People under scrutiny

I am unconvinced of the merits of the idea to give opposition parties in Southend-on-Sea the chair and vice-chair of the three scrutiny committees. This has given UKIP a platform, something I am far from comfortable about. It has also denied some members of the Joint Administration the possibility of a role. This change is being written into the Constitution, which means that if should ever become the opposition then we will benefit, but with the whole structure of Cabinet and the scrutiny system to come under review it is possible that this change may only be in place for a short period. The Independent Group and the Liberal Democrats both appear to want a return to the old committee system, and whilst their votes alone will not be enough it is not impossible to envisage them being able to persuade others.

And on to last night’s two hours and twenty minute People Scrutiny Committee. There was an item on Southend Primary Schools’ Falling Grammar School Entry Figures. The debate began some two years ago with my questioning the statistics and make inquiries. However, whilst I think the grammar should be made to serve the communities in which they reside, my real hope is for universal comprehensive education in the borough.

I asked a question about the statistics included in the Partners in Adoption Annual Report which showed that we were below target, although better than the national average, as regards to placing adoptees and adopters together. This prompted Cllr James Courtenay (Conservative, Blenheim Park) to state that he hoped we will not become target driven. I find this somewhat ironic; the targets are set by Government, a Conservative-led Government.

There was an update from the NHS Southend CCG regarding access to treatments and the Service Restriction Policy. The spokesperson made one very important statement “any needed treatment will be funded”. I hope I do not have to remind the CCG of this public commitment in the months ahead.

The spokesperson denied there was a postcode lottery as regards to treatment. He had no data to back this up (making it a somewhat empty statement) and seemed to suggest that data may not be possible to produce. I did request some evidence, and this was promised. Watch this space.

The portfolio holder for Adult Social Care, Health & Housing left early, which prompted Cllr Lesley Salter (Conservative, Belfairs) to make at least three references to it during the CCG debate. I know that some preach about repetition for emphasis, which maybe why Cllr Salter kept noting that “it was a shame the portfolio was not here to answer these questions”.

This morning I received notification about the following article: CCGs restricting patient access to ‘vital’ operations – RCS.

I wanted our scrutiny project to tackle the thorny subject of health inequalities across the borough. This was a somewhat unsatisfactory debate that as far as I could tell left the matter up in the air.

An education system in reverse gear

The Government’s track record on education is not good; I would go as far as to say it is awful. Scrapping EMA and trebling tuition fees have been done against a backdrop of a 900,000 young people unemployed. Many are not prepared for the future. Whilst there is a clearly defined path for those who tackle ‘A’ levels and university courses, one senses that those who do not follow this path are largely ignored. Allowing schools to employ unqualified teachers and overseeing falling numbers of sixteen to eighteen-year olds in education and training is not a record to be proud of.

Something approaching half of all youngsters go on to university, leaving half that do not and their lot is a confusing mix of vocational courses, many of which are low quality, and no clear progression from one stage of vocational education to the next. This fails them, and it fails society as a whole.

Michael Gove may be gone, but he did oversee a number of worrying trends in education. We have more unqualified teachers in classrooms, and now have the lowest entry standards for teaching in the world. This does not inspire confidence. It is said that you now need more qualifications to work in a burger bar than to become a maths teacher. The Tories have failed to tackle unsatisfactory standards in core subjects – the Government should be insisting that all young people study English and maths up to age eighteen. Apprenticeships are in decline, and there is an increase in the number of apprentices not receiving the minimum wage.

The country’s future is threatened if we do not give our youngsters the skills needed in a twenty-first century world. Rather than removing democratic oversight and allowing the marketplace to dominate in education the Government should be doing something about falling standards and the overlooked half that do not go into academic further education.

Place Scrutiny Committee 14th July

Last night I attended the first scrutiny of the new Joint Administration. Place Scrutiny Committee had some interesting moments, and what follows (as usual) is my take on things, and not a verbatim record of the whole near three hours. It is not chronological, although I have not deliberately gone against this either – my note taking is somewhat random at times.

The petition on the removal of the taxi rank on Campfield Road (in Shoebury) was discussed, and I made a couple of inquiries. The petition had 759 signatures attached to it, and Cllr Anne Chalk (Independent, Shoeburyness), who instigated the petition, wanted the Cabinet’s decision to ignore the plea for the removal of the rank referenced back; this was rejected 6 – 9. The portfolio holder (Cllr Martin Terry) infused the debate with a couple interesting comments, neither of which I could disagree with. He said that he was “a fan of the spy car when used properly” and that he was “parking scheme-phobic”.

The Shoebury Flood Defences were discussed under the Draft Corporate Plan item. I expressed my concern that using terms like “more acceptable”, as well as other language employed by the portfolio holder, suggested that the review was being pre-judged. The portfolio holder assured the committee that he would keep an open mind (despite saying quite the reverse earlier). We shall see. Conservative members wanted this item reference back; they did not get their way as this was rejected 5 – 12.

I requested, under the Review of Statement of Licensing Policy, that the re-introduction of the Cumulative Impact Strategy be considered. I was pleased to note that the portfolio holder made assurances that this would be considered.

When it came to the item on Highways and Transport Capital Programme I contributed to the discussion on streetlight replacement (by LED technology). I asked that where columns had to be replaced the heritage streetlights, especially in the conservation areas, would be replaced like-for-like. I received the good news that this would be the case.

The In-depth Scrutiny Project for Place will be ‘Southend Foreshore Erosion’. This was contested, but this environmental topic won out 8 – 7. In the debate Cllr James Moyies (UKIP, West Shoebury) asserted that as UKIP MEPs had more influence than other MEPs he could inquire whether European funding might be forthcoming! Apart from the reality-contradicting nature of the first part of his statement, it did make me wonder how he could offer such a suggestion given his party’s stance on the EU. Nonetheless, despite this offer, Cllr Moyies voted against the project.

In general I thought the meeting went well. It seemed to generate a number for requirements for written responses, more than I can recall for any other scrutiny committee that I have attended, and only time will tell whether this an augury of things to come.

Europe ascendant

It is over, the Brazilian festival of football concludes with a triumphant Germany overcoming a less than exhilarating Argentine team. On the way they saw off a below par Brazil, and their toughest matches came against African opposition: a draw with Ghana in the group stages and an extra-time victory over Algeria in the second round. Germany are fitting winners, the best team prevailing in the world’s most popular team sport.

England were disappointing, leaving this correspondent pleased that he could fall back on his Belgian ancestry. To be honest, the best games to watch were those that did not include England, who proved that you can have the world’s most exciting league and the dourest national team simultaneously.

Here is a list of world cup winners and host nations. A couple of things are immediately noticeable, the main one being that this years was the first occasion that a European team has triumphed in the Americas. The other is that the last three tournaments have been won by European teams, and that has not happened before either.

Winner Host
1930 Uruguay Uruguay
1934 Italy Italy
1938 Italy France
1950 Uruguay Brazil
1954 West Germany Switzerland
1958 Brazil Sweden
1962 Brazil Chile
1966 England England
1970 Brazil Mexico
1974 West Germany West Germany
1978 Argentina Argentina
1982 Italy Spain
1986 Argentina Mexico
1990 West Germany Italy
1994 Brazil USA
1998 France France
2002 Brazil Japan and South Korea
2006 Italy Germany
2010 Spain South Africa
2014 Germany Brazil

Struck

It has been a long time since I have been on strike. I cannot give a precise date, but it is something of the order of thirty years, maybe a little less but not much less. I last struck when still a civil servant and I cannot actually recall what the argument was about. In total, during my twelve and a half years employed by HM Customs and Excise I think it was about a handful of days of industrial action that I participated in. In those days we were up against a Prime Minister who really did not like the trades unions or the public sector and was intent on trouble. Not that the unions were entirely blameless, but Mrs Thatcher was certainly spoiling for a fight.

That I have not been on strike since is down to my work environment since; information technology departments are generally well looked after. However, I am pleased to report that I have yet to cross a picket line, and have been on many a march.

Striking is an important tool for ordinary people and serves two basic functions. Firstly, the withdrawal of labour lets employers know that their workforce is dissatisfied. It also informs the wider community – strikes are usually highly visible. Strike days are not holidays. Aside from the loss of income (and pension) those who value their work do not enjoy disruption. My experience teaches me that it is always a last resort.

Politicians are often in a strange place when it comes to striking in the public sector, not least because they are often the employer. However, whether an individual piece of industrial action is supportable or not, the right to strike is fundamental; Conservative plans to further limit union power is wrong.

Nellie Walker, showing solidarity

Nellie Walker, showing solidarity


Yesterday’s industrial action by public sector workers comes after four years of falling living standards, four years in which incomes have barely (if at all) risen. These same four years have seen an 11% average rise in the cost of running a car, 16% rise in the cost of food, 22% average electricity bill rises, and 57% average rises in gas bills. This is accompanied by job losses and reductions in public services. It is little wonder that they are fed up and angry.

My daughter, and granddaughter, took part in yesterday’s rally in Southend-on-Sea, and Eilise had to field a number of inquiries as to my absence from the event. There is a straightforward answer to that one, and that is that I do not work in the public sector and so was not on strike. I was working in Basildon yesterday.

For the record, I belong to Unite the Union, am Treasurer of Southend Against The Cuts, and am the Trade Union Liaison Officer for the Southend Labour Parties Local Campaign Forum.

Have ego, will email

Email exchanges between Southend-on-Sea’s councillors are mostly mundane. Only occasionally do they titillate.

One Independent member of the Executive chose to include the following in an email to all councillors today: There have been two pre- application presentations in the last two weeks, the amount of interest and attendance by Members has been in my opinion appalling.

I did not go to the first of these (I do not have a note of it, but I assume I was busy elsewhere). Quite often I am double booked, and I cannot be the only one. I did go to the second, last night’s pre-planning presentation on the plans for the old college site in Carnarvon Road. I made a note of who was there: four Labour members, three Liberal Democrats, two from UKIP, two from the Independent Group, and one Conservative.

I can only presume that said Executive member is having a swipe at the Conservatives and his own group as the other three groups had about half their members present. I should add that many of us specialise, and therefore elect to attend presentations that reflect these specialisms.

The Executive member’s email did give another member the opportunity to query part of their email sign-off; they styled themselves ‘Chair, Independent Group Committee’. The Executive member was reluctant to fully explain, a reluctance that is puzzling.

Anyone wanting to see the email sign-off for themselves are advised to email CllrAssenheim@southend.gov.uk

Said Executive member also added this: Hopefully, the new presentation for the Fossetts Farm Development tomorrow evening will be better attended.

I will not be going to this presentation, or conducting any council business unless there is an emergency. This is because of the industrial action being taken by public sector workers. They are sacrificing a day’s pay, and the least I can do is respect picket lines, both physical and electronic.

Inconsistencies (jumping on any passing bandwagon)

Some of Cllr Mark Flewitt’s posts require close reading, if only because of the grammar defying nature of much that he writes. The Conservative member for St Laurence is currently hopping onto the Thornford Gardens action group’s bandwagon. See TAG is getting it’s point across

Two thoughts struck me on reading this. Firstly, Cllr Flewitt has been vociferous in his objection to a speculative garden grab, yet is objecting to a brownfield development. Quite where are we supposed to build houses is beyond me. Oh yeah, the answer is always ‘elsewhere’.

The picture of TAG (Mark has a predilection for TLAs) shows the SKIPP triumvirate (Mark, Patsy and Sheena). It occurred to me that they (SKIPP) are campaigning for a museum to hold the Saxon burial articles to be built in Priory Park (instead of on the Cliffs). This museum will generate traffic – which begs the question as to why traffic associated with housing is bad in their eyes, but museum traffic is good?

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