So close, and yet so far away – a night of missed opportunities
December 13, 2013 3 Comments
Last night’s full council meeting last seven hours and fifteen minutes (although there was a five minute break after about four hours). This makes it the longest of my (limited) experience; the previous longest I had taken part in was the budget debate earlier this year which lasted a mere six hours.
I made a few contributions, and what follows are my notes – not intended as a full record (this is best obtained by watching the webcast). Part Two items are not included in the webcast, and neither do they feature here.
I spoke in the debate on the Future of Southend Library Services. I suggested that I could have asked a question about what sort of wheel has two hubs and only one spoke; and answered my own question with reference to the struggling portfolio holder’s dismal performance in answering questions thus far. I also pointed out the irony that this minute was adjacent to that on the Skills Strategy.
I went on to say that in the west (of the borough) the two hubs are situated in leafy environs. The library supporting a community where deprivation is endemic is not being supported. I stand up for all libraries – I do not want to rain on either Leigh or Kent Elms’ parade. However, I regret that Westborough now has a cloud over it. When the dismal news about the libraries is set in the context of the poor educational performance (in the borough) one cannot help but speculate more bad news ahead.
Mark Flewitt appeared to address his diatribe at me. He was “pleased with the achievement” (of securing hub status for Kent Elms library), and said he is a glass-half-full person. I am not a natural pessimist either, but I cannot rejoice at seeing the library service being savaged across the borough.
There was a vote on whether to refer the item back to Cabinet. This was defeated by 30 votes to 16. All of the Labour Group (Cllrs Borton, Gilbert, Anne Jones, McMahon, Norman and me) voted for referring back. Eight of the Independent Group voted for too: Cllrs Assenheim, Aylen, Ayling, Chalk, Stafford, Terry, Van Looy and Woodley. Two Liberal Democrats also voted for: Cllrs Betson and Collins.
Now for those who opposed: all the Tories present (except the deputy mayor who was chairing the meeting), Cllr Velmurugan, and seven Liberal Democrats (Cllrs Crystall, Godwin, Grimwade, Lewin, Longley, Russell and Wexham). A case of I’m alright Jack for the Lib Dems, who were content with merely saving Leigh library.
Cllr Morgan unaccountably was absent from the chamber during the vote.
Cllr Velmurugan’s vote was most puzzling: he spoke against the minute and then voted for it! The seven Lib Dems who supported the Tories should be hanging their heads in shame today. They are developing a theme of failing to step up to the mark when needed.
Had we managed to refer the item back this would have opened the possibility of reprieve for the library service – and thus this was a crucial vote.
In the debate on Refuse Collection I extracted a commitment from the portfolio holder that he would look at the policy of leaving rejected pink sacks that are not on the highway indefinitely; those on the highway are collected after forty-eight hours. This policy is described as the education encouragement process – I thought it better named as the neighbour irritation procedure as it creates a scruffy street name and makes gardens look like they’ve been fly-tipped.
I referred, in a later comment, to corporate performance indicator CP2.1 (number of reported missed collections per 100,000 (monthly snapshot)), it being worse than last year. I also pointed out that the cut to black sack distribution meant that pink sacks were being used for general refuse and thus were being rejected. I think this cut could prove to be a false economy.
I asked the portfolio holder for children and learning to clarify what he meant by ‘few’ when he kept referring to the number of young people using Focus in the debate on the Future of Youth Service. I asked whether the numbers were more or less than the number of users at the Lower Thames Rowing Club on Leigh Marshes. He originally agreed to supply these numbers, then retracted this promise. He accused me of being “disingenuous” – clearly he is uncomfortable with accountability.
Cllr Woodley asserted that he was “the only Conservative in this town” during the debate on the future of Delaware and Priory Care Homes and day centre. Make of that what you will.
The subject of sea defences came up twice during the course of the evening. The second occasion was an Opposition Business debate called by the Independent Group. Cllr Woodley declined the offer of a vote at the end of the debate saying he knew he would lose. I questioned his assertion at the start of the debate that cost was irrelevant because in austere times it is very relevant. Few argue against the need for improvements to the defences, so it comes down to a choice. I cannot see beyond going for the best value for money option.
After a short debate on the Local Council Tax Support Scheme Annual Review we had a vote. This scheme provides relief for the most vulnerable and poorest members of our community.
This was not a named vote, and I neglected to take exact notes of who voted which way. I did note that the Labour Group voted against (except Cllr Norman, who suffering with a bug had left earlier). I also noted many abstentions amongst the Liberal Democrats. The vote was tied 18 – 18, which left the deputy mayor with the casting vote. Conservative Cllr Walker unsurprisingly supported the administration.