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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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Battle lines are drawn ahead of the Cumbria council elections

Political parties have set out their manifestos for the Cumbria County Council elections with Labour pledging to cap council tax rises at three per cent a year.

Voters go to the polls on June 4 when 301 candidates will contest all 84 wards.

No party has overall control of the council, which has been run by a minority Labour administration since a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition collapsed last year.

There are currently 39 Labour councillors, 32 Conservatives, 10 Liberal Democrats and three Independents.

Labour’s manifesto, launched this week, promises to cap council tax increases at three per cent in each of the next four years.

Council leader Stewart Young said: “People have reached the limit of how much they are prepared to pay for council tax. Increases much above inflation are just not acceptable any more.”

Since taking office, he said, Labour had offered £40m to settle a claim for equal pay and had introduced an anti-poverty strategy, freezing home and day-care charges, bringing back school-clothing grants and providing advice on debt management.

Mr Young hopes that voters will judge his administration on its record and not use the election to lodge a protest vote against the Government.

Labour is promising a “major initiative” to raise standards in schools if it is returned to power.

It would also increase spending on roads and pavements and lobby the Government for cash for large-scale improvements to roads.

The Conservatives aim to take control of the council outright or at least replace Labour as the largest party.

They are the only party to fight all 84 wards.

The Tories have pledged to bring in a blanket 30mph speed limit in any village big enough to display a name sign.

They say they would do more permanent road repairs rather than “temporary fixes”.

And they would “remodel” Cumbria Care to encourage elderly people to stay in their homes rather than move into care homes.

Conservative leader Tim Stoddard criticised Labour for borrowing too much.

He said: “A Conservative administration would spend the council’s money wisely and efficiently.”

The Conservatives ran Cumbria in coalition with the Liberal Democrats from 2001-2008 and Mr Stoddard said the Tories were proud of their record.

He added: “According to the Audit Commission the council is ‘improving well’.

“Directorates are mainly of three or four-star standard.

“Over the past four years we’ve made £40m of savings through efficiencies, restructuring and better delivery of work and services.”

The Liberal Democrats are promising cheap bus travel for youngsters.

They would cap bus fares for under-19s at £1 for single journeys and £1.80 for return trips.

Other election pledges include a clampdown on speeding, a review of road maintenance, opening 22 ‘one-stop shops’ to access council services and more household waste recycling centres.

They would set up ‘community justice panels’ to give people a say in efforts to cut crime and antisocial behaviour.

And they have pledged to support four major new transport schemes including a southern bypass for Carlisle.

Group leader Ian Stewart said: “Our manifesto sets out a positive mixture of what we have achieved, coupled with what we want to achieve over the next four years.”

Labour is fighting 81 wards and the Liberal Democrats 50 but four smaller parties also have candidates.

The British National Party is contesting 42 seats and the Greens 15. There are six candidates from the Socialist People’s Party, all in Barrow, and five from the anti-EU UK Independence Party.

The 18 Independents standing include two disillusioned former Tory councillors.

George Bain is in Carlisle Belle Vue, a ward he used to represent on the city council.

And Oliver Pearson, a one-time county cabinet member, is standing in Barrow.

Two sitting councillors in Carlisle hope to move seats.

Labour’s Cyril Weber, who represents Belle Vue, is standing in Harraby.

And Liberal Democrat Olwyn Luckley is moving from Castle to Brampton where she hopes to unseat Conservative Lawrence Fisher.

Twenty councillors are standing down.

Among them is Philip Chappelhow (Penrith North) who, as cabinet member for children’s services, helped create the county’s academy schools.

Other Conservatives leaving include Isa Henderson (Alston and Fellside), Geoff Prest (Longtown) and John Robinson (Wetheral). Labour is losing Mike Richardson (Harraby).

The county council elections coincide with those for the European Parliament.

Would-be voters not on the electoral roll have until Tuesday to register with their district council.

Tuesday is also the deadline to apply for a postal vote.

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