After a tumultuous five years, I am seeking re-election again in Billericay East, the ward I love and which it has been my profound honour to represent on Basildon Borough Council since 2013.
My time on the Council has certainly not always been easy. It can often be a thankless task. The meetings are long, the atmosphere often rancorous, the fractured political debates tedious and unproductive. But, away from the partisan hurly-burly, it can also be satisfying and hugely rewarding. I have deeply enjoyed meeting so many of you over the past five years and dealing with your casework. I hope I have been helpful and I have tried my best to serve those who have come to me with problems and concerns and tried to resolve issues and provide advice, information and support.
But, inevitably, there’s still the politics to contend with.
After the local elections in 2014, Basildon Council fell into No Overall Control. Although the Conservatives remained the largest group and continued to govern as a minority administration, we no longer held a voting majority and the other parties have ganged up on us and the Council is now controlled by an unholy alliance of Labour, UKIP and so-called ‘Independents’. Whatever dissembling reasons they give for having done this, the true reason was clear: so that they could impose a monstrously unfair Local Plan that protects their heartlands in Basildon at the expense of Billericay. They have, also, reintroduced the old-fashioned and outmoded ‘Committee System’ of governance, whacked up the Council Tax, wasted money, and generally made a mess of things. So here are my pledges:
Billericay Conservatives always accepted the need for a Local Plan. Without it, we risk having one imposed upon us and losing our local planning powers. It is vital that decisions about growth in our town are taken locally by those you elect and can hold accountable; not a faceless ‘development corporation’. A centrally-imposed plan could mean more developments and in places we would not support. Many of you will have been aware that the former Conservative Administration had been preparing a Draft Local Plan, and many of you will not have liked it. It included some developments in Billericay and I know that many of you had strong views about it. Conservative councillors were no happier than you were! But we do need new homes in the town and, whilst a Local Plan will never suit everyone, it is, once agreed, open to amendment and review. Supporting a Local Plan does not mean a rubber stamp for any proposed development and Conservatives have been clear throughout that infrastructure must come first.
Sadly, the approach of the Lab/UKIP Coalition has been to cynically remove housing from the plan in their marginal seats in West Basildon by vastly increasing numbers here in Billericay, including a relief road through ancient Frith Wood and proposals for Traveller pitches. This is fundamentally wrong. If returned, the Conservatives have pledged to try, if possible, to reverse this Lab/UKIP abuse of the Local Plan process and deliver a plan that is objective and fair and recognises the constraints inherent in an ancient town like Billericay. Failing that, we will support residents during the Regulation 19 consultation on the Draft Local Plan as submitted to the Planning Inspectorate.
ECONOMIC GROWTH AND REGENERATION
I don’t just want to bash the other lot. Let’s talk about what Conservatives can do for you. Nationally, the Conservative approach to local government has been to decentralise and encourage more local decision-making. That is why, since April 2013, councils have been able to keep 50% of the growth in their business rates. For the first time, they have a direct incentive in building their local economy, with the direct benefits of more employment creating self-sufficient councils. Conservatives believe councils and local communities know their local areas best and should have more control over the decisions that affect them. By 2020, 100% of business rates income will have been devolved to local councils instead of the current inefficient recycling process – whereby business rates go to Whitehall, who then parcel up and send back the money as local government grants.
Changes to local government finance put a premium on the election of a business-friendly council – because more business will mean more income for our council and more funding for local services and the regeneration of our areas. The Conservative Party will attract new business and encourage existing ones to expand. Conservatives spend public money wisely and for the benefit of the whole community. The Labour-led Coalition spent £400K on a posh new chamber for themselves. It’s the only thing they’ve really delivered, and it is of absolutely zero benefit to the taxpayer. We opposed this expensive frippery and, if returned, I will support measures to make Basildon Council a self-financing authority and seek to end the culture of waste at Basildon.
KEEPING THE COUNCIL TAX LOW
Conservative-led councils charge an average of £80 a year less council tax than do Labour-led ones. At the same time, Conservative councils deliver quality services. Basildon is no exception. At the last budget meeting, the Conservative Group put forward a fully-costed alternative budget that would have frozen Council Tax whilst still enabling investment, no cuts to services, and would have restored funding for projects in Billericay that had been spitefully cancelled. The other parties voted this down in favour of putting your Council Tax up by 3% to fund their various boondoggles but proposed absolutely no investment in Billericay. This is just wrong! I voted against Labour’s tax-hike and, if re-elected, will continue to oppose a high tax, high spend approach. In office, the Conservatives has an enviable track record for freezing, and even cutting, the Council Tax. We were able to achieve this through efficient and prudent financial management of the Council’s finances, through cutting waste and bureaucracy, and by treating every penny of taxpayers’ money as though it were from our own back pocket. Tax hikes are a political choice. I believe that people should not be overburdened by taxation. The Left promise endless money provided by the State but there is no such thing as ‘government money’, only taxpayers’ money. Conservatives believe, as a matter of principle, in allowing people to keep more of the money they earn because you can spend your own hard-earned money more wisely than we can.
INVESTMENT IN BILLERICAY
If re-elected, I will fight for investment in Billericay and end the culture of waste at the Bas Centre. I will secure money to regenerate our High Street. I will also seek the restitution of the funding taken away from our local Billericay Town Council; that money belongs to our community! Conservatives also allocated £150,000 in our last budget for urgent remedial works to Billericay Pool. This was cut, and the de facto Labour leader of the Council then cynically announced he’d borrow £9m to knock it down and rebuild, increasing the footprint at a loss of green space. That is reckless, irresponsible and not what I believe you, the residents, want. We don’t want to indefinitely lose our pool, to see it replaced with a mini sporting village underpinned by a commercial gym. We just want our much-loved existing facility upgraded and made fit for purpose. Wickford Pool, which was built around the same time and is very similar, was recently refurbished by the last Conservative Administration for around £2m. If returned, I will fight for a sensible, deliverable regeneration of our swimming pool and I will oppose the reckless borrowing proposed. The Conservatives bequeathed the borough with healthy reserves in excess of £20m. We can afford to do-up Billericay Pool without saddling our children with debt.
ACTION ON TRAVELLERS
I moved a motion at Full Council in December last year, calling on Basildon Council to engage constructively with the upcoming Government consultation on enforcement powers for local authorities when dealing with unauthorised encampments. The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has now launched its consultation and I have urged the Council to submit a response calling for more powers. There has been intense lobbying by Conservative councillors and MPs behind the scenes and I am particularly keen to advance a change in the law to make deliberate trespass a criminal offense, as it is in the Irish Republic. If returned, the Conservatives will continue to deal robustly with both unauthorised encampments and illegal Traveller developments in Billericay and across the borough, particularly those in the Green Belt. Despite much opposition from Labour and others to the clearance of Dale Farm, Basildon has a reputation for being firm but fair on these issues. Labour often advocate a more sympathetic approach, but we believe in a zero tolerance policy on law-breaking. Occupying land, as we saw just recently at Hannakins Farm, simply cannot be tolerated.
I will oppose any moves to reduce or remove the availability of pink recycling sacks at Billericay Library. The Coalition tried to slip through a hare-brained scheme to scrap pink sacks at the Library and force residents to ring the Council to be grilled on why they need more, and residents were rightly outraged. I opposed this scheme, and it was dropped. I know how important recycling is and the borough had a good track record under the last Conservative administration. This has started to slip and anything that makes recycling harder is a bad move!
THE THREAT OF CORBYN’S LABOUR
The stakes in this election could hardly be higher. Not only the iniquities of the Local Plan but the very real prospect of a continuation of a Labour-led council and all which that might entail. The Labour Party is in disarray. Whatever else might be said of Jeremy Corbyn’s hard left views, his party is less comfortable with business growth and with representing the whole community than at any time in recent memory – as the failure to get a grip of the outbreak of anti-Semitism has laid bare. The country – and Basildon Borough in particular – cannot afford a Labour government or a continuation of the Labour-led administration in Basildon; neither economically, nor in terms of bringing our communities together. The Coalition have set the residents of Basildon and Billericay against one another. They are bitter and divisive. We cannot afford to elect a Labour council. The well-being of our community depends on the services we deliver, and on an enterprise-friendly council to encourage business growth. Basildon Labour are currently in the grip of a civil war between the Blairite Gavin Callaghan and the Corbynistas currently infiltrating the Basildon Constituency Labour Party. Many of the Labour candidates up for election in Basildon this year are Momentum-backed. A Labour-run Basildon Council will be a Corbynite socialist council. A vote for UKIP or an Independent is effectively a vote for Corbyn’s Labour.
The Conservatives had a solid track record of delivering high quality local services while offering value for money and keeping our Council Tax low; I believe that only a One Nation Conservative administration at Basildon Council, occupying the common ground, can be trusted to govern for the benefit of our entire community. I am determined to continue to work hard, to be accessible, to fight for my town, and to continue to represent my constituents to the best of my ability, and to deliver on the policies that I believe are essential to improve the life chances and standard of living for every resident in the borough. I hope I can count on your vote on Thursday to enable me to do that.
Thanks for your time.