On 2nd May there will be local elections for each of the 17 wards in the City; this represents just one-third of the total number of Councillors in the Council chamber. All 4 parties have now published their manifestos. Outside of political hand-waving, references to issues that can only be solved nationally, and vague promises to review/consider/continue/seek/strive which, in reality, are just empty gestures, what are they actually saying?
Are they really that different, beneath the headlines?
The manifestos can make grand commitments but the vast majority of the decisions and activities in the Council are under the sole control of the paid employees – the Officers. There are some political decisions which are driven by the Cabinet made up of 8 Cllrs from the controlling group – currently Conservatives. The other 43 Cllrs have limited power to make any decisions at all. The job of a local Councillor is to help the people in their ward resolve day to day issues on services delivered by the Council.
The connection between national political agendas and local politics is, at best, tenuous. The conduct and effectiveness of Cllrs in the Council chamber, and in the wards, is not skewed by party, or any historical ideology, it is simply down to personal competence. When the superfluous “froth” in the local manifestos is stripped away, there is very little to distinguish them, politically.
Both Labour and Conservative manifestos commit to:
- A “safe and welcoming” City
- Delivering a “Safe Space” for rough sleepers/ people with drug and alcohol issues.
- Promoting City Centre living
- Bringing back into use empty properties for residential / business use
- Extension of the e-bike scheme
- Improvements to Air quality
- Protecting libraries
- Making the city cleaner – bulky waste collections
- Fixing potholes and improving the road network
- Encouraging business in the City Centre
- Addressing problem parking
- Extending the Park and ride scheme
There are points of emphasis in other areas:
The Labour group pledge to
“raise standards in private rented accommodation and tackle rogue landlords” and to establish a local not-for-profit Letting Agency to provide secure tenancies and affordable rents in the private sector”.
Much of the City’s housing related problems, and homelessness, derives from an unregulated private rented sector. It does need a major overhaul to protect some of the most vulnerable people in the community and something like this does need to happen. There are no commitments on this issue in any of the other manifestos.
The Conservatives commit to making an “efficient and financially competent Council”. Outside of schools the Council spends £220m on all of it’s other services in the City. The A52 project is a prime example of, how poorly finances have been managed despite funding constraints, and the inadequacy of the internal governance structure. The Conservatives propose the creation of a Derby City Procurement Strategy Board to drive better purchasing and more informed decision making.
In its pre-amble, the Conservative manifesto, stated that “Labour took the City to the brink of ruin” – there is no evidence for this. Budget risk reserves increased significantly during the Labour administration. These reserves have now been significantly reduced to cover the A52 overspend.
In support of it’s financial strategy, the Conservatives have recognised that growth in the local economy, and revenues to the Council, will only come from creating a more business-friendly City. This, in part, they will do with ultra-fast broadband, a City-Centre “Make and Trade” zone, Employment Hub, and an organisation to promote co-ordination of “Derby’s technical, digital and creative leaders”. The Labour manifesto is very light on this; the Lib Dems do make a number of statements regarding this although largely non-specific.
The Labour Group have promoted the idea over the last 12 months to create a financial reserve for advising and supporting people on Universal Credit. This has largely fallen on deaf ears; the Conservative group maintains that they are covering this through working dialogue with the Department of Work and Pensions. Notwithstanding the built in 5 week plus delay in the system before any payments are made, the system is a barrier for people who are not comfortable in working with an on-line system. It is these very people who are likely to be the most vulnerable in the City and need the help and guidance that can not/ will not be provided by the Department of Work and Pensions. Such support will avoid consequential problems including homelessness. None of the other manifestos address this.
The Lib Dems have always been vocal on the subject of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) so, unsurprisingly, a whole section is devoted to it in the manifesto. Perhaps the most important line is:
“Seek to establish a new culture in local SEN provision and re-establish the trust of families by creating a new vision for SEN provision in Derby“.
Although the Conservatives do include comment, it is very weak and only goes as far as to commit to “continue to work with parents and the education sector to improve….”. UKIP comes out in support of a better deal on the transport help for SEN children. Labour, unfortunately, limit themselves to a factually incorrect statement
“Scrap plans to cut funding for SEN support in schools” – there are no plans to cut funding to schools.
The UKIP manifesto is the only one to include anything, directly, about child protection.
“We will make it easier to report child protection concerns, anonymously if necessary, and facilitate closer working between different agencies. We would rather the Council investigated too many child protection concerns than too few. We will ensure that staff are trained to investigate child protection concerns, without the fear of being accused of racism or other discrimination. UKIP will look at increasing the budget if necessary to ensure a safer place for our children”.
All other manifestos are light, or silent, on this difficult subject.
The political groups in Derby would like to think that there are clear distinctions between them based on national ideologies and that they have to be opposed to each other to reinforce the demarcation. In reality they all broadly want to achieve the same outcomes – there are points of emphasis which, if combined… and they worked together, would make a powerful City-wide agenda.
The Banwait era highlights what happens when party politics and personal ambitions take precedence. This has been markedly reduced since May 2018. There is still too much unnecessary party politicking which not only wastes time in the meetings but also creates disillusion and contempt from those members of the public who witness it.
Perhaps all parties should have a manifesto commitment, to work in a professional manner at all times, with a constant focus on the people that they serve, and not their own personal publicity, or party political point-scoring. It costs nothing, would save a lot of time, and could actually result in a step-change for the City!
Links to 2019 manifestos:
Categories: Derby City Council