COLUMN: Talking Politics - We would restore trust in local democracy

Coun Steven Leigh, Calderdale Conservative Group Leader on the completion of the Budget process

By Zoe Drye
Thursday, 17th March 2022, 11:00 am
Criticism: Public are being kept in the dark, says Coun Leigh
Criticism: Public are being kept in the dark, says Coun Leigh

They say that a week is a long time in politics. International events in the last couple of weeks have been so immense and world-threatening that local politics have quite understandably not been at the forefront of the thoughts and priorities of the nation. But nevertheless, a lot of things have been happening recently in Calderdale which are very important to local residents and businesses.

Firstly, the council has completed the Budget process and set Council-Tax rates for the year ahead. The Budget process was hindered due to a number of decisions taken by the Labour Cabinet – behind closed doors – which meant that we had to include spending commitments adopted by the Cabinet – with which we disagreed. We had several spending proposals in our Budget which did not find favour with the Labour-controlled council – but we believe that there are some obvious and relatively easy-to-implement measures which would really benefit the borough. Our Budget provided extra funding to fix potholes. This would fix an additional 3,400 potholes every year and would help to repair up to 10 per cent of our road network each year thus preventing damage to vehicles and keeping our roads safer. Our Budget also made provision for fighting fly-tipping. Rural areas of Calderdale have been particularly targeted by fly-tippers, and in our Budget we planned to recruit more wardens and deploy additional cameras to catch the offenders and take them to court. We also budgeted to keep our neighbourhoods tidy, by allowing us to hire two additional teams to deal with litter and graffiti, keep our parks clean, and maintain our gardens and green spaces to higher standards.

Not only is the Labour-run council failing Calderdale, but there is also a very disappointing lack of transparency and insufficient scrutiny of decision-making. The Labour Cabinet is averse to being held to account and for information to be available to the public. At the council meeting on February 9 Labour curtailed questions, and councillors were therefore denied the opportunity to speak up for their residents. At the same meeting, Labour made the item on the new Halifax leisure centre, ‘Exempt’ – and thereby withholding the latest escalating costs of the scheme – which lacks the facilities already on offer at Halifax Swimming Pool. Furthermore, the Conservative motion regarding the closure of libraries was disallowed for legal reasons – a motion we wanted to propose because of our concerns about lack of public consultation and what we perceive to be a failure to uphold our statutory responsibilities to provide an adequate library service. The plain fact is that opposition parties are being locked-into into decisions in which we were not consulted and cannot change, and worse still, important information is not being made available to the public. The public are being kept in the dark about decisions which are being made behind closed doors. A Conservative-run council would turn things around, restore trust in local democracy, and be honest with the public about decision-making and where public money is being spent.