To most people the need for local authorities to develop a strong and honest relationship with central government is obvious. Equally, it is essential that local councils develop an open and trusting relationship with the residents that they represent.
Of course the council should challenge the national government, of whatever persuasion, and I personally have never been afraid of that, even when the national government was of my political persuasion. However to indulge in what can only be called a ‘blame culture’, significantly disadvantages our city.
The Labour council is currently in negotiation with the Government over a number of key initiatives; flood defences, the clean air zone, and strategic infrastructure investment to name but a few; areas where we in the Conservative Group on the council have always been prepared to give our support on the basis that there are times when political parties should act together in the best interests of the city.
Too often, however, the Labour leadership of Leeds City Council seem to care more about publicly criticising the Government and scoring political points than actually trying to achieve a result and this simply does not make sense or serve the best interests of our city.
A recent example comes to mind; an all-party delegation to London to lobby for enhanced funding to deliver a 1 in 200 year flood protection scheme that the city needs took place in November. Yet the whole visit ended up with very negative press coverage and, I believe, a complete distortion of the situation.
I don’t believe it is sensible to describe one-off funding boosts such as those received in the Budget as ‘a sticking plaster’. It is essential that we now work closely with the Government on the Clean Air Zone (CAZ) which is not far from launch.
Leeds is the first area to embark on this, and we have to get it right and to ensure that local businesses, particularly small to medium-sized businesses, do not end up getting a raw deal. But many people believe that even in this respect some of the policies adopted by Leeds City Council have contributed to the pollution the city is now suffering from.
In recent years there have been a lot of examples where the council simply hasn’t listened to residents’ views – the collapsed New Generation Transport scheme, the Council’s Core Planning Strategy and its Site Allocations Plan are cases in point. So when it comes to the Clear Air Zone it is to be hoped that the voices of residents will be heard.
Coun Andrew Carter is the leader of the Conservative group at Leeds City Council.