‘This isn’t a national election’: Welsh Conservative calls on people not to vote to punish UK Government
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
A Welsh Conservative council leader has called on people not to vote to punish the UK Government in next week’s council elections.
The Vale of Glamorgan’s Tory leader said that voters would be choosing who will be running the council, and said that council tax increases and fly-tipping would be stamped down on if they voted Conservative on Thursday, May 5.
Local communities and businesses would have a larger say in council decisions and public consultations would hold more sway than currently, George Carroll added.
“This is not a national election, it can’t change the government, but what it can change is the Vale of Glamorgan council,” he told Bro Radio’s ‘Vale This Week’ programme.
“We’re a group, as Conservatives on the council, who will listen to residents, listen to people who work here, and people who run businesses in the Vale, involve you all in the decision-making process.”
The Conservatives currently have 14 councillors in the Vale of Glamorgan—one more than Labour who run the council with Independent councillors—and ran the council from 2017 until 2019 when a split in the local Tory group ended up with power switching hands.
The main reason the Tory group split in 2019, and ended up losing power of the council, was over disagreements on Llancarfan Primary School, a village school which ended up closing and being replaced by a larger, new school five miles away in Rhoose. The closure was unpopular locally and objected to by several Tory councillors.
The local group then elected to change its leader from John Thomas, who was then council leader, to Vince Bailey. But this led to several Tory councillors leaving the party, becoming independent, and forming a new coalition administration with Labour councillors. Mr Carroll said there were other reasons too for the split, including the council not listening to residents.
“It wasn’t just Llancarfan primary school,” George Carroll said. “There were a range of decisions where we felt the leadership of the council wasn’t listening to local residents. There was a group of us within the Conservative group who wanted to change that and have a council which was more focused on engaging with residents.
“If you hold consultations and people express their views, we try to make that happen, and also involve residents more in the decision-making process of the council. There was a difference in approach, I’m not going to lie about that.
“But it’s regrettable how it happened. I would have liked to have seen the whole group come together, for Vince to take over as leader of the council, and for us to have the opportunity to deliver what was a very ambitious programme. Sadly it wasn’t to be.
“I think the council would be in a better position now had Vince become leader of the authority. But people on Thursday will have the opportunity to decide who they want to run things for the next five years.”
Asked if voters could expect another split if the Tories win, Mr Carroll said each candidate was asked to commit to not switching parties during the next council term.
“I’m very pleased with all of the candidates we’ve selected. We’re the only party to have fielded a full slate of 54 candidates and contested every seat that’s up for election on May 5. In every ward we have passionate community champions who all have a plan for the community they’re standing again. I think they would all make excellent councillors.
“All candidates were asked to make a very clear commitment that they will serve their mandate and won’t change depending on what happens. This time there is unity. Everybody is signed up to our plans for a better Vale, which is mainly based on having a council that listens to the needs of the people that the council is meant to serve, rather than the council itself.”
Top priorities for a Tory-led council would include listening more to the views of residents and businesses in the Vale when making decisions. One example of a recent “arbitrary decision” was the plan to remove the outdoor seating outside cafes on the Penarth Esplanade, and replace the seating with car parking spaces. The move has been opposed by thousands who signed a petition to keep the seating in place.
“We think the council needs to listen more,” Mr Carroll said. “There have been a range of examples of issues that have come up, and the council has taken a ‘we know best’ attitude and has imposed things on our communities, without trying to get the community involved and listen to their concerns. Look at the Penarth Esplanade seating, that’s reared its head in recent weeks.
“I think the cafe culture that has developed on the Esplanade brings many benefits. The council is right to highlight the fact that there needs to be parking provision in Penarth, but instead of working with businesses and residents to try and solve both of those problems, they have taken a very arbitrary decision to say on June 30 the seating comes out and the 14 car parking spaces go back in.
“Business owners on the seafront have been proactive and have suggested themselves putting on a minibus that can transport people down to the Esplanade seafront from other parking provision in Penarth. I think that should be explored. But instead of sitting down and engaging with them on that, the current Independent-Labour council has ruled that out. I think that’s a real shame, because it means that opportunities are being lost.”
One key area where the Conservatives have campaigned on since 2019 is against the high council tax rises each April. This year the Vale group called for council tax to be frozen, rather than the 2.9 per cent increase which came in. A Tory-led council would take money out of the council’s reserves to fund lower increases in future.
“The council actually made a profit, in a sense, of about £4 million last year, which went from the council’s budget into the reserves. So the council fund now stands at £15 million, which is cash in the bank. The £4 million underspend made last year, that’s actually considerably more than a council tax rise would raise. So we said we would take around £2 million out of the reserves, put that into the overall budget, and that way we could have frozen council tax.
“I accept that you have to assess this on a year-by-year basis. It does depend on what the Welsh Government settlement is. I can’t talk about five years’ time because I don’t know what those figures will be. But what I can say is that now and in previous years there was scope in the existing finances to keep council tax lower than it has been. Instead we have a council that has decided to hoard council tax payers’ cash, which I don’t think is the right strategy. The council shouldn’t be having surpluses, they shouldn’t be overspending either, they should set their budget and stick to it.”
On the controversial Model Farm development, Mr Carroll said he would be against the plans to build a giant business park on the working cattle and wildflower farm east of Cardiff Airport, but added it was up to the planning committee to decide. The committee gave permission for the industrial estate summer last year, but that decision was later quashed and will likely go back to the committee for another decision soon.
“I don’t think that development is suitable and I oppose it very strongly. It’s obviously a matter for the planning committee to determine, and the planning committee decided it last year. If you look at the numbers I think all the Labour and Independent councillors on that committee voted to approve it and all the Conservative councillors on that committee voted to reject the application. I should caveat that planning is a quasi-judicial process, which means that instead of taking decisions on political grounds you have to judge the application on its merits according to planning law.
“I don’t think it should be happening. We see other business parks in the region not get the take up they need. Is that a suitable use of that land? We also have a council which has just declared climate and nature emergencies, and then many councillors think that concreting over farmland is a suitable thing to do. From a personal point of view, I’m against that.”
One issue facing Mr Carroll is that he lives outside of the Vale of Glamorgan. His registered home address is in Llandaff in Cardiff. Asked how well he could represent people in the Vale, without actually living there himself, he said he had worked in the county for several years and was “passionate” about the area.
“I’ve always been open about that,” he said. “For the duration of my time as a councillor, I have always chosen to publish my home address on the council’s website. I know that other councillors choose not to, that’s their right. I have worked in the Vale for the past eight years, I have been involved with many community groups, campaigns and issues here, I’m passionate about the Vale, and I want to lead the Vale council with our fantastic team because I think we can make a real difference to people who live here, work here and run businesses here.”
Top priorities for a Conservative-led council in the Vale would also include tackling fly-tipping, fixing potholes, investing in children’s play parks, and protecting green spaces from new developments.
“The main priority is to try to deliver value for money for council tax payers, so that’s managing the budgets better and keeping council tax down. We also think the state of the roads in the Vale is appalling and we will prioritise both getting potholes fixed and full-scale road resurfacing.
“We think that the issues of fly-tipping in the Vale are appalling as well. We think more investment needs to go into enforcement on that. We would look to acquire mobile cameras that can be used at known hotspots. And then when people are caught, make sure they’re punished, and then make sure that we publicise that and show that such behaviour won’t be tolerated.
“We also want to protect green spaces in the Vale by opposing excessive developments. We’ll focus on making sure we have good investments into children’s play areas so that all of our young people can have safe spaces to enjoy in our communities.
“Our plan is ambitious, it focuses on the issues that really matter to the people of the Vale of Glamorgan, they’re the issues that matter in our communities, and it would be a very big privilege to have the opportunity to put our plan into action.”
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