If these were adverts, the advertising standards authority would be all over them.
It might come as a surprise to learn that the UK electoral law doesn’t require claims in political campaigns to be either truthful or factually accurate, and that goes a long way to explain some of the literature contained in the Conservatives current election campaign.
Whilst in opposition locally, the Conservatives are still in power both nationally and at county level, although their current election campaign is more reminiscent of a party that is in opposition at all levels of Government, in effect blaming themselves for many of the problems we are now facing.
The Infrastructure First Policy
One of the key Conservatives aims according to their literature is to create “A valid local plan based on Swale’s needs, putting infrastructure first.”
Let’s examine the ‘Infrastructure First’ policy first, something that many of the other political parties have spent years campaigning for, because it is a very sensible idea in theory.
Conservative leader of KCC, Roger Gough says the “Infrastructure First policy means that schools, GP surgeries, open spaces and transport links are planned before housing.”
Firstly, I would draw your attention to the word ‘planned’, because as we all know there is a world of difference between planned and delivered. Take the long awaited new secondary school in Sittingbourne, it has been planned for decades, the housing keeps getting built, but where is the school?
Secondly, don’t the Conservatives already have full control over education, health and transportation?
Are the Conservatives suggesting that their stewardship of these key aspects of infrastructure over many years has been an abject failure?
More likely it is a deliberate and deceitful perversion of the truth in an attempt to push the blame on to the current administration of Swale Council who never had any control over any of this in the first place.
On another leaflet the Conservatives say “any housing must deliver upgrades to our roads and highways, and should be delivered before dwellings are occupied.”
Firstly great and why didn’t you do that when you were in power and secondly the entire rational of current planning policy, especially under the Conservatives has been about attempting to extract money from developers to pay for this infrastructure in a retrospective capacity, sometimes decades after the housing had been delivered.
The secondary school I mentioned above is a perfect example, but developers will often tease prospective occupiers with the idea that they will be in receipt of shops, community spaces, sports clubs, doctors’ surgeries and primary schools once they have built the first couple of phases of the development.
I say attempt, because there are an infinite number of loopholes and an entire industry based around finding ever more ingenious ways in which to not have to make these contributions.
To try and suggest that the solution is either simple or can be undertaken without either a massive reform of planning policy or the Government interjecting with some kind of initial startup funding is in my opinion disingenuous.
On the subject of GP provision it is currently taking something like 5 years for the NHS commissioning body to get an extension to an existing GP facility, let alone a whole new facility. So again, all rather simplistic and vague without any coherent plan on how to actually tackle the GP deficit in Sittingbourne and Sheppey.
Sittingbourne has lost nearly 40% of its GPs in the last three years alone, all the secondary schools are oversubscribed with some children forced to travel to neighbouring towns, investment in primary schools has been conducted on a retrospective basis because KCC didn’t adequately plan for birth trends, public transport funding has been slashed to the bone with the loss of key bus services and our roads are in a very sorry state of disrepair.
The Valid Local Plan Claim
Now let’s look at the claims made against the current administration of Swale Council in terms of not having a valid local plan.
The Conservatives claim that they will not adhere to the “twisted Government algorithms” in terms of housing targets. They also suggest that the current administration of Swale Council have created a “free-for-all” developers charter to build wherever and whenever they choose.
Honestly, I genuinely didn’t know whether to laugh or cry after reading that.
Firstly the “twisted Government algorithms” are their own governments targets, which in all the years when they were in power, the local Conservative party were unable to leverage any influence over what-so-ever, even though our MP Gordon Henderson and former Conservative council leader Andrew Bowles wrote several strongly worded letters to Government, whilst simultaneously providing numerous means by which the targets could be increased.
Four years ago at the time of the last election the Conservatives were promoting their Garden Towns project which would have pushed the proposed annual housing figures way in excess of those pesky targets provided by their own Governments twisted algorithms. The plan was to grow Swale by around 44% over a 15-year period with Sittingbourne providing 80% of that housing.
The local Conservative party has a long history of attempting to increase housing targets beyond those laid down by central Government.
In 2011 former Conservative council leader Andrew Bowles wanted to build 925 houses per annum but a public backlash forced the council into accepting 540 houses per annum as the target.
In 2016 Andrew Bowles, along with Quinn Estates wrote to the Government promoting the case for Garden Towns which would see the target vastly increase.
In 2017 the Local Plan target gets increased to 776 houses per annum, later that year the Government proposes 1,054 houses per annum and currently the Government have set a target of 1,078 houses per annum. A figure still considerably less than the 1,800 plus figure which the Conservatives were supporting four years ago at the time of the last election in 2019.
Clearly based on the Conservatives track record we may conclude that the only way in which the Conservatives will not adhere to their own twisted Government algorithms, is by exceeding those targets with even more housing by making good on their previous election pledge to support a Garden Town between the Kent Science Park and Bapchild (Quinn Estates Highsted Park) and another Garden Village in Bobbing.
On the subject of the claims around the validity of the local plan the current leader of Swale Borough Council, Mike Baldock has told us
“The Conservatives are criticising this council claiming we lack having a valid local plan. Of course, it is factually inaccurate to say we have no local plan as the current Local Plan - the questionably named Bearing Fruits, remains up to date as it is in general conformity with the National Planning Policy Framework and therefore retains weight in the decision-making process.”
“Meanwhile, the current central government are continuing to progress the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and as with the way in which legislation develops the Bill will continue to evolve.”
“There are very sound reasons why the Administration paused work on the Local Plan, and these reasons remain very relevant. If the Government sticks to its word and removes the imposition of housing targets on local authorities, then we will be able to move forward with a sound and sustainable new Plan with a significantly lower housing number.”
“To have not paused work on a Local Plan would have required this council to have demonstrated that 11,000 extra houses could be sustainably imposed on Swale.”
“The fact that the Conservatives repeatedly criticise the administration for not having a new local plan clearly indicates that either they would have supported such a high number, or that they don’t believe their own Government.”
Finally, the Conservatives are promising to deliver a more democratic system, with communities having their say. Nothing could be further from the truth, in all the years that I have been involved with local plans, we are now the most disenfranchised from the planning process that we have ever been.
I expect it’s a bit tricky to get tough on developers when they are one of the primary sources of funding your political party.
The Fake £80 Million Claim
The Conservatives have repeatedly claimed that the current coalition administration has wasted huge sums of money whilst being in receipt of tens of millions in additional funding.
Cllr Alan Horton leader of the Conservatives has publicly stated.
"The Rainbow Coalition of Swale Independents, Labour, Green and Liberals has received almost £80 million from the Conservative government in additional funding throughout its term.”
"That’s almost four times the council’s annual budget. And yet it has overspent by £4 million this year and needs to take desperate measures to stay afloat.”
There is just one minor problem with that, it’s completely untrue.
In fact, the council’s whole income for the entire 4 years of this administration, including council tax and business rates, totals just £78.4 million, compared with the £73 million of the previous administrations 4-year term. So, an extra £5.4 million to be exact.
However, if you look at the amount of Government grants in the 4 years of this administration, they total £8.5 million - a decrease of £8.9 million from the previous 4 years when the previous administration received £17.4 million.
In terms of the overspend, there was one, but it is £0.5 million and not the £4 million claimed. This was primarily attributable to supporting homeless people, which must be one of those “vanity projects” the Conservatives keep referring to.
It might also be worth mentioning that some of the local Conservative candidates are also KCC councillors. Kent County Council whom by their own admission, is running out of options to avoid bankruptcy. And their literature proclaims, “careful with your money”.
Just remember that UK electoral law doesn’t require any claims made in the election literature you may have received to be either truthful or factually accurate.
I would hope that most of election leaflets pushed through your door are both truthful and factually accurate, but clearly there are exceptions.
Showing comments 1 to 4 of 4
Anne...sometimes the truth hurts.
The coalition are still moping up the Conservative mess,and deflecting the constant lies .
I have not seen a single Lib Dem leaflet so I can't judge.
I wonder if you will also be so commenting on the Lib Dems leaflets that are packed full of mistruths?
Of the conduct by your fave cllr Baldock to the public on social media. Whe I say conduct I mean abuse.
I suspect the answer to both is neither.