Thank you to everyone who went out to vote at the local elections last Thursday. We are thrilled with the results and the trust that has been placed in the Liberal Democrats. With 16 councillors, we are now the largest group at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.
We are delighted to introduce our four newly elected councillors: mental-health professional Gavin Barrass in Pantiles & St Mark’s; retired Financial Times journalist Martin Brice in Culverden; ex-professional boxer Jamie Johnson in Broadwater; and science teacher Brendon Le Page in Southborough North.
Now the hard work begins.
With 16 out of 48 councillors, our party does not have a majority, and cannot lead the council alone. Therefore we are in discussions these coming weeks with other parties in order to form a close-knit administration that will work speedily and effectively for the benefit of residents across the borough. This is a scenario we have been planning for and considering over the past year. It won’t always be easy, and we know there is very little money but, to borrow a phrase from the late Jo Cox MP - we have more in common than that which divides us.
We will announce the outcome of these talks as soon as possible. The make-up of the next administration will be wrapped up at the Full Council meeting on 25 May at 10am. This is a public meeting at the Town Hall that residents are very welcome to attend in person. It will also be broadcast live on the TWBC website.
Contrary to the Conservatives’ election literature predicting chaos if they were not re-elected, there will be stability and progress. We all love Tunbridge Wells and we all want it to thrive and prosper. We care deeply about our wonderful communities that make it such a great place to live. Our first priority will be reducing the budget deficit, set to cumulatively reach £20m by 2028 after the previous Council’s maladministration.
The Conservatives losing their fragile minority grip on Tunbridge Wells made national headlines and reflected an overall decline in the party’s popularity. But there can be few of us here on the ground who don’t understand that the collapse of the Conservative vote locally was not purely down to PartyGate, the cost-of-living crisis, and other genuine concerns about the way the country is being run, but also to years of complacency and arrogance at TWBC. On the doorstep, people were still talking to us about the £10.8m wasted on the widely disliked Calverley Square project and the shortcomings (to put it politely) of the waste collections contract.
Under the Conservatives, the culture was one of top-down politics. That will now change. We pledge to listen. We want more collaborative, consensus politics, with parties working together to deliver efficient local services, balance the books, do what we can locally to address the climate emergency, and create a town centre we can all be proud of. On some of these issues, like the Council’s own carbon footprint, baby steps have been taken—but we now need much more ambition and urgency.
As the largest party, we find ourselves in a position of immense responsibility and we do not take it lightly. Nor do we take the support of voters for granted. Residents of the borough are seeking a different kind of local politics and we will do everything in our power to deliver it.