Cllr Adrian Robson is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Cardiff City Council.
In May 2022 Cardiff electors go to the polls to elect a new Council. It will be hard-fought especially as the political landscape has changed since the Council was last elected in 2017.
The 20 seats won in 2017 was the highest number of Conservative Councillors elected since the unitary authority was formed in 1995. We were up from the seven seats won in 2012, overtaking the Lib Dems to become the official opposition. We won back some of the four-member large swing wards and had successes in west and central wards which hadn’t returned a Conservative since the 1980s.
We were also very close to winning another six councillors. But despite our achievements, Labour was able to soften the impact by gaining from the Lib Dems, leaving them with 40 of the 75 seats.
In Cardiff, we have also learned that people view local and national elections differently. The 2017 Council result was just weeks away from the 2017 General Election where we lost our Cardiff North MP. In two key by-elections in October and November 2019 we held a seat and gained a target seat just weeks away from a disappointing 2019 General Election in the city.
With an imminent by-election in Heath (a Ward which in both in 2012 and 2017 returned one Conservative councillor, one Labour and an independent) and with Labour now at 38 of the 75 councillors, the backdrop to next year’s all out elections is set.
Like every local authority, Cardiff has had to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic. Like every authority, our Council staff have admirably risen to the challenge. But unlike every local authority Cardiff changed its waste management shifts to a four-day week in the middle of the pandemic. The decision to alter the collections this February led to thousands of missed collections, including hygiene collections left out in the sunny weather and a reported three-month overtime bill exceeding £120,000. A neighbouring authority was called upon to help clear the backlog. And seven months on, the garden waste collection is still only being collected monthly rather than fortnightly with no certainty of a fixed timetable.
The Labour administration has fallen short in many other areas and this is a snapshot of a few. Residents in the north and west of the City have not forgotten about the closure of two Household waste and recycling centres under recent Labour administrations, with one being shut despite a clear pre-election promise from some Labour Cabinet Members (including the Labour councillor for Heath Ward) that a new site would be operational first.
The sorry saga of Cardiff’s bus station rumbles on. Demolished in 2015, a new smaller bus station is not expected to be completed until 2023. The effect that this massive delay has had on the perception of bus travel into the city centre is unappreciated by the administration.
In July 2020, HM Inspectorate of Probation published their inspection into Cardiff’s Youth Offending Service. The report was dire. It rated the service as “inadequate” – the lowest possible rating and gave the service a score of zero out of 36, including findings such as:
“There were outdated policies and procedures; a lack of adequate management capacity; an absence of effective systems and processes for management oversight of both risk of harm to others and safety and wellbeing……Children’s needs were not being addressed…”
As a result of the report, Cardiff Conservatives put forward a motion of no confidence in the administration, which they narrowly defended, but it remains the worst Council inspection report I have ever seen in my tenure.
But probably the greatest irritation to many residents in large parts of the city (aside from missed bin collections) concerns the southern arc which has been identified by Labour. It is true that if the ‘Southern Arc’ of Cardiff, from Ely in the West to Trowbridge in the East (approx 60,000 Cardiffians) was considered a single local authority, it would be the poorest in Wales. Labour locally along with their masters in Welsh Government have demonstrated complete hypocrisy continually blaming Westminster for causing the poverty whilst failing to mention that for decades they have had the MPs, the MS’ and the majority of Councillors in this arc.
The focus on these wards during this administration has had little impact in improving deprivation levels – in fact it has been a case of levelling down services in other parts of the city rather than levelling up in Cardiff south. There is real demand for change in these communities which next year present opportunities for Conservatives, albeit Cardiff’s southern red wall will need a lot of work to topple.
I know that Cardiff Conservatives can deliver for the Welsh capital to make it the successful city that it can be for its residents and on the international stage, and as the elections approach we look forward to explaining to voters and those further afield how we will do so.