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Stroud MP hits back at SDC

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Stroud MP Siobhan Baillie has responded to claims she made inaccurate statements in Parliament.

The Green Party stated that Ms Baillie claimed that the council was run by the Green Party and Labour Party. However the Greens lead the administration with Independent and Liberal Democrat Councillors, and Labour are not part of the Council leadership team. 

Cllr Catherine Braun, Leader of the Council, has written to ask Ms Baillie to withdraw the comments, which were made as part of a question about Berkeley Town Council’s regeneration plans and were published in Hansard, the official record of Parliamentary proceedings.

Siobhan Baillie 3 | Stroud MP hits back at SDC
Siobhan Baillie Picture: Matt Bigwood

Ms Baillie told Stroud Times: “I am amazed that the leader of the council has used her time to remind everybody about council failures all over again.

“It’s also bizarre that the Green Party is criticising me for standing up for my constituents and asking a Minister of the Crown to help me secure funding for Berkeley town centre – an area that is so important for local tourism but was not included by the council in its rejected levelling up bid.

“Here’s the facts. The GFirstLEP, local businesses, myself and business experts all warned the council about its levelling up bid at multiple stages. I will continue to argue for funding for Stroud town but my job is made harder when the government department officials stated about the council’s work – among other things.

“There are some clear areas of this bid that requires significant improvement, particularly in the ‘deliverability’ section. There was a lack of consistency in project management approaches across different elements of the package bid, issues with the reliability of match funding, commitments to purchases with grant funding on unrealistic timescales, £25k of pre-bid costs that were not eligible and a lack of information regarding the evaluation approach or details of the resourcing/budget.

“This was one of the worst appraisals of any council’s work that I’ve seen. They were asking for multiple millions of taxpayers’ money so the government rightly expects a professional competent job. I’m a persistent and persuasive MP for Stroud but I’m not a miracle worker.

“Local people have also asked me to raise issues about the planning inspector recommending the council withdraws its local plan. I will do that at every opportunity at all levels, not least as the council has even ignored the Inspector and asked for a ‘pause’ that she cautioned against.

“We are really worried about the planning situation in the district. I make no apologies if the council leader finds all this inconvenient.

“The local plan and the levelling up bid were Green and Labour led for the majority of the time and my meetings with council ‘leaders’ always includes the Labour Party. However, I accept they have all fallen out so there is now about three groups with current or ex Labour Party councillors in.

“I take note that the Green Party leader wants me to only attribute the council’s well documented problems to the Green Party, the Lib Dem’s and the Independent groups and I think she is saying I should let the Labour Party off the hook?  I’m not sure. But it’s impossible for any busy person in the Stroud District to really understand what is happening with the council coalition.

“This authority needs to knuckle down, fix the problems it has caused and work with me to help places like Berkeley. Not send silly political missives as an effort to distract but that really only serves to highlight the mess it is in.”

Catherine Braun 0153 | Stroud MP hits back at SDC
Catherine Braun

Cllr Braun said: “It is deeply disappointing for the residents of the Stroud constituency to see such a lack of integrity by their Member of Parliament, which appears aimed at damaging confidence in local government.

“I would like the MP to acknowledge the misrepresentations she made, to correct them, and to be more honest in future when she speaks in the House of Commons.  

“As Leader of the District Council, I seek to work cooperatively with our local MPs for the benefit of the district and would welcome their respect for our work at the council, and engagement to achieve shared objectives.”

Cllr Braun’s letter, copied to the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, reads as follows:

Dear Ms Baillie,

I am writing to you, with copy to the Speaker of the House of Commons, and the Commissioner for Standards to request that you retract an inaccurate and misleading statement about the composition and competency of Stroud District Council, which you made in the House of Commons on 16th October (Hansard Volume 738), which is deeply disappointing for the residents of the Stroud constituency and potentially damages confidence in local government.

You stated: “Berkeley Town Council has created a much-needed regeneration plan that will make the town worthy of the tourist attractions nearby, such as Berkeley castle and the Dr Jenner’s House museum, but we have little faith that the Green and Labour-led district council will get the levelling-up bid over the line. It failed before and its local plans have also been withdrawn. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the issue?”

I will highlight three issues where you have mis-represented the Council and our work in this short statement:

• Council leadership. Stroud District Council is led by the Green, Independent and Liberal Democrat groups. As you are aware from regular briefings and the local media, the Labour group has not been part of the council administration since October 2022.

• Funding bid. Stroud District (which was assessed as a second level priority area by Government) was amongst 418 councils which were not awarded funding in round two of the Levelling Up Fund allocation. Only 21 % of councils were successful. As you are aware, the Stroud District bid, which you backed, also received strong cross-party support and 50 letters of support from partners, leading business and community organisations, reflecting the quality of the work undertaken and Stroud District Council’s ambition for our district. In this context, I will also note that the fund design and highly unusual allocation, by parliamentary constituency rather than local authority area, as well as the requirement for local authorities to bid against each other, was widely criticised by local leaders of all political colours.

• Local Plan. The development of a new Local Plan is of key importance to people living and working in Stroud District, as it will determine where new housing and development takes place. As you are aware, the draft Local Plan is at the stage of Examination in Public. The Planning Inspectors have raised concerns, which Stroud District Council seeks to address, by providing further information, working with Gloucestershire County Council, South Gloucestershire Council and National Highways in particular. At this stage it is incorrect for you to state that it has been withdrawn, as we do not yet know the status of the plan. As you will be aware from your discussions with Council officers and members, we await the Planning Inspectors’ decision on whether the Examination in Public can proceed.

Finally, I will be writing to Berkeley Town Council to reassure them that Stroud District Council remains as committed as ever to supporting their excellent regeneration ambitions, as we are for all market towns and parishes across the district.

I hope you will agree to correct the record on these points and that by working together, the Council and the local MPs can achieve more for our local area.”

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