Cllr Matthew Evans is Leader of the Conservative Group on Newport Council.
In 2008, after decades of Labour control, I became the first non-Labour Leader of Newport City Council since Jim Callaghan was Prime Minister. Labour were still the largest party, but we formed a successful administration with the Lib Dems. This lasted until 2012 when it was back to normality as Labour took 37 out the 50 seats. We retained 10 seats, while Independents took two and the Lib Dems lost all their seats bar one – which they held onto by one vote!
Looking ahead to the elections in May, they are extremely difficult to predict with many seats being won by a handful of votes. Labour will still be firm favourites and with both MPs and Assembly Members they are formidable operators. Nevertheless they have lost a number of councillors recently, one joining the “Independent “ Group and three others just becoming independent councillors.
They have had difficulties and divisions over their positive discrimination selection procedures, and a number of high profile Members have been deselected including two former Mayors as a more militant tendency has started to take control. A mixed ward by-election last year saw a comfortable win by the Lib Dems over Labour, while the Independents have organised themselves into a formal Party and their success or failure may well determine the final outcome.
But we are not just attacking Labour – we are also setting out our alternative. We have been campaigning hard and are fighting these elections on the basis of our past achievements and our manifesto pledges are very much on local issues.
Here are some of our themes:
- We would provide better value for money for Council taxpayers and not implement any maximum increase seen under Labour.
- We would reintroduce the two hours free parking in Council-run car parks which has been stopped by Labour.
- We want to ensure there is additional support for our rural and semi- rural areas which are often neglected.
- We would prioritise and protect the elderly and most vulnerable in our society.
- We need to ensure young people have the best start in life through education, employment, and apprenticeships.
- We are tired of seeing fly-tipping, litter louts, and dog fouling going unpunished and would implement tougher action to prosecute the worst offenders and re-establish pride in our communities.
- We want to encourage businesses to relocate to and expand in Newport, and would offer start up grants in the city centre to support our traders.
It is a 70 per cent positive 30 per cent negative attack on Labour. UKIP remain an unknown quantity, having not stood in the last elections in 2012, but they did well in the Welsh Assembly elections. Realistically we will not be in a position to take control of the Council outright, but we are hoping to make several gains and there is everything to play for.