The Sceptical Reader's Guide to the Conservative Manifesto
The Leicestershire Conservatives launched their manifesto today. (You can read it here. The page ordering is a little funny, but if you concentrate you can make some sense of it.)
It's a nicely designed document. Good graphical design, a clear layout, punchy messages. As you'd expect it says nice things about what they've done while in power, and what they hope to achieve if re-elected. It all looks very good on paper, but what's being said between the lines? This article gives just a few things to be looking out for:
Taking Credit Where it isn't Due.
The manifesto is full of things the County Council has already done or are doing. It attempts to take credit for initiatives which the Government requires councils to do eg the £18 million for public health or programmes the County council is already delivering with its partners, its a pity their contribution is not recognised.
Making the Bad Sound Good.
They boast about how many schools they've encouraged to become Academies, but their rush left has Leicestershire exposed to funding formula changes, leading to Leicestershire education services being underfunded by millions of pounds!
They say they 'successfully' transferred care homes to the private sector, but within a few months the council suspended placing residents in one of the homes and intervention by CQC was required. They promised to use the proceeds from the sale to invest in extra care, but still haven't received it yet. Leads us to wonder whether their promises about delivering extra care will be fulfilled - they made a similar promise four years ago but what has actually been delivered?
Sometimes their intentions are hidden in plain view. On the safer communities page they promise to 'maintain support for PCSOs until 2014' - so basically from 2014 they'll drop support for PCSOs and start cutting them? It's not immediately apparent from the positive wording they use.
Have Lessons Really Been Learned?
Perhaps the most significant part of this manifesto is the silence over Parsons. The previous Conservative leader for seven of the last eight years was caught with his hand in the till and forced to resign. The whole episode was disruptive to the operation of the Council and damaging to its reputation. This was exacerbated by the insistence of the Conservative members to defend him to the end, rather than deal with him quickly and decisively when they earlier had the chance. Where are the measures being promised to ensure that it never happens again?
Nick Rushton does make a small reference to the problems on the last page, insisting that since he became leader that any breach of the group rules on conduct and behaviour have been dealt with quickly and decisively. This is all very well to say, but a cursory glance of their new rules (published elsewhere) show that there's all sorts of procedures for the leader to investigate and discipline the other members, but no mention of any procedures to investigate or discipline the leader. Should a future leader choose to abuse their power again, there will once again be nothing in place to prevent them. Leads us to ask whether lessons have really been learned!
Candidates Swapping Seats
On a more trivial note, looks like the candidates for Coalville and Warren Hills have decided to swap seats. Did they prefer a change of scenery?
We suspect that they aren't seats they were taking seriously anyway...
There are a number of sensible suggestions in the booklet. During their time in power, we expect that council officers provided them with a large number of sensible recommendations for them to rubber stamp. The two big questions are:
- Do they have a good record to present over the last four years?
With blunders on academies, school services, care homes and Cabinet member scandals reach the national press, we say NO.
- But now they have a new leader, haven't lessons been learnt?
With Cabinet still making decisions behind closed doors, past mistakes glossed over rather than admitted to, and a structure that would allow a leader of the Council to abuse their position and waste taxpayer money, we say NO.
With four years of mismanagement and lessons still not learned we'd advise Leicestershire voters to think long and hard before giving them another stretch in power!