Seven election-time questions for three political leaders and one spokesperson in West Berkshire, April 2023

On Thursday 4 May 2023, the residents of West Berkshire (along with those of many other districts) will go to the polls. In West Berkshire, these are “all out” local elections, meaning that all 43 seats are up for grabs. The result will determine the composition of the Council until 2027.

We asked the three leaders of the parties currently represented on West Berkshire Council – Carolyne Culver of the Greens, Lee Dillon of the Liberal Democrats and Lynne Doherty of the Conservatives – the same seven questions. We also asked the questions of Charles Croal, the spokesperson for the Labour Party. These are laid out below, colour-coded and in alphabetical order by their surnames, as are their photos above.

1 What jobs have you had in the past, or have still?

Charles Croal: Picking raspberries and potatoes in school holidays, serving in an ironmonger’s shop, taxman, local government officer, customer service officer in financial services.

Carolyne Culver: I worked in PR for many years. I’ve also been a journalist, an A-level teacher and an associate university lecturer. I’m currently a consultant for Better Century CIC working on a contract with Nature 4 Climate which promotes nature-based solutions to climate change, such as investing in carbon capture projects like afforestation.

Lee Dillon: In my teens I always had a Saturday job ranging from working in my cousin’s welding yard, Stokes the greengrocers in Thatcham and various shops in Newbury. After university I worked in publishing before moving into housing where I’ve been for the last 13 years. In that time I’ve worked in resident involvement, community development and customer service. I’m now a senior housing manager in a neighbouring area.

Lynne Doherty: I started my career with Burmah Castrol as a Sales and Marketing Graduate, followed by being a Senior Account Manager for Rank Hovis McDougall and then Global Business Development with BT Cellnet/O2. I left the private sector to run a local family-support charity, Home-Start West Berkshire, then went to Prior’s Court to develop their social enterprises. I am currently working for SSAFA, the Armed Forces Charity as their Director of Social Care.

2 What do you think are the main advantages that West Berkshire enjoys?

Charles Croal: Proximity to Reading, the Thames Valley and London. This gives to lots of employment, financial and cultural opportunities. Close to the countryside and waterways like the Thames, Kennet and Holybrook. Locally, we also have Linear Park which is a great community asset (and should be recognised as such).

Carolyne Culver: This sounds like a geography GCSE question…so, with that in mind, advantages include the AONB, being on the west coast main line, at the confluence of the M4 and A34 and not far from London.

Lee Dillon: Beautiful countryside, easy access to major cities and the south coast. Within West Berkshire itself we have Newbury Racecourse providing a premier sporting venue and strong regional employers. Having a prosperous area should give us the chance to focus funding to those communities most in need locally.

Lynne Doherty: It’s a beautiful thriving district, accessible to London and is well connected to the rest of the country. Our large rural areas enable easy access to beautiful countryside, while our urban towns and villages provided leisure and culture activities for all. We have good schools and low crime rates. We have a predominantly prosperous economy with low unemployment and good employment opportunities.

3 What do you think are the main challenges that West Berkshire is likely to face in the four years from 5 May?

Charles Croal: Funding the vital services which it provides for the local community, particularly, adult social care. It is not clear how long the special precept of council tax for adult social care will be continued for. Recruitment and retention of staff for all the roles which need to be filled. Finding ways of helping hard-pressed working families during the continuing cost of living crisis. Working towards the net-zero targets and finding further ways to help the local environment. Reducing the cost to the council taxpayer of expensive consultants, contractors and agency staff.

Carolyne Culver: Having enough money to fulfil its duties to a high standard. Government cutbacks have for years made the situation worse. Attracting enough staff to fill vacancies (though this challenge is faced by councils across the country). The salary-to-housing-cost ratio in West Berkshire doesn’t help. We need more social housing. An ageing population means providing adult social care is going to be an increasing challenge.

Lee Dillon: We have some strategic challenges to overcome such as fixing the flawed local plan, ensuring we have a SEND provision in our schools that meets demand and getting back on track to hit net zero by 2030. We also have some operational challenges: doing all we can to support residents through the cost of living crisis, fixing the state of our roads and driving down care-assessment times.

Lynne Doherty: We have a growing elderly population and young people often move away in their late teens. This brings challenges: providing the care needed for older residents, providing affordable homes for younger ones and addressing potential labour shortages. We need to meet demand for our services while ensuring we are still an attractive place to live and work. It will be financially challenging for us as our income is predominantly from council tax and business rates and we are legally required to set a balanced budget.

4 Briefly list up to three policies which your party has in the current campaign and which set you apart from your rivals.

Charles Croal:
1 Examine in depth the performance of the contractors currently enjoying lucrative contracts to supply vital services on behalf of the District Council.
2 Ensure that provision of community infrastructure keeps pace with housing development.
3 Do more to help hard-pressed families with the cost of living crisis.

Carolyne Culver: 
Tackling the climate and ecological emergencies with greater energy than has the current administration. To this end we need to work more closely with landowners and communities to create nature recovery networks, invest in renewables/home insulation, think about soil health and food security, plant trees, find other ways to sequester carbon and encourage more active travel.
2 Developing joint-venture partnerships to build social housing, make developers stick to their “affordable” and social housing targets, encourage the building of more one- and two-bed homes – we are well below target on that as a district.
3 Having a proper democracy – scrap the Executive and “strong leader” model and replace it with a committee system, have Q&A sessions where residents aren’t patronised and shut down when they ask anything the Executive doesn’t like and have citizens’ assemblies and meaningful consultations about council policies.

Lee Dillon:
Refunding CIL payments to residents who were wrongly charged. This goes to a deeper theme of our manifesto, creating a council that works for its residents, not against them.
2 Delivering better joined up plans for young people, more detached youth workers, tickets for attraction like the cinema doubling up as transport tickets, whilst ensuring better transport routes to and from the villages.
3 Bringing back community forums with guaranteed attendance by senior officers, backed up with budgets and progress reports.

Lynne Doherty:
Our commitments to the local economy. We want businesses to thrive here and our residents to have good local employment opportunities. We are committed to investment into the rural economy and the regeneration of our high streets.
2 We recognise that businesses need ultrafast broadband and mobile connectivity and they need the people with the right skills to fill any skills gaps that might be holding them back.
3 We believe that a local plan is the best way to decide where new homes should go to meet the changing needs of our population. We think it would be wrong not to have a plan in place as it would give developers the chance to dictate where new homes go.

5 Briefly list up to three three policies which your party has in the current campaign and which you feel the other parties broadly share.

Charles Croal:
Seek to have Linear Park adopted as a community asset to avoid future development.
2 Continue to resist building on Pincents Hill.
3 Give more support to public transport and cycling.

Carolyne Culver: (I don’t think we share any policies with the Conservative Party. We share concerns with many Conservative voters, including about the environment, conservation, green space, culture and the important role of churches and local groups in strengthening communities.) 
1 My understanding is the Liberal Democrats would like to scrap the Executive. Good.
2 They would like to scrap the green bin charge. We would support this.
3 They want to reopen the Faraday Road football ground. We agree with that too.

Lee Dillon:
1 We all voted for carbon neutrality by 2030. We are more ambitious in how to achieve that and will take residents with us. Insulating homes, energy generation schemes, solar panels across our estate will form part of our plan to get there.
We look forward to any councillors voting with us to return football to Faraday Road.
3 I believe we are all in agreement of the need for masterplans in our towns and are committed to reviewing ideas with the public.

Lynne Doherty: (Being the incumbent party, a lot of our policies are already in place and we are committed to continuing them: caring for our vulnerable, for example. This gets little mention in anyone else’s manifesto and when it does it just repeats what we are already doing.) 
1 I think all parties share the desire to reach carbon neutrality by 2030 and support the Environment Strategy that we put in place following the unanimous agreement to declare a climate emergency.
2 I think all parties want to provide adequate affordable housing, allocations of this in developments are clearly set in the Local Plan.
3 I think all parties want to improve public transport.

6 If there is one thing you would change about the way that local government is organised, what would it be?

Charles Croal: I would advise every district or borough council have annual elections based on a third of the councillors being elected each year. It gives voters much more of an active say and gets away from council leaders being set up for 4 years of assured rule where they can ignore the wishes of voters.

Carolyne Culver: Scrap the Executive. Too much power is concentrated in the hands of the “strong leader” and their eight Executive members. As a result, opposition parties and backbenchers of the ruling group end up feeling variously disenfranchised, hamstrung, censored or ignored.

Lee Dillon:  Local government needs need to empower communities. So, the first thing I would change is how we involve the public in how we take decisions. Advisory groups should be opened up to the public and question times extended – residents’ skills and knowledge should be welcomed, not feared – and an opposition member should chair the council’s scrutiny committee. The way we are funded also needs reform. No long-term settlements and last-minute grants make it harder to deliver-long term partnerships.

Lynne Doherty: I would like to see funding directly devolved to local government to determine how best to spend this for their communities, rather than the current system of various grants and pots of different money.

7 Finally, regardless of the result on 4 May, how (in ten words or fewer) would you like your party’s 2023 campaign to be remembered?

Charles Croal: The year Labour made a lasting impact on West Berkshire.

Carolyne Culver: Standing one candidate per multi-ward to encourage a pluralistic council.

Lee Dillon:  To have listened to more residents than any other party.

Lynne Doherty: Honest and responsible.


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