
“Post-pandemic, I think there is going to be even more of a need to do so.”
She added: “I have taken serious youth violence under my portfolio. This is an area I think really needs a lot of focus. I think it is an ongoing issue and one we need to get to grips with.
“We do have strategies in place, and we have to build on those and make sure the conversations with the community are built upon and we are talking to the right people. Part of that is talking to young people themselves and making sure we are not losing a whole generation.”