Cllr Ian Courts is the Leader of Solihull Council and the Chairman of the Meriden Conservative Association
The net gain of two councillors in Solihull was unquestionably a great result; in fact, scrutinise the voting figures and you will see that our share of the poll not only remained steady in all areas, but even went up in some places. Two seats were taken from the Green Party in the north of the borough, showing Conservatives can now take seats in all areas and with all backgrounds, as well as increase our share of the poll. There was no real sign of a surge for the Lib Dems in Solihull.
So was this good Conservative leadership, council performance, or campaign effort? I believe it takes all of these and solid teamwork.
What was clear on the doorstep was that very few people were critical of Solihull Council; it was the wider issues, such as the cost of living, that influenced them.
We have strived over the years to ensure our council has been financially stable, and encourages investment, but is also seen to care for and invest in its people, irrespective of all backgrounds and areas. Solihull has the strongest GVA per capita in the West Midlands, but we believe in sustainable economic growth because it helps provide the resources needed to improve the health and well-being of our people and tackle climate change.
We are concerned about front-line services and tried hard not to cut them wherever we can avoid it: for example, we have maintained weekly bin collections and free year-round green waste collection; we still have one of the lowest council taxes. It is certainly true we have potholes like most others. Although we were rated third out of over 100 councils for dealing with them, we are looking hard at how we can deal more effectively with this problem.
I am deeply, deeply saddened by the loss of councillors and friends up and down the country and even just over the border from us. However, I believe our government was in a difficult place; few have memories of a cost of living crisis like this one, ultimately caused by the Ukraine war; add in the relentless wave of strikes. Of course, we know that our party had issues over the summer, but we dealt with it. The opposition and media nationally have been relentless in their attack, but are less clear as to what they really will do about problems. There is no magic wand or money tree that will deal with it all overnight.
I am very hopeful that the coming months can see us put some of the difficulties behind us nationally and help bring back trust and confidence to our party.
So who were we fighting in this election? All three opposition parties actually, in different areas. We have not had Labour members on the council since the last two defected a year or so ago. Labour made no inroads at this election. Interestingly, one of the Labour members who defected to us and lost his seat last year to the Green Party was re-elected in this election.
Our principal opposition in Solihull is still the Green Party, but I have been a strong environmentalist for over 30 years and my administration has a strong climate change agenda. We believe in the need for effective action (not gestures) to combat climate change, seizing the opportunities that it can also present for a better environment, health, and business, supporting our people throughout. That is the Conservative approach.
I do not intend to cover our core campaigning strengths in an article like this: most know what they should do anyway. We have an excellent team in Solihull and Conservative colleagues know where I am if they want to talk to me. You must do the basics relentlessly. Opposition parties are very good at that and that is how they win. Successful councillors need to engage and connect with the electorate at all levels and counter the ‘spin’ that we are seeing from the opposition.
What was interesting from the campaign locally was the real lack of any literature offering an alternative to our agenda and policies. At best, as we have seen nationally, there was another lot of swiping against the Conservatives, but offering no solutions to anything. What we have made clear is that Conservatives in Solihull, but also in the West Midlands under our popular Mayor, Andy Street, are taking action; despite the difficult times, we are listening to people and trying to help them. We work together with our hard-working Meriden MP, Saqib Bhatti, because winning takes teamwork and teamwork is a key ingredient of success.
We lost one seat to the Lib Dems in an area where they have been traditionally strong, but again our vote share held up well, considering their tactical campaign and typical party-political sniping, especially over national issues.
I am a strong supporter of our Conservative Government because they are attempting to tackle the problems and any other party would have just the same issues. What our residents wanted to see here was a sound administration delivering for its people. I know we have a lot to do in the current difficult economic climate to support them, and to improve our service to them. We have listened to the electorate and will not betray the trust they have shown.