Monday, 10 April 2017

Local Council Elections Lincolnshire County Council Birchwood Ward 2017: The Conservatives County Council Record and My Thoughts on the 2017 Manifesto

Last week I did a blogpost exploring the campaign literature and policies of two key party candidates vying to win the Birchwood seat on Lincolnshire County Council: UKIP's Kevin Harrington (whose party I'd only vote for if Hell literally freezes over) and Labour and current County councillor Rosie Kirk, who I still intend to back on May 4th. Today I happened to receive the Conservative leaflet. Eddie Strengiel is already a City of Lincoln councillor for Birchwood and is hoping to join the Conservative led County council. He's certainly well known in the local area, having helped establish Birchwood's Big Local Partnership which strives to improve facilities for residents. Strengiel is the current chairman of the board. The partnership has received £1m in funding which has led to the creation of the Birchwood Area Community Land Trust (which allows Birchwood Big local to own and lease land). Recent acquisitions include the Diamond Park on Staverton Crescent which was originally built by Life Church Lincoln and opened in August 2004 (see more here: http://www.birchwoodbiglocal.co.uk/).

Strengiel's personal policy platform is compact but does contain good points:
  • Strengiel says that he will re-assess the streetlighting issue in Birchwood and see "what can be done" to help improve the situation for residents (I'd say go and talk to Colin McFarlane as he has a few suggestions as to how to update the streetlighting type to make it more cost-effective to keep all the lights on: http://thelincolnite.co.uk/2017/03/colin-mcfarlane-street-lights ).
  • Strengiel wants to work with the County Highways Department to reduce the potential for accidents on Birchwood Avenue and Woodfield Avenue. He also wants to look at improving access and exits on Pershore Way and trying to look at improving the roundabout on Skellingthorpe Road. Good news for drivers.
  • I can understand why Strengiel talks about tackling anti-social behaviour in Birchwood; the Conservatives have traditionally been a party that prides itself as being "tough on crime" but I believe that more Police Community Support Officers are needed to help reassure residents. We also need more youth schemes to help reduce the possibility of young people resorting to anti-social behaviour through being bored in the first place. I also can't see any commitment to retaining the Birchwood Youth Theatre on the leaflet from Strengiel which is disappointing.
  • It's good to see that Strengiel wants to remain fully accessible to all residents and businesses; I've always found Rosie to be accessible on social media and I do think having an open, transparent social media account does matter these days.
The majority of the leaflet is dedicated to explaining the Conservatives' plan for Lincolnshire County Council policies for the next four years:
  • I'm not fully convinced by the "Taking Back Control" jingoistic tagline. I was disappointed that Lincs Conservatives all backed Brexit because there were Conservative remainers who were far from happy with attempts to leave the EU because they backed strong co-operation based on economic and security grounds. However, it is important as the Brexit negotiations take place to recognise the need to support our agricultural sector and that would mean lobbying the Government for full replacement of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) grants post-Brexit. I have no idea where the Conservatives would even begin to facilitate this.
  • Lincolnshire has the thirst lowest Council Tax nationally and yet funding per head is only £88 which makes us the third lowest Government funded council and we wonder why our social care system faces cuts of £4m over the next year. I think an honest discussion is needed with residents over whether keeping such a low council tax rate is in the best interests of the county when central government funding is being squeezed and our local population is ageing. Conservatives say they want to help elderly and disabled people receive social care in their homes but haven't exactly stated what measures they would take (such as recruiting more carers) to ensure this happens.
  • Lincolnshire Conservatives have expressed their desire to "reinstate the Lincs Ambulance Service" and to support the establishment of a University Medical School in Lincolnshire. Anyone who votes Conservative should hold the party to those promises as Labour is also committed to improving ambulance services and establishing a University Medical School in Lincoln.
  • Safeguarding of children and adults includes those who are trans, non-binary, gender-fluid and genderqueer. Gender neutral facilities do need to be designed for public spaces owned by the council and I'd like to see an initiative at council level that helps raise trans visibility and helps educate the public about reporting transphobic hate crimes.
  • Lincs Conservatives have been strong on transport policy (they're spending £37m on road maintenance this year alone) and it's good to see a commitment to deliver on the Lincoln East by-pass project. The idea of a coastal highway from Lincoln to Skegness is interesting and a North-Hykeham relief road which helps reduce traffic on Doddington Road would also be welcome.
  • Lincs Conservatives have committed to "promoting appropriate housing in Lincs at a sustainable rate"; I'd like to know whether this includes a commitment to building more social  housing in the Birchwood area for working class residents who are struggling to make ends meet on part time or zero-hour contracts that only pay the National Living Wage.
  • Lincs Conservatives state specifically that revenue generated from business rates will be "reinvested locally". I'd like to have a breakdown of policy proposals for investment, including whether LGBT+ charities will be sponsored or whether heritage projects in Lincoln such as Lincolnshire Life Museum will receive extra funding as a result of this Conservative Governmental decision.
Lincs County Council have made some progress since 2013. Birchwood residents are generally pleased with the completion of the East-West link road in the City Centre and broadband connection speeds have increased with coverage now in 95% of Lincs, so I can do my blogging "on the go" if needed. Yet such successes are not matched in decisions to reduce the adult social care budget with contracts passed to private companies whose primary objective is to generate a project for shareholders and streetlight turn offs which have made Birchwood residents feel too scared to go out alone at night. The Serco contract decision taken in April 2015 to outsource finance and HR decisions has led to multiple errors of judgement. The closure of Whisby Waste and Recycling Facility has led to increases of fly tipping in Birchwood. The Conservatives tried to down grade our Lincoln South Fire Station even though they openly admitted when cross-examined that doing so would lead to the possibility of more residents in Birchwood losing their lives as response times would have increased. We already have an underperforming centralised Ambulance service as it is. These issues matter to local residents just as much as tackling anti-social behaviour or improving transport infrastructure. Rosie Kirk has committed to tackling fly-tipping by campaigning for the re-opening of Whisby Waste Recycling Facility and will work with Lincs Road Safety Partnership to help tackle speeding on Birchwood Avenue (there's already a speed monitoring scheme on Woodfield Avenue, something else Strengiel failed to mention in his leaflet). Lincs Labour are also committed as a whole to a Park and Ride Scheme for Lincoln to help reduce congestion yet the Conservatives are refusing to fund a permanent Park and Ride site with car parking facilities located on the outskirts of Lincoln even though this would help reduce levels of pollution in the City. That's a scheme that I would support wholeheartedly, knowing the levels of congestion we have.

Having read the Conservatives' plan for Lincs for the next four years, I am now more convinced than ever that we need a change of direction and a change of political leadership at County Council level. I will vote for a local party and councillor who plan to work for real improvements to our public services, especially adult social care and who wants to hold central Government to account for their failure to increase funding for the residents of Birchwood and the people of Lincolnshire. I also want to vote for someone who has already implemented innovative ideas, such as helping to set up the Birchwood Youth Theatre because I hope they'll come up with even more of them to help engage and enthuse people away from becoming anti-social in Birchwood, whether that means getting young people to set up an online magazine showcasing their local area or encouraging elderly residents to participate in Arts project to help document the changing progressive face of Britain. That's why I will still vote for Rosie on May 4th and hope that Labour gains seats at the council elections in May (in tandem with the Lib Dems and Greens in rural wards).