Lancashire County Council elections: your guide to what the parties are promising
With postal votes now being returned and polling day on 6th May, we take a look at what the parties are proposing if they take or keep charge at County Hall.
HOW IT STANDS
Lancashire County Council has been controlled by the Conservatives since the last election to the authority in 2017, when the party captured 46 of the 84 seats available. During the term, two Tories became independents and one formerly Conservative seat is currently vacant after the incumbent passed away last year.
Most of the county's 82 divisions are represented by one member and a party needs 43 seats or more to secure a majority. This is the picture going into the 2021 vote:
CON 43; LAB 30; LIB DEM 4; IND 4; GREEN 1; UKIP 1; VACANT 1
The Local Democracy Reporting Service has been scouring the party pledges and priorities - and hearing the pitch to voters from each of the group leaders.
***Record investment in roads - £48.5m for transport infrastructure projects over next year.
***£30m to create more jobs and boost the economy post-pandemic, plus creation of thousands more apprenticeships.
***New Foster Carer Academy and providing vulnerable children with safer homes.
***Guarantee no libraries will close and more books will be available.
***£1m programme to reduce carbon and improve air quality.
With current Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver not seeking re-election, his deputy, Keith Iddon, is a leading contender for the top job if the Tories retain control at County Hall. He says that the party’s record on the roads and transport, the portfolio for which he has been responsible for the past four years, is one that it can be proud of - including an additional £10m for repairs on top of the government grant in this year’s budget.
“We’ve put in half as much again as the previous Labour administration over the last four years - £318m. What we are able to do now is [resurface] sections of road instead of just patching up. When the bad weather comes, it plays havoc with the roads - and sometimes patching is all we can do to keep them safe. However, the government recognises we are one of the leading councils for road improvements.
County Cllr Iddon says that investment will be needed to stimulate economic growth as Lancashire seeks to recover from the pandemic - with retraining a priority for people who have lost their jobs.
“As a county council, we are here to support every business and make sure that whatever they need, if it’s in our powers, they will get - we want to see Lancashire booming again.”
He also claims that another Tory term would see a continued commitment to those most in need, with £1m a day being spent on vulnerable adults.
“We try and keep people at home, because that is the place they want to be - and it relieves pressure on the NHS. And when [Covid] broke out, we were in a position to invest in the care homes and get them all the PPE they needed, because we had our finances in order.
County Cllr Iddon adds that the Conservatives’ environmental credentials are sound, citing increases in plastic recycling since 2017.
“Overall, we took the company that is Lancashire County Council - if you want to look at it that way - out of receivership and turned it completely around for the residents of Lancashire. My vision is for Lancashire to be the place where others come to see how things are done.”
***£20m extra for pothole repairs over four years.
***One year’s membership of council sports facilities for 11-18-year olds, disabled adults, care workers/carers and via social prescribing.
***Free swimming for all under-16’ during school holidays and, all year round, for the over-50s, the disabled and via social prescribing.
***Strategy to create low-cost housing and business premises.
***Establish a climate change post within cabinet and create 100 miles of cycling routes.
Roads are shaping up to be a key battleground of the campaign, with Labour group leader Azhar Ali pledging to invest an additional £20m in repairs over four years. Pressed on whether that would be over and above the extra £10m already added to this year’s budget by the ruling Conservatives, he said it would.
“Despite claims from the Tories that the roads are getting better, all the surveys we get back from residents across Lancashire show that the pothole crisis is getting even bigger with their splash-and-dash approach,” County Cllr Ali says.
He champions his party’s promised investment in free swimming and sports facility membership for the groups listed above as a much-needed way of tackling the social isolation, physical and mental health issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“If we can give [young people] organised activity over the next few years, it will build-in a culture of exercise and fitness that they pass on.”
Labour is pledging to create a “Lancashire Powerhouse” to ensure that the county has a strong voice at a national level and is not crowded out within the wider Northern Powerhouse concept. County Cllr Ali says that means demanding a “fair share” of government investment and building on Lancashire’s manufacturing heritage to put it at the forefront of the industries of the future.
“The government has recently given money to some parts of Lancashire [£46m to Preston and Leyland via the Towns Fund] – but it’s an insult to the intelligence of people when they have previously taken £600m [out of the county council’s budget].
“Under my leadership, we will safeguard our manufacturing jobs. We have got world class engineers and their skills could be harnessed into green technologies to make Lancashire the green capital of England.”
County Cllr Ali also pledged to support the voluntary organisations on which the county has come to depend during the pandemic.
“We’ll have a pot of money that we’ll put aside to help get match funding for those groups, as many of them are on the brink of collapse.
“Without them and our food banks, we would have been in a very difficult situation.”
***Repair “rotten roads” - invest more in resurfacing, with a fair share for every district.
***Seek government funding to stem council tax increases and council cuts and address the crisis in social care.
***Keep local control and fight proposals for a Lancashire elected mayor.
***Cut carbon and invest in sustainable transport and green technologies
***100 percent full-fibre broadband and help kickstart post-pandemic local economies.
Like his Tory and Labour counterparts, Liberal Democrat group leader David Whipp has set the condition of the country’s roads as a top priority. The party pledged an extra £15m for repairs in this year’s budget.
“The Conservatives boast about having spent £318m on the roads over the last four years and everybody who sees that asks: “Where have they spent it?” Far too much money is thrown down the drain by inadequate poothole patching which doesn’t last and they end up filling them about 20 times before thinking about resurfacing the road.
“We have consistently argued for additional investment for four years - including in the often underlying problem of inadequate drainage. By repairing the roads properly, you cut the number of [compensation] claims. We did the sums and found that you could save enough on the claims budget to actually pay the interest on the money that was borrowed [for repairs],” County Cllr Whipp says.
He also set out his vigorous opposition to the notion of an elected mayor for Lancashire, which could come as part of any future devolution deal for the county - along with an associated streamlining of Lancashire’s 15 councils into three standalone authorities.
“The changes that are on the table [amount to] no more than a Greater Preston, Greater Blackpool, and Greater Blackburn - it would take decision-making away from local communities. If there is any real devolution of power from Whitehall, it really needs to get as close to the grassroots as possible.
“The elected mayoral system has been called into disrepute [elsewhere]. Don't concentrate all the power into a few hands, but spread it around - we say power to the people rather than to remote dictators.”
County Cllr Whipp also says that the environment must not be forgotten as the pandemic subsides - including how Lancashire disposes of its waste.
“The Conservatives say they’ll cut the amount going to landfill, but what they don't say is that they’re going to push up CO2 emissions, effectively, by burning most of the stuff. The waste strategy spells out a reliance on incineration and we think that’s the wrong thing.”
***Climate action to deliver on carbon reduction targets.
***Promotion of active travel by improving cycling and walking infrastructure.
***Prevention of ill health via early intervention.
***Improved pothole repairs.
Gina Dowding, currently the sole Green Party voice at County Hall, says that local action to tackle climate change has to be the focus of the next administration. She wants to see “the right things” done on the back of a motion which she persuaded the county council to adopt last year to shift away from a reliance on carbon by 2030.
“We can really start to bring out the benefits of what a low-carbon society looks like. If we implement a decarbonisation plan well, we can actually see a reduction in inequality and a better trained workforce, with more rewarding jobs. But the challenge now is [not to] wait for the government, but to actually lead - because I think the business community in Lancashire wants a really strong steer.”
County Cllr Dowding is also calling for “active travel” to be prioritised to provide a genuine alternative to car use.
“I want to get the cycling and walking infrastructure in place so that it’s safer for all those people who want to make it part of their everyday commute - the school run being a classic example. A lot of cycleways need to be separate to the roads - we need to take away some of the road space [and reallocate it] for walking and cycling - it can’t be added on at the side. We need to make people feel confident that cycling and walking is going to be safe and healthy - and that they will not have to walk past lines of congested traffic.”
“That is about budgets, so that active travel is not an afterthought, but the first thing that plans are built around. We should commit to between five and 10 percent of all transport-related spend on cycling and walking infrastructure.”
However, the Green politician says that changes to how our roads are used does not preclude the need to keep them well-maintained.
“The current system for filling potholes doesn’t concentrate on an entire area - and some of the issues are around the quality of the work done.”
County Cllr Dowding also wants to see more county council cash ringfenced for services to prevent physical and mental ill health.
“These things have been cut since we saw the public health budget come to local authorities - and then get chipped away. It’s a real false economy and doesn't work in the long run.”