Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Lib Dem difference in Stockport

Liberal Democrats in Stockport are investing in their area: building and investing while protecting the environment - and giving residents a say, writes Councillor Iain Roberts, Deputy Leader of Stockport Council.

England, 2014. All of the urban North is under Labour control except for one town of indomitable Lib Dems that still hold out against the socialists. Stockport is now the only Liberal Democrat-led urban council in the North.

One of the ten Greater Manchester metropolitan councils, its population as big as Newcastle. It's a diverse borough: average life expectancy in deprived Brinnington is 14 years lower than in leafy Bramhall just four miles away. Two of its four MPs are Lib Dems (Mark Hunter and Andrew Stunell).

So what's the Lib Dem difference?

First, the Lib Dems are investing in Stockport. The Council's capital programme has grown to over £700 million pounds – bigger than ever before. In tough times when our revenue budget is being squeezed, Council Leader Sue Derbyshire and her team are investing in the borough.

We're spending £100 million to resurface every poor road and pavement: working hard to fix the issue our residents say concerns them most. We're investing more than ever in cycling: millions constructing a network of cycle routes to allow people to make entire journeys avoiding busy roads.

We're building. A new cinema, two multi-storey car parks, retail units, grade A office space, transport interchange, new public realm, a new hotel and housing.

We're constructing a much-needed relief road in the south of the borough: planned since the 1930s!

All that investment is prudent. Unlike a certain previous government, we're not in the business of ransoming our children's future for short-term gains.

Second, Stockport is open for business. Industrial space is being snapped up and we're working hard to keep supply up with demand. The Lib Dems believe in councils shopping locally. Over 60% of Stockport Council spending goes to locally-based companies - nearly double the national average.

Third, Stockport is an environmentally friendly borough. Our residents recycle over 60% of their waste, putting us in the top five authorities in the country.

We spent £9 million installing solar panels on public buildings and social housing. We've installed biomass boilers and external wall insulation in tower blocks. We've got one of the few economically sustainable hydro schemes (set up by a Lib Dem councillor) and we're working on a heat exchange network in the town centre.

Fourth, we work to empower residents and devolve responsibility. Far more planning decisions are taken by local councillors in their communities than by the central Planning committee. We've run “You say, we pay” events for several years, with funding allocated by local residents voting on which community organisations should receive it. Recently we ran “You say, we pay for businesses” – over sixty local businesspeople allocated money to start-ups after Dragons' Den style presentations.

When the “bedroom tax” came in, we were concerned about the implementation. Whilst many Labour councils chose to punish their residents to score political points, Stockport has made it work. If a Stockport Homes tenant is willing to move, we wipe out any arrears they build up due to the bedroom tax. Over 170 households have already chosen to downsize, freeing up larger properties for those who need them. Not a single Stockport Homes tenant has been evicted due to bedroom-tax related arrears. Naturally, Labour opposed our scheme.

Since 2010 Labour have defeated a sitting Lib Dem councillor just three times. One defeated Lib Dem councillor re-gained his seat at the next opportunity and one of the three Labour victors has since joined the Lib Dems. At next years elections we're aiming to hold our two parliamentary seats and make council gains from both Labour and Tories, and to keep Stockport Lib Dem.