Steve Reed is the new Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary in Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet, and shows that Starmer intends to take local government seriously. Reed was leader of Lambeth borough council for six years and sorted out the infamously poorly run council administration, leading a thoroughly pro-development authority.
Reed is from St Albans and studied English at Sheffield University before working in academic publishing. Living in Streatham Hill, he was elected to Lambeth borough council from a Brixton ward in 1998, and was quickly promoted to be deputy leader with executive responsibility for public safety and then for education. When Labour unexpectedly lost control of the council, Reed was elected group leader and leader of the opposition.
Despite Labour’s increasing unpopularity at national level, Reed managed to win control of the council in 2006 – the only council Labour won in that year. The Audit Commission had rated Lambeth poorly and Reed concentrated on organising it properly, succeeding in bringing its rating up. He worked with Wandsworth to support regeneration of Vauxhall-Nine Elms-Battersea, and encouraged tenants on council estates to take on local management.
In 2010 Reed responded to the difficulties after the economic crash by proposing to reorganise public services in line with principles of mutualism, which started a nationwide move towards Co-operative Councils. Labour were then re-elected in Lambeth with an increased majority – the first council administration to win re-election in 20 years.
It was under Reed that Lambeth began its programme of estate regeneration; his eventual successor Lib Peck was put in charge of it. The programme was controversial from the start, especially over Cressingham Gardens estate, but Reed stood firm – at a cost of his own personal popularity with the left of the Labour Party.
Having narrowly been beaten by Chuka Umunna to the Parliamentary selection for Streatham in 2008, Reed was chosen to stand in a byelection in Croydon North when sitting MP Malcolm Wicks died in 2012. He won easily and stood down from the council, but his Parliamentary career reflected many of the issues which had come up, and he was a shadow local government minister from 2015 to 2016.
Although a prominent member of the Blairite group ‘Progress’, Reed returned to Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow ministerial team with responsibility for civil society. He piloted a private member’s bill on to the statute book which required mental health units to account for any use of force (after a constituent was killed through excessive force). Reed has also pursued the issue of fire safety and dangerous cladding. He backed Keir Starmer in the leadership election.
Labour has a separate Shadow team for housing, and that will now be headed by Thangam Debbonaire. She studied for a degree in mathematics but also worked as a professional concert cellist for Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. A resident of Bristol since 1991 she mostly worked for domestic violence charities before becoming MP for Bristol West in 2015. Debbonaire has no close previous involvement with housing issues, save for the fact that her constituency includes student areas, so she has taken up issues with private renting.