Tudor Evans: My first 100 days in office have been a blast
In an exclusive interview with The Herald, council leader Tudor Evans reviews his first 100 days in power. Political Reporter Keith Rossiter reports.
TUDOR EVANS won control of the council in the May elections, and took over the reins from Vivien Pengelly later that month.
"Over the first 100 days we have managed to do at least one thing a day that has made a difference, but we haven't really started on our 100 manifesto promises," he said.
"The first 100 days has been a blast and I think we made substantial progress in delivering a new direction for Plymouth.
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"The next 100 days are going to blow your socks off."
Job creation was a top priority in the Labour manifesto and he promised: "We will release our plan for jobs before Christmas. The jobs task force has held its second meeting and will hold two more before we make our plan."
Mr Evans has made several decisions that will cost the council money, but he insisted that these had been "budgeted for" and would not result in higher council tax.
"We have also agreed plans to regenerate the Pavilions and get a new ice rink at Home Park," he said. "That will bring in thousands of jobs."
But with many ambitious building projects stalled, how confident was Mr Evans that the Pavilions would happen soon?
"The difference between this and other plans is that we have got [Argyle boss] James Brent behind them. He doesn't just talk a good plan – he walks the walk."
Mr Evans met David Cameron, the Prime Minister, when Plymouth hosted Armed Forces Day in June.
he said:"We lobbied the Prime Minister and gave him our four 'asks', followed up by a letter."
These were: basing the Type 26 frigates in Plymouth; a better relationship between the MoD land agents and the city council; to have Devonport's South Yard designated as the base for the South West Marine Energy Park; and to include more three-hour train journeys to London in the next rail franchise agreement.
The council has secured £50,000 funding for a Future Cities programme feasibility study.
The prize for the winning city is funding of £24million.
Mr Evans would not reveal details of the bid, but said it was about "efficiency in public services and how the city could benefit from technological advances".
Mr Evans was confident the city centre could survive the challenges posed by online shopping and the decline of the high street.
"Look at what I've done in launching the Marine City Festival. That can only happen here. There isn't another city in the country that could host it.
"We are about making the city a more attractive destination."
TUDOR EVANS: POINT BY POINT
ADULT SOCIAL CARE
The council has increased the fees it pays for residential and nursing care. Cllr Evans denied that he would have to put up council tax to pay for this.
Asked where the money would come from, Cllr Evans said: “We have budgeted for it because we have made it a priority over other things.
“We won’t have to put up council tax to pay for it. There are lots of things we’re not doing.
“We haven’t decided yet what to cut to accommodate the increase.
“You are absolutely right. Certain things can’t happen.
“Or we can stop doing things we don’t do very well.
“Or we can stop paying so much for things.
“Our strategy continues to be to seek alternatives to residential care. People are living longer, but prefer to live longer in their own homes.
“You have got to make sure with old folk who can’t make their own provision that what we give them is the best we can afford.”
The Labour group promised to be more open and transparent.
“We have started on that road,” Cllr Evans said. “I have already published Freedom of Information statistics.”
Last month the council also published two Foot Anstey reports it had commissioned into the possibility of stopping the North Yard incinerator.
Foot Anstey said it would cost more than £400million to break the city’s contract.
Cabinet member Chris Penberthy, who sat in on the interview, added that the council was pushing ahead with reducing the number of secret meetings of committees “to a bare minimum”.
Labour also introduced webcasting of council meetings. Cllr Evans said about 1,600 people watched the first broadcast of a full council meeting.
STREETS AND PAVEMENTS
“Unlike some councils, we are not going to cut street lighting to save money. We have just done a new contract that will guarantee the street lights will stay on.”
“We have set up a dedicated pothole team and we have got stuck into the backlog of drain clearance.”
Asked where the money would come from, he said: “We have found it be rescheduling the capital programme.” But he could not say which projects had been rescheduled.
“We have started work on West Hoe pier after setting up the budget for it five years ago.
“It seemed to go off the rails under the previous administration.”
He said that 30 per cent of crime in Devon and Cornwall happens in Plymouth, so he would expect the new Police and Crime Commissioner – who will be elected in November – to devote that level of police resources in the city.
Chris Penberthy: “With the new academic year starting, we have been doing more with the police to ensure that crime doesn’t affect students so much.
“We’ll be launching some new anti-crime campaigns over the next few months.”
“If you count Sherford, there is currently land with planning permission for 10,000 new homes, where there has been no activity on the building sites.
“We are enjoying a productive relationship with Plymouth Community Homes to accelerate the North Prospect regeneration.
“We are also bringing empty homes into use using legal powers.
“But all this is about to go off the rails because of Government changes to the planning system.”
The council is inviting interest from self-build housing co-operatives.
“What we are willing to do is to be as flexible as possible to get the market moving.”
Labour’s big idea was to become a “Co-operative Council”.
Chris Penberthy [Cabinet member for co-operatives] said: “Primary school heads have got together and set up a co-operative support mechanism.
“Four or five primary schools are also going through the process of becoming co-operative trusts, and several more are interested.
“A co-operative is owned by its members, which could include not only the schools but parents and other partners.
“Schools of all types are coming together to be part of a co-operative trust we have set up.
“We have also had an early years provider talking to us about setting up a co-operative with parents. It is rippling out beyond education.”
COMMUNITY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT TRUST
Cllr Evans said he had cut two posts from his Cabinet to pay for a feasibility study into a community economic development trust similar to the Wolseley Trust for north Plymouth. He is looking at council-owned assets to transfer to the trust.
“It will bring employment; local economic development; it would be owned and controlled by local people; and the profits would be invested into the local area.”
“We are not as available to the local community at the time they would want us to be.
“If you want to pay a bill most of the time you have to come into the council to pay it.
“Most of us these days pay our bills at 11pm on a computer.
“Even after all the Tory investment, only 3 per cent of council transactions are online, compared with the average for unitary authorities of 27per cent.”
Cllr Evans was at loggerheads with the previous Tory administration over using council equipment to access social media. He is an inveterate tweeter, and runs two accounts – a personal one and his official council leader feed.
So how many tweets has he made since becoming council leader?
“My level of tweeting has gone down dramatically. The only time I get now is when I get home at 9pm. No recipes, no football results in my official Twitter feed.
“But the council itself is tweeting more. What impact will that have? I’ll tell you in May 2014 [the next scheduled council elections].
“The feedback I’m getting is that people like it. Younger citizens are able to learn more about the council.”