(This is a copy of a leaflet for the May local elections which got a good reaction. A couple of people have asked me if I'd make it available online)
To be brutally honest there are serious limits to the amount anyone can achieve on the District Council. The funding from national government for local councils was cut by over 40% in the last Parliament and a further £10 billion was cut immediately after the general election. At the same time the average age of the local population is rising which is increasing demand for several council services.
So why would anyone be mad enough to stand for election to local government or to bother to turn up and vote when most decisions will be dominated by a severe shortage of cash? I think there are a number of reasons why it is important to do so.
For over 60 years all political parties agreed that it was important to maintain strong controls over building developments and to protect the green belt. Now that is under threat on our own doorstep. The government has introduced a set of planning laws which make it much easier for developers to build whatever they choose and much harder for local elected representatives to insist that only sensible things are built. I strongly support increasing the supply of affordable, well built, homes in the right places with the right facilities and high environmental standards. An appropriate development of Cononley Mill would be a good example. I do not support dumping unwanted luxury homes on green fields to the great inconvenience of local residents. I want to do my best, within the severe restraints of the current legislation, to make sure local people are protected against aggressive short sighted developments.
Legislation has been passed, with our local MP voting for it, that permits drilling for gas beneath national parks provided that the drilling starts outside it. There is therefore a risk that someone will decide to start fracking beneath the Dales from the beautiful countryside just outside. Already companies are trying to do this at Ryedale. I am opposed to fracking. It cannot be done safely because it involves releasing large amounts of water and chemicals deep underground using a process that triggers thousands of very small earthquakes which damage the drilling equipment. No one can predict where the water and chemicals will go. Large amounts of traffic and disruption are needed in order to dispose of the toxic water that is pumped out of the well and it will be difficult to dispose of this safely. I also believe this would increase our dependence on a fossilised relic technology and we would be massively better off investing in energy conservation and putting our country at the forefront of the next wave of technology driven by renewable energy.
3. Local opportunities
There has been a lot of talk recently about a Northern Powerhouse but little money. London got £14 billion just for Crossrail. I believe Craven District Council needs to be pro-active to ensure that the locality gets a significant share of investment across the north which is on a comparable scale. We need the Skipton to Colne railway link approved & financed to give our community better access to jobs in Manchester & local business income from increased visitor numbers. I also think we should actively take advantage of new opportunities coming into Leeds City Region but also be working across North Yorkshire to make sure rural communities are protected. An important part of that is maintaining a local bus service and fostering easy and cheap super fast broadband access.
The damage to local services coming from national funding reductions has been so severe that even David Cameron has complained about cuts in Oxford. If we are going to maintain any kind of decent services in Craven then we will need a strong focus on running the service efficiently. We should stop the constant top down re-organisations of the service and focus on trusting the professionals to do it well. We need to support those professionals by giving them clear & efficient leadership. Whilst individual councillors have tried hard to do that, I am not convinced that the current Craven District Council has always succeeded. It is not good for a council to be governed by one party for a very long period of time and I think it is time for that party to come under much stronger challenge when it is wrong and to get equally strong support when it is merited.
Why Do I Think I Could Help?
The political allegiance of a local councillor isn't particularly important. What matters more is whether that person is energetic, open minded, prepared to listen properly to local people and is interested in judging each issue fairly rather than on the basis of the party line. It can help with this if the councillor has some experience of battling to achieve things in the face of government bureaucracy. I have considerable experience of doing that successfully.
I am a retired college lecturer who was Deputy Principal of Keighley College, Director of Hillsborough College in Sheffield, Executive Director of the Learning and Skills Council in the Black Country and Regional Director of Young People's Learning for Yorkshire and the Humber. This means that I have directly managed a college looking after over 2,000 full time students which employed over 300 staff. I have also been responsible for managing over £2 billion of government funding for schools across the whole of the North of England. In every job I did I managed to improve the quality of the service at the same time as cutting costs and increasing the number of people who benefitted.
I very much doubt that one independently minded councillor can achieve that on Craven District Council in the current circumstances. I do believe my experiences may enable me to ask some of the right questions, prevent some mistakes and spot some opportunities. I think that would be a worthwhile thing to do with some of my time in retirement. If you would like to give me the opportunity to try to do that on your behalf then please make sure you are registered to vote and turn out in May.