Giles McNeill

Giles McNeill

gilesmcneill

Giles McNeill is a West Lindsey district councillor and secretary for the Gainsborough Conservative Association.


In her Christmas message her majesty the Queen spoke of the fiftieth anniversary of a time when we flung ourselves and our machines, on wings of fire and steel, into the vastness of space, to land on the moon. In my lifetime no one has set foot upon the moon.

In 2019 my colleagues decided that they wanted new leadership for our Conservative group, following mixed results in the local elections. As the largest group on the council we remained the administration. However, with a reduced majority I have been reaching out to other groups on the council to build consensus. This has meant giving the Liberal Democrats, the council’s opposition, an increased responsibility for scrutiny of our policy committees. This has the potential to work well. Together progress is being made on our shared priorities; working for everyone across the district.

I became leader in May and hit the ground running. I have been rebuilding relationships across Greater Lincolnshire to ensure that West Lindsey is part of the conversation and getting our agenda included in the strategies and plans that affect people’s lives. We have concluded the review of our chief officer structure and appointed a new chief executive, replacing the triumvirate model of three executive directors, which was not the best structure for us going forward.

One of the first official events I attended in my new role was the turf cutting ceremony in Market Rasen for the new Leisure Centre. Works have been ongoing for most of the last six months of 2019. I very much look forward to the opening of this wonderful new centre in 2020. I remain committed to a review on the viability of a pool that I expect will be undertaken once the facility has had chance to get up and running.

We had some real successes during 2019. Securing a £100,000 grant for the Mayflower 400 celebrations and, more recently, securing £1.9m funding for heritage-led regeneration of the centre of Gainsborough from the National Lottery.

By working with various stakeholders, including Northern Rail, we now have regular hourly services at Gainsborough Central station, after a 26-year absence and the Lea Road station has a new northbound platform, that opened recently.

When I became the leader, I spoke of challenges we faced – climate change, an ever-growing population, the scarcity of resources, the blight of poverty on people’s lives. I am proud that a motion, jointly put forward by myself and the leader of the opposition, was agreed unanimously by councillors to create a strategy on sustainability and climate change. The review of the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan next year will help us manage a growing population whilst the result of the general election should mean that we will get a multi-year financial settlement.

Before becoming the leader, I had been the Chairman of the Governance and Audit Committee, so it will come as no surprise, that I was delighted that during the summer we got the very best possible outcome from our external auditors. A double unqualified opinion on both the statement of accounts and on if the council’s provides value for money (the jargon for spending public money wisely), for the sixth year in a row! This is a tremendous achievement and only a small number of local authorities could boast such a record.

In our South West ward in Gainsborough we have some of the greatest deprivation in the country. Tackling this is paramount. Without our own council housing stock (it was all sold off back in the 1990s to a housing association) we must come up with creative methods to improve the lives of people. The introduction of selective licensing is helping to improve the private-rented homes that people live in. Slowly, but deliberately we are making progress.

Another significant project that has taken form during 2019 is the new Lea Fields Crematorium. This will open in early January 2020, on time and on budget. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to tour the site and see the works. There is going to be a ‘behind the scenes’ open day on Saturday, 11th January between 10am and 4pm for the public. It can be difficult to talk about death and dying, and our open day will hopefully help people understand how crematoriums work and provide a space to ask about anything they would like to know.

The recent flooding across all parts of the district – from the Trent in the west, to the Barlings Eau in the south-east, the flooding at Sturton-by-Stow and the problems at Holton-le-Moor – has been tough on people. I understand the frustration that local people have felt at the response of the public services that are supposed to be on our side in times of crisis. It hasn’t always felt like that.

During the general election campaign, Sir Edward Leigh, put forward the idea of a Greater Lincolnshire Rivers Authority, like that which they have in Somerset. It is certainly an idea that I hope to look at in 2020 and see if the other parts of the wider county would support as a way of making decisions more local and more responsive to our local needs.

I began by talking about Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and landing on the moon back in 1969. In the next few years NASA are planning the permanent return of mankind to the moon in preparation for the exploration of Mars. Our children will live in a world where there is a permanent human presence in space. We will look up at the moon and they will be looking down on us. What such change will mean for us we don’t know. What we do know is that change is a constant.

In the next few years I plan for West Lindsey to be ready face the changes and challenges of the next decade. I will work hard, with my colleagues, for all the peoples of the district to give everyone a brighter future.

Giles McNeill is a West Lindsey district councillor and secretary for the Gainsborough Conservative Association.

Most people spend very little time engaging with political news. It is well documented that those that do tend only to do so in a way that reinforces their own views. So, first impressions count. People want bite-sized amounts of information.

Simply put, if you can package an idea into a couple of words you are on the right track. Far easier to spread the message ‘Boris resigns over flawed Brexit plan’ than ‘Theresa May backs Plan for facilitated customs arrangement allowing for integrated supply chains and ‘just-in-time’ processes, a common travel area and framework for mobility, and a significant suite of tools that support the UK’s and EU’s combined operational capabilities in terms of security’ – hardly the stuff of casual conversation.

The Prime Minister Theresa May was asked by a journalist after the Chequers summit if she would be addressing the nation to sell the plan. She gave a look of withering scorn to the journalist and it hasn’t helped her or the Government that she is yet to engage with the media and by extension the public.

The main stories in the aftermath of the Chequers Summit have been Donald Trump’s put-down of a UK-US free trade deal and the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson.

But what are the public thinking, and has the week’s events changed opinions? Overall 42% of people say they believe the Chequers Plan would be a ‘bad deal for Britain’, but not as split along party lines as some might imagine. Interestingly just 15% of people who voted Remain and 14% of those who voted Leave think the deal is good for Britain; meanwhile 51% of Leave voters and 42% of Remain voters see the deal as bad for the nation.

Much of the public (40%) think the deal is ‘too soft’, according to YouGov – and two-thirds of Leave voters would agree; whereas Remain voters are split thinking it’s ‘too hard’ (23%), ‘too soft’ (18%) and ‘just about right’ (18%). And well worth noting that over a third of people don’t have a clue (35%).

Naturally enough, with such a turbulent week in politics, the Prime Minister’s approval rating has collapsed to hitherto uncharted depths; just one in five view her favourably (down 9 percentage points since May), conversely 62% of people now say they have an unfavourable view of her – and it seemed to be Leave voters turning against her.

It is too early to judge any lasting damage to the Conservatives of the weeks events. A dip in two recent polls were both within the margin for error. Could these voters simply be dissatisfied and if push came to shove would they stay loyal for fear of the alternative offered by Jeremy Corbyn? Might they go and find a home with other parties? One factor that might influence things is who leads the Party after Mrs. May’s departure: Something perhaps entirely dependent on how the runners and riders have responded to the Chequers Deal.

Focusing on the reaction of Leave voters is a mistake; especially as we know that there is little disparity in YouGov’s survey between Leave and Remain voters on the Plan being bad for the nation. Early indicators suggest this week has harmed the Conservatives with a small number of people moving back to UKIP; it also seems to have increased support for a referendum on the final deal.

The plan has so far failed to please the nation, that much is certain. It will be the coming days and weeks we will see if the Prime Minister has the mettle to lead the nation to the optimistic vision of a post-Brexit UK envisioned by the Brexiteers. Or retreats to the comfort ground for all conservatives – maintaining the status quo; delivering the squishiest, spongiest, soft Brexit – a Brexit in name only.

Giles McNeill is a West Lindsey district councillor and secretary for the Gainsborough Conservative Association.

With the year having drawn to a close we complete another orbit of the sun. At a rate of approximately 67,000 mph we have travelled a distance of 584 million miles. Pretty impressive: Returning to where we began.

In some ways local government is the same to that annual journey. Too often the role of a local district council in Lincolnshire is reduced to the one, most visible, service – bin collections. Yet like our journey around the sun much of what we do is done in the background, going on all the time unnoticed.

At West Lindsey District Council we are responsible for a huge number of services. The council’s own constitution lists a mere 61.

I am very proud to be the chairman of the Governance and Audit Committee for the council, it is our responsibility to keep an eye on the rules we operate within, ensure the proper audit of the council and that includes making sure that the council is spending every penny wisely.

I am very pleased to say that West Lindsey District Council received the best possible results from the audit of our most recent statements of accounts.

We all know that local government has its financial difficulties. At one time, roughly a third of a local council’s income came from central government, the next third from council tax, and the rest made up of charges for services (planning fees, car parks, garden waste collection etc.).

As the money local councils receive from central government continues to reduce, and is soon expected to be gone altogether, we have made great efforts, since the onset of austerity in 2010, to keep as many frontline services going as possible; doing our part, and by far the most significant part of the public sector, to put the nation’s finances on an even keel.

Locally, to do this we have embraced a culture that is entrepreneurial at the council. This was the centrepiece of our promises in the 2011 local elections. In the next set of elections, in 2015, we knew we had to go further, had to work harder and bring a step change that would provide the revenues we need to keep services going. We promised in our manifesto to embrace commercialisation – the idea that we would find ways to invest to bring a return to the council, letting us keep providing frontline services and keeping rises in the council tax low.

Recently, there was considerable coverage of the leasehold we have taken on a Travelodge hotel in Keighley, West Yorkshire. I believe it is the 56th leasehold we now have. We knew that our commercialisation plans were both ambitious and bold. We also knew that making such a change to the traditional role of the district council should not be done without reference to our electorate. So, local people were consulted.

Commercialisation was part of our number one priority on all of the 44,000 election address leaflets we put out in the run up to the local elections in 2015. We were clear about needing to find new sources of revenue and that this would be done by having a more commercial approach. In our more comprehensive manifesto, published online, we spelt out what that would mean in detail. Fairly conclusively we were returned to office with an increased majority.

In the coming financial year commercial activities will contribute £1.3m to our discretionary budget of £8.7m. West Lindsey District Council is not alone in its embrace of commercialisation, although we have been at the tip of the spearhead; around half of all council undertake some form of commercial activity. In 2016 alone APSE and CIPFA found that around £1bn was invested in property assets by councils and by 2020 commercial activity is expected to raise £2bn for local councils.

As we begin a new year, as with the Earth’s orbit, we in local government are back at a familiar starting point. We must keep finding further savings or new sources of revenue. We will doubtlessly continue this effort in obscurity going unnoticed; but like the half billion mile journey we are all about to resume, if you knew we were doing it we would probably be doing it wrong. I have often thought that we are getting it right when nobody notices we are doing anything at all.

New Year’s Resolutions

Personal: To say ‘no’ more often. Particularly when offered a biscuit with coffee or another slice of cake or a second glass of wine or whatever. I think I will try and refuse to take on too much extra; it is so easy to say ‘yes’ to everything and be spread too thin. To seek,to strive and not to yield.

Professional: To work hard for the residents of the Nettleham ward. To keep delivering for everyone in West Lindsey to make our district more prosperous, more enterprising, more accessible and more connected. To make the district increasingly green; where people want to live, work and visit. To continue to encourage residents to be, and build communities that are, more active and healthy.

Giles McNeill is a West Lindsey district councillor and secretary for the Gainsborough Conservative Association.

+ More stories