Cllr Michael Veitch is Leader of the Conservative Group on East Lothian Council.

The East Lothian Conservatives approach the forthcoming local elections full of optimism and determined to make significant gains.

We have worked very hard over the past few years to provide the best possible representation to the communities we are privileged to represent, and we intend to build upon this going forward. We are also buoyed by the very significant increases in the Conservative vote at recent elections in the county, notably at the Holyrood poll last May when our candidate, Rachael Hamilton, secured a regional seat at Holyrood.

We have also selected a suite of excellent candidates for all our wards, encompassing an impressively wide range of political and commercial experience. All are working tirelessly to demonstrate their absolute commitment to their wards and to win the trust of local people come 4 May.

To go back five years, the last local government election in 2012 was an extremely exciting one for the party in East Lothian. We held our two existing seats (North Berwick, Haddington) and gained a third (Dunbar). The net result was that we held the balance of power and subsequently formed a governing administration with the Labour and Independent members. The SNP (who had previously governed with the now locally extinct Lib Dems) were consigned to opposition.

Though this necessitated an extremely steep learning curve for everyone involved, it has proved to be a significant success in that we have been able to deliver on our policies and to provide strong, stable leadership for our county. This is doubly important when set against the hugely challenging funding conditions imposed by the SNP at Holyrood.

Our major priority had been to balance the books and to keep Council finances in check. We have also prioritised investment on roads and public transport; tight regulation of wind turbines in our scenic areas, and actively supporting small local businesses which are the lifeblood of our town centres.

In terms of policies going into this election, our over-riding narrative will be to stand up to the continued threat of a second independence referendum being foisted upon us by Nicola Sturgeon. East Lothian had a huge majority in favour of the Union in 2014, and continued manoeuvrings for a second poll have gone down very badly indeed locally.

We are currently in the process of finalising our local manifesto for May, which will be firmly focused on policies which reflect the key concerns of local residents. Key themes will certainly include ongoing investment in the local road network, campaigning for improved bus and rail links, and keeping costs and local tax as low as is reasonably possible in the present climate.

We are also robustly focused on minimising the damage being done by excessive housing development courtesy of the Scottish Government’s outrageous requirements for over 10,000 new houses in our relatively small county. The local SNP councillors have strongly hinted at reallocating housing deeper into our rural areas which we will firmly oppose both now and in the future. Labour has also indicated sympathy with this approach in the longer term, underlining that only the East Lothian Conservatives can be trusted to fully safeguard the unique rural character of our county.

Having led the group for the past five years, I have no doubt whatsoever that I am passing the reigns to an incredibly capable group of individuals who will work tirelessly in the years ahead to ensure that Conservative policies are delivered for the benefit of the people of East Lothian.