On the night that Tony Blair became prime minister in 1997, Sharon Taylor was elected into her borough council seat in Symonds Green, Stevenage.

On Monday, October 31, the leader of Stevenage Borough Council was assigned a new seat – this time in the House of Lords.

A Labour peer, Baroness Taylor of Stevenage, has entered national politics with a pledge to “fly the flag” for more devolution in government and banking which she believes will help revive town centres and create local wealth-building both in Hertfordshire and across the country.

“There are hundreds of towns in Britain which could be run so much better, if only local authorities had the power and funding to get on with the job,” the Baroness said.


“None of us go into local government to cut services or budgets, but every year since 2010 we have had to do that, because every year we have had savage funding cuts from the Westminster government.

“When it comes to communities, the government seems to think it knows best. They try to manage everything from Westminster and I don’t think it works.”

Baroness Taylor became leader of Stevenage Borough Council in 2006, and a Hertfordshire county councillor in 2009.

Between 2009/10 and 2019/20 pre-pandemic, Westminster policy changes have resulted in a 37 per cent real-terms drop in the amount which central government hands to local authorities through grants, according to the Institute for Government.

The Comet: Sharon Taylor, Baroness Taylor of StevenageSharon Taylor, Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Image: Will Durrant)

Over the same period, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities figures show the average amount which Stevenage Borough Council spent on each of its residents rose by 1.1pc, from £614.83 to £621.83 – a 23 per cent real-terms cut against inflation.

“I believe in a much wider devolution of funding and power because we know what’s necessary in our communities, and we could deliver it,” the Baroness said.

“The mistake governments make is that they talk of devolution in terms of government structures.

“I think it’s about giving the people who run communities the power to develop and grow.

“There are financial structures which also need changing.

“Money is organised by a few very corporate central banks in this country, but if we had a much more regional banking system like in Germany, it would be much easier to get the development which is needed at a local level because the funding would be available from a bank which understands the regional economy.”

The Comet: The Baroness Taylor of Stevenage holds a bouquet of flowers, a gift from Stevenage Borough CouncilThe Baroness Taylor of Stevenage holds a bouquet of flowers, a gift from Stevenage Borough Council (Image: Will Durrant)

The Baroness plans to step down as council leader at the end of the year.

“Stevenage is my hometown,” she said. "My parents moved here in 1954 when they got married.

“I have grown up here, and one of the reasons I wanted to be a councillor was to make a contribution towards the town I grew up in, that I love, that I’ve made my home and brought my children up in.

“I’ve always been a Labour supporter and began to get involved in the early 1980s.

“I got drawn into the campaigning and then a seat became vacant in my ward, Symonds Green.

The Comet: Sharon Taylor was elected the the borough council in 1997Sharon Taylor was elected the the borough council in 1997 (Image: Will Durrant)

“I was advised if I wanted a seat in my home ward I should take it while it’s vacant in 1997.

“I’ll never forget the night of that count as long as I live and watching one solid Tory seat turn red one after another.

“Everyone talks about the Portillo moment but there were lots of those.

“To be part of that was really special and for me, the added extra being elected on the same night, you do really feel part of that.

“Symonds Green is very dear to my heart.

“I’ve lived there most of my adult life, and it’s a very special part of Stevenage and to have that very close association with it and be elected by the people who live there was really exciting.”

Baroness Taylor said she is proud Stevenage is her territorial designation.

She said: “With the exception of the birth of my children, it’s the proudest part of my life to have the town in my name.

“Growing up in the 1960s, it was a really exciting place to live.

“There was lots of building going on – there still is – but also lots of green spaces.

“My parents had come up from London because they couldn’t get housing there, so they came here for jobs and homes.

“We lived in Roebuck when I was a child and there were woods to play in, a great big green space in front of our home, and we had a lovely three-bedroom council house.

“We had, and still have, lots of exciting technology here – the defence industry and a developing life sciences cluster.

“I’m very proud that a quarter of all satellites up in space were developed, at least in part, in Stevenage.”

The Hertfordshire town has long been important for national – and extraterrestrial – politics.

Stevenage new town was created under the New Towns Act 1946, and the Baroness said she believes that although “nobody would pretend the town is perfect”, it is a “success of the post-war Labour government”.

In 2013, then-science minister and now Conservative peer David Willetts nicknamed Stevenage “Space City” when he announced an £80million investment into the aerospace industry.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson opened a new Airbus space manufacturing facility in the town in 2021.

The Baroness said she will continue to champion the town and its industries in the House of Lords, as well as her campaign to end domestic abuse.

Her investiture into the House of Lords took place at the same time as Sir Nicholas Somes’ – now The Lord Soames of Fletching – the grandson of former prime minister Sir Winston Churchill.

“There’s been lots of talk about reforming the House of Lords,” the Baroness said.

“I do feel very strongly that we need a revised chamber.

“Politicians need to make legislation quickly, and I think that needs an expert viewpoint – which the House of Lords has at its disposal, with medical experts, former chiefs of defence, lawyers involved.

“The fact that people are looking at legislation with that expertise is a really valuable thing.

“We need to think very carefully about reform and how we do it, but we need a proper discussion about it.

“That said, the fact that The Lord Soames and I will be entering the House of Lords on the same day – two people at the opposite ends of political society, him going to Eton and me growing up in a council house – is something really special about this country.”