A flurry of activity surrounded the recent publishing of this article in Penarth News. I think it’s something of a non-story. Politicians make all sorts of pledges in the run-up to elections; the time to judge their success or otherwise is in the run-up to the following election. Incidentally, that of course is the prime time for making political capital of incumbents’ failings. And although there may be no plans in the future to introduce council tax discounts for residents over 70 years of age, there’s still four years to go for Lis Burnett and Gwyn Roberts to persuade their fellow councillors of the plan’s merit.
But Penarth News has provided a reminder that we might want to keep track of our councillors’ promises from time to time, and perhaps give them a scoresheet of sorts. So let’s return to the only election promises I received from candidates fortunate enough to be elected in last May’s election, a set of 12 pledges from (now) councillors Lis Burnett and Gwyn Roberts:
We’ll be seeing 1: traffic wardens roaming the streets of Penarth, 2: a war on potholes (I’m sensing a theme in electoral messaging), 3: investment in youth services, 4: a youth mayor and youth cabinet, 5: delivery of Penarth Pier project (whatever that is – I’m much more interested in delivery of the Penarth Pavilionproject), 6: St. Paul’s community centre, 7: more dog wardens, and 8: a learning community at St. Cyres. Phew! There’s also the intriguing 9: “Introduce dedicated Grime Fighters for Penarth”. Now I can’t begin to guess what a Grime Fighter is, but if Penarth is going to get some, I’m jolly glad we’re getting the dedicated variety – I wouldn’t want us getting sub-standard non-commital Grime Fighters. There’s a bung to the blue rinse brigade, with 10: reduced council tax for the over-70s, and although there’s no detail on which services will be cut to pay for this, there’s a clue in the pledge that indicates that 11: the social services budget will be brought ‘under control’ (read ‘cut’). I’d wager that the over-70s are some of the heavier users of the social services, so is this a case of giving with one hand and taking away with the other? Or worse still, taking from the most needy in the Vale?
Finally, Gwyn and Lis will 12: fight against car parking charges for the town centre. To me it makes perfect sense for the Vale to be raising revenue from people who can afford to drive into town. We know that 21.5% of Vale households have no access to a car or van, and we also know that poor households are disproportionately represented within this sector. Why poorer people should be effectively subsidising richer peoples’ use of cars is beyond me – this seems to be a fabulous example of a regressive ‘tax’ regime. It seems that Gwyn and Lis are siding with the people who are best able to kick up a stink about things that disadvantage them – the thrusting middle class – rather than those who are less able to voice their concerns – older people or people just about scraping a living who haven’t got the time or inclination to trouble politicians.
The more eagle-eyed amongst you may sense that Penarth a’r Byd hosts some opposition to at least one of those pledges. In my mind – and that of Professor Donald Shoup – paying for parking is a wholly logical and sensible thing to be doing.
But most of the rest of them will simply mean re-jigging expenditure within the council, and it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of competent councillors to be able to achieve many of these pledges with a year to go before the next elections in 2017. Ooh, what a cynic!
But the killer pledge is the one that Penarth News highlighted and for which I asked the question “which services will be cut to pay for this”? back in April 2012. Come April 2017 I’d be very surprised if Lis and Gwyn can go to the electorate claiming a clean sweep of pledges.