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Demanding Better for Wiltshire

February 26, 2019 12:50 PM

Wiltshire Liberal Democrats today have launched their vision for Wiltshire. Budget statement 1


This document is the start of a process of developing a fully costed Liberal Democrat manifesto for the Wiltshire Council elections in 2021. It sets out the Lib Dem approach and our immediate priorities for Wiltshire. It is the first step in a process that will include discussions and consultation with residents, businesses and the impressive array of community groups and organisations that make up our diverse county.

Current Wiltshire Council Performance

Wiltshire Council has been controlled by the Conservatives since its creation in 2009. During that time, it has had one leader and little or no change to its policy agenda.

The current administration has become too timid, ignoring opportunities that other authorities grab with relish. Wiltshire can learn much from the experience of other local authorities of all political shades: South Somerset and their approach to achieving income from commercial and residential development; Dorset's pro-active approach to revenue from advertising; Cornwall has shown tremendous ambition to build new homes across their county; Shropshire's creation of community partnerships; we have seen the benefit of the Shared Lives initiative in North Somerset (something which the Lib Dems have pushed for in Wiltshire).

Wiltshire Council is full of outstanding officers who are committed to making the lives of Wiltshire residents better and the current administration should receive credit where it is appropriate. However, Wiltshire needs a change in leadership.

The Lib Dem critique of the current administration's approach is 'Can't Do, Won't Do'

Liberal Democrat Principles and Objectives

Since its creation, Liberal Democrat councillors have been the only organised and effective opposition on Wiltshire Council. We will continue to speak for residents, especially those groups and individuals whose voices are often left unheard.

We will review and revise leadership structures; create clear roles and responsibilities, and invite all constructive democratically elected voices to engage with us and suggest new initiatives, and provide a genuine scrutiny process of the executive. People Power can create change, as has been seen by the recent U-turns on outdoor education and car parking charges on Sundays.

We will deliver a revitalised Council, with a "Can Do" attitude. We will think strategically. Our Business Plan will include performance indicators against which progress can be measured. We will innovate and defend non-statutory services where they provide benefits to the local community.

There is a growing gap between the Liberal Democrat position of defending and where possible extending services, and the Conservative position of do no more than forced to by national Government.

The priority of the Lib Dems is the residents of Wiltshire supported through a "Can Do" approach unfettered by national party loyalties.

The Challenge for Wiltshire

g both to buy and to rent, and planning that is responsive to communities. We need reliable, customer focussed, low-cost public transport. We need support for young people and families. We need revitalised towns and villages which allow business to flourish. We need greater environmental sustainability. We need fairer funding from Westminster.

This of course is on top of the day-to-day need to collect rubbish, fill in potholes and make sure the street lights work.

The Lib Dems are here to make this happen.

The Political Battleground

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Conservative administration wants to rid itself of delivery of all services that are not required by law. We reject this approach and believe that the Council's role is to provide services that residents need and, with our partners, find the resources to do so.

The Liberal Democrat priorities

Finance: Sound Fiscal Management

Reductions in grants from Central (Conservative) Government for many years, coupled with significant long-term increases in demand for and cost of social care have put local government finance under intolerable strain. The result has been a constant focus on reducing costs. This has forced changes but undermined innovation.

Sufficient funding is, of course, the key ingredient of an effective council. This requires three important elements: firstly to lobby effectively for fairer funding for all services, including education, secondly the ability to find new sources of funding from activities such as commercial enterprise, and thirdly to build partnerships with other organisations, which can help us either eliminate waste or find new sources of funding for vital services.

The Lib Dem priorities: Sound fiscal management. Encourage inward investment into the County. Generation of additional income from commercial opportunities. Delivering innovative approaches to service provision such as the Shared Lives initiative. Introduction of environmental initiatives in waste management and energy generation.

Housing and Homelessness: Homes for All

Addressing the challenge of providing affordable homes for Wiltshire residents to live in must be at the heart of council policy. We have too many first-time buyers unable to afford a home, and 'hidden homeless' who are sofa surfing, because although they meet the criteria, there are simply not enough affordable homes to rent. Key Workers such as teachers and nurses are unable to find suitable local accommodation because of the cost of housing.

We would welcome the creation of a housing and development company as an important contribution to addressing this issue.

Cornwall Council is seeking to deliver 1,000 new homes over a four-year period and the Lib Dems would aim to match that ambition. This can be achieved through development on council owned land, the purchase of sites with outline planning consents and acquiring housing stock from other landlords.

We will also look to support other forms of community-led housing schemes such as Community Land Trusts which give local people a real say in the type, affordability and ownership of local housing.

The expertise gleaned through the development of land for housing can also be applied to the provision of commercial development, providing opportunities for employers to expand, generating long-term revenue for Wiltshire Council.

The Lib Dem priorities: Support for the development of housing companies. Encouraging other forms of community led-development. Ambitious provision of affordable housing.

Jobs and the Economy: Grow and Thrive

Support for job creation and growing the Wiltshire economy requires a proactive approach. The county needs to be welcoming to both businesses and prospective employees. This includes good quality homes, attractive and well serviced locations for business and significant advice for start-up of small to medium sized enterprises.

We have concerns about the effectiveness of the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership (SWLEP) with how it works with those communities in which it seeks to deliver projects and the democratic governance of the organisation. This includes the decision to make the SWLEP a limited company.

Unemployment in Wiltshire is low, but there is a shortage of the people with the right skills. In order to grow businesses need appropriately trained staff. We will improve apprenticeship and retraining opportunities and work with employers and higher education providers to ensure that the needs of business are met, and provide residents with the means to achieve their full potential.

We will pay attention to the economic health of our market towns and rural communities. We will improve the environment on our our High Streets so that they present a positive welcoming experience as opposed to on-line shopping and out of town shopping centres. There will be a commitment to free car parking in Wiltshire Council car parks on Sundays and Bank Holidays, and ensuring that any revenue gained from charges is ploughed back into the provision of public transport.

In the modern world people need super-fast broadband. We will push to extend this further to rural locations.

The Lib Dem priorities: Improved skills training. Investment in our High Streets. No charges for parking on Sundays and Bank Holidays.

Young People and Education: A New Deal for Young People in Wiltshire

Our young people deserve our encouragement and help as they start their life journeys. Four years ago, Wiltshire Council had over 120 professional Youth Workers. Today there are none.

Despite savage public spending cuts, other Councils have found ways to support their young people. Wiltshire has not. As a result, few youth clubs and programmes of activity for young people have survived in our County. Instead the Council's eighteen Community Area Boards hand out over £250,000 a year in grants. The best of these have support action that involved our young people, responded to locally identified needs and enabled additional funds. Too many have done none of these.

Despite this failure to support our young people, there are some exemplary examples where great work exists in different parts of our county, such as the Wiltshire Youth Network, Seeds 4 Change, Melksham Youth Club and the inclusive work of the Chippenham and Malmesbury Local Youth Networks. We will learn from such community led models of supporting our young people and will support their proliferation.

We recognise that many young people who benefited from Wiltshire's youth service now miss out and that there is a real need for sustainable youth work in our communities. As Liberal Democrats we are committed to focusing the Council's resources, and working with others who share our vision to create and sustain positive partnerships to generate and produce activities, guidance and role models that educate, encourage and inspire our young people.

The Lib Dem priorities: Support for the excellent youth work being undertaken by the voluntary sector in our community areas. Commission youth service activities where there are none at present.

Devolution: Local Issues, Local Solutions

A key component of Liberal Democracy is devolving power to the people, and as such, Lib Dems in Wiltshire totally support the philosophy of Area Boards.

Area Boards need to have increased delegated powers to effect the local areas they serve. There needs to be further delegation of financial resources and authority.

Area Boards have for too long been merely a means of promoting the aims and objectives of the Wiltshire Council Executive. When established it was envisaged that they would provide a pathway for a two-way conversation. This has turned into a one-way conversation: top to bottom. Consultation needs to be meaningful, not just a tick box exercise to validate decisions already made.

We support increased powers for Area Boards particularly in the areas of Highways, Transport, Youth services, and Community Engagement, all of which requires increased funding.

Where finance is tight, services are being transferred to parish and town councils. We welcome this process where both partners have the right arrangements in place and are able to deliver. There is no doubt that most services are best managed at the level closest to the user. However, it can result in a postcode lottery or a disjointed provision in areas where some services have been transferred and some not.

Area Boards can provide a coordinated, local response. They can do this by further, meaningful engagement between Unitary and Town or Parish Councils and statutory organisations such as police, the NHS and care providers.

The Lib Dem priorities: Devolving more activities and finance to Area Boards. Building meaningful partnerships with Town and Parish Councils. Fostering greater co-operation to ensure that there are local solutions to local needs.

Public transport

Effective transport infrastructure should be at the heart of Wiltshire Council policy. There should be equal emphasis on road, rail and bus.

Lib Dems will develop policies that link all three and ensure they link in with the existing road network. Lib Dems will seek to secure funding for more stations in our county and consider the creation of a council owned company to deliver faster and cheaper road repairs.

The Lib Dem priority: Ensure that all of our communities have access to cost effective, convenient public transport options.

Adult Social Care: Well-being, not just survival

The challenge of providing high quality social care for adults is enormous. The increase in demand shows no sign of ending and the impact on Wiltshire Council's finances is significant.

Lib Dems are proud to have pushed for the "Shared Lives" approach to be adopted by Wiltshire Council. It parallels the Fostering Service for both the elderly, and those with learning difficulties, ensuring that people live in the community whilst receiving appropriate care and support. Wiltshire Liberal Democrats believe that Shared Lives can and should be scaled-up as a matter of urgency. Lib Dems will implement a proactive strategy of promotion, recruitment and the training which is required to take advantage of the Shared Lives approach and make Wiltshire a leader in this field of Adult Social Care.

In order for the lives of those requiring social care to improve there needs to be improved integrations with the NHS and allied agencies. Although some transformation has taken place, this has been too little and too uncoordinated. As a result, many people fail to receive the care they need in order to live rewarding lives in the community. The Lib Dems will ensure better coordination of services and tailor them to be responsive to the needs of the individual.

People with health and social needs also need stimulation. Loneliness and isolation are significant factors in the poor outcomes for such people and leads to increased readmission to hospitals and poor mental health. The Lib Dems will support local initiatives to reduce this, following the Frome example.

The Lib Dem priorities: To urgently seek to expand the Shared Lives initiative and provide the funding needed. Increase coordination with the Health Professionals. Sponsor local initiatives aimed at reducing isolation.

Environment: Avert Climate Change

Most experts agree that we are facing a global environmental crisis. We must all take responsibility to do what we can. Wiltshire Council is one of the largest employers in Wiltshire and has one of the largest impacts on our environment. The council therefore has great responsibility but also an opportunity to be a leader in sustainable development.

We will undertake a thorough environmental audit of the council and seek to place the environment and climate change at the heart of the Council's business plan. We will aim to become the climate change leader within Wiltshire. We will also aspire to produce all Wiltshire's energy needs within Wiltshire using clean energy, investing in micro generation and to deal with all of Wiltshire's waste within our county.

We will aspire to work to the Government's 2018 Resource and Waste Strategy as the minimum standard.

The Lib Dem priority: To undertake a full environmental impact assessment to minimise Wiltshire Council's carbon footprint.