The incoming leader of Nottingham City Council has said reducing homelessness in a “compassionate way” will be a big priority for his council.
Former primary school teacher and headteacher David Mellen, who will be officially confirmed as leader in the coming days, also said the council needed to “listen more than it talks” and work to reconnect with the people it serves.
Councillor Mellen is set to replace Jon Collins, who has retired after 16 years at the head of the council.
Councillor Sally Longford was elected as the deputy leader, replacing Graham Chapman.
Councillor Mellen said Nottingham residents would see “little change” on the streets as a result of the leadership change, and while he “hoped in time to put his own stamp on things”, his main job was making sure the “ambitious” Labour manifesto was carried out.
Speaking about homelessness, Councillor Mellen said: “It’s a big problem, and a very visible problem, and one that needs a compassionate response.
“We’ve already done quite a lot of things. In terms of reducing the number of families who are in bed and breakfasts, we are purchasing houses in partnership with NCH so there are more available.
“We have pledged to build or buy 1,000 more council houses. There’s not enough houses, and there are difficulties where people sometimes end up in a city they haven’t necessarily come from. We have a real demand on our services.
“The Government’s austerity regime has meant a lot of people are struggling in a greater way and if some people at the end of that find themselves without a home to go to, we need to continue to make that a priority.”
Speaking about taking the job he has taken on, he said: “It’s a big responsibility. It’s not one you take on lightly. I’ve been a teacher and the headteacher of a school, but this is the biggest job I’ve ever had, and it’s not something you do without a lot of thinking.”
Councillor Mellen, who is an Ipswich Town fan, said he wanted to make sure people in Nottingham felt listened to by their council, but admitted this was a “big thing to change”.
“A lot of it is because of the national picture,” he said. “We’re working in that political background.
“We need to play our part by making sure councillors are accessible, with regular surgeries, that they’re out and about in their communities seeing what’s going on, that wherever possible we’re using the same services as other people so we can see the strengths and the other areas which need to be developed.”
In last week’s election, the Nottingham Independents became the official opposition, winning all three seats in Clifton East.
Councillor Mellen said: “We need to listen to the electorate in Clifton and say ‘what can we do to regain your trust?’ because Clifton East has been represented by Labour councillors for many years.”
When asked whether he planned to reduce the council’s debt, which is currently over £1 billion, he said: “It’s common for councils to borrow money to invest in a variety of things so they can improve.
“We need to make sure that’s a manageable debt and one that brings with it tangible benefits.
“Clearly it’s a difficult time for local government and Nottingham has had far worse cuts than some of the shire counties in the south.
“That’s not fair. That’s something we need to challenge and campaign about, but it’s also something we need to manage.
“I think we need to manage what’s there, and make sure we’re as secure as we can be in terms of borrowing the appropriate amounts and investing so that we can bring about improvements to the city.”
The new leader, who represents the Dales ward after increasing his majority at the last election, won the leadership contest by 29 votes to 21.
He is expected to be officially confirmed as the new leader of the council on Monday, May 20.