Just 12 months since taking control of the Isle of Wight Council, Conservatives are delivering at pace for the people of the Island.
The news that the Isle of Wight Council has invested £19.5 million in industrial trading estates in Manchester and Kent has been met with some local confusion (though not shock and horror), partly because of the general lack of understanding, and, let’s be honest, lack of interest, in the complexities of local government finance.
The move, which will generate around £0.5 million in income each year, is, though, rather small in the great scheme of investments which authorities regularly make around the country to turn capital reserves into revenue, particularly with bank interest rates on deposits being low. We just have to repeat the message to our local community that this will help us pay for services without putting up the council tax.
We’ve come up with some other innovative schemes, too. We’re proposing to go big on beach huts. Once a must-have for every family holiday, the popularity of beach huts waned over the last few decades, but has bounced back big style on the Island. Where we already own the land, we can stick up a hut at very little cost, charge £10,000 for the 10-year lease (up front or in instalments) and whack a ground rent of £700 each year on top of that. Demand is high, they’ll go like ice creams on a scorching Bank Holiday Monday. What’s more, we’re removing some historic restrictions which require huts in some areas to be painted in the same, identical, drab municipal green – there’s nothing more joyous to the eyes than a riot of bright, summer colours to cheer up a holiday-making family as the beach comes into sight, no matter how cold the wind and rain.
We’re driving digital, too. Our national conference on digital opportunities on the Island, launched with a video of personal endorsement from regular visitor, Sir Richard Branson. It gave a platform for Leader of the Council, Cllr Dave Stewart, to set out his vision for a Digital Island and Silicon Solent to a wide range of major potential investors. The event won an international award – Smart Island 2018 – from the Global Smart Island Congress, putting the Island on the global digital map. We will continue to push the digital agenda to attract the innovative, high-skilled, high growth employers that our economy needs if we are to provide real alternatives to the low-skilled, low-wage employment offers in tourism, hospitality and agriculture. But, we won’t be overlooking those traditional industries.
The Island’s Osborne House, holiday home of Queen Victoria, was not only the location for a recent feature film about the monarch’s life starring Dame Judi Dench, but also made the front page of the Daily Telegraph property section as a wedding venue. We’re looking to build upon our reputation as a dinosaur island by attracting investment to transform the Dinosaur Isle Museum, and we can even boast, hopefully uniquely, that we’re now home to the National Poo Museum, which is currently seeking celebrity donations of exhibits….. come on Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, don’t miss this opportunity for a photo-call and soundbite, or we could submit Jeremy Corbyn’s record on antisemitism as the basis for a whole new section.
Within days of taking office in May 2017, the new Conservative Administration signed a deal with the call centre provider, Ascensos, to bring up to 600 new jobs to the Island. They may not be the most highly paid jobs in the world, but they are jobs that weren’t available previously, and the firm is now backing our efforts to promote nationally the Island as a good place for employers to locate. The Solent is being presented not as a barrier, but as a leisure resource of unequalled quality for all water-sports, with Cowes remaining the unchallenged sailing capital of the world, and the location of my new restaurant Gastronomy, Cowes.
We’re building on our environmental record with better recycling, green energy and even the local police are switching to electric cars; whilst the Highways Improvement Partnership, the PFI that is Island Roads continues apace to upgrade and resurface the Island’s road network, and superfast broadband continues to be rolled out. Oh, and on education, for which we have been scurrilously derided in the past, 82 per cent of the Island’s schools are rated “good” by Ofsted, and we’ve committed ourselves to making that 100 per cent, with more of them “outstanding” to boot.
If the momentum and drive with which the Conservatives are delivering on the Island comes as a surprise for what many readers may have thought of as a small, sleepy backwater, then frankly, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The Conservative Administration has set its heart on a massive regeneration project of our Newport Harbour and are exploring the possibility of an enterprise zone to deliver significant investment into our whole Medina Valley area. And just in case that’s not enough to be going on with, we have a vision to create one public service, and to co-locate as much as possible of that service providing alliance on one site, bringing together the police, council services and health facilities under one roof. (More about this in a future article).
We’ve set an ambitious agenda to look imaginatively, but prudently, at opportunities to generate income; to focus all our services more directly on the needs of the users, not the interests of the providers, and we’re prepared to deliver a paradigm shift in the way we work with our public, third and private-sector partners. These ideas are not unique to the Island, but we realise that as a small unitary authority we will struggle to survive if we don’t change the way we think and act.
We are rising to that challenge as only Conservatives can.