Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Parking Charge Madness!

The view from my office here in Nelson Street includes an opportunity, in moments of distraction, to watch activity in the road to include the regular motorists who drive up this one way street in the wrong direction and the use of the “on street” parking spaces.

Due to the firms of solicitors, accountants etc. based in Nelson Street there are inevitably regular client comings and goings and the spaces are generally well used with helpful parking income for Southend Borough Council.
For as long as charges have applied there have been coin operated ticket machines which as far as I can tell have been used by the vast majority of people parking in the street.

Now I am not claiming to be a great supporter of the design of the pay machine the council has adopted in more recent years, and I am sure that I am not the only person to be confronted by machines which are out of order or refuse to accept coinage, but on the occasions where they are in working order they are at least usable.

However recently it has been all change in Nelson Street with the latest bizarre “improvements” which have resulted in the pay machines being covered and reasonably small notices being displayed requiring those parking to either download an app to their smart phone to make payments or to phone and pay by card.

The result has been some people missing the signs and assuming that charges have been suspended resulting in parking tickets being issued, or being generally bemused and confused and either taking a risk of parking without a ticket or parking elsewhere.
Indeed for those without a smartphone or without immediate access to a credit card it would appear that the Council now wishes to make Nelson Street a non-parking areas.

Parking charges are very important to the Council and encouraging visitors and residents to park and pay should be encouraged by making the process simple and accessible. For heaven sake let’s stop this mad system now and ensure that we have well maintained and simple to use pay machines in place so that any frustration we face in paying parking charges ise not increased by an apparent reluctance on the part of the Authority to accept our money.

Friday, 8 December 2017

West Leigh catchment dilemma

I can only sympathise with the Council as it tries to broker an acceptable resolution to the problem on junior school catchments. This is a problem that has been building over recent years and reflects that with anticipated growth in school numbers the Town’s most popular schools, which are already bursting at the seams, will not be able to accommodate the children in their catchment area.
The problem is particularly pertinent in West Leigh which as the most westerly ward in the Borough has its nearest primary school (West Leigh) located towards the most easterly side of the ward.

Even in my years on the council this meant that in years with higher admission numbers the school could not cope with the numbers in its catchment area resulting in “distance” becoming the deciding factor. However because the school is not located in the middle of the ward this meant that the children living towards the borough boundary with Castle Point did not receive a place notwithstanding that they were “Southend” children and lived in catchment.

Their only options were then to attend a school in another area or, if they wished to attend a Southend school, journey past West Leigh and on to Darlinghurst or Fairway even though this journey was far longer than it would have been for many of the children actually allocated places at West Leigh.

This must be wrong and it seems to me to be right and courageous of the Council to try and address the problem – particularly when quite rightly the issue of school catchment areas is so emotive to parents.

My preferred solution in the short term is that in years where numbers allow the children in the current catchment take priority, but when this is not the case the priority runs from the Borough’s western boundary towards the school until all available places are taken.

I appreciate that this will create a situation where some children who live quite close to West Leigh will be forced to attend another school, but that must be fairer than expecting the children towards the boundary to undertake an even longer journey.

In the mid-term the issue of primary places in the west of the town does need to be addressed and it is a pity that the previous idea of a new school at Belfairs could not be pursued.

It is the kind of problem that makes life as a local councillor challenging but potentially rewarding.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

A wasted vote for Ron Woodley?

I have to say that I was surprised to discover that the Southend Independent councillor Ron Woodley had decided to stand in the General Election and even more surprised at rumours that he believed that he actually had a chance of winning!

On the back of his control of BERA, the resident's association in Thorpe Bay, Ron has build a strong majority in local elections in Thorpe for himself and his Independent colleagues and I assume that he believed that he could transfer and build on that support in a General Election.

I was interested in how he would run a campaign as at a local level he has relied on Bera support and then concentrated on primarily negative campaigning and simply suggesting that as an Independent he could do better without party ties.

This is in my view a pretty unattractive approach in local elections, which I prefer to see fought on positive alternatives, but even more unsatisfactory at a national level. It involves the candidate asking the electorate for a blank cheque with no indication on how they feel or will vote on a massive number of important issues. There is no safety net of a clear and defined political ideology or a manifesto as is the case with party candidates. If he had been elected in the current situation there was no indication as to who he would support as Prime Minister and on what basis.

One election leaflet from Ron dropped through the door of my office but concentrated solely on the issue of the Southend A&E. How was he intending to deliver his pledge to prevent any downgrading and why was a vote for him, a inexperienced and naïve politician at national level, going to achieve the shared aim of protecting our A&E department better than voting for the Conservative or Labour candidates who have also commented on their concerns on the issue.

It gave the look of jumping aboard an issue of concern and on which he had played no obvious and apparent leading role to that point.

In the event he received 2924 votes out of the 47,323 cast and only just avoided losing his deposit.

It would be nice to think that this democratic and policy vacuum would also be recognised in the next bout of local elections with the rejection of Independent candidates who have no clear manifesto or ideology and who have failed to deliver in the Chamber or wider council.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Should she stay or should she go now?

Well in the famous words of The Clash (almost) should our embattled Prime Minister hang on in there or fall on her sword. It is really an amazing story of hero to apparent zero and yet.

I have little doubt that one of the biggest challenges facing any occupier of No 10 Downing Street is that you are caught in a bubble, supported by those who perhaps do not always want to spell out mistakes and without as close a link to the reality outside as is needed. If the political press is to be believed then she has not been well served by her closest advisors and ended up attempting to defend some proposals which even a GCSE student in political studies would have realised would go down like a lead brick with the very voters whose support she needed.

She did not give the impression of enjoying the cut and thrust of the campaign - always slightly surprising for a front line politician - perhaps being more focussed on the challenges of government rather than getting elected in the first place.

Having said that she has proved herself a capable and resourceful politician. We face the enormous challenge of the Brexit negotiations and, perhaps rather more be default than design, she has a well balanced and capable cabinet behind her. The last thing the country needs now is the distraction of a leadership fight or second general election.

So my view is that she must stay, and learning the lessons of a difficult campaign, she can still deliver an effective Brexit and reposition the party remembering the voters who supported us but also offering a vision of hope and progress for the young.

Let's get back to a confident, progressive and optimistic Conservatism, building on results which in terms of the number of seats won and percentage vote is not as disastrous as might have been and let our Prime Minister show her strengths and abilities.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Another General Election campaign over

So after a short and uninspiring national campaign we have an unexpected outcome and uncertainty - still I suppose it keeps the political media happy!

In Southend West I was again delighted to act as Sir David Amess' election agent - my second time in the job. As usual David was tireless throughout the campaign canvassing for over six hours most days and covering massive parts of the constituency.

My personal experience "on the knocker" was very strong support for David personally with recognition of his tireless work for the Town but frustration and annoyance that we were having an election at all together with a poor manifesto and the absence of any clear and positive message for the future.

The Labour campaign locally seemed well run and hardworking and got the result it deserved. The Lib Dem campaign was pretty non existent with a candidate with no apparent link with the Town or its people and got the result it deserved. 

So now the challenge of moving forward and the need to develop and communicate a clear and positive message which reconnects with the young and the centre ground whilst simultaneously dealing with the massive challenge that is Brexit. 

I had been hoping not to repeat the job of General Election agent (if at all!) not for another five years but now I have a nasty feeling but before doing so the party needs to have addressed the problems of the last couple of months.

In he meantime where is that damn election expense return......

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

An interesting week

Well they say that a week is a long time in politics – it certainly has been this week. So I thought I would throw in my views for what they are worth!

Europe – I have always regarded myself as generally pro the European ideal but admit to voting leave. My main reason was the complete lack of any real democratic accountability, and the clear view of the those at the centre of European power that they can ignore the concerns and wishes of the millions of people they are employed to represent.

Just as the current EU bears no relation to the free trade area we originally voted for, there can be no doubt that an In vote would have resulted in us being tied to an organisation which was set to become larger, more controlling and unified without adequate democratic controls in place. The view of the “powers to be” was demonstrated by their complete failure to give David Cameron any meaningful concessions during the pre referendum negotiations in apparent ignorance of the tide of anti EU feeling sweeping across the continent, and then being surprised at the resulting outcome.

Notwithstanding my own vote (and my immediate family was split down the middle on the issue) I was surprised and, at least for the short term, a little apprehensive when I woke to discover the result.

David Cameron – I don’t believe that he should have resigned. He fought an election campaign offering a referendum and must have anticipated the possibility of a leave vote. If it was a wholly unacceptable option then why agree to a referendum in the first place. He was elected to do a job and should using his experience in leading the country through the challenging negotiations yet to come. One of my family described his resignation speech as akin to a child throwing its toys out of a pram. If he cares as much about the country as he says, and I am sure he does, then how does he think the uncertainty of a change of leadership will help the situation.

Labour – I get that large parts of the parliamentary party think that Corbyn is an electoral liability. However this is hardly a new revelation. I fail to see how it helps anyone to precipite this crisis in the leadership of the main opposition party at this challenging time. If Labour MPs did not want him then why not all resign en mass earlier?

Westminster – will some of our MP’s ever get it? The public have been making their distaste with some of the attitudes adopted by the “Establishment” increasingly clear. So now, at a difficult time when our politicians should be working together to stabilise the markets and forge an exit from the EU is a constructive way which works to the benefit of the UK and our former partners, what are they doing? Concentrating on in fighting and leadership elections and point scoring. The irony is that one of the outcomes of the referendum is to give our MPs proper control of our destiny so isn’t it about time they started stepping up to the plate.

Scotland – it was inevitable that whatever the outcome the SNP would try to manipulate the position to support their ongoing calls for independence. This is hardly a surprise as it is their raison d’être. However if my maths are correct, and if you take the percentage of Scottish voters who actually bothered to vote in the referendum, it demonstrates that about 4 in 10 of the overall Scottish electorate voted to remain. I appreciate that elections are correctly decided on the votes of those who bother to turn up, but if the SNP is now claiming that Scotland is massively committed to staying in Europe how do they explain that only about 4 in 10 of them bothered to vote remain.

They also fail to comment on the fact that the practicality of Independence was based not on Scotland continuing to receive the oil income being generated at that time, but o a massive increase in oil income. In reality oil receipts have gone through the floor. The case for independence as previously outlined in not economically viable – unless they are hoping that rather being subsidised by the rest of the UK they will rely on handouts from the EU!

Friday, 27 May 2016

M&S till receipts

Without wishing to descend in to the role of a grumpy old man I do not understand the current M&S stance on till receipts.

On the basis that I am not sufficiently organised to bring a packed lunch to work I usually stroll round to M&S in the High Street for a sandwich and an apple.

As the humans on the quick tills have continued to disappear I am increasingly forced to use the self service tills.

I am more than happy with the current rule on plastic bags and have no intention of chipping in an extra 5p so inevitably leave the store simply holding my purchases openly in my hand.

What I am surprised about is the change to the machines which asks whether the customer wants a till receipt – whatever means of payment has been used. It is almost as though we are being encouraged to save paper and go without. I usually request a receipt but today, distracted by a fragrant lady on the next till, I hit the wrong button and found myself leaving the store with my goods on open display and without bag or receipt.

I am not quite sure what I would have been expected to do if I had been stopped by security querying whether I had paid as I had nothing to evidence that I had. The absence of automatically issued receipts, particularly in the absence of free bags, does seem a rather strange development.