Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Key polices for change or a damp squib?

Whilst I still think it is premature we now have the coalition’s priorities assuming that everything goes their way on Thursday. What is described as a “new beginning”. It is important to remember that the Indies primarily campaigned on introducing the committee system to council, reversing the decisions on care homes, flood defences and libraries, and reducing borrowing levels. So how are they going to drive forward regeneration whilst meeting the massive financial challenge of delivering core services to increasing numbers of residents with a reducing income. Well here we go: 1. Set up a working party to look at moving back to a committee system. Well ignoring that the vast majority of the population couldn’t give a fig one way or the other it is hardly going to make any contribution to meeting the challenges the council has to face other than making it more slow and unpredictable. But if they want a committee system why bother with a working party just do it. After all if the WP says it is a bad idea does the policy simply get quietly abandoned and if the WP will be acting under strict instructions from above why waste time and money in going through the process. Of course the committee system does tend to look more exciting to the opposition than the administration! 2. Review the plans on the Shoebury seawall, care homes and libraries. Again why not just do it? Of course the reality is that the original decisions were driven by member groups and to try to reverse them will have significant capital and/or revenue implications however that must have been obvious to Cllr Woodley and others when they campaigned on these issues. Perhaps this is the first step to a climb down! 3. Action on derelict homes in Victoria Avenue. I am glad they are continuing the previous Conservative policy but how are they going to fund it. The answer is borrowing which is directly contradictory to Cllr Woodley’s previous stance. 4. More community facilities in the town centre. Nobody would disagree with the principle but how are the capital and revenue costs to be met? There is a need to find savings. Extra capital will mean higher borrowing and increased revenue spending means greater cuts elsewhere. In any event it is an aspiration rather than a clear policy. 5. More affordable and social housing. Again hardly rocket science but how will it be delivered. Once again this is not policy but an aspiration. 6. A pedestrian crossing at Kent Elms. Obviously this is Cllr Longley’s re election bid. The Conservatives have pushed a scheme for improvements to Kent Elms through the Local Enterprise Partnership to government. I assume that they are not suggesting doing this crossing in isolation and ahead of major junction improvements. If it is to be part of the existing scheme then it is hardly new or ground breaking. 7. Scrutiny panels chaired by opposition members. Once again the vast majority of the public will hardly be bothered and nor will this drive the town forward. Indeed if cabinet goes so will scrutiny committees. I suppose this is Cllr Woodley’s sop to UKIP who were expecting to be in closer partnership with him. The reality is that this change was introduced to a significant effect by my administration a couple of years ago with opposition members given various chairs including a couple of scrutiny committees, Development Control and Audit. So hardly terribly exciting and the central policies fail to identify how they are going to continue the improvements the Conservatives have delivered or meet the chronic financial challenge. Is this really the sea change on policy we are being promised? Still it will be interesting to see how many of them are actually delivered and at what cost to other services.

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