Tom Drummond: It’s time for change in Sutton

30 Dec

Cllr Tom Drummond is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Sutton Council

Sutton is a leafy green borough on the outskirts of greater London; a borough where the Lib Dems have been running the council since 1986. When I moved here in 2006, my Conservative voting neighbour told me, “I always vote Tory, but locally I’m Lib Dem, they do a good job.” This was the message that was instilled and accepted by both old and new residents.

Then came a change; cracks began to show in the council. The Lib Dems had stopped listening to residents, complacency had set in, and they began to follow and promote their own ideology against the wishes of residents.

One of the many cracks that appeared was in 2015 when the council chose to sell a long lease on a historic building for £600,000; the price was circa £1m below the market valuation. If things couldn’t get worse, they had sold the building to a charity whose director and trustee was the then sitting Lib Dem MP for Carshalton and Wallington. This type of laissez faire attitude with the council’s assets began to make residents question, could things be better? And that has been our task ever since – to show them it could be.

It was soon after this that the green shoots of recovery for the Conservatives began to come through. In 2015, Paul Scully became the first Conservative MP for Sutton and Cheam since 1997.

By the time of the local elections in 2018, the Liberal Democrats were defending their policy on bin collections. For the first time, residents were expressing their anger on social media with #Suttonbinshame trending nationally. We had a successful night, bucking the trend in London by increasing councillors from eight to 18. However, this does not tell the full story; there were a number of wards where we lost out by single digits – and overall in the borough, we missed taking control by two per cent.

The Conservative march has continued and in 2019 the long standing Lib Dem MP for Carshalton and Wallington, Tom Brake, was unseated by Elliot Colburn. Then in the 2021 London Assembly elections, Neil Garatt, for the first time, won every single ward in the borough.

Looking forward to May 2022, there is a feeling that change is needed. The extra scrutiny provided by the increase in the 2018 Conservative Group has meant the cracks that appeared in 2015 are now gaping chasms of incompetence. The Lib Dems have reacted to this; however their own agenda still dominates their decisions at the expense of residents’ wishes.

It has long been said, the Sutton Liberal Democrats “Consult, Consider and Ignore” – and this is evidenced in recent consultations for controlled parking measures. In my ward, Worcester Park, 93 per cent of residents in the statutory consultation objected to a Controlled Parking Zone being implemented (736 against versus 67 for).  The Lib Dems refused to listen and went ahead with the parking restrictions. This became a theme as they consulted across the borough on parking, school streets, and LTNs. The consultations have been biased and manipulated to give the result they want rather than what residents are telling them.

Another example of the gross incompetence surrounds SDEN (Sutton Decentralised Energy Network); a Council owned company providing heating and hot water to a ward in the borough. Since its inception, there have been question marks over the financial modelling. As a result of a Conservative group motion at Full Council, an independent investigation was commissioned. The conclusions were damning: 80 houses that were not built (or even planned) were used in the financial modelling. A Government grant that was no longer available was also included in the business plan. The investigation found there had been “optimism bias”, which was described in the aftermath by the deputy leader as the council being a “little bit over optimistic.” This has cost the Sutton taxpayer millions of pounds.

So, five months from the election, is Sutton a foregone conclusion in 2022? Sadly the answer is no. The Lib Dems see this as the crown jewel of their London councils. I’m in no doubt that resources will be called in from neighbouring boroughs and the local party will do anything and everything they can to retain control.

In recent elections we’ve experienced how low the Lib Dem’s will go to win. Dirty tricks do not describe the depths they stooped to in 2019, defaming a long-standing councillor. I fully expect them to revert to this type of electioneering again;  we’re already seeing the personal attacks, negative campaigning, and I’m in no doubt that highly questionable tactics are planned.  As I’ve been told many times, “the Sutton Lib Dems are bad at running councils but good at winning elections.”

So do I feel confident? Yes. Are we getting a positive reception on the door? Yes. Is complacency going to set in? Absolutely not! Sutton needs change which the local Tories can give. In the run up to May, we will campaign as hard as ever and ensure Sutton has two Conservatives MPs, one Conservative GLA member, and finally, after decades, a Conservative run council.

Snap guide to this session’s Government legislation 11) Subsidy Control Bill

12 Sep

The Bills announced in each session’s Queen’s Speech are the fulcrum of the Parliamentary year.  But they are easily lost sight of, separately and wholly, as the political cycle moves – and a mass of other news and events crowd them out.

So during the coming months, ConservativeHome will run a brief guide, on most Sunday mornings, to each Bill from this year’s Speech: what it is, whether it’s new, its main strengths and weaknesses – and whether it’s expected sooner or later.

11. Subsidy Control Bill

This is the measure that sets out how subsidies will be controlled now that the UK has left the EU.  It is a wide-ranging piece of legislation that covers subsidies that have or could havw an effect on competition or investment within the UK.

The six-part Bill provides a framework for public subsidies, prohibitions on their use, and exemptions from these in specified circumstances.  It also establishes a requirement for public authorities to use the transparency database; a Subsidy Advice Unit located within the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), and scope for judicial review and statutory guidance.

Responsible department

Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy – and so Kwasi Kwarteng is in the lead, while Paul Scully, whose duties specifically cover competition law, will presumably take the lead in committee.

However, the Bill which touch on the business of all the department’s Ministers – including Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Minister for Energy, because it has nine principles that apply to energy and environmental subsidies (in addition to seven which apply to all subsidies).  Nadhim Zahawi is responsible for security, and Amanda Solloway for industrial strategy.  The Bill will touch on both.

Carried over or a new Bill?

New.

Expected when?

Currently under consideration – it received its First Reading in June.

Arguments for

The Bill is necessary both to implement our international commitments on subsidy control, now that Brexit has happened, and to cover subsidies that have or could have an effect on competition or investment within the UK.  The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) gave the former some freedom to design its own system though with more conditions than would apply under WTO rules.

Many of the proposed principles are similar to those of the EU state aid rules.  The CMA will have an oversight role, but its assessments won’t be binding.  It will continue to be possible for private parties to challenge subsidy decisions in court.  EU state aid rules will still apply to subsidies covered by the Northern Ireland Protocol.  There will be exemptions for natural disasters, emergencies and national security.

Arguments against

The Scottish and Welsh governments are up in arms about the Bill.  The SNP have described it as “a full-scale assault on devolution”, while Plaid Cyrmu claim that it “only reflects the narrow interests of the UK Government”.  More broadly, this is one of those measures where the devil will lie in the detail.

The Opposition, plus interested Conservative backbench parties such as members of the BEIS Select Committee, could challenge the principles; what the Government will do with the subsidy freedoms that it has; the balance of the CMA’s powers; how the new exemption provisions (“streamlined subsidy schemes”) will work, plus the scope of proposed remedies and reviews.

Politics

Although the point about the detail and devil applies, Opposition parties will want to present a broad argument.  The Labour front bench will want to avoid this morphing into a general attack on Brexit, since it has been keen to curb these elsewhere.  Instead, it will want to paint a picture of power-crazed Ministers seeking to gain more power without adequate scrutiny.

That will dovetail with the specific grievance of the Scottish and Welsh nationalists.  Elsewhere, attention is likely to focus on the balance between government and the CMA (and the scope of compulsory referrals to it, since there will be some of these), plus the scope of private parties to issue challenges, the wording of the principles, and the workings of the proposed environmental regime.

Controversy rating: 7/10

There is much for Parliament and the public to get its teeth into – even were there no hardline Remainers to summon up the ghost of the referendum decision; angry Scottish and Welsh nationalists, and concerned Unionists to pointing the difference between the arrangements that will pertain in three parts of the UK, but not the fourth.  And a philosophical question: how statist should governments be?

Presenting ConservativeHome’s Spring Conference online fringe events

17 Mar

We’re very pleased to announce that, following the success of our online fringe events during last year’s Conservative Party Conference, ConservativeHome will be putting on a programme of free, online fringe events during the Conservative Party’s Spring Conference, on Friday 26th and Saturday 27th March.

Click here to see details of our full line-up of speakers and topics. We do hope that you can join us for discussions ranging from the reform of business rates and the future of the asylum system to the Government’s plans to fulfil its promises on levelling up and net zero, featuring guests including Sajid Javid, Robert Jenrick and Paul Scully.

As ever, ConservativeHome’s journalists will also be putting your audience questions to our special guests.

All of our events will be broadcast for free on the Conservative Party’s conference website, the ConservativeHome YouTube Channel and via Zoom. Zoom signup links for all events can be found on our listings page.