Chris Whitehouse is Secretary to the Conservative Group of Isle of Wight Councillors
The Isle of Wight is one of those quirky places which is almost, but not quite, a unitary authority in terms of responsibilities, whilst in size it is more like a District Council. This, exacerbated by the additional costs of doing business on an Island, creates all sorts of problems in delivering quality public services. However, it need not create quite as many as the current, dysfunctional “Independent” administration have achieved during their almost three years in office.
We have no local government elections this May. On the Island they are in May 2017. However, such is the disastrous record of the “Independents”, that the Conservative Group on the Council has begun its consultation process which, through a genuinely deep and wide dialogue with the Island Community will establish the priorities for our election manifesto next year.
We make no apologies for the fact that we are asking the people of the Island, whatever their own political views, to share with us their ideas for how we can, in the words of our document, “make the Island the best place in the country to live and work”.
The current administration includes, despite its “independent” brand, several leading Liberal Democrat Party activists and a hard-core of unreconstructed socialists. It lacks strategic vision. It is rudderless and it is failing.
Our Consultation Document , The Island Conversation, identifies the Independents’ record in office as seeing the Council bottom of national league tables for adult care, bottom of South East Region school league tables, failing to secure grant funding from the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership, slashing services, unnecessarily closing public toilets, abolishing free parking periods to the detriment of local retailers, making front line and backroom staff redundant, out of its depth in managing the important PFI contract with Island Roads, failing to engage with the business community, and lacking vision and innovation in economic development.
Our document invites the Island to consider our proposed priorities and to challenge us if they have better ideas, though we think there will be general widespread support for our commitment to protecting our community, preserving the environment, growing our economy, supporting our residents, and creating opportunity for all. We have posed 12 open questions:
Q1. Are our priorities outlined in this leaflet correct? (As an Island resident what is most important to you?)
Q2. What are the things the Isle of Wight Council does well?
Q3. What are the things in which the Isle of Wight Council performs badly, that it needs to improve or which it doesn’t do at all, but should do?
Q4. What do you think we need to focus on in the future to deliver the kind of Council and services you want?
Q5. What should we be doing to deliver economic development for the Island?
Q6. How best can we boost tourism on the Island?
Q7. What is the best way to ensure we see appropriate housing development on the Island?
Q8. What do you not want to see happen on the Island?
Q9. Would you be prepared to contribute to the development of our Island and if so how?
Q10. How can we improve our education and training on the Island so that it’s the best it can be?
Q11. How can we improve our social services and health services so that they really meet the Island’s needs?
Q12. Are there any other suggestions you would like to make to help us improve the council and life on the Island?
Obviously, Conservative councillors are working closely with our excellent Island MP, Andrew Turner, to make representations to the Minister about the special circumstances of the Island, but the fact remains that one of the biggest single reasons for the island’s problems is the downright incompetence of the current Council Executive, which is propped up by Labour.
It blames everything on the Conservative Government and appear to have forgotten already the dreadful recession and lack of money we inherited nationally from Gordon’ Brown’s period in office as both Chancellor and Prime Minister. Ask anybody working in County Hall, they’ll tell you that the Independents’ “Root and Branch Review” of the Council delivered nothing but a delay of a year in tackling the real budget challenges and a complete distraction of senior officer time. Had fundamental changes and restructures been introduced during that first year of their tenure, we probably wouldn’t collectively face the severe problems that now arise.
We need to get away from the Vicar of Dibley style politics conducted by the Independents, where so much depends on personality clashes, vested self-interest and the collection of Special Responsibility Allowances. We should return to a professional, collective approach to tackling the Island’s problems, and we need to harness the energy and enthusiasm of island businesses, organisations and residents.
As Conservatives we stand accused now of seeking to crowd-source the writing of chunks of our Manifesto to the people of the Island. The reaction of the Island media, and the positive immediate feedback from island businesses and residents to our launch suggests that it’s an approach, like open primaries, which could reinvigorate local politics. I strongly commend it to readers!