The Southampton revolution
One of the most impressive Conservative gains in the local elections last May was in Southampton, where the Conservatives were swept to power on a radical programme. Here the Council leader Cllr Alec Samuels outlines what is happening there.
We are pledged never to impose a council tax above inflation, and preferably lower. We do not in principle favour “free this and free that”, eg swimming or transport, school means or computers or whatever it is, because it always involves earmarking for particular groups, and not everybody wants to swim or go by bus or whatever. We prefer to leave money in people’s pockets so that they can spend their money as they wish.
We are concerned at the deteriorating position of pensioners, so we are introducing a 10% discount on council tax for households comprising solely pensioners over pension age.
Also we are introducing 100% discount for special constables, who give their services free to help protect the public. The Chief Constable is very supportive of this idea.
In order to support the economy, we support business and employment. The first call on developers’ contributions is recruitment and training of local labour. The improvement of the local principal road network has a high priority, in answer to business requests. Infrastructure is the key to future prosperity. A business improvement district (BID) proposal is strongly supported. As a comparatively small city, under 250,000 and built up to the boundaries, we have eagerly joined with our neighbouring local authorities in the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (PUSH), principally for joint sub regional economic advance.
With many council house units, built in the 1950s and 1960s and reaching the end of their useful life, we are going for estate regeneration, in conjunction with the private sector, to build new more dense but much better equipped public and private sector housing.
For ideological reasons we are going for outsourcing, externalisation, privatisation, wherever possible and sensible, especially but not exclusively in the leisure and recreation area. Naturally there is a lot of in-house resistance. We have outsourced to Capita, a very large firm specialising in these things, much of the administrative work, eg housing and revenue benefits, customer enquiries, IT, property, seeking expertise and investment not otherwise available to us. Waste collection and disposal and crematoria and such activities are candidates for the future. Unless we have a pressing need for retention, we are disposing of assets (through carefully watching the current not very favourable market). We may even sell some pictures, not on trust, mostly stored in the basement, to raise money for new exciting heritage and discovery projects. We shall commemorate the loss of the Titanic in April 2012
In education, struggling with poor attendance and performance, we are encouraging variety and diversity, academies, trusts, sixth forms, whatever the professionals can persuade us as worthy policies.
The growing problem of the need for support for the frail elderly has a high priority. Preventative support services are the key, domiciliary assistance, community assistance, and independent personalised budgets where the elderly so wish.
Finally, the voluntary sector does wonders, and but for them the local authority would have to provide the service, which would be not so good and more expensive, so maximum support is given to the sector.