Cllr Lynn Riley is leader of Cwac Conservatives. Cllr Margaret Parker deputy leader was also in attendance.
Lynn Riley, you say your glass is always half full.. what are you drinking ?
Always gin, in all its great and glorious. I can heartily recommend Whitmore and Whyte, a brilliant independent they do a fantastic gin tasting night. They have 20-30 Gins behind the counter!
Tell us a bit about yourself..
I am the very proud ward councillor for Frodsham where I have always represented. I have been a councillor in various guises since 2004. Before that I started out as a town councillor. There was an issue in my ward to do with an unpleasant plan to do some stuff in our local park and we all had a view about it.
Margaret Parker : I’ve been a councillor on and off for 18 years. I got into politics because somebody knocked on my door to canvass me . I wasn’t very happy with the conservatives and I felt that I wanted to make a difference. He said to me “why don’t you join the party?” , so I gave it some thought and I did.
Lynn: One he things that hit my personal touch paper was , that prior to the park issue I had worked overseas for a while. My career was sales and marketing. I was out in Singapore for about 7 years, I had my kids over there. We came back to England when the kids were quite small. It was the strange realisation when we lived abroad that we were next to some of the most undemocratic places in the world. To have seen first hand people literally dying for the right to say “I’m not very happy ” and to have an opinion.
Did you have issues being women in politics ?
Personally I have never really felt it . I think the Tories have always been a broad church with that meritocratic element. When you look back over time, I got into politics as a newbie , and within a hop skip and a jump I was on a council and using politics to try and make a difference. Too many people get hung up on the ideology . The politics is how we get stuff done , the art of the possible is to build that agreement about what we are going to do.
What is your vision for the borough and your political strategy?
Forgive me for not sharing the manifesto for 2019 with you… I think what the Conservatives are really all about is… change and ambition. When you have a look at the place Chester was and the place Chester is.. we have all learnt lots of things along the way.. the great thing is, if you are genuine about making this a shared vision, getting into some really honest conversations about what is important for people. The thing that sets your direction of travel, you have to establish with your residents how ambitious you should be and we should all be together.
When we started out with a new council we started out with a consultation that said “what’s important here”. If you’re in that genuine consultation sometimes its about what people don’t say as much as they do say. The Chester that we’ve got today, theres some stuff that’s been done. Its frustrating that some of our projects are coming to fruition under Labour’s watch but that’s the cut and thrust of politics. Its about creating a place where other people can do what floats their boat. It’s why the One city plan is so important, it was such a busy landscape and it was about bringing them all together. When we inherited Chester back in 2009 there was a list of things that needed to be done , and that was the thing that unlocked the heart and soul of Chester. It was about giving people the confidence to come out and air their soul and bring their passion into play. The culture offer has always been there, but its about creating a platform where the people that do that thing really well can build the impetus themselves.
We are now in the fortunate position of being post Brexit and post Trump.. People are a bit sick and tired of everything having to be sterile and ordered and neat. Real life is messy communities are messy, but they work. When I was a kid one of the lessons we did in science where you get lots of straight lines and you try and get a bit of a curve. But actually its just lots of straight lines… sometimes in the past public sector has felt like we are trying to bend things that aren’t there to bend. If you let people loose to do the things that they do really well, you’ll end up with the result you want but it won’t be nailed down in a neat strategy you can measure…
How did you view the record of the previous council and why do you think your party lost the election ?
I think the record from the council has been great. We set out to build something that could build momentum and keep going. We brought people together to play into the strengths that everybody had to bring into place. The legacy we left was lots of great plans, which were quite contentious in the day , and the heavy lifting had been done and now we are seeing the green shoots. We have partnerships in Cheshire West that a lot of places can only dream about. Within the public sector family and the people in the community that have the confidence to do things and tell us what they want to see. That’s how St Marys came about! That was a building, we had some meetings in it, we had a group we had cups of coffee with.. it took ages but look at what social media comes out of St Mary’s now , it is fabulous!
The ultimate vision is where everybody can have a say, but the art of the possible will be to encourage people to use their voices and their passion and their activity to build stuff rather than tear it down.
Is consultation the right way to go about it?
I think we’re stuck with consultation .. You can’t do anything in the public sector without consultation. That’s really the law. If you can sit down with people and ask people “what is it really that we want to achieve here” For me it is all about customer experience, how does it fell when you interact with the council If its good let us know, if its not, let us know because we can’t get better if people just moan about us in the paper.
Social media has helped this, theres more interaction with the Smyle app etc ?
I’m so glad you like that , because these were things that we had in Vale Royal and we learned over the years what worked well with our residents..
Going back to the question, why did you lose the election? Mike Jones blamed it on the local associations..
I think its a bit more nuanced than that. There was a perfect storm for us that all came together. If you look at why we lost in Chester.. dunno.. why didn’t we remain, why didn’t Hilary win?? I think that sometimes people need to tell you what they think. Whether we had done all the right things …
Was it the anti fracking vote ?
It was part of a complicated landscape. It was part of the wake up call. Chester is always finely balanced . Across the whole of the area people were fairly happy
The Conservative got more votes ?
Yes 5000 more votes !
Margaret . Yes but we didn’t get the seats. As Lynn says its always been strange, when Chester city council finished in 2007 I was the leader Before that we had lib/labour and we had worked hard as an opposition. It took Conservatives 20 odd years to get back into power, when Liberal and Labour did nothing whatsoever!
How will you win back support in 2019?
I really hope that people start to get the Conservatives. We have the green shoots of Chester coming back to something that Chester feels quite comfortable with. If you look internationally post Brexit, and locally what we did perhaps we were a bit ahead of our time. What we were trying to do when we were in control is start that devolutionary process which is now quite fashionable. We were devolving things to town and parish councils, we were putting community groups in control, charities and great organisations in the voluntary sector running the services. It’s about reminding people that there is so much more that places like Chester could be
What would you like Chester to be ?
I think the city can be anything it wants to be ,that’s the art of the possible. Every place has that thing that makes it unique. You can walk into any town or city centre and they all look the same, now theres a big kickback to that. We want our village to feel and look like our place.
What are your thoughts on the state of Chester market ?
It’s about messy collaboration, trying to come up with the art of the possible where everybody is part of the solution. We all know what the problems are, but what does a successful market that works for Chester, its residents and the market actually look like. Whenever its one dominant agenda we end up with a place that isn’t as popular as it needs to be. Its about taking a look at other places like Altrincham. Look at the South Bank in London.. they have taken some of the regualtions out of the space and anyone can come and do a pop up. Altrincham now has 6000 people a week eating in the market, its a must see destination and a draw into other things that are going on. Northwich has regenerated and rebranded its market, with the benefit of a BID..
You are a big supporter of the BID..
Hugely so. One of the roles I had was the council’s trustee on groundwork. Vale Royal led the way in delivering the first BID ever in the country which was on an industrial estate in Winsford. Giving up some control back to the people, backed up by proper consultation and everybody getting a say. We hope the BID is for life, the businesses put an extra bit in on top of the business rates. We had some funds for bauble gate ! It comes back to trust and open ness and bravery and its about letting people have an opinion. If people like or don’t like the coca cola truck it gets people talking about Chester, it gets people coming into the city who probably haven’t been here in years .
Chester Aid to the Homeless recently described the homelessness issue as being “at boiling point” What are your thoughts on the homeless provision in the city ?
I think the provision is far far better than our media portrays it as. For anyone that is interested we would invite them to come and see what the homeless provision service looks like. If we are genuine about really wanting to make a difference we have to focus more on the people. Richmond court is a place and when we commissioned it, the basis was trying to understand why people tip over into homelessness. If people do become homeless how can we work with them on a very complicated set of life circumstances to walk alongside people . Richmond court gives people the opportunities to turn their lives around.
Critics are saying there aren’t enough beds ..
If you travel anywhere homelessness if far more endemic, with the services that we have we tend to be a bit of a magnet to people. Its a place of stability where people can gather themselves to be able to move on to a life that isn’t heading in that direction. In an ideal world we would probably have considerably more provision, but it has to be done within an envelope that says there isn’t enough cash to do everything ..
Its not in a central location, does that make it easy to work with other agencies ..?
Going back to when that decision was made, its was about finding a place that was close to the city centre.. if we’d had somewhere in the city centre that was available and affordable. The aspiration was to bring services into place where people could be helped on their journey .
Sometimes we dumb down really complicated issues. Everybody’s homeless story is different.
What are our thoughts on the current council?
The worst thing they have done is resorting to type. We had all sorts of funding that had been carefully released .. the new homes bonus was whipped away. No , its about the value you can unlock with very small amounts of strategically placed funding. This is about communities being able to do those things that build that groove and that local dynamic. Likewise the member’s budget. They halved it. If you wanted one word out of this interview, for me and my vision, its trust. Things of that nature show that we trust you in your part of Chester to know what’s right.
How would you answer those that say this is due to central government cuts ?
The answer is, why are you surprised ? The answer to every question you could answer is rooted in yesterday. From 2010 no one in the public sector should be surprised, we have been on notice for a while. We knew that the direction of travel was on its way, in 2010 the writing was on the wall that the country was in the crapper. There was no money, but there was existing money and its about making do with the money you have and looking for different ways to skin the cat. A lot of the cat skinning measures will be done by the public sector working in different ways and with different partners.
What kind of Brexit would you like to see ?
I want a Brexit that works for Cheshire West. The art of the possible is we get on with it and we leverage as much as we can from Europe, bypassing Parliament along the way and depositing it in places like the sub region of Cheshire.
Have you seen the film “I Daniel Blake” and how would you justify the policies depicted in the film ?
I haven’t seen the film so this will be difficult to answer. I think this is a hugely complex issue that people want to simplify. I would say to people exercise your right to come and live in Cheshire West… that would be my advice to I Daniel Blake. Because the Tories have relaxed the law, you can apply to live in social housing anywhere in the country
In 2015 Stephen Mosely was booed at an election hustings for saying the rise of food banks was a good thing.What do you think increased food bank use says about society ?
I think its says that people are fundamentally good , and if you give other people the opportunities to do what they are good and great at…I was raised in a Church family, we have always had people in dire need. We have always had people in great communities helping them. What we have done is institutionalised the help that used to exist on people’s doorsteps. You look at people like The Russell Trust they do a fantastic job with debt advice, but we need to be linking that to our debt advice. There is so much debt advice out there… My personal mission is to put Wonga out of business. Don’t ever go to Bright House go to the Credit Union!
What did you learn from the previous leader Mike Jones ?
I learnt a huge amount. Mike has been one of the best things to happen to Cheshire West. He led a strong group and he taught us to be brave and ambitious. Its easy in a populist world to flake out of decisions when they’re unpopular. That bin pain (introducing the recycling bin system) was worth it because in the last 3 years Cheshire West and Chester has been one of the top performing councils for reducing co2 emissions…
If you could change one thing or make one thing happen what would you choose for Chester?
Apart from the may 2015 election result! The one thing would be point them at my twitter handle and to make them believe in everything that makes this an amazing place. Its really odd that people who were born in Chester think its not a great place, native Cestrians… believe in your city and sense of place. It’s half full , lets keep pouring !
Lynn Riley was talking to @ShitChester and Kate Northcott