Ranjit Banwait

Tuesday 12th January 2016 17:06 EST

Ranjit Banwait is the Leader of Derby City Council, having represented Boulton Ward since 2006. In May 2014 he became the first ethnic minority leader in the city's history.

The son of a postman and a school cleaner, Ranjit is proud to trace his ancestry back to sugar-cane farmers in the Punjab. As a second generation migrant, he was the first member of his family to attend university, graduating from the University of Kent with a degree in history. After a short period in London, Ranjit moved back to Derby where he lives with his wife and young family.

As a self-described conviction politician he has never been afraid to court controversy. In his time as Leader of the Council, Ranjit has earned a reputation as a vociferous champion of working people and an outspoken critic of Government cuts.

In 2015 he launched a 15 Year Vision for Derby, with the intention of tackling some of the city's biggest issues. These included encouraging the cohesion and integration of new communities, promoting inner city housing renewal and detailing an ambitious programme of city-centre and community regeneration projects.

1) What is your current position?

I am currently the Leader of Derby City Council with responsibility for policy and strategic services across the authority. My role involves liaising with key stakeholders across the city and ensuring public services in Derby are fit for purpose, despite the enormous financial challenges we are currently facing.

2) What are your proudest achievements?

My proudest achievement was when I became the first ethnic minority Leader of Derby City Council. Councillors from a range of backgrounds have long been well represented on the authority, but it is an enormous privilege to take a leading role in representing the city of my birth.

3) What inspires you?

I am passionate about history and I take my greatest inspiration from the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. I admire those who took enormous personal risks to secure the rights and freedoms we now take for granted. I am certain that I would not be in the position I am today without the sacrifices made by those brave individuals.

4) What has been the biggest obstacle in your career?

The greatest obstacle I have faced in my career is austerity. Local authorities have been pushed to breaking point since 2010, with Derby City Council already having delivered £116 million of savings with a further £45 million required in the next three years. These will be impossible to deliver without the closure of public services – a position that is both political and electoral suicide.

5) Who has been the biggest influence on your career to date?

The greatest influence has been my friend and Labour colleague, Chris Williamson. Chris was the Leader of the Council when I was elected in 2006 and subsequently became the Member of Parliament for Derby North between 2010 and 2015. His help, advice and principled stand against austerity have inspired my own political career.

6) What is the best aspect of your current role?

The best aspect of my role is helping the people I represent in Boulton Ward, who are ultimately my boss. As a councillor you are often approached by residents who have exhausted conventional means of support or redress, who turn to their elected representatives as a final resort. When you are able to help those people it is incredibly rewarding and pushes you to work harder in future.

7) And the worst?

I did not seek election to dismantle cherished local services, but that is exactly what I have been forced to do as a result of draconian cuts to council funding. We are reaching a point where councils will no longer be able to fulfil their legal obligations, let alone provide the services that make our towns and cities attractive places to live. As a Labour councillor, I have been forced to make decisions I would not otherwise contemplate.

8) What are your long term goals?

As a councillor, my long-term goals rarely extend beyond the next set of local elections. But I would like to think that when my time comes, I will have left public services in Derby better equipped to deal with the challenges they face, namely rising demand and ever diminishing resources.

9) If you were Prime Minister, what one aspect would you change?

I believe austerity is destroying the country we know and love. There is more than one way to reduce the deficit and slashing public services is not the answer. We need to invest in our economy to create growth and prosperity. It is refreshing to see that sentiment finally being expressed in mainstream politics, but I fear that things will get much worse before they start to get better.

10) If you were marooned on a desert island, which historical figure would you like to spend your time with and why?

I have many historical heroes but I would have to choose Steve Biko. While the extent of his legacy would not be realised until many years after his untimely death, his philosophy that political freedom could only be achieved if blacks stopped feeling inferior to whites was enormously influential. I would like to show him how his sacrifice was not in vain.

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