Cuts? No, it’s just a ‘poorly-run council’ claims top Tory
Senior Conservatives arrive in Camden ahead of May 3 council elections
29 March, 2018 — By Richard Osley and Tom Foot
Gavin Williamson with Conservative councillor Leila Roy
DEFENCE Secretary Gavin Williamson enraged Labour council chiefs by insisting the Town Hall was simply “poorly run” after being asked about unprecedented cuts to local authorities.
With the boroughwide elections just five weeks away, he met Conservative activists in the streets around the Chalcots estate in Belsize Park to add some frontbench fame to the party’s doorstep canvassing options.
Asked whether he thought councils like Camden were struggling with more than £80million worth of budget cuts ordered by his government, he made no concession. “What you see actually, is you see a poorly-run local authority,” he insisted, before suggesting that an attentive Tory response to last summer’s fire safety evacuation on the Chalcots was more relevant to voters.
He added: “You see Conservative councillors representing local people in a vocal way, making a real difference. After the tragic tragedy of Grenfell you saw local [Conservative] councillors being involved in properly representing their community and making a real difference, where frankly the local council seems to turn its back on many people and not make the difference that people expect them to.”
Asked again about the cuts to budgets, Mr Williamson said: “The government continues to support all councils. You saw local Conservative councillors make a real difference as a local Labour council messed things up, not properly representing their residents.”
While bookmakers are not taking bets on Labour retaining control of the council at the May 3 elections and there have been warnings that the borough could become a near one-party state, the Belsize ward has one of the few three-way contests. Labour is looking to unseat the Tories, while the Liberal Democrats are mounting a challenge, with former councillor Tom Simon among candidates. During a short exchange with the New Journal, Mr Williamson was asked about his party’s poor election results in Camden.
His analysis: “Well, we obviously sort of saw during the general election that in different parts of the country, the message worked in different ways.”
Georgia Gould, the Labour council leader
On Monday evening, Labour Town Hall leader Councillor Georgia Gould, who ordered the evacuation of the Chalcots following fire safety tests in the wake of the Grenfell disaster, said: “He said we turned our back on residents over fire safety. This council is investing £100million on fire safety and, despite promises from national government, we’ve not had a penny. Not just in Camden, no one around the country has had any money to invest in urgent fire safety works.”
She told Conservative councillors: “If you are worried about austerity, maybe you should spend more time fighting the austerity tearing apart our communities.”
Make bin collections a priority, urges Morgan
FORMER education secretary Nicky Morgan said cuts meant local authorities must “prioritise” what they want to spend money on, suggesting cash should be found for bin collections and grass-cutting.
She became the second high-profile Conservative in less than a week to join the local election campaign as she helped out on Monday evening with door-knocking in Hampstead, where the party is looking to hold three seats on the council.
“When we came into government in 2010, we were overspending massively,” said Ms Morgan. “We were spending more on debt interests than the schools budget, for example. “My husband is the leader of a borough council, so I do know what it’s like. They do have to prioritise. Things like bin collections, grass-cutting. These do make people’s lives much better. Some councils have done very well.”
Stephen Stark, Maria Higson, Nicky Morgan and Oliver Cooper
The MP, who used to live in Sumatra Road, West Hampstead, said finances would get tighter if her government botched the UK’s Brexit deal. “If we get the Brexit deal wrong, we are going to have a wholly different debate about funding,” said Ms Morgan, a staunch supporter of the Remain campaign. “We are going to be struggling to fund those services and getting enough taxes. There is a real issue about getting enough people to stay.”
But she added that residents in the May 3 elections were more likely to vote based on local issues – rather than the country’s divorce from Europe. “The political establishment and Westminster are probably still talking about Brexit,” she said. “Everyone else, looking at these leaflets, is probably talking about issues much more relevant to them. People always vote according to their own interests.”
She added: “If you feel really strongly about Brexit, it still resonates. If you have got to the stage when you accept the country is leaving, or enthusiastically voted to leave, then I think people want to move on to other things.”
Ms Morgan was meeting candidates Oliver Cooper, Maria Higson and Stephen Stark.
“Two years ago I was part of a fight against a poodle parlour that was going to open up in South End Green,” said Councillor Stark. “People were concerned about the hairs. They didn’t have the right extractor. It went through planning and we fought it tooth and nail. “A lot of people we are canvassing now are saying that you helped us. You helped us fight that planning application. “They remember that. People who vote for who is going to fight for them.”