Local Elections: Gloucestershire Tories hope to hang on to power

A stack of ballot boxes The number of councillors is being reduced from 63 to 53 due to boundary changes

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The last time Gloucestershire County Council was up for grabs was in 2009 when we had a Labour government and austerity had not fully kicked in.

Now the political landscape and challenges facing local authorities are very different.

Three years ago, it was announced that the money from Whitehall given to local councils was to be reduced by 27% over four years.

In Gloucestershire, county councillors have cut £65m from the authority's annual budget of £374m after they launched their Meeting the Challenge campaign in November 2010.

While the authority has less money coming into its coffers, the demands on its services are going up and up.

Investment promises

By 2026, the over-65s in the county are set to increase by 65% - so as people get older so too do the pressures they place on services.

The manifesto pledges are coming in thick and fast - from what to do with the county's rubbish to freezing council tax.

But it is the county's roads which seem to be dominating discussion among the people on the street.

All the main parties are promising more investment in the roads with over 40,000 potholes being filled in over the past year.

Other hot topics include removing a whole tier of local government and, following the recent refusal of the application for a controversial incinerator, how will the county deal with its waste?

Gloucestershire County Council has been solidly Tory for many years. But history shows that whoever is in power in Westminster tends to get a kicking locally.

Boundary changes

It is possible this time around we may end up with no overall control and consequently a grey rather than blue blob on the electoral map.

The Conservatives are currently the largest party with 40 councillors, compared to 14 Liberal Democrats, five Labour, two People Against Bureaucracy members, one Green and one Independent.

The test for the Conservatives locally will be maintaining control of this council, which on paper might look like an easy task.

But this year there is the added element of boundary changes due to a cut in the number of councillors from 63 to 53 - so with the introduction of new wards, some interesting contests could arise.

A leading Labour figure told me recently that "we hope to do well on 2 May, but let's be fair, shire counties are not exactly our heartland".

In 2009, Labour did badly in Gloucestershire - the success of the New Labour brand in 1997 was a distant memory - and they lost eight councillors and now have just five.

They will be hoping to double that and are hoping for the possibility of a hung authority where every vote might count.

Fewer councillors

Outside the main three parties you have the unknown quantity, locally, in the form of the UK Independence Party.

Nigel Farage, the party's leader, stopped off in the county two weeks ago to drum up support for his party's 39 candidates, who include a few disgruntled ex-Conservatives.

With the party doing well in the national opinion polls it will be interesting to see if they can get a UKIP councillor elected in the county for the first time.

The Green Party's single councillor is hoping to get re-elected and hopes she might have some fellow Greens joining her on the green benches at the council's HQ.

Then there are the Independents from the People Against Bureaucracy group who are strong in one part of Cheltenham and in Tewkesbury another Indie is hoping to hold on.

In the Forest of Dean, a place where Independents are helping to run the district council, they will be hoping to gain a county councillor or two.

With fewer councillors and with the fact that 26 current councillors are retiring, whatever the result on 2 May the council chamber at Shire Hall will be very different from the current set-up.

You can hear more from politicians across the county every day next week with Mark Cummings on BBC Radio Gloucestershire's breakfast show at 06:00 BST from Monday 22 April.

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