With nominations closed in Gloucestershire, the Conservatives are once again are the only party to nominate a full slate of candidates across the county, although others are close behind. As I write, our 53 candidates across the county are hard at work, delivering leaflets, knocking on doors and talking to people.
They’ve got a strong track record to talk about. We’ve frozen council tax for the past three years, building on a record of low taxes under the Conservatives. Of all the political parties, we are the only party to commit to low taxes in future too, with a promise to maintain our council tax freeze for at least the next two years. Compare that to the alternative – in one year Labour and the Liberal Democrats put council tax in Gloucestershire up by over 13% – and that was when central grant was going up!
Unlike the Lib Dems and Labour, we’ve had to cope with very difficult savings to help pay down Labour’s national deficit. We’re on track to deliver £114m in savings from a net budget of around £400m. That wasn’t easy, but, unlike most councils in Britain, we’ve done it without cutting the money that supports vulnerable older people in Gloucestershire.
In fact, we’ve increased it. With social care representing over half of our budget, protecting it has meant really difficult savings across the rest of the council. When we started making savings, we asked local people what was the most important thing for the council to spend their money on. They told us, resoundingly, that it was protecting the vulnerable – and that is exactly what we’ve done. I’m proud of that.
I might mention that the fact there are 53 candidates is one of our savings – at the moment the council has 63 councillors. At the last election, the Conservative manifesto promised people in Gloucestershire we’d cut the number of councillors by at least 10%. Just as they did at the national level, Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors in Gloucestershire strongly opposed any reduction in the number of politicians. In effect, they argued that despite all the jobs that were going at Shire Hall, their jobs should be protected from any savings.
Fortunately, neither the Boundary Commission nor local people agreed with them. Cutting the number of councillors, on its own, will save over £300,000 over the life of the next council. I might also mention, the Conservatives blocked Labour and Lib Dem plans to pay councillors a taxpayer funded, index-linked pension.
Gloucestershire Conservatives have also got a strong record on jobs and growth. We’ve also put together a comprehensive programme of investment in our county, to help protect local businesses and local jobs. Our Grow Gloucestershire campaign has pulled together a mix of council, government and private funding to build a £100m package of measures to invest in infrastructure, jobs and training.
We’ve attracted significant transport improvements – including major rail projects cutting travel times to and from London and improvements to the road network.
Just as importantly, we’ve build links between schools and businesses to help teachers understand the skills local employers need most, helped our young people to get better careers advice and backed more apprenticeships than ever before.
We aren’t just standing on our record. We’ve put together the most detailed manifesto of any of the parties in Gloucestershire. It sets out in detail our plans to protect local jobs, grow the local economy, protect the vulnerable and keep taxes down. You can read it yourself here.
Certainly times aren’t easy for Conservatives anywhere at the moment. No Government is ever massively popular mid-term – and the coalition has faced an unprecedented challenge in repairing the damage that the Labour party wrecked on our economy and our finances.
In Gloucestershire, we believe that effective campaigning, backed up by a record we can be proud, of will deliver us electoral success.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some leaflets to deliver…