Rossendale Free Press
This time could be our last vote for county hall
2021, as well as being the year we hopefully return to a normal life thanks to the amazing wonders of science, will be a year of many elections here in Rossendale.
Thanks to the pandemic, elections to Rossendale Council and the police and crime commissioner were shelved for a year - meaning they will now take place in 2021, at the same time we’re due to vote on who should represent us at Lancashire County Council.
The last elections for the county council took place in early May 2017, just as the country was gearing up for the snap general election Theresa May called in the hope of turning a large lead in national polls into a rock-solid majority in a Brexit-debating parliament.
We all know what happened next!
But at the time of the county council elections, across the country, the gains made by the Tories all pointed to a significant win for Mrs May, such was the swing from Labour to Tory in the local elections.
The same was true in Lancashire, and in particular here in Rossendale, where the Tories took a clean sweep of our county council seats, pushing out several experienced Labour representatives to boot.
Local Tories will tell you their success was down to dis-satisfaction with the way Labour were running County Hall.
Local Labour activists insist that they were victim of an election which was billed as a dress rehearsal for the general election which was due to follow.
On balance, both are probably true to an extent. Ironically, perhaps, the roles are reversed this time.
The Tories ideally need a local election run on local issues, while Labour’s easiest route back into County Hall governance would be via a proxy national opinion election.
Ideally, however, both will fight on local issues and engage voters on local issues.
For the Tory county councillors of Rossendale, that means defending their records of the past four years - and that of the ruling Tory party, led by Geoff Driver, a former council officer who began his career at Rawtenstall before making the jump to the political side in Preston.
Locally, in 2017, Tory activists could point to the closure of libraries, the scrapping of some subsidised bus services and the closure of Helmshore Textile Museums as examples of visible, public services Labour had axed to save money.
It’s always struck this columnist as disingenuous to criticise a council saving money when it’s the political party you support which ultimately is slashing the budgets councils have to work with.
Essentially, local Tories who do so are saying ‘don’t slash money this way, do it this way.’
And to be fair to Cllr Driver, he hasn’t been one for waving an angry fist at Government and blaming Whitehall for the council’s financial woes.
Equally though, there are many who say in not doing so, the party locally has sold the county short.
The Tory way at County Hall has been to save money - tens of millions, just as Labour did before it to remain in budget - but often focusing on the sorts of services you and I don’t see.
Things like financial support to put a police presence on public transport, or services designed to help some of the most vulnerable young people in Lancashire.
And, of course, some of the savings have just been buck-passing - such as removing a £500k support fund to deliver recycling services in Rossendale, which left Rossendale Council with a £500k hole in its budget.
‘We’re all in this together’ took on a new meaning then.
That all said, these issues are hard to sell to time-starved voters as reasons to get out and vote for change - that’s Labour’s problem this year.
There is one issue I think all parties do agree on, however: That LCC needs to be scrapped, along with borough councils, and replaced with new, single-tier authorities. Time will tell if that happens, but it’s quite likely May 2021 could be the last time ever we vote in county council elections.