Tony Homewood and Cllr Mark Crowther, leader of the Conservative Group on Wakefield Council, believe a breakthrough is possible in the city.
Thirty-six years of Labour domination in Wakefield has not, by any measure, served the city particularly well. In 2002 the District Auditor, in a forthright and damning report, awarded Wakefield MDC no stars, rating it Britain’s third worst council.
Quite how it was never put into special measures by John Prescott can surely only be put down to political expediency. The long suffering ratepayers were left to put up with it. The council had undergone it’s own Donnygate style investigations some years earlier but, after a two year police investigation, nobody was ever charged.
The Conservatives were, arguably, as much to blame as the dominant Labour administration was for the situation. Labour had dominated because they were allowed to. In the late 90s the Conservatives had just one councillor out of 63. They didn’t even field candidates in every ward. However the 2002 District Auditors Report, finally seemed to wake the area's sleeping Tories. After the 2004 local elections our numbers had risen to ten.
Suddenly, areas that we should have long held comfortably like, Wrenthorpe and Pontefract South, started returning these newly awakened Conservatives. In 2006 the onslaught continued with our numbers rising to fourteen. In 2007 it was sixteen and in 2008 we hit Labour hard taking seven seats and leaving them with a majority of one down from 60 a few years earlier. They managed to cling onto their majority by just 37 votes. The political map was now essentially an East/West divide with Pontefract as an oasis in the Eastern dessert.
More worryingly still for Labour was that we had broken into wards that we had never held before. including two in the East. One smug Labour councillor said at the 2008 count that we would never win in his ward. An hour later he was an ex-councillor. It is also interesting to note that the biggest majorities on the council are now in the Tory held wards.
People now realised that Conservatives could win in Wakefield. In just a few years we had gone from being a Tory no-go area, to being the best performing area in the country for the Conservatives at local level.
Under Labour control WMDC service costs have risen to unacceptable levels and service quality is at best, questionable. We face a three year deficit approaching £30m, a ravaged local economy with people’s quality of life on the decline. The most attractive area of the city has allowed to become filled with nightclubs and fast-food outlets.
Residents constantly tell us that our council is failing to get the basics right – our roads and footpaths need ten years of sustained investment amounting to around £25m – £30m! That is just to get them to the condition that they should be in anyway. Our streets are filthy and some of our neighbourhoods are unsafe. These are some of the main criteria that people use for measuring success and WMDC is failing on every count.
Our budget review showed significant levels of waste, duplication and bureaucracy, highlighting a council that has failed to invest in its own future; a council that has tried to be all things to all people and manifestly failed.
On May 6th the people of Wakefield will finally have a real opportunity to vote for change. There is a real choice available to them. Either they can stick with a tired, unimaginative Labour administration, that only listens when it is forced to do, or they can opt for a fresh and new Conservative administration, with new ideas and the drive, ambition and talent to achieve them. They also have a real chance to elect a Conservative MP for the city for the first time since 1935. It is time for change in Wakefield….a change of thinking and a change of attitude.