Independent candidates fire blanks

bazookaThe two independents candidates, standing against myself and Christine Lawton on 7th May in the district council elections, have delivered their first election leaflets.

As always, leaflets from the opposition are essential reading, if only to understand where they are coming from campaign wise. In the case of these two, there are few if any surprises. There are however some clear misunderstandings when it comes to what can and cannot be achieved as a district councillor, but given that they are new at this, it’s understandable. I am however, not so understanding as to allow them to pass without comment, this is after all politics and there’s an election to win.

I’ll deal with their suggested policies first, before dealing with the ever present irony that is the ‘Independent Group’, to which they have attached themselves.

These are from the first ‘independent’ candidate’s leaflet.

1. A temporary cut in business rates to encourage small businesses.

Setting the business rates is not a district council function and cannot be done. The best we can do, is offer discretionary relief to a limited range of activities, such as the only pub in a village, a small village shop, or a non-profit making social club venue.

2. Waste and recycling collections to stay weekly

This has been the Conservative group’s position since it took control in 1999 and this has not changed.   Neither can it change in the near future, as we accepted grant funding from central government on the basis of retaining weekly collections for at least 5 years and we’ve no intention of giving back the £1.7m received!

3. A really good garden waste collection to serve gardeners in the town.

You wouldn’t intentionally offer a really bad garden waste collection, would you?

Only in the town, what about everybody else? What about every other town come to that?   This independent candidate is beginning to think and sound like a parish councillor already.

We are already working on a paid for green waste collection. This needs a significant outlay in capital and a more detailed survey, to identify potential users, will be carried out soon.

4. Make our environment as litter free as we can …….not just in run up to election…

Can you call a campaign that has been running for nearly 9 months, an election ploy? I think not. Had central government confirmed the local government finance settlement at the normal time and not the eleventh hour and 59th minute, as they did, we would have been able to start the South Holland Pride campaign some 12 months ago. This was the plan, but we could only find enough funding to appoint a part time enforcement officer at that time.

5. Better community policing

Yet another area over which the district council has no control. Lincolnshire Police raise their own precept via the council tax. This year that was increased by 1.9% to £197.64 SHDC’s council tax take was reduced by 0.5% to £154.84 for a band D property.

6. Better value for money when looking at provision of services….

I’d love to comment on this one, but I haven’t got a clue what its referring to!

7. More thought to planning applications, so that they benefit the town and not just the applicant…..

This is another one that’s got me guessing at to its meaning, let alone its ambition. The planning system isn’t there as a way of getting goodies, from the people who apply for planning permission, unless those ‘goodies’ are essential to making the application acceptable in planning terms.

Moving on to the second ‘independent’.

This one makes some pledges which reflect some double standards and a clear misunderstanding of what the overall role of a district councillor is.

1. I will not have any hidden agendas

My personal experience says otherwise.

2. I will work with any councillor…………..acting in the best interests of Wygate Park and Spalding!

Just because the ward is called Spalding Wygate, doesn’t mean it just covers the Wygate Park area, where this candidate happens to live.

As well as being limited to half the ward, the horizon of this independent only stretches as far as the boundaries of Spalding it seems.

As a district councillor, your role, first and foremost, is to represent the interests of all South Holland residents, not just those who voted for you, or happen to live in the ward you represent. This applies even when a decision might have a negative impact in your ward.

Some of the issues this candidate will support.

3. Pride in South Holland. My answer to this claim is the same as for the other independent and our manifesto actually contains a commitment to continue the campaign.

4. Highways – poor state of some pavements. This is a county council function. You don’t need to be a district councillor to get these fixed. Just report them on line, I do so regularly.

5. Road safety – road markings. Again, a county council function, not the district.

I submitted a defect report on these makings over 12 months ago. The answer from highways was very clear. It is not their policy to maintain any form of road markings within residential estates, when those roads only serve residents and have no other purpose, as this would not be a good use of their limited budgets. The road marking in question were put there by the developer, during initial build and were never a requirement of the detailed plans approval, or of the highways adoption process.

6. Community – Support for events…………Nothing new here, as all Spalding councillors have made financial contributions to such events.

7. Traffic – Stating the blindingly obvious here.  Again, something only the county council can rectify. Spalding Town Forum are already extremely active in pressing for a solution.

8. Planning – local services must keep pace.  Nothing offered here, other than a statement of wishful thinking. The planning system has no powers to require developers to provide funding for local services as a matter of law. Everything we achieve, outside of the planning policy requirements, is done by active negotiation and persuasion.

9. Licensing policy changes – another piece of wishful thinking, without any consideration of the reality. Like planning, the licensing system is controlled by national laws and policies, that offer the district council little leeway when it comes to resisting the granting of new licenses.

Now turning back to the various claims made about being unfettered and un-whipped independents.

The back of both very similar looking leaflets, has the same heading and the same piece of text, ‘A message from Angela Newton……..Independent Councillor and Leader of South Holland the Independent Group.’ ……………….

So, having declared themselves as intending to be, ‘Independent Councillors’ (sic) and not tied to any Political Party (sic) (they do like their capital letters don’t they!), they willingly attach themselves to somebody stating that, they are actually the leader of a group of independents. Using the word group and independent in the same sentence is an oxymoron isn’t it?

Splitting hairs, you could argue that Angela Newton is not leading a recognised political party, but it is very clearly a group involved in politics, making it, at the very least, a political group and therein lies the irony of the claims trotted out be these so called independents.

Just to add insult to injury. This non-group, group of independents, hold group meetings before full council meetings, in exactly the same way as the Conservative group do, but somehow they manage to make them last even longer than ours and there’s only twelve of them compared to 25 of us!

It must be all the effort required to be totally independent of each other, that makes their ‘group’ meetings last so long.

The way forward, but is anybody listening?

It’s unfortunate that, even when there is agreement that unitary is the best and most cost effective way to provide local government service, politicians still waste time and energy protecting their individual power bases.
I’ve yet to fathom Eric Pickles’s reasoning for sticking his oar in as soon as he got in to office in 2010, and stopping those that were in train. Possibly pre-election whinging, from Conservative councillors in those areas, fearful that they would get the boot from the electorate, was the cause of this early interference, something that has continued at a pace.

Too much time and effort is wasted by politicians protecting their own interests under the pretence of championing the interests of those who elected them. The vast majority of taxpayers care little for which part of local government provides the services they need to access. What they do care about, is how much their council tax bill will be every April. Yet despite what should be blindingly obvious, lower tier politicians spend their trying to pass on the cost to the upper tier, or refusing to work with that upper tier, because they can nothing in it for them.

As far as the taxpayer is concerned, a saving in their council tax, is a saving in the council tax, no matter where it comes from. Put another way, if a district council works with their county council, to help that county council save money, then that is as much to the credit of those district councillors as it is the county councillors, if not more. Unfortunately many councillors at the district level can only see the numbers in their own budget and refuse to acknowledge any wider savings that are being made.

However, it’s not just a case of making everything unitary and all will be well in local government. I’ve no idea how well or badly local government is working within the East Riding of Yorkshire. However, given that it’s the largest unitary in England, is divided into 26 wards and has a total of 67 councillors (Lincolnshire County Council has 77 councillors, covering only county council services) it would be very interesting to know and I don’t mean just what the council and it’s politicians would like you to believe.

Would Lincolnshire work as one large unitary? Personally, I don’t believe that it would, but that’s just my opinion. I’m always willing to be persuaded differently based on evidence that unitary councils such as East Riding of Yorkshire Council is serving its rural council taxpayers well.

Copied from the Local Government Chronicle. From a series of articles written by a senior local government officer, who remains anonymous.

Inside Out: Unitary is strength
5 March, 2014

I have always believed unitary is strength when it comes to local government. I was really pleased when it was recently reported that Labour is looking to embrace it.

I was less pleased with the government’s response. They ‘played politics’ with it rather than responding to the issue.

Granted, the move to unitary councils has never been smooth.Councils disappear, people lose their power and influence, places can feel they lose their identity, and there are always transitional costs. However, the advantages when unitary government is established far outweigh the transitory downsides.

I have worked for a district that became a unitary council, a county unitary and a district unitary. One size does not fit all circumstances. It seems to be assumed these days that unitaries should always be based on counties. This is a disservice to the strength and professionalism of district councils and will be a barrier to change in some circumstances.

There are three secrets to make moving to unitary local government successful. First, the area covered needs to make sense to residents. My hometown was moved from Lancashire to Merseyside in 1974. I still address Christmas cards to my relatives using Lancashire, 40 years later. The boundaries of unitaries need to be determined locally.

Second, there needs to be strong national leadership. The whole of England needs to be covered by unitary government. Unless this is made clear, local vested interests will fight change and drive up costs.

Finally, it needs strong local leadership, seeking consensus on change and then managing the change well. There are savings and service improvements that can be unleashed by bringing together tiers of government, but they have to be realised. They don’t happen on their own.

Given the financial struggle matched with rising demand, no element of transformational change can be dismissed. My heart sinks when I think of yet more organisational change. But maybe it needs such a shake-up to unlock the other changes we need to embrace. Unitary is strength.

The 13 NOC counties and unitaries: who will govern?

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
28 May, 2013 | By Chris Game

Interesting comment regarding the current situation on LCC. Highlighted in bold below.

In May 2010 prime minister David Cameron and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg took just five days to form their national coalition. By contrast, starting in June 2010, the Belgians took 18 months to form theirs. English local government falls between the two.

Three weeks after the local elections, most of us still don’t know, for at least some of the nine counties and four unitaries conveniently lumped together as ‘NOC’ (No Overall Control), the answer to that basic question the elections were supposedly about: who will actually govern?

This column attempts to fill some of the gaps. It’s a kind of ‘runners and riders’ guide to the 13 county and unitary councils in which no single party has a majority of seats: how they got that way, and what will or might happen in the near future.

The county councils
First, the counties. Cambridgeshire was one of the previously staunchly Conservative counties that became hung largely through being UKIPped. This was actually a much patchier experience than some commentators suggested – with 7 of the 27 counties still having no UKIP councillors at all and only 4, all in the south and east, having more than 10.

In Cambridgeshire, the Conservatives’ new leader, Martin Curtis, favoured their carrying on as a minority administration, but the Independents ruled that out, while Labour and the Lib Dems refused to join UKIP in supporting an Independent-led non-Conservative rainbow coalition. Eventually, the Conservatives got half their cake: Curtis will head a minority administration for 12 months, but then UKIP’s preference, for ‘opening up’ council decision-making, kicks in and cabinets will be replaced by all-party committees.

In Cumbria, the elections reversed the standings of the Conservatives and Labour, the latter regaining their customary position as largest party, leaving the slightly strengthened Lib Dems as potential kingmakers. Under a new leader, Jonathan Stephenson, they opted for coalition with Labour, deputy leadership of the council, and four cabinet posts.

East Sussex is much smaller than Cambridgeshire, but the party arithmetic is broadly similar. Here, though, the other parties seemed readier to accept a Conservative minority administration, and, as in Cambridgeshire, although a Conservative-UKIP deal could have produced a majority, none was apparently seriously pursued.

Gloucestershire was hung from 1981 to 2005, with Lib Dems generally the largest group – before, in 2009, the Conservatives suddenly took 42 of the then 63 council seats. With the reduction of 10 seats and accompanying boundary changes, those observers predicting a return to NOC were proved right. The Conservatives, though, will continue as a minority administration, and the Lib Dems as the main opposition, miffed at a suspected Con-Lab deal over Scrutiny Management and other committee chairs.

Lancashire is Labour territory, and the party was hoping to regain majority control in one go. Sensing a lifeline, the Conservatives tried talking with anyone who might be interested in a presumably anti-Labour coalition. But the Independents don’t want an alliance with anyone and the Lib Dems seem undecided, which leaves a Labour minority administration looking the likeliest outcome.

Lincolnshire Conservatives are unused to coalition politics, but they reacted quickly to their heavy loss of seats by negotiating a Con/LD/Independent coalition. Splitting the Lincolnshire Independents in doing so was a bonus: three of them signed up with the coalition, one with a seat in the cabinet, and there are rumours that others could follow.

In equally traditionally Conservative Norfolk, life for the dominant party is more fraught. At a full council meeting, the Conservative leader, Bill Borrett, apparently thought he had an agreement that the Lib Dems would at least abstain in any vote, enabling him to head a minority administration. He hadn’t, and nor could he nail down a more explicit coalition agreement with the Lib Dems involving some key specified posts. For the present, then, the running of the authority is, as the phrase goes, in the hands of officers.

Before the Conservatives took control in 2005, Oxfordshire had been hung for 20 years. Labour’s comeback was limited, and, on a smaller council, the Conservatives came within one seat of retaining their overall majority – a position they’ve restored through a Conservative/Independent Alliance. No cabinet seats are involved, but three Independents will work with a Conservative minority administration in the kind of ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement that many thought was as far as Cameron and Clegg would dare to go back in 2010.

In Warwickshire Labour, though never the majority party, have regularly run the council as a minority and were hoping to regain this position. They didn’t, but they did do a deal with the Conservatives, the outcome being a Conservative minority administration, headed by the council’s first woman leader, Izzy Seccombe, with Labour holding the Scrutiny chairs, and the Lib Dems and Greens out in the cold, complaining of a stitch-up.

The unitaries
Now to the four hung unitaries. In Bristol Labour became again the largest single party and, reversing its position last November, agreed that two of its members should join mayor George Ferguson’s all-party cabinet, which will now comprise 2 Labour members, 2 Lib Dems, 1 Conservative, and 1 Green.

In Cornwall a much-discussed multi-party rainbow coalition has become in practice an Independent/Lib Dem coalition with the more or less positive support of Labour, UKIP and Mebyon Kernow (the party for Cornwall), the Conservatives having rejected as tokenism a scaled-back offer of two cabinet seats.

The Isle of Wight will be run again, for the first time since 1973-77, by what are nowadays known as the Island Independents, but this time as a minority administration.

Having dominated the former county council, Labour will run unitary Northumberland for the first time as a minority administration, with the support of the three independents – one of whom will be back as chairman of audit, the post she held as a Conservative councillor before resigning from the party following alleged victimisation by a senior colleague. And to think, there are some who say the local government world is boring.

Chris Game, Institute of Local Government, University of Birmingham

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Any chance UKIP can deliver anything locally?

I thought it might be useful to repeat the article below, copied from a Lincolnshire Echo online article. Obviously, all those who voted UKIP last Thursday, either didn’t read this sort of information, or they simply didn’t care enough about the issues referred to, compared to the national ones being pursued by UKIP. I’m not seeking to criticise those who voted UKIP, but rather use it to emphasise the anger and frustration with David Cameron’s policies, I experienced from people, whilst out campaigning.

Knowing how unhappy people are with what’s going on nationally and adding this to the local issues that have resulted from the EU’s open door policy, it’s hardly surprising that UKIP did so well, whilst making little or no effort. Despite all the assurances that politicians offer when confronted by the public on an issue, be it letters, petitions, or even protest marches, the only time they ever seem to really act, is when they get caned at the ballot box. Is it any wonder then that, despite being asked to only vote on local issues in local elections, voters take the only course of action that seems to work, the protest vote?

Conservative candidates used the track record of the Conservative controlled county council, on LOCAL issues, as the basis for their campaigning – naively it would now seem, at least in this part of Lincolnshire. Meanwhile, nationally, UKIP were attacking David Cameron’s more unpopular policies, many of them easy targets: *An EU referendum, but only if you vote him back in 2015. *Control of immigration (but not from within the EU). *Ring fencing the overseas aid budget and even increasing it, despite almost every other budget being cut and further cuts to come. *Pushing gay marriage through, even when it wasn’t in the Party’s General Election manifesto.

This allowed local UKIP candidates to jump on the national issues bandwagon, whilst doing virtually nothing locally, apart from promise to fill every pothole in Lincolnshire, but without saying where they would get the money from. Speaking to people in the Spalding South Division after the election, it seems that only myself and the incumbent Independent candidate, bothered to communicate with the vast majority of them in any way. It would seem that the winning UKIP candidate simply sat back and relied on the national campaign to do his work for him.

More locally, people are angry and frustrated by the results of being members of the EU and the high levels of East European migrant workers in South Lincolnshire, that has resulted from this. UKIP have ruthlessly exploited these concerns, but have not made clear how they would change things – because, in reality, they can’t.

Fortunately, the Conservatives are still the largest party on the county council and will now be seeking an alliance with one of the smaller grouping, in order to form a controlling group. I’m pretty sure this will not be UKIP. I sincerely hope, for the sake of the residents they now represent, the UKIP councillors stick to addressing local issues and seeking local solutions. However, the alternative is more likely. That they will waste everybody’s time, by acting as local mouthpieces for UKIP’s national agenda.

Tough choices lie ahead for councillors – Thursday, April 25, 2013

THE Lincolnshire County Council elections are just days away – and the new intake will have to contend with a whole raft of difficult issues. From crumbling roads and care provision to the future of libraries and coping with cuts, the situation will be complex. Here, we examine the key areas…

TRANSPORT AND HIGHWAYS
There is one subject which hits the headlines time and time again – in Lincolnshire and that is roads. From calls for new ones to the need to repair old ones, Our transport network is rarely out of the news. And incoming councillors at County Hall will pick up the baton on two ongoing, key subjects: the eastern bypass and potholes. It has been suggested that work on the eagerly-anticipated eastern bypass could begin in 2014, but the multi-million pound scheme still needs the nod from central government.
A number of county councillors have raised concerns over whether the building of the much-needed relief road will ever happen. Residents will hope inevitably be hoping that the new council will forge ahead with the project as a priority.
In addition, members will inherit the on-going pothole repair project.
Our roads are among the very worst in the country and it was revealed last summer that 80 per cent of highways were in need of repair. The county council received £6 million for essential road maintenance in Lincolnshire in December 2012. The Department for Transport gave the local authority the extra funding to be spent over the next two years on renewing, repairing and extending the life of roads across the county. Our next council will need to quickly prioritise road repairs because, as welcome as the money is, it will not go that far in such a vast county as Lincolnshire.

SOCIAL SERVICES
Of all the new council’s responsibilities, its Plans for social services will inevitably evoke the most garner huge attention. When they take to their seats in the council chamber, the new members assume responsibility for thousands of the most vulnerable adults and children in our county.
Yet with that role comes the constraints of an ever-decreasing budget and an ever-increasing demand for services.
Earlier this year, the Echo reported how children’s services face significant financial challenges, despite saving more than £22 million since 2011. Further savings of £3.9 million will need to be made by 2015. This comes after central Government announced a reduction to the Early Intervention Grant and the Local Authority Central Spend Equivalent Grant following school conversions to academy status. In addition, the way in which care for vulnerable adults is organised cannot be sustained, according to a report by finance bosses.
Despite making predicted savings of £9.5 million in 2012/13, further significant savings must be made. Council cash bosses said that ‘a complete transformation is required’.
The council introduced a personal budget system for buying care in its last term. While this was generally welcomed by users of children’s services, it proved unpopular with the families of some vulnerable adults. The new members will need to make brave decisions about how they balance the need for robust support services with reductions in funding.

DAY CENTRES
The subject of day centres has been a sore point for thousands across Lincolnshire for almost two years now. Lincolnshire County Council decided to close the 31 authority-led centres in the county in 2011. But joint petitions, with more than 8,000 signatures opposing the plans, saw the council changes its mind and give the centres two years of support, starting in March, 2012. But it has been announced seven day centres are already set to close.
While the authority desperately searches for ways of saving millions of pounds from its budget, there remains a fundamental need for quality services for adults with physical and learning disabilities. The closure of some day centres has caused uproar in some places, among users and politicians. Inevitably, there will be hundreds of families across the county who wait with baited breath to see how the new council will progress on this highly controversial subject.

HEALTH
While doctors, nurses and 999 teams are at the coalface of the NHS in Lincolnshire, elected county councillors actually play a crucial behind-the-scenes role.
One major job of the new councillors will be to act as a watchdog, calling into account decisions by health bosses and scrutinising standards of care. There are currently two significant issues which the incoming council will inevitably face. Firstly is a controversial drive by our ambulance service, EMAS, to restructure where crews are based, reducing the amount of stations in Lincolnshire.
The council had grave concerns about the plans during its last term and had even muted the idea of a new Lincolnshire-only service. This issue is likely to return to the fore at some point after the election.
Secondly, the new council will have to deal with the fall-out from the public inquiry, which named and shamed Lincolnshire hospitals for its high death rates.
The elected members will have a responsibility to scrutinise the local NHS and make sure we are receiving the best possible services as since April 1 local authorities have a new statutory duty to take steps to improve the health of those in our communities.

EDUCATION
The age of austerity has seen councils make cuts across the board.
Lincolnshire County Council has already taken £25m from its financial reserves over two years to cover some of the funding cuts imposed central government. Changes to grants and funding from the Government are unlikely to improve the situation and leisure and recreation could be one area which suffers particularly badly going forward – as it is often seen less vital than social care, fire and transport where cuts could put lives at risk. In the past three years, grants to leisure and recreation facilities have been cut from scores of sites in Lincolnshire.

CUTS
The age of austerity has seen councils make cuts across the board. Lincolnshire County Council has already taken £25m from its financial reserves over two years to cover some of the funding cuts imposed central government.
Changes to grants and funding from the Government are unlikely to improve the situation and leisure and recreation could be one area which suffers particularly badly going forward – as it is often seen less vital than social care, fire and transport where cuts could put lives at risk.
In the past three years, grants to leisure and recreation facilities have been cut from scores of sites in Lincolnshire.

LIBRARIES
For many of us, libraries are a perfect venue to unwind and learn.
But as the country looks for ways to trim the national deficit, libraries become a prime target – not least because user numbers are falling. More than £2 million was cut from the library service in Lincolnshire last year and more could follow.
The future of mobile libraries are under threat and book loans to schools have been abolished.
Lincolnshire County Council has been involved in community efforts to save local libraries, such as the one on Saxilby which has moved from its previous dedicated library building to the village social club. More funding for libraries is unlikely to be made available in the next term of the council.

WASTE DISPOSAL
The future of rubbish tips was a huge talking point in 2012 and could well be on the agenda for Lincolnshire’s new county councillors.
As the council’s budget shrinks, councillors could find themselves discussing the possibility of tip closures. Following strong petitions last year, recycling centres in Whisby and Leadenham were saved from the axe. But opening hours at Lincolnshire’s 13 rubbish tips were trimmed as a result.
Meanwhile, there has been much controversy around the county’s reported £110 million “energy-from-waste” plant in North Hykeham.

FIRE SERVICE
The county council is the Fire Authority and has responsibility for the efficient provision of Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be managing major cuts in Government funding. According to a report published last month, The Local Government Association estimates that by 2017/18 fire authorities across the country will have £600 million less in the coffers. It claims services will have 30 per cent less to spend in 2017/18 than now.

20 mph speed limit needed on our residential streets

Living Streets is a national charity that campaigns to make our streets and roads safer places for us all to use. Their strap line is, ‘putting people first’ and they have just launched a national campaign to encourage more councils to introduce a 20 mph limit in residential areas.

This is something I have been trying to get the county council to consider for sometime now and the more public support there is, the more likely it is LCC will give it some serious thought. If you would like to make the streets safer for our children, please go to the Living Streets website and take part in their ‘Show You Love 20mph’ campaign.

There would also be a further benefit to making the 20mph speed limit legally enforceable in Lincolnshire. Many of our schools have what is currently only an advisory 20mph speed limit on the street outside of them. This advisory status means that even when a driver is spotted exceeding it, the most they will currently get from the police is a ticking off and advice on being a more responsible and considerate driver.

Mischievous ramblings, or dangerous mis-information?

It’s always good to see local people getting involved and willing to do their bit to try to make our things better for their community. One of these local people has now decided to stand for the county council, having been a commentator on local issues for sometime now, both via occasional letters to the local press and an active blog site.

I say commentator, because he does not seem to of done anything that could classify him as an activist. My understanding of an activist, is somebody who feels strongly about something and then takes steps to get things changed, generally for the better. Those who do things for the worst, would of course be more akin to extremists, or maybe even terrorists.

To date, this particular individual has made plenty of comments – mostly rambling and almost always negative – but has done little, or rather nothing, to actually improve anything.

The reason that I’m suggesting that his blog site statements might be more akin to dangerous mis-information than simply mischievous ramblings, is because his comments include factual errors that could lead others to draw the wrong conclusions and possibly form completely the wrong opinions about an important issue.

He is not alone in this lazy approach to not getting the facts right before making his thoughts public, as another newly declared county council candidate, standing under a different political banner, is doing exactly the same thing. However, in this case, his comments are directed at me. This is going to be an interesting and I fear, potentially unpleasant election campaign.

Halt attacks or lose our support, council leaders warn No 10

Copied from Daily Telegraph 23 Jan 2012
LOCAL GOVERNMENT
By Robert Winnett, Political Editor
MORE than 30 Conservative council leaders [Including Martin Hill, leader of Lincolnshire County Council] have written a private letter to David Cameron warning that grassroots support for his re-election bid will be withdrawn unless ministers stop attacking local government.
They warn of anger about the “nature and tone of constant criticisms” directed at councils and urge the Prime Minister to stop “patronising language” being used to attack those “who work extraordinary long hours for our communities”.
The four-page letter sent to the Prime Minister, which has been leaked to The Telegraph, warns: “It is important that you understand how disappointed and even angry local activists are and how many might not be there when we need them as electoral foot soldiers.”
Those who have signed the letter include the Conservative leaders of Derbyshire, Warwickshire, Essex, Buckinghamshire, Wiltshire and Durham county councils. In total, 31 senior local councillors, mostly council leaders, have signed the document.
Ministers have become increasingly angered by the resistance of many local councils, including those run by Conservatives, to government cuts and calls for restraint on pay and pensions.
Senior figures including Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, and Grant Shapps, the Conservative chairman, have made outspoken attacks over the cavalier use of taxpayers’ money by some local authorities.
Many authorities are preparing to defy central government by increasing council tax bills.
Some are suspected of attempting to blame ministers for the expected fall-out in forthcoming local elections.
In the letter to Mr Cameron, the council leaders say: “We believe it is essential to bring to your attention our concerns regarding some government policy affecting local government, the rhetoric that accompanies it and the effect it is having on our people.
“Importantly, it is not only the substance of such policy but also the nature and tone of constant criticisms of their work by Conservative ministers that is most worrying.”
They add: “To be clear, we are open to genuine feedback where it can be evidenced that we have fallen short in some way. Our issue is with ill-informed and anecdote-based general criticism and sometimes highly inaccurate personal attacks.”
The council leaders express particular anger at attacks on the pension arrangements of councillors and complain, “there seems little recognition of the efforts of our members”.
“By contrast, members of parliament (including those with other employment), police and crime commissioners and mayors are accorded a status worthy of pensions. This position was not helped by criticisms of the unanimous recommendations of the all-party select committee on local government on Radio 4’s Today programme by the party chairman which appeared to compare council leaders to volunteers running scout troops.”
The leaders also express dismay over the “apparent constant criticism” of local government for hindering economic growth. They say: “Sometimes the criticisms even seem designed to deflect criticism from Whitehall departments.”
The council leaders – who also include the Conservative heads of Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Kent, West and East Sussex councils – say they have written to Mr Cameron to urge him to take action.
“We are also worried in the widest context about the impact for the party of any continued weakening in the relationship between the parliamentary leadership and the party’s active local members.”