Labour aghast at road damage payouts – and promise to work for better roads in future

My latest press release:

Reg Copley and JUlian Ware-Lane discussing pothole problems

Reg Copley and Julian Ware-Lane discussing pothole problems

When it was revealed recently that Southend-on-Sea Borough Council had paid out over £300,000 in compensation because of defects with its poorly maintained road, Reg Copley (Labour’s spokesperson for St Laurence ward) was aghast.This large amount was paid out during the last five full years of the previous Conservative administration.

“This compensation, presumably paid out to recompense for the damage to vehicles caused by Tory neglect of our roads, is money that ultimately comes from the pockets of tax-payers,” says Reg. “One wonders what else this money could have been used for,” he added.

“I suspect that this only reflects the most serious cases – one can imagine many not bothering to claim. As it is it amounts to more than £1000 per week on average, every week of the year.”

Labour’s spokesperson for Transport, Public Protection and Waste, Clr Julian Ware-Lane, has frequently highlighted the poor state of Southend’s roads, a real nuisance for motorists, cyclist, and pedestrians.

Julian said: “This is more financial waste from a Conservative controlled council, at a time when budgets are under pressure. I will work with the new administration to promote the needs of road users.”

Indie contemplations of divorce and new partners will have to be put on hold for another year at least

The Joint Administration is a working relationship based on a desire to take Southend-on-Sea forward, and to provide better leadership than was shown when the Conservatives ruled the roost. As a marriage of convenience it works, but all three partners in the arrangement would prefer to have not had to manage the relationship with their partners; having enough members to go it alone is the aim of all parties after all.

The Independent Group appears to eyeing up other partners already; to continue the marriage allegory – they are considering divorce even whilst still in the honeymoon.

The Independent Group’s electoral pact with UKIP, whilst apparently unofficial, was very much in evidence in recent elections. UKIP are not in the Joint Administration owing to objections by Labour and Liberal Democrats, and the numbers do not add up to an Independent-UKIP only administration.

Yet there clearly is a relationship between Martin Terry’s somewhat disparate band of members, and the quintet led by James Moyies. You cannot help but imagine that should the numbers ever make it possible, Cllr Terry would be proposing to Cllr Moyies whilst bidding adieu to Cllrs Gilbert and Longley. A four-way administration would be unwieldy, and I cannot envisage anyone wishing partnership with UKIP (Independent Group aside).

Currently the Independent Group have thirteen councillors, UKIP five, making a grand total of eighteen. Twenty-six are needed to form an administration with a majority, although being one or two short may make a minority administration feasible (that would depend on the determination of the remaining groups).

There are seventeen wards and the Independents are defending four of them next May, theoretically making thirteen gains possible (UKIP are defending none). Here is a table showing recent elections results, particularly those on or near a General Election – which is the backdrop to next May’s elections. (This year’s and 2011 (when the defending councillors next year were last elected) are also included).

2001 2004 2010 2011 2014 2015
Belfairs Con Con Con Con Con ?
Blenheim Park LD LD LD Con UKIP ?
Chalkwell Con Con Con Con Con ?
Eastwood Park Con Con Con Con Con ?
Kursaal Lab Lab Con Lab UKIP ?
Leigh LD LD LD LD LD ?
Milton Con Con Con Con Lab ?
Prittlewell LD Con LD LD UKIP ?
Shoeburyness Con/Lab Con Con Ind Ind ?
Southchurch Con Con Con Con Ind ?
St Laurence Con Con LD Con UKIP ?
St Luke’s Lab Con Con Ind Ind ?
Thorpe Con Con Ind Ind Ind ?
Victoria Lab Lab Lab Lab Lab ?
West Leigh Con Con Con Con Con ?
West Shoebury Con Con Con Con UKIP ?
Westborough Lab/LD Ind LD Ind Lab ?

Eight wins from thirteen is an unlikely scenario. I think any gains for the Independent Group are improbable, and losses would not surprise me (Prittlewell, Shoeburyness and St Luke’s seem vulnerable to me in a General Election year). UKIP had slim majorities in three wards this year, and this when turnout was low and their supporters most motivated. Their vote will weaken, and increased turnout (probably double what it was in May) makes success for them anywhere improbable – and certainly the likelihood of eight gains appears almost impossible.

Like it or not, Cllr Martin Terry, it looks like you might be stuck with Labour and the Liberal Democrats for a couple of years at least.

Licensing in Southend – have your say

It is not often I reproduce Southend-on-Sea Borough Council press releases, but as this one really does affect Milton I am making an exception.

Southend residents are being invited to say how they would like the Council to judge licensing applications in future.
They are urged to give their views on the principles the Council proposes to use for the next five years when considering licensing applications for alcohol, entertainment and late night refreshment, (hot food or drink between 11pm & 5am), under the Licensing Act 2003.

By law, the Council, as the Licensing Authority, must publish details of its draft policy and must also consult a range of people about this – including trade groups, residents, faith and equality groups.

Once a final version of the Licensing Policy Statement has been agreed it will take effect from January 2015 and last for up to five years.

This draft policy has been drawn up according to the Licensing Act’s four key objectives to:
• prevent crime and disorder;
• promote public safety;
• prevent public nuisance; and
• protect children from harm.

The draft policy can be downloaded from the Council’s website.

Copies are also available from the licensing team on 01702 215000 or via the Customer Service Centre at Southend Civic Centre, Victoria Avenue, Southend

Responses must be given in writing by Sunday 5th October at the latest, and can be emailed to licact2003@southend.gov.uk

or posted to:

The Licensing Authority,
Southend-on-Sea Borough Council,
Civic Centre, Victoria Avenue,
Southend-on-Sea, SS2 6ER.

Procurement of third party services

I have been making inquiries about how Southend-on-Sea Borough Council procures third party services. Here is a brief explanation of the classifications and thresholds.

Under the Councils contract procedure rules we have 3 classifications of contract, minor, medium and major.

For minor contracts of value up to £50k we request that Council Officers obtain 3 quotes. Under these rules these contracts are not required to be advertised, in the same way as medium and major contracts. Officers must approach 3 companies to provide written quotations for anything over £5k in value and are required to keep an audit trail of their actions.

The threshold for tendering was increased to £50k from £25k nearly 5 years ago to enable council officers to release council funds faster into the economy and to allow them more discretion to invite more local companies to quote for work while also easing the burden of the tender process for a relatively low value.

For contracts over £50k but below the OJEU thresholds, contracts must be advertised on our council website and on Contracts Finder which is a national government database of all contracts below the OJEU threshold. Contracts over the OJEU threshold are also advertised on the Council website, in OJEU and any relevant trade journal.

Going forward the Procurement team are introducing a new e-procurement system which will allow suppliers to register their interest in different types of work, all values of work will go through this system allowing more transparency and audit trail of contracts award, especially for minor contracts.

I am concerned that the £50K threshold is too high, and may not be delivering best value. I would like to see a debate around whether we should lower this.

A look at the Tories in opposition

This week has given us an opportunity to see how Southend’s Tories are shaping up in Opposition. It is early days, yet some trends are already developing. The most obvious is just how isolated the Tories are, and how crushing the defeats of recent years have been.

They decided to go for a named vote in yesterday’s Full Council, which served only to show just how big a job they have to get anywhere near power in the next few years (they lost this 15 – 28). Nominally there are two opposition parties in Southend-on-Sea, but UKIP are developing a tendency to vote with the Joint Administration.

The Conservatives have nineteen councillors at the moment, and I think that there is still some way to go in their retreat. They have a very fragile hold on some wards in the east of the borough, and can only claim a clean sweep in just three wards (Chalkwell, Eastwood Park and West Leigh). It was telling that they were overlooked by the Mayor on occasion as most of the business was being undertaken on ‘our’ side of the chamber.

Former portfolio holders are showing some mettle at the moment and some intelligent questioning is coming from them. When they stick to the detail they are worth listening to, but some cannot resist grandstanding, and giving every appearance of thinking the electorate wrong and they were right. If I can offer any advice I suggest a little humility should be practised.

Cllr James Courtenay is intent on rescuing his reputation, somehow believing that we will all suddenly believe in the reverse of what the evidence has shown us in recent years. This is not going to happen, and if he continues to attempt this hopeless salvage operation he will only make himself look ridiculous. Cllr Lamb put in a measured performance, as did others. Some have given the impression this week of jostling for position in an anticipated leadership contest, although this may be my fevered imagination.

It is no good complaining about the cost of reviews and then in the next breath attempting to trap the Joint Administration into committing money elsewhere. Cllr Flewitt’s somewhat lacklustre plea for wider consultation, for instance, deserves an explanation about its funding just as much as any second look at flood defences, etc.

I am also minded to remind those who once reigned supreme that if they had not made so much of a hash of things in the first place then these reviews would not be needed.

I am uncertain whether the Tories will ever regain power in Southend’s Council chamber, although the cyclical nature of politics suggests their time will come again, one day. One thing I am certain of, though, is that this is not going to happen any time soon. The race back to the top is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, and unless they start admitting to their failings in office it will be a long run marathon.

Defeat is a time for reflection, a time to take stock and to admit to failings. To think that you have nothing to learn is to fail to listen to the electorate, and this is the road to nowhere.

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.

MMXV

This is my first look at next year’s local elections in Southend–on-Sea.

ward defending in 2015 winner in 2010 (last GE)
Belfairs Con Con
Blenheim Park Con Lib Dem
Chalkwell Con Con
Eastwood Park Con Con
Kursaal Lab Con
Leigh Lib Dem Lib Dem
Milton Con Con
Prittlewell Ind Lib Dem
Shoeburyness Ind Con
Southchurch Con Con
St Laurence Con Lib Dem
St Luke’s Ind Con
Thorpe Ind Ind
Victoria Lab Lab
West Leigh Con Con
West Shoebury Con Con
Westborough Lab Lib Dem

The current situation in Southend-on-Sea has the Conservatives as the largest party with 19 councillors, some 7 shy of the 26 needed to have a majority of one. The Independent Group (13), Labour (9), and Liberal Democrat (5) have a Joint Administration. UKIP, on 5, are also in opposition.

The Joint Administration has a majority of 3. To survive beyond a year they have to keep their majority, if not actually increase it. How likely is this? Well here are the facts, and a few guesses.

Next year will see the local elections held at the same time as the General Election. This means that turnout will increase (probably double). It will also see the three main parties dominate the news agenda, and possibly a fourth in the guise of UKIP will join them. The way our democracy works at the moment means that UKIP have an almost impossible task in getting any MPs, and the Prime Minister will come from either Conservative or Labour ranks.

So, let’s look at the wards. The Tories should hold Belfairs, Chalkwell, Eastwood Park and West Leigh. However, as this May showed surprises can happen and none of these will be held without concerted effort – the days of super-safe Tory wards in Southend are over. Note that these wards are all in the West.

The Liberal Democrats are only defending one ward, and whilst I imagine the Tories will push hard here, the Lib Dems will, almost certainly, concentrate their dwindling resources here.

Labour is defending three wards. I think victories in Victoria and Westborough should be straightforward enough. Kursaal has been quite unpredictable in recent years – I was predicting a Labour success here this year; this was taken by UKIP (with a 36 vote majority).

Labour will be hoping for the hat-trick of successes to be completed in Milton. The Tories will be hoping their vote will be boosted for the General Election. Expect a tight contest.

My home ward, Blenheim Park, is now represented by three different parties. This is almost always a marginal.

The Independents are defending four wards, and only in Thorpe is success assured. Prittlewell is another ward represented by three different parties and promises an intriguing contest. Shoeburyness and St Luke’s are currently an all Independent Group preserve, but the Tories will be hopeful in Shoeburyness, and Labour is a well-placed second in St Luke’s.

Southchurch is one that the Independent Group will be hoping goes to them. The challenge for them will be how to make their voice heard in a General Election year. The results in the last General Election year show that they struggle when the turnout goes up.

The Tories will hope that they can hold St Laurence and West Shoebury, a far from certain prospect.

It is all quite unpredictable, but the Tories will be lucky not to make further losses. I think Labour will make progress, the Liberal Democrats remain static, and the Independent Group will stutter. This will mean the Joint Administration will get another year at least (and I suspect quite a few years more).

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