Conservative Councillors should produce a new agenda

Conservative Councils now need to perform. People want lower Council taxes, concentrating what money is spent on the delivery of the main services. They would be happy to see advertising, spin doctoring,glossy brochure producing, networking, bogus consultation making budgets slashed.

The Conservative party has strengthened its position as the main party of local government. All those Councillors who have been elected and re-elected, need to remember their promises and make sure they deliver better service at lower cost. Whilst the national mood played a part in securing their election, May 1st results showed that local circumstances can still be important in deciding who wins and who loses.

The most important pledge Conservative candidates made in most parts of the country was the pledge to keep the Council Tax down. So in those budget meetings for next year when officers tell them they need a large hike in the Council Tax for a “standstill” budget, Councillors should explain that this simply is neither true nor realistic.

On taking office this May, Council Groups should impose staff freezes on administrative staff, and start to manage the numbers down. They should gain control over any decision to appoint external consultants, making sure when there are staff in the Council office who should and could do the job that they do it. They should review all the new initiatives and projects with an eye to suitability and cost.

Many Conservative candidates promised to keep the weekly bin collection. Not only should they insist on this, but they should also make sure there is proper quality management, to prevent the collecting companies littering the verges and leaving material in the bottom of bins.

Many Conservative Councils want to ease some of the traffic and parking problems locally. They should review traffic light phasing and junction design, to improve smooth flowing of traffic and safety. They should price parking charges sensibly, ensure sensitive enforcement of restrictions, and review how to provide enough parking without disrupting main carriageways and junctions.

Conservative Councils wish to contribute to a safer area. They can best do this by working with and through the local police, helping define local priorities for the available police man power. There may be no advantage in setting up a parallel force of wardens and assistants who do not have proper police powers.

It is not the job of a Conservative Council to implement every suggestion and piece of advice coming from the government. Of course Conservative Councils must comply with the law, but they should and can have a distinctive view of how to run transport, education and other crucial services in their area. I have confirmation from a previous Labour Local Government Minister that much of what comes from government is advisory, not mandatory.

The public voted for a change on May 1st. They want lower taxes, less interference in their daily lives, easier journeys to work and school, and better choice of good schools. They will expect their newly elected Conservative Councils to do what they can at local level to ease the burden imposed from above. So I say to all our Councillors be bold – don’t do as the government says, do as the electorate wants.

PS Please see Download on how to run a Conservative Council if you would like to read more about this – under Downloads near the top right of this site.

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13 Comments

  1. APL
    Posted May 4, 2008 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    JR: "The public voted for a change on May 1st. "

    Yes, they did. So why was the BBC suggesting that the London Mayor might include Ken Livingstone in his new administration?

    Typical BBC, it just does not understand democracy.

    JR: "So I say to all our Councillors be bold … "

    Wow, with talk like that one might want to become a paid up Tory party member.

  2. Tony Makara
    Posted May 4, 2008 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Conservative councillors must bring commonsense to the bins issue. We all want a better environment and recycling but when bad council policy leads to back gardens being cluttered up with three or more large bins and boxes and people are getting a criminal record and having their DNA taken all because they put the wrong rubbish in the wrong bin then something is seriously wrong. Labour councillors have made people's lives a misery, one frightened old lady told me "I'm scared to throw my rubbish out now in case I get arrested" How on earth have we arrived at this madness? Conservative's now need to sort this out, get rid of the threats, the fines, the mounting sense of fear that goes with disposing of rubbish.

  3. Cliff
    Posted May 4, 2008 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    John,

    Much of what you say is true.
    Our Conservative council here in Wokingham does, on the whole, a good job despite the lowest cash settlement from central government in the country.

    Pointless glossy brochures is one of my pet hates, along with crazy non jobs, mostly dictated by central government on behalf of the EU.
    I hate the titles such as champion and czars being applied to our councellors. I recently had a letter from WBC from someone signed as Town Centre Champion….What on Earth is that all about?

    Conservatives at all levels from the leader down, need to constantly highlight the unfairness in council tax settlements.
    Why in Wokingham for every one pound needed, do we have only twenty pence from central government and eighty pence from us whereas, in many places that just happen to be Labour supporting areas, eighty pence comes from central government and twenty pence from the local people.

    Why do most "new initiatives/gimmicks" dictated from Westminster, force councils to do something, thus adding to expenditure without the government providing extra funding to implement these diktats? The government then, on the rare occasion when a diktat works, takes credit for implementing it whilst not contributing financially to it? Why do we not ask this basic question about funding? The free bus travel scheme is a prime example of measures being forced onto councils and no extra funding being provided to implement it.

    This is where we can make progress, we should be constantly highlighting all the anti southern bias this spiteful government has.
    We need to constantly highlight the wastefulness this government has presided over.

    We must ram home our message to the public namely, Labour is the party of tax and waste and ask the question, where has all the money gone Mr Brown?

    Reply: Yes, I agree the government wastes too much money and gives an unfair settlement to Councils like Wokingham. The Opposition regularly highlights this in the Commons, and as you see from my website I am not shy about highlighting waste and silly initiatives. We also need to remember that many of the initiiatives are not mandatory, so Councillors can simply say "No".
    The Councillors' decision to have "Champions" was based on the need to make sure that at member level there is someone driving through important priorities and standing up for important groups and projects. In the case of the Town centre for Wokingham the Champion has amongst other things the difficult task of trying to get the redevelopment project underway, or at least ensuring the Council is not preventing the developer getting on with the job.

  4. John
    Posted May 4, 2008 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    It's crazy to me that the CEO of a council earns much more than the Primeminister.
    We are promised huge savings with Unitary Councils but I guarentee this will not translate into council tax reductions.

  5. Derek W. Buxton
    Posted May 4, 2008 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    What an excellent article, could you ensure that it goes to every Conservative office in the Country. Those are the things that are required but seldom found in practice. Mind you, in some parts of the Country we do not get a chance, the conservative party do not even fight. I am pleased that Mr. Johnson won the election to Mayor in London and hope that he can build on that. But I worry that there is a complacency in the party that bodes ill for those of us not in the spot light of your party.

    Reply: I posted them here so all can read them, and I have also put on as a download my presentation to Conservative Councils on how to manage.

  6. Peter Turner
    Posted May 4, 2008 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Well said!

  7. Steven_L
    Posted May 4, 2008 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Much of central government policy is advisory, however central government and it's quangos are given huge budgets that they use to bribe local authorities to carry out their bidding.

    The predicatble effect is that even the stupidest and most unworkable 'initiatives' often get implemented and quality of service suffers for it.

    The way it seems to work is that Gordon Brown commissions someone to do a big policy review along with a team of faceless civil servants. He accepts the findings of the review and then delegates the implementation to a central government department. They then set up a new quango to take over the implementation of the review and more policy documents are written up directing local authorities how to work. Budget is then announced to hand out to local authorities and senior managers bid for the money, offering to implement the policy.

    The money is then syphoned off at the top into education or social services and the service that the policy relates to is left with less resources as they have to plough time and effort into working on the latest dictat.

  8. cherie79
    Posted May 5, 2008 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    I moved recently from a Conservative council which had switched to fortnightly collections a few years ago, to another Conservative council which still collects any amount of black bags weekly. There doesn't seem to be any consistency in what or why councils do what they do. Both councils have always been Conservative.

    Reply: There will not be consistency – the national Conservative party does not dictate to every Conservative Council what it has to do. Those of us involved in designing national Conservative policies recommend but cannot command. It is national policy to cut out wasteful spending and offer value for money, and national advice to run weekly collections of rubbish.

  9. steve-roberts
    Posted May 5, 2008 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    As you say, "better service at lower cost" must be the outcome. How to do this is not that difficult, it is a matter of subordinating everything in the Council's organisation and activities to that purpose, dismantling the waste and ineffectiveness, and dismissing the jumble of conflicting goals and targets. For a great start, study the work of John Seddon – he has a new book out now: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Systems-Thinking-Public-S

    If I was a conservative politician this would be my roadmap for genuine reform in local government – and after the general election, for central government too.

  10. Ian McKellar
    Posted May 5, 2008 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    You said quite correctly that many of us campaigned to keep the weekly bin collection.

    I was then appalled to hear a representative of the Local Government Association (Conservative controlled) on this morning's Today programme to argue against the supposed Government prohibition on fining residents for incorrectly filling one's dustbin. Some Tory Councillors have only been in for five days and are going native already. Such a policy smacks of being officer-led rather then elected member led. Even the East German Stasi didn't fine one for having the wrong type of rubbish (they may have searched your bin but that's it)

    It is not the roll of Conservative Councillors to obey the dictats of the un-elected EU or to be proxy managers of Government policy.

  11. mikestallard
    Posted May 5, 2008 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    One of the saddest things about all the above posts is that they do not take on board the outstanding contribution of David Willetts about education.
    In Sweden, there has been a quiet educational revolution and only he noticed it.
    Our own Conservative Council is still building huge Comprehensives and then wondering why they are running empty. It successfully blocked a small church school.
    I wrote to Michael Gove and he gave me the name of a Swedish Company which specialises in small schools. It even has a Development Officer here in UK.
    But without the government giving the school fees which it would have spent on the local Comprehensive, this brilliant idea is a non starter.
    When, in conservative circles (like now) I mention this, I can hear the hearing aids being turned off.
    It is worse that talking about the EU!

  12. Jim Tague
    Posted May 7, 2008 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    Might it be an idea that rather than trying to demand car parking charges are dropped, Conservatives Councillors suggest that signs adorn car parks stating that car parking revenue from this car park is renovating the "park adjacent to the river" or provides bedding plants for "X" high street or some local environmental project.

    Simply demand that car parking money raised in "X" town stays in that town, that sounds better than the usual council response of "car parking money keeps your council tax down".

  13. Steven Whitfield
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 2:36 am | Permalink

    To Mr Redwood I am glad that you acknowledge that people want lower taxes and to be able to keep more of they're own money . Why then has your party promised to match the bloated spending commitments of New Labour ?.

    The position of Mr Osborne must be that they he agrees with the socialists: that the state can spend money more wisely than individuals. This is the policy he has embraced. So what is the point of the Conservative party if they have no fundamental disagrement with new labour.
    How would a Cameron Conservative government be different to a Brown Labour governement.
    Both parties , by and large, embrace high taxation, public spending and mass immigration. But surely the Tories are strong on Europe ?. Aah i just remembered that it was John Major that signed the Maastricht treaty so how can we trust you on that ?.
    It's so depressing that anyone who want's a real change at westminister has no real hope of change at the next election even if Mr Cameron wins.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

    Promoted by David Edmonds on behalf of John Redwood both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU

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