Local Election Day is now exactly a month away for most of Metropolitan England as well as across the whole of Scotland and Wales. Nick Clegg was in my own area of Stockport earlier today to officially launch the Liberal Democrat local election campaign, visiting a local business and speaking with councillors, business owners and local people.
I’ve no doubt that many of you have been out on the doorstep over the last few months, talking to people and showing them what we are achieving both nationally and locally.
You will already have your big messages in place. Number one has got to be your local record of service – all year round, not just at election time. Lib Dem councillors across the country work hard for local people. We listen to our communities and try to give them a voice in decisions made that affect them. In power we work to protect the services people most value, and to protect the most vulnerable in society.
The second message is that we are putting more money back in the pockets of hardworking people – something we can trumpet because of action we’ve taken both locally and nationally. On the local front, this year every single Lib Dem-run council has frozen their council tax bills – for the second year running. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives can say the same, with Labour-run Redcar, Leicester and Nottingham, and Tory-run Peterborough, Chelmsford and Surrey among the culprits who are driving up their bills this year. Four Lib Dem Councils – Eastleigh, Hinckley & Bosworth, Three Rivers, and South Lakeland – are even cutting their portion of the council tax bill this year!
Nationally, from this Friday, Liberal Democrats will deliver another £130 income tax cut to every basic rate taxpayer. That’s 25 million people getting a tax cut and 1 million people lifted out of paying Income Tax altogether thanks to us. And we’re making the rich pay. They face increased capital gains tax, an annual banker’s levy (worth £2.5bn each year) and even having to pay VAT on their private jets – something that despite all their posturing, Labour never got around to doing when they were in power. Combined with £900m invested in the battle against tax evasion, and the caps on tax reliefs introduced in the budget, we’re also doing more to make sure the rich actually do pay their fair share, and can’t dodge it.
There’s plenty else. The second year of record rises to Pensions, with pensioners set to benefit from a rise of £5.30 a week this year, on top of the £4.50 rise last year. There’s an extra £1.25bn for the Pupil Premium, targeted at our most disadvantaged pupils ensuring that they can have a fair start in life as well. We’re creating jobs, and supporting young people in the difficult path back into work by driving a record expansion of apprenticeships to over half a million, and the Youth Contract, announced yesterday, designed to get over 400,000 young people earning or learning.
And we’re giving real power and control back to local areas, particularly over planning. We’re protecting the Greenbelt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, ensuring that Brownfield land is used first for development, whilst also striking a sensible balance between protecting the environment and building the homes we so desperately need. And we’re giving councils and communities real say over what is developed in their areas through neighbourhood planning. Planning is set to become a bottom-up community-driven process, not the top-down imposition it’s been for far too long. Lib Dems across the country should be getting out on the doorstep and canvassing their communities to see what they want in their local plan. What kind of development do they want to see and where? It’s a huge campaigning opportunity for the party, and is just the kind of “community politics” we’ve championed for decades. Richard Kemp has already told LDV readers that he’s all set to start the process in his ward in Liverpool from day one, so there’s no reason why every Lib Dem councillor and candidate shouldn’t be using this opportunity as well.
This is a challenging round of local elections – it’s only the second we’ve ever fought as a party of government. We’ve had some tough choices to make, and at time some difficult compromises too, a necessity of coalition. But we’ve also achieved a lot of what we have campaigned for, and there is more to come. We need to get out on the doorsteps and remind people why they vote for our hardworking candidates locally, and what benefits we’ve been able to deliver as part of the Coalition nationally.
* Andrew Stunell is the Liberal Democrat MP for Hazel Grove, was a member of the all-party parliamentary inquiry into electoral conduct and is a former communities minister.