The Conservative leadership in North East Lincolnshire will face its first big test on May 6, as after two years in power it will hope its main Labour opposition haven’t yet bounced back.
In 2019, Labour — whose grip on the council already depended on a tenuous alliance with the Liberal Democrats — lost control by losing just three seats while their Tory opponents gained five.
Ahead of the election they had faced a number of controversial decisions, including the Toll Bar Roundabout and their former party leader being arrested (and later in the year convicted) for drink-driving.
However, despite some successes over the past two years the Conservatives have seen their own choices questioned and their own controversy around their (now resigned) deputy leader Councillor John Fenty’s dealings with a convicted fraudster.
On May 6, there are 61 candidates contesting 14 ward seats in the North East Lincolnshire Council elections next month. See all the candidates here.
We spoke to party leaders ahead of the election to get their thoughts and priorities this time round.
Cllr Matthew Patrick – Labour
The Leader of North East Lincolnshire’s Labour Party Councillor Matthew Patrick said his party had learnt the lessons of the last election and accepts that a lack of engagement and consultation contributed to their downfall.
“Obviously we didn’t lose the council by accident,” he said. “Slowly but surely though, I’m looking forward to actually rebuilding residents’ trust.
“It’s absolutely important that when Labour hopefully one day does run the council again, that they can actually see their voice and their news in the decisions we make. We’ve got to listen to residents and make them feel they’ve been listened to.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and some people self-isolating, Councillor Patrick said residents had been keen to engage with campaigners.
Councillor Patrick said conversations with residents so far had indicated some voters were “coming back to Labour”
“There’s cautious optimism out there and people are coming back to their natural party.
“Both locally and nationally, the Labour Party has moved on, and I’m looking forward to a lot of residents looking at the Labour Party and seeing the party that they grew up with them, familiar with who speaks for them and their interests.”
However, he did not rule out a joint leadership with another party, similar to that prior to the 2019 elections.
Key priorities for the party in this election will focus on clean streets, tackling fly-tipping, boosting the economic growth of the area, protecting support for more vulnerable residents and increasing mental health support.
Councillor Patrick was critical of Conservative decisions to “scale back” a weekly recycling scheme, their approach to fly-tipping and the closures of family hubs and the Floral Hall in Grimsby’s Peoples’ Park.
He said residents would “come to their own conclusions” about Councillor John Fenty stepping down from cabinet and deciding not to run during the 2021 elections.
He said his party believed regeneration and economic growth had “stalled” under the Conservatives — noting that grants from central government had “been lower than what we’ve actually bid for”.
He said that the caliber of his party’s candidates were “some of the best we’ve had for a very long time,” adding: “You can see some very good examples of representation across the board that everybody can relate to.”
Cllr Philip Jackson — Conservative
Conservative Party leader Councillor Philip Jackson felt his party had proved themselves in their first two years in power and said residents recognised the good progress made despite COVID-19.
“We’ve done a pretty good job in that we’ve tackled and sorted out a lot of the problems that the previous Labour administration seemed either unwilling or incapable of resolving.
“We have met many of our manifesto commitments from two years ago and the ones that we haven’t we’re still working on.”
Councillor Jackson said there had been a “sea change in political thinking” in the region.
“People recognise that that’s been good progress, especially considering over the past year we’ve had all the delays and difficulties caused by the COVID pandemic,” he said.
His plan is to build on things like street cleaning, the Town Deal, the regeneration of Grimsby and Cleethorpes and increasing recycling rates.
He said COVID-19 had left his party “somewhat restricted” in the amount of contact they had been able to have with the electorate, and that they were looking forward to further restrictions.
The party is targeting particular wards and is hoping that even if they don’t succeed in increasing the number of seatsl they will hold steady at their current level.
“They are all in what we will consider to be relatively safe wards, if there is such a thing as a safe ward these days, so probably the worst case scenario, unless something goes horribly wrong, we’ll come out to the other side of the elections on May 6 with the same number of seats we’ve got now, which will still give us an overall majority on the council.”
Councillor Jackson was unfazed by the controversy surrounding his deputy, again repeating that Councillor Fenty had been “assiduous in declaring any interest” he had on council agendas and stepped back from conflicts.
He noted that despite allegations made by his opponents, no evidence of wrong doing was presented and there were no reports to the Standards Committee.
“There’s a recognition out there that things are being done above board, and there isn’t any concern from that viewpoint,” he said.