The battle for control of Essex

MORE than 400 candidates are contesting the 75 seats at stake in elections for a new four-year term on Essex county council.

Roddy Ashworth

Roddy Ashworth reviews the Essex County Council election hopefuls

MORE than 400 candidates are contesting the 75 seats at stake in elections for a new four-year term on Essex county council.

The council, based at County Hall in Chelmsford, spends around �2.1billion per year on providing important public services - the equivalent of �2,000 for each person living in the county.


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Out of that sum, it educates about 200,000 pupils in 571 state schools, maintains 4,600 miles of roads, and also provides support to 2,340 adults with learning disabilities, 3,335 adults with physical and sensory needs, and 4113 adults with mental health difficulties.

It also lends 8.2 million books a year through 85 libraries, recycles 130,000 tonnes of household waste at 23 centres and provides places for 4719 older people in residential and nursing homes.

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At the last county election in 2005, when the poll coincided with a general election, there was a turnout of 69%. The current make-up of the council is 50 Conservatives, 13 Labour, eight Liberal Democrats, two independents and two non-aligned members.

The Tories, who have held power at County Hall since 2001, have made a manifesto commitment that council tax rises will be below the rate of inflation.

The Tories have also pledged to save �200million by changing the way the council operates but still deliver “excellent” services to the people of Essex.

In their last term the Tories have worked on a way to reopen some of the post offices which had been closed across the county and, in response to the economic downturn, set up the council's own “Bank of Essex” to help local small businesses.

Their leader, Lord Hanningfield, said: “I am extremely proud of the Conservative administration's achievements over the last four years.

“It is the Conservatives alone that have a proven track record of success and the ideas and drive to continue to make a positive difference.”

“We will provide excellent, value for money services and low council tax in order to deliver the best quality of life in Britain.

“There is stark difference between our positive agenda and the negative campaigns that the opposition groups are running.”

Labour group leader at the council Paul Kirkman claims the Tory administration is intent on “privatising” council services and says his party would reverse this policy. “We want to keep the county council in the control of the people of Essex.

“At the moment we are concerned at the prospect of the Conservatives selling off services. “They tried that before with the IT system and it was a disaster. Despite all the denials about privatisation, that is what we think they are trying to do,” says Mr Kirkman.

The Labour manifesto promises more resources for pavement and pothole repairs, a major investment in libraries - especially the book fund - and greater support for public transport.

The party also pledges to improve education in the county's schools and to reduce consultancy costs.

“We want to focus on frontline services,” Mr Kirkman said. “Doing the day job is what it's about.

“All of the extra bits that this administration has done - like having a bank and a PR agency - are extras that shouldn't be done if the basics are not right.”

The Liberal Democrats also believe the Tory-run council has forgotten about “getting the basics right” and argue that more needs to be done to improve front-line services.

The group's leader Tom Smith-Hughes says: “It's a very simple message - taxpayers' money needs to be spent on more services for the benefit of local people and less on spin and publicity that benefits politicians.

“Sadly, the past four years of Conservative control has seen Essex County Council downgraded in its performance by independent assessors.

“This was mainly as a result of its deteriorating children's services in general and services for vulnerable children in particular, which along with only seven other councils in the country, have been identified as inadequate.

“Concentrating on providing first class services and getting the basics right must be the first priority, yet money has been frittered away on hosting seminars, spin and publicity and the launch of a publicly funded public relations company.

“We want roads and pavements fixed and comprehensive services for the elderly, the sick and for children.”

Mr Smith-Hughes said his party would cut the council's budget for “publicity and spin” and reinvest the money into mainstream services.

The leaders of all three parties have united on one front - to condemn the far-right British National Party, which has fielded candidates for every single seat at County Hall.

But Eddy Butler, the BNP's regional organiser for the East of England, claimed the whites-only party had a good organisational structure in the county and around 700 paid-up members.

“We have got some good wards in Essex. We have a good chance is some areas, such as Basildon, Rochford and Castle Point. There may also be a surprise in Clacton and Tendring, because a lot of people have moved there from the Dagenham area.

“We have got specific policies on everything. We feel the main parties don't really represent the people.”

The Green Party is fielding 56 candidates in Essex. Its manifesto claims that both central government and the European Union regard the county as a front line area for major growth.

The party believes in capping passenger limits at Stansted Airport, and stopping plans for a huge growth of the county's ports. It also calls for investment in “green” jobs, protecting the countryside and taking a hard line against any form of waste incineration.

Other parties standing in the elections include the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), The English Democrats, Say No to EU, Tendring First and the Community Representatives.

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