THE Conservatives emerged from the 2019 Swindon elections looking stronger than ever.

They entered polling day with a majority small enough to attract TV news crews to the Oasis centre, sniffing a possible change – but by the end of the night had a five-seat majority.

If elections had been held last year as scheduled, David Renard’s administration would have been confident of keeping control of the chamber and enjoying a year off from campaigning this spring.

Former Conservative prime minister Harold Macmillan said the thing that most affected governments and prime ministers was “events, dear boy, events”.

And there have definitely been some events since May 2019 – but the council leader has reason to be optimistic

Coun Renard said: “We have all had a challenging start to 2021 and all hope that the Covid-19 vaccine will enable us to get back to a more normal life.

“However, there is every reason to be positive about the year ahead and we will work closely with our health and care partners and volunteers to contain the virus and prioritise support for the most vulnerable in our community.”

As well as public health the authority’s priority will be economic recovery from the lockdowns.

He said: “We will continue to focus on getting our economy back on track by increasing job opportunities and continuing the successful development of Swindon.

“During the last year, we have attracted huge sums of private and public money which is and will continue to be invested in our town centre, roads, cycle ways, transport networks and the green economy.

“Most recently the announcement was made that government approved our bid for £25m to invest in our public realm on and around Fleming Way following on from the £400m investment in a state-of-the-art warehouse and distribution centre on Symmetry Park creating 2,000 new jobs.

“The building of the £36m new Zurich headquarters continues and work on the new Premier Inn will begin.

“We will also see millions of pounds being spent on the improvements to junction 15 of the M4, the White Hart roundabout, the Moonrakers junction, Mead Way, and many other schemes. We expect to continue to attract further private and public investment during the year.”

One of the keystones to the administration’s plans to grow the town and its economy is the New Eastern Villages expansion plan. The programme could see 8,000 homes built to the east of the A419.

It is hoped the new houses and improved communications links will attract people, who will bring with them employers looking for a workforce.

Coun Renard said: “We continue to deliver high-quality housing developments at Wichelstowe, Oakfield, Tadpole Farm, Abbey Farm and Queens Drive, creating great places for people to live and thrive. Work on the New Eastern Villages is moving on at pace and we will see new housing there too.”

A recent change saw Coun Renard appoint, for the first time, a cabinet member specifically for climate change. Councillor Keith Williams is charged with leading the efforts to get the council and the borough to cut its net carbon emissions to zero by 2030 and 2050 respectively.

Coun Renard said: “10,000 more trees are being planted across 350 hectares; we currently have 10 per cent of the borough covered by tress and this will increase to 30 per cent.

“We are developing wildflower meadows to improve biodiversity, installing LED street and traffic lights to reduce carbon emissions and save money. A new battery storage facility is coming which will enable us to store energy for when it is needed.

“The council’s fleet of vehicles will be replaced with electric vehicles and we will see the installation of more EV charging points to support the transition away from internal combustion engine vehicles.

The state of the town and some of its historic buildings – such as the Mechanics’ Institute and Corn Exchange – is a significant issue for many in Swindon

Coun Renard committed his administration to making an improvement: “Protecting our heritage is important for our future and the rejuvenation of the Carriage Works is a great example of how we can repurpose old building for the modern age.

“The funding is in place to invest in the Health Hydro to ensure it will thrive and working with Historic England on the Heritage Action Zone means improvements will be seen around the Railway Village. Work continues to restore other heritage assets around the town.”

And he said 2020 has provided some lessons for everybody.

“The pandemic also shone a light on issues that exist in our community,” said Coun Renard.

“We believe we must not go ‘back to normal’ as we move into next year.

“Our commitment to you in the face of national and local challenges is to continue to keep your council tax as low as is possible, to focus on strong financial management and to listen to residents to ensure the services people need have the right priority and resources are delivered by the right people for the job.

“Above all, we will always remember that it is your money we are spending, and we will continue to do.”

Economy will be key to battle

Economic prosperity will be key to how the ruling Conservatives fare in the May election. 
No government or council ever suffered by helping an economy and the Tories have always made their management of business and finance a central part of their appeal to voters. 

But this year the council is facing some significant challenges.
The pandemic and lockdowns have hurt a lot of people, and they’ll want to see Swindon bouncing back.

Honda is set to shut its plant this summer with the loss of thousands of jobs and Brexit is unfolding. 

These are not challenges of the council’s making – but that might not make a difference to how voters feel when they go to the polls. 

After enduring a year of uncertainty at best and one of real hardship for some, voters will want to see a change for the better coming – and soon. 

Elections are always fought to some degree, over the pound in a voter’s pocket. May’s election in Swindon could see that as the main battleground over everything else. 

Count down to May elections with Adver series

POSTPONED local elections which should have been held last May are still scheduled to take place 12 months later.

The universal hope is that increasing numbers of vaccinated people will mean the coronavirus pandemic is under some sort of control – and politics as normal might return to centre stage. 

Today’s report on the Independent Tories kicks off an Adver series on the parties and groups who will be vying for your attention on Thursday, May 6.

This week we feature the Conservatives, who have been in control of the council chamber in Euclid Street since 2004 and will be hoping to maintain that grip on power until 2023, with next year scheduled to be a year off in borough council elections. 

We will feature the main opposition Labour group on January 27.