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27th May, 2022

Four years on the rollercoaster - Mike Rouse on the local elections

Ross Crawford 13th May, 2022

IT was the local elections last week and as with all elections there were winners and losers.

We speak to two of them – first up Conservative Mike Rouse

THE local elections have been and gone and after defeat at the ballot box the pressure has eased on Mike Rouse, the now former Conservative borough councillor for Church Hill and finance portfolio holder .

He admits it’s been four tumultuous years before defeat to Labour’s resurgent Councillor Bill Hartnett in a hard fought election campaign.

Now the dust is settling he’s happy to reflect on his time at the heart of local government and in Church Hill, a ward he won by just one vote in 2018.

He lists his achievements as helping to push through improvements to both Arrow Valley Park and Morton Stanley Park, he’s proud of re-establishing the town’s links with Royal Enfield Motorcycles – ‘Redditch is their spiritual home’ – and helping to get the ball rolling again on Redditch Carnival.

He was also the driving force behind the Support Redditch group, which grew out of lockdown and has now been expanded to cover Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion.

However he’s candid enough to acknowledge there have been issues.

Leisure services in Redditch are outsourced to Rubicon Leisure, the council’s ‘arms length’ organisation set up to run things on a more commercial basis.

“Transparency at Rubicon is a problem,” he said.

“The link between Rubicon and the council does not work – I said several times we should have councillors on the board of Rubicon.

“The thing is councillors can drive the ambition and are answerable to the leader of the authority and ultimately to the electorate.”

On the thorny issue of council finances he said the situation was not as bad as has been painted.

In the first instance, he said a number of budgets had been underspent by council departments.

“It’s like digging around and finding money behind the sofa, in fact, a considerable sum of money behind the sofa,” he said.

He admits the council’s decision to go early for a new and revolutionary IT system developed in Australia for its finance department hasn’t helped matters.

“A large number of problems stem from the fact this IT system has a fundamental bug in how it works,” he said.

“Because of this the council has been unable to submit its finance returns.

“Redditch Borough Council was the first in the country to adopt this system, we knew we were going to be guinea pigs but we got a price advantage because of that risk.

“Should we have taken that risk? In hindsight no, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.”

On the local election campaign he said national issues obviously played a part but also the future of the library building.

“Going into an election with the message we are going to demolish the central library is not a good one to carry,” he said.

“The town centre needs a facelift and young people liked the idea of a square there with restaurants and cafes.

“The over 50s tended the think, ‘well if it ain’t broke, why fix it?’ and it’s the over 50s who are more likely to go out and vote.”

And he acknowledged that, with a story to tell, maybe part of the problem all councils suffer from is not engaging fully with the public and ‘taking them on the journey’ by explaining what and why they are doing.

However election defeat is not the end of his involvement in local government – he still represents Redditch South on Worcestershire County Council but says he is hesitant, after suffering a health scare, about a possible return to the borough council.

“Four years ago Covid did not exist. Today we have an extremely angry and divided society largely driven by social media,” said Mike, who admits he often ‘gave as good as he got’ and yet…

“Flak I can handle, but personal attacks and abuse against my home and my family, which I’ve had to put up with, that’s just not on.

“To be honest I’m looking forward to spending more time at home with my wife and my children.”

 

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