U-turn, climb-down, seeing sense, bowing to the inevitable – call it what you want, last night’s announcement from Cllr Courtenay regarding Hamstel and Temple Sutton children’s centres was very welcome news, and a clear victory for Labour campaigning. Both of these centres are to be saved, for now anyway. Celebrate! (The money comes from a new public health ring-fenced grant.)
In the end last night’s Southend-on-Sea Borough Council meeting lasted five and a half hours. Four petitions were presented, of which only two could be debated. I say debated, because with only twenty minutes allocated there was little opportunity for a real debate. Some members desire to repeatedly hear the sound of their own voices gave the impression of filibustering. However, by the end of the evening a gradually worsening headache made me grateful for the guillotining, even if it meant that my contribution was left unheard.
I was only going to say, in response to the Leigh library petition, that I am for saving all libraries. I am a Leigh resident (and a Leigh library user), yet I live outside of the area covered by the Town Council and therefore do not pay the precept. A suggestion that the precept ought to be used (and, therefore, increased) to cover the cost of running the library was made – a suggestion that I could not agree with. For starters, if tax-payers are to foot the bill then at least treat all tax-payers the same. Also, Leigh is the only part of the borough covered by a Town Council, and therefore leaves libraries in other places, if this suggestion were taken up, more vulnerable in my opinion. I am also unsure whether the precept could be used for this purpose.
I did get to present one of the petitions. Because of a belief in the flawed nature of the consultation on the future of Delaware and Priory Houses care homes there were two petitions. Cllr Morgan presented the larger and led the debate on this issue. I had the smaller petition, a mere 5149 signatures on this one. The size of these petitions should leave the administration in no doubt as to the strength and depth of feeling – the consultation has not got the trust of the wider public, nor of many in the council chamber. I suspect we will see closures, but if this dread deed is to be done then at least present it in such a way that thoughts of shenanigans are dispelled.
Cllr Woodley’s recent contributions in committee and full council have been decidedly odd. Last night he suggested, during an item on crime statistics, that is was the victims of crime who were to blame for the rise in crime levels! In the same debate I invited Cllr Cox to condemn the Government’s police cuts – he declined to do so.
The administration suffered a second defeat at the end of the evening (I count the children’s centres decision). We had the debate on all-up elections and this was comprehensively rejected (26 votes to 17, with 3 abstentions). I think this vote is only advisory, although I doubt that the Cabinet can believe they can proceed, especially as a two-thirds majority is required to see any change to the electoral cycle.
The Barling Resident used the all-up elections debate to make his sole contribution. He argued that we councillors should listen to the people – a pity he did not make this plea in earlier debates.
The meeting was webcast. It also attracted a sizeable audience to the public gallery, which suggests that webcasting cannot beat being physically present if the debate includes items that are dear to one’s heart. I cannot make up my mind whether to view the webcast or not; it may only serve to confirm my worst fears about my ability to convey ideas in a cogent and persuasive manner.