Cllr David Clifford is the Leader of Rushmoor Council.
I took over as Council leader in Rushmoor in 2016. A great council, well run, albeit officer-led. We wrote a new Council plan (our local party manifesto) focusing on an ambitious town centre regeneration project for Aldershot and Farnborough. Our mantra for the new administration was listen, learn, and deliver better. I would say our top five achievements are:
But what of our ambitions for the future?
As an authority, we get a lot of stick about our town centres. They were not in our ownership. That is changing and enables us to set competitive rents and have greater control over what takes place. This not only provides income for public services but also enables us to attract the facilities residents want and use.
One problem with central government funding is that it is imposed on a yearly basis which makes it impossible to plan properly. My other issue is that despite collecting huge amounts of Business Rates we see very little kept for our authority. In this regard we are hit negatively twice by the Government. First, we are restricted (no Public Works Board loans for commercial property outside our area of economic interest) in getting additional income for public services from commercial investments, and second, we keep just a few percent of our business rates collected.
So we then end up going through hoops and loops to try and get millions back into the Borough for infrastructure projects, spending money on bids, and working through a whole layer of bureaucracy that is clearly expensive. There has got to be a better way to fund local government.
As the national home of UK powered flight, and an area with some amazing historic assets, it is a nightmare getting interest and funding from the Government. We have commissioned a report and asset assessment and we have a clear vision of next steps which just needs a little funding and someone in the Department for Culture Media and Sport to take an interest… please!
So what of our prospects for next May?
The last few years Rushmoor held the line while many around us were decimated. A few things saved us and will help next May: we do not have all out elections. We have thirds. This really saved us. As a consequence we are out all year-round, campaigning. Even in the bad times which recently have been many. Residents know us, vent to us, and moan at us, about the national state of the party, but they know that we are constant, they trust us with their taxes, and they trust us to deliver on our local promises.
We have no twin-hatters. So you’re either a County councillor or Borough councillor and not both. This means more people in our elected member team. This means no conflict of interest. It means clear division of responsibility.
Every April we go into our local elections ready and prepared with a lot of good messages and optimism. Every April without fail, an MP makes our party look stupid and completely undermines the good local work we are doing. If we could just have a big sign sent to MPs every April: “It’s not about you this month – think and support your local elected members”.
We are a formidable party. However, nationally, we have a convoluted system where MP’s shortlist two colleagues who are then exposed to a membership vote and the winner selected as Westminster Party Leader, National party Leader, and if we are in control, Prime Minister. The Party Leader then ‘appoints’ the Party Chairman. Locally, we have no such process. Clear independence between the Group Leader, voted by fellow councillors, who is accountable to the Association Chairman, who is elected by all the membership in the Association area. The time to abolish the 1922 committee has arrived. What is needed is a directly elected (all members) Party Chairman who would have a clear mandate to hold the Westminster Party Leader to account. We would then have two very vital parts of our party: ‘elected members’ focusing on joined-up government and ‘voluntary members’ with a clear mandate to hold elected members to account.
Although ideologically I have no issue with directly elected mayors, I do find it odd that we have an indirectly elected party leader calling for directly elected local leaders. Leadership starts at home. If the party want directly elected leaders – let’s get a directly elected PM, first not last.
Finally, I am proud to be a member of a party that has a Hindu leader and has had three female leaders. I am immensely proud to lead a Conservative Group at Rushmoor that is equally diverse. We speak for and represent every part of our community.