Monday, 27 June 2011

The HandyVan Scheme

The HandyVan scheme is run by Age UK, fully supported by Essex Police and Southend CDRP and is aimed at residents of the Borough aged 60 and over. The scheme is not means tested.

The HandyVan fitter will visit the homes of referred residents meeting the above criteria, carry out a full security and safety survey and supply & fit the following items absolutely free of charge. These are high quality door and window locks (both 5-lever mortice and rim night latch), bolts, door chains, door viewers, carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors, grab rails (for showers, bathrooms, toilets and to assist with entry and exit to the house), stair rails.

Referrals can be made direct to HandyVan on 0845 026 1055.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

South Bank praise for Council exhibit

I have previously mentioned Southend's contribution to the Festival of Britain exhibition on the South Bank however I was delighted to see an item in the Independent this Sunday which commenting on our exhibit says "First, directly in front of the Royal Festival Hall, there is a tribute to Southend, Essex's legendary beach resort. Springing out of the paving next to the vintage ice-cream van.........the Southend bed is a glorious celebration of the kind of municipal horticulture you usually get only by the seaside."

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Do the Independent Party have a whip fetish?

In his latest comment in the Leigh Times the Independent party leader embarks on another of his regular moans suggesting that local conservatives are "chicken" and that our leadership is bullying and a political dictatorship relying on an annually elected whip. Frankly I almost expected him to hold me personally responsible for global warming, the country's economic woes and problems with the England football team but at least he stopped short of that. It is interesting to note that he continues to focus on negative campaigning and misinformation of this type whilst still bemoaning the negativity of party politics - a pat on the back for anybody who can spot the inconsistency! The reality is that the policies which are put forward are those of the Conservative group and not just the cabinet and all members of the group have the opportunity to influence their development and do so in a constructive and effective manner.In addition in my 4+ years as group leader we have never enforced a party "whip" or instruction on any issue and recognising this the redundant position of whip was scrapped a couple of years ago.Still no point in letting a few factual inaccuracies get in the way of typical Independent claptrap. It is also a pity that rather that wasting a great opportunity to get his message across to the electorate he still fails to give any indication as to what his party would do differently. Wot no policies!!

Warrior Square Gardens

Great that the massive improvement work to this popular area is now all but complete - with just the fitting out of the cafe and completion of the feature "petal" roof to be finalised. For too long the gardens had become a haunt for drug users and alcoholics lurking behind the old hedges and making the atmosphere sometimes threatening. By removing these areas and opening up the gardens it should now attract families and other visitors and continue to represent an important green lung in the town centre. Certainly when I visited a couple of days ago it was looking good and was being well used.

Easyjet comes to Southend

Amazing news today that Easyjet are poised to commit to Southend airport and will start to operate as soon as the runway extension is completed and the new enviromental controls are in effect. Not only will this immediately create 150ish new jobs but it will also encourage others to invest in Southend and offer a great facility for those in the area who travel abroad and would like to avoid the journey to Gatwick or Stanstead. It will be interesting to see what destinations are on offer.

Southend churches - Big Society in action

I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of the Southend Deanery Synod last night to discuss with them the funding challenges facing local government and the contribution that the church might play in helping us bridge the gap. It was a positive and stimulating evening and gave me food for thought as to how we can build on the community support which our churches (of all denominations) currently give.The concept of the Big Society has left many people cold but the reality is that the type of community involvement which it encourages is already strong and well in Southend through not only the churches but our strong voluntary sector. We need to build on and encourage this contribution as well as challenging other members of our community to join in.

London Naked Bike Ride 2011

In London on saturday I encountered this years annual naked bike ride - whilst it had escaped my notice previously it involved over 1000 brave(!!) souls baring "as much as they dared" (which in most cases appeared to be everything) to cycle about 9 miles around central London and past all the main tourist attractions in the buff. The protest, which involved many thousands of participants at various locations around England and in many countries across the world, was intended to champion the need for safer cycling and highlight society's over dependence on oil and the motor car. The nudity was intended to demonstrate how vulnerable cyclists can be on our roads. It also meant that the sight of such a large group of naked bodies riding around Covent Garden etc could not fail to achieve maximum notice from the many thousands of visitors. Southend may have set a world record for its naked rollercoaster ride earlier in the year but I am not sure the town is ready for a naked bike ride yet! However the cause was a good one so well done to all the brave participants who seemed to attract a positive and enthusiastic response from the onlookers.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Southend on the South Bank

Had west end theatre tickets on Friday (Betty Blue Eyes - very entertaining with great cast) and having decided to stay up in London for the night we wandered along the south bank on Saturday morning to see the Festival of Britain event. It is well worth the visit and particularly good to see Southend playing such a central part. Not only our display representing the Southend coastline but also in many other exhibits - particularly the row of beach huts with one containing many old picture postcards of the town and another remembering the floods of 53 when Canvey was cut off and partially flooded. For free entertainment it takes some beating and don't miss the museum display in the ground floor of the South Bank Centre - as my wife commented we have never been to a exhibition when it was so apparent that nearly all of the other visitors were being transported back to their own memories either of the festival itself, or for those of us too young to experience it, of the items of furniture etc many of which featured in the homes of our parents or grandparents as we were growing up.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Cabinet - the pros and cons

I see another letter in the Echo today suggesting that the root of all evil is the cabinet system. I do not recognise the name of the writer and I suspect that, like many of the recent critics of the system, he has not had the pleasure of serving as an elected councillor. I have been a member, committee chair and opposition member under the committee system as well as a member, cabinet member and leader under the cabinet system so feel that I am well positioned to express an opinion. Firstly it is important to remember that the cabinet system was effectively imposed by the last Labour government and at present, other than an elected Mayor, there is no alternative - although we are promised change. The reality is that the differences between the systems, particularly as operated in Southend, are minimal.Our cabinet members have no executive powers and all cabinet decisions are subject to ratification by full council. Accordingly there is an opportunity to block or change decisions if a majority of members wish to do so. Under the committee system the committee chairs would replace the cabinet and would discuss and work up policy before presenting proposals on those items requiring specific decision to a committee. The aspirations and plans of the administration would remain un altered and the overiding power of the council as a collective body would remain as at present.The ability of individual members to influence policy would remain the same and is effectively undertaken by negotiation and discussion as policies are worked up and proceed through the system rather than necessarily and inevitably in formal meetings. I am also entertained by suggestions that the council has been ill served by the cabinet system. I invite anyone to look at performance across all service areas, relying on external inspection reports, peer inspection reports and performance against targets to justify such a bizarre suggestion.

Cllr Van Looy - the saga continues

I see that Independent Party councillor Paul Van Looy is trying to justify his decision to sit on only 2 working parties and 1 outside body by suggesting that he can turn up to any committee and speak anyway. We were previously told that the delay was “…whilst he learnt the ropes” but now he seems able to advise us all on council procedure – except of course he is wrong. It is not the case that any councillor can just turn up to any committee, speak and then disappear off. The opportunity for such input is limited as otherwise we might as well just put all 51 councillors on everything! He also tells us that he is working with his group who will soon be issuing details of their policies. That should be interesting as we are always being told that they are not a formal party and have no common line or policies but are only in a formal group to obtain adequate representation on committees. Finally he suggests the Town has a record deficit and disastrous policies. The current borrowing level is in line with most other authorities and in accordance with government expectations. If he thinks it should be less then what are the list of council funded initiatives over recent years which he would not have undertaken – certainly no opposition was voiced by his party colleagues during past budget debates or when reviewing the regular treasury management reports. As for policies try reading the many recent external reports on council services before you make unfounded and incorrect assertions – alternatively you could earn your council allowance and actually attend some committees when you might find out the actual position.