Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Airshow hits heights again this year.

I had an enjoyable afternoon at the airshow on sunday with many thousands of other residents and visitors. Whilst it was a bit windy at the top of the hills we found a sheltered spot and the show was as entertaining as usual with the wing walkers and red arrows representing my personal highlights.The roads ran smoothly and an excellent job was undertaken by Corys in cleaning up afterwards. When I ventured along the seafront on monday morning all traces and rubbish had been efficiently removed.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Independent angst!

I see that my surprised response to new St Luke's Independent Party councillor Van Looy's refusal to sit on any of the council's scrutiny committees has resulted in the usual angst from his party leader when confronted with any criticism.

We are told that Cllr Van Looy has commented that "I just want to spend more time in St Luke's ward. My priority at the moment is to the residents who have elected me..". Meanwhile his party leader calls my comments "nasty" relying on his colleague being "...a complete novice.." who "... needs to learn to ropes...". Well for somebody who has run one of the most vitriolic and negative campaigns for years perhaps he should have learnt a little more about the role before being so forthright in his criticism of others.It is as important to be representing his residents in formal meetings as dealing with their personal concerns, and as an elected councillor he also has an obligation to contribute to the wider picture. Perhaps his leader should explain that as a member of a committee all that is required is to read the papers in advance, raise any queries with officers, listen to the debate, participate if he has anything relevant to say and , if required, vote. I am delighted that my new members are more than comfortable with doing so as well as dealing with their individual resident's concerns.

Over recent years many independent party candidates have chosen to concentrate on throwing metaphoric stones at sitting councillors and the administration - perhaps it is time to move out of your glass houses!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Low proifle for new Independent in St Lukes

I was not the only person astounded when new Independent Councillor Paul Van Looy apparently declined any post on the council's 3 important scrutiny committees - either as a member or even as a substitute. In my time on the council such an approach from a new member is unheard of and certainly the 3 new members of the Tory Group, Adam Jones, Trevor Byford & James Courtenay have been anxious to immediatly play a full role in the affairs of the council. The scrutiny committees are important opportunities to review the actions of the administration without the time restraints and formality of full council meetings, and to investigate other areas of importance to the council. They also give an ideal opportunity for new members to get a real feel for the council's functions and activities. Cllr Van Looy has spent the last 3 years running negative campaigns criticising the Conservative Administration and its members who whilst doing an excellent job representing their ward residents have also stepped up to the wider role of working for the advancement of the whole town. Come on Cllr Van Looy let's be hearing your constructive proposals for the future - after all the rest of us have to enjoy the extended contributions of your party colleagues Terry, Woodley & Assenheim to scrutiny meetings - why should you escape!

What an ass!

For about a decade my award for the most jaw dropping quote by a Southend councillor has remained in the safe hands of Liberal Democrat Alan Crystall. It dates back to when the Lib/Lab Administration was in power in the 90s and plans were announced for a possible demolition of a semi detached house in Leigh which was owned by the Council - it is the house in Elm Road currently occupied by Leigh Town Council. The owner of the attached semi was understandably miffed by the public suggestion of the house attached to his being demolished to which Cllr Crystall responded that he should be happy because he would be getting a detached house!Well not quite Alan. However I am pleased to confirm that the award has now passed to Shoebury Independent Party Councillor Mike Assenheim who in trying to defend his remarkable volte-face on Hinguar School is reported in the Echo as coming out with this peach "I don't think the council is as cash-strapped as it is implying." Frankly for somebody who has been a sitting councillor for 4 years and has sat through detailed budget discussions over the last 12 months to come out with this leaves me speachless. If he really believes it then the residents of Shoebury may consider they would be better served by somebody who has some elementary grasp of public finance. In the meantime he takes my award by demonstrating the ass in Assenheim!!

Friday, 6 May 2011

Hinguar School

As I have mentioned in an earlier blog the Independents attack on the current level of Council borrowing is bizarre in circumstances where they have made no comment on the 3 monthly treasury management reports presented to them or sought to alter the capital programme. They have also still to identify the council funded capital projects which they would not have undertaken or to explain why they oppose investment in the town's infrastucture which has been anticipated in the funding provided by central government.

However the latest contradiction is their latest stunt on Hinguar School. Everybody agreed that there was an urgent need to build a new replacement school and that no external funding was available. Accordingly it was also agreed that a new school would be build and part funded by the sale of the current site. No objection was made at the time by members of the Independent Party. Now they have been encouraging residents to support a scheme to use the old building for community purposes. Ignoring the additional capital funds which would be needed to convert the old building or the revenue strain of operating it this would leave a massive hole in the funding of the new school which could only be filled by increased borrowing.

To adapt the wise words of George Orwell it would seem that all borrowing is evil but some borrowing is less evil than others - if it can be ignored or manipulated for political advantage.

If all they want to do is run populist campaigns without defending them in the council chamber or providing the necessary funding or plans for delivery why bother to stand for the council - just set up a pressure group. Oh wait a minute what about BERA?

Independent Party - crunch time approachs!

No doubt the members of the Independent Party will be pretty happy after yesterday's elections having increased their tally by 2 councillors. The time to stop referring to them as a "party" is clearly over as in general terms their activities are indistinquishable from the other parties with coordinated campaigns, candidates, publicity and voting.

Of course there is one difference - they continue to have no common policies or vision for the future development or regeneration of the town. This is not surprising bearing in mind they comprise a group including a non adopted Conservative councillor, unsuccessful Labour candidates and others. Working for individual residents and helping with their problems is only one part of our role - the other is to develop a vision for the future whether as the administration or as a viable opposition.It is not enough to simply oppose everything on the doorstep - particularly without similar opposition in the council chamber or without a viable alternative.

The public tell us that they don't like negative campaigning.Maybe - but last night's results in St Lukes, Shoebury and elsewhere confirm that negative campaigning, mis information and personal attack can deliver short term gains for the Independent Party but for how much longer. We are told by councillors who only appear to have found a taste for an Independent Label when striving to gain an otherwise unachievable seat that the public are tired of party politics. I disagree -they may have believed the spin which has conveniently coincided with more general misgivings about the political sysytem, but any council officer will confirm that to function effectively and efficiently a local authority needs a clear direction and element of certainty - whatever the underlying party political direction. To move into the vacuum of independent policy would be a sure route to disaster in these financially challenging times.

Election news

As usual election day was long and demanding yesterday starting with a stint of telling on Marine Parade at 7am and eventually finishing following the last declaration at Garon Park at 3.30am this morning! A day of mixed emotions - we retain our overall majority of 5 having lost 2 seats to the Independent Party and gained 2 seats from the Liberals. Bearing in mind that the Government is pushing through potentially unpopular measures to address the national deficit left by the last government, and that we have had to deliver over £15M in savings in Southend to balance the budget this is a great performance. However it is sad to see Anna Waite lose her seat. Whether you agree with her views or not no reasonable person can deny her total committment to Southend and its residents together with her tireless work, interlect and application. More particularly never has a local councillor in Southend had to face the level of personal vitriol which has been directed at her by some political opponents and others.Why would any sensible and successful local resident or businessperson want to subject themselves to this - unless all those involved in local government in this town show basic respect for other members and acknowledge that whilst we may differ on how to take the town forward we all share the same passion and concern, we run the risk of frightening off any quality candidates from standing for election - after all who needs it!. In West Leigh we are celebrating Gwen Horrigan's emphatic victory once again demonstrating the support she enjoys and we will be working hard to consolidate that support over the next 12 months. Elsewhere in the town Conservative candidates performed beyond expectation delivering healthy majorities in Belfairs, Eastwood, Chalkwell and West Shoebury and winning 9 of the 17 seats available.