Labour-run Derbyshire County Council has 38 Labour councillors with 15 Conservatives in opposition. But the Conservative Group leader Cllr Andrew Lewer believes the 28 years of Hard Labour in the county could be about to end.
Derbyshire County Council has been run by Labour since 1981, most famously – many years ago now – by David Bookbinder. As my Group members may be tiring of hearing me say, they have been in power since I was at primary school! (I was born in 1971 and I am the youngest County Councillor in Derbyshire and one of the youngest County Group Leaders in the country.) The elections in June give the Conservative Party the best chance in a generation to take control of Derbyshire County Council and our campaign slogan is thus “28 Years of Hard Labour – It’s time for change.”
Many feel that Derbyshire County Council will be the toughest nut to crack in local government for us on 4th June, but one needs to remember that Labour have not faced us when there has not been a General Election on the same day since 1993… and that was not a good year for Conservatives anyway!Accordingly, we have worked hard to establish a Shadow Cabinet, engage in active but constructive opposition and really get to grips with the workings of the County Council so that we can put our vision for the future in place quickly; to employ a cliché: “to hit the ground running”.
Today the County Conservative Group, candidates and other senior Conservatives gathered in Derbyshire County Council’s home town of Matlock to see Rt Hon Francis Maude MP and me launch our Manifesto, both in traditional paper form, but also on our website: I hope Conservative Home colleagues will go and have a look at it.
The Manifesto is a prudent document, very mindful of the financial crisis that Gordon Brown has plunged our nation into and it does not, therefore, make rash promises but rather relates our aspirations and our vision for Derbyshire over the next four years.
Key themes are:
Change – 28 years is just too long for one party to be in control, especially the way Labour has behaved here in Derbyshire. They take their control for granted and are not equipped to deal with the challenges ahead, which will require new ideas and new people.
Value – We are going to be a prudent controlling Group, but we recognise the importance of the services that the County Council provides and therefore protecting the front line comes first.
Roads – These are notoriously bad in Derbyshire and yet the Leader of the Labour Group claims (on the BBC!) that potholes are repaired in 24 hours; we know that is not the case. Action on roads, together with Community Transport provision, are prominent in our plans for the future.
Education – Disciplined and positive learning is at the heart of our approach, with a strong Manifesto focus upon support for key staff appointments. Labour have not focussed sufficiently upon individuals and releasing their potential in their rather old-fashioned area based ‘industrial estate’ thinking; we know that skills and all-round learning (learning, indeed, for its own sake) is what will give people the best chance in life… and improve the areas they live in as a result.
Safety – Derbyshire Constabulary suffers from an unfair central Government grant, but we believe that powerful lobbying about that is the best approach to tackling the problem, not loading the shortfall upon the Council Tax payer.
Vulnerable People – Caring for those in society who are most vulnerable, the elderly, those with special needs and disabilities means a great deal to Derbyshire Conservatives and that is why we believe so strongly in giving people as much control over their lives as we can. Accelerating the ‘Personalisaton of Social Care’ agenda – which the Old Labour types in Derbyshire have to pay lip service to but do not really like – is a key goal for us.
As a Group we are greatly excited by ‘Control Shift’ the Party’s Green Paper upon ‘localism’. We have seen in places like Leicestershire – and I must place on record how helpful Leicestershire’s Leader Cllr David Parsons has been to us in Derbyshire – how a Conservative County Council can deliver under a Labour Government and we shall do the same, as well as laying the groundwork for the longed-for future Conservative Government and the even more exciting opportunities that will offer.