This article first appeared on the influential ConservativeHome website on Saturday 22nd August 2009:
Cllr John Bell, the Conservative opposition leader in Tameside, on the fight for lower Council Tax – and the reintroduction of weekly bin collections…
In May 2008, Tameside Conservatives enjoyed their best local election results for 30 years, taking 37 per cent of the vote and gaining seats in two wards; one of which we had not won since 1975, the other never won at all.
In two other wards, we came within seven and 14 votes respectively of adding to our numbers, and in the marginal Ashton Hurst ward we turned a 12-vote majority into a 784-vote romp.
And it proved a shock to local Labour MP, James Purnell, who found that in the eight wards of his Stalybridge & Hyde constituency more people voted Conservative than they did Labour. Stalybridge is now a Conservative town, and Purnell’s recent resignation had more to do with saving his Parliamentary seat than any botched plot to overthrow Gordon Brown.
Nonetheless, for all our success, at the end of the campaign, when the seats were added up, we were still only left with 10 Conservative councillors compared to the entrenched group of 44 Labour councillors that run Tameside Council.
If the Conservative Party ever felt the urge to make a case for proportional representation they need not look any further than Tameside.
Our present position is a million miles away from the days of the late 1970s, when Tameside Tories controlled the council on the back of a famously successful fight against the Callaghan Government’s introduction of the comprehensive education system.
Since then it has been a rollercoaster ride in Tameside. From the high of 1976, our numbers plummeted to a low between 1996-98 – when there wasn’t a single Conservative councillor in the borough.
However, since those dark days, we have been on the up, and the 2008 results were another step in the right direction, towards the real possibility of further gains in 2010.
With Labour’s recession biting hard in Tameside, we are committed to a programme of ambitious reform in Tameside. However, we face a determined Labour Group obsessed with their image and frivolous, expensive pet projects that aim to court public popularity.
At February’s budget meeting we tabled an amendment that aimed to slash their propaganda and waste from the public purse. This amendment would have frozen Council Tax for 2009/10 and saved over £2.2million, equating to between £23 and £76 per council taxpayer. However, this was rejected by the Labour Group, who voted to carry on regardless and increase Council Tax, as they have done every year since the Council Tax was introduced.
As result, Tameside residents will now have to fork out for dubious commitments, such as:
£277,000 earmarked for increased communications spending;
£240,000 worth of ‘advanced’ spending with the two local newspapers and one radio station;
£11,000 committed to the pointless State of the Area Address; and,
£419,000 to be spent on bronze maps, statues, street art, community notice boards and ‘cultural’ developments.
We are committed to opposing such high spending in these areas, whilst delivering better core services; and within our manifesto we pledge to:
- Reintroduce the weekly black bin collection;
- Provide a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to community safety and anti-social behaviour by increasing funding for more police officers and pay for Special Constables – fully-trained, voluntary police officers with full police powers – whilst increasing youth provision, something that has been cut in Tameside in recent years;
- Help local businesses by providing two-hour free parking;
- Introduce a scheduled programme of road and pavement repair, and street cleaning, something that has a poor record in Tameside; and,
- Ensure Tameside’s poor education standards are raised by placing a greater emphasis on the teaching of Maths, English and the sciences.
By cutting Labour’s excesses and concentrating on the basics, we believe that is the way in which residents will get the best value for money return on the Council Tax they pay, at a time of economic hardship.
However, our task won’t be easy. With a determined local Labour Party, and lively local minority parties, we will have to ensure our vote isn’t squeezed out if the success of 2008 is to be repeated in 2010 and beyond.