John Halsall

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.


A Correction – John Halsall and the Henley Standard

On Saturday morning, I posted a blog entitled “The Sincerest Form of Flattery“, in which I highlighted a portion of (my Conservative opponent in the upcoming election) Cllr John Hallsall’s statement in the Henley Standard  this week.

In the blog, I highlighted a sentence which was identical to my campaign line. It has since been brought to my attention by the journalist who wrote the piece that my own words were misattributed to Cllr Halsall, and he did not in fact say the statement in question.

So, in the spirit of fairness and honesty, I withdraw my accusations that he had “borrowed” my line. The blog in question will not be deleted (you’ll find no memory holes here), but I will add an update to the beginning linking to this post. I apologise to Cllr Halsall, and assure him that my mistake was made in good faith in the belief that the attributation was correct.

However, I stand by some of my conclusions in that blog, and I quote them here for ease of reference:

But this doesn’t escape the fact that John is a Conservative councillor and the Conservative candidate. He may well disagree with the actions of the leadership, and think that there is a disconnect. But he is an agent of that leadership, and his power to hold it to account is somewhere between slim and nil.

Re-electing John will send no message to council leaders to whom your votes matter and your voices don’t. Nice man though he undoubtedly is, John Halsall is not a credible candidate for change. But I am. If you want your council to change the way it operates, and to start to ask you what you think of its plans, then vote for me on May 3rd.

I hope that this correction and apology will draw a line under the matter, and will be satisfactory to all involved- in particular John Halsall.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, so I'm taking John Halsall's apparent conversion to my position as a massive compliment.

[UPDATE: Subsequently to publishing this blog, I have discovered that the premise of this blog is based upon a mistake in the Henley Standard article. As a result, I have published this correction of my own claims]

This week’s Henley Standard (published yesterday) contains a “Local Elections 2012” page, in which they give an overview of the candidates standing for election in the areas they cover. Since this includes Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe, there are profiles of myself, Cllr Halsall and the Liberal Democrat candidate Martin Alder.

This is the first sign of direct campaigning from Martin, which is strange for a candidate who put out three leaflets at last summer’ by election. But since it’s been confirmed to me by a neutral resident this week that the Lib Dems haven’t even distributed a leaflet this time, I’m pretty confident that this is part of a strategic concentration of resources.

But it’s Cllr Halsall’s bio that interests me. It’s nothing particularly new or ground-breaking, but there is one line which particularly grabbed my attention:

Both [the bins problem and the libraries issue] show a dangerous disconnect between the council leaders and ordinary people.

Which sounds…familiar. Very familiar, in fact. And looking back through the archives on this very site, I come across this line, from the blog where I declared my candidacy back on April 6th:

At the moment, the Conservative elite who rule Wokingham seem completely disconnected from residents.

In fact, the fact that the council leadership isn’t listening has been the central point of my campaign. Time and again I’ve pointed out serious failings that stem from this simple truth. From the libraries, to the disaster that is the new bin scheme, to the borough’s development “plan”, the message has been clear: the Conservatives don’t care what you think. And it’s very odd to hear my songs sung by others.

Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, so I’m taking John Halsall’s apparent conversion to my position as a massive compliment.

John is a very smart man. I would never seek to deny that, and surely anyone who has spoken to him will recognise it. He’s clearly been knocking on doors, and been hearing the same views from residents as I have. He recognises that his party has a poor record for competence at the moment, both nationally and locally, and that clinging to indefensible positions will only lose him votes and support.

But this doesn’t escape the fact that John is a Conservative councillor and the Conservative candidate. He may well disagree with the actions of the leadership, and think that there is a disconnect. But he is an agent of that leadership, and his power to hold it to account is somewhere between slim and nil.

Re-electing John will send no message to council leaders to whom your votes matter and your voices don’t. Nice man though he undoubtedly is, John Halsall is not a credible candidate for change. But I am. If you want your council to change the way it operates, and to start to ask you what you think of its plans, then vote for me on May 3rd.

Vote for the original, not the tribute band.

My Response to Cllr John Halsall

So I finally have a copy of the Conservative leaflet for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe (thanks to the generosity and sense of fair play of Cllr Halsall himself), and can thus make my response to it.

At last year’s by-election there were five candidates, and so plenty of rival literature for me to blog about. This year only the three main parties are fielding candidates, and if my suspicions that the Lib Dems are focusing their attentions and resources elsewhere are true then this could be the only leaflet (other than my own) that residents see.

So on that note, what does it say?

[Here’s a slightly lower-tech download link, if Scribd isn’t working for you, or a link to the leaflet on if you’d prefer not to download]

The first page has the usual ode to [insert local area here], which to be honest is more or less universally unobjectionable. An interesting addition is a vote of confidence from Theresa May, who “looks forward to working with him over the next four years“. I imagine she’d look forward less to working with me, but given her apparent failure to grasp elementary timekeeping, I might choose to take that as a compliment.

John is also described as “the LOCAL & EXPERIENCED choice”. Which presumably is a shot at my age. I’ll grant that he is more “experienced” than I am, but I’d dispute that age necessarily makes a better councillor. I’d counter that what the council needs is an injection of radical new ideas, that are a bit more grounded in common sense and reality than what the council has been producing lately.

Inside, we’re treated the usual (possibly obligatory?) refrain about how poor Wokingham is. This is the Tories’ first, last and only line of defence against criticism. They have to sell off the libraries/sell off social care/stealth tax residents/treat voters like mugs, because they’re the worst funded local authority in the world. I won’t take up words here dispelling that particular myth, but suffice it to say it isn’t quite as simple as that.

Moving forward, John has identified three key areas where he intends to focus his efforts if re-elected:

  • Roads and traffic: John has correctly identified parking as a problem, especially around the centre of the village. This has been a problem since before I moved to Wargrave, and boils down to two simple facts: too many cars, not enough space to park them. There isn’t a quick or easy fix to this one. Restrict parking, and whilst making residents happy you make local businesses unhappy. Leave it unrestricted, and residents have to compete with customers for parking space. This one is going to run and run.
  • Green belt and planning: John is concerned with the preservation of green-belt land around the village(s). This is a pleasant, rural area, and I imagine a lot of people would agree. I tend to be somewhere in the middle of the “build” and “don’t build” camps. I accept that there is a need for increased housing provision across the borough, but would rather not see my favourite views and walking routes paved over. Of course, what John doesn’t mention is that it’s actually the Conservative-led national government’s planning reforms that are threatening green belt land. Don’t just take it from me; that’s the opinion of the Daily Telegraph.
  • Wargrave library: I’ll admit, this made me giggle. “The Conservatives are committed to the Library service by improving the efficiency of service delivery whilst maintaining and bettering what is offered.” Oh really? Then why are you selling it off? And why, John, are you failing to address the concerns over privatisation, by offering only a bland, manufactured non-statement?

Have you noticed what’s missing though? For the last couple of months, the local press has been alive with the complaints of residents that the new waste scheme is unfit for purpose. I’ve written plenty on this, and have conversed with John himself on the matter by email. But all his leaflet has to say on the matter is that if elected he will:

Address the concerns of the new waste collection scheme

And that’s it. How, John? I’ve quite clearly laid out what I think the council should do. The scheme hasn’t just had teething problems, it has been conceptually flawed from the start. People on the doorstep are angry that this has been sprung on them and that no one is listening to their complaints. This won’t address anyone’s concerns- though I confess it’s a little better than a certain Winnersh candidate’s adamant insistence that the scheme is perfect.

As I’ve said before, I like John Halsall. He is a very nice man, and every time I have had occasion to converse with him he has been polite and a joy to talk to. Sadly, though, this election comes down to policy. I strongly suspect that John himself is displeased with the waste scheme, and the library plans, and a host of other WBC policies. But he’s been left no choice but to try to defend them.

Cllr John Halsall represents the status quo. I can’t promise that I will be able to right all the wrongs in Remenham, Wargave and Ruscombe, because I won’t. But I am the candidate for change, and a change is very definitely what is needed.

A Note on Polite Politics

Politics should be about policy, not personality.

It seems a simple enough idea, and if you asked most people directly I’m pretty sure most would agree. But sadly, it seems far too easy for personality to take centre stage, and political debate to dissolve into playground-style name-calling. Style-over-substance politics seems to have been with us for a while, but the last general election exemplifies it.

Witness the (nominal) victor, Mr David Cameron. Undeniably slicker than any of his opponents, he was excellent with PR. But now, as Prime Minister, he has to walk the walk not just talk the talk. And the shambles of his time in government speaks volumes as to that.

I think the same principle holds in local government. By and large, despite sensationalist headlines in the Daily Mail about fat cat councillors, I don’t believe anyone gets involved in local politics for their own enrichment. My motivations are purely that I disagree with how Wokingham is being run, and I want to do my bit to make it a better place. I would be extraordinarily surprised if the same wasn’t true of my Lib Dem opponent Martin Alder. And whilst I wouldn’t want to brand him with the first part of that statement to him, I’m sure the second part holds true of the Conservative incumbent John Halsall.

I’ve never actually met Martin, and honestly given the silence from him and his party in this campaign I don’t anticipate I will cross blades with him in any significant way. But John I have met and interacted with, and I can tell you here and now that he is a very nice man.

That should not be misconstrued. I disagree fundamentally with his policies, his politics and his ideology. But to take a footballing metaphor, I believe we should always aim to play the ball and not the man.

I can’t read minds, so I don’t know how far he agrees with the council, but I suspect and sympathise that sometimes he will be left defending policies he feels are flawed. I do maintain that he is doing his utmost to make Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe a better place as he sees it. He isn’t bad, he’s just wrong.

As an example, I present an email that appeared in my inbox last night. I had earlier posted a blog in which I asked anyone with a copy of John’s leaflet to send me a picture. When I opened the email, I was confronted with this:

Dear Matthew

Please find enclosed as requested

kind regards

John Halsall

Yes, he had emailed me a PDF copy of his own leaflet. Bravo, sir. I’ve read through it, and there is plenty for me to disagree with, argue with and dispute in it (and I will, in a blog later this evening). But he was more than happy to share it with me, to widen the scope of debate when he could easily have just left me in the dark.

Whilst I do not and can not agree with the policies he espouses, I have a great deal of respect for the man himself. If there were more men like him in the Wokingham Conservative Party, men willing to encourage open debate of policy and issue, then our local politics would be a more vibrant and engaging scene.

Rain Stopped Play

Campaigning in the rain: not fun, but sometimes necessary.

The last few days have been a bit glum, campaigning wise. The rain, whilst good for drought-dried aquifers and budding allotments, is not really a door-knocking candidate’s best friend.

I’ve done campaigning in the rain before, and can tell you that it’s a pretty miserable experience. True, you do sometimes get the pitying resident who perhaps has more time to hear what you have to say because the effort you’re making is more obvious. But on the whole, you just end up wet, miserable and a little dejected.

I’ve already leafleted most of Wargrave now, and was planning to get stuck into the Ruscombe area of the ward this week. Given the weather, and my asthma annoyingly flaring up after a few months’ abeyance, I’ve decided to take a more cautious approach. Rest assured, Ruscombe residents, I will get to you. And in the meantime, you can read my leaflet here.

Of the competition: there is a Tory leaflet going around Wargrave at least. I’m not sure how far it’s propagated, certainly not as far as me, but it does exist. If any kind Wargrave resident wants to provide me with pictures, I’d be much obliged.

On the yellow side of things, I’ve seen absolutely nothing from Martin Alder. It’s a little disappointing really, since he put out three leaflets in last summer’s by-election. It’s pure speculation, but I guess that the Lib Dems might be struggling for resources at the moment, and with three councillors standing down have decided to focus their efforts elsewhere.

Weather has an impact on election results beyond just it’s effect on campaigning. Bad weather will dissuade many from going out to vote, reducing the turnout and potentially drastically distorting the vote. This tends to be unpredictable as to who it advantages- though certainly not representative democracy- but usually those incensed through anger or high passion will be the ones who make the effort.

On the one hand, this is a fairly solidly Conservative ward. On the other, the Tories have done their darnedest to annoy people. At this stage, I’m not even going to try and call it. But if the rain keeps up I may be forced to done the waterproof, take up the umbrella, and hit the campaign trail once more.

But at least it’s good for the potatoes!

Council Tax Revisited

Cllrs Bob Pitts and John Halsall were full of praise when Tory Wokingham Borough froze its share of council tax. Will they be criticising their parish-level colleagues in Wargrave for raising theirs?

The other week, as Wokingham’s local budget drew closer, I had a look at the fallacy inherent in the Conservative obsession with council tax cuts/freezes at all cost. There were a lot of things I had to say about it, chiefly calling for a more nuaunced look at the issue than the “cuts good, rises bad” dichotomy that they stick to.

But in my holding forth on Wokingham’s budget, I’d overlooked this little gem in The Henley Standard. Henley has a town council, under South Oxfordshire District Council, so it makes sense that the Standard would focus on town/parish council level. Here’s what they say (emphasis added):

“The biggest rise is in Sonning Common at 20 per cent, or £6.67 a year extra. Other rises include Peppard at three per cent, Wargrave (2.49 per cent) and Watlington (one per cent). Benson Parish Council is reducing its precept from £69.14 to £68.57 per household.”

I reckon a lot of readers will be particularly shocked at the percentage figure for Sonning Common, but I’m not going to pass judgement on it directly, as I don’t known enough about the parish’s situation. The fact that Wargrave faces an increase interests me.

The thing is that council tax has a number of constituents. There’s the part that goes to the local authority, but for Wargrave residents there are also the precepts charged by Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, and the parish council, as well as the likes of police authorities. It’s already widely known that the Borough Council have taken a one-off government grant to freeze their share, and so have RBFRS.

But parish councils get no such grant, so if they are to freeze or cut their precepts, then they have to bear the pain of it themselves. That isn’t to say that they shouldn’t cut or freeze precepts, but it does seem a bit of a cheek for the Conservatives in power at grant-gifted Borough Council level to be laying into Woodley Town Council for not cutting their precepts.

I don’t really know that much about Wargrave Parish Council’s activities and expenditures. They did have a non-functioning website, but that now seems to have died off completely. As such, I’m not going to lash out with fire and brimstone at them for daring to raise precepts, as I suspect they play a significant role in the excellent biennial Wargrave Festival, and there may be very valid reasons for a minor increase.

However, the two Conservative councillors who represent the village at Borough Council, Bob Pitts and John Halsall (both of whom live outside of the parish, though still within the ward- in Ruscombe and Remenham respectively) both lent considerable rhetorical support to the local budget, praising Wokingham for freezing its share of council tax. Given that Wargrave Parish Council is conservative with a small c if not with a capital C, and given that Mr Halsall will be standing against me for re-election in May, I wonder whether they would support the parish councillors, or damn them as their colleagues did Woodley Town Council?

There is room for both hypocrisy and idiocy here.

A Smoke and Mirrors Budget

For a document that was supposed to say where local taxpayers' money is going, the budget left a lot of confusion about what is being spent on what.

I’ve spent a while sat here, trying to decide where to start with this recount of last night’s local budget debate. I think I’ll begin with the esteemed John Halsall, councillor for Remenham Wargrave & Ruscombe and my opponent in last July’s (and the coming May’s) election. On his feet, speaking during the debate, Cllr Halsall claimed that this budget was preventing Wokingham from turning into Greece.

That is the sort of night, and the sort of debate, that it was.

The budget passed of course, though with the Conservatives having a majority of 36 (and all of them willing to gush over it like it was the second coming of Christ) you’d be staggered if it hadn’t. The Lib Dems abstained on all but the last vote, which they voted against. Which probably means something grand, but I’ll let them spin it for themselves to be honest.

So what was the most notable thing about this budget?

It wasn’t the that the council’s plans to limit the number of household waste disposal bags to residents, and sell them extras, is probably illegal. It wasn’t Cllr Anthony Pollock (executive member for finance) saying that the council were “right” to keep the public in the dark about the budget. It wasn’t the fact that the Tories demanded to know why nobody had come up with amendments and alternative budgets, despite the budget only being released for a week. It wasn’t the obsession with a short-sighted council tax freeze that will require a 2.5% hike next year just to maintain the same funding level without the one-year central grant. It wasn’t the endless tiresome (and inaccurate) claims that Wokingham is the worst funded local authority in the country.

It wasn’t even the mindblowing revelation that the council makes a frankly embarrassing profit on the green waste bins and bags it will be selling under its new scheme. (Incidentally, the council will be charging £60 for the bins and a previously free service. The bins cost them £25. That’s a profit of 48.3%. Similarly, the bags will be sold for £1 each, but cost the council only  15p each- a profit margin of 85%!)

No, far and away the worst thing was just how much of the local authority finances were not included within it. This is the real danger of the way Wokingham Borough Council has been operating. Over the last few years, many parts of local government in the borough have been spun off into separate and private companies. Adult social care is now handled by Optalis Ltd. Wokingham Enterprise Ltd controls the town centre regeneration.

These bodies don’t appear on the budget in their own right. Why not? And since the plan is still to sell off the library service (which Cllr UllaKarin Clark had the audacity to boast in as she packages up and price-tags it), how will that fare? Will it too disappear off into a black hole of unaccountability?

It is, really, just the same as the games before the budget was released. The Conservative administration believe they have an absolute right to rule, which will never be taken away, and thus there is no need for them to be at all open in their activities. They have failed any openness test, and as Cllr Pollock’s attitude shows up, they don’t care.

Cllr David Lee, leader of the council made some bold promises tonight:

“We will not cut any services, we will not cut our contributions to voluntary services, we will not raise council tax, and we will maintain our reserves.”

The question of the hour, Cllr Lee, would be how? And from everything that I have seen tonight it is a question which seems still to be worryingly unanswered.

But, at least Wokingham isn’t going to turn into Greece. Thank God for that.

The Henley Standard on Wokingham Libraries

The Henley Standard's article on the Wokingham Borough Council's library privatisation debate

And here we come to the last of the local papers to cover Wokingham Borough Council’s petition-triggered libraries debate, but blimey it’s a fairly heavy article.

They’ve taken the time to get quotes not only from me, but from Cllr UllaKarin Clark (the executive member for internal services) and my old friend Cllr Keith Baker (executive member for whatever he feels like at the time, it seems), as well as Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe’s own Cllr John Halsall.

The result is what feels like a fairly well balanced article, and I’m glad that it touches on the disorganisation of the debate as that was something I really felt let residents down. It’s not just the fact that the Conservatives are prepared to steamroller the privatisation (or “outsourcing”, if you prefer Keith) through over public objection, but that they are so unused and unprepared for democratic challenge that they fall to pieces when it raises its head.

At any rate, I’ll quote a portion of the article text for you here:

…Matthew Dent, of Newalls Rise, Wargrave, who attended the meeting accused the council of misleading the public.

Mr Dent, who was the Labour candidate in a by-election for the Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe seat on the borough council in July, said: ‘The council claims that it is outsourcing rather than privatising the library service as it will not be selling off the buildings, only the service.

‘However, any private comany to come in on a contract with the council would be looking to make a profit and if it hasn’t the control to close libraries then it will look for other ways to save money.

‘This, I suspect, will mean reducing opening hours, increasing fines and fees and cutting staff wages or staff themselves. Any of these would result in an inferior service.

‘If a company finds that a profit is impossible to make, it will walk away from the contract, leaving the council with an extra financial burden to take it over again.’

Mr Dent, an author, added: ‘The executive had evidently not prepared for the debate, clearly relying on the fact that their overwhelming political majority to force through anything they wanted and vote down any challenge, which indeed happened.

‘Given that this was the first debate triggered by public petition, it was a frightening mixture of arrogant disinterest and witless incompetence’

I presume that, with all of the local papers now having had a say, the Tories hope this will fade away as an issue now. They may be right, but I don’t intend to let this go.

Come May, I intend to stand in the local elections, and I intend to make this the central issue of my campaign again. I’m not sure how much difference I can make, but I remain convinced that if the people of Wokingham Borough speak up for their interests, even the Conservative Party cannot stand in their way.

Letter in the Wargrave News

My letter in the Wargrave News, responding to Cllr John Halsall

This is a first for me. I have a letter in the monthly village newsletter, and am disproportionately proud of it.

Just by way of background, Cllr John Halsall (who some of you may remember as my Tory opponent in the Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe by-election) has taken up a monthly column in the Wargrave News, in which he keeps residents informed of goings on at the borough council. Of which I am wholly in support; engaging more with people on a local level is exactly what local politics needs to do.

However, last month (October) his column contained a passage which I couldn’t allow to stand unchallenged:

“[Wokingham is] the worst funded unitary authority in the country per head of population. (Business rates go directly to Government.)

The thing is that whilst this is true, it is- as Cllr Halsall, a very intelligent man, undoubtedly knows- not the entire truth. Wokingham does receive the lowest central government grant of all local authorities in the country, and business rates do go directly to Westminster. However, Cllr Halsall makes a comparison with Slough (Wokingham, he claims, gets £125 per person, whereas Slough gets £441 per person), which confuses the matter. You see, Wokingham is a much wealthier area with many more taxpayers in Band D (paying 100% of council tax) and above, than in Slough. So they have a much higher taking of council tax, despite having a lower rate, because it is paid by more people.

Anyway, in my letter I said:

Dear Editor,

I note with Pleasure that Cllr John Halsall has taken up a column in the Wargrave News, with which to keep residents informed of his activities as local councillor. As a strong believer in localism and local democracy, I gladly welcome this.

However, I also note that in his last column (14 October 2011) he highlights that Wokingham receives the lowest government grant per head of any council in the country. but he fails to make clear that as a particularly well-off area, Wokingham receives more in council tax receipts than Slough or Reading (the contrasts he makes), as it has more residents in higher council tax bands.

I’m sure this couldn’t have been an attempt to contort the facts and make it appear that Wokingham is financially less well-off than is in fact the case. I’m sure that it was simply an honest oversight on the part of Cllr Halsall, and thus am happy to clarify the situation for him.

Matthew S. Dent

I’ve since discovered that this little yarn is a favourite of the Conservatives on the council. At the council meeting last Thursday (17th November) David Lee (the leader of the council) commented on it twice during the course of the meeting. Whilst I would, of course, welcome more money for the people and services of Wokingham, such cynical twisting of the facts is dishonest and quite clearly designed to buy leeway with the public for the Conservatives’ ideological games, and general inefficiency and incompetence.

At any rate, I look forward to December’s column from Cllr Halsall. By rights, he should talk about the libraries debate. I wonder whether he’ll mention the executive’s utter disorganisation, or just parrot the party line on “outsourcing not privatisation”?