In just over six weeks the people of Watford have the prospect of waking not only to a Conservative MP contributing to the election of a Conservative Government but also a new directly elected Conservative Mayor.
Cllr Stephen Johnson, a Conservative councillor in Watford (pictured), is a newcomer to politics having won a Council byelection last year. He got involved after championing local residents resisting ugly proposed planning developments. As Mayor he would be more rigorous over planning issues and seek a shift to more family homes.
As Mayor, Cllr Johnson has pledged to only accept half the salary paid by the fat cat Lib Dem incumbent who is paid £64,766. He would save another £35,000 by dispensing with the services of a personal political assistant and another £87,000 by reducing the number of councillors by a third – although this later measure would be subject to consent from the Local Government Boundary Commission. A big cut in Watford Council dozen strong team of press officers could be expected along with a scaling back of the quantity of propaganda they churn out. Some of the Council Taxpayer funded material has been censured for being so blatantly partisan.
Cllr Johnson would also seek extra savings through sharing more services with other local councils.
Another big issues is anti social behaviour. Cllr Johnson would use some of the savings to double the number of Park Wardens – at present there are only three of them covering Watford's 23 parks.
The Managing Director of Watford Borough Council is Manny Lewis. he was appointed last year on £140,000 after a proven record of failure working for Ken Livingstone's London Development Agency. It was on his watch that £2.5 million of public money went on projects linked to Lee Jasper. There was little or no scrutiny and seven were subject to police investigation. Cllr Johnson believes the wrong man was appointed at the wrong salary. But he will seek to work with Mr Lewis on a professional basis to avoid a costly pay off.
Among the decrees from the incumbent Lib Dem Mayor Dorothy Thornhill was one last year that banned parents without police vetting from accompanying their children in Council playgrounds. This was her policy – not something from the officers that she hadn't spotted. Is she really a liberal who believes parents should generally be trusted to look after their own children? Or a believer in extreme state regimentation?
In a pre-election move the Council Tax is being cut by 1.44%. Of course this is welcome but Watford remains a very high tax council. It has by far the highest Band D Council Tax in Hertfordshire (see Table 6.) Yet Dorothy Thornhill was elected on a pledge to reduce Watford's Council Tax to the Hertfordshire average. Instead she has hiked it every year until this one (see Council Tax Time Series -Band D.) Of course the bulk of the Council Tax goes to the county council. But while Watford puts £254 on the Band D bill, Conserative-run Broxbourne put on just £113 as the extra cost for their residents.
It is true that the 30-year Labour legacy she inherited was a highly taxed Council – but she was made it worse. To finally offer a 1.44% cut is too little, too late.
Watford deserves better.