Week 7: Sunday Night Sideways – The Wrap Battle
When you have been in control of the council for 8 years, where do you go for ideas to avoid the criticism ‘You’ve had your chance – why haven’t you done it already’ or ‘Boring – more of the same’.
In an exclusive interview I caught up with the leader of the Council, Cllr Shaun Davies and Cllr Lee Carter, who holds the finance portfolio. The hundred-pledge strong portfolio contains the ideas and framework that will shape the next four years, if Labour get enough seats to control the Council.
The document, which has been shared already on Telford-Live, was put together following consultation with around 1500 local Labour members, and also takes a few ideas from other councils around the country.
We looked at some of the pressures on funds, housing and rough sleeping. I also asked about the pre-election multi-million pound windfall that dominated the council press releases just before purdah (the rules about council publicity just before an election) put the brakes on.
More on this later, but interesting to note that I couldn’t find a copy of the Conservative Manifesto online anywhere. I did ask, and they told me that it was on all their leaflets and in one of the early Journal wraps. But not online.
I have it on good authority that a Journal wrap can be yours for around £1700. Someone close to the Midland News Association told me the rack rate used to be about £4500, so at least something in coming down in price these days.
The last two Wraps have been used by Labour. The one from Thursday was three pages of what’s bad about the opposition, and used a number of quotes from an intriguingly unnamed ‘Former Tory Councillor’. The only Tory Borough Councillor who has left recently (and joined Labour, no less) is Cllr Mark Boylan. I wonder if it could be him?
With the election taking place on Thursday coming, this is last of the political wraps we’ll see for a while.
The emergency service in Telford is a hot topic. It was of particular importance to the Woodside Lib Dem candidate, Greg Spruce, this week after a dog bit him while out campaigning. After a quick tetanus shot and some antibiotics, we think the dog will make a full recovery. Hope you are feeling better soon, Greg! If only you had the dog whispering ability of your colleague Cllr Shana Roberts.
While we’re talking about dogs on the campaign trail, Cllr Nicola Lowery doesn’t disappoint with a pic of gorgeous George.
I caught up with Cllr Davies, leader of the Council and also with Cllr Lee Carter to mull over Telford, previous editions of SNS, and how terrible it is when you go further west along the M54.
That pre-election Windfall
Cllr Lee Carter explained that it’s not unusual for underspends to be allocated around Feb & March, even when it’s not an election, as underspends in some areas release cash for other uses. In 2019, the pot was further bolstered by a Successful claim to HMRC for a refund totalling £2,673,000, relating to a change in VAT regulations for leisure services. The claim going back to 2009.
Nuplace, the wholly owned subsidiary of Telford & Wrekin Council is now the largest private landlord in the town, with more than 300 homes, about 14% of private lets in Telford & Wrekin, Cllr Davies tells me. The estate is set to grow by a further 200 homes. Should have been 600 homes now, but tax regulations meant they couldn’t keep the 2015 manifesto pledge.
It is claimed by Labour that there is a plan for the Tories to sell off the Nuplace business, based on the 2017 alternative budget they put forward, however my understanding is that they are now split on this, and it doesn’t even feature in any of the collateral I’ve seen.
One interesting aspect we touched on, was the quality of houses in the rented sector and specifically on the first of the Telford estates. Some of these estates, Sutton Hill, Hills Lane, Woodside, Brookside, have been neglected by landlords. Before you start thinking I’m having a go at people on these estates, I have lived on Sutton Hill myself, and still have friends there.
These have long been the cheapest homes in Telford and in some cases, have reached the end of their predicted life. Cllr Davies explained that there are funds available to build new houses, but in reality, some of these rows need knocking down. It’s much harder to get funds to acquire 40 houses, knock then down & build 30, to modern day standards. A challenge indeed.
Rough Sleeping & Homeless
There is a Labour Manifesto pledge to eradicate rough sleeping in Telford by 2023. Telford doesn’t have many rough sleepers, and our voluntary sector (supported by Council funds) play a huge role in this, said Cllr Davies. The work to be done here is getting people ready to rent through projects like a Tenant Incubator, where homeless people can start to get some stability in their lives and show potential landlords that they will be able to pay rent and look after the property.
Post election blues?
In 2010, when Cllr Keith Austin won control of the council for Labour, he was deposed as leader and Cllr Sahota installed. In 2016, one year after the following election, a successful Cllr Sahota was deposed as leader and Cllr Davies installed. I asked Cllr Davies if he was concerned about his future, if he was successful? He’s not. It used to be the case that Labour leaders we voted in each year but after the next vote due in May 2019, the leader will be selected once every 4 years.
Could there be a coalition in Telford? Cllr Davies isn’t being drawn on the possibility, but isn’t a fan. In other places, it hasn’t worked very well, stifling delivery of ideas and policies. ‘We’ll take a look at the votes after the election.’
Thanks to Cllr Davies and Cllr Carter for taking the time out to come and see me at Telford-Live Towers, and to Local Democracy Reporter, Alex Moore, for coming along too.
Strict rules about polls and comment apply on Thursday while polls are open, but from 10pm when they close, some politicians go to the boozer for an hour until all the boxes are collected and taken to Telford College (TCAT) for the count. Like a crime scene from Line of Duty, public are not allowed in and entry is limited to staff, press, candidates and party officials.
I’ll be bringing you livestreams, interviews, and documenting the general goings on until all the declarations have been announced.
Finally, don’t forget to vote!