Once a month we offer a platform to the leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition. Today, we have the latest column from Cllr Alan Jarrett, Leader of Medway Council.
This month I really must start with the results of the recent local elections in Medway on 2nd May.
Despite the highly amusing opening line on another website – “…with both sides claiming victory…”; together with the Leader of the Labour Party on his recent visit to Medway congratulating Medway Labour on victory the result is not in doubt.
Conservative 33; Labour 20; Independents 2. That is an emphatic Conservative victory, and allows us to go into the next four years with a very healthy 11-seat majority.
I write this not to be triumphalist, but to put the record straight following those woefully inaccurate comments.
At the Conservative Group AGM last week I was honoured to be re-elected Leader of our Group. The way ahead is now clear.
The next election for Medway residents to consider will be the European Election. If ever there was an election that should never be this is it! European elections are notoriously poorly supported, and this one will be no exception.
However there are a lot of angry people out there, and it would not surprise me if the turnout is higher than normal. The other thing which is widely predicted is that both main parties will get a drubbing at the ballot box, due to their collective inability to honour the result of the 2016 Referendum.
The sadness is that those parties which are standing in the election with the stated aim of stopping Brexit – deliberately promising to thwart the will of 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU – will gain votes quite possibly at the expense of those who are trying to deliver the referendum result.
It’s interesting to hear on both television and radio those who have won seats for minority parties saying that Brexit had no bearing on the local election results across the county. Rubbish!
Those of us who worked so hard in Medway know full well that there was a real groundswell of dissatisfaction among Conservative voters, and there is no doubt in my mind that but for that our victory would have been even greater.
May 23rd will come around soon enough, and then we will know how the good people of Medway (63% of whom voted to leave the EU) have reacted to their wishes being ignored.
Politicians play a dangerous game if they fail to honour a manifesto on which they have been elected. The difference between Conservative and Labour manifestos recently was palpable.
Medway Council budget and the Conservative manifesto align. That manifesto will cost £297 million in the first year to deliver, and everything is on place to do so. The least said about the Labour manifesto the better!
Post local elections it is now time to concentrate on the four years ahead. I remember being asked by a journalist at the election count once the result was clear what we would do next. My answer was unambiguous in that we will continue the work we have been doing.
That for me is taken as read, but we will enhance service delivery where ever we can. There are challenges ahead – not least the continuing shortage of money.
But we have the experience and the competence to make the best of what we have, and also the influence at governmental level to at least make our case for additional resources.
Most recently, thanks to the help of our three excellent MPs I have had three meetings with Ministers. Secretary of State for Health over the stroke unit at Medway Hospital; the Housing Minister about our Local Plan and housing delivery; and the Transport Minister about funding for the Medway Tunnel.
In each case we had useful meetings with some guidance about how to proceed. Only the future will demonstrate whether anything tangible comes from these meetings, but we have to keep putting Medway’s case.
Over the months ahead Medway will be seeing more ongoing change: our regeneration projects in Chatham, Strood, Gillingham, and at Rochester Airport will be further advanced. Those projects are going to pave the way for more homes, more road improvements and more jobs. What’s not to like about those?
Apart from money the biggest challenge confronting us is housing. This takes many forms, and we will be debating this over the months and years ahead.
For me the essentials are these: getting in place that new Local Plan, with part of that being informed by whether or not our Housing Infrastructure Fund bid of £170 million is successful; ensuring we have the right type of housing in the right place; and working even harder to reduce the number of rough sleepers on our streets to the absolute minimum.
Homelessness is a major problem for us to grapple with, but rough sleeping is the first priority in tackling this problem. Fortunately government has come up with over £900,000 over last year and this, and this money will certainly help.
As I wrote before the election these are among our priorities: ensuring we have the lowest council tax in Kent; retaining the best waste collection service in Kent, and indeed one of the best in the whole country; better roads than the rest of Kent; and retaining our libraries and community hubs as well as our excellent leisure offer.
On the people side of things to ensure that our vulnerable children and adults are being cared for, and that our education offer continues to improve. The demand for more Grammar school places is a high priority, as is ensuring sufficient places for SEN children. Both these are not without problems, but the job of running a large council is to recognise and then solve those problems.
Regeneration is not just about bricks and mortar. Yes, it is about building but it is also about creating a Medway that offers more jobs, prosperity and opportunity for all. That is why our ‘growth for all’ agenda is going to be vital over the next four years.
Alan Jarrett is the leader of Medway Council, leader of the Medway Conservative group, and councillor for Lordswood and Capstone.