The 1st of 3 interviews with the Leaders of the main political parties in Derby City Council. Ranjit Banwait was contacted twice but failed to respond on both occasions.
Matthew Holmes – Conservative
Alan Graves – UKIP
Ruth Skelton – Liberal Democrats
Why have you not taken the Labour administration more to task on their Budget cuts rhetoric, and been more vocal about it either in the Chamber, or in the Press?
I think we have tried to hold Labour to account. In the Chamber it’s a difficult environment with Labour having a majority. One of the main mechanisms for taking things forward is a motion. It was very clear to us from the outset of Labour taking control that any motion taken to Council would be just re-worded to have a pop at the Government or to follow a political agenda. That was deliberate, that was a move that they made to scupper that type of approach. That leaves, talking to people face to face, leafletting, debates on the radio, or articles in the newspaper which you don’t have full control over…and they’re not going to print anything you say. So, we have done it, where we could hold Labour to account, but it has been balanced by knowing that Labour will use their majority to flip it round, and turn the issue into a bun-fight. I think that’s the area that people don’t fully understand.
In terms of what we are doing to take the fight to Labour on the ground – we are. I would say to anyone who thinks we should be doing more, join us, and help us, because all political parties are based on their resources that they have on the ground. We all have limited resources. We’d like to do a lot more but we do need people to come on board.
We are putting forward far fewer motions in the Chamber than we were and concentrating more on Cabinet member questions which does get information back to us.
But the whole rhetoric about Tory Govt cuts is a negative against yourself, and is a central part of the Labour strategy against you?
You have to accept that Labour aren’t going to change, they’ve set the stall out, it’s all the Government’s fault – end-of. We have to accept that –as a strategy. In very strong Labour areas of Derby, that message will work. There’s very little we can do to reverse that. It is very polarised – there are those who believe that it’s not all about that, and those who look at the message and fully support it, as they are hardcore Labour supporters. My job is to capture the middle-ground. Those who are more moderate, who will look at both sides and take a balanced view. Sometimes it’s difficult to engage with those who have closed minds.
What we can’t lose sight of is that it’s a local election, and it is not necessarily just about City issues – it’s about community engagement, and as a Councillor we are elected to represent the communities – that’s what we do.
On the Manifesto – you mention about “ending the conflict between the public and the Council” – why do you think that has arisen and how will you resolve that?
It’s arisen because of Ranjit Banwait! Simple!
Under Paul Bayliss ( previous leader) we disagreed with a lot of what Labour were putting forward. But at least I could have a conversation with him. Ranjit will probably say that he brought things back on track by stabbing Paul Bayliss in the back and taking the leadership. I would say that the City has gone backwards rapidly ever since he took control of the leadership of the Labour Group and the Council. From Day 1, and this is my opinion, and I think a lot of people share it, he put in place, throughout the Council, a political agenda…at every level of the Council, and the principle of Leader, Cabinet, and Political Party, offering political steer to Council Officers went out of the window. There is very strict micro-management at all levels with a political agenda, and you can see it. Every decision is about political outcomes, how it’s going to benefit the Labour Party or how it’s going to allow them to attack the Government. That is how that man works, therefore that’s how his administration works. He’s surrounded himself with people that share that vision and that has been bad for the City and has resulted in bad decisions and politically targeted funding to certain areas instead of others.
You cannot lead a City based on a political agenda. You have to have your political principles and follow those but if you do what Ranjit Banwait is doing it will end in tears. It’s not a case of “if they lose control” it is “when”. If they carry on the way they are, then it will be sooner rather than later.
So, how would you resolve this situation?
Everyone has seen our Action Plan and in the opening paragraph is 3 key principles. The first one being to end the political agenda. By that I mean – when you’re making a decision, the first thing to consider is – is this the right decision for the people of Derby. It shouldn’t be – is this right for my political career, my political leadership, or my political party, and how can I manipulate it. It shouldn’t be that. You cannot lead and run a City like that. We will reverse this.
The people of Derby are now very jaundiced about the Council and how it’s representing them. Why would they believe you instead of Labour?
It’s going to be hard for us to shake off the view that the Conservative party are somehow “in it for the rich” or will only look out for certain areas. That’s BS! We proved in the 2 years that we had control of the Council in 2010-12, before Labour took control. I was part of that leadership team and in the Cabinet. I genuinely feel that the major decisions we made were based on what’s best for the City. It wasn’t a case of, “shall we kick this into the long-grass”. We did what was right. The perception that Labour like to promote that, somehow, we would not look after the vulnerable in the City or, not be fair, is wrong because we would, and we actually demonstrated that.
What structures would you put in place that would re-assure people on your policy about transparency and value for money, so they can see that something’s changed?
Let’s use an example – say transport policy, and – is the City moving the way it should? Let’s talk to motorists, residents groups and ask them directly how we can improve this City – these are our ideas, is there something we can do to change that. And that can go throughout the whole policy framework, to ensure that residents do have a voice, and listening to them, from all angles. So, from the Green agenda, listening to Simon Bacon, and taking him seriously, I do do that, whereas the Labour administration just dismiss him. I’m open to listening to people like Simon, and yourself, and community leaders who have come through to ask the questions.
If you’re going to do consultations , it’s making sure that you act on it, and it’s not just a mechanism to get to where you want to get to. So, to your answer your question, it would be to set up community action groups, invite interested people to come and talk to the Council in a focus group, so we could understand what they would like to happen.
On the financial side of the manifesto. Ranjit Banwait said on a number of occasions that he offered you the opportunity to use the Council Officers to create an alternative budget – but you refused to do that? Why?
Do you really think he would take any notice of what we would have said? Zero chance. We would have been wasting officer’s time. Wasting tax payers money. We’re poles apart. Ranjit says these things but he isn’t going to listen to a word we say. In fact, even when he can see that we’re right he’ll dig his heels in. For example, over Moorways, in the previous budget. We joined a community led campaign, and supported it, but we deliberately made sure that we weren’t seen to be leading it, as we weren’t – we were just supporting it. I know for a fact that when Ranjit was asking those involved about that particular campaign – the first question he asked was “Is this a Conservative campaign, is this a politically led campaign” and you can see the cogs working – ‘if this is the Tories, I’m going to dig my heels in here, as I don’t want to be seen to U-Turning against pressure from the Conservatives’. That’s the way he works. He says he wants us to put alternatives forward but it will just be a mechanism to bash the government.
You promise many things in the manifesto – are they costed out?
One of our fundamental questions that we have laid out is – “is this offering best value for the tax payer, and in their best interest?”. I don’t believe that’s happening at the moment. We’re specifically looking at consultancy spend, reducing procurement, looking at agency spend. We feel that there are significant savings to be made here…they have not been thoroughly examined by Labour. I believe we will be more careful than Labour who spend money, even though they say they haven’t got any.
So you think there is slack in the budget?
We’ve said to Labour that the millions of pounds that they spend on consultancy/agency support is not necessary, and then they blame the government that they don’t have enough money. Some of the consultancy spend is hidden in the payroll system . It’s a very high spend and even the Labour Party have recognised that it’s something they should look at, after opposing our plan to save in this area. We would plan to provide a cap so we can manage it much better.
You mention in the manifesto some ideas about revenue generation for artwork, office rent, and training – do you think that will actually generate much cash?
It’ll generate some cash. We’re not talking about selling them but we want to look at ways as to how we can generate some revenue from them through leasing out artworks. We have £65m of artwork – surely there is a way to exploit that? It’s not the cornerstone of our action plan, it’s looking at ways in which we can be commercial. We want to explore it.
What about Business Rates growth – that could generate more income without being dependent on Central Government?
By 2020 Business rates are going to be a core part of the Council’s revenue but the disadvantage for Derby is that we’re a compact City. We’ve got limited ways, in the footprint, to economically expand….and if you look at the economic footprint it is far greater than the boundaried City itself. Now that is a hindrance but more so as we move towards 100% Business rate retention….we have about 50% now. That is why the concept of boundary change is important for the city now….we need to establish the economic footprint as the new City boundary. This would significantly increase the income for the City and solve many budgetary issues. We believe that we need to accelerate the process of extending the city boundary….Labour don’t seem to have that vision and again I think they’re afraid that there might be political carve ups. It’s not about that – if we expand it, the business rate retention and council tax revenue will be a lot more…and would solve many issues we have. It forms a very important part of this City’s economic future.
If it’s an advantage to Derby, then it’ll be a disadvantage to the neighbouring authorities – surely this will make it impractical to implement?
Yes, absolutely. It’s not an easy issue, it’s going to upset the neighbouring authorities. But it’s not my job to worry about them, my job is drive Derby forward. If there is debate to be had then so be it. I think they know that it is inevitable that the City will have to expand to a new boundary.
You mention in the manifesto about removing chewing from the streets, but nothing about homelessness, the problems with supporting children with Special Educational Needs, or Teaching Assistant’s pay?
We made a decision not to overload the action plan with detail. But, on the subject of homelessness I would advocate the use of the” Housing First” model used in other countries. The basic logic is that if someone has a drug /alcohol / complex needs then if you give them a stable environment then it gives them the ability to deal with causes. So in this model they would be a priority for housing .I would be open to look at different models.
If you look at the cost throughout the system of dealing with homeless people , and then consider investing the money that would be saved through a different approach, then it could be self-funding.
On housing, what would you do with the poor conditions that people are living in, in the private rented sector?
My view is that there needs to be a targeted strategy against bad landlords.
Would that have teeth?
Yes. Where properties are sub-standard, or there is over-crowding then there are laws and regulations in place that can be actioned. This is where we need to place our limited resources.
And on the subject of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and Teaching Assistants, what would you do?
The methodology used for job evaluation has clearly disadvantaged the Teaching Assistant’s and doesn’t recognise the full range of their responsibilities. We are willing to look at every option to try and mitigate this problem – the situation is unthinkable for the people involved. I can’t say I have an absolute solution, as I’m not privy to all of the information, but there is a will there.
And on the SEN problem ( Council not providing adequate provision for many children with SEN)?
If this current situation isn’t working right now and isn’t presenting the right level of care for those who need it, why the hell, are we seemingly punishing those people (the TA’s) who we are going to be relying on even more. Why are we doing that? If by not putting that investment in, you make the situation worse, which then costs more money, and increases the impact on those who are most vulnerable then it’s a no-brainer. We need to really review this situation holistically.
Would you consider borrowing money to bridge any gaps in revenue spend, to re-open/ re-start many of the services that have recently been stopped?
I would say we can do that now without borrowing. If we took over tomorrow, I could find money to do those things. I don’t think those decisions had to be made in the first place as the cost impacts of removing the services is greater than what would be saved.
If you got in power in a few week’s time, would you restore the Voluntary Sector grants, and Citizen’s Advice Bureau contract?
Yes. It’s the right thing to do.
Is that a cast-iron commitment?
Yes. ..but the outcomes have to be demonstrated
But the Council has already demonstrated that they are value of money?
If you got into power what would be the Top 3 things you would do in the first 100 days?
Free-parking idea, turn off the CCTV in bus lanes, re-instate brown bin collections – those are the areas we can do quickly. Also the majority of the neighbourhood pledges, and Moorways.
One of the virtues in the smaller parties is that they are not whipped, but your party is?
In the Labour group it’s “Banwait’s way, or the highway”. I’m not sure I understand the public perception of us….we’re a moderate centre ground party. We discuss issues amongst ourselves, and have robust conversations. When we make a decision it is rare that we have splits in the group. I haven’t had to force anyone to vote a particular way and we do have free votes on faith or ward issues for example.
Categories: Derby City Council