Enfield’s council leader says Labour values have helped her to make tough decisions for the borough as local authority budgets continue to be slashed.

Almost one year after she was elected, Cllr Nesil Caliskan said she had been focused on protecting the most vulnerable residents from the effects of austerity measures imposed by the Conservative government in Westminster.

Councils across the country have been forced to make drastic budget cuts since 2010, and Enfield needs to make further savings of £18 million in the 2019-20 financial year.

It means the council has had to make some big decisions that have not always proved popular with residents.

Cllr Caliskan said: “I am vocal on pressures on local government in a way that previously the council was not.

“I am willing to take tough decisions for the right reasons. But how do we balance it? I am very clear on our Labour values.

“You protect the most vulnerable, you do what’s right for the whole of the borough – and then even though you have tough choices, you are able to take them more confidently.”

People in Enfield faced a 4.92 per cent hike in council tax from April 1 – including a 2.99 per cent rise in the core levy – while a decision to cut black bin collections to once every two weeks has met with significant opposition from some residents.

But Cllr Caliskan said the council had passed a “good, fair and resilient budget” that “protected our most vulnerable people”.

She said: “There were choices in that budget that only a Labour council would have made. When times are this tough, it is all the more reason you should have Labour people making them.

“After the budget, I was very open and honest. With the waste collection, I have not pretended it was anything other than because we are facing cuts.

“Opposition councillors might have criticisms of the process, but can they tell us what their position is on bins? Are they criticising the Secretary of State, who has taken away our grant (to aid waste disposal)?”

Cllr Caliskan said that while the debate over bin collections was raging, parents of SEN (special educational needs) children had written to her to ask for the services that look after their youngsters to be protected.

She said: “That’s what we chose to do.”

In November, the Labour administration pledged to provide an an extra £1 million a year for children’s services, partly in a bid to hire more social workers.

Education watchdog Ofsted recently rated Enfeld’s children’s services ‘good’ following a two-week inspection during March.

Cllr Caliskan said: “I am in no doubt it is because we took the decisive action to say, ‘we need to hire some more social workers’.”

The council leader said her “new strategic direction” had led to more insourcing of services and progress on key projects such as the Meridian Water regeneration scheme.

She said: “I was quite clear we needed to make sure we built on the successes of the previous administration.

“I wanted to bring back services in house, and we have done that with the housing repairs ‘MOT team’, insourcing of cemeteries and SEN transport.

“At a time when local authorities continue to outsource as a response to cuts, we are saying ‘no’.

“It is not just ideological. We have shown time and time again it can be cost-effective – and also there are better outcomes.”

The council leader added that she thought the Meridian Water scheme was “on the wrong track” when she took over from the previous administration.

She said: “The wrong thing was to hand it over to one master developer. That’s what I brought a stop to.

“We said ‘no, we are not willing to hand over that much public land – we will be the custodians’. We said no to huge overseas sales – they were talking about 70 per cent overseas sales; it was crazy.

“We focused on saying, ‘this isn’t just about bricks and mortar, this is about building a place – and whatever we build has to be for local people’.

“We have got it back on track in a direction that was true to Labour values.”

Concern over the borough’s high crime rate has continued to grow since Cllr Caliskan was elected, and in January Enfield was revealed to have the highest rate of serious youth violence in London – although the level has since fallen.

Cllr Caliskan said: “It is the number one issue in Enfield at the moment. People deserve to feel safe. We know when police resources are put in specific areas, crime comes down.

“We fund 16 police officers ourselves (as a council) – we know how important it is to have neighbourhood policing, which has been decimated.

“We spent about £1 million on CCTV in this borough and we have put some direct money into youth activities, and we will be putting some money into early intervention.

“Also, I think we have made the move from being passive to proactive on this issue. When the mayor of London came to Enfield, I spoke to him about crime.

“We are bringing people who have some influence to the borough. We have been really proactive in wanting them to see what the issues are.

“We are lobbying the government. I have been very clear we will do what we can as a council – but this is about government cuts.”

Cllr Caliskan became one of only a small number of council leaders from an ethnic minority background when she was elected in 2018.

While many have welcomed her leadership, she said she had also experienced “an acute degree of misogyny and racism”.

She said: “I had anticipated challenges because I was a woman – frankly, I had underestimated the appalling racism that me and other Labour councillors would face.

“This year is not the first time we have had ethnic councillors; it is the first time we have had an ethnic leader of the council, so the increase in racist attacks I’m afraid I don’t believe is a coincidence.

“I have had younger councillors who are female, who are ethnic, who have said,’ I will never run for a leadership position after what I have seen this year’.”

The Labour Party recently called for the Enfield group to undergo equality training amid a series of measures aimed at tightening democratic oversight of the group.

It came after an investigation into an ongoing internal row between local party members following last year’s local elections.

Cllr Caliskan said: “When you have women of ethnic backgrounds who find themselves in senior positions, there will be resistance. That is the nature of discrimination.

“I will stand up against racism, whether it is in my political party or not.

“We have taken decisive action where we have had people who have been racist, whether it is antisemitism or otherwise – and I have made representations to the Labour Party.

“I am confident we will move on. What I don’t have control over are non-elected Labour members, of which there are a tiny minority, who may want to be disruptive.”

The council leader said her priorities for the coming year include speeding up the rate of housebuilding, improving the quality of homes, tackling youth crime and reinvigorating town centres to ensure the borough is a good place to live and work.

And she will continue to focus on improving standards in adult’s and children’s services.

She said: “We constantly need to make sure those services are the best they can be.”