The Labour candidate in the Corby byelection has a keen interest in local government. He is Andy Sawford who is the Chief Executive of the Local Government Information Unit. While he and most of his team are socialists, they have persuaded many Conservative councils to give them money. I included this as item 20 of my 100 ways to cut Council Tax without cutting key services.
Mind you, the LGIU has mellowed over the years. It was originally formed in 1983 as the Local Government Campaigns Unit by a group of far left Labour councils. As I understand it, they were against councils setting a legal budget – a position which the GLC leader at the time, Ken Livingstone, regarded as too extreme.
In 1985 the then Environment Secretary Patrick Jenkin said:
The Labour party-inspired Local Government Campaign Unit has systematically, month by month, enforced a policy of non-compliance on its authorities. Because of that stupid boycott, councils have refused to operate the procedures of the Act even when that would be to their advantage. They have been threatening to break the law, either by failing to make a rate or going in for deficit budgeting. Instead of spending money sensibly for the benefit of their communities, they are squandering millions on extravagant propaganda campaigns intended to discredit the Government and the legislation of the House.
That coterie of Marxist-dominated authorities is just another example of what we have seen in the actions of the National Union of Mineworkers, the strikers who nearly brought Cammell Laird to its
knees and the repeated disruption of the nation's railways.
That is the ugly face of the Labour party and it is to the eternal discredit of the Opposition Front Bench, who claim to represent the reasonable face of the Labour party, that they have lent their authority to the disreputable campaign of the town hall wreckers.
All a long time ago. These days, the LGIU sometimes comes up with policies I agree with. However I would still argue it is wrong for councils, certainly Conservative councils, to take their Council Taxpayers money to fund Mr Sawford's salary and those of his associates. It is nothing personal. I've met him a couple of times and he struck me as pleasant and thoughtful. It is just that the burden of paying his wages should not fall on the Council Taxpayers of Basildon, Braintree or Broxtowe.
At least with his background Mr Sawford is informed about local government – doubtless including Labour-run Corby Borough Council. Cllr David Sims has pointed out that the council has an appalling record. But does Mr Sawford defend them? I hope that at some stage in the byelection campaign he will be challenged on that point.
Here are a few queries he might care to answer.
1. A new free school opened this month, Corby Technical School. It will specialise in engineering and science. Roquette, a major local employer says it "welcomes the advent of the new Free School in Corby. The intention of the founders to give young people the opportunity to develop real skills for their careers alongside relevant traditional academic qualifications will certainly provide students with increased value to their future employers.” Yet the Labour-run Corby Borough Council opposes the new free school. What is your view?
2. The Audit Commission said the council showed "significant weaknesses" over Kingswood Kickstart Housing Project. There was gross mismanagement, a lack of transparency and poor value for money for which Labour councillors were responsible. Do you agree?
3. The new council offices, the Corby Cube, were supposed to cost £16 million. But the total cost of the project was £48 million and counting. A report found that the Labour councillors responsible "lost control" of the costings. Do you think they should apologise and that the full report should be published?
4. Do you agree that the Labour leader of Corby Borough Council, Cllr Tom Beattie, should resign for supressing information about the Corby Cube?
5. Do you agree that the illegal loan guarantee from the council to Corby Football Club showed a lack of basic standards of accountability?
6. Do you agree that the spending on the Rockingham triangle project spiralling out of control is further evidence of financial mismanagement by the Labour council?
7. Do you think it right for Corby Council Taxpayers money to be spent on flights to Poitiers?
9. Corby Borough Council has a debt mountain of £115 million. £4.1 million a year of Council Taxpayers money goes on interest payments rather than providing services. Yet there is no Council strategy to reduce debt. Do you regard this as a satisfactory state of affairs?
10. Earlier this year the Conservative councillors on Corby proposed a 20% reduction in councillor allowances. Do you think the Labour councillors were right to reject this?