But tough choices ahead

AS the dust settles on another Calderdale Council election, the winners must be thanking their lucky stars they won’t have to run the gauntlet again until 2015.

Eight of the 17 successful candidates were returned with majorities of 200 or less and three secured a cushion of fewer than 100.

Results were close in so many wards partly because of the low turnout - about 40 per cent overall - prompted partly by lack-lustre political campaigning.

Indeed, the number of votes cast was only bolstered by holding the Alternative Vote referendum on the same day.

There could be still less enthusiasm next year and the results even closer as electors struggle to reward one party over another.

All that adds to the pressure on Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors in particular, because they are likely to continue running the authority in coalition.

But they now need to make some important and probably controversial decisions.

The alliance pushed through a joint budget in March and set in train a series of multi-million pound spending cuts, redundancies and structural changes which are only just beginning to filter through.

Elderly and vulnerable people are starting to realise how much more they must pay for care services, motorists are weighing up the cost of higher parking fees, theatre goers the cost of ticket supplements and sports enthusiasts the higher charges for using leisure centres.

Key decisions still to be made on whether to privatise or stop directly delivering leisure services, whether to charge residents for parking permits, to further trim support for schools, to bulldoze Elland swimming pool and the Northgate House administrative HQ, whether to merge museums and how to make the Shay stadium pay for itself.

The council could be left carrying the can for controversial plans for supermarkets in Todmorden and Elland, for not doing enough to tackle traffic congestion and air pollution, and the row is certain to rumble-on over which councillors back the controversial Copley regeneration scheme.

One bright star on the horizon, from which all politicians will try to draw some succour, is the Broad Street Plaza which should be coming to fruition next May after a 15-year delay.

But there is no escaping the fact that inspite of these and other thorny issues, the role of local politicians continues to wane, as it has under successive Governments.

Talks are underway about centralising Calderdale Council’s back office jobs with other West Yorkshire councils and the need to save cash could be extended to administering basic services.

So, the challenge for all councillors and potential candidates before the next election will be to convince voters that it is worthwhile trailing to a polling station to try to influence a Lib-Lab council operating under the auspices of a Con-Lib government.