Cllr Ayesha Azad, has been elected as Leader of Woking Borough Council, following the immediate retirement of former leader, Cllr David Bittleston, during yesterday’s Full Council meeting (Thursday 15 October 2020).
Following Cllr Azad’s election, the new Leader of Woking Borough Council, said: “It is a huge responsibility and honour to be elected as Leader of this Council. Before I speak about my priorities, I would like to thank my predecessors for their service to this council. They each leave an indelible mark.
“I take the helm at the most uncertain of times. The pandemic continues to hover over our daily lives and recession looms. The impact of this upheaval will inevitably be felt by the Council and all the people it serves. So these are challenging times that require us to come together.
“It is during these times that we need to put party politics aside and for each member to take ownership and responsibility for the decisions we make as a democratic organisation. We have shown during the course of the past few months how working jointly, we can speak with one voice to assure our residents we are working collectively on their behalf.
“I fully appreciate that we are a Council with no [political] group in overall control and it is imperative we utilise the skills and experience of every member. I therefore invite the opposition parties to consider taking the mantle of responsibility that comes with leadership.
“This means serving on the board of Thameswey companies in order to ensure council priorities are delivered. It means sharing the Executive portfolios so that residents can have confidence that decisions are made collectively, transparently and cooperatively.
“My group will certainly continue to put residents at the front and centre of all our decision-making. We will make more time to listen, consult and engage with residents. Each one of us occupies our seat by their consent and it is only right we consult with them more than just once a year, at elections.
“Under my leadership, along with my Deputy, Cllr Simon Ashall, and my Executive, the conversation this council has with residents will be a narrative, not a series of snapshots. We collectively will bring forward proposals to reflect this at the next council meeting.
“Furthermore, I want our consultations to reflect the interests of residents on subjects they tell us they care about, such as housing, town centre development, transparency, and climate change.
“We are very fortunate in Woking to have community-spirited businesses, excellent community groups and a dynamic voluntary sector that we have supported and championed. They have repaid that support many times over with the invaluable work they have done and continue to do – I want to thank them and assure them that we will continue to support wherever and whenever we can.
“We have seen during the past few months the benefits of supporting and encouraging local communities to identify issues and develop solutions. I believe in empowering our residents because by doing so they become better able to make a real difference for themselves, their neighbourhoods and their environment.
“That, in essence, is why I am a Conservative. I believe in the power of the individual rather than the state. I believe if you give people the tools they need to make decisions that affect their lives then they make the right decisions for their communities.
“This council is not here to tell people what is best for them – I want to see a member-led, resident-focused authority that understands the value that every one of the 100,000 people who live here bring.
“I grew up in Woking, in Maybury, attended Bishop David Brown School and then Woking College. After graduation, I worked as a Revenue Analyst at this very council, so Woking is my town and it will be an honour to serve it.
“The road ahead is bumpy. As a council we face difficult decisions, some of them interwoven and complex. A change in leadership presents us with an opportunity to reflect and review. A chance for a new agenda and new direction where that is appropriate.
“I am proud of what we – not the Conservative Party, but Woking Borough Council - have achieved so far. In so many ways, we are making progress and we are delivering. But we can still listen, we can still learn and always improve.
“I believe that by providing financial stability through challenging times, investing in the human capital of our communities and giving local communities a stronger voice we will lay the best foundation for the building the trust that is fundamental to our democratic system.
“As I set myself the task of leading this council, I urge of all members greater collaboration, more positive dialogue and even harder work for our residents so that our Borough can emerge from this period stronger and able to deal with a post Covid world. Thank you very much for your support.”
Details of the new Executive will be announced shortly.
First elected as Ward Councillor for Heathlands in 2016, Cllr Azad has served as Deputy Leader since 2018. Before becoming leader, she served on the Executive as Portfolio Holder for many key services including Financial Services, Corporate Financial Planning and Policy, Corporate Management and Member Services, and Grants to Voluntary and Community Organisations.
During the same meeting, Cllr Simon Ashall, also Ward Councillor for Heathlands, was elected Deputy Leader for Woking Borough Council.