Five parties fighting for your local votes

Five parties fighting for your local votes

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Lynne Weatherly

Polls can have significant impact on your daily life.

Tax, housing and culture are just some of the many things at stake in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council elections on Thursday May 5.

Despite rarely seeing turnouts exceed the mid-30’s during years when they don’t coincide with a General Election, these polls still have a significant impact on our daily life.

For better or worse, Tunbridge Wells has been almost exclusively dominated by the Conservative Party since the borough was formed in 1973.

Five parties are fielding candidates: Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour, UKIP and The Green Party. With the exception of a brief four year gap in the mid 90’s, when there were two years of no overall control followed by a short period of Liberal Democrat governance, the Conservatives have ruled. And they cannot lose overall control this time round with only a third of the seats up for grabs. Even so individual councillors can still hold the authority and its officers to account.

The council provides a diverse range of services across the borough which are budgeted to cost £65.6m over the next financial year. Just over half of this, £35.2m, is reserved for housing benefits and council tax support, however this is directly reimbursed by central government.

However, the remainder has to be paid for through a mixture of sources, including council tax, fees and charges. All this will have an impact on your pocket. With central government cutting its financial support for Tunbridge Wells to the bone over the course of this Parliament, savings, tax rises and price hikes are on the cards to fill the funding gap.

Choices have to be made – cut back on free parking? Scrap the ice rink? Cut back further on museum opening times? Or reduce the often touted, but little explained, ‘wastage’?

And these are matters of daily expenditure. The council also oversees millions of pounds worth of investment into projects
and infrastructure, often with an eye on making a return.

The key is who do you trust to make the right choice to spend this money and deliver the services we take for granted?

HOW THE COUNCIL IS RUN

Formed in 1974, Tunbridge Wells Borough is run by a council made up of 48 representatives from 20 wards.

Eight of these wards cover the town itself while the remaining councillors represent smaller towns, and rural communities.

The majority of the wards are represented by two or three councillors, with the exception being Capel and Frittenden & Sissinghurst, each of which only have one. The council is split along party lines, with the Conservatives currently having the majority of members.

The biggest party gets to set policy and will generally pick one of their own to be Council Leader.

CURRENT MEMBERS OF THE CABINET ARE

Cllr David Jukes

Leader of the Council: Cllr David Jukes
Tourism, Leisure and Economic Development: Cllr Jane March
Finance and Governance: Cllr Paul Barrington-King
Sustainability: Cllr Dr Ronen Basu
Communities and Wellbeing: Cllr Lynne Weatherly
Planning and Transportation: Cllr Alan McDermott

ONES TO WATCH

Sean Holden

Conservatives are the incumbent party in all but six of the 48 council seats. Currently the Liberal Democrats are the second largest party (3) followed by Labour (2) and one independent.

However, 16 council positions are up for grabs and the smaller parties will be looking to make a breakthrough. Labour and the Conservatives are fielding candidates in every ward, as is UKIP. The Liberal Democrats are contesting 18, while the Green Party are running in five. The wards of Rusthall, Culverden, Pantiles and St Mark’s, St John’s and Southborough and High Brooms will see candidates from every party standing for election.

  • Husband and wife Labour candidates Kevin and Isobel Kerrigan will be attempting to take their place on the council. Mrs Kerrigan will be battling to dislodge Conservative Sean Holden in the Benenden and Cranbrook ward. Mr Holden recently questioned whether money should be spent on having a mayor ‘in a pantomime costume’. Mr Kerrigan, who ran for Labour in last year’s general election, is going up against Conservative cabinet member Jane March.
  • Two out of three of the incumbent Liberal Democrats will be defending their position: Hugh Patterson in Capel and Ben Chapelard in St James’ ward.
  • Labour will be defending half of its Southborough and High Brooms seats with an eye to making it an all red ward in the future.
  • Cabinet member for Sustainability Dr Ronen Basu will be defending his position in the Culverden ward.

ELECTION TURNOUT FIGURES:

2011 45.5%

2012 32.9%

2013 31.4%

2014 39.6%

2015  70.8%