Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Kaiser Chiefs

Greatly enjoyed the Kaiser Chiefs at the Cliffs Pavilion on sunday evening - the venue continues to attract a great range of bands.The only downside is that as the years pass there is a creeping risk that I will find myself as one of (if not the!) oldest members of the audience. It is always a relief to spot someone clearly senior to me as was the case with a significant number of people on sunday. I am a bit more concerned whether this will also be the case when I see Florence & the machine and Noah & the whale later this year. Still if the music is good enough it is worth it!!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Budget Proposals

This week the Administration has published its draft budget for the coming financial year.This will be considered in cabinet next week before being referred to all three council scrutiny committees and the Business Ratepayers Consultative Forum. Subject to any amendments which result from this process the draft budget will then go back to cabinet before being debated by full council when the final budget will be approved.

Obviously we face a significant financial challenge and these proposals reflect a massive amount of work by senior officers and my colleagues in cabinet.

It is also important that we do not under estimate the challenge that remains over at least the next 2 years. The Chancellor has made clear that we will have further reductions in funding over the remainder of current spending review period and that this is likely to continue for at least a further year after that!

Our proposed revenue budget is £130.3M. It requires savings of £11.8M.

The economies are being found from the four council directorates (£7.4M), corporately (£354K) and by new cross cutting work streams (£3.9M)which try to deliver greater efficiencies and new ways of working without direct effect on service delivery.

We are proposing accepting the government’s council tax subsidy which means that council tax for residents will be frozen.I am also pressing the government to accept that this subsidy should extend to more than one year.

We anticipate up to 120(FTE) job losses of which 49 are currently vacant.

The Dedicated Schools Budget is slightly increased and the effect for Southend Schools is that income will slightly increase (0.35%-0.95%) as will the Pupil Premium (£600 per pupil from £488).

Other than fees and charges prescribed by statute we have tried to maintain most culture fees at current levels and are also holding car parking charges (for the third year out of four).

Council rents will rise by an average of 8.05% in accordance with government aspirations to see convergence with housing authority rents and we are being required by the government to take over direct responsibility for our share of the HRA national debt (£35.27M) although this will be met from the HRA and not general revenue account.

New capital projects for 12/13 to 15/16 of £49.3M are proposed but this includes HRA investment and other new items including certain statutory obligations, the schools capital fund, the Pier, Cliffs Stabilisation and ICT investment.

I now await the input from opposition parties with interest. In my years as Leader we have only ever had one minor amendment proposed (The Lib Dem Leader trying to play party politics a few years ago)since which time the opposition councillors have failed to make any alternative proposals but with the majority voting against our budget!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Independent party politics – plagiarism, lies and bullying?

I was feeling full of pre Christmas goodwill but this was tested to the full when I received my free copy of “Leigh Oracle” and made the mistake of reading an article written by Independent party member Ron Woodley headed “The True Cost of Local Bureaucracy?” It reached new levels of tosh and factual error - even for Ron whose misunderstanding of public finance continues to plumb new depths. Imagine my surprise when within a few days I received my copy of “Leigh Times” including an article allegedly penned by Independent party leader Martin Terry – the similarity of significant parts of the language and content was distinctly bizarre. Either one of them has been doing a spot of ghost writing or, if I was the author of the original piece, I would be making allegations of plagiarism! I will comment separately on a number of the major errors and inaccuracies made by them both however what was even more distasteful was Cllr Terry’s criticisms of the motivation and competence of council officers. Whilst he is free to make personal attacks on me and my political colleagues and the policies we pursue (which he regularly attempts with remarkable incompetence) he knows only too well that officers have no right to publicly respond to his cheap shots – in my book that is tantamount to bullying. However I will make Ron and Martin an offer – stop telling lies about our policies and I will stop telling the truth about your lack of policies!

Leigh Community Centre - Lib Dem spin

Having tried to launch a constructive, open and early debate on the options available in Elm Road I was surprised to see the public stance adopted by Leigh & West Leigh Libs which bears no relation to their earlier comments to me. I have tried to raise the issue with Cllrs Crystal and Wexham - I am still waiting for a response. Here is my pre Xmas e mail to them. The silence of their response is deafening!

I am writing to express my extreme disappointment and indeed annoyance at your latest edition of “Leigh West Leigh Focus” which includes the banner heading “Save Leigh from the bulldozers” followed by a selective quote from my recent Leigh Times article and a covering comment that can best be described as misleading.

I have previously attended 1:1 meetings with both Alan and Peter on this issue (at your respective requests) during which I believed that you had accepted that no plans currently existed for the site but that with the inevitability of buildings becoming vacant or underused there had to be a full and adult discussion involving the community as to what the future of the site should be. We all accepted that this would be the last opportunity in the foreseeable future to control a significant site in the heart of Leigh and to see if it could help to address some of the ongoing challenges the area faces.

I accepted that Alan was keen to retain the Community Centre but was relatively unconcerned about the current police station whereas Peter felt that the police station could be retained for potential occupation by Leigh Town Council and with a new community centre behind, but had no desire to retain the existing Community Centre building.

We agreed that we needed to avoid turning the issue into a party political argument with unnecessary scaremongering. We also agreed that we needed to indicate that we retained an open mind to encourage others to do likewise to facilitate a proper and open debate. I confirmed I was willing to involve you both and Barry in the discussions from the outset together with various other stakeholders.

It was my understanding that we had reached agreement on a constructive way forward and I would therefore welcome an explanation as to why you have now allowed a leaflet to be distributed which wholly undermines our discussions and agreed approach. It is particularly ironic that Alan is pictured directly in front of Leigh Police Station and is quoted as referring to “handsome and irreplaceable” buildings notwithstanding his comment to me that this particular building had little architectural merit and should not be retained.

Why do you expect me to be open, transparent and inclusive on the issue if you are not?

I await your response with interest.”

Oh well - perhaps next time!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Shared Space & Exhibition Road

Had a visit to the V&A museum over the New Year break to see the exhibition celebrating 50 years of Private Eye. Without planning it I found myself experiencing the new shared space scheme in Exhibition Road.Very dramatic and different. Bearing in mind the hassle we have had in Southend with our limited shared space scheme on the seafront it is a relief that Exhibition Road falls outside our jurisdiction! There is no doubt that a completely new road layout like this makes you stop and think and on my view it seemed to be accepted well by drivers, walkers and cyclists alike. Certainly vehicle speeds were down and everybody seemed more aware of what was going on around them. Early results from schemes across the county seem to show that they increase safety and hopefully as they become more widely introduced and understood this will continue and increase. We are now awaiting the report evaluationg the current operation of our City Beach with any recommendations as to possible improvements.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Happy New Year

Best wishes for a Happy and hopefully prosperous new year to all residents and business' within south east Essex.Certainly for the council it is going to be challenging with further substantial cuts to be found whilst trying to maintain frontline services.