Cllr Mike Baldock takes the helm at Swale Borough Council
Cllr Baldock was elected as the new leader of the council at an extraordinary council meeting last week, and he replaces Cllr Roger Truelove, who announced he was stepping down last month.
Following the meeting we managed to catch up with Mike and ask a few questions.
Firstly congratulations on becoming leader
“It is a great honour to be elected as leader of Swale, as I care deeply about the whole borough. Roger has set a very high standard to follow but he also showed that differing groups could work constructively together.”
“We all have serious challenges ahead, and I believe the best way for us to approach them locally is by working together and making sure that our debates and decisions are fully informed and focussed on supporting local people and our local communities.”
“I look forward to now working with my fellow councillors to drive forward further improvements across the whole borough.”
Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
“I've been involved with various political parties and animal rights / environmental campaign groups on and off since the early 80’s but really only got involved locally again in 2002 when I joined Borden Parish Council.”
“Since then, I've been a big champion of Parish Councils and constantly try to increase their voice locally. I represented Borden Parish Council on the Kent Association of Local Councils since 2006 and sat on the old Swale Rural Forum as a Parish representative until the Tories abolished it circa 2016, and on the Swale Joint Transport Board as a Parish Representative since around 2008.”
“I still try and ensure Parish Councils get as much of a voice as possible and will be pushing for this again now as Leader of Swale Council. I've been on Swale Borough Council since 2015 and sat on KCC from 2013 - 2017 and returned to KCC last year.”
You only have a year before the next Swale Borough Council election, is there anything specifically that you hope that you can achieve in that time frame?
“My main task is to ensure the move to the Committee system works for everyone - both Councillors and the public.”
“I will be remaining as the Planning Lead for the Council, and it is vital that we get our Local Plan review progressed to the next Regulation 19 consultation. The Government's targets are unrealistic, and it is my job to see what exactly can be delivered whilst also delivering for the existing residents of Swale.”
“This is a huge challenge, and we are not alone in Kent in struggling to come up with something acceptable.”
“I hope to encourage other leaders to start challenging the Government targets because if we stand united on this we stand a better chance of forcing them to re-evaluate the pressures they are forcing across Kent.”
“I also want to finish off several heritage projects and to continue to give residents of Swale a real sense of place and of pride in their local areas.”
Are there any plans that if you can’t finish in that time frame you can get started with?
“I would like us to look at how we award contracts, and to include Social Value as part of the assessment - basically, it's the benefits local residents in Swale can get from a new contract as well as simply value for money and the quality of the bid. The more we can support local businesses and employ local people, the stronger our local economy and communities can be.”
“I also want Rainbow Homes to take on the affordable units that developers always get out of delivering because established providers can't be bothered with smaller unit numbers.”
“We should also be investigating the possibility of competing for some of the communal property maintenance contracts on new estates so that residents aren't necessarily held hostage by remote management companies who charge a lot of money for services that residents don't always feel they get good value for.”
If there is just one thing you’d like to do, what would it be?
“This has to be an 'if only' answer, but if I could do anything I pleased I would stop any building on agricultural land. We see constantly the need for Britain to grow more of our own food - so why does the Government force us to ruin the best agricultural land in the country?”
The coalition has made significant progress in the short time that you have been in power, what are the best things the coalition has achieved?
“There are so many to be honest. Rescuing the Sittingbourne Town Project Centre has to be on that list, along with the establishment of Rainbow Homes to provide council involvement in providing affordable housing.”
“The Heritage work we've done has been immense with several long-neglected buildings / structures getting investment from Sheerness Clock Tower to the Artesan's Well at Oare, not to forget the fact we've done a significant number of Conservation Area reviews - more in 3 years than had been done in the previous 20!”
“We've also really involved the community in many of our projects, such as the grants for defibrillators which has helped provide life-saving equipment right across the Borough, rather than leaving that money to sit in a bank account waiting for some Brexit problem to crop up which may never happen!”
“Also the move to a Committee System is itself I think a huge achievement, one which has been described as turkey's voting for Christmas in that it takes away a lot of power in the hands of just a few Cabinet Councillors in order to involve far more Councillors in every decision.”
The leader confirmed his deputy will be Cllr Monique Bonney, and the cabinet will be:
• Climate – Cllr Tim Valentine
• Finance – Cllr Roger Truelove, with Cllr Derek Carnell as deputy
• Health – Cllr Angela Harrison, with Cllr Hannah Perkin as deputy
• Housing – Cllr Ben Martin, with Cllr Ghlin Whelan as deputy
• Planning – Cllr Mike Baldock, with Cllr Alastair Gould as deputy
• Community – Cllr Richard Palmer, with Cllr Elliott Jayes as deputy
• Economic development – Cllr Monique Bonney, with Cllr Sarah Stephen as deputy
• Environment – Cllr Julian Saunders, with Cllr Eddie Thomas as deputy