April 20, 2014 1 Comment
First, an apology. I was ticked off by the Chief Executive for questioning the mayor’s authority, and rightly so; I was wrong. At the break I apologised unreservedly to the mayor, Cllr Brian Kelly, and informed the Chief Executive that I had done so. I did offer to make the apology to the chamber and was told it was not necessary. This now puts it on public record.
And so, to the business: I asked a question about the scrutiny system, and my follow-up inquired how a decision on the move of the Seaway Coach Park involving a mere three councillors circumvented the scrutiny system. This elicited a somewhat flustered response from the Leader. Cllr Holdcroft complained about having been given no notice of this question, and neatly avoided having to tackle the point I was trying to make.
I commented on the minute regarding my motion about Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. I said I was grateful for the concessions regarding planning and betting shops. I added that the administration’s response did not address the issue about the high stakes and rapid gambling possible in existing betting shops via these FOBTs. I added that a number of local authorities had adopted similar motions to the one submitted by me, and that I was somewhat disappointed by the administration’s response.
I asked, in response to minute 941 (Selective School Places 2014) whether the Council could include in the information to be collected metrics regarding eligibility for free school meals. This information could then be used by the authority to set a target for grammar schools to ensure that their percentage of students who are eligible for free school meals mirror that of the borough as a whole. Eligibility for free school meals is a good indicator of poverty. Grammar schools are lauded as meeting the aspirations of all, allowing the poor access to a good education; my request would test this.
The meeting included two very good speeches. Cllr Ted Lewin (Liberal Democrat, St Laurence) spoke very eloquently about the accident and emergency provision at Southend hospital. Cllr David Norman (Labour, Victoria) made an impressive defence of his chairing of a recent Development Control Committee – it being challenged by a number from the Independent Group.
Later on in the meeting we got the answer to the question: who now leads the Independent Group? Cllr Brian Ayling announced that he is the new temporary leader. It raises all sorts of questions about who applied for it and if there was a contest at all.
At the end we got a number of tributes to the retiring Leader of the Council. Despite our political differences I cannot deny Cllr Nigel Holdcroft’s ability. However, I confess to being more moved by the words of Cllr Stephen Habermel when he spoke about Cllr Richard Brown (Conservative, Chalkwell) right at the end of the meeting. Richard is retiring next month through ill health. Richard is a very likeable person and someone I have known through (our opposing) politics for many years. He was helpful in some of my appeals against planning applications, and was always an amiable and gentlemanly face in committee and the chamber. I will miss him, and I wish him the very best in his battle with illness.