A-lister Louise Bagshawe has written eight best-selling novels and recently answered ConservativeHome readers’ questions. In this Platform piece Louise pays tribute to Wychavon District Council.
One of the joys of being on the candidate circuit is the research we do into constituencies. All non-locals have to prove to Association officers and members that they’ve learned about the constituency they hope to represent.
Most recently, I applied to West Worcestershire, and was delighted to have had an interview with the Executive there. More beautiful countryside and nicer people you could not hope to meet, and three outstanding candidates have made it through to the final. The entire process was a privilege.
In doing my research in Worcestershire, I came across Wychavon District Council. I think for me, discovering this authority was the single best thing that came out of my application. I said to the selection committee at my first interview that the work of this authority should be better known. Indeed, I would recommend to David Cameron that he consider using it in a speech. It is a model of Tory governance; innovative, no-nonsense, and delivering simultaneously on lower taxes and better services.
My personal credo in politics is: Tory means deliver liberal ends. Social justice is delivered, not through socialism, but through enlightened, compassionate Conservative principles. Wychavon is the perfect example of this in action.
Some background. Across West Worcestershire, voters are feeling the pain of Labour’s broken promises on health. PFI, targets, and a botched funding formula are causing South Worcestershire Primary Care Trust (SWPCT) to slash services, cut wards, fail to build new hospitals, and sack staff. Evesham, Pershore, and Malvern were all suffering. Malvern’s new hospital has been “being built” for 25 years.
Part of West Worcestershire falls under LibDem control – Malvern Hills District Council. Part of it, under Tory control – Wychavon. Both halves, under the not so tender care of SWPCT. So whose residents are enjoying lower taxes and first class health care? The left wing LibDems, or the Tories?
Wychavon has managed a triple whammy. It has achieved, in a stroke, higher home ownership, lower taxes, a higher return on the council’s money, and a brand new hospital – while Malvern Hills residents languish with high taxes and no new hospital.
How did Wychavon pull off this miracle? A classically new generation Thatcherite principle. It’s beautifully simple, the way good Conservative governance always is.
1. They sold off many council homes in a right to buy scheme, giving poorer residents the chance at prosperity. The ratepayer money was invested in bonds, yielding 6.5%.
2. When Labour’s quango, SWPCT, started to slash Pershore services, Wychavon took matters into their own hands. They sold the bonds, and they are building a new hospital;
3. Which they are leasing back to SWPCT at a return to the ratepayer of 7% – half a percent higher than they were earning before.
A new hospital. Home ownership. Return for the ratepayer. And for the last several years, despite the lack of a fair central funding settlement, Wychavon has kept its council tax increase at a mere 2.5%. It will not surprise you to learn that this authority received an outstanding report from the audit commission. The LibDem opposition meekly fell in behind the Tory plans – but you do not see LD controlled Malvern Hills doing the same. They have high taxes and poor services.
Wychavon is now giving talks to other local authorities, desperate to learn from their model. They are also building and leasing a Waitrose store, in the same way as the hospital – bringing facilities to their area at zero cost, and actually at a net return, to ratepayers. Wychavon farms out services where it believes private providers can do a more cost-efficient job. The poorest and the most socially deprived are being helped by these solid Tory principles in dynamic action.
Many times, townies regard the countryside as old-fashioned or stuck in the mud. Wychavon is dynamic Tory governance delivering for the poor as it keeps taxes to a bare minimum. The building of the new hospital was covered in one approving article by the Times “turning PFI on its head”, but it should be far more widely known. I said to the selection committee we should be trumpeting it from the rooftops. With this piece, I am trying to do my bit to make sure this marvelous example of compassionate Conservatism gets all the credit it deserves.