What a thrill to receive the latest election missive (with thanks, via blog subscriber MD this time) from the Conservative candidates in St. Augustine’s ward. Incumbent Councillors Paul Church and Sophie Williams must certainly have the ear of someone special because in these times of financial hardship they haven’t had to scrimp on a full-colour A3 publication.
It’s good to know that our priorities are their priorities. Like increasing and ‘simplifying’ recycling (by fair means or foul), encouraging biodiversity and promoting sustainability and of course those strong enforcement measures for dog fouling (zero prosecutions or penalty notices for the last two years, and three in total for the whole of the Vale of Glamorgan in the four years since the Conservatives took office). Paul, Sophie, you’re better off not even mentioning topics about which you have to lie. Sooner or later, you’ll get found out.
This ‘priority’ section is a bit wishy-washy for me. I confess that I like the sound of improving the standards of school buildings, ensuring that every child in our county is safe and supported, and seeking further investment in all of our towns. But then show me the candidate in these elections that wants to drive down the standards of school buildings, put children into harm’s way and let our communities degrade. In fact, out of 17 priorities, the only one that’s partially identifiable as a Conservative idea (shared with their Liberal Democrat UK Government colleagues) is to publish the Council’s transactions above £500 online.
There’s a ‘promise’ of more action overleaf. Paul and Sophie have noticed the heralded demise of St. Augustine’s ward and are setting out their stall early for Penarth North, with the claim that the Vale has spent £15M on improvements to this area over the past four years. Presumably the bulk of this is via the renewal area – which resulted in expenditure of £15M, but over the ten years of the scheme, not just the four for which Paul and Sophie could conceivably take credit. And I can’t help noticing that the Welsh Government “provides local authorities with grants for housing renewal areas“. So how much of this £15M is the result of our councillors’ graft, and how much fell into their laps as a result of whichever administration secured the renewal area status in 2000? More importantly, is their claim that the “Conservative Council has spent £15M on improvements to north Penarth” true or false?
There are lots of stories on this page from elsewhere in the Vale, with Llantwit Major, Cowbridge, Barry Island and Barry all in the mix. But we’re also treated to a picture of the Pier Pavilion (at least they get the name right) and the news that they’ve invested £1M in this project, alongside £200,000 in Windsor Gardens.
They’re keen to highlight council tax. Just for the record, here’s the details of past council tax banding. Regrettably, the Vale’s institutional memory only goes back to 2006/07 (so much for transparency eh!), so I have no way of verifying that the Conservative administration has kept council tax increases low by historical standards. Ok, so the average percentage increase for the past four years at 3.4% is less than the last two years of the previous administration, at 4.8%. But it’s not entirely fair to compare four years with two, so we’re left guessing.
Also, given that increases last year and this year are less than the rate of inflation, things must be getting tight. To make the sums add up there might be some pretty serious ‘efficiency savings’ going on, or they’re raiding the reserves, or services are being cut. It could be a combination of the three. Certainly we’re given bald evidence of pillaging the reserves by £12.7M in their own information leaflet, and we know that financial pressure contributed to the Vale’s short-sighted move to an illegal system of recycling collection. According to their Labour opponents, social services spending is ‘out of control’, and certainly a £3.6M overspend in one financial year seems worthy of this description.
Finally, there’s a personal message to their constituents from Paul and Sophie. They claim to have kept their promises to the burghers of St. Augustine’s over the past four years. Unfortunately we haven’t got the historical record to see what they actually promised back in 2008. But given that in all three election messages we’ve had from the incumbents a quick scan seems to have unveiled a grand total of zero promises for the next term, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they had delivered on all their promises. After all, 100% of zero is, well, 100% (or is it zero…?!).
On the layout, it looks suspiciously like Paul Church has been dragged around this community over the course of 2 hours in one day. Or maybe he always wears the same blue tie, white shirt, cream jacket and black trousers. Perhaps the vacant expression is a result of his being in unfamiliar surroundings. Or perhaps he’s just coming to terms with the likelihood of not being re-elected, and losing the £28,780 annual income that comes with being a Cabinet Member (in addition to his £13,175 councillor’s salary – a grand total of £41,955 and just outside the higher rate of income tax). Sophie at least creates the impression of being out and about, or maybe she’s wiser and has the odd change of clothes out of shot. But overall the layout is professional and attractive. There’s a good proportion of text to images (even if several of the images under ‘local issues’ appear to be from places other than St. Augustine’s).
You know I’m picky and striving for perfection, so here are my comments for improvement of layout. Under ‘your priorities’, there’s no need to change the colour of the font on numbers 2 and 4. And under ‘a record of action’, left-aligned typesetting would work better than justified, which in these short lines creates too much spacing between and within words. There’s also too much spacing between the lines in this section.
As we’ve come to expect from the Vale Conservatives, the Welsh language is a non-existent irrelevance. Ironically, although they concede that there is “growing demand” for Welsh language investment in the western Vale, it’s not worth the Conservatives using. And just look at all the resources they’re pouring into supporting this growing demand. One portacabin, at the looks of things. Meanwhile, they’re itching to get on with a “major refurbishment” of Llantwit Major (English Medium) Comprehensive, having just spent £21.5M on Cowbridge (English Medium) Comprehensive. Go figure.
Paul and Sophie are incredibly wide-reaching in their vision of ‘our community’. Given that “when local Conservatives win our whole community wins”, their winning community used to stretch at least as far as Derby. Happily, after the fiasco of their last publication, this publication was printed by Barry Advertiser Limited – a company I specifically highlighted in this post as losing out from their generosity to our brethren across the border. Hopefully we’ve seen the last of Vale Conservatives exporting Welsh jobs to the English Midlands.
Layout 9/10, Content 2/10.