10 min read

Stroud Elections Focus: Liberal Democrats

Stroud Elections Focus: Liberal Democrats

George James is interviewed by Laurie Davies

George James is the new leader of the Liberal Democrats group on Stroud District Council, with the long time leader Ken Tucker retiring his seat at the coming election.

He is currently a councillor for Wotton-under-Edge but is changing to stand in the Uplands ward for this coming election, a bold move as Libdems don’t currently have much presence in this area of Stroud but he seems confident in this position as he points out he’s the only candidate that lives in this ward currently and he is well known locally.

Zoom is our method of communication, it’s a Sunday afternoon and George spent his morning walking around his home patch of Uplands.

As with the other councillors, I ask George a few light-hearted questions to ease us into the conversation. Favourite hill? For him it has to be the one at the top of Folly Lane with its amazing views. I also find out that George has taken up running to help him with the stress of work and council life and has set himself the target of running the Stroud Half Marathon.

When he was younger he wanted to be a teacher and followed that dream and currently teaches at a local college.

The Liberal Democrats currently have a small group on Stroud District Council with 3 three councillors and are part of the alliance that is currently in control of the council along with the Green Party, Community Independents, and the Independent Left Group.

I put to George a series of questions to a get a full idea of his party's priorities if elected

Do you think councillors fully represent the diversity of Stroud, and if not, how can we improve that?


“No, of course they bloody don't let's be honest with you. This the serious problem with councillors in that if you want to do it the absolutely best you can, you have to be pretty much in a position where you are financially able to not work for good portions of your week, in order to then be able to facilitate the time it takes to do it, or you've got to be fully retired. I mean, that's not taking into account anything other like, race and gender. 

“I think in itself, the problem is, it's not really a paid position, it's a few £1000 pounds [per year], which is lovely but it's not enough. Because if you want to do it properly, and to be able to make ends meet, most people can't afford to do it.

“If you really truly wanted to make it equal and diverse, the first thing you need to do is tackle the age gap, make it so there are fewer councillors, it's a better paid position, so people can afford to do it.

“And then from there, you then need to start looking at how then do introduce, get political parties to say right 50% of our candidates are going to be female. From there, we can then tackle the other major questions like race within the district.”

Tell me about your candidates

There’s been a lot of change in terms of who is standing where, but are there any brand new candidates that you’d particularly like to tell us about?

“I'm currently the Councillor for Wotton-under- Edge and I'm moving away from Wotton and moving myself into Stroud, Uplands ward. This is a bit of a departure for me.

“We've put two women as the sort of the lead candidates if you will, to replace Ken Tucker and myself, so Linda COHEN and Lisa CARR, they are wonderful, proactive local councillors and they are really those sorts of people that absolutely should be fighting for safer seats because they are just really about the people, really community-minded, they've got a wealth of experience that it's going to just replace Ken and myself better than I think anyone else could possibly do.

“If anyone needs the klaxon sounding for them its them. They really know their onions and I know they can bring a lot to Wotton.”

If the Liberal Democrats were to form part of the administration after the election, what would be your priorities?

We then moved on to The LibDem’s priorities on council if they were re-elected. I asked him to choose his top three.

“We want a vibrant and sustainable economy. So then obviously, it's the housing we want to talk about, the health and cost of living.

“So, everyone's feeling the pinch. Granted, I get that, I truly do. I know. You find that more and more bills are going up, wages have stagnated. We're finding that that gap of people struggling is ballooning.

“So, there must be little things that we can look at within the council that can ease for people. We've got a great system in that we relieve council tax for those lowest earners. That's a good start but there must be more we can be looking at.
Local council tax support scheme – 2024/25 | Stroud District Council
Local council tax support scheme – 2024/25

 “I'm not talking about making cuts within the council. I'm not talking about trying to save money there because we need the services. But there must be other things that we can do to try and just make the life just that tiny bit easier for people. Because otherwise, we're just compounding this issue.”

Sometimes people say that there’s not much councils can do, it’s all about what happens nationally, in Westminster

Tell us why it matters who’s in power at  Stroud District Council.

 “I think the bottom line comes down to this: we have a system in the council that works particularly well, we've got a number of different parties all working together to come up with good ways forward. My big fear would be if one particular party gets its way and is able to make all the decisions and check its own marking, you know it doesn't work.

“It matters which parties are in running Ebley Mill because ultimately, we want to be able to offer the best services and systems and I know everybody says that's exactly what they want to do.
“But we have to sometimes make decisions that that are difficult and tough. But we've got to do it with a humane view. And I think ultimately, some parties are probably more human than others.

“What we stand for is making sure that people have the power to be able to forge their own way in life and not have it at the behest of certain things. And I don't particularly want to start making cuts because I think we know there are parties out there that will just literally cut council services. We’ve got to make sure we keep up the good work that we were doing.” 

Nationally, there’s been a lot of coverage of council finances and also people personal finances with the cost of living crisis. What would your group do at council level to address these two things?

“We are going to need to look for strategies and I don't know what all those strategies are going to be. Let's talk about residence for a second, there are strategies out there that are going to reduce costs for some people and I don't think any party would turn around and say we shouldn't have the council tax relief system in place. But can we look at furthering that? Is there just a few extra people that we can put into that?

“It would be making sure that it's everything we've got is in the council as efficient as it possibly can. And when I say efficient, I don't mean, do we have too many people? Should we get rid of people? Are we getting bang for the buck?  Have we got a system that works? Is the system efficient enough?

“I personally believe in the four day working week. So are the people then in the council, A) working to their fullest? and B) can we get more of them by actually giving them something back as well?

“Are we getting the council systems? Are they pumping everything out in as quickly as we possibly can? Is everything that we'll be doing, is it working enough for the people outside the council to save the money in the long run. It's a whole symbiotic relationship that needs to be efficient and working in order to make sure that we're saving money.

“I don't want to sit here and tell you that we want to just hack away as many members of the council staff as we possibly can, because all that's going to do is make the people in the council feel exhausted and tired and probably not loved and they're going to want to leave which is ultimately going to cost us more money in the long run. And it's it that's going to take money away from services and make people's lives harder.”

Stratford Park Leisure Centre

STRATFORD PARK LEISURE CENTRE is being taken back into local council control, having been run by contractors for many years. What do you think about this, what do you think should happen to improve and protect it? 

“And we have a wonderful thing in that we've got this leisure centre that so many people access.

“We need to learn from the lessons of what's gone well with The Pulse and what's gone wrong with the pulse and replicate.

“It's 1% theory, just keep on those little things and fix them and everything will be better overall, rather than just letting it all build up, and then try and do it all at once.”

The Local Plan

What are the challenges and opportunities around the local plan, do you think? What would your priorities be in relation to that?

“I would maintain the local plan. It's a good plan. But you know, we need the housing, we've got a government that basically saying you've got to X amount houses put in and you need to have a plan in which to do it. Alright, fine, we'll do that. We want to make sure that we do it on our terms.

“So, I think we've identified some really good areas to build houses. There is loads of employment in Stroud and we should keep encouraging these people moving into the area to try and set businesses up in Stroud to come to use the facilities. But we're really limited on where we can put a good, affordable housing, because it’s all hills and valleys. 

“We've got to not be scared about making difficult tricky decisions. And you know if the Conservatives hate the local plan, let's be honest, it's their government who sets the targets.
New homes: What’s happened to the government’s housebuilding target?
The latest figures show the government has not yet met its annual target to build 300,000 new homes.

The target is 5000 houses in terms of stock we need, we've got like, hundreds if not 1000's on the council housing waiting list. We need houses. So stop getting in the way and let's build these houses and give the people who need them a place to live. It's only fair.”

The future of the Co-operative Alliance

Stroud has been governed for 10 years or so by a ‘Co-operative Alliance’, with the leadership depending on who is the largest party in that alliance, but Labour withdrew from it a couple of years ago. What is your group’s attitude to this alliance?

Would you join it, in principle, if asked?

Would you join it if a councillor from another party was leader?

Which parties would / wouldn’t you be prepared to form an alliance with?

“If we were asked in principle we would talk. I think we need to look at parity a bit more now.

Okay the Libdems have been a particularly small group but they have been a very supportive group all the way through from the very inception of the "rainbow" alliance.

I think it’s a good grouping to be with but I think everyone needs to be listened to.

I asked George if there was any particular party that he would feel uncomfortable forming an alliance with, his answer was

“The blue team, I wouldn’t necessarily want to be on board with the blue team.”

So it seems that its likely a similar grouping of an alliance is in Stroud District’s future and not one that involves the Conservatives this time around.

 Find out more about Stroud Liberal Democrats

Stroud Liberal Democrats

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