2013 local elections

Nationally, the big story was the surge in UKIP support. Of course, they gained about 140 councillors, while Labour gained 291 (undoing the losses from 2009). And I have seen claims – and no evidence to disprove them – that UKIP didn’t take any Labour seats. In the South Shields by-election, the ‘shock’ was UKIP coming second, but it was a distant second to the Labour victor.

The big losers were the Tories, who are either calmly putting it down to mid-term protest votes or panickedly urging the government to tack rightwards and bash Europe and immigrants. The Lib Dems had a bad time, but more so in the areas they don’t do that well in, and where UKIP were not so active. The Greens made gains around the country.

But as these are Shire county elections in the main (with a couple of Mayoral elections – two gains for Labour there), they are not necessarily going to reflect the national picture, so even trends compared to 2009 may be distorted compared to other local elections years. Still, putting the projected national vote share from the Beeb (Lab 29%, Con 25%, UKIP 23%, LDs 14%) into UNS seat predictors for a General Election gives Labour a slim majority – a feature of First Past the Post that will perhaps have Tories ruing their opposition to AV two years ago.

But, Rugby. Well, Warwickshire before that. The Tories lost control to a hung council, seeing seats in the north of the county fall. Labour gained 12 seats from the 2009 result to be not far behind, but far enough that it would be difficult to try and run the council in coalition. The Lib Dems lost a few to go down to 9 seats, and could hold the balance of power, but I hear that neither of the main parties wants to treat with them. The Greens gained two (one from the leader of the Tories up in Nuneaton, one from Labour in Leamington), and there were two new independents to add to the one already there.

UKIP didn’t put many candidates up, although they did get about 20% or so of the vote when they did – but that wasn’t enough to win a seat, just get some second places. I was surprised that they didn’t have candidates across all of the areas affected by HS2, given their stance on it and how they’d been claiming last week it would make a difference in Warwickshire. Are they not well organised around here, or perhaps better at vetting candidates than other UKIP branches?

The pattern seems to show that Nuneaton and North Warwickshire parliamentary seats are very likely to go back to Labour in 2015. Leamington & Warwick and Rugby seem a little more tenacious.

In Rugby, UKIP were somewhat of a factor, perhaps – and they may be wishing they had stood elsewhere or had more candidates. Labour gained three seats in the town, partly perhaps due to Tory defectors to UKIP, but also it has to be said due to a fairly consistent swing across the town of 9-10% from Tory to Labour. I would say that the main difference UKIP made was to increase the size of Labour majorities there.

I know Labour were hopeful of winning Admirals back, having lost it in 2009, but it is an area that has changed a lot since last being won by a Labour candidate – Cawston Grange having been developed greatly in that period). Had UKIP stood and got the 20-25% they did elsewhere, however, it could easily have been another Labour gain.

In places where Labour has in recent times been in third place – such as the two-seat divisions of Hillmorton & Eastlands and Caldecott, they are right in the mix. The Lib Dems comfortably won in Hillmorton & Eastlands, but one of the Labour candidates was third ahead of the Tories (and while the other Labour candidate was sixth, the combined Labour vote was higher than the Tory vote). Caldecott saw the Tories hold, but with a cut majority and with Labour and Lib Dem candidates so close they alternated places. Caldecott may be another seat where a UKIP candidacy might have had a major impact.

Outside the Town, the Tories saw their majorities hit, but even in Fosse where UKIP took a chunk these are pretty solid seats for blue. The exceptions, as for last year’s Borough elections, were ex-Tory Howard Roberts winning as an Independent in Dunchurch (causing some mean-spirited comments from some jilted Tories) and Labour taking a seat from the Tories in Bulkington – Dunchurch is in Rugby Borough but not the Parliamentary seat, Bulkington is in Nuneaton & Bedworth Borough but is in the Rugby Parliamentary seat.

In my own race, the by-election for Bilton in the Borough Council, I came third, behind a safely re-elected Tory and a strong showing from UKIP. I did manage to come above the strong local Lib Dem candidate Bill Lewis, which was my main aim. It would have been nice to come second and reduce the Tory majority, but it was not to be.

So what does it tell us? Well, if Labour are to retake the Rugby seat in the General Election, it seems there is more to do. However the swing was large (and larger than the national average), which is better than the 2011 and 2012 Borough elections. The Lib Dems appear to be spent as a force outside the Eastern corner and Overslade/Caldecott, and so their 2010 support appears to be moving away. The Greens and TUSC are still putting up candidates but at the end of the day not really making many inroads – Green share of the vote fell where they stood in Rugby (even if they are doing rather better in other parts of the County). So it seems that the problem of a ‘split left vote’ is less acute for Labour than before. The Tories have been until now successful at holding their vote, but this time did see it slip, especially when the ‘split right vote’ problem emerged in the form of UKIP.

If UKIP in and around Rugby start to build up to the level of activity they have in other areas, they could well be a major headache for the Tories – next year sees Borough elections for the least secure seats won in 2012 and the European elections. But it’s still very uncertain whether that would carry through to a General Election. For Labour, it does have to be about getting a good candidate (and there should be one in place soon) and trying to win on our own terms.

The last four years

I dug out my old bills. The place we were renting from 2009 was Band D, so I have been able to find the correct figures for all of the years covering the Council Tax freeze. What I can see is that there has been a small variation each year

RBC base amount (charged to all households across the Borough)

2009/10: £128.772010/11: £128.59   -£0.18
2011/12: £128.94  +£0.35
2012/13: £128.94   no change
2013/14: £127.67  -£1.27

Net change after 4 years: -£1.10

Town Area precept (charged to households not in a Parish Council area)

2009/10: £64.72
2010/11: £64.58  -£0.14
2011/12: £63.42  -£1.16
2012/13: £63.14  -£0.28
2013/14: £66.27  +£3.13

Net change after 4 years: +£1.55

Total Council Tax for RBC in Town Area:

2009/10: £193.49
2010/11: £193.17  -£0.32
2011/12: £192.36  -£0.81
2012/13: £192.08  -£0.28
2013/14: £193.94  +£1.86

Net change after 4 years: +£0.45

Read the rest of this entry »

@RugbyBC replies…

Today I chased up the Rugby Borough Council twitter feed guy (as I write some of my tweets are to the right, but I suspect they won’t be there for long), and got a series of replies:

Now, there are two things here. The tweeter for RBC is apologising for answering my question (see previous post) incorrectly. I asked specifically if the Town precept would go up, they said it wouldn’t, but it has. That looks like being a simple error, and I accept the apology and understand how it happened.

However, I still believe that the RBC press release, which I also quoted before, was incorrect in that it put the average increase down to Parish Council precepts. Clearly the increase is down to the Town Area charge.

That it appeared in all three budgets is interesting. To explain, this means it featured in the Budget that was passed, based on the Conservative administration’s proposals, and also on the amended budgets put forward by the opposition Labour and Liberal Democrat groups. I suspect that it because what usually happens is that a draft budget is worked up by the council officers along with the Cabinet, and this is what leads to the Conservative group proposal. The opposition can move amendments to it, or create a whole budget from scratch. They usually do the former, picking up particular items to add or remove (or change/delay).

What this tells me is that it’s not necessarily a political decision how to set the Town Area Precept, but that it’s more likely to be part of the more detailed work done by the officers. Obviously it is still passed by the full council as part of the budget, but it seems to be regarded as not being a headline and more of a low level detail.

What concerns me is that this means there is less oversight and accountability about how it is set than there is for a Parish precept. Maybe in previous years it went the other way – the RBC base amount going up, the Town Area precept going down – but that still doesn’t make it right.

I checked last year’s bill. The RBC portion remained the same, and the Town Area precept went down by 0.4% (28p for a Band D). I didn’t notice that because it was so small, and there was a larger increase due to the Police Authority at the same time.

The point is, that the precept for ‘exclusive’ services in the town is determined by Rugby Borough Council, and forms a significant part of the Council Tax that is earmarked for RBC. I will see what I can find out concerning the history of the precept (and the base amount), and how it compares to a ‘four year freeze’

Addendum 19 March – the original text had the reduction for the previous year as ‘about 2p’, which was meant to be ‘about 25p’. The exact figure has now been put in – 28p for a Band D)

Pave the Earth?

At last month’s budget setting meeting, Rugby Borough Council decided (due to a Tory majority) to spend about £500,000 on getting designs for pedestrianising more of the town centre (basically along North Street where the bus stops and taxi rank currently sit) and consulting local people and businesses on them.

While town centre pedestrianisation schemes may not be the most controversial subject in the world, what I think should be addressed is the question of whether it is really a good idea to spend loads of money on this now. Read the rest of this entry »

When a Council Tax freeze is a 1% increase

The local Tories have been claiming that the Council Tax has been frozen by Rugby Borough Council for the fourth year in a row. For example, Cllr Michael Stokes  made the claim in a post attacking his former colleague Howard Roberts. Our MP Mark Pawsey wanted to use it to suck up to David Cameron, and tweeted this:

Regrettably not called at PMQs so unable to refer to Rugby’s Council Tax freeze for 4th yr in a row

— Mark Pawsey (@MarkPawsey) February 27, 2013

And the Borough Council’s press release is quite clear:

Rugby Borough Council’s share of residents’ council tax bills is to be frozen for the fourth year in a row, after councillors set the authority’s budget for 2013/14 on Tuesday (26 February).

The freeze means that the average charge for a Band D property will be £187.88 for the year – a small increase of 70p due to increases in parish council precepts.

The problem is that this is not true. For most of the Borough’s households the RBC part of the bill has risen by 1%

What has actually happened is the following: Read the rest of this entry »

A Tory ‘Independent’ and an ‘Independent’ Tory

The election for a Police and Crime Commissioner isn’t supposed to be particularly controversial. In Warwickhire we have three candidates at the moment  - Ron Ball, Fraser Pithie and James Plaskitt.

Ron Ball is standing as an Independent. He was recently making noises to the local press about how it was wrong that the other candidates were political, representing political parties, and that he was untainted by such associations.

Turns out that he’s been a member of the Conservative Party for years, and tried to get them to nominate him as their candidate. Instead they chose Fraser Pithie.

Fraser Pithie claims also to be not ‘political’, despite the fact that he’s been an elected councillor in the past, and also having recently said that the PCC elections could be used to boost the fortunes of local Conservative MPs and candidates.

There was another Independent candidate, Andrew Moss. Moss is the only candidate to have been a full time serving police officer (Pithie has been a ‘Special’), and recently withdrew in favour of Ron Ball to avoid splitting the independent vote. I wonder how he feels now, knowing what has been revealed about the political past of Mr Ball?

In the meantime, James Plaskitt is the only other  choice, and the only one of the current candidates who is not a Tory. He’s not hiding his political past – he was MP for Leamington & Warwick for 13 years, so it’s pretty obvious. He is also clearly against the current government policies of cuts and increased private involvement in policing.

Humphrey fined. Press ‘confused’

Last week, Craig Humphrey was fined £200 (plus having to pay another £95 in costs and charges) and given 6 points on his licence for the offence of driving without insurance. This was the allegation against him that was hidden for months before it emerged via rumour.

In the Coventry Telegraph there’s a report about it that is largely factual. But there’s one part that makes no sense whatsoever:

Driving with no insurance is a non-indictable offence and as such should not affect his position at the council.

The thing is that ‘non-indictable’ is contradicted by the facts. Humphrey was charged, and as a result the case taken to the Magistrates Court at Coventry. So he was ‘indicted’. What’s more, he was found guilty. I assume he pled ‘guilty’, which is to his credit, but that doesn’t affect the verdict. Chances are it was a ‘fixed penalty’ that was ratified by the magistrates, but the point is that driving without insurance is an offence.

This article on the government department’s website does not mention anywhere that driving without insurance is ‘non-indictable’ in any situation. On the contrary, it seems to be about how potentially serious it is.

The other thing is that the last part ‘should not affect his position at the council’ is actually word for word part of a response that was given some time ago – when this first came out – but is frankly opinion rather than fact.

I think we will find that there are quite a few people for whom being found guilty of driving without insurance and/or getting 6 points will result in them losing their jobs. Not that this should be automatic for Humphrey, but it seems a little premature to say that it ‘should not’ affect his position.

Why should it not potentially affect his position? He is leader of a council (with some additional responsibilities usually held by Chief Executives), in a position of responsibility affecting tens of thousands of people and with a budget of £millions. As a public servant, it is incumbent upon him to uphold the law. As a councillor, he is bound by Codes of Conduct that deal not just with how someone acts in their role as a councillor, but how they behave generally – particularly in public.

And why is a local newspaper parroting a defence of him as if it’s part of the factual report, especially when the next lines are:

Neither the council nor Mr Humphrey were available for comment.

???

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