Derby City Council

Alan Graves (Council Leader UKIP): Manifesto 2018 interview

This is the last in a series of 3 interviews with the Party Leaders about their 2018 manifestos. Labour chose not to participate.

Ruth Skelton – Liberal Democrat

Matthew Holmes – Conservative

Alan Graves – UKIP

UKIP in Derby has produced a manifesto which is substantially the same as 2 years ago concentrating on some specific issues, and highlighting a philosopphy of “common sense” in decision making. The full manifesto can be found here.

You have a policy to cap pay levels of senior  managers, reduce the number of middle managers and increase the wages and  numbers of people offering front-line services. Given the figures involved this will have very little effect on low-paid staff wages.

It is more about the principle than the actual numbers. In my time on the Council I’ve seen senior staff coming in on massive salaries and others getting pay increases upwards of 20%. At the same time we have low paid staff on pay freezes or just a few percent. This can’t be right – it doesn’t make sense.

You suggest breaking down large capital projects down into smaller projects so the Council can give preference to local companies. Surely doing this will create more cost as the project will have more interfaces, and more complication. Isn’t this a false economy with a project like Moorways?

I’m not really referring to major projects like that. However, if you take an issue like pot-holes, then it can only be offered to large companies of a certain size, and that blocks out smaller companies that are local and who could do it cheaper, and quicker.  And where politics comes into play , it is down to the ethos of your authority  so, if your ethos is “that’s what we want to do” then that’s what we’ll look for, if your ethos is “let’s leave it as it is” then you won’t even look for it.

You would cut the Council’s advertising and self-promotion budgets. How much would that save? Surely the Council does need to publicise things that it’s doing?

There was a lot of fuss about employing a consultant for £60,000. Do we need a consultant to tell us what we’re good at, not good at? But that wasn’t what he was there for, he was there to promote a political party and I fundamentally disagree with that.

We have a Communications department – if they are not good enough for the job then we need to change those people.

But do you not think it’s important that the Council communicates?

Absolutely, but we all know that PR is not about transparency it’s about portraying the best side of the Council as opposed to being transparent which is about showing you the true situation with the bare facts. I’ve been particularly upset in the last few years as the Council’s articles are either neutral or just portraying a Labour Cabinet member in a good light. It never focuses on any of the opposition Councillors and the good work that they do – not all Councillors are useless. It’s that promotion of themselves rather than what we’re doing.

I’ve given them good stories and they’ve never printed them.

You propose building partnerships to reduce costs. How would that work and who would it be with?

More between neighbouring authorities. In some areas, then 1 Chief Exec runs several Councils, so that’s a good partnership, and a good example. The problem with most Local Authorities is that they live in a silo. Although they are not a business, some of the activities they do operate as a business. There are similar functions like collecting money and spending money, but they don’t seem to have business acumen. It’s about changing the ethos again.

The Officers will resist this, as they are not business people, and they don’t see themselves as such. Unfortunately all governments , including Labour ones, are trying to make Local Authorities more business-like.

You want to abolish non-essential and politically correct jobs. Do you not think that jobs that assure equality are necessary?

I believe in equality but equality across the field. I don’t think we need to highlight any particular inequality. We might want to do that in a report but we should have an Equality Officer…end of! You can be discriminated against on all sorts of things. I’ve been a Councillor since 1995 and we’ve always had these PC jobs where people are trying to tell us what we can and can’t say.

I attend a meeting which tries to promote women on the Council – why don’t we just promote people? I’ve actually put some issues forward which they’ve taken on board which I think surprised them.

So you won’t be putting up Council Tax?

No, but we’ll try and keep it as low as possible – personally I think 6% for this year is too high. The reason is that, although in Council terms, it’s not enough – it never is…but, in people’s pockets terms, it’s too high. Council Tax is not a good tax as it hits the poorest people hardest, especially if you’re not quite on the benefits system. That to me, is unacceptable.

You continue with your policy of reducing the number of Councillors from 51 to 34. Is this just a point of principle to save money?

No. I know there are more than 50% of Councillors who are there in name only. They perform no particular role. On that basis, if they weren’t there, there would be no detrimental effect to the Council.

Another principle is that since the start of austerity we’ve cut the workforce by more than a third but no Councillors have been cut. Not even allowances which have actually increased. The principle’s wrong.

Your manifesto keeps repeating the word “common sense” in terms of policies. What sorts of things do you mean?

It’s not just about policies…it’s actually about what is “common sense”. The reason that the Council has its worst reputation in its history is because common sense does not prevail. That’s not me saying that – that’s the public saying it. We seem to have decisions that nobody wants that nobody can understand so therefore they’re not common sense. That’s why we have the worst reputation ever. It doesn’t help that we have a Leader who buries his head when other people argue with him.

You have a policy of putting people who live in Derby as a priority on the housing list including anyone who has served in the armed forces. Does that mean someone from, say, Nottingham would be a lower priority, or someone from abroad?

I have 6 or 7 cases where people and families are living in unsatisfactory circumstances including sleeping on sofas. They have been waiting a long time which is why they have come to me. One of the things that the Council doesn’t like to reveal is who’s getting priority

At the last Council meeting I mentioned about the Government statistics which stated that 67% of new homes, on the council list, are going to a foreign national. So they must be getting priority, and they may be justified by their circumstances but that doesn’t help people who have lived here all of their life. I am just saying that there should be some changes and there must be something that can be done to some degree.

No one likes the fact that the number of veterans going homeless is increasing and they have extra problems.

OK, but as a veteran, then by definition in law you are a priority, if you are vulnerable by virtue of that.

So why are they homeless?

The Royal British Legion who offer support to all veterans would disagree with the numbers that are often used in the media.

All of my cases are a priority, and they have been waiting, in some cases for 12 months. As I said in the Council chamber, it’s not just a shortage of houses, we need to look at all of the causes of the problem. And one major cause is an increase in the population.

There needs more of a match between the house building programme and immigration.

There is increasing resentment in the community over these sorts of issues. If we, as “leaders” in the Council ignore it, it’ll blow up. It’s also between new and established ethnic minorities as well. I’m trying to deal with that resentment which is evident in my ward and that’s why I say the things that I say.

You say that community groups and volunteers are often better placed to run facilities and services than the state, however there is plenty of evidence of groups wasting a lot of money?

Ultimately what I mean is that we should give more credence to volunteers in society and so much depends on them, However, I don’t believe something like libraries should depend on them, and certainly not in the hierarchy of the organisation. They might be there to assist, but not to run them in total.

And what is your vision for libraries, assuming any contracts can be unwound?

I think what they’ve done is wrong. The purpose of what they were doing was to save money, and they haven’t saved it. Again sometimes it’s political will or Officer influence – much like Brown Bins. All it achieves is upsetting people along the way – this is what I mean about common sense. If you want to save money then just close libraries, the option being implemented, now, gives more pain and upset.

If the balance of power changes in May, then I would engage with other political parties to try and stop it.

How will the committee system benefit the public?

Simple answer. When someone in my ward says that they don’t like a decision that the Council has made, I just say.. “The Cabinet made that”. Until we change the Cabinet of 9 people, I can’t do anything. In a committee system, I can go to the committee and try and influence the vote. It also exposes Councillors who need to be more professional, and need to know the subject and do preparatory work.

At the moment we have 9 Labour Councillors deciding on policies and the other 17 Labour Councillors just put their hand up at the right time.

At the moment we have Cabinet members who are not fit for purpose, whereas the chairman of a committee would be more exposed and will require better skills that a lot of people don’t have.

It’s about openness, about democracy and giving Councillors more accountability.

What would you do in your 1st 100 days?

Some re-instatement of Neighbourhood Boards with money – that is very local.

Change the rules so that the Councillors in the ward chose the Chair of the Neighbourhood Board, not the Council.

Work towards a committee system.

Spend more money on dealing with pot holes.

Push for more public toilets particularly in the City Centre. Many of my residents, especially those with small children and the elderly,  don’t venture out of the Intu because there are no public toilets for them to use.

Again I listen to people.

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