Economy pledge in Northamptonshire election battle

Northampton town centre
Image caption Northamptonshire County Council has 57 wards up for election

The three biggest political parties agree the battleground in the Northamptonshire local elections boils down to a four-letter word - jobs.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats say too many young people are out of work. The Conservatives say more good quality jobs are needed.

But while they agree on the problem, they differ on the remedy.

Northamptonshire County Council has 57 wards up for election, down from 73, following a boundary review.

The council has been Conservative controlled for the past eight years.

Only Labour and the Conservatives are contesting every seat.

The Lib Dems are fighting 52, and the UK Independence Party 48. Also standing are candidates for the Green Party, British National Party, the English Democrats and some anti-cuts campaigners, together with some independents.

Jim Harker, leader of the Conservatives, said he wanted to pursue what he called a "prosperity agenda".

"Producing good quality jobs, making sure people are prosperous, have money in their pockets, because without that you really can't do anything else," he said.

He pointed to the Tories' support for the Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership, and a loan that secured the future of the Grand Prix at Silverstone as examples.

But he added: "On top of that we must not forget that what we're really here for is to provide services to the people of Northamptonshire."

Labour and the Liberal Democrats would suggest this is exactly what the Conservatives have forgotten.

They suggest spending money on a Brussels office to promote the county is wasteful. The Tories said it was already bringing vital European money into the area.

John McGhee, leader of the Labour group on the council, said the most important local issue is that so many young people are out of work. He said economic development was vital to bring more jobs.

He added: "The other part of this is public transport, there have been so many bus cuts over the years we have to resolve that.

"We will invest in public transport so we can get people to work at the right times."

Most deprived

County council Liberal Democrats leader Brendan Glynane said his party shared a similar focus.

"It's about young people and jobs, it's about education - for those people who may be out of work, and ways that we can get them back into work," he said.

He said that educational standards in the county have been low under the Conservatives, and need improving.

UKIP see their comparative success at the Corby by-election as the point that the party became a serious player in local politics.

Jonathan Bullock, chair of the Kettering and Wellingborough branch, said the party was not a single-issue group.

"We're a political party and we've got a whole slate of local policies such as local referenda (on key council decisions)," he said.

He added that if the UK was to withdraw from the EU there would be more money available for local services.

Northamptonshire is a county of contrasts.

While south Northamptonshire is thriving - and has the lowest rate of child poverty in the country - there are parts of Northampton, Wellingborough, Kettering and Corby that are among the most deprived in England.

Much of the rural parts of the county are true blue, but the future complexion of the county council will probably be decided in the towns.

Changed ward boundaries mean that it is almost impossible to predict outcomes, and what was once a three-way fight has become a four-cornered contest with UKIP joining the fray.

The result will become clear once counting has been completed some time in the early evening of 3 May.

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