Cllr Vic Pritchard is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Bath and North East Somerset Council
“When you’re going through hell, keep going.” This famous aphorism from Churchill comes perilously close to describing how the past few years have felt in Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) under a Liberal Democrat administration.
But change is just around the corner. With local elections scheduled to take place next May, we Conservatives must stick to Churchill’s advice and keep going.
We lost control of the council in 2019 and have since been faced with a Lib Dem majority of between 11 and 15 councillors. With 10 members, we are a small but strong opposition force on the council. We have used our influence to help reverse a number of disastrous policies the administration has been intent on delivering. These include the introduction of car parking charges in one of our towns, attempts to charge people to recycle certain materials (dubbed the ‘Tip Tax’), and plans to completely exclude people with disabilities from accessing Bath city centre. We have also continued to be strong ward champions, helping our residents with any issues, however small they may be.
But we didn’t become councillors in order to sit on the opposition benches. If we want to do positive things for the community, things we know we have the capabilities to achieve, we must do all we can to ensure we win next year.
Over the past few years, the Lib Dem policy agenda for BANES has mirrored that of other authorities across the country also under their control. In York, for example, the Lib Dem administration recently made national news by completely restricting access to the city centre. Likewise in Bath, the council has this year implemented city centre access restrictions known locally as the ‘Ring of Steel’. In short, the policy involves completely restricting access to Bath city centre through the liberal use of reinforced steel barriers. The plans have been vociferously opposed by people in Bath who have disabilities, and much unnecessary stress and anxiety has been caused by the insensitive way in which the Lib Dems have driven the policy forward.
While we recognise the importance of keeping members of the public safe from potential terrorist attacks, we don’t think the Ring of Steel is a fair or proportional response. That’s why, ahead of next May’s elections, we will commit to reviewing the scheme and amending it where it is sensible to do so.
Here in BANES, we live in a part of the country that is replete with natural beauty and rich in cultural history. Situated at the southern end of the Cotswolds, on the edge of the Mendips and which includes Salisbury Plain and the UNESCO World City of Bath, plus countless historic towns and villages, we occupy a corner of the country that is of special interest. To put it another way, it is a part of the country that ought to be placed under the trusty stewardship of the Conservatives.
While the finer details of next year’s campaign are still to be agreed, already we can identify some broad themes. These include a renewed focus on ‘hyper local’ issues that matter most to residents, the need to inject a sense of pride and place back into our district, and efforts to improve relations between residents and the local authority, which too often under the Lib Dems has ridden roughshod over peoples’ views, giving the impression that it knows better that they do.
We want to help tackle the Climate Emergency in a way that makes residents feel included, rather than the present administration’s tendency to control peoples’ behaviour in an authoritarian manner. For example, instead of introducing a plethora of Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) across the whole of Bath as a quick-fix to reducing vehicle emissions, we would be more mindful of Bath’s unique topography and only take schemes forward that have strong justifications.
While we are confident that, in the face of the Lib Dems’ myriad failures since 2019, the local electorate will put their faith in us next year and return a Conservative majority to the Guildhall, we know it will not be an easy campaign. Our opponents are well organised and routinely ply residents with endless streams of party literature. But as Conservatives, we undoubtedly have a winning message.
Our colleagues in the Bath Conservative Association recently announced the new Parliamentary Spokesman for the City, the person hoping to unseat Lib Dem MP, Wera Hobhouse, at the next General Election. Matthew Heappey beat some excellent candidates in a tough selection process, and it will be a privilege to work with him during the next campaign. In North East Somerset, Jacob Rees-Mogg continues to be a popular local MP and enjoys the strong support of councillors, activists, and party members.
If your local authority area has elections next year, the BANES Conservatives will be with you in spirit, cheering you on as we hope you too will be cheering us on. And if at times it may feel an impossible task, remember Churchill’s words – just keep going.
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