Who cares about 100 days, let’s discuss 150 days or, a Lib Dem lesson in how not to run Kingston Council

“don't think do't ask pay tax vote for us text” by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

There is something not quite right about Ed Davey’s new Lib Dem Council in Kingston.

Putting aside the chaos that seems to be ensuing within their party with one Councillor resigning citing “there is a lack of vision at the top of the administration” and that she was particularly unimpressed by the Leader’s betrayal of residents on promises made by the Lib Dems before the election, things are unsteady on many fronts. You can say what you like about the last Conservative administration but at least it had a sense of direction, delivered on its manifesto and was very clear about its vision for the Borough.

Already, Ed Davey’s Lib Dems have been marked out by a lack of strong leadership and a vision for the future of the Borough. We have had promises they will install a drinking fountain and consult on a borough-wide 20mph zone but after six months where is the policy programme and big-picture vision for the Borough? We are a London Borough not a Parish Council and we have lots to do. Kingston needs to be a Borough that embraces growth and works to getting investment into the Borough from new businesses and homes. Without these things happening our finances will decline and the quality of life will fall. Cllr Sumner, the Lib Dem who left because of this lack of vision, was spot on about their lack of ambition and Leadership. I am led to believe that the Leader took most of the Summer off and at exactly the point the new administration should be forging the new future there has been drift and inactivity. Instead, we seem to be going back to the days of a previous administration under the notorious Derek Osbourne who seemed to believe that the best way of winning elections was by doing nothing for fear you might upset someone. Well, Kingston’s future will be very bleak if that is where we are heading.

It is hardly surprising we are all confused (including their own group it seems) when we have had U-turn after U-turn and changed policies left, right and centre. Let’s examine a few.

They campaigned before the election telling us that we had made Kingston bankrupt. That was plain silliness then and they now admit we are not bankrupt and they did not have an emergency budget as it was unnecessary. In fact, over the Summer Ed Davey’s team indicated that they would have increased Council tax by 6% had they been in power in March 2018 and that already, because they have not implemented the budget fast enough, they have an unrecoverable budget black hole of £4m in one department alone. The only conclusion we can draw from all this is that over the next few years we will see the maximum Council Tax rises they can get away with.

There are a string of other broken promises and policy reversals:

  • They campaigned saying they wanted more Police on the streets and yet they cut the town centre policing that we had paid for over the past three years. I have emails from the Police setting out very clearly that the team would be in place until 22 May 2018 so we could take a final decision on them being funded after the election. What we had been waiting for was a final position from the Mayor on whether he would fund the extra officers he was paying for as part of the deal. We also needed to see reports on the effectiveness of what we were paying for. The financing of this would have been moved from reserves in exactly the same way the Lib Dems moved money after the election to pay for their priorities. What is really odd is that whilst they say they wanted more Police when we questioned them on this they claimed they did not think it is something we should be paying for so the money was never really the issue for them. Odd behaviour to say the least.
  • They promised they would not pursue “aggressive growth” and yet within weeks of the election, they passed through a planning application for nearly 1,000 flats right next to Tolworth roundabout, the largest housing scheme ever seen in the Borough — Toby Jug in Tolworth.
  • They promised they would only allow 50% affordable homes on housing schemes and yet let Toby Jug through with 30%
  • They promised old and vulnerable residents they would not close Murray House care home and yet at their first opportunity they closed it
  • In March, during the local elections, they promised schools £1m in extra funding and they have now said they will not give them the money.
  • They promised residents that they would refund what they said were unfair traffic fines from a new Surbiton Crescent No-entry sign and yet they say they now will not do it
  • They promised to be a listening council and yet council security had to be deployed to their secret group meeting to remove members of their own party who disagreed with the Leadership of the Lib Dems
  • They promised to be transparent and yet perfectly legitimate questions go unanswered for months. Just one example is I asked Cllr Lady Davey, the Lib Dem responsible for housing, a question by email at the end of July asking her to clarify some serious issues she raised at a Council meeting and despite chasing twice I am still not able, 8 weeks later, to get an answer.
  • They removed the CEO at a cost over £300k and it emerges that this was because the Leader, on a whim, decided she could not work with the previous CEO only a few days after winning the election. One day we are told that the Lib Dem group is a “collective” that takes decisions together and the next we are told the Leader took this decision on her own. We were told at the time that the enormous costs would be offset by keeping the post vacant for a year and yet today they announce they are going ahead with the recruitment, only two months after announcing no recruitment. It’s all over the place and it seems when they do take a decision they can’t stick to it. You have to ask who in their right mind would want to be CEO of this “Council of Chaos”?
  • A week before the election they sent out a leaflet to some of the poorest residents on the Cambridge Estate implying, but never being explicit, that if you vote Lib Dem they were going to refund millions of pounds of water charges to them as had happened in another London Borough. In power, they have junked any idea of that and are pursuing a court case against a resident who dared to claim back those same water charges so they can prove they do not have to pay back the money.

Residents quickly tire of politicians who do not do what they say they will do. In fact, given the national decline of the Lib Dems over their reversed policies (student fees) and misleading statements you would have thought that Ed Davey and his Councillors would have learnt this. It is also such a shame, in many ways, that the Lib Dems have just become another political party. Gone are the days of them being the radical insurgents of the 1980s and 90s, now they have just become managers. My view is that distrust of politicians is entirely bound up in this issue. As I said earlier, we delivered all we said we would in our manifesto from 2014 and were very clear about the need to change Kingston and build more homes and attract investment and jobs.

I accept that many new Councils get off to a slow start but this one has already attracted a range of catastrophes. The Lib Dems seem to have spent more time breaking promises it made to the community than it has to implement their limited and unambitious manifesto. More seriously the Council has appeared rudderless as we stumble through reversed decisions to inactivity.

They have let down those residents who don’t want them building homes, they have let down parents by not honouring their commitment for more money, they pretended the Council was bankrupt when they now admit it is not. This is already a failing administration and the elections were only a few months ago. I hope for the good of the Borough I live in that things start improving.