MORE than one year on from the General Election Warrington South MP Andy Carter and Warrington Borough Council leader Cllr Russ Bowden have still not met for talks – with both men blaming each other for a “farcical” lack of dialogue.
While Mr Carter is urging for better communications to help tackle the COVID-19 crisis, Labour Leader Cllr Bowden says Mr Carter has not responded to his written requests to meet, accusing the Tory MP of “politicising Covid and attacking those at the frontline dealing with it.”
Mr Carter says Warrington Council’s effective ‘one-party state’ is bad for local democracy and will hamper the town’s ability to recover from coronavirus.
More than a year after winning Warrington South’s Westminster seat back from Labour, Mr Carter says despite asking, he’s yet to have a one to one meeting with the Leader of the Council, who instead prefers to write letters criticising central Government but won’t sit down and discuss the many pressing issues affecting “our town”.
Mr Carter says that to support people during this challenging time, the Conservative government has provided grant support for businesses through Local Authorities to protect people’s jobs and incomes, as well as delivering financial assistance to the council to protect key services provided for young people and the elderly.
Despite a ‘farcical’ lack of dialogue between his office and elected Labour politicians, Mr Carter says he’s built good relationships with ‘very professional’ Senior Council Officers, in a bid to help move some of the most pressing issues in the Borough forward and has even received messages of support from some Labour Councillors who don’t agree with the way decisions are being taken and feel isolated from the ruling Town Hall leadership.
Mr Carter added: “Labour have an overwhelming majority of Councillors at the town hall, until the General Election they also held both Westminster seats and it’s as if they’ve not realised that the electorate decided to change things and they’re just carrying on as though nothing is different. Regular communication between MPs and Council Leaders happens in every other area no matter what political party and it would benefit people who live in Warrington through this most difficult time. My approach is to pull together when things get tough, to help us all deal with the here and now; sending a letter about an issue two weeks later doesn’t help anyone.
“At the start of the new year It’s time for the Labour leader of the Council to put party politics aside and work to aid the Covid recovery.”
“I find it frustrating that nobody is scrutinising the Council on what steps they’ve taken to get Grants out to local businesses. At a time when the town’s retail centre is in dire straits and hospitality businesses, which is licenced by the Local Authority, are having to close it’s essential that local democracy is functioning properly. Local business owners are emailing me, asking why the Council hasn’t yet paid out Grants from November. They can’t get a reply from the Councillors because they don’t know what’s going on either.
“I listened to the last Full Council Meeting which was streamed online and it consisted of a number of motions which were designed to be critical of the Government, it’s like a grandstanding opportunity for Warrington Labour to have a say on national issues. They’re more interested in attacking the Government over global climate change or Brexit rather than dealing with matters which they can control here in Warrington.
Mr Carter raised concerns about Warrington Borough Council’s finances in the House of Commons during a statement from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in December.
“Warrington Labour seem to think the only route to addressing issues that all Councils face is to borrow heavily to invest in commercial property and a variety of businesses. I don’t agree with their strategy because of the risks associated and lack of experience within the council for managing the type of asset portfolio. Other Council’s in a similar position to Warrington have taken different approaches which don’t involve £1.6bn debt. Added to the concerns about borrowing is the lack of sign off on the Borough Council’s accounts from 2017/18, despite repeated promises that they would be forthcoming.”
Cllr Bowden, who forwarded two letters which he says have been sent to Mr Carter but received no response, hit back saying: “The MP for Warrington South has never asked me for a meeting. I have written to him on two occasions requesting a meeting and yet he hasn’t even had the courtesy to reply.
“I don’t engage in tittle-tattle and gossip. I am getting on with the very serious job of leading this Council during the Covid-19 crisis, ensuring that vital services can be delivered, supporting local businesses and protecting jobs. Contrary to his empty claim, more than 95% of business support grant applications have been processed and paid, ahead of the funding actually being provided by the Government.
“If Mr Carter really wanted to do his best for Warrington, then I would suggest that he starts by getting his Government to cover the £20m+ shortfall in Council funding due to Covid along with the £4.5m shortfall in our Towns Fund grant. He might then finally deliver the £0.5m that he promised over a year ago to fund the business case for a new hospital, let alone the £2.5m needed to mitigate the impact of the inland border that has been forced onto our town with his support.
“At a time when nationally and locally we are facing a very serious and bleak position, you really do have to question the timing and motive in politicising Covid and attacking those at the frontline dealing with it.”