Cllr Wendy Thompson is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Wolverhampton City Council.
In May’s elections, the Conservative Group in Wolverhampton built on the 2019 General Election success, which saw the party won two of the city’s three constituencies, by winning an extra five seats and holding the three we were defending. Added to this was the success of Andy Street winning in Wolverhampton by 2,795 votes compared to a loss in the city of 4,080 four years ago.
National issues will no doubt have had an influence on these results, but it’s clear from the conversations our MPs, councillors and activists have with local residents day-in-day-out that something else is occurring in the city.
Both in the Council chamber and behind the scenes we are regularly challenging the Labour leadership and council officers over the state of our city.
We take our role as the opposition group seriously. We believe in standing up for what is best for our city and speaking up for our residents, but not opposition for opposition’s sake. Where the Council gets something right we will rightly give credit, but otherwise we will probe and interrogate as is our duty. The Labour leadership becry this as doing down the city; in fact when it comes to full council meetings the cabinet cabal shout it – they have too as behind them their back bench colleagues sit awkwardly, I suspect, in agreement with us.
The failings of Labour are too numerous to list but can be summarised as overspent and delayed capital projects, a flagging high street and an unemployment rate that is consistently in the top six nationally.
These are issues that deeply concern us and from the feedback we get from residents it is clear that they concern residents in the city too.
The Labour leadership may believe the hype pushed out by their expensive PR machine, but more and more residents are starting to see through the spin. It’s not hard to do so, take a walk around the city centre and you’ll sadly see closed shops and vacant, derelict sites.
If you believe the spin though there is, supposedly, currently £4.4 billion worth of development going on in the city (though when challenged on this the only source was a leaflet from March 2020). A figure even Gordon Brown, the master of creative accounting, would struggle to compute.
By far the worst aspect of the tired Labour council is the disingenuous approach towards the draft Black Country Plan that will allocate housing sites for the next 15 years.
Wolverhampton has just 11 per cent green belt, some of the lowest in the country. It should be held sacrosanct and every effort made to squeeze every square foot of brownfield land out. In this vain, we brought a motion to the July meeting of Full Council asking the Council to do just that and proactively go out and seek brownfield sites rather than just relying on those proposed as part of the call for sites process. Alas, rather than take this positive step they amended the motion negating its value in such a dubious fashion that the Leader of the Council was seen speaking to the Council’s monitoring officer and chief exec minutes before the meeting started to ensure its validity.
So, whilst Labour push PR and blame the Government for their ills we seek solutions.
Taking the Council in May’s elections represents a steep mountain to climb with only a third of the seats up for election but what it does offer is the chance for us to boost our numbers ahead of the all-out election scheduled for 2023 as a consequence of boundary changes.
The combined Manifesto and alternative budget work is beginning now and in this we will be setting out our vision for the city.
Areas we’ll be focussing on include:
- Doing more to tackle Wolverhampton’s chronic unemployment problem – the pandemic has exacerbated the problem but it didn’t cause it. We’ll work with the excellent Andy Street to bring business to our City.
- Homes – Over 70 per cent of the city’s housing is Band A and B. We want to see more family homes so that people (and, yes, their spend) stay in the city rather than move out. Higher banded properties will also boost council revenue.
- Protecting the green belt – Labour refused to be pro-active, hunt the brownfield sites down and meet with landowners. Put simply, we will.
The above are all big, long-term structural issues facing the city, but a Conservative run Wolverhampton will also seek to sort out the day-to-day issues that fill our inboxes. Councillors, candidates and activists up and down the country know that these matters, whilst small to the Council, mean a lot to the individual – whether it’s getting the tree officer out of the Civic centre to inspect a suspect tree that may come down in the next storm or ensuring that the bins at the parks are emptied more frequently so they aren’t overflowing by Sunday lunchtime.
All too often the Council loses sight of the small things by focussing on the big but to residents these things matter. And if they matter to residents they matter to us too.