Local Elections 2012

Blogs related to the English local elections in 2012, mostly centred upon those in Wokingham Borough, Twyford & District, and Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe ward.

Are the Echo backing the Indie candidate in Westborough?

southend civic centre

When the leader of the Independent Party Group, Martin Terry, decided not to stay in Westborough for a hopeless stand, but rather to flee across Southend to the electoral safety of Thorpe, I genuinely wondered whether the Independent Party Group would field a candidate.

I mean, Martin has salted the ground for any candidate pretty thoroughly, and has surely tainted the official Independent banner in Westcliff. He essentially declared that his ego was more important than the voters he was supposed to be representing. Then he threw a slightly inept smoke bomb, and tried to sneak out the back.

However. For every thankless task there is a taker. Cometh the hour, cometh Independent Party Group candidate for Westborough: Alan Hart.

Read on…

Denis Garne, Rewriting History

denis garne leaflet

As some will remember from my blog a little while back, Denis Garne is the Conservative Party candidate for Victoria ward this year. His history in Southend politics was interesting to say the least, as I discovered.

Now, I am standing for election in West Shoebury (an area of Southend to which I do have links — my fiancée’s entire family living in the ward) but I live in Victoria. So unsurprisingly, last week a blue-and-white glossy leaflet for Mr Garne’s campaign dropped through our letterbox.

It makes for interesting reading. For the most part it is exactly what you would expect from any party political literature at election-time. But given Denis’ political past, there are some…shall we say interesting statements contained.

Read on…

Uncle Eric’s Parish Precept Pickle

scheming eric pickles

It’s that time of year again — all across the country, local authorities are setting their budgets for 2013/14. From the big county councils and unitary boroughs, right down to the tiniest of parish councils, and Wargrave is no exception.

Last week, I and the other councillors on Wargrave Parish council debated and discussed our own budget. Decisions were made on the rates charged for services like the youth centre, and spending on upkeep of areas within our remit. We also made a decision on the precept, the element of council tax set at parish level.

Now, Uncle Eric (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles) has already said that local authorities of city, borough and council level have to hold a referendum if they want to raise their council tax by more than 2% (a blog will be forthcoming in the near future on that, believe me). This doesn’t yet apply to parish level, but there are fears it will do  next year.

Anyway, in the course of setting the precept for the next financial year, an interesting problem has come to light in the drafting of the Localism Act.

Almost all parish councillors will live in the parish. Most will pay council tax in the parish. Some may even own property in the parish. Thus, they all have a personal and pecuniary interest in the level of the precept.

In the normal course of parish council business, if I have an interest in a matter under discussion (say, a planning application by my neighbour, which will potentially impact upon the value of my own house) I must declare it and leave the room for the duration that it is under discussion.

The old parish council code of conduct, under schedule 1, paragraph 10 of the Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) Order 2007, contained an exemption from the declaration rules in the case of setting the precept:

You do not have a prejudicial interest in any business of the authority where that business — … (c) relates to the functions of your authority in respect of— … (vi) setting council tax or a precept under the Local Government Finance Act 1992.”

However, that code of conduct was replaced under the Localism Act 2011. Now the provision dealing with declarations of interest is as follows:

(2) If the interest is not entered in the authority’s register, the member or co-opted member must disclose the interest to the meeting, but this is subject to section 32(3).

The member or co-opted member may not — (a) participate, or participate further, in any discussion of the matter at the meeting, or (b) participate in any vote, or further vote, taken on the matter at the meeting — but this is subject to section 33.

As you may notice, the exemption for setting precepts is gone. But it does mention s33 of the act, so what does that say?

(1) A relevant authority may, on a written request made to the proper officer of the authority by a member or co-opted member of the authority, grant a dispensation relieving the member or co-opted member from either or both of the restrictions in section 31(4) in cases described in the dispensation.

(2) A relevant authority may grant a dispensation under this section only if, after having had regard to all relevant circumstances, the authority — (a) considers that without the dispensation the number of persons prohibited by section 31(4) from participating in any particular business would be so great a proportion of the body transacting the business as to impede the transaction of the business…

So an exempting disposition can be granted, but it has to be done so specifically. Hence the Wargrave Parish Council clerk rushing around forms for us to sign so that we could decide the budget, last week. So when we approve the new budget tomorrow, it will be entirely legal — but how many parish budgets across the country won’t be?

Most people won’t have read the Localism Act, and won’t notice this change. Indeed, the lack of comment on it suggests that it might have escaped the notice of many who really ought to know.

To me it looks like either Uncle Eric has laid a cruel and unusual trap for parish councils, or he has no idea what effect his flagship piece of legislation has. Neither of which is encouraging…

Wokingham Election Results – An Analysis

The results of Wokingham’s 2012 local elections are in…

I’ve had a few hours now to reflect on the results of the Wokingham local elections, and to do some some fancy arithmetic with the numbers to get a full picture of how the votes played out across the borough.

There were a total of 31,630 votes cast between the hours of 7am and 10pm in the borough as a whole. I don’t yet have the information on turnout, but it doesn’t seem terribly good- probably around 30%. The weather contributed to this, doubtless, but there has been a slump in turnout across the country.

Here is a table of information on the election, showing the number of seats won by each party, the gains that it means for them, the total votes they received, and how that stands as a percentage of the overall vote (Note: I’ve rounded the percentage figures to one decimal place, which is why the total comes to 100.1%).

Seats Gains Votes Percentage
CON 13 -2 15,345 48.5%
LD 4 +1 7,643 24.2%
LAB 0 0 3,862 12.2%
GREEN 0 0 2,378 7.5%
UKIP 0 0 1,733 5.5%
IND 1 +1 496 1.6%
Spoilt 183 0.6%

There were 18 seats up for election this year, which is a third of the council, and the Tories lost two. Somehow (think #wokyrubbish) the Liberal Democrats managed to buck the national trend, and actually gain a seat in Winnersh. The independent Nick Ray (about whom I know embarrassingly, well, nothing) taking Charvil from Tory incumbent Emma Hobbes was the shock of the day really.

Firstly, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed. I had held private hopes of Labour winning a seat- Greg Bello came agonisingly close in Bulmershe & Whitegates, and I maintain he would have been a superb representative. I’m also disappointed that I came third after a candidate who did no campaigning at all, but I did significantly increase my share of the vote. Thank you to everyone who came along to help me campaign, and especially to everyone who voted for me.

The results show, I think, Labour as the solid third party of the borough. The Greens get fourth place, largely out of the number of candidates they stood (they didn’t poll badly, but only Marjorie Bisset in Shinfield South posed any serious challenge). I’m still waiting for any signs of this supposed UKIP breakthrough.

There are several lessons I take from these results with regard to improving Labour’s performance. The first is that we need to stand a full slate of candidates. We can’t be seen as a credible challenger in the borough unless we’re fielding candidates all across it.

Secondly, there was a distinct lack of canvassing all across Wokingham. I worked hard knocking doors and distributing leaflets, and so did my opponents (well, one of them did). But many of the returned Conservative councillors didn’t do a thing by all accounts. There are so many votes that are there to be picked up, if only we could run even a minimal campaign- and not to mention a get the vote out operation.

The next election isn’t until 2014, so that gives us two years to look at what needs to be done, and take steps to do it. Labour is here in Wokingham, and we’re not going away any time soon.

Wokingham Local Election Results 2012

Bulmershe & Whitegates

Greg Bello (LAB) — 750 votes (28.4%)
Lesley Hayward (LD) — 976 votes (37.0%)
Bill Khan (UKIP) — 137 (5.2 %)
Mohammed Parvaiz (CON) — 660 votes (25.0%)
Adrian Windisch (GREEN) — 106 votes (4.0%)

Liberal Democrat HOLD


Emma Hobbs (CON) — 382 votes (43.2%)
James O’Callaghan (GREEN) — 44 votes (5.0%)
Nick Ray (Ind) — 414 votes (46.9%)
Malcolm Storry (LD) — 42 votes (4.8%)

Independent GAIN


UllaKarin Clark (CON) — 1,202 votes (55.9%)
Suresh Jeganathan (LD) — 291 votes (13.5%)
Steven McMillan (UKIP) — 330 votes (15.3%)
Paul Sharples (LAB) — 313 votes (14.6%)

Conservative HOLD


Dianne King (CON) — 967 votes (50.2%)
Steven Scarrott (LD) — 388 votes (20.1%)
Anthony Skuse (LAB) — 286 votes (14.8%)
Mike Spencer (UKIP) — 278 votes (14.4%)

Conservative HOLD

Finchampstead North

Martyn Foss (GREEN) — 124 votes (8.4%)
Mike Gore (CON) — 1,038 votes (69.9%)
Tim Jinkerson (LAB/CO-OP) — 193 votes (13.0%)
Roy Neall (LD) 121 votes (8.2%)

Conservative HOLD

Finchampstead South

Roland Cundy (LD) — 345 votes (24.1%)
Ian Pittock (CON) — 843 votes (59.0%)
Matthew Valler (GREEN) — 241 votes (16.9%)

Conservative HOLD


Guy Grandison (CON) — 688 votes (42.7%)
Peter Jackson (UKIP) — 142 votes (8.8%)
John Prior (GREEN) — 97 votes (6.0%)
Anthony Vick (LD) — 407 votes (25.2%)
Neville Waites (LAB) — 278 votes (17.2%)

Conservative HOLD


Helene Cherry (GREEN) — 241 votes (11.4%)
Pauline Jorgensen (CON) — 1,062 votes (50.5%)
David Sharp (LAB) — 317 votes (15.1%)
Keith Yabsley (LD) — 465 votes (22.1%)

Conservative HOLD


Paula Montie (GREEN) — 79 votes (10.1%)
Wayne Smith (CON)  — 562 votes (71.5%)
Paul Trott (LD) — 83 votes (10.6%)
Umesh Ummat (LAB) — 62 votes (7.9%)

Conservative HOLD


Tom Clark (LAB) — 303 votes (14.8%)
Tom McCann (LD) — 846 votes (41.4%)
Bill Soane (CON) — 751 votes (36.8%)
Julia Titus (GREEN) — 132 votes (6.5%)

Liberal Democrat HOLD

Maiden Erlegh

David Hare (LD) — 528 votes (24.9%)
Nicholas Marshall (GREEN) — 238 votes (11.2%)
Ken Miall (CON) — 966 votes (45.6%)
Jacqueline Rupert (LAB) — 373 votes (17.6%)

Conservative HOLD


John Bray (LD) — 268 votes (13.7%)
Mary Gascoyne (LAB) — 315 votes (16.1%)
Emma-Louise Hamilton (GREEN) — 120 votes (6.1%)
Keith Knight (UKIP) — 212 votes (10.8%)
Malcolm Richards (CON) — 959 votes (49.0%)
Robin Smith (IND) — 82 votes (4.2%)

Conservative HOLD

Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe

Martin Alder (LD) — 248 votes (18.1%)
Matthew Dent (LAB/CO-OP — 172 votes (12.6%)
John Halsall (CON) — 937 votes (68.5%)

Conservative HOLD

Shinfield South

Marjory Bisset (GREEN) — 473 votes (31.4%)
Charlotte Haitham Taylor (CON) — 893 votes (59.3%)
Imogen Shepherd-Dubey (LD) — 141 votes (9.4%)

Conservative HOLD


James Ewan (GREEN) – 118 votes (6.5 %)
Lindsay Ferris (LD) — 1,011 votes (55.3%)
Richard Fort (LAB) — 159 votes (8.7%)
Sam Hawkins (CON) — 527 votes (28.8%)

Liberal Democrat HOLD


Stella Howell (UKIP) — 135 votes (10.1%)
James Leask (LD) — 158 votes (11.9%)
Kazek Lokuciewski (GREEN) — 187 votes (14.0%)
John Woodward (LAB) — 166 votes (12.5%)
Bob Wyatt (CON) — 679 votes (51.0%)

Conservative HOLD


Mark Ashwell (CON) — 961 votes (38.2%)
John Baker (LAB) — 175 votes (7.0%)
Tony Pollock (UKIP) — 183 votes (7.3%)
Rachelle Shepherd-Dubey (LD) — 1,183 votes (47.1%)

Liberal Democrat GAIN

Wokingham Without

Thomas Blomley (GREEN) — 178 votes (9.3%)
Pauline Helliar-Symons (CON) — 1,268 votes (66.0%)
Elaine Spratling (LD) — 147 votes (7.7%)
Graham Widdows (UKIP) — 316 votes (16.5%)

Conservative HOLD

Five reasons not to vote Conservative today (or why Eric Pickles is wrong)

Nope, sorry Eric! Wrong on all five counts!

I wasn’t going to do any more election blogging, but when I saw Eric Pickles “5 Reasons to vote Conservative today” post on ConservativeHome, I just couldn’t help myself. Here are each of Eric’s points in turn, why he is wrong, and why you shouldn’t vote Conservative in the borough of Wokingham today.

1) Conservatives deliver better quality, better value local services… More Conservative councils have frozen council tax this year than Labour councils.

Yes, Wokingham have frozen council tax. But that freeze was made possible by a one-off grant from central government. This will almost certainly not be repeated next year, which means that council tax will have to go up by at least 2.5%- just for funding to stay at the same level.

And that’s even before we get to the massive stealth tax that the council introduced under the guise of a new rubbish scheme.

2) Conservative councils have been at the forefront of the transparency agenda, opening up their books and finances to public scrutiny.

Transparency my foot. Do you remember the budget? Do you remember how the council executive only released it the statutory week before the vote, whereas other authorities had released it months earlier for scrutiny by residents and opposition parties? And maybe you remember that it was simply voted through, with a minimum of debate, and no opportunity for proper examination.

Judging from this, the Conservatives were going all out to make sure there was no public scrutiny of how they were spending public money.

3) Councils account for a quarter of all public spending, and need to do their bit to help pay off Labour’s deficit.

This doesn’t play too well next to council leader Cllr David Lee’s near-constant bleatings about being the worst funded council in the country. If we’re supposed to be cutting back even harder, why does he always seem to be begging for more money? Also, the notion of there being no money left sits ill next to Eric Pickles’ slush funds for weekly bin collections and short-term tax giveaways- all of which seem calculated to give the Tories something to crow about at election time, having achieved nothing all year long.

Don’t believe the lies.

4) Conservative councils are cutting municipal non-jobs like town hall ‘pilgrims’ and waste like town hall pravadas.

I’m not sure who exactly Wokingham have been cutting, but they don’t seem to have been left with a particularly brilliant crop. The local government officers in charge of the bins, in particular, don’t seem to have covered themselves in glory of late.

And as for these “town hall pravadas” (I can only presume he means “pravda”, a reference to the newspaper of the Soviet Union), one of the biggest complaints about the new rubbish scheme was that nobody knew it was coming. People didn’t know there was a new scheme, and they didn’t know their collection day had changed.

I guess we can thank the Tories for that, then.

5) This Government is devolving significant new powers to local councils…Conservatives can be trusted to use these powers well.

You’ve got to be kidding me? Trust them? I don’t trust them with the powers they’ve got at the moment. So far, Wokingham Conservatives have:

  • Introduced a completely unworkable bin scheme as a cover for a stealth tax.
  • Launched a plan to sell off the libraries, without asking anyone.
  • Closed all of the public toilets in the borough.
  • Threatened to close and sell off care homes.
  • Wasted £90,000 on a PR exercise, and God knows how much in the end on the regeneration of Wokingham Town Centre.
  • Ignored the views of residents at every turn.

Would you trust them with more power. I wouldn’t.

Please, don’t vote Conservative today. Send a message that Wokingham deserves better, that it deserves a council that will listen to it, and act in its best interests.

An Election Day Letter to the People of Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe

Dear residents

Today is the day; election day. And the polls are now open, the ballot papers are now read, and I sincerely hope that somewhen in the next fifteen hours you will all be making your way to the polling station to cast your votes.

I have spent the last few weeks working hard, talking to you and distributing leaflets, and offering my policies and stances on the local issues that matter to you. I sadly haven’t managed to speak to all of you, but most of you will by now have seen my leaflet. And if you haven’t, and would still like to, I have made it available online here.

I wanted to take this last opportunity to simply remind you of the importance of your ballot paper. When you stand in the polling booth, you will hold in your hands the power to influence the course that your local government takes. And it is your local government. I know it hasn’t always felt like that, I know that the council haven’t listened to your views, your concerns, your opinions.

But the ballot box is the one thing they cannot ignore.

I have laid out the changes I would make, and how I would conduct myself differently if elected as your councillor. I would put your views and interests first, and I would push the council to consult more and listen more.

The disaster that has been the new rubbish scheme has shown what happens when council stagnates. There is no meaningful debate of ideas, and the assumption that those in power are right presides. The new scheme has been proved ill thought out from the start, and the Conservatives must accept blame for it.

I humbly ask you, today, for your trust, your support and your vote. Throughout this campaign I have tried my utmost to maintain an atmosphere of honesty (I was not afraid to hold my hands up when I got things wrong) and keep the focus on local issues that are within the ambit of the local authority. This is what I would strive to maintain in office.

With that said, I invite you to examine my policies once more. Besides my leaflet, I have made my own views and policies fully available on this blog, and you can read through those blogs here.

I thank you for the time you have invested in reading this, and all of the thousands of other words I have written.

Matthew S. Dent

Labour and Co-operative Party candidate

Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe

Tories and Libraries

The local Conservatives have axed the money put aside for Twyford's new library without a second thought. What do you think they'll do when privatising Wargrave's library?

Last November, when a popular petition forced Wokingham Borough Council to debate the planned privatisation (or “outsourcing” if you prefer, Cllr Keith Baker) of the libraries, we were assured by Cllr UllaKarin Clark that she and her fellow Conservatives cared deeply for the borough’s libraries. My opponent tomorrow in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe, Cllr John Halsall, has said in his election literature that “The Conservatives are commited to the Library service…

But actions always speak louder than words, and on the libraries the Tories’ actions expose and drown out their misleading rhetoric.

From the shambolic performance in the aforementioned debate, where Tory councillor after Tory councillor stood up to lambast and insult the poor foolish people who had signed the petition, to the present situation it has been clear that they don’t care about the library service. They talk the talk when it comes to elections, but between them they utterly fail to walk the walk.

The plans to sell off the libraries was introduced last year, a few days after local elections. There was no discussion of them in election debates, and there was no consultation with the public. It was decided in secret and behind closed doors that they would open for tendering, and then they could complain that their hands were tied and they couldn’t talk about it whilst offers were being made- conveniently forgetting to mention that it could have been discussed before.

And now, as we approach another election, the council have quietly axed £1.3m that was earmarked for a new library in Twyford. At the moment, Twyford library is in a port-a-cabin, and has been for years. The plan, once upon a time, was to put a new library in the unit which the council ended up leasing to Tesco instead. This spectacularly ill-judged decision left to what is probably the best piece of vandalism I’ve ever heard about (and which I in no way endorse, support or excuse).

Finding an alternative venue would have been a pain, but not unachievable. But without the money that had been put aside for it, the dreams of a new library have gotten a lot more distant.

I know this is outside of my patch- though not by much- but my point is this: if the Tories can gleefully axe longstanding plans for a new Twyford library, what will they be prepared to do with Wargrave’s? We’ve been promised that our libraries will be safe under the privatisation plan, but bearing in mind that we heard nothing about it until after the last elections I’m wondering what nasty surprises are going to appear when the tendering process is complete.

Whoever you’re planning on voting for tomorrow, remember this: you won’t get another chance to vote for your local representatives until 2014 at the earliest. By then it will be too late, and whatever plans the Conservatives are keeping under their hats will already be in place. Everyone is pledging to protect the libraries, but there is one party you cannot trust to put the good of the library service ahead of  base profit: the Tories.

Not Fit for Purpose

Cllr Gary Cowan and council waste boss Peter Baveystock proudly show off their new stealth tax wheeze- the green waste bins.

We’re on the eve of the local elections now, and as it’s almost alarming that it’s here so quickly. This has been an exciting election campaign, charged by the fact that people have a fair amount that they want to discuss with the candidates who come to talk to them.

By far the most popular subject is the new rubbish scheme, and I’m afraid the vast, overwhelming majority has not been positive. On the whole, single people and couples without children have no real problem with the scheme, whilst families with children are finding it impractical and unmanageable.

What’s become clear is that this is not simply teething problems. Yes, the execution has been awful. Bags the wrong size have been distributed, they have been carelessly left on doorsteps and stolen, and more than a month into the scheme there are still residents who haven’t received bags.

But the problems with the scheme run deeper than that. I have found myself largely focusing on the blue bags, but the green waste scheme is just as flawed. What was previously a free service now costs £60 (per year) for a brown bin or £1 each for individual compostable bin bags. 5,000 have reportedly signed up for the bins, which is much less than the council expected and has resulted in them halving the number of bins that they’ve ordered- from 10,000 to 20,000.

Let’s look at the money in this for a moment. With 5,000 bins sold at £60 each, the council have already received £300,000. Now, if we take away the cost to the council for each bin (which, after the local budget, we now know is a mere £25) and we get £175,000 profit. An extra £175k to plug the gap in finances created by a smoke-and-mirrors council tax freeze, by paying for a service which was previously paid for by that same council tax. 2,000 bags have been reportedly sold, so that’s £2,000 minus the 15p-per-bag cost to the council: £1,700. So that’s £176,700 made out of the scheme in the first month alone.

And this is just the first year. The charge is annual, but the bins are (I believe) for life. So whilst the first month of the scheme this year has raised £175k, if the same people renew their participation in the scheme next year the council will make the full £300k as profit. I defy anyone to explain to me how this isn’t a stealth tax.

Aside from that, there are the bin bags themselves. “Compostable” might work well as a buzz word, but as Jonny Vaughan pointed out you’re still creating something to be instantly disposed of. And given that they’re compostable, they will fall apart readily. I wonder what all this rain has been doing to them…

Finally, I’ll close with something else I’ve found. Three Mile Cross Info (a blog belonging to a resident of Three Mile Cross village) has posted a letter from the council, which seems to indicate that they are rethinking the legality (questionable at best) of the scheme.

…we have agreed that there will be a review of the collection services in the next few weeks and until then our contractors have been told to accept refuse in any form of plastic bag.

A review, in the next few weeks. Conveniently, just after the election. So here’s where your vote tomorrow counts. If Conservative candidates are returned on mass across the borough, the council will descend back below the parapets to ignore you all until 2014. The only way of smoking them out and making them listen is to hit them where it hurts: and elect non-Tory candidates.

Do not underestimate how much your vote tomorrow will count.

Danger! High Water!

The flood risk for the Wargrave area is not yet anything like this bad (picture from 2008), but it still merits a bit of caution.

No one knows just how bad the weather has been lately more than the election campaigners who have been canvassing up and down the country. The irony of there being a drought and hosepipe ban at the same time as all this rain would probably be a lot more amusing had I not been out in it putting leaflets through doors and talking to residents. I strongly suspect that the occasional respites of blue skies and sunshine are just mother nature mocking me.

Today areas of Ruscombe where I was leafleting were largely submerged. London Road, on the way in from Hare Hatch was particularly bad, as were some of the roads around St James the Great church.

I’ve no objection to wandering around in the rain, really. It’s all part of the democratic process, and I actually enjoy talking to residents. A hot cup of coffee when I get home, and I’m happy enough.

But the downpour has a serious side. Yesterday, the Environmental Agency released flood warnings for the Thames around the Wargrave area. It doesn’t seem to be too serious just yet, and there hasn’t been any announced risk to properties, so there’s no real cause for concern yet.

When you live close to a river it makes sense to be careful, and floods are certainly not to be sniffed at (the devastating floods that hit the country in 2007 are testimony to that). But we’re a long way from any real danger. We just need maybe a pair of wellies (and an umbrella at this rate).