The 1st in a series of 6 interviews with a Derby City Council candidate from each Party who has not served on the Council. The Derby Labour Party were contacted to be involved but chose not to respond.
Rob Cooper – UKIP – Mackworth
Marten Kats – Green Party – Darley
Alex Dann – Independent – Oakwood
Jonathan Smale – Conservative – Chaddesden
Chris Fernandez – Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) – Darley
Robert Mason – Liberal Democrat – Alvaston
Can you tell me about your background?
I was born in the West End of Derby , in 1984, and grew up in the streets around the University area. I loved growing up around there -we had Markeaton Park, and Darley Park. I went to Markeaton Primary school, and then went to Woodlands Community School in Allestree – I was one of the poor kids, not being from that area. I was a poor to average student. I didn’t particularly enjoy school as I couldn’t really relate to what I was being taught. It seemed very dry and uninspiring. I got very poor results. The only things I enjoyed were the football and rugby. When I was 14 I joined the Army cadets at Kingsway where many of my friends were and then joined the Army at 16. I wanted to join the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters like my friends – which seemed like an adventure. I started by joining the Army Foundation College at Harrogate on 9 September 2001 – 2 days before 9/11. A lot of the lads left as we were told in no uncertain terms that things were going to kick-off. We were shown what had happened on video, as TV’s weren’t allowed. One of the lads asked “Is that a film?” and the corporal said “No, that’s World War 3, my friend!” It changed the dynamics of training very much.
I did well at the studies as I could relate to it, but I didn’t do well on the physical side. The platoon commander recognised this and suggested that I apply for a technical corps, so I applied to the Royal Signals, and learnt about long-range, and satellite communications, short and long wave radio, and became trained in handling UK “eyes only” top-secret information. I was posted to York when the lads were in Iraq. When the lads came back, and a lot of them were really suffering mentally, my life just took off. Now being a fully trained soldier in a regiment that had just been to war. I got to learn so much about people.
I then had the chance to be sent to Florida to CENTCOM / SOCOM – it’s the place where the US directs all warfare in the Middle East. I was in Coalition Village, where there were groups from about 45 different nationalities. I was handling communications there. It was an interesting time and a lot of my world view was formed in those 5 months. It made me cynical about war. One of the most important things about any state is when they decide to go to war.
After returning to the UK, and further postings in the army, and reflecting on what I’d seen, I decided to leave and return to a normal life, and spend more time with my family. I met my partner, and had a child together which is important to me. I’m still on the reserve list and within a heartbeat I would sign up again to defend my country.
In 2007 I got a job with Balfour Beatty, and got trained up to become a Design Engineer. I had a number of jobs after that in different companies then last year I decided to go it alone and started my own business, as a Design Consultant.
Why do you want to become a Councillor?
I joined UKIP in February 2015, but I’ve always supported them. I had a chance meeting with Kirk Kus delivering leaflets down our street and had a quick chat with him and thought “If a young man like Kirk can stand up for what he believes in then I should as well”, so May was my first political meeting, and from then I joined the committee and branch secretary of UKIP Derby now.
But why UKIP?
I don’t really understand the Conservatives, they’re chameleon like, politically. I’m an honest person, I say what I think, I’m not politically correct, so I don’t think I would fit in well. I grew up during the Blair years, and I was in the army then, and I could never ever, even vote for the Labour Party let alone stand for them. Liberal Democrats, again, I don’t understand what they stand for. Locally, I do respect the Tories and the Lib Dems, and there are some good people but with the whip system they are limited in what they can say and do, so they are hamstrung. The Labour Party is the same – in the Council meeting it’s all orchestrated, it’s all to a script…and I just find it very puerile.
The thing I like about UKIP is the fact that there is no whip system.
That’s great, democratically, but in terms of what UKIP stands for, why?
The Number 1 is the EU stance. I love Europe, but I hate being corralled into the European Union and our sovereignty has been taken away from the people. There is a democratic deficit.
But the Conservatives support that position as well. The other aspect of being in UKIP is the “branding” issue – it’s perceived as a party of “fruitcakes”, also considered as a racist organisation, and other pejorative terms which will taint people views. How do you address that?
All the parties have issues within them. There are bad people in every part of life. I think it is very unfair what is levelled against UKIP. There have been people who have said silly things in the past, but there is no room for racism in UKIP whatsoever. It is the only party in the UK that stops anyone who is formerly BNP, National Front, or similar, from joining it. I think that’s a good step forward for our party. The Labour Party ( Stoke and Blackburn) have ex-BNP members as Councillors, and there is a self-confessed neo-Nazi in Milton Keynes who is a Labour Councillor. Locally, I’ve never heard any racist comments made in front of me – never. This year we have 6 black and ethnic minority candidates on our list – it’s not a numbers game, these are good quality guys. If we were inherently racist we wouldn’t even attract one?
Gaurav Pandey is Branch Chairman, he’s Indian born, and is standing in Boulton ward.
What are your personal qualities for being a Councillor?
I want to represent the people in my area who I think have become marginalised by modern society, and left without a voice. I don’t think the Labour Party in Mackworth speaks for the working man anymore. I’ve always worked, I’m an honest person and I care passionately about my country and prepared to die for it. I don’t think anyone who is better qualified to represent every person in my ward. I have high-profile work, I know what it is to run a business, run a team, I think I’m a good people person – I treat people how I want to be treated – with respect and dignity – I’m an old-fashioned person when it comes to manners.
Moving on to the Manifesto. There is a lot of reference to savings but I’m not clear how much of this is actually costed out and the examples here are mixing up different budgets and different issues?
The manifesto is not detailed, and we just wanted to highlight a few issues to the public.
OK, but what would you say are the headline ideas? For example on page 1 it states about cutting the Council’s advertising and self-promotion budget. How much is that?
I don’t know.
You say that you will “abolish non-essential and politically correct jobs” – what do you mean by that?
You’ve read the jobs that are advertised in the back of the Guardian – it’s those sort of jobs?
But does Derby City Council have any of those?
Yes, I believe so.
Give me an example of a politically correct job
I’ll have to look into the exact titles. But for example I’ve come across an Engagement Officer in Derby Homes , which I know is a different organisation. But, why would you have a Customer Engagement Officer for Derby Homes when it’s for social housing which is such a “want/need” – surely that money could be better spent?
OK, but that’s not about being politically correct?
I think it is, it feels spurious. What we’re saying is that it should all be about front-line services and that anything that’s back-room which isn’t needed, or a form that doesn’t need filling in to tick some box, then it has to stop. It’s almost a behavioural side of the authority. For example Ranjit Banwait had his own PA for a time on quite a lot of money.
But how much of this is based on a perception of what happens rather than the reality?
As a party in opposition we’re not privy to every piece of information. I often submit Freedom of Information requests but I don’t always get unredacted responses. I think everyone in Derby believes that there are jobs in the Council which are not needed.
But you can get hold of the organisation chart?
As we get more Councillors then we will be able to find out more and bring it to people’s attention.
You mention that the car parking at Royal Derby Hospital is an absolute disgrace with cars queuing back onto the roundabout but won’t abolishing the car parking charges make that worse?
That’s one way of looking at it. Another way, is that you don’t tax people who are already paying tax and national insurance to use their hospital. I believe that you shouldn’t be taxed further. If there is an issue of capacity, then that’s a different issue. It should be solved by the NHS Trust but the Council should help – we need to work it together. I think we can influence it.
On the Council Tax, you said you wouldn’t increase it, so how would you balance the budget?
I think there are gaping holes in the budget, and some of the decisions to spend certain money in certain areas has been wrong. We want to be in a position so that we can get into the detail and find out what these people are actually doing. We don’t have enough Councillors yet to do this, and be on scrutiny boards. Too much money is put into reserves.
On the issue of Housing you’ve said that you would prioritise “local people”. What do you mean by that?
Basically, people who live in Derby, and prioritise those who have lived in this area for a long time. The waiting list is long, and we’re struggling for social housing.
What happens if you’re from Nottingham?
The person from Derby has to come first for social housing.
What about refugees as we are a dispersal city for asylum seekers? Would you say that they should join the end of the queue regardless of circumstances?
I think if someone is a refugee then I wholeheartedly support helping them….and we would have to take into account need….but I believe that Derby people should be prioritised.
You also mention about priority for people who served in the armed forces. Legally, if you are vulnerable as a result of being in the armed forces then you are already a priority. Why has that gone in when it’s already an obligation?
I’m ex-forces, I’m classed as a veteran, if I became homeless, would I be housed quickly? I don’t think that would happen.
But you’re not vulnerable What’s the difference with other people who subject themselves to danger for example, – fire-fighters, police etc.
Perhaps we’ve overlooked that side, then. But I believe that everyone who has served, regardless of whether you are vulnerable should be given priority – that’s part of the military covenant.
You talk about bringing back the community spirit, how would you do that?
I’m now a member of the New Zealand Community Association, and go to the meetings, and that’s how we would get the community spirit moving. For example, at Easter, there was an Easter Egg hunt on the local park. To ensure that the kids didn’t step in dog poo, glass, or needles, I went out with a load of UKIP members and we cleared the whole area . After that we help set up the hunt, and there was 40 kids running around safely, and that’s how UKIP are working within the community. I also like speaking to people from different ethnicities and religions to reach out and include them.
What about East European migrants – they fall into the category of “uncontrolled immigration”?
I think uncontrolled mass immigration from the EU is a bad thing for this country. For example if you’ve got a brain surgeon from Delhi or a bus driver from Spain…the bus driver can come easily, but the brain surgeon has to fill out forms, jump through hoops, and pay money to come to the UK. It’s not fair on people from India, we think we should have an Australian points style system, tailored to this country’s skill needs.
Also this policy drives down wages for the working class.
What would you do about the people already here?
UKIP does not look at retrospective laws. If they are legally entitled to live here then that’s it.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Locally, people are very disappointed in the cuts that the Labour led Derby City Council have chosen to make. Many times people have said to me, why have the Council got enough money to pay for reviews, but not got enough money to keep Moorways open. I would like to see more services come to Mackworth. The Lonsdale trust could build a swimming pool, and I’d like them to build it in Mackworth…and I’d like to identify the 1.58 acre site they need. More Police on the streets – when I tried to report some criminal activity the other week I couldn’t get hold of anyone in the area – that’s unacceptable. If I was elected I would work with the Police to ensure that we always have coverage and consider whether we need Specials, for example. The removal of bins from the area is counter-productive, and ultimately will result in more work to pick up the rubbish
More, but smarter services. More Policing, and more bins.
Rob opted to be transparent with his tax position for 2015/16.
Categories: Derby City Council