Friday, 20 December 2013

Independents & UKIP announce election pact

It is no great surprise to note that Southend's Independent Party and UKIP have announced a pact at the next local elections and that they will work together post May 2014. Obviously this is subject to one rather large hurdle namely UKIP getting any candidates elected however in any event it represents a further bizarre twist in the enigma that is the Southend Independent Party. They already act exactly like every other party grouping (releasing common literature, having group meetings, taking group decisions, electing a leader who takes the resulting financial allowance and regularly voting together) missing only a clear and shared political philosophy which prevents them adopting a clear positive manifesto of commonly supported initiatives. This is not surprising bearing in mind their vastly different party political backgrounds and beliefs. They call the Conservatives "nasty" and yet constantly produce the most negative material of any of the party groups and allege the other parties operate a whip whereas the voting records show that if anything they are more likely to vote en bloc than the Conservatives who have no whip. They now announce a pact with a group who are at the different end of the political spectrum to many of their members and who have declared no package of Southend priorities or policies. How can the group which tries to herald their "independent" approach on every issue pre bind themselves to a political party of any colour. Surely it is not the case that this motley group are no more "independent" than anyone else and are simply interested in getting control whatever compromises they have to make to get it? I have no problems with a desire to take control but just feel that voters are entitled to a little honesty and a clear indication of policy priorities if party groups are elected.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The art of opposition (2)

I have already commented on my bemusement at the tactics of Cllr Martin Terry and the rest of his Independent Party colleagues. To continue on this theme I would like to give them some helpful tips. The role of members is to decide policy taking account of the professional advice received from officers and then to oversee the implementation of that policy.This does not mean blindly following all advice received but understanding that expert advice and information is a support tool not a hindrance. This is of course in addition to supporting local residents etc. Even on technical items such as flood defence Martin and some of his colleagues continue to refuse to accept the technical advice received from officers and specialist advisers believing that they know better. With Martin this often seems to be based on his ability to use a google search. Repeatedly stating that they know better than experts does, in my view, make them look a little stupid and does not do any favours for members of the public who can be given false hopes or expectations. This is different from their group member Ric Morgan commenting on education where he clearly does have expertise in the area. There is a growing theme of objecting to various measures because they are intended to deliver savings. Well yes they are and the Indies know why the savings have to be delivered. If they want to block our attempts to deliver savings then where are they going to find the money from. It is easy simply to argue against any change but not an opportunity that the Administration has. I also feel that they have not got to grips with deciding which items are better scrutinised at the scrutiny committees and the matters which are better highlighted by a more public and show debate at full council. At the moment they seem to feel that they need to have the same debate twice failing to recognise the different strengths of the two meetings and the different opportunities they present. This also means that council meeting are over long and convoluted rather than being used to highlight one or two key policy areas where they disagree with the Administration's position. There are a number of members of the Lib Dem and Labour groups who have in my view a far better grasp as to the mechanics of the system and whilst I know that the Indies think that they are the only effective opposition group perhaps they should try taking a look at the others! Whilst I appreciate that there is no single or correct view as to the art of opposition I do feel that my colleagues in cabinet and I are well placed to judge the efforts of our opponents in Southend.

The art of opposition

I have already commented on the lengthy council meeting on Thursday evening. Further reflection leaves me bemused at the Independent Party's tactics. The intriguing thing is that their Leader Martin Terry clearly feels that they provide effective opposition and no doubt feels that he is a strong orator. Regrettably I don't agree with either view. Whereas members from other groups are more selective and focussed on items they feel need scrutiny Martin and his colleagues favour more of a scattergun approach. Personally he seems to feel the need to speak to more items than most other members and his contributions are not limited to minutes which his group have reserved for debate or where he appears to have given particular thought as to what he wants to say. The 2 items that the Indies concentrated on were the debates on the proposed Shoebury Common Flood Defences and Priory & Delaware homes. However whilst they tried to argue against both decisions they had taken the decision not to refer the items up from scrutiny to full council. This is a straightforward and regularly used device whereby any 2 members can refer to matter up and full council then acts as scrutiny committee and if it disagrees with a decision can refer it back to cabinet for reconsideration. So long as 2 members make the decision they don't have to win a vote at scrutiny and as there are at least 2 Indies on every scrutiny this is within their power. As they had chosen not to refer up full council could only debate the subject without having any effect on the decision. As it happened the Administration was 3 members light for the meeting caused by Gwen Horrigan's departure and illness to the Mayor Brian Kelly and my Deputy Leader John Lamb. This meant that the opposition groups could, if they were agreed and united, outvote us on any vote and could have referred the matters back. If there is a hidden tactic they have got me fooled!

The longest day!

The last full council meeting of the year on Thursday night turned into quite a marathon. Starting at 6.30pm as usual it did not end until after 1.30am. This was with only one short comfort break for the benefit of the Deputy Mayor who unlike the rest of us could not leave the chamber whilst the meeting was in progress. I was due at a meeting of the main board of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership in Thurrock at 10am the next morning followed by a meeting of the Transport Board where I was representing the council. As a result, and notwithstanding having only made it home at 2.15am, I was in my office at 7am and then at Thurrock for the start of the LEP meeting. The Lep board includes leaders of various county, unitary and district councils across Essex, Kent and East Sussex and there was general humour and incredulity expressed by a number of my fellow leaders at the length and content of our council meeting. Reflecting on the meeting it did seem bizarre. There were only 2 votes all night, both of which were won by the administration with help from various opposition members (and on the second occasion the casting vote of the Deputy Mayor). So why did it take so long? With 51 members potentially entitled to speak on any item I suppose that if meetings are to be focussed and shorter it requires members to speak to the minute being discussed and not try to simply talk for the sake of it. It would also be helpful if we all made an effort not to simply repeat points made by previous speakers.So who are the main culprits? Well now that our meetings are recorded it is possible for us all to make up our own minds and at least viewing the webcast allows use of a fast forward button!