Thursday, 20 November 2014

Days of milk & honey?

I had become so used to hearing that everything wrong in the Town from every unpopular decision to the state of the weather was the fault of the wicked Tory administration which failed to recognise the democratic process that I was expecting to see a post May transformation under our new Rainbow Alliance.

Well I have to say that from the people I speak to there is increasing concern about the current operation of the council and its effect on the town and most of the positive feedback relates to the implementation of policies which were pursued and agreed pre May, often in the face of criticism from some opposition members – particularly where they involved greater borrowing.

These popular policies include the roll out of the new replacement LED lights, the improved performance of many of the town’s schools and the continuing policy of resurfacing roads rather than simply filling potholes. On this last issue it was a theme which ran through every budget I presented that we invested additional money on road surfacing recognising that this item had been over cut in previous years which amounted to a false economy. So in praising the availability of funding for road surfacing in roads such as Canewdon Road this represents praise for the previous Tory administration who put in place a proper system for prioritising the funds available and pursuing a concerted campaign to improve our roads – even if it did result in the council’s debt increasing!

But what about the new initiatives and policies? Well so far as “democracy” is concerned the suggestion of a return to the committee system did not even get past the first hurdle of council approval, notwithstanding the clear majority enjoyed by the opposition parties and the support of UKIP form the opposition benches. We also had the farce of the last Development Control meeting and in particular the application relating to the Garrison with councillors voting to reject the plans, then changing their mind and voting to defer, leading to a UKIP member (or will that shortly be ex member) storming from the room in a huff.

Hopefully the critics of the previous administration and its members may now be starting to realise that Development Control is a quasi judicial committee which must act in accordance with relevant planning laws and policies and not at the whim of members who may have their own agendas to pursue. Fail to follow that approach and we will start to see increasing numbers of successful appeals with costs orders against the council and also a return to the bad old days when local investors found the committee so unpredictable and on occasions perverse that they started to take their investment elsewhere. We have fought long and hard to rebuilt relations with business so let’s not prejudice that. It doesn’t mean that all applications are well founded and must be approved but if they are rejected make sure that it is on good planning grounds and the committee is balanced, predictable and defensible.

What else? – well we have seen a cop out on the library review, chaos on the seawall and associated village green claim and this is before they start to put together a cogent cost cutting budget without simply plundering the limited reserves which provide an important emergency fund.

So no milk and honey as yet.

Sea defence funding

I am not sure if I was Independent Party Leader and Cabinet member Martin Terry I would have had a photograph of me happily smiling over an Echo headline “Council may lose seawall funding”.

The item reflects the increasingly high risk that by stalling on the Shoebury flood defence scheme the current Administration are putting at risk the £1.4M pledged by the Environment Agency in respect of the scheme. This was of course a risk highlighted to Cllr Terry previously but which he seems happy to take.

Cllr Terry also comments that “There is a clear view from our engineer that the previous scheme could not go ahead as it was”. The obvious question is whether this is the same “engineer” who previously recommended that the scheme was the best and most cost effective option. Additionally where are the council’s professional officers on the issue who also supported the previous scheme.

If officer advice changes then I am sure that members will ensure that this is not as a result of pressure from cabinet members and will seek a full and detailed explanation. If it is being suggested that the original advice of external advisors was flawed then what remedy will be pursued against them? I have to say I find this suggestion surprising as the original scheme had obviously gained EA approval.

Alternatively is this Cllr Terry trying to bend the situation to what he believes to be his political advantage? I am amazed to see him also comment that the previous scheme was going ahead “like it or lump it” bearing in mind the very extended debate that took place on the subject both inside and outside the Civic Centre. The earlier decision also received considerable support from members across the political spectrum.

If the EA funding is lost then I trust that Cllr Terry and his colleagues will accept responsibility and in the meantime with a harsh winter threatened my major concern remains the delay in undertaking this flood defence work which seems to have been orchestrated by the current cabinet. Lets us hope that they, and more particularly residents and businesses in Shoebury, do not rue the day.

Friday, 7 November 2014

The challenge for Labour candidates

I have to feel some sympathy for Labour candidates for next year’s General Election who feel duty bound to express support for their party leader Ed Miliband. Indeed I have noticed recent tweets from our own candidates Cllrs Julian Ware-Lane and Ian Gilbert questioning the existence of any leadership challenge or doubts as to Ed’s performance.

It reminds me of some of the comments made by fellow Conservatives during the leaderships of William Hague and Michael Howard.

We are told that it is all mischief making by a couple of disenchanted mps and the wicked national media. Oh come on boys you know as well as the rest of us that Ed’s leadership is doing a good impression of a car crash. You would garner far more support if you were honest and accepted that there is a problem.

After all just consider his poor personal ratings, conference speech debacle, spat with his party’s Scottish leadership, inability to connect with the public etc etc.

Now obviously there is not much you can do about it this close to the next election, and in any event there appears to be a dearth of other more appealing candidates, but until you recognise the problem how can you find a solution. Of course it is not just about Ed’s poor leadership – there is a deeper malaise affecting the Labour Party. They can’t decide if they want to return to their true Labour roots or continue to hang on to last remnants of New Labour. Is it simply to be the politics of envy and the nanny state or a continued albeit half hearted appeal to aspiration and economic reality. At the moment it seems to me that they continue to blur any message and in any event I am not convinced that the ambitions of the party leadership are in line with the ambitions of their local activists – certainly in this part of south Essex.

The frustration for the candidates must be that the politics of opposition are far easier than the politics of government – as our own band of Indies, Lib Dems & Socialists are already proving. If they can’t even hit the right notes in opposition then they have indeed got work to do.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Terry Martin welcomes further borrowing

I was pleased to see that the first substantial batch of replacement LED street lights will soon be installed.

This was a major initiative of the last Conservative administration in our budget of last April. Whilst dependent on additional borrowing it addresses the deteriorating condition of many of our current lights but equally if not more importantly takes advantage of the substantially lower cost of running this LED technology. It will deliver long term revenue savings long after the borrowing has been repaid and will help ensure that unlike our neighbouring authorities our street lights can remain switched on at night.

I was pleased to see Independent Party Leader and cabinet member Martin Terry (or as my Yellow Advertiser called him Terry Martin) welcoming the scheme. Having said that if he thinks they are such a good idea it is strange that he voted against them as part of the last budget debate and ran a campaign against further borrowing.

How long will it take the local Indies to admit that either their stance on borrowing was wrong and misleading or that their "opposition" was a cynical ploy to garner votes. Alternatively perhaps they will actually identify the schemes funded by borrowing which they oppose or stop continuing to increase borrowing levels.

Southend United's new stadium - a further problem?

I could not avoid a wry smile at seeing the recent Echo headline “New doubt over Southend United’s stadium plan”.

The reason for the doubt is apparently that due to the ongoing delays Southend Council would have to reconsider the exercise of compulsory purchase powers over the old Prospects College – a wholly reasonable stance in my view. I hate to make a statement of the obvious but if the scheme was dependent on a potentially contested CPO process the inevitable delay would be likely to scupper the plan anyway.

I am sure that we are all tiring of this saga which was in the pipeline when I became Leader seven and a half years ago and still seemed stuck in that same pipeline when I stepped down notwithstanding the many hours of council member and officer time spent in trying to help put together what is a very complex and demanding jigsaw.

I see that Leader Cllr Ron Woodley could not resist his usual photo call and comment but was a little surprised by his view which was quoted as including this gem “If we don’t get Sainsbury’s and the football club driving it forward then maybe it’s time the council bought the land and developed it.” I am not sure how this strategy fits with his borrowing adverse stance or how he thinks this declaration would help in a possible subsequent CPO (whether for the benefit of Sainsburys or the Council), but is he really suggesting that this would facilitate the new stadium and supermarket or block it. It must surely be the latter.

Monday, 3 November 2014

My greatest Albion team!

Having been away for a few days I had the opportunity to give some serious thought to that ultimate sporting challenge – naming my best all time West Brom team.

Oh the hours of pondering but I have just about got there. I decided that I would exclude any current players. Their time may come in the future. I also had to take some liberties with team positions although a number of my team played in more than one shirt over their years with the team and I am confident would be more than able to rise to any challenge I may be setting them. I have to admit that the one position that I have had a simply impossible choice is in my selection for my central attackers. The options are simply too strong and a change at half time would be unavoidable.

Anyway here goes. In goal John Osborne. A back four of Don Howe, John Wile, Ray Barlow and Jessie Pennington. My dynamic and attacking midfield would feature Billy Bassett, Bryan Robson, Tony “Bomber” Brown and Laurie Cunningham. Finally my starting forwards would be Ronnie Allen and Jeff Astle.

My subs bench would feature Ray Potter as my reserve keeper, Derek Statham and Allie Robertson in defence, Asa Hartford to cover midfield and further ace attackers in Cyrille Regis, WG Richardson and Derek “The Tank” Kevan.

Some of those just missing out included Russell Hoult, Graham Williams, John Kaye, Willie Johnson and Tommy Glidden.

A south Essex Baggie follower!

A question that I am regularly asked is how somebody born and bred in south Essex ended up a lifelong supporter of West Bromwich Albion. The answer is not unusual where football allegiance is concerned. Before I was born the family lived in the Midlands and I had a brother who was 11 years older than me and was a fanatical WBA follower. In the circumstances I really had no choice being indoctrinated from a very early age.

The situation was sealed beyond doubt when almost the first televised match I can recall watching was the 1968 FA Cup Final when Albion beat Everton thanks to a Jeff Astle goal. Little did I know that almost 50 years later I would still be waiting for some further significant silver although there have of course been many memorable and uplifting times along the way.

It was a unique experience attending my local Grammar School as the only Albion supporter being viewed by my class mates with a combination of disbelief and pity! Everyone else seemed to follow one of the big London clubs, although there did not seem to be to same attraction for locals to follow the main Manchester and Liverpool clubs as seems to be the case with many of my daughters’ friends.

The problem is that when a club gets into your system it is simply impossible to change allegiance and whilst I rarely get to live matches these days I still watch Albion’s televised matches whenever possible, follow their progress on twitter and feel a surge of pleasure or despair depending on the final result each week.

So if I could go back to the 60s knowing then what I know now would I change anything – no of course not. After all I am sure that this is the season for that cup or league win. Or if not this year then surely next. Come on you Baggies!