Why does Cheltenham need Labour councillors?
For several decades, Cheltenham Borough Council (CBC) has been run by the Liberal Democrats; over the last ten years this has been within a framework of Conservative governments and Conservative control of Gloucestershire County Council. A county council is of course a much more substantial authority than a borough council: Gloucestershire County Council’s budget is 20 times greater than Cheltenham Borough Council’s. But Conservative governments since 2010, under the cover of ’Austerity’, have reduced funding for all levels of local government by around 60%. The prospects for the next few years are no improvement, with Cheltenham Borough Council forecasting a £3m ‘funding gap’ between 2022 and 2024. Reduced funding leads to reduced power for local people to control what happens in their locality, and this is no accident; the Conservatives may claim to believe in a small state, but they also want it to be a centralised state.
Why does this matter?
So long as the operating environment for Cheltenham Borough Council is determined by the Conservatives, the hopes and ambitions of left of centre parties will always be thwarted. Electing Labour councillors in Cheltenham wouldprovide a different sort of opposition on the Council to that currently provided by the Conservative councillors – one that would challenge and support the Liberal Democrats to fight harder against the constraints imposed by Conservative policies and spending restraints, to keep making the case that social justice is the hall mark of a civilised and successful society. Take, for example
CBC recognises that the affordable housing built between 2015 and 2020, although welcome, was significantly less than the housing needed. Its own assessment identifies that it needs to deliver 3,874 new affordable homes (194 per annum) between 2021 and 2041. Between 2015 and 2020 only 340 were built in total.
Under the Labour government of 1997-2010, nearly 3 million children were lifted out of poverty (If you look at absolute poverty, then the number of children in poverty fell by well over a million (in fact, over two million), regardless of whether you factor in housing costs or not.) . In 2015, five years into Tory government, it was estimated by the National Education Union that the astounding figure of just under 5,000 children were living in poverty in Cheltenham (that’s around 23% of all our children), a figure that barely changed over the following five years to 2019. It is also reasonable to assume that the detrimental impact of the Covid pandemic on employment patterns and opportunities has only increased that number. So over this period of time, the policies pursued locally have had no impact on the scale of child poverty in Cheltenham. A lot of effort has clearly been put into the ‘No Child Left Behind’ initiative, for example, but the Council’s own evaluation demonstrates that it has not been successful in reaching the most vulnerable children. But, you may well say, Cheltenham feels like such an affluent town, how can child poverty be such an issue? Well, sadly, it is, and that brings us to
Despite having around 46% of its population living in areas ranked as the most prosperous (least deprived) nationally (as measured by the Index of Multiple Deprivation) Cheltenham also has two neighbourhoods which are in the most deprived 10% nationally.
So, is this the sort of town we want to be? And what sort of policies will improve the situation? Well, much of that needs to be addressed at national level, but we do have to ask whether the sort of employment opportunities being created by projects such as the Cyber Park and the proposed Minster Exchange will do enough to improve the working and living conditions of the people in those multiply deprived neighbourhoods.
Cheltenham needs a Labour voice
Labour councillors would be asking such questions; they are part of a national network of Labour councils and councillors, and can use that system both to formulate alternative policies to tackle these problems and feed back the realities of communities like ours, that look so wealthy, but where there are hidden pockets of deprivation.
Cheltenham is a wonderful town, and I count myself lucky to be able to live here. But there is plenty of evidence that an unequal society is eventually less successful, economically and politically. If you want to play your part in reducing inequality across the country, then help us make sure that Cheltenham is part of that movement. Vote Labour in Cheltenham on May 6th, help us ensure there is a Labour voice in our local government and politics, and make sure that Cheltenham, like Britain, is the best place to be young in and the best place to grow old in for all its citizens.