Tomorrow much of England will go to the polls for the County Council elections.
At stake will be the control of 27 county councils responsible for billions of pounds of taxpayer’s money and the delivery of key services including education, highways and social services.
Currently the Conservatives are the dominant force in Shire Halls controlling 15 of the 27 councils outright and a further eight councils where they are the largest party but having to rely on a coalition with other smaller groups to achieve a majority. They have 1,119 county councillors, compared to 570 for Labour, 347 for the Liberal Democrats and 149 for UKIP.
A month ago I would have predicted the Conservatives losing seats and control of several authorities but the Prime Ministers announcement of a General Election has transformed the mood on the ground.
In Oxfordshire, where the council was under no overall control (NOC) and the Conservatives run the council with the help of Independents, they were fearful that they would see a reduction of conservative councillors and a rainbow coalition would take control. However, over the last couple of weeks there’s been a pronounced bounce in the Conservatives’ favour and they’ve even dared to think that they might take complete control.
In other parts of the country we should see current conservative administrations slightly increase their number of conservative councillors with the result that a number of councils under NOC will turn true blue. Councils that are on the target list must include Cambridgeshire, East Sussex, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, maybe even Warwickshire.
The Liberal Democrats are also likely to have a good night. Four years ago, the Lib Dems were being punished for going into coalition with a minority conservative government and reneging on key election promises on tuition fees etc. Four years on the public seem to have forgiven such transgressions and we should expect to see gains of between fifty and a hundred seats. They will have counties such as Dorset in their sights but it would have to be a very good night for them to pull off such a coup.
The biggest losers on the night will be UKIP and Labour.
In 2013 UKIP were riding the crest of a wave of anti-European sentiment and did remarkably well at the county council elections. Four years on, three leaders later and post BREXIT they are struggling to appear relevant. In percentage terms expect them to be decimated with the Conservatives the biggest gainers.
Labour meanwhile will suffer from the muddle of the General Election dominating the local government campaign. It is stark how Mrs May’s announcement has focused minds and how damaging the Corbyn effect is now for county council candidates. If the night is really bad, expect Labour to lose 150 plus seats, almost halving their representatives at County level. It is unlikely they will lose control of Derbyshire but where they currently rely on coalitions to give them a majority, like Cumbria, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire, expect them to be under significant pressure.
This article was written by Frank Browne a former leader of Wokingham Borough Council and a member of our non-executive board.