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Stroud Local Elections Focus: Conservatives

“Obviously, we would love to take overall control. We would not rule out working with anyone else, if that was an option as well,”
Stroud Local Elections Focus: Conservatives

Conservative Group Leader Lyndsey Green is interviewed by Caroline Molloy

AS A CHILD, COUNCILLOR LYNDSEY GREEN wanted to be a doctor. But a bad shoulder injury meant a lot of time off school during the transition from primary to secondary, and she ‘could just never catch up enough to be able to get the grades’. Instead she became a beautician. She has also been leader of the Conservative group on Stroud District Council for the last two years.

Although it’s the Co-operative Alliance of Greens, Independents, Lib Dems, and formerly Labour that has held power at Ebley Mill for a decade, the Conservatives have long had the largest number of councillors (19) of any single party.

“Obviously, we would love to take overall control. We would not rule out working with anyone else, if that was an option as well,”

The last two years, with Greens, Independent Left, Community Independents and Lib Dem councillors continuing to work together to keep the Tories out of power when Labour withdrew from the alliance amidst party turmoil, have been “frustrating” for the Conservative Group leader.

The troubles of the Conservative Party nationally are coming up during their canvassing, too.

But Cllr Green is understandably keen to remind people that the elections on May 2nd are about local issues:

“forget about what’s going on in Westminster, who’s on the front pages and things like that…this is about what’s going on here in the Stroud district, who’s going to run your local services, where the housing goes, making sure that we’re doing the right thing to help support businesses and high streets, and things like that.”

If Conservatives were to take power what would be your priorities?

Green lists “planning and enforcement”,  “sound finances”, “making sure that our housing stock is fit for purpose, before we do anything else.”

“Stroud is quite unique that they're one of the few local authorities that still own their housing stock, a lot sold out to housing associations,” she notes, adding that there are ongoing issues with damp and mould.

I know the Conservatives were previously keen to explore the idea of selling or transferring council housing to a housing association – is this still on their agenda?

Lyndsey soft-pedals on the idea – “at no point have we ever said we want to sell the housing stock” – and emphasises the idea was to “explore” whether a transfer of the housing “could be a viable option”. She notes “there are mechanisms in place” that could be looked at – “like our own housing association, that kind of thing”, and government incentives to transfer stock that could allow “a certain amount of debt to be written off”.

What about concerns that such a transfer would lead to rent rises for tenants, though?

Green says, “if it looks like it would cause rent increases or anything else that is to the detriment of of our tenants… we would have to take a very pragmatic view of what that entails, and balance up, are the savings worth it over potentially putting extra burden upon tenants?”

Tell me about your new candidates

Lyndsey mentions Sonia FAYE and Surjeet MALIK standing in Stonehouse, Carwin WILLIAMS in Dursley, who she thinks will make great councillors, and also highlights Dr. Robert BROWN and Hena MANNAN-RAHMAN in Severn Ward, where John Jones and Steven Davis are standing down.

I ask Green if she thinks there’s enough diversity across all the candidates, across all parties, up for election this May 2nd.

“I think we are quite well represented. That's not to say that we shouldn't always strive to do better. But I don't think that diversity should always be the first thing that comes to mind,” she tells me. “I just think that actually the focus needs to be on the person. On how they feel about the area, rather than anything else.”

Whilst highlighting her own credentials as someone who has “never moved away” from the ward she represents, and whose favourite place is the canal in Purton where she played as a child, Green is careful to add that, “I'm not saying that people that have just moved to the area can't be passionate about an area, they certainly can.”

Inflation and government spending plans have put pressure on many local council finances – just as their services are needed ever more, to help people with their own household finances. How would the Conservatives square that circle, I ask?

Green acknowledges that “Stroud District Council do quite a good job,” and praises the officers for doing “an amazing job of making the books balance… we're certainly nowhere near the position of other councils like Birmingham that have gone bankrupt.” So, she says, they wouldn’t want to change too much. But, she adds, she is keen to “plan for the future” as there are concerns that “in a couple of years time, there could be a bit of a deficit”. 

The Conservatives would look for “inefficiencies and waste”, she adds. It’s a familiar line, of course. But if there were easy efficiencies to be found, would they not have been found by now?

Green, who sits on the Housing Committee, points to the “overspend with repairs and maintenance”, which has recently been brought back in house by the Green-led alliance.
“We were told that it would save money, having our own workforce to do repairs and maintenance, and also that it would mean that there would be better customer satisfaction.

And yes, on the one hand, perhaps there is better satisfaction, because when a little old lady or somebody phones up and says, ‘Oh, I've got something wrong in the bathroom’, and somebody comes out, sorts the thing in the bathroom, and then little old lady says, ‘Oh, are you able to just change that light bulb for me?’.

With our own staff, that's quite an easy thing to be able to say ‘yes, we can do that’. Whereas in the past, some contractors that we've had, have said, I'm sorry, that's not on my job list, so there's no room for manoeuvre.”

At this point Green appears to change tack slightly, saying that in fact, external contractors are still used to fix up empty properties (‘voids’) in a hurry – and that has an “additional cost”.

I'm a little bit confused, I tell her. Is she saying that she’d look for savings by contracting out all the maintenance again (and perhaps not doing the odd jobs for elderly tenants, presumably) – or by taking the voids repair work off the contractors and bringing it all back in house? 

She says it’s the “half and half” approach that’s wasteful, but won’t be drawn on which way she’d go, saying she’d need to ask the finance people “what is better and what would save money – that would be something we would need to find out”.

Stratford Park Leisure Centre

The differing views, or at least rhetoric, about whether council services should be run in-house by the council or outsourced to contracts, is in view over Stratford Park Leisure Centre, too.

The current Co-operative Alliance administration is in the process of taking it back in house to be directly run by the council. Green explains the Conservatives opposed that move, worried about cost, and whether there was enough expertise amongst council staff to run a leisure centre.

But Green is keen to stress that a newly elected Conservative administration wouldn’t just hit the reverse button immediately.

“I think we have to respect the fact that a decision has been taken. And I do think it would be silly not to… obviously, if it was something that was going to cost millions of pounds and everyone thought it was a bad idea, then you might look at [looking for  a new contractor to take over], but I don't think that straight away, it would be something that I would be worrying about.

If we found that that bringing it in house was not working, or it was costing a lot more money, then yes, we may do. And I think it would be fair to say that any other party or anybody else ruling the council [would do the same] … you can't rule things out completely.”

Green also acknowledges “the staff at the Pulse [the council-run swimming pool in Dursley] have done an amazing job”, though the centre is smaller than Stratford Park.

The Local Plan

Another key point of contention is the local plan – now on agreed pause whilst the council works with local and national partners to resolve major infrastructure issues around Junctions 12 and 14.

Green says,

“I don’t believe that huge concentrated big estates of houses are necessarily the way to go, and obviously we’ve seen that with what’s proposed at Sharpness and Wisloe”. The Conservatives have called for “dispersed housing around the district” with villages and small hamlets getting a few houses, rather than concentrated developments. She says this is “what members of the public asked for”.

Won’t drastic amendments just delay much-needed housing, though?

“There already is a delay because SDC have asked for a pause in the local plan, to do work that really should have been done a long time ago, working with South Gloucestershire and Gloucestershire county councils and Highways England. So the key should have been in the preparation seven or eight years ago. There are delays and that is going to cost people money.”

Throughout our conversation, however, Green emphasises the extent to which “nine times out of 10, councillors want the same thing and that is to make the places that we live and represent, the best that it can be.”

But, she acknowledges, the priorities are often different.

And there’s enough clear blue water between the different parties that it really does matter who’s in power at Ebley Mill, after the elections on May 2nd.

Find out more about Stroud Conservatives

Stroud - Gloucestershire Conservatives
Stroud - Gloucestershire Conservatives

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