Vic Pritchard: The “ring of steel” imposed by the Lib Dems in Bath is unjustified

28 Jun

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.

The post Vic Pritchard: The “ring of steel” imposed by the Lib Dems in Bath is unjustified appeared first on Conservative Home.

Lucy Stephenson: There is no magic money tree in Rutland. Fundamental reform is needed.

27 Jun

Cllr Lucy Stephenson is the Leader of Rutland County Council.

May 2023, for Rutland, will be the four yearly performance review, aka the Local Government elections. To some extent, what is happening in Westminster, over which, as a Councillor, you have no meaningful power aside from barracking from the sidelines and forming good lines of communication with your MP, will have a significant impact on the ballot box at a local level. This is embedded by political commentators using Local Government election results as a KPI for Central Government. Irksome in many ways: to know that regardless of what you have achieved or not locally will pale into insignificance compared to what your Party has done or not nationally.

The average turnout for Local Government elections is shockingly low at around the 37 per cent mark, meaning that an average of 63 per cent of any given local population has shown no interest whatsoever. Local Government is the workhorse of any Government of the day. It is the bin collections, the pothole fillers, the Council Tax demanders, the Adult Social Care deliverers, and the child protectors. It manages buses, libraries, housing development, our daily lives in its broad hands. It is the less glamorous magician which turns theory into practice. It is also the barometer of where we have got to as a society. Demand for service far outstrips budget. The result: tighter thresholds for services, universal services trimmed, and persistent increases in Council Tax all against a backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis. 80 per cent of Rutland’s revenue budget comes from Council Tax; the national average 60 per cent. This equates to £331 less central government funding per Rutland household.

I will not explore the amenity disparity resulting from unfair funding between a rural area such as Rutland and that of its urban counterparts – it is an incredibly valid argument, but it is a smokescreen for an uncomfortable truth: Local Government in its entirety is creaking at the seams. Levelling Up is a start to redressing geographical disparity, harnessing local knowledge and understanding to make long-term plans to enable crucial investment in infrastructure that will help local economies flourish for the greater good of the wider community. It resonates with me as a Conservative, but it is a start only. Local Government requires something more fundamental.

Rutland, like every other Council, faces a bleak outlook: a medium-term financial plan that indicates gloomy deficits. Medium term, living within our means feels to be no more than a laudable aspiration – there are no laurels to rest on here, the magic money tree far away despite rigorous and persistent efforts to reconfigure and transform; ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ the buzz words of the day. It confirms my assertion that there must be fundamental reform.

This is the backdrop against which we prepare for the May ’23 elections. Rutland has had a politically turbulent time since 2019. We started our new term with a healthy Conservative majority (19 out of 27 Councillors). We have since dropped to six; some have simply resigned prompting by-elections – which has resulted in the rise of the Independents, Lib Dems, Greens and for the first time in many years a Labour Councillor; others have jumped on the Independent bandwagon. I deliberately use a capital ‘I’: it is Political. People should not be hoodwinked into taking a literal meaning of the word ‘independent’ – it speaks to a ‘Politics has no place at a local level’ view. However, if a group of people align, form a group, have a leader and agree voting positions ahead of a meeting then the duck is most certainly quacking! I am new in post, as of May this year, a visible culmination of the aforementioned turbulence. In effect, I have a 10-month mandate to turn things around.

The big personality model for a leader has many things to recommend it; it does, however, carry with it the significant risk of being a single point of failure. It also runs the risk of diluting any Party’s fundamental philosophical approach because the focus becomes personality, not principle. A group that pins its fortunes on any one individual will need to weigh up this risk. A leader that acts with clarity, measure, and vision will help no end, but this does not eliminate the need for a strong team that is united by a commonality of purpose with a drive to deliver for the residents they serve. Decent candidate selection, is therefore crucial.

An effective election campaign necessitates thorough community engagement, not just to identify key support or indeed to get soundbite tag lines across. It is about residents understanding the not terribly sexy topic of Local Government. It is about understanding what is important to people who wish to live their best lives.

With deepened understanding, there is a chance of a bigger election turnout, whilst demonstrating clear principles that shows an honest, solution-focussed, and long term approach with deliverable actions. Democracy is great but it is vulnerable to fickle promises, opinion presented as fact, soundbite temptations that miss the nuance of policy development. Our electorate must be equipped to make informed choices – and that starts with a clear manifesto that people can see will improve their lives if delivered.

 

The post Lucy Stephenson: There is no magic money tree in Rutland. Fundamental reform is needed. appeared first on Conservative Home.

Council by-election results from this week and forthcoming contests

24 Jun

Harlow – Bush Fair 

Labour 594 (47.1 per cent, +2.6) Conservatives 482 (38.2 per cent, -6.5) Green Party 109 (8.6 per cent, +1.0) Harlow Alliance 76 (6.0 per cent, +6.0)

Labour gain from Conservatives

Kingston upon Thames – New Malden Village

Lib Dems 1,217, 1,184, 1,182 (32.8 per cent)  Green Party 867 (23.4 per cent.)  Residents Association 724, 703 (19.5 per cent.) Conservatives 467, 372, 327 (12.6 per cent) Labour 436, 429, 374 (11.7 per cent). Deferred election.

Lib Dems win. (New boundaries.)

Neath Port Talbot – Port Talbot 

Labour 914, 898 (58.1 per cent) Plaid Cymru 367, 244 (23.3 per cent) Independent 246, 171 (15.6 per cent.) Green Party 46, 25, (2.9 per cent.) Deferred election. Labour previously elected unopposed.

Labour hold.

Shropshire – Highley

Lib Dems 630 (54.5 per cent, +54.5) Conservatives 279 (24.1 per cent, -9.5) Labour 239 (20.7 per cent, +7.3) Green Party 9 (0.8 per cent, +0.8)

Lib Dems gain from Independent.

Waverley – Hindhead

Lib Dems 537 (54.6 per cent, +7.9) Conservatves 446 (45.4 per cent, -1.2)

Lib Dems gain from Conservatives.

Forthcoming contests

June 30th

  • Buckinghamshire – Bernwood.
  • Croydon – South Croydon. (Conservative held.)
  • East Riding of Yorkshire – Bridlington North.  (Conservative held.)
  • Eilean Siar – Barraigh agus Bhatarsaigh
  • Eilean Siar – Sgìr’ Ùige agus Carlabhagh
  • Liverpool – Fazakerley Ward
  • Middlesbrough  – Berwick Hills & Pallister.  (Independent held)
  • Newark & Sherwood – Ollerton. (Labour held)
  • South Derbyshire – Midway Ward.
  • Wyre – Cleveleys Park Ward.

July 7th

  • Camden – Hampstead Town. (Labour held)
  • Chesterfield – Hollingwood & Inkersall.  (Independent held)
  • Epsom & Ewell – West Ewell.  (Residents Association held)
  • Milton Keynes – Woughton & Fishermead   (Labour)
  • Mole Valley – Charlwood.  (Conservative held)
  • Welwyn Hatfield – Hatfield Central  (Labour held)
  • West Sussex – Worthing West.  (Labour held)

July 14th

  • Breckland – Thetford Boudica.  (Conservative held)
  • Coventry – Binley & Willenhall.  (Labour held)
  • North Tyneside – Camperdown.  (Labour held)
  • Rutland – Oakham South. Ian Razzell. (Independent held)
  • South Somerset – Brympton.
  • Wandsworth – Tooting Broadway.  (Labour held)
  • Warwickshire – Arden.  (Conservative held)
  • Wirral – Liscard. (Labour held)

July 20th

  • Basildon – Nethermayne. (Independent held.)

July 21st

  • Lancaster – Harbour.
  • North Warwickshire – Hartshill.
  • South Staffordshire – Penkridge North East & Acton Trussell.

August 4th

  • Luton – Dallow. (Labour held.)
  • Shetland – North Isles.  Two seats.

The post Council by-election results from this week and forthcoming contests first appeared on Conservative Home.

Will Tanner: Devolution. Conservatives should embrace England’s mayoral moment.

24 Jun

Will Tanner is Director of Onward and a former Deputy Head of Policy in Number 10 Downing Street.

Conservatives have always had an uneasy relationship with devolution. Philosophically, decentralisation sits well within the conservative tradition of empowering people and places to make their own decisions, and restricting the centralising tendencies of the state.

We might naturally think of Burke’s little platoons, de Tocqueville’s foundations of American democracy, or Disraeli’s social reforms.

But at the sharp end of politics it is Conservatives that had to confront some of the worst abuses of decentralised control in the past, from Militant’s municipal control of Liverpool in the 1970s to Scottish separatism today.

And it is Conservative councils, particularly in the party’s rural heartlands, that have been most resistant to the imposition of powerful new mayors with a direct mandate to replace existing county and district councils.

It is tempting, on the basis of this recent history, to see the worst in plans to devolve power and control to a new cadre of city and county mayors.

Some fear the creation of more Sadiq Khans: figures who at times use their positions more as a rabble-rousing soap box than a mandate for delivery. Others ask why a Conservative Government would deliberately cede control of Britain’s biggest cities to local electorates that increasingly vote Labour.

And even those more supportive of decentralisation urge caution on grounds that England’s mayors are still relatively new and untested.

These objections are understandable, but they are not particularly convincing. The truth is that devolving power to more and stronger mayors is not just philosophically within the conservative tradition, but also economically and politically sensible for the Conservatives to pursue.

It offers an opportunity for a Government beset by challenges on other fronts to “give back control” to the places that most need levelling up, address the UK’s great economic weakness – poor regional governance – and should boost the Conservative vote too.

There are three reasons why conservatives should embrace a new mayoral moment. The first is the overbearing power of Whitehall in British politics. Conservatives rail against the ratio of tax to GDP but just as pernicious is the share of tax raised and spent centrally versus locally.

Just five per cent of tax revenue is raised locally in the UK, a third of the level in France and a sixth of that in Germany. Of that revenue, only a quarter is spent locally, compared to half in the US and three quarters in Canada.

And it’s getting worse: between 1995 and 2017, the share of public spending controlled below central government fell, from 26 per cent to 23 per cent, despite rising almost everywhere else in the OECD.

Even in London, which has enjoyed increasing levels of autonomy since the mayoralty was established in 2000, only eight per cent of revenue spending is currently controlled by the mayor. In other areas, this is far lower: in the West Midlands, just 0.4 per cent of the revenue budget is controlled by Andy Street; 84 per cent is controlled by national government.

And while Sadiq Khan’s control of Transport for London and affordable housing funding means that 43 per ccent of capital spending in London is controlled locally, in other regions this is far lower: just 26 per cent in the North West and 28 per cent in the West Midlands.

This centralisation is not just a block on local democracy – depriving local places of self-determination and control – it is a block on overall growth, too. Painstaking evidence collated by academics like Professor Philip McCann shows that countries with a layer of regional or “meso” government tend to grow both faster and more equally.

This is because local areas act as both local laboratories – trialling new policies to attract investment, support jobs and upskill workers – and competitors – forcing local leaders to be more ambitious and learn from what works.

The second reason is that, despite being new, mayors are not untested. In fact, in the short time they have been in place in England many have demonstrated the virtues of the mayoral model.

In the last few years, dilapidated regional bus, tram and train systems have started to be reinvigorated. In the West Midlands, Andy Street has streamlined the skill system to drive up apprenticeship numbers and quality. While Ben Houchen has overseen the doubling of Foreign Direct Investment into Tees Valley from almost £5 billion to almost £10 billion between 2016-19.

Conservatives can rail against the fact that some of these schemes were delivered by Labour mayors. But the reality is many of these services were neglected by national administrations of different colours over the last few decades.

And at a moment when central government is being pulled in multiple directions, from Ukraine to the cost of living and inflation, mayors offer a vehicle for getting things done. If devolution is the price of delivery, then so be it.

Third, mayors offer a route for the Conservatives to win. In every area outside London, mayoral turnout has risen steadily over time and name recognition is high. Six in ten Mancunians can correctly name Andy Burnham and four in ten Teessiders can name Ben Houchen as their respective mayors, compared to the one in ten voters who can name their council leader.

And, because people know their mayors, when they do good things voters are more likely to vote for their party.

Take the Red Wall seat of Hartlepool. Between 2012 and 2018, Conservative performance in Hartlepool almost exactly tracked nearby South Tyneside. But after Ben Houchen’s election in 2017, the Tory vote share in Hartlepool has started to tick up. In 2021, it was four points higher than South Tyneside, and by 2022 it was a massive 18 points higher.

This is not simply because the Hartlepool electorate contains more latent conservatism than nearby areas: Hartlepool is demographically similar to Sunderland, South Tyneside and Gateshead, so the Red Wall realignment should have played out evenly in all of them.

This suggests a “Houchen effect” that has boosted the reputation of the party in the area – and points to the possibility of Conservatives using mayoral delivery to increase their political popularity across the Red Wall.

In future, the Conservative beachhead established at the last election may well be built upon by Mayors in North Yorkshire, Hull and East Riding, Cumbria, and the East Midlands. And in the event of a future Labour government, these may be the Conservative outriders that give people confidence to vote Tory again.

So mayors have demonstrated their potential. But they have done it with one hand tied behind their backs.

Whitehall’s funding streams are so complex, and so tightly held, that the Levelling Up Department alone has 16 distinct funding pots that local areas can bid into, including one to fund public toilets. Mayors have very limited ability to raise local revenue for local priorities, and few direct incentives to grow the local economy to support local investment and infrastructure.

In the Levelling Up White Paper, Michael Gove rightly set out ambitious plans to expand the mayoral devolution model to every area of England that wants it – and many counties and city regions are currently negotiating deals. This is a good start.

But we should go further – by giving mayors a single funding settlement similar to those negotiated with Whitehall departments and devolving 1p in every £1 of local income tax revenue – equivalent to £6 billion a year – to fund new responsibilities over local trains, skills and energy systems.

In return for more power, mayors should submit to additional accountability, from strengthened mayoral scrutiny panels, select committee questioning and greater local tax raising. This would strengthen local democracy, while also extending its reach.

In the last five years, Whitehall has taken back control of power and money from Brussels. It is time to give back control to Britain’s historic cities and counties.

The post Will Tanner: Devolution. Conservatives should embrace England’s mayoral moment. first appeared on Conservative Home.

The saga of London’s ugly bus shelters and EU procurement rules

24 Jun

If I ever drift into dismay at the direction (or lack of direction) of Government policy, I find listening to the Moggcast on this site a great tonic. Jacob Rees-Mogg’s presence in the Cabinet means all is not lost. He combines clear Conservative principles with the tenacity and ability to see them applied as policy. An important example of his work as the Cabinet Office Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency is the dramatic streamlining of the procurement rules inherited from the EU. Over £300 billion of public spending goes on procurement each year so the importance of obtaining value for money is significant. The Procurement Bill has had its Second Reading the House of Lords.

Lord True set out its aims:

“The current regimes for awarding public contracts are too restrictive, with too much red tape for buyers and suppliers alike, which results in attention being focused on the wrong activities rather than on value for money. There are currently over 350 different procurement regulations spread over a number of different regimes for different types of procurement, including defence and security. We have removed the duplication and overlap in the current four regimes to create one rulebook which everyone can use. The Bill will also enable the creation of a digital platform for suppliers to register their details once for use in any bids, while a central online transparency platform will allow suppliers to see all opportunities in one place.”

From a local government perspective, Lord Moylan gave some fascinating insights into the flawed nature of the current arrangements and suggested the rules should be streamlined further. The criminal law already deals with corruption. His experience of local government was that officials could, in any case, find ways of getting round the procedures to have the client they wanted:

“I know of one public procurement project, for services, which allocated 40 per cent of the points to what was called ‘project compatibility’. When I said, ‘What does that mean?’, they said, ‘It means that we can choose whoever it is we want to work with, because they will be compatible with us.’ “

Moylan gave another example of a proposed “new, iconic bus shelter for London.” He had proposed this as the bus shelters in London are “absolutely appalling.” 

“Peter Hendy, who was then commissioner of Transport for London, was good enough to agree that something should be done. I was representing London Councils at the time, so we set up jointly a process in which we invited architects to submit proposals for this wonderful thing. TfL officers ran it as a procurement process. A large number of wonderful designs were put to us – 20 appeared – some of which were so extravagant that they could never have been used. A design panel was put in place to make the architectural judgments, only for us to discover at the end of the presentations that we were not allowed to take design into account because the TfL officers had used the branch of the procurement process that you would use if you were buying a piece of air-conditioning plant. So it was to be judged entirely on the specification of whether it kept the rain out and things such as that. The entire purpose of the exercise was defeated through a misapplication of the procurement process, and we all agreed, exhausted by that point, that basically we would abandon it and come back to it. But we never did, so London still has a wide variability and a high level of ugliness in its bus shelters.”

It is not only London that has bus shelters which, though they might be functional, are dreary and soulless. How can community pride be engendered when our towns and cities are disfigured by such structures? That is not inevitable – the Victorians never put up with it.

I appreciate that TfL could have managed the procurement process better. It might have transpired that even if they had done so, their “design panel” might have chosen something awful. But this sorry saga does show that a cumbersome procurement process might not just mean a higher financial cost. It lends itself to a box-ticking conformity that blocks innovation and means that officialdom is content if a process is correctly followed – no matter how drab or expensive the outcome. Rees-Mogg is to be commended for easing the restrictions. That will be a start. But the greater challenge, for local authorities and the rest of the public sector, will be to change the culture.

The post The saga of London’s ugly bus shelters and EU procurement rules first appeared on Conservative Home.

Grant MacMaster: Parking charges – not partygate – is the reason the Conservatives lost in Havering

23 Jun

Grant MacMaster is a Young Conservative in Romford, having recently graduated from university. He grew up in Havering and has run in the local elections. He studied politics and economics, and was the first in his family to go to university.

Having faced the biggest defeat in Havering for eight years, the Conservatives remain the largest party on the council. However, the Havering Residents Association (HRA) just sold out the borough to the far-left socialists of the local Labour Party for a coalition agreement.

During May’s local elections, I ran as an independent candidate in my local ward, which is Havering’s most deprived ward on the council estate of Harold Hill. Growing up here, I felt my connection with local people could forge a better future for them, representing their interests at the Town Hall as opposed to Labour’s usual message of ‘vote for us then go away’.

I’m 21 years old and I’ve just finished my degree, being the first of my family to go to university. My peers and I see socialism and the far-left first hand everyday: it isn’t pretty. It’s rotting our schools, universities, and educational establishments, united under one common goal, a distain for sensible, pragmatic politics. Now it has come to the formerly safe Conservative borough I call home.

Having lost in my ward to the Labour Party, I have realised the vehicle for change in Havering isn’t independent or Resident Association councillors, it’s the local Conservative Party.

Some ask ‘How do you come to this conclusion?’ Here’s how.

Having done a great deal of door-knocking across Havering, I can safely say that Boris Johnson and partygate came up just a handful of times. What came up much more was the Conservative Leader of the Council’s (now opposition leader) handling of rising local parking costs (which were reversed, eventually) and increasing his cabinet by 2 members. Yes, its insanity.

But for all local people’s faults of focusing on an issue so small as parking charges increasing by a pound, it spoke to the heart of how the HRA and Labour won – they sold that the Conservatives cared more about themselves than helping locals.

We need to change this, sowing the seeds of a better Conservative Group on the council, fit to govern again.

How? Our message needs to go back to basics. Take it from me, I first voted aged 18 at the 2019 General Election. What attracted me to vote Conservatives most was the message of “Getting Brexit Done” – investing in our schools, hospitals and police.

Let’s re-ignite the same fire in the bellies of local people, that the Conservative Party is the vehicle to get us to better times and a better place.

This means truly lower taxes, instead of increasing taxes at the same time as increasing the Council Cabinet. It means providing high-quality performance-measured services, instead of focusing on building new leisure centre’s which Havering does not need. We need to be scrutinising the Labour Group’s control of Havering’s mayoralty and Cabinet position for Housing also.

This package should be rooted in the best traditions of our local communities and how we can improve them. This doesn’t mean flying the Union Jack every now and then. It means upholding the values of our country and exhibiting them at the Town Hall and beyond.

Havering’s founding motto is ‘liberty’, derived from our days as a Royal Liberty from 1465 to 1892. The HRA and Labour will stop at nothing to demean our communities, our local heritage, and our country. We must be the reminder to them that decency, tolerance and our individual liberty must always be protected.

Whilst they offer Labour councillors housing posts on the cabinet, they attack the very tradition that residents want cherished. We should shamelessly contest their plans to filibuster housing and planning decisions, resulting in increases in multi-story sites across the borough, increasing pressure on local services, and taking more of our green space.

The message on housing from local people is clear: we want affordable homes, but not sky-scraper sites. The HRA/Labour coalition will increase multi-story buildings; we must offer the credible alternative of being pragmatic with our space, and attract the right investment in our towns. Build quality homes which act as a gateway to future home ownership.

The pathway to winning also cites the organic society we live in as a key component to our policy programme. Life isn’t always fair, but we can work to provide opportunity for local people.

Opportunities do not appear out of thin air; they have to be carefully planned out and costed. Over the next four years, we need to find a role for everyone in our community, from those who create jobs to the way local roads are paved, using our pitch as a type of functionalism of local people.

A local off licence owner recently impressed upon me, ‘the butchers, the bakers, the candlestick makers are just as important as the Lawyers, the Doctors and the entrepreneurs’. He is right. A Conservative party that recognises this, is on the side of the middle of our communities. We need them to win, otherwise they’ll sway to the HRA and Labour coalition out of confusion from our message.

We must work out a programme that engages local people, inspires new voters to support the Conservatives as I did in 2019, whilst keeping our core supporters onboard. This is do-able. It was Edmund Burke that said a ‘state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation’.

I’m a Conservative now more than ever because our beliefs and values are under attack from an administration willing to sell out decency to the far-left. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

It’s time to change locally, returning to our fundamental values – for the revival of the Conservatives in Havering.

The post Grant MacMaster: Parking charges – not partygate – is the reason the Conservatives lost in Havering first appeared on Conservative Home.

Jonathan Owen: In East Riding, we will build on the great community spirit shown throughout the pandemic

21 Jun

Cllr Jonathan Owen is the Leader of East Riding of Yorkshire Council

Prior to the 2019 local elections I submitted a piece to Conservative Home which outlined our positivity at East Riding of Yorkshire Council around the elections by our approach of concerning ourselves with local issues. At a time when national expectation was one of gloom for Conservative councils, we were one of the very few that increased our number of seats with a healthy majority. We enjoyed an influx of new councillors, who have integrated into the local government world.

With elections again in May 2023, will we be in the same position?

Never in my 22 years as a Councillor, most spent in a deputy Leader and Cabinet role, and now Leader, have I been more uncertain of the next election results.

Austerity, Brexit, Covid, Cost of Living, Inflation, now all are stacked against any Party with no clear vision of a route to tackle the issues – and the public are restless and many suffering.

Levelling up and devolution are the current way forward, but using the principle of universal proportionalism (understood by those in Public Health circles under the principles of Sir Michael Marmot) which advocates a proportional use of intervention across the whole – not just targeted at the areas of most need – we must ensure that everyone has that proportionate share of levelling up funding, for the long term, not short term politics.

‘Place’ is the new mantra – ensuring we are acting across our ‘place’, usually our upper tier local government boundaries shared between a couple of authorities.

Why are we in local government?.

My view is simple, we are here to protect the vulnerable and improve the quality of life for everyone else. To achieve this we need three simple things, originally put to me by Duncan Selbie, former head of Public Health England: to give people a job, a roof over their heads, and a friend, – and then you are supporting your residents for the best chances in life.

To achieve this? We use our non statutory, but essential role, to promote economic development across the spectrum, from multi-national companies, where we can assure the supply of land through our local plans and pressing for enterprise zones etc. We work with our MP’s to support local large businesses and our plethora of SME’s (Small and Medium Enterprises) through ensuring the planning system is geared up to get things moving – and continuing to invest in our start up business units with accompanying wrap-around support and advice.

We will accelerate our provision of affordable housing.

We will build on the great community spirit shown throughout the pandemic.

We are, again, entering a new world of change to the NHS with the introduction of the new Integrated Care Systems in July. The cynical ones among us who have experienced the constant top-down restructuring of the NHS and countless attempts to get away from the fact that the NHS has really become a National Hospital Service, not Health Service, can now involve ourselves in pushing for total system integration. This is through the new, local government weighted, Integrated Care Partnerships, working alongside and feeding into the Integrated Care Boards, to deliver on the intent of the NHS to involve itself in health prevention and tackling inequalities. We are pushing for this opportunity to claim funding from, and co-produced working with, the NHS to invest in our ‘place’ to tackle those inequalities the NHS is now to involve itself in: including economic development and working with local authorities who have influence in all those areas that affect our health and wellbeing, e.g. Early years, Education, Transport, Housing, Economic Development, Leisure, Culture and Arts, Streetscene, Public Health and Inequalities, Open spaces, Adult and Childrens Social Care etc.

We have the opportunity for integration post-Covid, where joint working, carried out through necessity, can be built on for new working relationships moving ahead. The pandemic has spotlighted the huge potential of the voluntary and community sector, which we in the East Riding do not want to lose. We have introduced a new priority in our council plan of ‘Empowering Communities’ where we ensure that the value of asset-based community development, building on the strengths already inherent in the community through community groups, societies, etc, can be used to support and invest our limited resources in what’s already there and working – to shift from a position where we think we know best to supporting what is actually proven to work and owned by the communities we support.

Our role in local government is to put the wishes of our residents first, in our ‘place’, to our leaders in national government, not just be the delivery arm of national policy.

I remind all new candidates entering politics that in an ideal scenario where you may have a 60 per cent turnout in an election (six in ten vote) and you have a wonderful result of over 50 per cent voting for you (three of the six) then seven out of ten did not actually vote for you (70 per cent).

You represent all of them and the slightest shift in opinion through a local or national issue can sway all those that don’t vote.

We cannot ever be complacent. But we’ll be fighting on the local issues.

The post Jonathan Owen: In East Riding, we will build on the great community spirit shown throughout the pandemic first appeared on Conservative Home.

Wendy Thompson: Next year will offer a chance to punish Labour for its mismanagement in Wolverhampton

20 Jun

Cllr Wendy Thompson is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Wolverhampton City Council.

Wolverhampton faces all-out elections in May next year. So what you may ask? Ordinarily, all-outs are nothing special. However, here in the Black Country’s only city, because of boundary changes, it represents a near once in a generation opportunity to break, in one fell swoop, Labour’s grip on the levers of power.

Normally, the city elects by thirds, and with Labour’s solid majority in place, it would take years of nothing but smooth sailing, without the ebbs and flows of national politics bleeding over, and yes, local challenges, to whittle away control from Labour.

We have a golden opportunity to take control and end the years of misrule that the residents of Wolverhampton have had to endure.

Much of the criticism I wrote of the administration on this site last year, sadly, still holds true:

  • The £4.4 billion of investment that they say is onsite currently, or in the next 12 months, in the city is still missing in action. In fact, if it wasn’t for Government funding I’m not sure anything would be progressing in the city centre (except for the years late, and four-times over budget, Civic Halls project).
  • The Green Belt is still under pressure as Labour refuses to proactively go out and hunt down the brownfield sites we know are there, so much so that they even voted against a motion calling on them to do just this, because they couldn’t stomach publicly following our lead nor could they cook up an amendment that was even in order.
  • Front-line services are continuing to let people down, with phone calls to Council officers going unanswered (in some cases for over 40 minutes), even when people are trying to give the Council money to pay for services they should receive as part of their council tax, like garden waste bins.

Perhaps worst of all for residents though is that as sure as spring follows winter, Labour, despite our attempts to stop them, puts up council tax as much as possible without fail. And in the latest cabinet reports, it’s reported that the Council is to post an underspend of over £2 million on top of the £4 million bunged into reserves earlier in the year, which would have more than covered the extra cash raised from Labour’s latest squeeze.

Residents are being let down by Wolverhampton and, as such, we will be doing all we can to take control of the Council in one go and do better for our poorly treated citizens (or ‘customers’ as the Council insists on calling them).

Preparation has already begun for the monumental task ahead and whilst this years’ manifesto formulation is in its infancy, we know the challenges the city faces and are fizzing with ideas to solve them.

As believers in low tax, we think that now more than ever the Council should be doing all it can to reduce the ask on hard-pressed Council Taxpayers. We know that there are savings the Council can make to limit or even freeze council tax increases. We also want to scrap the garden tax and stop charging people to have their garden waste collected – at a time when we want to boost recycling why are we penalising people for doing the right thing?

By far the best thing we can do to help many households (and the Council Tax base through the associated reduced council tax discounts) is to help more people into work and off out of work benefits. Wolverhampton has a chronic unemployment problem regularly being in the top ten nationally for out of work claimants. Whilst the Labour Council has slowly adopted two of our ideas to counter unemployment for those at the beginning and towards the end of their careers, we want to go further. Wolverhampton has a proud entrepreneurial spirit, and we want to see additional support for those who have a vision to turn ideas into reality.

One of the city’s most sacred resources are its green spaces – with just 11 per cent Green Belt, one of the lowest in the West Midlands – we owe it not just to current residents but to future ones too to see as much as of it as possible protected from development. We want to find and bring forward the brownfield sites out there so that the greenbelt fields can be removed from the draft Black Country Plan – fortunately for us and Wolverhampton, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street is already working on doing just that.

For too long Wolverhampton has been let down by Labour with the current administration seemingly content to manage decline and showing more concern for holding on to their Cabinet positions. Whilst the world has moved on, in Wolverhampton Labour want to refight past battles rather than look to the future, whether that is ending the unemployment crisis that has dogged the city since de-industrialisation or complaining about a lack of resource. Our city lags our Black Country siblings with the key difference being that in the two more successful ones it is Conservatives in charge.

So come May when all seats are up for election, we will be ready. With support from our two excellent local Conservative MPs Stuart Anderson and Jane Stevenson, the indominatable Andy Street, and the hundreds of Conservative Supporters across the city, we will be doing all we can to take control and deliver the positive change that Wolverhampton has so sadly been missing all these years.

 

The post Wendy Thompson: Next year will offer a chance to punish Labour for its mismanagement in Wolverhampton first appeared on Conservative Home.

Kris Wilson: We won in Nuneaton and Bedworth by not letting our opponents distract us

17 Jun

Cllr Kris Wilson is the Leader of Nuneaton and Bedworth Council.

Last year, we took control of Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council for only the second time since our creation in 1974. Conservatives had only been in control for two years in the history of our council. When I first became leader of our group in 2014, I only had three out of 34 councillors on our benches. At the end of Election Night 2021 we reached our historic best of 24 councillors.

During the course of our year in control, we were also faced with a by-election in November in Barpool – a red-wall council seat that had only turned our way in 2021. Following a hard-fought campaign, we won that by-election and brought our total to 25 councillors.

So, entering the elections this May we had 25 councillors. The national picture was not as buoyant as 12 months’ prior. Where would we end up by the end of the evening?

We ended up on 27 councillors in defiance of the Westminster Bubble wisdom.

No love for Labour

Contrary to the expectations of many, in the seats Labour needs to stand a realistic chance of government at the next general election, there was no great “Labour surge”. In Nuneaton and Bedworth, Labour were in control for 45 out of 47 years. The residents of our Borough have not forgotten the state they left our towns in after their decades in control. People are not ready to trust Labour again.

The election results nationally would also seem to back up this analysis – certainly in England. Having knocked on literally hundreds of doors during this election campaign, voters have not been flocking back to Labour. They are unhappy about a number of issues, but the trust gap between voters and Labour is as large as ever.

No substitute for knocking on doors

During an election, we all face many challenges. But the worst challenge a councillor, candidate, or campaigner faces is complacency. Just because a seat has always been Conservative it does not mean that it will remain Conservative. We cannot only emerge from the proverbial electoral hibernation every 4 years. The only way to get our message across and actually find out what a voter thinks is to get out there and speak to them – knock on as many doors as you can.

In Nuneaton and Bedworth, we got out there and knocked on the doors. We heard from the voters that whilst they aren’t necessarily happy with the national picture, locally they still didn’t trust Labour, but they could also see the progress we have made in our first year in control. Over our years in opposition, our policies for control were formulated after listening to residents and they are now seeing us work to implement them.

Another factor in our success is that as residents could actually see us knocking on doors, they respected the fact that we weren’t “hiding in our Ivory Towers” but actually seeking to get out there and speak to them and listen to what they have to say. This has been in stark contrast to Labour who were virtually nowhere to be seen during the election.

Update residents on your progress

Part of this is easier if you are in control of your council. Since taking control we have been working closely with our comms team to ensure that more press releases go out that highlight the policies and projects that we have put in place. We have re-enforced that this is a member-led authority and that as cabinet members it is us who approve the press and what is put out in our name. If we are unhappy with it, then we amend it.

Don’t be frightened of doing the radio rounds. Wherever possible in our first year in control we have taken up every opportunity to discuss local issues on local radio. Compared to our Labour predecessors, we have been getting out there and selling our messages and our achievements.

As part of our election campaign, we put together an updating magazine to highlight all that we have achieved in our first year in control. Over 30,000 magazines have gone out to show that we have delivered on our promises that we made in 2021 and how we want to take this forward in 2022 and beyond.

Maintaining Discipline

During an election campaign it is easy to get distracted from attacks from our opponents. No matter how cuddly the Greens may look, they are amongst some of the most vicious and dishonest campaigners you will ever meet. Whatever Labour don’t know or like, they will simply make up.

The temptation to get distracted and respond to these dirty tactics can sometimes be overwhelming, especially to newer candidates. It falls to those of us who are experienced campaigners to be the wiser heads in our teams and advise caution.

Don’t bother trying to correct a falsehood. Those who believe it are often those who will never believe Conservatives anyway. It also detracts from your message and stops you talking about what you want to talk about – the difference a Conservative council can make for our local residents.

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Harry Fone: A warning from Northumberland on the lack of spending transparency

16 Jun

Harry Fone is grassroots campaign manager for the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance has long campaigned for greater accountability and transparency when it comes to public spending. Quite frankly, there’s not enough of it and nowhere is this more evident currently than at Northumberland County Council (NCC). You’ve likely read by now the worrying report from Max Caller MBE regarding the authority’s governance, off the back of a Section 114 notice issued in regards to unlawful payments made to the current chief executive, Daljit Lally.

The creation of an international healthcare consultancy business, Northumbria International Alliance (NIA), by the council was not necessarily a bad idea. But there has been a fundamental lack of documentation relating to the finances and profitability. As things stand, the company has never produced any public accounts and councillors are not aware of what staff are on the payroll.

This lack of transparency and openness (seemingly from council bosses) should serve as a valuable lesson to all councillors across the country. To try and shed more light on the matter I spoke to NCC councillor and audit committee member, Nick Oliver.

I began by asking if any financial records exist for NIA and whether a profit or loss has been made. Oliver says he has been asking for them since 2018 and, to date, nothing has materialised. He’s seen one report that suggests a profit of £300,000 but he believes that overheads were not taken into account. What I find shocking is that the business was not registered with Companies House nor can I find any mention of it in the registered parties section of NCC’s statement of accounts. One can only surmise that this has either been a deliberate attempt to avoid transparency or extreme negligence.

The payment of a £40,000 international allowance to Lally has piqued a lot of people’s interests. Why was it deemed a necessary addition to an already generous remuneration package and where did she travel to? According to Oliver, it didn’t go through the proper process and would be hard to justify even if it had. As the Section 114 notice makes clear, it was not correctly authorised. It is understood that Ms Lally (and other directors) travelled to destinations such as China, India, and Dubai. A return trip ticket to the latter is believed to have cost in the region of £3,700 which the council denies was a Business or First Class flight. I find it hard to believe it was for an economy class seat.

In the same vein, is there evidence of work completed for these international clients? Again, information is sparse with just one presentation made a year at informal cabinet meetings. These are described by Oliver as “light on financial information but comprehensive in terms of the nature of the work.” He points out that Northumbria was “ahead of the game” in its healthcare set up so there was some merit to the consultancy.

Which makes it all the more troubling that if the business had some viability why have financial records been so hard to get hold of? I ask Oliver if any internal or external audits have been done. In short, no. To date, no proper audit has been done, although a “summary of accounts from incomplete records” has been compiled by the Section 151 officer. It’s been said publicly that the external auditor has been frustrated in his efforts to get information. It’s not clear to the public what the staffing structure was or how many employees were on the payroll. Councillors found they got more helpful information from Google rather than internally because of so many “blockages”.

This tallies with Caller’s report which states that many people were unable to provide information as they were subject to non-disclosure agreements. With Caller himself saying:

“It is worth noting here that the number of such individuals subject to these agreements is significantly higher than our collective experience in other authorities.”

So where do we go from here? It’s important to note that NCC’s finances are still in good shape and many authorities can only wish their financial position was as healthy. It seems to clear to me though, that if taxpayers’ cash has been spent unlawfully that every effort should be made to reclaim it. Furthermore, those responsible for a lack of accountability and transparency must be held accountable and any unlawful payments repaid.

Councillors from every corner of Britain should take note of Northumberland and ensure such incidents aren’t repeated on their patch.

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