Friday, 22 October 2010

Spending review

So with the Chancellor's recent announcement the challenge we are going to face balancing the council's books over the next four years is a little clearer although we will not have all the small print and the final detail until december. It is going to be challenging but we cannot allow the public debt to continue rising as has been the case under the last government. If we listened to the Labour leadership our debt would be almost £100 billion higher by the end of the current parliament and we would be paying £4billion more in debt interest alone by the time of the next election. As it is under the last government they doubled the national debt and left us with the biggest budget deficit in the G20 with interest of £120M interest each day - that is just about Southend Council's entire annual revenue expenditure accruing in daily interest! It is madness and simply can't continue - it is simply not fair on our children and grandchildren who will end up paying the bill.So now the hard work really starts to find the necessary economies with as little effect on council tax payers as possible.

Airport expansion - an update

What is happening about the continuing saga of the proposed extension to the airport’s runway. Whilst we were anticipating a debate by the full council in September to consider whether we should allow a variation of the airport lease to allow such extension, and if so on what terms, this has been delayed by court proceedings commenced by a local resident seeking a judicial review of the earlier planning decision. We are now faced with the ridiculous situation that through the legal aid system we as taxpayers are funding an expensive, and in my view speculative court action, and Southend council tax payers are also funding an expensive defence of the claim. This will result in a final bill for the public purse amounting to many tens of thousands of pounds whatever the outcome – hardly helpful in the current economic climate. In the meantime we are unable to move to the real debate namely do we block the runway extension and force the airport to expand on its present runway but with an absence of effective environmental controls, or do we allow the extension but linked to reasonable and effective controls on flight direction, flight numbers, volumes of cargo, increased radar provision etc. This delay only further extends the anxiety of some residents and the commercial uncertainty for the airport not helped by some council members who seem determined to cloud the true debate by misleading the public in suggesting that the Council can somehow stop any airport expansion or unilaterally impose restrictions on night flights, flight numbers or a range of other issues which we cannot. If we are to deliver improved environmental controls and indeed facilitate and harness the commercial benefits that airport expansion can bring we will only do so by being realistic as to our present negotiating position and concentrating on the effective controls that can be delivered.

Creating a better traffic jam

The four major road schemes at Progress Road, Victoria Circus, Cuckoo Corner and the central seafront are approaching completion. These projects should improve traffic flow and in the case of the seafront give this important area a much needed face lift. However I would be surprised if you have not wondered why we have undertaken four such significant schemes at the same time, and also simultaneously allowed the utility companies to continue to cause disruption to other roads across the Town. You may even have sat in a traffic jam fuming at the incompetence of the Council.
Let me say a few words in our defence. We received confirmation from the government in late 2009 that we were being allocated over £25M to deliver the four schemes in question but that the money had to be spent in its entirety by no later than March 2011. There was no option but to undertake the schemes simultaneously or lose the money. Significant preparation was undertaken to try to keep disruption to a minimum to include working with contractors to keep carriageways open during rush hours, requests to the utility companies to avoid work at the same time, reduction of work on the seafront during the school holidays to reduce the effect on business, and an attempt to get as much done as possible to the carriageways prior to the pre Christmas rush. There has also been an ongoing publicity campaign to keep residents, visitors and businesses updated on the plans. Unfortunately we do not have the power to stop road works by utility companies and their activities during the last few months has been frustrating and annoying. However we are now well advanced with all four large and complex projects and remain on target and on budget. If we had rejected the money we would have been open to valid criticism so let us hope that this short term pain will be worth a long term gain.

Time to deliver!

When I first stood for election in West Leigh some four and a half years ago it was a popular refrain on the doorstep to be asked when Southend Council was going to stop talking about exciting new plans using pretty artist impressions and actually start delivering some real improvements to the town’s infrastructure.
Well I don’t think anyone can dispute that things have changed. For the second year in a row we will be delivering over £100M of investment into the roads, schools and facilities of the town and we are seeing the imminent conclusion or significant progress to schemes as diverse as the new schools at Belfairs and Hinguar, the swimming and diving pools at Garon Park, the pay on exit multi storey car park under the University’s “lego building” providing safe and convenient town centre parking, the improvements to Warrior Square Gardens, the new visitor centre at Priory Park, the pier head improvement works and redevelopment, the reopening of the historic cliff lift, the new youth centre at Shoebury, the sea front cycle track, and so the list goes on. This represents real investment in the future of the Town making clear that we are open for business.