WITH the election just a week away, Messenger has put the leaders of Trafford’s three main groups on the spot.
We have quizzed them on a range of issues that affect the borough.
Weigh up their answers - it may help you to decide who deserves your vote.
This year's council elections will be held on May 22, as will the European elections.
In the council elections there will be one seat contested per ward with the exception of the Altrincham ward which will have two vacancies - 22 seats in total.
Before the election, the Conservatives held 32 seats, Labour 26 and the Liberal Democrats four, with one seat vacant.
1) What are your plans for the future of Trafford’s education system? Will you retain the current selective education system?
David Acton, Labour group leader:
“Education is key to the future of our children, therefore we will work to support and enhance ALL our schools in Trafford whether they be high schools, grammar schools, primary schools, special schools, nursery schools and colleges. The Labour Party nationally and locally has clearly stated that we support all our grammar schools and that only parents through a petition and referendum would be able to change the present selection system in Trafford. We would work with our grammar schools to encourage them to agree one single Trafford selection test rather than ask children to sit several different selection tests at each individual grammar school. We will endeavour to ensure there are enough places for children to attend their local school – And we will set up Parent Panels to develop strong relationships with our schools and parents.”
Sean Anstee, leder of the council and Conservative group leader:
“Trafford Conservatives fully support our grammar and high schools, and have a track record as the only party in the borough that can be trusted to defend our education system. Regardless of what Labour say, they have a long held desire locally to abolish our current system. Our schools are among the best in the country allowing children from all backgrounds to get the best possible start in life. The GCSE performance of pupils who receive free school meals is the highest in the north west. Local Conservatives are working very closely with all schools to ensure that there are sufficient places as our young population grows by investing £26.3m into new school facilities across the borough.”
Ray Bowker, group leader of the Liberal Democrats:
“My plans for the future of Trafford’s education system are to ‘leave well alone’ and also to retain the current selective system. Trafford’s education system is renowned to be one of the country’s best; it continues to remain in the top six of the Premier League due to the high success rates. Liberal Democrats fully support the present education system providing excellent primary schools, grammar schools and high schools which are expanding and now introducing pre-schools also. Trafford teaching staff are to be complemented on their continued success.”
2) If there is a ‘hung’ council, will you work in a coalition, and if so with which other group(s)?
“Trafford Liberal Democrats Group’s priority is to retain a good quality of life for all its residents. In the past when holding the ‘balance of power’ on the council we have worked, amicably, with either the Conservative group or the Labour group. “At the appropriate time we would need to review the policies and services being offered by the two major parties for the benefit of Trafford’s residents. We would then work accordingly with the party we believe are providing the best options which are the nearest to our ideals and policy of ‘putting people first’. At that time our group would offer productive suggestions to improve services and then agree to work with the party which best meets our requests and resident’s needs.”
“We are fighting these local elections to keep Trafford Conservative by maintaining a well-run, low cost council, engaged with its community and by being clear about our aspirations for the borough. However, if no one party has overall control after the election, we would act in the interests of residents by working with other parties, where possible. This wouldn’t be a new situation for us. Over the past four years, we have offered to work together with both of the other parties in Trafford to overcome the budget challenges we face and we have done exactly this with the Lib Dems. Unfortunately the Labour Party has repeatedly refused to work with ourselves and the Lib Dems and instead have doggedly opposed almost every step needed to make the efficiencies required to maintain front line services.”
“Rightly elections are determined by our residents and if there is a hung council following the elections Labour would be obliged to discuss the possibility of forming a coalition. Clearly I would want to ensure that the priorities of Labour values and policies are maintained as far as possible in forming any coalition. Labour has won the popular vote in Trafford in the past two elections. If the Conservatives do lose their control in May then I think the electorate will have demonstrated clearly they want a change of control of the council, therefore it would be important we take notice of that desire and try to find a way of taking control with other non-Conservative councillors. However the current Coalition Government is providing a template for failure and unfairness so we’re working doubly hard to avoid that scenario and to win outright.”
3) Can you guarantee that the environmental enforcement service will not be affected by cuts?
“Local Conservatives will continue to issue fines and take enforcement action against people who fly-tip or those who refuse to clean up after their dog, where necessary. We have also recently launched the #BeResponsible campaign to make it clear that we want Trafford to be an even cleaner, greener borough for all to enjoy. Recent changes made to the Council’s enforcement team mean that we now have more people than ever able to issue fixed penalty notices. This will continue if we retain control of the council.”
“I will guarantee that Labour will maintain an Environmental Officer Service which will have the ability to enforce the terrible problem which exists on our streets of dog fouling, fly-tipping and street litter dropping. Trafford environment is too important to our quality of life to allow a minority of people to spoil it for the many.”
“We can NOT guarantee that the environmental enforcement service will not be affected by the cuts, but we will endeavour within the financial pressures to keep the high levels and standards of Trafford’s services to be maintained as economically as possible.”
4) Can you give any guarantees about protecting front line council services, as we face further cuts in Government funding?
“The Conservatives have cut the council budget by £60m over the past four years and are set to double that cut by a further £60m over the next three years. I have long argued that the cuts have been too deep and too quick. Conservatives have chosen the wrong priorities. For instance we have seen the Conservatives spend £30m on renewing Trafford Town Hall, handed over £21 Million to Lancashire Cricket Club (a private members’ club ) from the sale of council-owned land. At the same time they have closed 10 children centres, all of Trafford remaining elderly people homes, day-care centre, and significantly cut social workers, youth-worker staff, library staff and social service budgets and street cleaning and road maintenance. I cannot guarantee no more cuts, however I can guarantee different priorities to that of the Conservatives where our vital services will be protected.”
“Since austerity began in 2010, local Conservatives have maintained an adult social care service rated as ‘excellent’, kept our libraries open, protected school crossing patrols, maintained car parking charges at 10p for the first hour and frozen council tax for the fourth year running. “The Labour party in Trafford has abstained or voted against almost every single measure to balance the books, demonstrating that they would rather resort to the politically motivated cuts seen in neighbouring Labour councils. Difficult decisions remain in the years ahead but by adopting a common sense rather than dogmatic approach and delivering services in the most efficient way possible, local Conservatives will continue to protect the front line first. Over the next three years, we have a clear plan to deal with the challenges we face in a way that sustains services and protects jobs.”
“Government funding pressures on local government and in particular Trafford Council make our task of protecting front line services more and more difficult, and we feel that the drastic measures taken have been too much too fast. Hence further continuation of heavy cuts could destroy our communities and environment which will desperately affect the poorer families. Lib Dems want fairness for all people.”
5)Do you support a continued freeze in council tax?
“While it would be everyone’s wish to freeze council tax year on year. Under the present conditions the time is near when we shall be forced to raise council tax. Trafford has done extremely well to freeze the tax for four years on the trot, but it is likely that change is imminent. By raising our council tax it will mean that all residents will be helping to meet the cuts imposed by Central Government, in order to maintain Trafford’s high standards of local Government service.”
“Local Conservatives have frozen council tax for four years and are committed to continuing to deliver the lowest council tax bill in the north west. Our planning assumption is for a council tax freeze for a further two years. The last time Labour controlled Trafford, council tax increased by a whopping 76 per cent (three times the rate of inflation, including 13 per cent in a single year) costing each family in the borough hundreds of pounds extra each year. Local Conservatives believe that when household budgets are tight, inflation-busting council tax rises would be the wrong approach and would hit those on lower incomes the hardest. Local Conservatives believe that when household budgets are tight, inflation-busting council tax rises would be the wrong approach and would hit those on lower incomes the hardest.”
“Labour does support a council freeze. The reason we support a freeze is simple - the Conservatives have presided over a cost of living crisis which has meant , on average, people are worse off by £1,400 a year, with lower wages, rising costs and huge utility bills. Labour is committed to keeping Trafford as one of the lowest council tax charges in the country.”
6) What are your plans to improve the borough’s roads, in particular to repair potholes?
“I think people are rightly deeply concerned about the state of some roads in the borough, which in many cases are riddled with potholes. One of our first jobs will be to review the maintenance of roads and to adopt a programme to tackle the worst affected roads. We are also determined to tackle the dangers of some of our roads, therefore we will adopt 20mph limits around all our schools and in heavily built up areas where there are serious dangers to pedestrians. Our goal will be to create decent roads which are good for drivers and safe for our children and communities.”
“We have recently spent an extra £1.3m year on repairing additional roads and pavements on top of the £12.7m allocated last year. Over the next three years, we will invest £22.9m into our roads and highways, allowing a further 65km of highways and 66km of pavements to be repaired or resurfaced. We are also making it easier for potholes to be reported to the council and will be bidding for additional cash from the Conservative-led Government’s £200m pothole repair fund.”
“Measures are already in place to maintain good quality highway maintenance, but the process is hampered again by restrictions on funding for this purpose. It may be necessary to prioritise more funding in the direction of highways at the detriment to other services should there be further deterioration during any future severe winter conditions.”
7) What will you do to revitalise the borough’s town centres?
“Three years ago, Conservatives slashed car parking to 10p per hour in all council-owned car parks. Under the previous Labour administration, parking charges were up to 10 times higher. This has helped to boost visitors to our towns and support local businesses. In addition, Conservatives have agreed targeted reductions in business rates to encourage businesses into our centres and have established a dedicated Town Centre Investment Fund. We have supported the council’s economic growth team which means we are out fighting for investment in our borough, and encouraging and supporting new businesses across Trafford. Following local Conservatives successful regeneration of Urmston town centre and sports-led regeneration in Stretford, redevelopment schemes are now underway in Altrincham and Partington. Plans have also been drawn up for Sale and Stretford.”
“Liberal Democrats will continue to support the measures currently in place for the borough’s town centres, for example we feel that our ancient market town of Altrincham is at last on the way to recovery with so many attractions to be in place during the next couple of years. The interchange will soon be finalised, a new hospital, a new leisure centre, an updated market and a new library are all in the pipeline. The vacant premises are gradually reducing with new business showing a positive interest. The revival of Altrincham certainly seems to have an exciting future. In order to support these improvements the council has maintained low car parking charges for the coming year to encourage more visitors to visit the town.”
“Labour will prioritise job creation and develop a strong local economy which benefits all our communities. At the centre of this will be our work with businesses and shops which will help in our drive to develop ALL our town centres and shopping parades. Our town centres are the life blood of our communities and we are committed to work tirelessly to reduce empty shops and enhance their development. To improve our town centres we will promote and support a new metro-link line into Trafford Park and Manchester Airport and improved transport links, all of which will help generate jobs, prosperity and relieve congestion on our roads.”
8)What would you do to counter voter apathy and the declining turnouts at elections?
Ray Bowker: “People have the freedom of choice, they are either interested or not in the importance of local government or indeed government in general. The only way to change this would be to try to encourage more postal voting or even make voting compulsory.”
David Acton: “I would say to your readers that democracy and voting is one of the most precious things we have and we ignore it at our peril. Our politics may not be perfect and definitely has its flaws. However we only need to look around the world where we see civil wars where people are fighting and dying for the right to vote in fair and free elections, and would give their right arm for a democracy like ours. Without democracy and voting we would not have a free NHS service, schools for our children to be educated, a safety net for people who find themselves in hard times, parks, libraries, youth services, fire and police services, waste disposal service and much more. Sadly some of those services are now under threat. For all these reasons it is up to individuals to take responsibility and get involved in democracy. AND USE YOUR VOTE.”
“Voting in local elections is incredibly important. Political parties need to be representative of the electorate they serve and should be responsive all year round to the issues that are being raised. Under my leadership this is the approach the Conservative group will continue to take. As a young leader, I also hope to encourage as many others as possible to become involved in the political process. I am committed to meeting with as many groups as possible to ensure that the council is engaged with concerns through a two way conversation at all times. We will stream council meetings live.”
9) Do you believe postal voting is vulnerable to electoral fraud? If so, should there be tighter restrictions on who is eligible to vote by post?
“Over a decade ago In Trafford we did experiment with all-postal voting for a couple years. This was very successful and it raised the vote by nearly 20 per cent. However there were concerns expressed in other areas of the country where there was all-postal vote fraud found which caused the authorities to discontinue all-postal voting. I personally believe that with further safeguards built into the system all-postal voting can work effectively and legally without it falling foul of those who wish to fraudulently abuse the system. A good turn-out at the polls is healthy for our democratic process.”
“Postal voting is no more vulnerable to electoral fraud than ballot box voting.” Sean Anstee: “The process for postal voting has been enhanced in recent years to help counter fraudulent activity; however no system is ever foolproof. Fortunately in Trafford we do not appear to have had the problems experienced in some other parts of the country. “Individual electoral registration will be introduced from June 2014 and will help to ensure an even more accurate register. In addition, we will look to establish a postal vote code of conduct for all political parties to sign up to.”
10) Why should people vote for your group? How will you make Trafford a better place?
“Liberal Democrats top policy is to put people first, and offer fairness to all. We would ensure front line services and the council structure are directed to meet the needs of all our residents. We are fully committed and honour Trafford’s motto to .HOLD FAST THAT WHICH IS GOOD’.
“A Conservative Council will ensure that Trafford remains one of the best places to live in the country. We have stood up for the interests of local people, run an efficient Council and have clear aspirations for our Borough over the coming years. In particular, we will:
• Continue to keep Trafford the lowest council tax authority in the north west;
• Defend our record breaking school system from Labour attack;
• Invest £millions more to protect our environment, roads and pavements; • Always stand up for local residents and continue to support those most in need in our communities;
•Continue to encourage investment in the local economy.
“We are a local group on the side of residents, always fighting for the interests of Trafford. In this local election, voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots to keep Trafford in safe hands and for an even more prosperous and vibrant Borough in the years ahead.”
“A Labour council will change the way that Conservatives have run Trafford over the past 10 years.
We will develop a council which is outward looking and will listen, communicates, connects and engages with the people who live, work and visit Trafford.
The new Labour council will ensure all decisions we make are ones the majority of Trafford residents will support. Council meetings will be opened up to the public and opportunities for residents to speak and suggest items are put on the agenda.
We will be transparent in everything we do and stream our meetings live to the public. Our residents will have a real voice in planning and licensing and we will defend our environment, air quality and our hospital to the hilt against Conservatives who have driven rough-shod over local democracy. Our residents will be at the heart of everything we do. I say to all your readers join us for a new exciting future in Trafford.”