The 2nd of 3 interview 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
You’ve been a Councillor since 1995 – how do you see the current status?
Within the Council it is very depressing. They keep talking about Government cuts and services that they’ve removed. I’ve always been of the view that the budget holder hid money in an accounting way and that was always a frustration to Councillors in times of plenty. And I knew that it would take about 3 or 4 years before all of that hidden money would have to be revealed. In the first 3 years of the cuts nothing really changed – they weren’t proper cuts. Now there are real cuts to services. People like myself don’t get into politics to cut things. You do it to help society and the communities that you’re in.
Politically it’s always been difficult there have been many factions within parties and problems between parties. However, we are in one of the worst times I’ve ever known. I don’t know anyone that likes Ranjit Banwait, and that makes it very difficult for political parties to work together. If you can’t work with the Leader and he doesn’t want to work with you it makes it very difficult – you often need the support of political parties – and that’s what it means to be grown up in politics.
What really needs to happen to resolve this, in the Council, regardless of whose in power?
It’s not sustainable. They keep talking about statutory services being protected. We have a library service which they are planning to cut, and that’s a statutory requirement. I’m not a fan of the Conservative Party and in my view they don’t like local councils, they see them as an irritant. They want to make the rules in Westminster and just want you to carry it out. They’re using it to save money, and it needed that but, we’re now at the point where they need to decide what they want local Government to do. If you carry along this trajectory we won’t be able to do anything.
You talk about cuts, but this is in the context of the funding being the same as it was 6 years ago. How do you explain that?
It’s an accountant’s world. They say this is how much we need, they include inflation, and then all sorts of things get added on, so to stand still, they then say, we need a cut…it’s about terminology. I think it’s unfair on the population how they present that.
There are decisions being made in the Council which increase the spending – but they don’t look at that. The problem is that Local Government doesn’t operate like a normal commercial business. They have this idea that everything increases every year. I run a business and we’ve cut our costs over the last few years tremendously because of the situation – Local Government finds that more difficult – it is a culture. I think they could do with more people with a business perspective to make it a better financial environment. You see that Ranjit went to China – he was not the right person to go, we needed someone with marketing skills that understood what they’re trying to do. They need to spell out their aim, and what they’re trying to achieve.
How do you view UKIP’s role in the Council as most of your policies are national?
You’re falling into the Local Government trap and putting us into a silo. Coming out of the EU affects local Government – it affects people. We will have twice as much money staying in the country. Of the money that we give to the EU about half comes back – when it comes back there are restrictions on where it can be spent. If we keep the money, and you are my MP, and I don’t like the way that you’re spending it, I have the opportunity to get rid of you. I don’t have that right in the EU.
OK, but that doesn’t inform your stance on local issues on the ground level?
No, for example, the Teaching Assistant pay cut was an issue about fairness…completely about fairness. There was an obvious way out. Moorways is about services. Are we about providing swimming provision for people in the City, or not. If not, then close it….if we are, then do something about it. This has been discussed for years, it’s just that the Labour group has done nothing about it.
And what is the UKIP angle?
It’s just about common sense. We’ve known that we needed a new pool but we haven’t created one, we never knew we wanted a Velodrome…and one appeared. Why did it appear? Because someone handed us a bag of money…and told us what we could spend it on. This is what I meant earlier. Local politicians got bleary-eyed because they got a pot of money to build a Velodrome, and what we wanted was a pot of money to build a swimming pool! That’s what we wanted, but it’s not what we got.
On the manifesto. The Council finances are in the millions but your ideas are small money which would suggest that you don’t have any ideas. What’s your over-arching approach to the finances?
It’s just about common sense. At the moment we lurch from one spending idea to another. We have lots of different budgets, and budget holders, and when cuts are required, bits are chopped from all the budgets – that is not a logical stance to take. Matthew Holmes mentions it, and I have done for years – and that is zero-based budgeting. The trouble with that is, it’s hard work….however I think we’re at the stage when we need to do it. Completely re-evaluate where we spend the money.
You mention about cutting advertising and self-promotion…is that a lot of money?
Not sure of the figures but the Council does a lot of self-promotion. All of the books, reports, and leaflets, with forewords by the leading Councillor, do we really need to do all of those? Is it just self-promotion – should we be spending it more wisely. If you’re a good Councillor you don’t need it.
Do you see the UKIP branding issue a problem in the local elections?
I find in my ward that everyone understands UKIP and some people like us, and some don’t, but I think I portray a positive view of UKIP….we’re just ordinary people stirring it up in the Council. We have a UKIP Mayor (in another city) emptying bins….can you imagine that here?
And your policy on no more increase in Council Tax?
Again this is about common sense. At the moment they are asking us to pay more, but delivering less – we wouldn’t accept this in any other service or product we buy. It’s illogical in a common sense world. Why would I want to pay more for less?
What do you mean “Local communities at the heart of Health care.”?
This is where good councillors can make a difference….by playing an active role. I attend all of the local meetings, and am devastated by the fact that they’ve got rid of the Neighbourhood boards. Fortunately people do contact me by all different methods, so I’m accessible. I found someone the other day who had had a mini-stroke, I contacted our local health officer to see what services could be provided. Some Councillors wouldn’t know what was going off in their ward, let alone be involved in health related issues – it’s very sporadic. They’ll know about planning – but this is about people – and that’s what UKIP’s about – people not processes.
On Local referenda it’s a nice idea, but 5% of the people to secure a referendum is a high bar, and would be expensive to run?
If it’s a big issue I don’t think it’ll be difficult to get to 5%, but that level can be negotiated. It’s about a general vision. – it’s about democracy. If you look at the Sinfin incinerator there was one rejection, and 3 appeals, and the voice was clear “ we don’t want one”….and they kept coming back until they got it. That’s not democracy. Half of the cost of the incinerator is on the filter to try and block the toxins being pushed into the atmosphere, and then it doesn’t stop it all – that speaks volumes – there’s some dangerous stuff in there. I think that’s wrong.
You’ve been to Council meetings – what’s wrong is that Councillors will say one thing outside, and then vote the opposite way in the Chamber…..and, generally, no one knows. Robin Turner campaigned against the incinerator, but in the Chamber he voted for it….but people don’t know that. He should be able to vote how he wants. He had to do what he was told.
On the workplace parking levy – is this the charges that can be made for employees parking in their works car parks, not just Council run ones. What’s the issue?
This is one of those things that can brought in “under the table” – there will not be any requirement for discussion – in the same way that there was no discussion about the closing of Moorways. If the Council want to raise income then this is a possibility. I think this will be bad for business, and employees.
And the hospital parking charges?
We’ve been accused of the fact that we don’t control it, so we can’t change it. It’s about influence…we, UKIP, had no jurisdiction over whether we had a EU referendum or not, but we got one – it’s about influencing an outcome.
There are lots of people in hospital who don’t get enough visitors and some of that is down to the car parking fees. We shouldn’t be putting them off.
You plan to reduce business rates but won’t this reduce the Council’s income?
This is a general principle for discussion. Our district centres are falling apart, Alvaston is suffering. We have lots of takeaways set up by people making a fast buck and charity shops who don’t pay rates, and a lot of empty shops. If you look at Allenton, and it’s thriving because it’s owned by the Council. Alvaston is private. We need to encourage more low-margin businesses – I’ve been told many times that we have no grocers, no butchers. We need to give business people an incentive to come to the area, for example, by giving them free rates for a short period. It will stimulate trade and more businesses.
On housing you will give priority to people from Derby, and that outsiders, will be forced down the queue?
I would admit that the way that it’s worded ( in the manifesto) is clumsy. When I was in Labour a few years ago it believed in a utopian world. We used to prioritise minority groups, and I don’t mean necessarily ethnic groups. What that does is to forget the majority group, which then has no status – that is a big issue. One of my biggest case loads is on housing.
There is this belief that UKIP is against migrants – we’re not. I believe that they’re very valuable, and we need them in certain circumstances. What we don’t need is the open door. The question is, if you’re an economic migrant in this country should you be accessing the council housing list? That’s my issue. If European economic migrants get a Council house ahead of someone from Derby who has been waiting years then it creates resentment.
I was told in the Council meeting that 500 people had accessed council housing in 1 year who were European economic migrants, and that’s 500 Derby people who are not getting housing. But the main issue is about the lack of housing.
What I want is a level playing field. I’m not ashamed of thinking that we should look after our own, before looking after others.
Community spirit – what are some good examples from UKIP?
I started Alvaston Park Friends but that was when I was in Labour, but it’s not about party politics it’s about people – that has proved successful. Unfortunately it has lost money from the Neighbourhood Board , however we put an appeal out so we can carry on – we all chip in.
I am in contact with a number of small social gatherings, coffee morning etc so if I come across people who are struggling with loneliness then I can connect them together. It’s about community spirit.
How would you resolve the TA problem?
I don’t know if it can be resolved now, I know what I would have done – and that is to hold the salary of those who were on the high side, until the others caught up over a few years. It wouldn’t cost too much , certainly less than the £6m in the budget.
Categories: Derby City Council