The past few years have been tough for the country. But I think the Lib Dem victory in Eastleigh shows that people are realising we have been serious about offering stable government when the country needed it and getting a better deal for people in a cash-strapped environment.
You can’t please all the people all the time in politics, but it is easier if you have pots of money to play with. Thanks to the Lib Dems, there has been a significant increase in the income tax threshold, worth £600 less income tax for most by April. There is also the extra ‘pupil premium’ money for schools worth £7m a year for Portsmouth.
There’s the biggest ever cash increase for pensioners and the restoration of the link with earnings will see it rise significantly in future years. And a higher rate of tax for millionaires than under all but one month of the Labour government.
And the Lib Dem councils in Eastleigh and Portsmouth show that approach in practice at a local level by getting value for money. They have the lowest council taxes in the area, but are protecting key services.
In Portsmouth, for example, we have kept weekly bin collections but cut the cost of the contract by more than £1m a year. We have kept free swimming for pensioners and children to improve health. And we have opened the new Southsea library that buzzes not only with people borrowing books but many other things such as reading groups and the advice centre held by Lib Dem St Jude councillors.
Closing some public toilets is, I appreciate, controversial. But we will keep 75 per cent of the provision based on usage at half the cost and open up and highlight toilets in council buildings and community centres – effectively increasing the number.
A key focus for the Lib Dems on the council has been to bring in money from outside to boost jobs. We have got from central government £5m for transport improvements, £19.5m for the regeneration at Tipner, £6m for super-fast broadband and £1m for energy efficiency measures. Our joint City Deals bid with Southampton has been fast-tracked. And the council has backed capital grants for the Kings Theatre and to revamp Cosham High Street.