In the first of what we hope will be a showcase of examples of good conservativism being delivered across the United Kingdom by local councils, activists and campaigners we take a closer look at two situations: one where conservatives run the council, and the other where they’re in opposition. Throughout this series we will focus on small-c conservatism.

A Council Tax Cut for Harlow

In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis with communities, families and individuals struggling to pay their bills one council has managed to defy political gravity by cutting local Council Tax by £55 for a Band D home, cancelling a previously planned increase of 1.99%, which was likely to have been proposed by officers following a 1.99% increase for the 2021/22 year. Following a cut in the 2022/23 year the council is proposing to freeze council tax at the new level until 2025.

Noting the recent announcement by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to provide a council tax rebate of £150 for Bands A-D, the controlling Conservative group’s leader, Councillor Russell Perrin said:

“Along with the government’s Council Tax rebate, the overall Harlow Council Tax bill for the majority of council taxpayers is set to reduce this year, providing much-needed cost of living help for Harlow families and individuals.”

At the same time as cutting council tax, Harlow is keen to press its investments in local services and amenities. A report to Cabinet in October 2021 shows the awarding of a £490,580.99 contract to deliver a splash park at Staple Tye, and in December 2021 Cabinet also approved £322,425 worth of investment into the refurbishment of eight apartment blocks as well as an increase to the overall paddling pool and splash parks budget by an additional £217,581. Looking ahead, the council is planning an investment of £26m into new council homes for local families alongside a £122m programme to improving existing housing stock over 5 years.

The budget was passed at Full Council on 3 February. The Labour group proposed an alternative budget, which included the 1.99% increase to council tax whilst at the same time ploughing £1.35m back into reserves.

Harlow’s budget has even won praise in the House of Commons with Jacob Rees-Mogg saying:

“It’s amazing what good conservative councils can do!”

Meanwhile, in Oxfordshire

Oxfordshire County Council is one of those councils that you would ordinarily not imagine being anything other than Conservative-run, but things have changed and a Liberal Democrat Green Alliance is now in control. One of their early acts it seems is to propose that whenever the council is laying on a spread that only vegan food is served, much to the anger of the many farmers in the area – one of them being Jeremy Clarkson.

He told his over 7 million followers it was “Madness. Utter utter madness” and added “Why are Liberal Democrats always Stalinist?”.

The latter tweet has so far attracted over 9,300 likes in 15 hours. The BBC has now picked up on the story with Liberal Democrat leader of the council Liz Leffman apparently saying that she wants to make agriculture more sustainable. The plans are due to go before Full Council on 15 March, and presumably the council will be rolling out the PA system to accommodate the doubtless hundreds of protestors that will descend on the meeting – swelling to thousands probably if Jeremy Clarkson tweets about it.

The local Conservatives have been working with the farming community to represent their concerns and have stood with them against the proposals, demonstrating that even in opposition it is possible for effective conservatism to be delivered, which is likely to result in the ruling administration backing down from their proposals.

Oxfordshire County Council proposes providing only vegan food at meetings and events
Oxfordshire Protest about Council’s Veganism Proposals. Photo credit and permissions: Oxfordshire Conservatives

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