Yesterday morning I wrote about the potential for a Conservative/UKIP coalition in Lincolnshire and Gloucestershire. Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and East Sussex can be added to the list. It is not the only option. A minority administration or getting into bed with the Lib Dems are alternatives.
Objections could be raised that UKIP councillors are inexperienced. However, many of them have experience in business or community organisations.
There would need to be some clarification as to their objection to whipping. The point of a coalition is to have the stability to implement agreed policies. The UKIP leader Nigel Farage suggested yesterday that it was up to each UKIP group of councillors to make their own arrangements so far as this was concerned.
Looking at their manifesto for the local elections it is certainly a valid criticism that several of the items are for central government – immigration control and withdrawal from the European Union are obvious examples. Other issues raised – on planning and housing – are not ones for county councils but for district or unitary ones. There were some policies which were left wing – favouring the reintroduction of the educational maintenance allowance, opposition to what they called the "bedroom tax."
But the election is over now so it is time to look for opportunities. What policies from the UKIP manifesto could and should the Conservatives agree to in return for remaining in power in the county halls?
What "big open comprehensive offer" could we make to UKIP to "help them implement key planks of their manifesto" and to "come together with them" in the interest of the county?
Lower Council Tax
The UKIP manifesto said:
We believe that council taxes should go down, not up, especially when times are tough and people are finding it hard to make ends meet. That means finding ways of delivering services more cost-effectively, not just automatically cutting service delivery.
A Conservative/UKIP coalition could include a pledge to cut Council Tax by a minimum of 1% a year rather than merely freeze it. Of course it is not known what the central government grant will be. That is why it should be the minimum requirement. The aspiration should be to do more.
Ending political correctness in fostering and adoption
Given the scandal in Rotherham over UKIP-supporting foster carers facing discrimination, this is an issue that will be of concern to UKIP councillors. Some of the children in care need to be there but most do not and should be placed for adoption. Of those that do need to be in care fewer should be in children's homes and more with foster carers. More should be sent to boarding school. There is a lot of detailed work to be done in this area – prohibiting delay to secure an ethnic match is just an example.
Any pressure from UKIP in this area should really mean councils doing what Michael Gove and Sir Martin Narey are already asking them to do. Why not offer suitable UKIP councillors places on the Adoption and Fostering panels, or the post of Cabinet Member for Children's Services? They would need to go through the children in care, challenging why they haven't been placed for adoption. They would need to review all the intrusive and irrelevant questioning prospective adopters and foster carers have to go through.
The UKIP manifesto said they would:
Sell unused state owned property and assets.
A huge item of council spending is the interest bill for council debt. Why not see if there is a UKIP councillor who could become a Cabinet Member with specific responsibility for identifying sales of surplus buildings?
Greater priority given to reducing the number of pot holes rather than "vanity schemes" such as "traffic calming". This should be accepted.
Cut councillors allowances
This was in the UKIP manifesto and should be accepted by the Conservatives. So should their calls for reduction in publicity spending, ending diversity monitoring, and reducing the number of senior managers.
Voluntary Sector grants
UKIP wish to eradicate political correctness. Why not give a UKIP councillor responsibility for checking which groups are given voluntary sector grants, and the criteria for such awards? Perhaps grants to Law Centres to fight immigration cases might be a rather lower priority than groups providing Saturday morning classes to ensure everyone can speak English.
I don't think opening brand new grammar schools would be possible under existing legislation. But if Kent can open a "satellite" of an existing grammar school, why can't the same be done in Lincolnshire?
Will such coalitions work? Do UKIP councillors support their own policies? Are they up to the job? I suspect the answers will vary. That is the joy of localism.