We spoke to representatives of each political party standing candidates in every district and borough in East Sussex.
The candidates were asked what their party wanted to do for the county, what its main objectives would be if elected and for their views on forming coalitions with other political groups should the need arise.
Leader of the council during the last term, Cllr Keith Glazier made the case for returning a Conservative majority, by pointing to his party’s time in office.
He said: “It is very simple. For many years now the East Sussex Conservative Party have delivered good quality services at value for money.”
He added: “Year-on-year, through some of the most austere financial times, we set balanced budgets and have always delivered. Our budget has never overrun.
“Our children’s services were, at the time, the second county council’s in the country to be judged as outstanding [by Ofsted]. It is absolutely the highlight of anyone’s career.
“To be recommended by the Care Quality Commission for our work on integration with health colleagues as best practice. These are outside bodies saying we are leading the way.
“All of these things make me realise that we are a good, stable Conservative administration delivering value for money.
“East Sussex is a wonderful place to live and work and play. We need to now, coming out of Covid, ensure that people have the opportunity to have good jobs and thrive.
“Those that need our services should rest assured that we will be supplying and servicing the best quality services that we can and doing that with the lowest possible council tax.”
Going into the May election, Cllr Glazier said his candidates would be working to implement the party’s three election pledges if voted in.
He said: “[Our candidates would be] representing the people who elected them and working very hard on our three pledges, which are: to produce and deliver a climate change action plan, investing in the economy; and continuing to supply good quality services to the most vulnerable.
“Clearly we need to accept that there is more to do on climate change, investing in the economy to give people the jobs they require to live a normal life and looking after the most vulnerable.”
In the previous term, the council set itself the challenge of becoming carbon neutral. The motion, backed by both Conservatives and Labour councillors, set a target date of 2050 to achieve this goal.
Cllr Glazier said: “We’ve taken our climate action plan through the scrutiny process at county hall. It was signed off by ourselves and the Labour Party. The Liberal Democrats didn’t join in much at that stage and only chose to pick up on it once it came to full council.
“We are looking at our own estate and we have already reduced our climate footprint by 30-odd per cent and we are proposing to take out another 13 per cent, year-on-year, going forward.”
When asked about his party’s views on the potential for coalitions forming if there was no overall winner after the election, Cllr Glazier was clear that his party would rather avoid such a situation.
He said: “The last time we had a coalition – we are calling it the coalition of chaos – Labour and Lib Dems almost bankrupted the council.
“If you look at the 2002 joint review by the audit committee and the social services inspectorate you will see that, not in our words but the inspectorate’s, ‘they were serving nobody well with no prospects.’
“Compare that to what we delivered. Outstanding children’s services and being held up as best practice by the CQC for our work between adult social care and health. The answer is, you need a good Conservative administration.”
Cllr Glazier is seeking re-election in Rye and Eastern Rother.
Representing the Liberal Democrats was David Tutt, both leader of the party’s county council group and leader of Eastbourne Borough Council.
Cllr Tutt said his party offered an alternative to the last council’s Conservative administration.
He said: “We have a different approach to the way the Conservatives control East Sussex. We believe very much in open government and involving the community.
“We believe that there are different ways of doing things, which would save money in certain areas and direct that money to frontline services and to the carbon neutral agenda that the Liberal Democrats support.”
Cllr Tutt said his group believed faster action was needed on addressing climate change, arguing that the council’s 2050 carbon neutrality target was too far off.
He said: “We think there is a clue in the word emergency. When you say there is a climate emergency you don’t then give yourself 30 years to deal with it.
“One of the first we would do would be to change that target to 2030 and back that up with our corporate plan and our budget. In the budget in February, we moved an amendment which would put a million pounds into climate change actions. We would find ways of putting that in place. If we couldn’t do it before we would put it into the next budget.”
Cllr Tutt said this would take the form of investment in solar panels, electric car charging points and improving the energy efficiency of buildings, with this infrastructure to be funded through capital spending.
Cllr Tutt said the Liberal Democrats wanted to change the way the council operates in other areas as well, particularly in social care services.
He said: “Firstly we would look at the way adult social care is provided. We would certainly be insisting on covid risk assessments before any of our elderly people are placed in care homes. I’m appalled (as John Ungar managed to reveal) that this hasn’t been happening. Taking elderly, vulnerable people and putting them into care homes without Covid risk assessments first in advance just doesn’t make sense.
“We would be looking to provide faster and the right support for children with special needs. At the moment we think far too much money is spent defending the council’s position for not providing services they should be providing.
“So, we would be looking to overhaul the provision for special needs children and looking to do both of those things within the first few months of a Liberal Democrat administration.
“We’ll be changing the way that we work and looking to take money out of buildings such as County Hall and administrative buildings and put money into frontline services.”
He added that the Liberal Democrats would also lobby for more flexible video meetings to continue once the coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
While he said his party had its own aims, Cllr Tutt confirmed it would seek to form a coalition in the right circumstances.
He said: “If the voters decide there is not going to be an overall majority then it is incumbent on all parties to discuss the agenda they can put forward together to deliver on the needs of the community.
“If there was no overall control I would be speaking to all other party leaders, setting out our stall and seeing which party or parties could come closest to supporting that.”
Cllr Tutt is standing for re-election in the St Anthony’s division in Eastbourne.
Setting out the stall for Labour was Godfrey Daniel.
Together with St Leonards Central councillor Trevor Webb, Cllr Daniel was co-leader of the county council’s Labour group during the last term. He is seeking re-election in Braybrooke and Castle.
According to Cllr Daniel, his party aims to improve public services and ensure there was investment into local communities.
He said: “I think we actually represent hope for the future and our party has always tried to look after those in most need, care for the NHS, care for people in old people’s homes and care for young people who have very little to do.
“At the end of the day, I think people should look at the people who are standing as much as the parties and vote for the right person they think can represent their area.
“If we get enough people at county we would like to protect and enhance the public services that the county provides and are provided with a county tax you the public contribute to.”
Cllr Daniel said a particular focus for his group would be targeted economic development projects in the areas of the county in the most need.
He said: “What we would particularly like to do is focus economic development initiatives on the areas where unemployment is at its highest. Like Hastings, like Newhaven, perhaps like Hailsham, so we can, in the government’s terms, ‘level up’.”
He added: “That doesn’t mean we are going to neglect the other areas, but the focus of economic growth must be on where there is a large number of unemployed and particularly youth unemployed.
“But at the end of the day it will all depend on the money we receive from the government and over the last 11 years they have starved local government of resources. We have to finance any improvements we can make and we will be looking at the books of all the departments, seeing where we can perhaps get better value for money.
“One thing in particular I would like to see is extra provision for youth services. It has almost disappeared over the years, but I think youth services are vital for our young people to help get them a good start in life – both socially and academically.”
Another area Cllr Daniel said was of particular concern for his party would be improving the state of roads and pavements in East Sussex.
He said: “We would really want to see major improvements to our pavements and roads; potholes are quite frankly a disgrace. When we are involved in discussions for the next highways contract I would hope that we could improve the surfaces of where people travel.”
Cllr Daniel also spoke about what his group may do if the upcoming election ended with no political group in overall control.
He said: “It is always better to be in power than not in power, but we would have discussions with whoever wanted to join us to form an administration. That wouldn’t be easy given the multi-party nature of the present county council and who knows what is going to happen.
“Opposition has its assets, but it is always better – to improve the position of people – to have some power and influence and we will try to gain more power and influence if we can.
“We were also responsible for getting the county to declare a climate emergency. We need to work towards a more carbon neutral East Sussex.”
The Green Party is also among the parties seeking seats in all districts of the county at the May elections.
Lewes district councillor Johnny Denis, the party’s candidate for Ringmer and Lewes Bridge spoke about what his group wanted to achieve.
He said: “At Lewes District and other councils across East Sussex we’ve managed to make a difference by being elected. We’ve really changed the way the councils are governed and we’ve managed to implement things that people really want to see happen.
“Where we have been elected it has completely changed the nature of the conversations that is being had, because we have a voice, not just shouting from the sidelines as campaign groups for example, but as elected councillors with communities to represent.”
He added: “Green councillors work hard. You get a lot of councillor for your vote. You get people who work hard, day in and day out and are not just – as Armando Iannucci once said – ‘room meat’.
“They work hard they do the job for their residents and all year round, not just at elections.”
Cllr Denis said action on climate change was at the heart of the party’s pitch, but was not the only policy it would seek to change.
He said: “We need to have a robust climate action plan. At the moment the council has a plan which looks for carbon neutrality by 2050. That really makes no sense, because that is way too late.
“Even publishing a date like that is nonsensical. It has to be 2030, but we have to have a real and robust plan to deliver that and it has to be one that is all about a green recovery of our local economy.
“Our economy has been shot to bits over the last 12 months and it needs a real boost. But it is about the local economy. It is not about big business, it is about the many businesses that are based in the county and provide a key service people need.”
He added: “We want East Sussex to work much, much harder delivering high quality social care, including elderly care services focusing on prevention.
“It is also about our looked after children, who get a raw deal and we really want to see that whole care culture to be one that centres on the benefits to the individual.
“Those children are our future and they should have absolutely the same outcomes as anybody else. They should not be institutionally disadvantaged in the way they often are.”
Cllr Denis also pledged that his party would seek to withdraw support for expanding the A27 into a dual-carriageway.
Cllr Denis also spoke about his party’s strong support for coalition building.
He said: “East Sussex is crying out for a change of leadership and we’re intent to be part of that leadership and part of that change.
“In Lewes and Rother there are now alliances running those councils where people are working together for the common good of those districts. We need to see a clear joined up approach to running the council. It can not be left in anybody’s sole hands anymore; it’s clearly not working for the common good.
“We are really happy to work with others to represent more people’s views and as long as we can represent the environment – which doesn’t otherwise have a voice – and those people who are not currently being heard or listened to.”