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Electoral battleground will be roads, jobs and cuts
LABOUR’S record in office in Southampton is under the spotlight as the city’s election battle heats up.
With thousands of residents set to vote in city council elections on May 22, opponents of the party have accused them of breaking promises and not doing enough to protect jobs.
But Labour chiefs have defended their record since sweeping to power in the last elections in 2012, saying they have kept job losses to a minimum in the face of “vicious” Government funding cuts.
The current balance of the council means Labour are highly likely to remain in power, but it is possible they could get a bloody nose in a couple of seats.
Since Labour’s landslide win in May 2012, more than £30 million of service cuts have been rubberstamped, while more than 300 jobs have been axed.
And with £30 million more in services predicted to go next year alone, austerity and its impact on the city has been a hot topic on doorsteps across Southampton.
The state of the city’s roads has also been a key issue, with each party promising to carry out improvements, along with the cleanliness of the city’s parks and streets plus parking.
David Fuller, a former Conservative councillor who is standing for the party in Bitterne, said: “I think people have been incredibly disappointed with Labour. They went into the 2012 election with a big manifesto of commitments which quite frankly they have completely put aside.
“They said they would protect jobs, and yet jobs have gone, and they promised to spend more on Sure Start Centres and libraries.
“People keep talking about a cost of living crisis but here in Southampton Labour are creating one, with council tax going up by as much as 16 per cent for elderly residents.”
He says the Conservatives’ alternative would include sharing more services with other councils and authorities, saving millions of pounds each year in the process.
Across the other side of the political spectrum, independent anti-cuts councillor Keith Morrell, who is standing for re-election in Coxford in tandem with the Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts, says Labour have failed to stand up to the coalition Government’s austerity drive.
He said: “Labour should be aware that amongst ordinary working people their failure to do anything other than simply caving in to Government diktats is losing them support.
Labour should recognise that they haven’t presented an alternative to the Tories.”
But Labour council leader Simon Letts, who is competing with Mr Fuller to be re-elected in Bitterne, says his authority has “kept job losses to a minimum”, with “fewer than 12” people leaving the council since May 2012 through compulsory redundancies.
He added: “We also ended the long-running industrial dispute which left a million rotting bin bags on the city streets and have established positive industrial relations.
“We’ve introduced a house of multiple occupancy (HMO) licensing scheme which is only the second or third of its kind in the country, and will help bring the private renting market under control.
Innovative “And we also successfully bid for £8 million from the Government for a glass recycling service for the first time here.
“In the background of vicious cuts from central Government we are still delivering innovative new services.”
Labour has unveiled a 50-point manifesto with key points on building the first new council houses for a generation, doubling investment in improving the city’s roads and creating new jobs.
The Liberal Democrats have also unveiled their “charter” of priorities for the city, which include keeping council tax low, requiring all HMOs to be licensed, reversing charges for first residents’ parking passes introduced by Labour, and campaigning to provide more jobs.
Party leader Cllr Adrian Vinson, who is also up for re-election in Portswood, said: “We will prioritise scarce resources for those most in need and maintaining and improving the quality of life in our neighbourhoods.”
The party has fielded candidates in elections since 2000, but is yet to win its first seat on the council. Among its policies for Southampton are ensuring new people to the city are supported with learning English and assimilated into the community, although they would have to contribute towards the cost, and helping young people find training and work opportunities.
Similarly to the Conservatives, UKIP is also against the controversial evening city centre parking charges brought in by Labour.
Millbrook candidate Pearline Hingston said: “UKIP candidates standing in the local council elections provide an alternative to the tired old parties. We pledge to follow the will of the communities we represent and always put their best interests first.”
Sustainable transport and improving the city’s air quality – an issue highlighted recently by the World Health Organisation – are among the Green Party’s key objectives.
Chris Bluemel, the party’s candidate in Freemantle, said: “We are campaigning against all forms of large biomass energy production and any subsidies being delivered for it. The quality of air in Southampton is appalling due to the city’s transport congestion.”
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