Sunday, 24 February 2013

City Deal moves forward

Probably the most exciting news of the week was that we have been successful with our initial bid to be one of the new City Deals. Originally 8 of the largest cities in the country were offered deals - being an agreement with central government to release certain powers and/or funding to help regeneration. Last autumn we were invited to bid to participate in the second wave along with 19 other cities and towns. It was good to receive the approach and we are the only bid in our South East LEP. The bid is in 2 elements. Firstly a bespoke section, crafted by Southend Council and aimed to address a particular issue in the town which we perceive is limiting economic regeneration. If this element works then we are also able to access the Core Package which will be common to the successful bids and will enable us to access a more generic range of powers which will also roll out across south Essex. So this is a big deal for us and our immediate neighbours. Our bespoke deal involves improving CPO powers to enable us to identify specific sites acting as a block to regeneration with the council borrowing funds to develop the relevant sites which will then be funded by us retaining the business rate increased income which the scheme creates. It costs central Government nothing and let's us clear some log jams. If it works it will also be scheme which could roll out in other areas where regeneration is limited by tight urban boundaries. We are now moving to flesh out the details. It is not only a very exciting project but the fact that we are being given the opportunity to participate demonstrates the faith central government has in our ability to deliver.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Labour's latest tax policy - another wrong turn

I was interested to see the leader in today's Independent supporting my own view on the merit of the latest income tax initiative announced by Labour which is described as "... A highly complicated and largely ineffective 10p tax band". As the paper suggests "an altogether better way to ease the burden on the least well off is to take more of them out of tax altogether." it hardly seems rocket science that to create a fair tax system which is difficult to avoid needs an approach which is based on simplicity rather than the over complex tapestry of measures created by the last government which was difficult to understand, complex and left gaps a plenty for those keen to avoid or evade their tax liability. The current government is trying to address this but it would appear that Ed Miliband has still to learn the lesson of recent history.

The jammy dodger turns sour!

It is always a pleasure to know that opposition members are seeking to broaden their horizons and knowledge by reading my blog entries however I take considerable exception when they then subsequently misquote me and rarely has there been such a misguided, inaccurate and offensive misquote as recently made by new Labour Councillor Ware-Lane (see previous jammy dodger post).

Referring to my recent blog "A tale of two cycle paths", which sought to highlight the difference between Cll Steve Aylen's imaginary and tree destructive cycle path route through Belfairs and the actual suggested route, Cllr Ware-Lane suggested that I was making an offensive reference to Cllr Aylen. If I want to insult someone then I am more than capable of doing so without the assistance of Cllr Ware-Lane or anybody else, and if I do so I will ensure that the language I use is clear and not capable of misinterpretation. To try to suggest that the blog meant something that it did not say and was based on an intent of which there was no evidence or factual basis is simply not acceptable. It is insulting to Cllr Aylen and me and I await a clear and unequivocal withdrawal and apology.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A tale of 2 cycle paths!

I was surprised to read a letter in today's Echo suggesting that Cllr Steve Aylen had warned a local group that the planned extension of the Prittlebrook Green Way through Belfairs was going to follow a route which would result in the removal of "hundreds of majestic old trees". The reason for my surprise is that no route has been agreed and to suggest that anybody would advocate and agree such a route is ridiculous. My surprise was heightened in that today was the first of 2 meetings arranged at Belfairs for officers and local ward members to discuss the options available and to try to agree on a preferred route - both Councillor Aylen and I were in attendance. A preferred route was agreed by all present (including Steve and me) which would not require the removal of any trees. Steve has been peddling this scare story for years without any proper foundation in fact so perhaps he will now concede that any concern he has caused is unfounded.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

A sense of denial!

I was greatly entertained to read a recent letter in the press from one of my Labour council colleagues suggesting that I was trying to in some way distance myself from the efforts of the coalition government to reduce the national deficit. Let me make clear that I fully support the need to get our economy back under control and congratulate the government for having the courage to take difficult and unpopular decisions for the common good. This does not mean that I agree with every specific element of the government's approach to the funding of local government - it would be bizarre of me to do so and I will continue to speak out when I believe it is in the best interests of the town. However that does not undermine my support for the underlying policy of financial responsibility. What I find distasteful is the clamour of Labour council members who seem to believe that the imposition of the austerity measures is an aspiration rather than a necessity and who try to pretend that the current challenge is not greater than it would otherwise be as a direct result of the financial mismanagement of their party colleagues who believed that having put "an end to boom and bust" allowed them to spend without provision for the fallow times, waste our assets (remember the sale of gold at a ridiculously low price) and then show such glee that they did not have to clear up the mess (the note from the treasury minister scoffing that the money had all gone!). If anybody is in denial of what is going on in Westminster it is not me and my party colleagues but those who suggest that you can solve a deficit by failing to reign back expenditure and further borrowing and who then have refuse to take responsibility for the contribution of their own party in creating the current challenge.


I am delighted that the prompt and efficient action taken by council officers to obtain an injunction avoided the threatened invasion of hundreds of cruisers on Saturday night. This unofficial and unauthorised event was being switched from elsewhere in the county and would have brought noise, disruption and traffic chaos to the seafront and town centre causing aggravation to residents, visitors and traders alike. I was surprised to see that Labour's new Labour Councillor in Milton was vocal in opposing the obtaining the injunction notwithstanding the fact that his Group Leader had been consulted in advance and had raised no objection. The residents of Milton would have had to put up with this aggravation which would have done nothing to stimulate the local authority but I suppose that this is an advantage from him leaving well away from the ward he represents and therefore detached from the resulting noise. The other Milton councillors who live in the ward appear to me to have had a far better understanding of the interests of the residents! In the meantime well done to my cabinet colleagues Cllrs Tony Cox and Derek Jarvis who gave up their Saturday night to monitor the situation with officers and the police.

Southend - a great place for restaurants

One of the many great reasons for living in this area must be the wide range of excellent restaurants which are on our doorstep. It doesn't matter what your fancy there is plenty of choice. My current favourites remain Alvaros for that special treat (the strawberry flambé is to die for), the Pipe of Port (great for business and social occasions), The Sandbank (for something special) and the Mughal Dynasty for a great beer and curry night out. There are many other great options out there waiting to be tried. It was very sad to note the closure of Simply Seafood. Whilst I tend to be more of a meat person the food, staff and ambience were great and it will be a loss to the Old Town.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Council Leader of the Year?

It was a pleasant but wholly unexpected surprise to receive a call from an Echo reporter earlier in the week to tell me that I had been shortlisted in the last seven for the prestigious Council Leader of the Year award. I did not know that I had been nominated never mind shortlisted. It is always good to receive external recognition as it does help validate the progress that we believe we are making taking the town forward. This follows our award for Council of the Year and the plethora of other awards we are constantly winning across the organisation. These awards also help raise the profile of Southend. We are a small unitary authority and the town has a certain historical image. We need to communicate the message that we are building on our roots to drive forward investment and regeneration, and publicity of this kind can only help in our ongoing efforts to stimulate further public and private investment. The nomination is further recognition for the efforts of my councillor colleagues and our strong team of officers. It is impossible to succeed as a leader without a strong and focussed team and that is something we certainly enjoy in Southend.

High Street Bridge Works

I popped down to the High Street this morning to see how progress was going on the removal and replacement of the railway bridge over the weekend. It is an eye catching site and certainly appears very well organised. Let us hope that it does not have a negative effect on retail sales. The diversion is well signposted and a very minor inconvenience and if anything the work seemed to be attracting onlookers. I suspect that when the existing bridge is craned off and the new one manoeuvred into location it will be a remarkable sight.

Friday, 1 February 2013

A political party in all but name

I have commented previously on the con trick which the Southend "Independent "Group continues to play on the residents of the Town. Their constant refrain is that they are distant from the party political process being a group of true independents who only cooperate at council level to ensure a fair distribution of committee seats. As I have said I do not how this can be true when they campaign together, share election material, usually vote together. This is not to mention their angst when any true Independent Candidate stands and risks deflecting votes from their allegedly official independent candidate! In addition their "leader" happily accepts the allowance paid to the leaders of all opposition groups in recognition of the additional duties relating to the leadership of a party team. Well the farce reached a new level last night at scrutiny with their Leader Martin Terry, introducing his comments on the proposal to remove black sacks, confirmed that whilst he was personally a strong supporter of recycling and could see the logic behind the proposal he was reflecting the decision of his group to speak against. So now we have the Leader of a formal group speaking against his own views in compliance with a group decision but still avoiding the apparent perils of party politics. Ironically I would never expect a member of my Group to speak against their beliefs and as leader of the group I would certainly not do so. Indeed I have never applied a party instruction or whip in my six years as Leader as I prefer to win hearts and minds by logical argument - something which perhaps Martin finds too challenging! it seems to me that our Independent Party now offer the worst of all worlds. They seek to impose a party line but because of their diverse slate of members ranging from right wing economists through rejected Tories, unwanted Lib Dems and unsuccessful Labour candidates it is impossible to predict where they will end up on any issue and obviously for the same reason they fail to give any clear pledges in their election campaigns.I am not suggesting that a number of their candidates are not well intentioned but the organisation they have joined is little more than a Trojan Horse!

Southend Adult College

One of the jewels in Southend's rich education crown is our Adult College. This beacon organisation continues to make a real difference to it's many users helping drive up skill levels, increase opportunities for all and providing a range of courses to tempt residents to increase their knowledge and experience. It was a great pleasure to attend their annual award event yesterday which recognised some remarkable students and tutors and looked at the contribution the college continues to make to the town. Well done to all concerned.

Scrutiny update

As I have previously mentioned we have just been through the week when the administration's budget proposals are subjected to the council's three scrutiny meetings. This has meant quite an arduous week for me with the menu of meetings completed on the spare wednesday evening with the Business Ratepayers Consultative Forum which is an opportunity for business groups, Leigh Town Council and residents associations to question the budget plans. Generally constructive debate by all concerned and whilst there were a few predictable complaints - black sack removal etc - there appeared to be general support to the thrust of the proposals and certainly no significant alternative savings. We now move on to full council at the end of February and it will be interesting to see if there are any formal amendments and if not whether the speeches by the opposition group leaders are rather more realistic and magnanimous than in previous years!