Kevin Horkin, former Mayor of Clitheroe and Conservative candidate for Ribble Valley Borough Council's Primrose ward, has warned the electorate that the Liberal Democrats have only put up 16 candidates in the borough council elections because ''they clearly accept that they cannot win control of the council without forming a coalition with Labour''.
Mr Horkin said: "Political experience teaches us that the only way a political party can direct the policies of a local authority is to win the majority of seats, which in the Ribble Valley is 21 out of 40. This enables the council to set the Council Tax, direct housing, planning and infrastructure policy. The majority also decide on spending in projects like town centre improvements, Primrose Lodge and Roefield Sports facilities on which the Conservatives have led for the last four years as the majority group.
‘’The Liberals have entered the election starting with the message - we cannot win, control, so in order to implement Liberal policies we need the support of the Labour Party to form a coalition. In our view the Labour Party is a high spend, high tax party, which will increase the levels of Council Tax, and probably support Ribble Valley merging into an East Lancs Super Council which will be dominated by Labour controlled Blackburn and Burnley. We will then have no control over planning and infrastructure policy and the new council will increase the number of houses built in the Ribble Valley. The Conservatives take the view that we will co-operate with our local Government neighbours but not be dominated by them. We will protect the independence of the Ribble Valley Borough and not join such a council.
''The Liberals, by not fielding a candidate in every ward, accept they are beaten before they start and, as a consequence, the electorate cannot take them seriously as a force to direct the destiny of the Ribble Valley over the next four years. Our figures show that, on average in England, Conservative run boroughs and districts charge £100 less than for an average house (band D) than Lib Dems or Labour controlled councils."
In response, Coun. Allan Knox, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "I will take no lectures from the likes of Ken Hind and Kevin Horkin about what is best for Clitheroe and the Ribble Valley and I will take no lectures from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party either.
"This is a cynical underhanded ploy by a party that is so divided at a local and national level that they are lashing out."
Giles Bridge, chairman of Ribble Valley Labour Party, commented: "Ribble Valley Labour Party is fielding 35 candidates in the borough council elections and so could be a majority. We have listened to local people and developed a 20- page manifesto outlining our plans for the Ribble Valley and all the areas for which the borough council has responsibility. Nowhere in that manifesto do we include merging to form an East Lancashire Super Council.
"It's laughable that the Tories suggest we would have no control over planning and infrastructure as these are areas where the Conservatives in the Ribble Valley have failed miserably. They belatedly developed a Core Strategy which allows for 5,600 houses to be built in the borough between 2008 and 2028 and already, by November 2018, 2,362 houses have been built and permission granted - by the Conservatives - for another 3,901. That's 6,263 houses only 10 years into the plan. Labour would ensure that we built truly affordable homes and produce an Infrastructure Plan identifying the needs of the borough in terms of roads, education, health , leisure and other essential services.
"Unlike the Tories, who deal with developments on a piecemeal approach, we would also introduce the Community Infrastructure Levy to ensure that all developers pay towards the infrastructure we need to cope with additional house-building and other developments."
He added: "The Conservatives are not investing in local services and the £8m they have had in the New Homes Bonus since 2008 has been spent on day-to-day running costs in order to keep Council Tax artificially low. For the average Band D household that means you keep an extra 10 pence per day. £36.50 per household, per year, won't make a massive difference to a household, but across the borough would make a clear impact on improved services."