Sunday, 27 May 2012

Soaring Pigeons at City Beach

On Friday night we made one of our occasional visits to Chinnerys on the seafront to see the Pigeon Detectives who I have not seen live since the Reading Festival some years ago.Whilst the Cliffs Pavilion is now attracting some good bands there is nothing to beat the intimacy of Chinnerys - a truly fantastic venue for local music lovers.The Pigeons really rose to the occasion and were probably the best I have ever seen in the town - even beating the Sweet at the Kursaal in the early seventies!The night was up close, hot, sweaty, pushy, and cramped with crowd surfing,and water/beer everywhere - simply great.And to make it even better I know there was at least one person there who was older than me (but don't worry Pete I won't say who) I am looking forward to the next time already.

Freud and all that

Having greatly enjoyed the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy we had tried and failed to get in to the Lucien Freud Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.Undeterred we pre booked tickets and went yesterday morning.For me it did not reach the heights of the Hockney display (in particular his iPad pictures were amazing) but none the less well worth the trip and entrance money.Art really seems to be on the up with every recent visit we have made packed out with enthusiastic visitors.The day continued well with a beer (or 2!) in a central London pub watching the Rugby Premiership Final between Quins and Leicester.A great game with, in my impartial view, the right result but keeping us all on the edge of our seats until the final whistle.Come on Gloucester it is yours to lose next year!!!Theses visits help strengthen my own view that to continue to develop the Town as a cultural centre for the region has to be a priority as a way to attract visitors, employment and investment.a key to this remains our plans for the new museum and return of the Saxon King artefacts.

Flying start to fun packed summer

What a difference the sun makes and what a great start to the summer season with a well attended air festival in hot sunshine.Let us hope for similarly kind weather for a succession of events from the jubilee, cricket festival, art trail, Olympics, folk festival and on and on. That is not forgetting the opening of the renovated Priory with new visitor centre and the launch of the new Pier Head cultural centre.It promises to be an exciting 2012!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Chalk dust and fantasy,

I must admit to avoiding Shoebury Independent. (and former failed Labour candidate)Anne Chalks blog. If in the need of fiction I prefer Robert Ludlum - but I am told that she is now moaning about the proposal to put beach huts on the beach at Shoebury.This proposal was included quite clearly as a new capital item in the capital budget approved by the Council in April. It will come as no surprise that Cllr Chalk made no comment on the proposal during the budget process or debate and certainly did not suggest that it be rejected. Shoebury residents may be thinking why bother have her as a councillor.She is in the privileged position (like all of us) to raise issues of concern at the time not simply at a later date when she thinks there may be a few votes in it.The question is did she not bother to read the budget papers at the time, or did she read them and agree with the proposal and has only changed her mind now.This all sounds very familiar as those who recall my earlier items on Hinguar School will know.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Southend Pier

What a great sight yesterday as the new cultural centre was lifted onto the end of the Pier.It was a challenging technical exercise which was completed without a hitch.Congratulations to all the contractors involved and to the council's own officers who have worked so hard.Perhaps even a pat on the back for me and my Conservative colleagues who have been determined to deliver a new chance for the pier in the face of constant challenge, both financial and practical.Up to this point we have concentrated on the significant work to the structure and fire prevention equipment which is not obvious or apparent to residents.At last we have reached the fun part of the project and I cannot wait for the new centre to open with a full programme of events and activities.

Explain that!

At last night's council meeting there was a vote for the Chair of the influential Economic & Enviromental Scrutiny Committee between 2 opposition members - Councillors Woodley and Longley.What I struggle to understand is that having supported Cllr Woodley in his bid to become council leader the entire Labour group then voted against him becoming Chairman of this committee.If they thought he was suitable for Leader why change their collective mind seven days later. Answers on a postcard to Cllr Ian Gilbert!

Musical chairs

Last night it was time to appoint the members, Chairs and Vice Chairs for all council committees and working parties for the coming year.Having negotiated an agreement with the Thorpe councillors which included the release of certain Chairs to the opposition you would have thought that it would be no surprise that we followed the terms of the agreement. Well it appears to have come as a surprise to certain members of the Lib Dem and Labour groups who seemed to feel that having refused to take control of the council or participate in the agreement or even constructive negotiations they were still entitled to it's benefits - apparently even if this meant the signatories breaking their obligations to each other.That is not the way it works. When we reach an agreement we will stick to it although this did result in the allocation of posts of responsibility to members of all opposition groups.

A working arrangement

As I have already mentioned I have offered a Memorandum of Understanding to all opposition groups in an attempt to move forward constructively and to ensure some stability for the council during the difficult months ahead. Only the Thorpe Councillors were prepared to enter into negotiations with me although some other Independent councillors pledged their informal support.Having lost the leadership election it would have been easy for Cllr Woodley to retreat into "spoilt child" mode and refuse to speak to me but to his great credit he didn't (but then he isn't a Lib Dem). He made some policy demands which I was happy to support and we have been able to finalise an agreement between the Conservative Group and the Thorpe Independent Councillors which will be published on the council web site for all to see. No private or confidential closed door deals but an open, transparent and constructive arrangement. This will allow the council to plan forward with some certainty and I hope that the attitude of the other opposition groups follows his lead during the coming months so that we can focus on what is in the best interests of the town and not on negative and destabilising nonsense.

Lib Dems - sitting on the fence (Part 2)

Following my re election as Leader the first concern was to create some stability for the coming 2 years.(There are no council elections next year). Having considered the position with the Chief Executive and done research as to how the situation has been approached in other areas I decided to consider proposing to all opposition groups that we enter into a Memorandum of Understanding.This would outline some underlying principles and then offer a division of important council chairs in exchange for a pledge from the opposition not to attempt to overturn the administration by a vote of confidence. It did not seek to prevent them opposing or scrutinising individual policies and indeed offered regular meetings between cabinet holders and shadow cabinet holders to discuss policy initiatives before consideration by cabinet to ensure that opposition voices were heard.It also enshrined the right of any opposition member to propose any cost neutral amendment to our budget and to have it dealt with by a vote in full council (where my party does not have a majority) but on the basis that having had any valid amendments resolved they would not vote against the final substantive budget.This recognised the fact that last year many opposition councillors voted against the budget notwithstanding having proposed no alternatives.To fix a balanced budget is a legal obligation on the council and I need to ensure that I can do so.Hardly unreasonable!! The Lib Dems simply rejected it out of hand - as did the Labour Group. There were no proposed amendments simply refusal to enter into it. I still have no idea why but in my view it represents a scandalous failure on their part to step up to their responsibilities to the town and the residents who supported them.They chose not to take leadership of the council with the other opposition groups so must work positively to ensure that the council can operate in a stable way as it faces further massive financial challenges.Oh well I suppose it is so much easier to sit on the fence and then just whinge but the residents who voted them in might like to consider if they could be better represented.

Lib Dems - sitting on the fence (part 1)

I have already explained the reasoning behind my decision to allow the opposition groups to replace me as Leader following our loss of our majority and their decision not to do so.However I do have to add my thoughts of disbelief to the "tactics" of the local Lib Dems and to a lesser degree the Labour Group. Neither group was prepared to put forward one of it's own members for this important role. Strangely Labour whipped it's members to support the independent candidate Cllr Woodley notwithstanding the vitriolic attack on the independent group by Labour leader Ian Gilbert at a pre election hustings meeting or in recognition that in some areas the Independent group pose an increasingly greater threat to Labour than the Conservatives.But the biscuit must go to the Lib Dems who were instructed to abstain.They have been elected to represent their residents. In the first important vote - who will lead the council and appoint the cabinet - they put no candidate forward and don't even vote. It takes sitting on the fence to a new level and having had to endure an election campaign when all opposition groups seemed to have criticised everything the Conservative administration has achieved they can't even get their act together enough to agree on a possible Leader.Still things could be worse - imagine if they had cobbled together a joint Leader bid and formed a cabinet they would probably still be arguing about the seating layout round the cabinet table.

Follow the Leader

Last year I was elected as Leader of the council for a term of 3 years. Accordingly when we lost control I would have been entitled to have ignored our loss of an overall majority and clinged on.That seemed to me to be wrong.It was right that the new council membership, with no overall control, had the chance to choose who it wanted to lead it through the next few difficult years. For this reason I tendered my resignation but, with the full support of my party colleagues, allowed my name to be proposed for re election. Some have painted this as some sort of political stunt but on the contrary it gave the combined opposition, with their majority, the chance to pick one of their own number to take over.I was delighted that Cllr Woodley responded to the challenge and allowed his name to go forward.obviously I was delighted and honoured to be re elected by a significant majority. It gives me and my colleagues a real mandate for the coming 2 years.

Election blues!

I have deliberately delayed updating my blog since election day to give a chance for the dust to settle. It is obviously disappointing to lose out overall majority - we now have 25 out of the 51 councillors leaving us 1 short of a majority. So near but so far! Having said that the clear message from our canvassing was that there is general support for the performance of Southend Council over the last few years but increasing annoyance at the performance of all parties at national level. This was reflected by the appallingly low turnout which frustrated candidates from all parties. It does seem bizarre that at a time when we are improving service performance, delivering budget savings and attracting inward investment in a way which is externally recognised by the Council of the Year award we lose seats.However that is politics and the message was that many of our core voters chose to stay at home.The disappointing night was not ours alone - the Liberals were lucky to hang onto their seats with relatively small majorities, and whilst Labour made gains their vote was disappointing (in Milton the successful candidate polled less to win this year than he did when previously coming second).In an environment custom built for the Independent Party they failed to make inroads - even losing their seat in Southchurch to our candidate.Their "gain" in Belfairs was only due to the success of Steve Aylen who before he was not re selected had been a Conservative councillor for many years, voting reliably for us and seeking our nomination this year. If he is true to his voting record and presumable beliefs it is difficult to see that he will not wish to support us on occasions over the coming months.So now to the challenge of a hung council!