!-- consent -->
Cllr Alan Jarrett is the Leader of Medway Council
“We will be faced with an opposition which has voted against every positive change we have brought forward and remains demonstrably bereft of ideas. Medway’s future will be best served by a Conservative future.”
That was my closing sentence when I wrote for Conservative Home last year. This message still holds good today and will be the basis on which we fight our election this May as we seek to maintain control of Medway Council which has lasted for a generation. In so doing we will encourage our voters to park any misgivings they have for the national Conservative brand and focus on local issues.
A lot of votes have been cast in by-elections since those words were penned, and many seats have been lost to Conservative colleagues across the country. In Medway, there has been a single by-election, held and retained by Independents.
That particular battleground is centred around housing numbers and the emerging Medway Local Plan. There is yet to be clarity about any change to the centrally-imposed housing numbers, and until any certainty is in place there can be no change to the housing targets which are causing so much concern.
In the meantime, we focus on those crucial universal services which mean so much to most people. That is not to disregard the big issues like children’s services and housing, but instead, we must ensure that frontline services will be maintained.
Easier said than done for upper-tier councils like Medway, with the relentless pressures of social care for both adults and children placing an almost intolerable strain on budgets. A strain which shows little sign of easing as we face the years ahead.
This year’s financial settlement from the Government was a help for the provision of adult social care. However, for Medway an extra few million pales into almost insignificance when set in the context of a loss of £78 million in Government grant over the last 13 years. That figure becomes even higher when the loss of specific grants is taken into account over that same period.
This puts the challenges of setting a balanced budget into some sort of context, and makes it inevitable that officers will repeatedly bring forward financial options which politicians often find unacceptable. Fighting an election against a difficult national backcloth is likely to be difficult enough, without the added burden of unpopular decisions being made about the provision of universal services.
When confronted with such difficult decisions the shrewd politician has only one option left open – refuse to accept such proposals. However easier said than done, for there will be financial consequences to grapple with.
Working through Medway’s current budget there have been red lines which have not been crossed, and they have been writ large in all the discussions had during the last few months. What may be tough decisions for officers are easy ones for politicians focussed on putting local service provision first.
Waste collection is among the big red lines for our Conservative administration, with top-class weekly collections enshrined in everything we do. In terms of collection, every week is recycling week in Medway; every week is green waste collection week in Medway; whilst every week is residual waste collection week in Medway.
Management of our green spaces is not up for debate, with budget provision undiminished as we approach the spring and summer growing seasons. Ditto with street cleaning, and graffiti removal; dirty streets only becomes dirtier if left, whilst graffiti seems to breed unless speedily removed.
One of the certainties of winter weather is the negative impact it has on our road network. The slightest crack in the surface will be exploited by snow, rain and frost and hence the proliferation of potholes which follow. By forming a dedicated team to act as a flying squad to fill potholes we are tackling one of the irritants that beset the voting public.
Councils suffer from the same problems as the electorate with spiralling utility costs. Multi-million pound investment in expanding Medway’s LED street lighting gives greater economy, and with it more ability to keep costs at a manageable level.
But there is more to budget provision than either universal services or social care. Medway is a place where culture, sport and play thrive and this is essential in a well-rounded city which provides something for everyone.
Linking our vast regeneration programme to growth for all in Medway remains crucial if we are to provide the jobs, education and skills which will ensure that our future is one to look forward to. As our population grows, so do expectations; our council encourages and supports growing expectations, and the people of Medway deserve nothing less.
The choice which will confront the people of Medway on May 4th will be stark. They will decide whether to place continued trust in a Conservative administration which has made Medway a better place over the last 23 years or to take a gamble on the rhetoric of a mish-mash of opposition parties who have achieved nothing for Medway over the last generation.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, perhaps we should feel proud that Labour’s manifesto copies long-standing Conservative policies and achievements. It is a manifesto which reads a bit like Conservative-light. That being the case Medway people may as well have for the real thing, and vote Conservative in May.