Newcastle-under-Lyme Council is currently run by a Conservative/Lib Dem. There are 24 Conservative councillors, 19 Lib Dems, 12 Labour and five UKIP. This is UKIP's biggest representation in local government which is not their strongest area. A third of the seats are up for election on May 6 where the Conservatives will be hoping to gain overall control. Or perhaps we could have a Conservative/UKIP coalition with UKIP being bought off with the post of Cabinet Member for Town Twinning?
The Newcastle under Lyme constituency is the 192nd Conservative target, so generally supposed by the Swingometer centric London punditocracy to be out of reach. But is it though? Since losing control of the Council in 2006 the Labour Party has been in free fall in this Staffordshire town. Of the 17 relevant wards, eight were won by the Conservatives the last time they were contested. Five went to the Lib Dems, three to UKIP and just one to Labour.
Labour may have had a big majority last time but this looks to me like an eminently winnable seat for our young candidate Robert Jenrick who is fighting an energetic campaign.
The Council Tax rise this year is just 1.5% and the increases since the Conservatves took ober the leadership have been consistently low.
The Audit Commission's verdict:
'Newcastle under Lyme District Council performs well overall. It works successfully, both on its own and with partners, to tackle issues that are important for local people. Levels of crime and anti-social behaviour have gone down and the streets are kept very clean. Services for collecting waste are efficient but the amount of household waste recycled has been very low. This has recently improved a lot because of changes to the service which have increased the types of waste people can recycle. The time taken for planning and benefit applications to be dealt with has been cut significantly. Contacting the Council has become easier because the Guildhall centre in Newcastle has opened. The Council has had some success in improving local job prospects, improving housing and improving the health of local people. However, the Council needs to do more with its partners to measure the impact it is having. The Council's finances are well managed, many services are becoming more efficient and it is giving better value for money. The number of sick days taken by staff has significantly reduced and, overall, the Council is well led and managed.'
Newcastle-under-Lyme is a different place to Newcastle upon Tyne – although the Department for Commuities and Local Government sometimes gets confused.