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Westlake Legal Group > Local government

Holly Whitbread: It’s tough going, campaigning in Epping Forest – despite having a good record to defend

Cllr Holly Whitbread is an Epping Forest District councillor and currently works as a parliamentary researcher.

There is no denying that, thus far, this local election has been difficult for Conservatives on the ground.

I have been pushing leaflets through letterboxes and knocking on doors for a few months now in anticipation of the impending local elections. At first, I was somewhat unfazed by the potential impact that Brexit may have on the elections. However, as time has developed, and scenes in Westminster have become ever more unprecedented, there is a tangible sense of frustration and growing anger brewing amongst the electorate. In the past few days, I have had doors slammed in my face, and been called a traitor, and there is a steady stream of known Conservative voters saying they will either not vote, or will never vote Conservative again as a result of the Brexit debacle.

The local and national mood is unrecognisable from May 2017, when standing on the Conservative ticket – the party delivering Brexit – was a huge selling point. Both the voters and candidates are yearning for these more simplistic and optimistic days. We are all bored with the never-ending overly cerebral conversations about the implications of Parliamentary procedure. People want to see their vote translated into practical reality.

Usually, local elections are fought on local priorities. Although local issues remain prevalent, the usual topics of parking, potholes and planning are being somewhat sidelined by Brexit.

However, we must persevere.

On the ground, local Conservatives have a great narrative to sell.

Local elections are an opportunity to champion fundamental conservative values. We local activists know that when we translate these principles into reality, applying them to the running of local authorities, communities can thrive. Up and down the country, Conservative-run councils are keeping taxes low and running efficient services, as well as investing in the future. Providing good value for residents.

In a time when trust is eroding in politicians, Conservative-run authorities are delivering on their mandate to improve and enhance their local area. Conservative councillors and candidates should be advocating for what they can offer locally and championing the excellent work already done.

In Epping Forest, where I am a district councillor, the Conservative-run council is an excellent case study for the success of local Conservativism. The council is run with an aspiration to maintain sound finance, whilst delivering the vital services which residents both want and require. We have a plethora of achievements and an exciting and ambitious vision to proudly present on the doorstep.

We have kept tax low. Epping Forest District Council has only increased its Council Tax once since 2010 and has the second lowest Council Tax in Essex. We are proud to have frozen our proportion of tax for the past nine out of ten years against a background of tax increases. This has been maintained whilst protecting front line services, which are delivered to a high standard, as well as providing additional non-statutory services. In the past ten years, last year was the only year we had a small rise in council tax in order to fund three Essex Police officers tasked in the district, by the district, to help address a scourge of anti-social behaviour. We are working hard to maintain this and hopefully even achieve the lowest council tax in Essex in the future.

Epping Forest has been proactive in building council houses for residents. Our own council house building programme provides new high-quality affordable housing. In order to have access to this housing, you must have lived in the district for at least seven years. More council houses for local families, which are much needed, are in the pipeline.

The council is also investing in the health and wellbeing of local residents. In partnership with our leisure provider, we are providing state of the art leisure services. Existing leisure centres have been regenerated and new state of the art facilities are being delivered. The council has also worked on other ambitious projects to enhance our local area and generate income to fund services, including a shopping park.

At the heart of all we do, we aim to run an efficient and modern council. We have adopted a forward-looking approach, working to deliver excellent customer services and ensuring our model of governance works to the benefit of all residents in the long term.

When communicating with our electorate we are sharing the facts and selling our optimistic vision for Epping Forest. We hope that people can identify that local Conservatives are doing a good job and share our long-term vision for the district, and the individual towns and villages which it is made up of. Whilst engaging with some people is proving difficult, as a result of Brexit disillusionment, to those who will engage we stress the key message that local elections are about local issues and who can do the best job for the community.

I would urge fellow campaigners, not to lose heart. Whilst undoubtedly Brexit will have some negative impact on the local election results. It is my feeling that it is most likely to translate into apathy. People are bored of political stalemate and what they perceive to be ineffectual politicians. By sharing our positive local Conservative message, we hope to help enfranchise the electorate by setting out the benefit of local democracy in putting in place effective Conservative authorities.

So, let’s help shake Brexit fatigue by re-igniting a positive localised Conservative message. Local Conservatives have much to be proud of. Although it is hard work, we must continue knocking and delivering. Promoting the Conservative agenda which we are fighting to deliver upon in Council chambers across the UK, for the benefit of our local communities.

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Ian Gillies: The Conservatives have a proud record in York

Cllr Ian Gillies is the Leader of the City of York Council.

When I look back at what our joint Conservative-led administration has achieved in York over the past four years, I would like to think the electorate, on the second of May, will look on us with some degree of favour.

We’ve passed a creditable Local Plan that most of the city can live with, a feat previous administrations have been unable to do. We’ve progressed an ambitious programme of updating our accommodation for older people. The council has embarked on its largest house-building project since the 1970s, beginning by developing council-owned land with a mixture of schemes to make at least 40 per cent of the properties truly ‘affordable’: either for rent at the lowest available council rate, or to buy under share/purchase schemes. It will include starter and family homes, wheelchair accessible bungalows, and apartments for over-55 downsizers.

My personal emphasis in the year that I’ve been Council Leader has been to push forward several major developments to the point where they are now up and running and ready to be progressed over the years ahead. Chief among these has been the massive York Central or ‘teardrop’ development, a 72 hectare brownfield site all but enclosed by railway lines, which York has sought to develop for years but, given the infrastructure difficulties, has until recently remained a derelict wasteland.

Following the site’s designation as an Enterprise Zone in 2015, a partnership among Network Rail, the National Railway Museum, Homes England, and the City of York Council (who own only five per cent of the land but are also the planning authority) has now progressed the development to the point that its regeneration plans received outline planning permission from the council last month.

Key to our plans is a grant from the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund, which is now with the Minister. As an example of what we’ve been up against, our Labour MP has been vociferous in her objections to our development of York Central on a variety of grounds, most recently because of ‘corporate greed’ and the alleged lack of proposed ‘affordable housing’ on the site (she is wrong in both instances) and she has currently asked to call-in the development despite the time-sensitive nature of our Housing Infrastructure Fund bid, which is of course competing for funding for other projects around the country.

Suffice to say that when Labour were in power they managed to secure a modest sum for what would have amounted to a footbridge onto the site, “a beginning” they said. Four years later and we are almost ready to move to the next stage of a reclamation project which will have a hugely positive effect on the future housing, employment, and cultural offer for York.

Therefore I think the City stands at a crossroads and, as usual for York, the political landscape is complicated, even without the current upheavals at Westminster. The last election saw the three major parties (the Liberal Democrats remain a force in York) roughly level-pegging with no overall majority, which is why we formed a joint administration with the Lib Dems, allowing us into administration for the first time in decades.

We also have a number of Green and Independent councillors. The number of Independents has swelled over the last year due to councillors leaving established parties – particularly, let’s be fair, the Conservatives, as a result of what has to be characterised as personal infighting. As a result we did lose some momentum during the middle of our time in office, which I think we’ve recaptured this last year.

If you add to this mix the fact that we will be fighting our administration partners for many of the same seats, our party’s Brexit woes, and York voters’ tendency to punish all incumbent administrations, you can see why I began this piece ever so slightly coy regarding our prospects. It’s up to us to get our message across to the voters, but are they listening? I understand that news from the doorstep is mixed.

Looking back, on being elected in 2007 and immediately becoming Group Leader, the first challenge was not to enter a coalition, as Labour and the Lib Dems had an equal number of seats, giving us the balance with our seven Councillors. I believe we learned a great deal. The next four years saw us in opposition to a Labour administration. Being the main Opposition resulted in us ejecting Labour in 2011, again increasing our numbers and going into coalition with the Lib Dems who, although not our natural bedfellows, allowed our Conservative-led administration to make big strides to achieve many of our goals.

There have been issues along the journey, but relationships have been built with the mainly Conservative areas in North Yorkshire. We have also benefited as a City by being a member of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leeds City Region, as well as two Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Although we always could have done things differently, I am confident that York (voted Britain’s favourite City), is in a better place now than in 2015.

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Greater safeguards for Council Tax debt collection promised

Conservatives generally recognise the practical case for low taxation – that it allows for a productive and efficient economy and thus avoids impeding the steady growth in prosperity. Most of us would also be conscious of the moral case. A belief in individual liberty and private property must surely include a presumption that we are allowed to spend our own money and that the amount of the stuff that is expropriated by the state to spend for us be kept to a minimum. When it comes to Council Tax there is a further moral objection which is that it hits the poorest the hardest. So it is not sur[rising that some getting into difficulties over paying their Council Tax bills.

I have noted before that the law does not treat debts equally. There can be imprisonment for Council Tax debt, even though it is a civil matter, but not for an electricity bill or being behind with the rent. Notoriously people can be locked up for not paying the TV Licence – astonishingly this is a criminal offence. Generally the minimum threshold for bankruptcy to £5,000 – yet the more severe punishment of imprisonment can be applied for owing much less than this in Council Tax or the TV Licence fee. The state gives itself draconian powers to put itself in the front of the queue when it comes to collecting debt. Despite having these powers local authorities are inefficient at recovering what they are owed – often proving slow, inflexible and prone to error.

So I am pleased that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is proposing to reform the system. It is proposed the changes will include:

  • ensuring affordability assessments are central to Council Tax collection processes so individual circumstances are taken into account and people are given appropriate time to pay off arrears
  • improving the links between councils and the debt advice sector
  • developing and supporting fairer debt intervention methods

Rishi Sunak, the Local Government Minister says:

“Council Tax collection is essential to running public services, like caring for those most at risk, collecting bins and keeping our transport networks running. The experiences of some innovative councils show that Council Tax collection rates can be improved without resorting to the unfair treatment of vulnerable people. That’s why I’m pushing forward work to make the Council Tax collection system fairer and more efficient – so people are treated with compassion while services get the funds they need.”

Two of those “innovative councils” are run by the Conservatives.

St Albans District Council “is forging stronger connections with the debt advice sector to create a more consistent approach to determining residents’ ability to pay.” As a result:

“Staff proactively refer vulnerable residents to debt advice services. They hold off from applying to the courts for Liability Orders – which give councils powers to collect debt – unless payments run beyond 12 months or multiple payment arrangements are broken. The council also requires enforcement agents who collect debts to sign up to the council’s new affordability approach. The council has been able to maintain high collection rates (98.9 per cent in 2017 to 2018, compared to a 97.1 per cent average across England) while treating residents fairly, proportionately and consistently.”

North Warwickshire Borough Council “is adopting a holistic approach to supporting vulnerable households. It does this through its Financial Inclusion Partnership, which is committed to helping residents access the right information and services according to their needs.” It also seems to have worked well:

“By putting assessments of what people in financial difficulty can afford at the heart of their processes, they have been able to better support residents in debt towards financial recovery while continuing to reduce historic arrears. They are also building innovate partnerships with advice agencies and charities to engage hard-to-reach people, for example by providing debt advice through a food parcel scheme. Their new approach contributes to their 98.6 per cent collection rate in 2017 to 2018 and has also led to less reliance on enforcement agents, with 60 per cent fewer cases referred to bailiffs in 2017 to 2018 compared to the same period in the previous year.”

As a matter of principle, there should be equality before the law. So debts for TV Licence and the Council Tax should not have any special legal priority over utility bills, credit card bills or any other debt. Those anomalies should be ended. But I suppose “guidance” is better than nothing. Of course, debts must be pursued – and those who are behind in their payments be required to catch up with them as swiftly as is feasible. Reducing delays in the court system would help, where this remedy is required. But justice tempered with mercy, as applied in St Albans and North Warwickshire, provides the right balance.

 

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Tony Devenish: Seven reasons we should be proud of our record in local government

Tony Devenish is a member of the London Assembly for West Central.

One of the unsung roles of a politician is to act as a lightning rod to dissipate the understandable anger of the public, at whatever the Government of the day has f ***** up.  Recently I attended a business breakfast where at the start, every single business leader bawled me out for the state of the B word. Then our Housing Minister Kit Malthouse (my predecessor on the London Assembly and a former Deputy Leader of Westminster City Council) spoke and answered questions for an hour. Those same business leaders made a point of coming up to me afterwards to say that despite Brexit, our Conservative Government and local government was doing some good work. Well done Kit.

With the relentless negativity of political coverage over recent months, Conservatives in our town halls have a record to be proud of. We must continue to shout from the rooftops, and cherish these real bread and butter victories rather than talk ourselves into defeatism and a slow motion car crash ahead of local elections (outside London) next month.

Those who don’t vote Conservative in our local elections will regret the sheer ineptitude of living under a Labour or Lib Dem Council – please don’t go there.

Here are seven reasons why you are better off with a Conservative council:

  • Excellent state education. Across our country academies, free schools and Conservative local authority run schools give our children the start in life that schools in many (not all) Labour local authorities fail time and time again to deliver. Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster schools outperform Labour-run Camden on every single audited measure. It is Conservative councils that can be trusted to help find the sites needed for new free schools.
  • Clean streets and frequent bin collections. Hammersmith and Fulham Council street cleaning has got so poor since Labour won the council in 2014 that former Tory Council Leader (and Deputy Mayor of London) Stephen Greenhalgh has announced that he’s looking to become the directly elected Mayor of that borough to reconnect local people with a Council that currently ignores them.
  • Award-winning adults and social care for our most vulnerable residents’. Conservative councils innovate with compassion and where necessary lobby Government for more money. Our local government leaders have pressed for the Green Paper on how to reform this most difficult of issues, which is waiting in Whitehall ready to go post Brexit.
  • Brexit preparations. Conservative councils from Kent County Council to Westminster City Council have led reassurance messaging to EU nationals and logistics practical contingency planning and I say this not to play into the hands of the doom-mongers. This is grown up politics – working with central Government and business to be ready to adjust to new circumstances.
  • Transport. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has pathetically cut pothole spending and waged war on the motorist with a ULEZ clean air policy. Even his Transport for London experts say won’t improve air quality, yet another Labour stealth tax, not to mention Crossrail Labour incompetence on a grand scale. Conservatives champion practical measures such as clean buses and electric cars. Hammersmith and Fulham Council showed Labour’s usual level of incompetence by failing to install parking meters which could accept the new one pound coins for nearly a year.
  • Value for money. It is easy for noisy special interest groups to sneer but Council Tax is a regressive tax , falling disproportionally on the poorest and those on fixed incomes. It is right that Conservative councils strive to keep increases to a minimum, contrasting with the inefficiency of many Labour and Lib Dem run councils.
  • Housing. After Labour’s economic crash of a decade ago – house building collapsed. We are now building twice as many homes a year than we were ten years’ ago. Conservative local authorities and the private sector have answers to real bread and butter issues. We all need to champion the case for more and better housing in the coming month.

So these local elections matter in themselves. They are not just a chance to protest against central Government. Indeed Conservative councils have been willing to challenge the Government where necessary. I know councils in London best where elections are not taking place this year. But the same story applies to Conservative councils across the country that apply the same principles. So I hope that wherever elections are happening all Conservatives will turnout and vote to have Conservative councillors.

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Council by-elections result from yesterday and forthcoming contests

Burnley – Rosehill with Burnley Wood

Lib Dems 341 (37.5 per cent, -9.7 on 2018) Labour 249 (27.4 per cent, -17.0) Burnley and Padiham Independents 154 (16.9 per cent, +16.9) Conservatives 115 (12.6 per cent, +12.6) Green Party 51 (5.6 per cent, -2.9)

Lib Dems hold 

Edinburgh – Leith Walk

SNP 2,596 (35.7 per cent, +1.4) Green Party 1,855 (25.5 per cent, +5.9) Labour 1,123 (15.5 per cent, -7.0) Conservatives 777 (10.7 per cent, -3.7) Lib Dems 623 (8.6 per cent, +4.8) Independent – Illingworth 110 (1.5 per cent, +1.5) UKIP 85 (1.2 per cent, +1.2) Socialist Labour Party 56 (0.8 per cent, -0.1) Independent – Scott 16 (0.2 per cent, +0.2) For Britain 14 (0.2 per cent, +0.2) Libertarian 12 (0.2 per cent, +0.2). Figures for first preferences.

SNP gain from Labour

Lambeth – Thornton 

Labour 998 (41.5 per cent, -3.3 on 2018) Lib Dems 979 (40.7 per cent, +7.9) Green Party 171 (7.1 per cent, -2.6) Conservatives 166 (6.9 per cent, -2.7) Women’s Equality Party 53 (2.2 per cent, +0.4) UKIP 39 (1.6 per cent, +0.2)

Labour hold

Merthyr Tydfil – Cyfarthfa

Independent – Jones 861 (60.7 per cent, +60.7 from 2017) Labour 330 (23.3 per cent, +4.6) Independent – Griffiths 180 (12.7 per cent, +12.7) Conservatives 48 (3.4 per cent, +3.4)

Independent gain – from another independent

Forthcoming contests

April 25th

Shropshire – Belle-Vue (Labour held)

May 2nd

Dundee – North East (Labour held)

Kent  – Sittingbourne North (Conservative held)

Kent  – Northfleet and Gravesend West (Labour held)

Sefton – Norwood (Lib Dem held)

Surrey – Haslemere (Conservative held)

Wolverhampton – Wednesfield South (Labour held)

Wolverhampton – Tettenhall Wightwick (Conservative held)

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Judy Terry: Under Labour sports facilities in Ipswich are under threat

Labour-controlled Ipswich Borough Council has just announced a review of sports facilities in the town. Spending is £1.5m a year on sports provision with a net cost of £350,000 a year. A council review in 2017 resulted in the abolition of crèche services, whilst committing to reversing these annual losses,” explains Ian Fisher, Leader of the Ipswich Conservative Group.

The Council claims maintenance of ageing properties, most dating from the 1980s, is an issue, and nothing is off the table, including closures, or new facilities.

Cllr Ian Fisher, Leader of the Ipswich Conservative Group says:

“A lack of maintenance should not be an excuse for closures. This has always been an issue with the Labour group. All properties should have 10-year maintenance plans, to ensure public safety and contain costs. A lack of regular maintenance eventually results in expensive repairs and refurbishment, which is evidently happening with these buildings, as well as other council-owned properties, including the former Post Office, an architectural gem, on the Cornhill in the centre of town, which is now scheduled for works, although there isn’t a tenant.”

Fisher acknowledges that the ‘fitness’ market has changed significantly over the last 20 years or so, with many private gyms, with swimming pools and spas.

“However, not everyone can afford membership, and that needs to be borne in mind during the review:

“We haven’t seen the terms of reference for the review, nor the budget, but hope it has a wide brief, to evaluate other facilities, such as community centres, alongside the sports facilities. It makes sense to join things up, providing the best options for each neighbourhood.”

This is especially important, following the County Council’s decision to further review its children’s centres, having closed nine in 2014, the remaining 38 are now under threat:

“We have serious concerns about these facilities, given the gang culture, and the need to support young vulnerable people and their families. Bringing services together under one roof would be enormously beneficial, both financially and socially.”

He points out that two of the sports centres, at Gainsborough and Whitton to the east and west of Ipswich, have a number of football pitches, “which are especially popular in the evenings and at weekends, providing opportunities for people of all ages, male and female, to have fun, developing social and competitive skills. We would oppose any plans to close these facilities, although we are open minded about the future of the buildings, themselves, which could be adapted for additional services.”

Fisher suggests introducing a cycle track on spare land, and closer working with clubs and schools, as well as the university and Ipswich Town FC, to develop home-grown players. “It is almost certain now that the football club will go down, which will have an impact on the local economy, but this will be an opportunity too.”

The Conservative Group would also oppose closing the swimming pools, “which are accessible to everyone, of all ages and level of fitness, throughout the year, at a reasonable price.” Schools are required to teach children to swim, and use both Crown Pools and Fore Street Baths, which is the second oldest such building in the UK, as do people from across the region.

With Snoasis, a state of the art ski centre, now expected to become a reality, Fisher suggests there could be potential to develop a new sports village nearby, on the former sugar beet site at Sproughton, owned by Ipswich Borough Council through one of its trading companies, which could be an added tourist attraction. “Ipswich lacks vision, and an ambitious plan to benefit the wider community could attract inward investment, with external funding from key sports organisations, including the English Cricket Board, which recently made a commitment to develop the sport in deprived areas:

“The Ransomes ground, which is part of the review, used to have an enviable reputation for the sport, and is ideally located close to schools and a council estate, to revive cricket in Ipswich. Labour always treat cricket and rugby as ‘elitist’, but that is not the case; a broader range of young people deserve the chance to play.”

The Conservatives look forward to working with residents, and the council, to ensure that any recommendations comply with assurances of detailed consultation to meet the needs of an expanding local population. “Such an important review requires close scrutiny before any changes are implemented.

“These facilities should be maximised to help vulnerable people, including preventing loneliness, which can be ignored.”

Only a third of council seats are up for election, whereas other district councils in Suffolk are ‘all out’; if Ipswich adopted the same system, £250,000 a year or more would be saved, significantly offsetting losses in the sports centres…

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“We’re doomed”: The mood of Conservative councillors facing the electorate varies from nervousness to despair

First the good news, courtesy of the Conservative peer and elections expert Lord Hayward. The Conservatives are fielding a record number of candidates in the local elections being held on Thursday May 2nd. 96 per cent of seats have a Conservative candidate duly nominated. That compares with 93 per cent the last time these seats were contested in 2015. That Conservative tally also compares well against rival parties. Labour have candidates for 77 per cent of the seats, the Lib Dems in 53 per cent. The Green Party in 30 per cent. UKIP in just 16 per cent. (The embryonic Brexit Party has only a tiny number and Change UK also seems to have missed the boat.)

Remember these elections include a lot of district councils which are traditional Conservative territory. There is nothing new about Labour failing to field a full slate in such places. But what of Labour’s huge membership increase? All these Corbynistas in Devon and Dorset, Sussex and Somerset might be happy to pay their subs, but evidently not to stand for election.

Within these totals, there is great variation. Consider the case of Three Rivers. This is a Liberal Democrat-run Council. In 14 seats the Conservatives had failed to put up a candidate. Much of this is in the South West Hertfordshire constituency represented by David Gauke. So that is a pretty poor show. On the other hand in Knowsley everyone will have the chance to vote Conservative. Mansfield, where there is now a Conservative MP, there is a full slate of Conservative council candidates – there were only a couple four years ago. For several Conservative candidates in Fenland, Ashford and elsewhere the elections are over. They are unopposed in over a hundred seats.

However, among most of the councillors and candidates I spoke to the prevailing mood was still downcast. Seasoned campaigners were shocked by the level of anger they encountered on the nation doorsteps – invariably from Brexiteers who felt betrayed.

One councillor in the East Midlands told me:

“I had somebody who was so furious he started getting a nosebleed. Even then he kept talking about the local Conservative MP letting him down.”

Someone from the North West, in a Conservative council, suggested that this week it was even harder pounding than last week:

“The decision to hold the Euro Elections is a disaster for us. For a start, it confuses matters. People think we might be canvassing for them and then really go mad. Before we have a chance of talking about local issues they start the conversation by saying they will definitely not be voting for us in the Euro Elections.”

A leading campaigner I spoke to in the South East detected a class divide:

“To give a big generalisation the middle class Conservatives are exasperated but still voting Conservatives. When it comes to White Van Man it is much worse. We keep finding those who were marked as Conservative last time actually shouting and swearing.”

Where will the angry voters go? As noted above in the great majority of places there will not be a UKIP candidate to vote for. So the biggest problem will be Conservatives abstaining. One council leader I spoke to says:

“Frankly I think we are doomed. All our work on new housing, on infrastructure. It’s not what people are want to talk about. We don’t have UKIP candidates. But if Labour supporters vote and Conservatives don’t it’s not that hard to predict the outcome.”

But will the Labour supporters vote? One councillor points out:

“The last time these seats were fought was in 2015. So in those terms, Jeremy Corbyn is a new factor. There are people who voted Labour four years ago who will not vote for Labour under Corbyn.”

There is also caveat that when spending an evening canvassing it is the most outspoken responses that come to mind. One councillor told me:

“I had a surgery on Saturday. People talked about housing problems. We had a public meeting this week concerned with traffic congestion. There are lots of issues apart from Brexit. We just don’t mention the B word.”

Another councillor I spoke to was optimistic on the basis that the local Conservative MPs were staunch Brexiteers and so that gave the councillors some protection:

“I do think we are being shielded by our local MPs. We are canvassing very heavily. Working really hard. Inevitably people talk about Brexit and they are very unhappy with the Government. But Conservatives are a bit conflicted. Angry with the Conservative Government but also very grateful to those MPs who are supporting Brexit.”

One way to maintain morale was to consider that Labour canvassers were surely having a hard time as well. One Conservative councillor in the West Midlands said:

“We are a strongly Leave area and a strongly Labour area. The UKIP candidates are standing in Labour wards. The pro-Remain Labour MPs have gone very quiet. Frankly I think Labour have more to worry about that we do.”

Others I spoke to last week just sounded stoical saying it was tough going but not a great change. Naturally, some are worried about losing. But one councillor I spoke to said he was worried about winning:

“I have spoken to so many people who feel betrayed who will still vote for me, after I’ve told them that I agree with them. Supposing loads of people end up voting Conservative but very reluctantly? The losses might not be that bad after all. But if the Government the decided it was all fine that would be the most monumental delusion. It really is not all fine out there.

Good luck to all those sticking at it.

 

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‘China’s Manhattan’ Borrowed Heavily. The People Have Yet to Arrive.

TIANJIN, China — At a port in Germany, 150 Steinway pianos are waiting to be shipped to this gateway city for the grand opening of the Juilliard School’s second campus.

The air in Tianjin is so dry that the pianos will require climate-controlled rooms, helping to nearly double the cost of the state-of-the-art campus to $225 million.

The extra money is not coming from Juilliard. The local government is footing the bill. And that could become a problem for officials struggling with debt after an epic spending spree to develop a new commercial center from scratch.

Welcome to Yujiapu Financial District, which promotes itself as China’s Manhattan, but may better be seen as a monument to the breakdown of the Chinese growth model. Four-fifths of the office space stands empty. Construction on other buildings has stopped, leaving skeletons in the sky. A sprawling mall has few shoppers. Inside, a pet store has no animals.

The businesses and residents that local officials had hoped to attract have yet to show up. Juilliard, which is expected to draw in students and their families, will open its doors next fall, the rare Western institution taking a chance on this district.

Zhang Zhiyi works as a recruiter for an online education company in a nearby office building. The lonely landscape has translated into a good deal for commercial renters: New tenants get a full year rent-free. Deals abound, the 28-year-old said: “The other buildings aren’t really full, either.”

Chinese local governments are swimming in debt. By official accounts, that debt totals $4.5 trillion. By unofficial estimates, it could be as large as $10 trillion. No one knows for sure because much of the borrowing for projects like the Tianjin Juilliard campus is rarely disclosed.

China has long borrowed heavily to build and then counted on breakneck economic growth to pay it back. The script: Sell vast amounts of land to developers, borrow to subsidize construction, and jobs and new cities will result. It was a model that helped China build its skyscrapers and high-speed rail lines and ushered in an era of prosperity.

But China is not growing as fast as it used to, and it is not clear that the “build it and they will come” model will save Yujiapu and other places with big debts. The national government now must find other ways to spur growth — without making the debt problem worse.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 00chinadebt-2-articleLarge ‘China’s Manhattan’ Borrowed Heavily. The People Have Yet to Arrive. Tianjin (China) Local government Juilliard School Economic Conditions and Trends Credit and Debt China

The construction site of the Juilliard School in Yujiapu. The campus will open its doors next fall, the rare Western institution taking a chance on this district.CreditGiulia Marchi for The New York Times

“China’s economy has depended on building for the future, and there are considerable signs that they have overbuilt,” said Logan Wright, director of China research at Rhodium Group, a consulting firm, adding that debt and overcapacity could hold back growth.

“That probably means much slower economic growth in the next decade compared to China’s recent path,” he said.

Tianjin government officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Tianjin, a coastal city just a short train ride from Beijing, had one of the highest growth rates in China. Its success made headlines, and local officials credited “Tianjin spirit, Tianjin speed and Tianjin benefits.”

Then the economy slowed. And local officials in the Binhai New Area, a special economic zone of Tianjin that includes Yujiapu, admitted they overstated growth. They slashed $50 billion from its original figure for 2016, bringing economic output to $100 billion. Today, Tianjin is one of the slowest-growing regions of China and one of the most financially troubled.

By the broadest measure of borrowing in China, called total social financing, Tianjin’s government, corporations and households owe more than $760 billion, according to an estimate by Rhodium Group. The annual interest owed by all borrowers in Tianjin totaled 12 times its annual nominal economic growth, Rhodium said, citing the most recent numbers.

An empty underground shopping mall in Yujiapu.CreditGiulia Marchi for The New York Times

If Yujiapu really is the Manhattan of China, it has a way to go to catch up to the real thing. Its avenues, some nearly as wide as Broadway, are eerily quiet. Many buildings just a few blocks from the Tianjin Juilliard School remain unfinished. The finished ones are mostly empty.

On one recent weekday visit, the door to the sales office for a hulking, unfinished residential building several blocks from the Juilliard campus blew open in the wind. No one was inside. Many of the six-lane roads in the city lack crosswalk lights, in part because they are not needed.

Across the Hai River from Yujiapu is another ghostlike district, Xiangluowan, where the local government encouraged private Chinese developers to build on their own dime. They did, but no one came. Dozens of the buildings in this district are now collateral for huge overdue loans that are being held by local banks.

Zhang Zhiyi, a recruiter for an online education company, said the lonely landscape in Tianjin had translated into good deals for commercial renters. “The other buildings aren’t really full, either,” he said. CreditGiulia Marchi for The New York Times

For now, Tianjin can continue to borrow for projects like the Juilliard campus because it has a powerful patron in Beijing, said Victor Shih, an associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, and an expert on the Chinese economy. That official, He Lifeng, was once the No. 2 Communist Party official in Tianjin. Mr. He now heads the central government agency that approves all major development projects, meaning he can authorize banks to lend more money to Tianjin.

“If the political will collapses for the Binhai area, then the bank loans will begin to dry up and the whole area is in trouble,” Mr. Shih said.

Officials at the National Development and Reform Commission, the agency where Mr. He works, did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s quiet in the Yujiapu Financial District, which promotes itself as China’s Manhattan. Businesses that local officials hoped to attract have yet to show up. CreditGiulia Marchi for The New York Times

Despite the empty buildings, the local government keeps borrowing. Last year, Tianjin and entities related to the local government raised $36 billion through new loans, according to data from the People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank.

Many residents believe Yujiapu’s problems have been overstated and try to cast its emptiness in a positive light. Mr. Zhang, who works for the online recruiter, said technology companies looking for alternatives to expensive places like Beijing and the southern city of Shenzhen could find Tianjin attractive.

“Now, there are quite a lot of internet companies, including some e-commerce platforms,” he said, speculating that these companies could move into his building in the future.

Michael Hart, a real estate consultant in Tianjin, said a resurgence of growth could save the city from its problems.

“It’s like going to see a five-act play,” Mr. Hart said, “and you’re halfway through Act 1 and calling it a lousy play.”

For Alexander Brose, the chief executive of the Tianjin Juilliard School, the district will soon benefit from the prestige of the Juilliard name to attract people. On a recent day, he toured the construction site, pointing to what he expected to see next year. Here, a 687-seat concert hall, he said. Over there, a recital space that can hold 299 people. And in the corner, a 250-seat black box theater.

He paused, looking at the hundreds of construction workers welding, hammering and moving steel, and said, referring to the local government, “I think they are looking at this as a feather in the cap of this new project.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

‘China’s Manhattan’ Borrowed Heavily. The People Have Yet to Arrive.

TIANJIN, China — At a port in Germany, 150 Steinway pianos are waiting to be shipped to this gateway city for the grand opening of the Juilliard School’s second campus.

The air in Tianjin is so dry that the pianos will require climate-controlled rooms, helping to nearly double the cost of the state-of-the-art campus to $225 million.

The extra money is not coming from Juilliard. The local government is footing the bill. And that could become a problem for officials struggling with debt after an epic spending spree to develop a new commercial center from scratch.

Welcome to Yujiapu Financial District, which promotes itself as China’s Manhattan, but may better be seen as a monument to the breakdown of the Chinese growth model. Four-fifths of the office space stands empty. Construction on other buildings has stopped, leaving skeletons in the sky. A sprawling mall has few shoppers. Inside, a pet store has no animals.

The businesses and residents that local officials had hoped to attract have yet to show up. Juilliard, which is expected to draw in students and their families, will open its doors next fall, the rare Western institution taking a chance on this district.

Zhang Zhiyi works as a recruiter for an online education company in a nearby office building. The lonely landscape has translated into a good deal for commercial renters: New tenants get a full year rent-free. Deals abound, the 28-year-old said: “The other buildings aren’t really full, either.”

Chinese local governments are swimming in debt. By official accounts, that debt totals $4.5 trillion. By unofficial estimates, it could be as large as $10 trillion. No one knows for sure because much of the borrowing for projects like the Tianjin Juilliard campus is rarely disclosed.

China has long borrowed heavily to build and then counted on breakneck economic growth to pay it back. The script: Sell vast amounts of land to developers, borrow to subsidize construction, and jobs and new cities will result. It was a model that helped China build its skyscrapers and high-speed rail lines and ushered in an era of prosperity.

But China is not growing as fast as it used to, and it is not clear that the “build it and they will come” model will save Yujiapu and other places with big debts. The national government now must find other ways to spur growth — without making the debt problem worse.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 00chinadebt-2-articleLarge ‘China’s Manhattan’ Borrowed Heavily. The People Have Yet to Arrive. Tianjin (China) Local government Juilliard School Economic Conditions and Trends Credit and Debt China

The construction site of the Juilliard School in Yujiapu. The campus will open its doors next fall, the rare Western institution taking a chance on this district.CreditGiulia Marchi for The New York Times

“China’s economy has depended on building for the future, and there are considerable signs that they have overbuilt,” said Logan Wright, director of China research at Rhodium Group, a consulting firm, adding that debt and overcapacity could hold back growth.

“That probably means much slower economic growth in the next decade compared to China’s recent path,” he said.

Tianjin government officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Tianjin, a coastal city just a short train ride from Beijing, had one of the highest growth rates in China. Its success made headlines, and local officials credited “Tianjin spirit, Tianjin speed and Tianjin benefits.”

Then the economy slowed. And local officials in the Binhai New Area, a special economic zone of Tianjin that includes Yujiapu, admitted they overstated growth. They slashed $50 billion from its original figure for 2016, bringing economic output to $100 billion. Today, Tianjin is one of the slowest-growing regions of China and one of the most financially troubled.

By the broadest measure of borrowing in China, called total social financing, Tianjin’s government, corporations and households owe more than $760 billion, according to an estimate by Rhodium Group. The annual interest owed by all borrowers in Tianjin totaled 12 times its annual nominal economic growth, Rhodium said, citing the most recent numbers.

An empty underground shopping mall in Yujiapu.CreditGiulia Marchi for The New York Times

If Yujiapu really is the Manhattan of China, it has a way to go to catch up to the real thing. Its avenues, some nearly as wide as Broadway, are eerily quiet. Many buildings just a few blocks from the Tianjin Juilliard School remain unfinished. The finished ones are mostly empty.

On one recent weekday visit, the door to the sales office for a hulking, unfinished residential building several blocks from the Juilliard campus blew open in the wind. No one was inside. Many of the six-lane roads in the city lack crosswalk lights, in part because they are not needed.

Across the Hai River from Yujiapu is another ghostlike district, Xiangluowan, where the local government encouraged private Chinese developers to build on their own dime. They did, but no one came. Dozens of the buildings in this district are now collateral for huge overdue loans that are being held by local banks.

Zhang Zhiyi, a recruiter for an online education company, said the lonely landscape in Tianjin had translated into good deals for commercial renters. “The other buildings aren’t really full, either,” he said. CreditGiulia Marchi for The New York Times

For now, Tianjin can continue to borrow for projects like the Juilliard campus because it has a powerful patron in Beijing, said Victor Shih, an associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, and an expert on the Chinese economy. That official, He Lifeng, was once the No. 2 Communist Party official in Tianjin. Mr. He now heads the central government agency that approves all major development projects, meaning he can authorize banks to lend more money to Tianjin.

“If the political will collapses for the Binhai area, then the bank loans will begin to dry up and the whole area is in trouble,” Mr. Shih said.

Officials at the National Development and Reform Commission, the agency where Mr. He works, did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s quiet in the Yujiapu Financial District, which promotes itself as China’s Manhattan. Businesses that local officials hoped to attract have yet to show up. CreditGiulia Marchi for The New York Times

Despite the empty buildings, the local government keeps borrowing. Last year, Tianjin and entities related to the local government raised $36 billion through new loans, according to data from the People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank.

Many residents believe Yujiapu’s problems have been overstated and try to cast its emptiness in a positive light. Mr. Zhang, who works for the online recruiter, said technology companies looking for alternatives to expensive places like Beijing and the southern city of Shenzhen could find Tianjin attractive.

“Now, there are quite a lot of internet companies, including some e-commerce platforms,” he said, speculating that these companies could move into his building in the future.

Michael Hart, a real estate consultant in Tianjin, said a resurgence of growth could save the city from its problems.

“It’s like going to see a five-act play,” Mr. Hart said, “and you’re halfway through Act 1 and calling it a lousy play.”

For Alexander Brose, the chief executive of the Tianjin Juilliard School, the district will soon benefit from the prestige of the Juilliard name to attract people. On a recent day, he toured the construction site, pointing to what he expected to see next year. Here, a 687-seat concert hall, he said. Over there, a recital space that can hold 299 people. And in the corner, a 250-seat black box theater.

He paused, looking at the hundreds of construction workers welding, hammering and moving steel, and said, referring to the local government, “I think they are looking at this as a feather in the cap of this new project.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com