Cllr Richard Bingley is the Leader of Plymouth City Council
At 3.30am, the Friday morning before last, inside a leisure centre hall, a BBC reporter kept asking me if there was anything that we could have done better in our campaign. After each refusal to criticise my Party colleagues in London, his patience almost snapped. “Surely, there was something we could have done better?”
Although we had actually snatched a seat from Labour, and made ‘technical gains’ and another two from Conservative Independents (thus putting us in pole position to hold our minority administration) I did eventually relent slightly.
I stated that we Conservatives need to be far more confident in expressing the delivery of our policies. For example, delivering a clear Brexit, 8,000 more police, 17,000 more nurses (I was 10,000 short), and introducing a Living Wage. Then increasing it, whilst removing many lower-income earners from the income tax bracket.
In a City of 262,000 residents, with 110,000 workers, whose average wage (here in Plymouth) is £50 less per week than the national average, these achievements very much matter to residents.
Since becoming leader and introducing an energetic, diverse, Cabinet Team, our central focus has been job creation. Or, to be more precise, high-value job creation.
Because high-value job creation drives up citizens’ aspirations and demands. Aspiration for better schools. Demand for decent homes. Aspiration for even better local jobs. And demand for access to first-class healthcare.
Top-down socialism can’t make this happen. Tony Blair’s ‘third-way’ market democracy couldn’t make this happen.
But, driven from the grassroots, by unitary City Councils, such as ours, Boris Johnson’s and Michael Gove’s ‘intelligence-led’ Levelling Up can make this happen.
Indeed, is making this happen.
We council leaders – particularly the Conservatives ones – are frustrated and fatigued by the top-down doom-mongering and pithy philosophical point-scoring of some right-leaning national columnists, including some MPs, who stereotype ‘Red Wall’ MPs and Council Leaders as being public investment junkies and adrift of traditional Conservative Party ideology.
We Conservatives won in some of the toughest political environments mid-term – the Harrows, Thurrocks, and Plymouths – because we unambiguously and proudly campaigned with Conservative messages.
These messages being: Lower Council Tax. More CCTV and enforcement. Cleaner streets, communal areas tidied. Red-tape cut. Customer services improved.
Then there were the pro-active business-friendly initiatives, including High Street regeneration and partnering bids for job creation.
And, my goodness, here in Plymouth we shouted and campaigned loudly about the last.
For it’s here – job creation – where the call for government investment doesn’t just intersect with our Party’s longstanding free-market, high-employment, philosophy, but essentially underpins it. If we City leaders can raise the incomes, and provide more jobs for our residents, then demand upon Labour’s sacred, expanding, welfare-statism, begins to lessen.
With high-value job creation, the corpus of our at-present gridlocked, centralised, society, can be engineered to erode elegantly. To support in the future much more healthy, revitalised, grassroots-organised communities, consisting much more of voluntary networks and associations, supporting and nurturing the unsuppressed flourishing of individual responsibility, agency, and entrepreneurship.
Taking local examples of Council/Government delivery here in Plymouth, let’s see some working examples of higher-value job creation:
In true Conservative-style most bids and delivery projects are, in effect, public-private sector partnerships.
Whereby we – on the public side – can offer co-investment, risk safeguards, and reassurance to businesses. Businesses locally have suffered from enormous economic strains due to Covid disruptions, soaring costs, and ongoing impacts caused by Russia’s war upon Ukraine. In fact, half our local hospitality jobs – many thousands – were lost during the Pandemic.
We Conservatives tend to be far better at taking decisive action, driving exploratory and feasibility studies through as fast as possible, removing unnecessary impediments and regulations (and attempts to regulate).
Finally, I believe that – on the whole we Conservatives are better at communicating with business sector partners and navigating them through the challenges of public-private sector job creation. After all, many of us have led, managed, and started businesses.
Only by delivering these successful projects, leading to higher-value jobs, will we – in our Ocean City – begin to delete the very depressing lines in my leader’s ‘killer factsheet’. These facts are the very real-life problems that our team needs to solve.
They seem a million miles away from various national columnists and commentators who appear recently to suggest that the immediate solution to solving our cost of living crisis (and Boris’s opinion poll position) is to apply by diktat their relatively distorted versions of philosophy from Milton Friedman or Friedrich von Hayek.
Here’s just a sample of our local challenges:
Solving these are as essential and many feel the processes are complex.
But let me simplify things.
All of these challenges can be vanquished, by sticking resolutely to our underpinning Conservative philosophy. Ultimately, we must achieve smaller government and promote individual agency in the longer-term.
But this can only be achieved by a consistent, ferocious, unapologetic focus on well-paid job creation. Government must be involved.
I say to my Conservative colleagues, be confident.
We are delivering the pathway back to individual and family freedom, aspiration and responsibility. The final destination is ‘jobs’.