I am really pleased to be able to write a few words for ConHome about the Conservative plans for Gloucestershire. As most of the readers of this esteemed website don’t live in the county, I thought I might just highlight five of our ideas that might have some wider relevance. If hope you will also take a look at our full manifesto and I look forward to reading your thoughts.
The most important job for any Conservative administration is keeping tax down. In the last 4 years since Conservatives took control of Gloucestershire we have had the lowest council tax increases of any county council in England. In comparison, Labour and the Lib Dems, who ran the council until 2005, hiked tax by over 32%. I’m pleased with being the best council of our type in England – but it’s still too high, really any increase is. That’s why I’m promising that, in the next four years we will do better, and the overall increase will be less still. If we have a Conservative Government we will definetly also take up George Osbourne’s council tax freeze.
The only way we’ll make the sort of savings we need to keep tax down, is by making Gloucestershire County Council as efficient as possible. I want councillors to show leadership in this process. That’s why we’ll ask the Boundary Commission to cut the number of councillors in Gloucestershire by a minimum of 10%. Whilst this wouldn’t be able to come it effect until the election after next, it save more than £50,000 every year. More importantly it would send a strong message to the whole council organisation about our commitment to saving taxpayers’ money.
This would be on top of a savings and efficiency programme which will eventually save £30m pa. We’ve also ruled out Labour and Liberal Democrat plans to spend over £100,000pa on gold-plated pensions for councillors.
No permanent contracts for top staff
As part of our culture of change at Shire Hall, we are going to put a stop to permanent contracts for the top three tiers of council staff. This would come into effect as existing staff (who are excellent, by the way) leave the authority. I want to see a culture of accountability amongst council staff – and temporary contracts for the most senior of them sends the strongest possible message. Like many people I was disgusted by the Sharon Shoesmith case, with the prospect of massive golden handshakes for failure. I want to remove the risk that the same thing might ever happen in Gloucestershire. Councillors are accountable to the electorate – and it is right that senior council officers are also properly accountable to councillors.
A greener Gloucestershire
We are also taking significant steps to improve the environment in Gloucestershire. These range from small steps, such as giving drivers of the least polluting cars free on-street parking and a trial car club scheme, to making massive increases in Gloucestershire’s recycling. In 2005, when we took over from Labour and the Liberal Democrats, Gloucestershire recycled just 24% of its rubbish. Not only was this not environmentally friendly, it was costing taxpayers a fortune. In just four years we’ve already increased that rate to 43%. The Government’s target for Gloucestershire is only to reach 50% by 2020. We will do better – recycling at least 70% by that time – which will give Gloucestershire one of the highest recycling rates in Gloucestershire. Most importantly we will do it whilst opposing any bin collection taxes for normal waste. There’s no point saving taxpayers money by recycling more, or in keeping council tax down, only to use bin taxes to stealthy increase tax elsewhere.
More police on the beat
In the Conservative’s 2005 manifesto, we promised to put more police on the beat in Gloucestershire. Since then, we’ve taken a portion of the efficiency savings we’ve made and invested it in 63 police officers. These are full time, real police officers, not wardens or PCSOs. In agreement with Gloucestershire Police, they are dedicated to beat patrolling and community safety work. In many parts of Gloucestershire they are the only police officers on regular patrol. We believe that we are the first council in Gloucestershire to turn council waste into bobbies on the beat. Whilst other parties will scrap the scheme, taking police of beat patrols, we have pledged to keep the scheme going for at least the next two years.