Former Swindon Borough Council leader David Renard has written to the man who succeeded him in response to recent criticism of the Conservatives’ record in the town.
Mr Renard was unseated in Haydon Wick as Labour swept into power in May.
His letter to Coun Robbins, and the Labour leader’s response are published in full below:
DAVID RENARD’S LETTER
I have read in the Media that you are quoted as saying that the Conservative Administration left the Council ‘in a mess’. Given that you have not substantiated this with any details, I must assume this is ideological rhetoric.
However, I feel I must set the record straight on behalf of my former colleagues who still sit on the Conservative benches in the chamber and those who no longer do, but who have been an important part of delivering so much success for Swindon.
It is a matter of public record that the Council’s revenue budget has been in balance every year for the last 20 years through sensible budgeting and making difficult decisions when they needed to be made. The capital programme and borrowing levels are prudent for a Council of Swindon’s size and we have ensured that investment has been made in infrastructure, schools and the Council’s property portfolio. Whilst all local authority finances are challenging, the external auditors and the LGA peer challenge teams have repeatedly praised our management of the Council’s finances. Within local government circles, after a huge amount of work by members and officers over many years, Swindon Council is now highly regarded. This compares starkly with 2001 when Labour last ran the Council and the Audit Commission concluded that your party presided over one of the worst councils in the Country.
The future of the borough has been secured with £100s of millions of public and private investment, much of it secured from Government by the Conservative Administration with the support of our MPs. Government viewed us as a council that would deliver what it said it would which meant we received more pounds per head of population than anywhere else in the County.
The private sector is choosing to invest here because we are seen as a great place to do business with a ‘can do’ attitude, particularly in our Planning department. The former Honda site will create many thousands of more jobs than were there previously with over £1.2B of GVA projected. Our road network has been upgraded and is ready for the future with high quality housing developments being delivered across the Borough including at Wichelstowe, Tadpole Garden Village, the New Eastern Villages and the Queen’s Drive homes. After years of little investment in the Town Centre, things are happening now: we have the completed Zurich HQ, the all-electric Premier Inn nears completion, there are investments in upgrading office space and conversions into residential homes and the Fleming Way works will transform the public realm and encourage further investment. A great deal of credit must go to Cllr Sumner who has worked closely with me on growing our Economy and securing new developments.
Our heritage continues to be protected with investments in the Carriage Works and Health Hydro, an agreement in place to secure the future of the Locarno, the Heritage Action Zone continues to bear fruit and the improvements to Lydiard Park and House have been widely praised. Great strides have been made with tackling climate change including the conversion of our street lights to LEDs, leading on one of the most successful solar energy programmes in the south west, working with developers to ensure new houses are built with electric charging capabilities and planting thousands of trees across the borough .
Finally, Adults and Children’s services have been graded good or outstanding by the inspections that have taken place in recent years. Our Youth Justice Service was recently rated ‘Outstanding’ and ‘a credit to our town’. Children within the service are likely to thrive and this means the local community is better protected against the chances of them committing a further offence. Our young people now have the option of attending the Oxford Brookes University’s Swindon Campus, the University Technical College and the Royal Agricultural University’s Cultural Heritage Institute
There is so much more that I could point to but these examples paint a picture of success not ‘a mess’ as you suggest. The Conservative Administration focussed on delivery, not ideology and rhetoric.
Of course, there is always, and will always, be more to do to improve the lives of our residents and provide a bright future for the Borough. However, the fact remains that your Administration has inherited a sound platform upon which to build. I only need point to the well-respected PwC’s recent ‘Good Growth for Cities’ Index where our town has scored second in the country from a list of measures of economic factors the public identifies as most important to their work and finances, and which are therefore essential for judging economic success.
I am sure that Cllr Sumner and his team will be holding you to account to ensure that Swindon moves forward and we are not returned to the disastrous situation inherited from the Labour Administration 20 years ago.
JIM ROBBINS’ RESPONSE
I thank David for his letter and will leave it to the people of Swindon to decide on how they feel about his claims. Early on in my political career, I was given the wise advice that the electors are never wrong and I still believe that to be true.
Here are just 3 examples from many we could give to illustrate the Conservative mess that the new Labour council is currently battling to clear up.
1. The Council is really struggling after 13 years of failed austerity from the Conservative Party, with cuts to our budget every year but a rising demand on our statutory services. This challenging financial situation is not helped by the debt of over £450m that the Swindon Conservatives left us. When they raised Council tax by the full amount possible without a referendum last year, the sum it raised from every household in the town wasn’t enough to cover the annual repayment costs on the loans that they took out. As well as the long-term debt, when Labour took office in May, the council had already over-spent the Conservative budget set in February by £14m.
2. Despite Mr Renard’s correct assertion that the Children’s Services previous Ofsted rating being good, we were warned as we took over that there were some problems in the department and that senior members of the team had left. As a new administration, we spoke to Ofsted and reported our concerns to them, and welcomed an early inspection to help us get to grips with the department. We are determined to do all we can to provide the best possible support to all children in our care, and will work with Ofsted to put in place a credible action plan to improve the department.
3. The Conservative Administration’s flagship Bus Boulevard project is yet another in their long list of highways projects that have overrun and gone over budget. We have recently discovered that the Utility Companies working on the project have been slow to react to uncharted pipes under the road and the project is likely to be delayed by a year or more. The Conservative’s didn’t learn the lessons of the delays at Greenbridge, Bruce St Bridges, the Moonrakers, the White Hart Junction or Mead Way. Not many of those projects were mentioned in Mr Renard’s letter.
The new Labour administration were humbled by the overwhelming election result in May and we are determined to work effectively with residents and build the better Swindon we promised.”
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