Cllr David Renard is the Leader of Swindon Council
This May we celebrated 11 years of continuous Conservative control in Swindon. At the elections, we re-took two council seats that we lost in the 2012 all-out elections, fought off a Labour challenge in a split ward, and came within 39 votes of taking a ward that Labour previously considered safe. From a majority of one between 2012 and 2014, we now have a majority of seven.
The roots of our success are two-fold – sound administration of the council that takes the necessary decisions for the long-term good of the borough and strong grassroots campaigning all year round by our MPs, councillors and candidates. We combined these with powerful, positive messages for the doorstep.
Looking at the council’s role, we are keen to make the best of our great geographical location so the country and the world know that we are open for business.
We have made regenerating the town centre a top priority, since this will attract new jobs, new employers and provide much-needed business rates income. Not only did we see a new cinema and leisure centre open in the town early this year, but the developers sold it for £40 million – a £10 million profit, showing that the private sector has confidence in Swindon.
We are supporting house-building and, through our active role as a planning authority we are seeking to ensure that these are good quality homes. We have secured a joint venture partner to build up to 4,000 homes near the M4, which will completely repay all the public investment in roads that we have put into the site, and generate a surplus, too.
A good school system underpins our economic growth. All but one of the borough’s secondary schools became academies and in September we opened what I hope is only our first University Technical College.
In 2004, we inherited a £65 million backlog in repairs for our deteriorating schools and we also became aware of pressures on education – both because Swindon was expanding and because of the changing birth rates. Since then, we have invested over £150 million in new or expanded primary schools. I am delighted that over 90 per cent of children are offered a place at one of their preferred schools. The Coalition Government’s decision to approve two Free Secondary Schools will help us keep pace with the Borough’s growth.
I am indebted to my predecessors, former Councillors Mike Bawden and Roderick Bluh, to my cabinet colleagues, and to all the members of the Conservative Group who have stuck to the necessary decisions, including transferring our leisure assets to a not-for-profit, to make this possible.
I think the ultimate recognition of our success comes from our opponents. Under a Labour-run administration in 2002, Swindon was one of the worst 12 councils in England. On 14th July the local paper the Swindon Advertiser quoted a Labour Deputy Leadership hopeful: “Even in the last few years Swindon has really expanded and grown exponentially,” he [Tom Watson] said. “It’s contributing to the economy and standing out in the South.”