Wed, 17 Apr 2019
THE Liberal Democrats said they hope for a resurgence on local councils this May.
The party lost nine seats on West Berkshire Council in 2015 and also lost control of Newbury and Thatcham town councils, but buoyed by its success in the Thatcham West by-election last year, says it is receiving positive feedback on local issues.
The group says it is now putting forward policies that will provide a ‘fresh start’ to local politics. Among them is a commitment to delivering 1,500 affordable new homes in the district over the next five years, with a majority for social rent.
Free parking days and launching a MyWestBerkshire app to promote local businesses are also among their aims.
The party has taken a green approach, saying it will scrap the controversial £50 green bin charge, introduce 20mph and idle free zones outside schools and consult on a low emission zone on the A339.
The re-establishment of community forums and making the council more transparent and accessible are key aims, with meetings moving around the district instead of being Newbury-centric.
West Berkshire Liberal Democrats’ leader Lee Dillon, who is seeking election to Thatcham North East, said he thought the manifesto would stretch the party, but added: “I think what it does is show that a council can still be ambitious while still being run effectively.
“We need to be mindful of the financial situation the council is in. There are policies that we are going to deliver, not on day one, but over four years.”
He said that residents would be treated as customers, a mindset that would allow the council to provide a better service.
“What we will not do is manage the decline, like the Tories did. When we can, we will invest in West Berkshire using resources to deliver services that people need.”
When asked whether the Lib Dems had taken ideas from the Green Party in a ‘greenwashing’ attempt, Mr Dillon said that the over-riding theme from party members had been green initiatives, including an aim for the district to be carbon neutral by 2030 – an initiative shared by the greens.
“It’s not greenwashing. It’s core to our values that we need to protect and invest in the environment or we are only storing up problems for future generations, including my children.”
The party acknowledges it would cost £1m to scrap the green bin charge, but Mr Dillon said it was “fundamentally wrong to charge people for doing the right thing”.
“We have gone through the reserves in great detail. There’s £16m there, some things are ring-fenced for liabilities that are very unlikely to happen, such as Berkshire County Council liabilities going back 20 years.
“£1m sounds a lot, but over four years, being able to find £1m is not that challenging.”
With council funds declining, the Lib Dems said they would reassess the council’s investment policy, seeking a similar yield while supporting the local economy and businesses.
Former leader Jeff Brooks said that campaigning feedback had been positive, despite some apathy surrounding Brexit and national politics.
“People are engaging, some are saying I’m not voting, I am disaffected by politics. We are looking for a good result and I think we will get one.
“The Conservatives have run the council for 14 years and they are tired, worn out. It’s time for a resurgence.”
The Lib Dems are fielding 36 candidates for the 43 seats on West Berkshire Council.
The full manifesto can be viewed here