New West Northants Labour leader: ‘I want to hit the ground running’
The Daventry councillor talks about her priorities as new Labour group leader
By Natalie Bloomer
Local politics is in Wendy Randall’s blood. Her mother was a Labour Party member and went on to become a district councillor in Daventry and later the town mayor - a path her daughter would also end up following.
Born in London, Wendy and her parents moved to Northamptonshire when her father changed jobs. The family settled in Byfield and in 1985 Wendy went on to buy her first house in Daventry.
“When my children were young I was often told I should be a councillor but I’d seen how much time and dedication it takes to do the role well and just didn’t think I’d have enough time while the kids were small. Once my youngest was at secondary school I thought I’d give it a go,” Randall says.
At the same time as raising her family and having a window cleaning round, she unsuccessfully stood as a councillor a number of times before finally being elected. Two years later she became mayor of Daventry as well as the leader of the local Labour group.
“Being a councillor is about being a voice for others. People will ask me ‘what’s the point?’ and I tell them it’s about representing the views of local people. When I speak up on an issue I’m not speaking for myself but for the people who voted for me.”
The switchover to unitary authorities in Northamptonshire in 2021 saw Daventry, Northampton and South Northants councils replaced by West Northants, something Randall says she “stupidly” believed would be a smooth process.
“That’s what we were told, they said everything would stay the same for residents and that most people wouldn’t even notice but that hasn’t been the case. There are still different systems for the old council areas and some departments seem to be in a mess.”
After the 2021 local elections, Cllr Randall was chosen to be chair of the new West Northants Labour group, something she says was a “great privilege given as I was something of an outsider.”
Although she says she knew some of the Northampton councillors after attending many NBC council meetings during her time in Daventry, Randall says she got to know them all a lot better in the 12 months that followed. When the former leader of the group Gareth Eales stepped down earlier this year she put herself forward for the role.
“Now that I’ve been voted leader, I want to hit the ground running. I’ve arranged one-to-one meetings with all our councillors so I can get to grips with the issues in each of their wards. With the cost of living crisis we know there will be some real hardship in some of these places.”
The councillor says she has also asked for meetings with senior officers at West Northants Council so she can hear about how the different departments are running and any concerns people have.
“Something I’m really concerned about is the loss of officers. We can’t afford to lose expertise from the council or to have unhappy staff.”
Another priority for Randall is looking at ways to tackle the issues faced by Northamptonshire’s left-behind areas. NN Journal has been working on a year-long project reporting on the five neighbourhoods across the county identified by an all-party parliamentary group as ‘left behind’. They are Kings Heath and Talvera in Northampton, Queensway in Wellingborough, Kingswood and Hazel Leys in Corby and Avondale Grange in Kettering.
Since we launched the project there has been a significant response in the north of the county with a committee group set up to look at the problems the areas have and make recommendations to the local authority. Kingswood councillor Zoe McGhee has been a key figure in pushing that forward.
“I’ve already arranged to go over to Corby and meet with Zoe, she is going to show me around her ward and tell me about what she is doing there.”
Referring to NN Journal’s reporting on knife crime in Kings Heath in Northampton and the impact it is having on local children, she says:
“It is shocking that people are living in fear, and that children are witnessing things like that. I want to speak to people on the ground and feed that back to the council.”
She says her aim is for the Labour group to be the ‘best it can be’ and to truly hold the Conservative administration to account. She is planning to give every Labour councillor an issue to focus on.
“If we’re all trying to read every report we’ll only ever be skimming over issues. I want someone focused on transport, someone else on housing etc. It will mean that those council cabinet members who have a portfolio which covers a number of areas will perhaps have two or three Labour councillors shadowing them.
“We also need to be better at letting people know what we’re doing. Our councillors are working really hard on their own patches but we need to make sure that people are aware of what we’re doing and to make sure that when we hold local meetings they’re accessible and people know about them.
“There is so much I want to do and there is so much potential for really exciting things to happen in this county. We need to be more ambitious and knuckle down to make sure they happen.”