Shildon’s newest political party has gained its first sitting Town Councillor after former town mayor, Cllr Luan Deakin updated her register of personal interests to declare her membership of the Shildon and Dene Valley Independent Party (SDVIP).
Cllr Deakin, formerly an independent after quitting the Labour Party two years ago, has expressed her intention to stand again for both Town and County Council in the Shildon and Dene Valley ward, at the forthcoming local and county council elections.
She will be joined at those elections by party founder, Fred Langley, and the party also hopes to field additional candidates in both elections.
Speaking exclusively to the Town Crier, Cllr Deakin said that she joined the new independent party because she felt that there was more opportunity to effect change and campaign for improvements for the people of Shildon under an independent party banner than as a representative of one of the mainstream parties.
Cllr Deakin praised Mr Langley for setting up the party and said that after talks, she realised that she agreed entirely with the new party’s reasons for forming.
“Fair play to Fred,” she said. “It would be very easy to just sit back, complain from the safety of your own four walls and do nothing more, but he has felt that something more needs to be done to bring local democracy back to the people of Shildon, and I wholeheartedly agree with that.”
“I think it’s important that we [SDVIP] can give a voice to people who can’t speak for themselves,” she said. “I am a fighter and always have been. I don’t doubt that all local councillors love the town, but I’ve been disappointed by what feels like a lack of real effort to fight for the town, or a reluctance to go against the party line.
“After all, the majority of town councillors, as well as two county councillors, belong to the governing party in the county, so maybe they feel they can’t protest too loudly.”
Citing the campaign to keep a secondary school in Shildon as one example, Cllr Deakin said, “As town councillors, we don’t have a huge amount of influence on what is a county decision, but our County Councillors should be fighting tooth and nail to ensure our young people can be educated in their own town – not just for now, but for future generations.
“After all, we have three superb primary schools in Shildon. So why should our children then have to travel out of town to continue their education?
“There have been many new estates built in Shildon and the town’s population continues to grow. All the families who have been attracted by these new homes deserve to have their children educated in Shildon. Why are our county councillors not shouting from the rooftops?”
Since this interview, Shildon Town Council has launched its own campaign to see a brand new school built on the current Sunnydale School site, which Cllr Deakin and Mr Langley attribute somewhat to the new party’s manifesto commitment to campaign to support the school.
“There are a few policies our party has announced since its formal registration that seem to have sparked some life into the party currently dominating the Town Council,” said Cllr Deakin, “such as our announcement that we are committed to holding regular surgeries in the town for people to come and talk to us face to face.”
Cllr Deakin suggests that this commitment has persuaded town councillors to offer online surgeries during lockdown, although it is uncertain whether these online sessions will continue once life returns to some semblance of normality.
Indeed the new party has established an office in the heart Shildon’s main shopping area at 50 Church Street – immediately next door to the Post Office – which, once conditions allow, will be open regularly to the public for general advice, surgeries and, with education at the heart of its manifesto, also includes an ambitious plan to provide free books to the town’s children.
Another area that is very close to Cllr Deakin’s heart is support for mental health. As manager of The Sanctuary, Cllr Deakin – a fully qualified mental health counsellor – provided therapy and counselling sessions from the charity’s offices on Main Street until the service was sadly forced to close due to lack of funding recently.
“I’m deeply saddened that we have had to close for now, but we are determined to open the facility at a new venue as soon as possible following the lifting of lockdown,” she said. “Supporting the mental health of our community is vital.
“This is a town that feels like it has been left behind and that contributes to a lack of self-esteem and confidence. People feel like there is nothing for them and it is easy to see why they are cynical about local politics.
“We aim to change that and return some confidence to our community by our promise to engage and to give them the voice they deserve.”
Another recent policy Cllr Deakin strongly disagrees with is the rise in local Council Tax.
“I’m frankly astonished that, at this time, our local council has voted to increase the local council tax. According to Durham County Council, council tax is used in part to pay for education, yet this town has been without a secondary school for over a year.
“Other local towns have also chosen to freeze their rates during these difficult times. What possible justification can there be for raising our taxes, especially when you realise that we already pay one of the highest council taxes in the country – not just the county – while living in one of the most deprived parts of the country.
“Our party is calling for a named vote on the council tax increase. People deserve to know which town councillors voted against the freezing of the Council Tax and we demand an explanation of their rationale for this decision.”
Regardless of the outcome of the forthcoming local and county council elections, it certainly looks like Shildon can expect a new dynamic in its local politics.
“People might feel they want to stick with what they know,” said Cllr Deakin, “but really, at the end of the day, what has that achieved over the past generation? We think it’s time for something new. It’s time for some fresh blood and a new philosophy. Members of mainstream parties are hamstrung by their national and regional leaders and have to toe the line. We can be a real voice at local and county level. We can’t simply be silenced.”
Anyone interested in contacting the party for more information can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Key Dates for the May 6th 2021 Town and County Council Elections
- The Town and County Council elections will take place in County Durham on Thursday 6th May.
- The deadline to be registered to vote is Monday 19th April.
- The deadline to apply for a postal vote is by 5pm on Tuesday 20th April.
- The deadline to apply for a proxy vote is by 5pm on Tuesday 27th April.
- The deadline to apply for an emergency proxy vote is by 5pm on Polling Day, Thursday 6th May.
- For all information about the elections, including the Police and Crime Commissioner elections taking place on the same day, visit the Elections 2021 section of the Elections & Voting page at Durham County Council’s website.