On 30 September 1948 Lewis Silkin, Clement Atlee’s Minister of Town and Country Planning, came to Laindon and addressed a large gathering at the High Road school with the words: "Basildon will become a city which people from all over the world will want to visit. It will be a place where all classes of community can meet freely together on equal terms and enjoy common cultural recreational facilities."
Fast forward to today and Basildon is the largest economy in Essex and home to global companies like Ford Motor Company, New Holland Agriculture and Konica Minolta. In the early 1950s its population was around 30,000 it is now home to more than 180,000 people.
We are home to over 7,000 thriving businesses, providing more than 80,000 jobs, with new start-ups increasing faster than anywhere else in Essex.
We are 35 minutes from central London, have major road links and rail lines to two London main stations, three airports within 40 minutes and are the nearest town to the London Gateway Port.
The Borough of Basildon is alive with opportunity and has the ingredients to be one of the most successful and desirable places in the South East.
Yet it doesn’t feel like that for many people who live in the borough. We are also home to some of the most economically disadvantaged areas in the country.
Something is holding us back.
For far too long now, too many people in Basildon have been locked out of the economic opportunities that exist in our brilliant part of the world.
While this sort of two track economy is not unique to Basildon, it clearly has its own characteristics and dynamics. When I took office in Basildon Council in May this year, I was determined we would make it a prime purpose of the council to do what it can to break down the barriers that separate these twin tracks and open up the way to a more inclusive future. Without this, we cannot fulfil the ultimate purpose of the council – to create opportunity and improve lives.
So, I was pleased to be able to garner support from across the political spectrum to establish the Breakthrough Basildon Borough Commission to point the way forward.
The commission will be independent of the council, though supported by it. It will be chaired by a prominent national figure who has personal links with the area and the commission’s main objectiveswill be joined by other recognised national experts in the field. But it won’t be a blue sky academic exercise. People in the Borough are tired of false dawns and metropolitan elites dictating how they should live their lives. It is time we put people in the Borough first and showed unequivocal loyalty to them as their council.
Over the coming months the commission will engage and involve the people who know Basildon best – its residents, communities and charities. It will be free to make its own investigations, consider the evidence, talk to residents, businesses, schools, colleges and elected representatives.
The commission will then make recommendations to the council in March 2018 that can inform policy developments that can begin to make a real impact in our borough.
Brexit, the new national Industrial Strategy and devolution has highlighted that in order for the country to be progressive, it must be inclusive of the people that reside within it. This change has not gone unnoticed in our borough. Our recently updated corporate plan, alongside various local economic and social policies have spoken openly about the Council’s shortfalls and equally about how the future of the borough will rely on its ability to be socially and economic sustainable, aspirational and inclusive.
The Breakthrough Basildon Borough Commission will bring together these local, regional and national suggestions and strategies and map strategic ways forward. It is increasingly recognised that growth is not all about increasing GDP, but about using wealth and resources in a different way.
Prosperity does not trickle down to all automatically. It has to be worked at. I believe the council has a role to play in providing ladders of opportunity for each and every one of our residents. It is a decision for them, which one they choose to climb.
We must ensure that that growth and its benefits can translate to all groups in the borough, including those who currently feel most marginalised. We must consider participation, not just distribution outcomes. We must involve the community in both its process and its outcomes.
Then we can start to give a rebirth to our new town and build a next generation Basildon that offers a bright future to all its residents.
The revolutionary post-war Atlee Government knew that the status quo was a recipe for rejection amongst the peoples of Essex and elsewhere in the country. At a time of deep political, economic and social turmoil, Atlee embraced a visionary politics that put modernity, renewal and opportunity at the heart of the policy-making process.
Almost 70 years later, and amidst tumultuous political uncertainty, the appetite amongst our Basildon people to reject the tried and tested in favour of the ambitious is just as strong. It is a characteristic that I love most about this borough. And so the project of renewing our civic life and improving the lives of all our people in this borough is the challenge facing the current custodians of our Borough’s council offices and it is one I am confident we can rise to meet together.