Wakefield local elections 2021: Labour promises 'investment across district' and says it's 'looked after people' during pandemic
The leader of Wakefield's ruling Labour group has pledged to invest "across the whole district" in a pre-election pitch to voters.
Denise Jeffery, who as chief of the council's majority party has been the local authority's leader since December 2019, said Labour had "looked after people" and delivered a "strong agenda" locally.
Labour is defending 17 of the 22 seats being contested at this election, as well as trying to retain another two vacant seats that formerly belonged to the party.
Councillor Jeffery referenced the council's record in delivering free school meals to disadvantaged children during the holidays, as well as a digital access programme for school pupils among her party's achievements over the past 18 months.
She said: "We’ve looked after people, we’ve fed kids, we’ve provided laptops and we’ve put £5m into parks and open spaces.
"It’s not just about Wakefield. I’m keen to invest across the district so that our city and our nine towns all get equal investment. I feel that’s what we’ve done.
"With our climate change agenda, I think we feel we’re greener than the Greens!
"Despite the pandemic and everything’s that gone on I think we’ve delivered a really strong agenda.
"I haven’t been able to get out and see people as much as I'd like to, but we’ve tried to embrace everyone and people say to me when I’m out and about that the district feels different since I took over. "
Amid criticism from several quarters that some parts of the district have been left short-changed in recent years, Coun Jeffery said she accepted the likes of Horbury, Ossett, Hemsworth and South Elmsall "have been neglected", adding she was "determined to do something about it".
She said: "There’s always been a feeling that all the investment was in Wakefield and Castleford.
"Other areas felt disenfranchised and they felt they were not getting their share of investment. Members on all sides and from all parties felt aggrieved.
"I understand how they feel.
"What I’ve tried to do is to create masterplans for those areas, so we’re currently working through those for Hemsworth, South Elmsall, Horbury and Ossett."
Coun Jeffery praised her Labour colleagues who she said had "worked very hard" for their constituents during the pandemic, "whether it be foodbanks, getting school uniform for kids or helping businesses".
And she laughed off suggestions from the Conservative group leader, Coun Nadeem Ahmed, that Labour locally has "lost touch with reality and lost touch with people".
Asked about those remarks, she said: "Quite honestly, I’d tell him to get a grip!
"I don’t want to get into a tit-for-tat, but when I saw he said that I couldn’t believe it really.
"All of my colleagues have been out working in their communities and getting involved with people.
"I’ve done two budgets now (as leader) and the Conservative group leader hasn’t come forward with a proposed budget at all.
"He’s come forward with an A4 sheet of paper, with a few amendments, tinkering at the edges.
"He’s been on the Covid recovery board with me and he’s not contributed at all, so I assume he’s happy with everything we’re doing."
This article is part of a series of profile pieces about the political parties and independent candidates standing in the local elections in Wakefield. Each profile will be published on our websites in turn in the run-up to polling day.
Labour candidates standing for election by ward (you can view the names of all the candidates standing in your area here)
Ackworth, North Elmsall and Upton - Stan Bates
Airedale and Ferry Fryston (two councillors to be elected) - Jackie Ferguson and Les Shaw
Altofts and Whitwood - Josie Farrar
Castleford Central and Glasshoughton - Richard Forster
Crofton, Ryhill and Walton - Faith Heptinstall
Featherstone - Maureen Tennant-King
Hemsworth - Pauline Kitching
Horbury and South Ossett - Darren Byford
Knottingley - Kerron Cross
Normanton - Julie Medford
Ossett - Lynn Masterman
Pontefract North - Lorna Malkin
Pontefract South - Melanie Jones
South Elmsall and South Kirkby - Michelle Collins
Stanley and Outwood East - Matthew Morley
Wakefield East - Helen Antcliff
Wakefield North - Elizabeth Rhodes
Wakefield Rural - Paul Wood
Wakefield South - Paul Belbin
Wakefield West - Hilary Mitchell
Wrenthorpe and Outwood West - Martyn Johnson
Local Democracy Reporting Service