Kursaal Record, and elsewhere

013The one bit of praise I feel I can bestow upon Southend’s Conservatives is their willingness to experiment when it comes to their literature. The experiments are not always good, but they at least are sold on the idea of variety.

Sometimes their output borders on the surreal, sometimes it is very good. They like glossy, which does not always work. There is also a noticeable lack of coherence across the borough – which for some illustrates their independence of thinking. For me, though, it is a weakness; voters want a strong team to run the borough, not a bunch of individuals with competing agendas. This is the Independent Group’s weakness, although in output they actually manage to be more consistent than the Tories.

The Tories latest offering defies their usual strategy – they have opted for identikit leaflets across the borough, altering only the ward and candidate in each locality. They have also offer up some policy, for a change, which allows those of us who value debate a chance to dissect and discuss.

The leaflet is almost good. It lambasts cuts, and regrets increased charges and taxes – things that I can endorse, sort of. For you see, whilst I too can express disappointment, my ire is trained on those that have forced the Joint Administration’s hand, the Conservative-led Government.

The XXXXX (insert ward name here) Record blames my party and our partners for the budget. Fair enough, we authored it, we supported it, and we won the vote to carry it through. However, local authorities, Southend-on-Sea included, are facing a tsunami of cuts in recent years, cuts caused by central Government.

Whilst we can argue over where we choose the axe to fall, we cannot disagree that however we juggle the figures the cuts are going to come.

To ameliorate some of the shortfall the local administration has opted for a modest rise. This amounts to about 42p a week for a Band D property. This modest rise has consequences beyond the immediate year, for it helps boost our council tax base too. This is important as we face the axe for a few more years to come.

Car parking charges has seen a rise, offset to some extent by a reduced charging period in parts of the town. This has been a difficult decision, but I suspect the extra few pence per hour this means for motorists will not be the disincentive the Tories are claiming for it. Tony Cox likes to cry ‘hypocrisy’ – but has conveniently forgotten the rises and suggested lengthened charging periods of recent years when his chums ran the town.

Toilets closure were headed off by me, and I acknowledge that some will claim that victory here had little to do with me. It is a strange ploy to big up a cut that never happened.

I accept that the removal of 54 litter bins is contentious. Cuts have to be made, much that I wish it were otherwise. I have argued for new bins in Milton ward, and so to see that some will be removed is not enjoyable. I blame Eric Pickles.

I must say I do find it distasteful to see the dead being used as a political football. Cremation charges are being increased, but this one-off charge merely aligns us with nearby authorities – and I again repeat that we have to find the money from somewhere.

The former local Tory leader (who does not pay his council tax in Southend-on-Sea) has written some interesting pieces on the budget. For an alternate take on what is happening they are worth a read. Whilst I admit to finding much to argue with, I am grateful for his intelligent (sometimes) contribution to the debate. Now, it only remains for Nigel to see that all this misery is a direct consequence of electing a Government intent on an ideological attack on local authority finances.

Belfairs Record – almost there

Belfairs_recordI do not know whether ‘In Touch’ has been permanently abandoned in favour of ‘ Record’ or not, but this is Cllr Lesley Salter’s latest offering; a second leaflet in quick succession that once again fails to mention her fellow Conservative ward councillor. Now you know why the Tories do not call each other ‘comrade’.

I am pleased that Southend’s Conservatives are complaining about the cuts, and I hope their two representatives in the House of Commons are equally vocal. The Conservative-led Government has an agenda with regard to local government, an agenda that is all about starving it of money. This has one consequence , and this is the shrivelling of local services.

So I say a big thank you to Cllr Salter for highlighting the disastrous cuts that are being forced on our local authority.

We live in miserable times. Misery is raining down on all who cherish local services. If Lesley wants to join my campaign to rid us all of a Government intent on destroying these services she would be most welcome. She should, of course, step aside for Dave Alston, the Labour candidate in Belfairs ward. It is only Labour who can wrest control of the country from Cameron’s clutches.

It is not all good news on this leaflet though. Cllr Salter, quietly ignoring her oft repeated wish to see our care homes closed, claims that “only … the local Conservatives will continue to support hard pressed local residents“. Aside from the over-worked adjective ‘local’, this statement rather flies in the face of reality. Her spendthrift administration were apparently unconcerned about local residents (do we have non-local residents?) who objected to shared spaces or unsightly and expensive flood defences. Over-priced and under-used kiosks, unfit art objects, and ill-suited clocks also adorn a list that could be headed ‘things the Tories in Southend wasted tax-payers money on’.

She moans about pier charges – did she moan last year when her administration shut the pier for two days of the week? You can guess the answer to that one.

Come on Lesley, use your brain and think on who is really responsible for the cuts. You are half-way there, just a little further to go.

The Southend slate

Here are the Labour candidates for all seventeen wards in the borough council elections in Southend-on-Sea:

Belfairs – Dave Alston
Blenheim Park – Matt Dent
Chalkwell – Lars Davidsson
Eastwood Park – Martin Berry
Kursaal – Judith McMahon
Leigh – Chris McGurk
Milton – Gray Sergeant
Prittlewell – Tony Borton
Shoeburyness – Maggie Kelly
Southchurch – Ros Sanders
St Laurence – Reg Copley
St Luke’s – Jes Phillips
Thorpe – Rod Birks
Victoria – David Norman
Westborough – Charles Willis
West Leigh – Jay Woods
West Shoebury – David Carrington

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

The Labour Party supports trade agreements which can bring significant benefits through boosting trade and growth, securing and creating jobs, and bringing down costs and extending choice for consumers.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade agreement between the US, the world’s largest economy, and the largest single market, the EU, has the potential to bring significant benefits. Europe and the United States are the UKs’ most important markets today. Indeed, the US is the UK’s biggest export market and likewise the UK economy attracts a significant level of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from across the Atlantic. That’s why we support the principles behind these negotiations and recognise that more and better trade is good for the UK. Reducing barriers could for example help our car industry export more vehicles to the US where there are regulations inhibiting this and negotiations could remove.

However, we do have four main areas of concern:
• Public services: we share the concerns about the impact that TTIP could have on public services encouraging commercialisation, particularly in the NHS. Labour believes that the NHS and all public services need to be more, not less, integrated. That is why we believe that the NHS should be exempt from the agreement. Other countries have sought to exempt areas from the agreement but this Government has not done this. Labour will continue to press for exemption.
• Investor State Dispute Resolution(ISDS): this is a dispute mechanism, commonly used in trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties. It allows investors to take proceedings against a government that is party to that trade agreement. If the government is found to be in breach of the obligations, the investor can receive redress. There is a major concern that the ISDS provisions could hinder our plans to reverse the privatisation of the NHS as it could result in those companies seeking compensation for loss of potential earnings. We believe that it is a right of governments to be able to legislate in the public interest and this should be protected effectively in any dispute resolution mechanisms. The European Commission has instigated several changes which have improved the transparency of the agreement which Labour welcomes. However, it is right that the European Commission has decided to temporarily suspend negotiations on ISDS until the final stages of the negotiations. Labour will be urging the Government to use this opportunity to call for far greater transparency around an exclusion for legislation in the public interest, like the NHS.
• Standards: the benefits of any treaty must filter down to employees and consumers. Treaties can cement and even increase labour, consumer, environmental and safety standards. Concerns have been raised that TTIP could reduce standards, although the principle behind the treaty is to keep or raise standards rather than reduce them. Labour will only support an agreement that avoids a race to the bottom and promotes decent jobs and growth and would safeguard standards.
• Non-inclusion of the US States: A significant stumbling block has been raised that the US states are not covered by the agreement and therefore procurement will not opened up. This mean we could be at a disadvantage as our markets are opened up but not to the same extent in the US. This is important because significant procurement spend in the US is at the State level.

A number of worries similar to our own have been raised by member states and these would need to be reflected to secure agreement and will need to be taken on board by the European Commission.

Southend-on-Sea Health Profile 2014

I have just been taking a peak at the Southend-on-Sea Health Profile 2014. Here are some highlights, if that is the appropriate term.

Population: 175,000

Health in summary
The health of people in Southend-on-Sea is varied compared with the England average. Deprivation is higher than average and about 23.5% (7,700) children live in poverty. Life expectancy for women is lower than the England average.

Living longer
Life expectancy is 10.1 years lower for men and 9.7 years lower for women in the most deprived areas of Southend-on-Sea than in the least deprived areas.

Health inequalities is something that deeply concerns me, and it is something I have brought up on a number of occasions in council meetings, and elsewhere. This map illustrates the issue quite neatly. The darker the green, the more deprived the area.Deprivarion_in_SoS

Whilst it is true that this map represents generalisations, it clearly shows a large cluster of deprivation in the town centre wards.

The profile, in full, can be accessed here.

The effects of IER

This table shows the seventeen wards in Southend-on-Sea and their electorates for the last four years. Included is the change over that period. Also shown is the change in the last year.

2012 2013 2014 2015 Change 2015 – 2012 % change % change 2015 – 2014
Belfairs 7461 7539 7544 7486 25 0.34% -0.77%
Blenheim Park 7954 7971 7987 7922 -32 -0.40% -0.81%
Chalkwell 7395 7336 7259 7164 -231 -3.12% -1.31%
Eastwood Park 7620 7697 7625 7555 -65 -0.85% -0.92%
Kursaal 7507 7431 7812 7633 126 1.68% -2.29%
Leigh 7446 7523 7471 7364 -82 -1.10% -1.43%
Milton 7830 7859 7386 7308 -522 -6.67% -1.06%
Prittlewell 7805 7777 7880 7712 -93 -1.19% -2.13%
Shoeburyness 8288 8538 8500 8545 257 3.10% 0.53%
Southchurch 7643 7754 7732 7627 -16 -0.21% -1.36%
St Laurence 7610 7687 7524 7490 -120 -1.58% -0.45%
St Luke’s 8190 8228 7977 7914 -276 -3.37% -0.79%
Thorpe 7520 7539 7512 7482 -38 -0.51% -0.40%
Victoria 7349 7557 7342 7231 -118 -1.61% -1.51%
West Leigh 7158 7232 7147 7083 -75 -1.05% -0.90%
West Shoebury 7534 7675 7471 7466 -68 -0.90% -0.07%
Westborough 7621 7589 7636 7515 -106 -1.39% -1.58%
129931 130932 129805 128497 -1434 -1.10% -1.01%

The last column shows the effect of IER (Individual Electoral Registration). Of course, not all the change is down to IER, but it must be the most significant factor.

The data could accurately reflect the adult (and near-adult) population in Southend-on-Sea. If it did it would fly in the face of other data which suggests a growing population for the town. According to these figures only three wards registered any growth: Belfairs, Kursaal and Shoeburyness.

If Southend’s population is growing, and yet the number of electors is reducing, then we are seeing an increasingly smaller proportion of the town’s citizenry taking an active part in local and national decision making. It also has a knock-on effect on the legal system – juries are selected using the electoral roll.

My ward has seen a substantial drop. Milton has the largest proportion of rented properties, and churn will have an impact on registration. However, this churn ought to be a fairly static feature.

What does this all mean? I can only guess, but I expect a combination of increasing larger rental population (and subsequently less settled) together with less engagement has created a growing number for whom democracy is something for other people. Add in the effect of IER, only affecting at the margins this year, and we are witnessing shrinking mandates for all politicians.

These numbers will affect ward boundaries. On these numbers Shoeburyness ward is almost 21% bigger than West Leigh. That is quite some gap.

I hope that candidates of all persuasions will encourage all they encounter who are not enfranchised to register.

Sharing: Shoebury Common Sea Defence options

Here is the briefing that all councillors received just prior to last week’s Full Council meeting.

Shoebury Common Sea Defence options

Briefing Note concerning differences of estimated cost between Black & Veatch and Mott MacDonald raised at Place Scrutiny on 26th January 2015.

At Place Scrutiny Committee of 26th January 2015 Members considered a report on the review of the Shoebury Sea Defence proposals which included a cost assessment of the various schemes reviewed.

These estimates were different from the estimates prepared by consultant Black & Veatch which had been included in the report to Cabinet 5th November 2013 and considered by Full Council in December 2013 – concern was raised by a member of the Scrutiny Committee that Members had been misled into agreeing to progress with the embankment scheme / preferred option.

The preferred option was recommended because it had emerged from the Environment Agency’s (EA) Project Appraisal process as providing the highest benefit /cost ratio and lowest cost of all the management and scheme options and low risk of environmental damage.

The Project appraisal process is both complex and comprehensive and requires detailed technical analysis of various scheme options and it is set out in paragraph 4.1 in the report to Cabinet 5th November 2013. Any scheme has to complete this process as a requirement for receiving grant funding from the EA.

The whole process of scheme development up to the production of the Project Appraisal Report was carried out by a specialist coastal defence team from the consultant Black & Veatch, over a period of two years. Reports to Members during the development of the project were entirely based on the work carried out by Black & Veatch.

Following the formation of the new Joint Administration Cabinet agreed to undertake a review of the Shoebury Common flood defence options previously considered by Members – specialist coastal engineers Mott MacDonald were commissioned to undertake this work.

As part of their review Mott MacDonald prepared completely new high level cost estimates for each of the options.

In all cases, Mott MacDonald’s estimates were lower than Black & Veatch’s, and in respect of the “BERA” project which was the concern at the Scrutiny committee meeting, substantially so, to the extent that the cost order of the projects was changed and the preferred option, which had been estimated by Black & Veatch as the second lowest of five, was third highest of six in Mott Macdonald’s list.

In order to clarify these cost differences Mott Macdonald have advised that:

  • The purpose of the Mott MacDonald costing was not for comparison/benchmarking with other reports which were costed on a different basis and to a different level of detail.

 

  • Was undertaken within a significantly shorter timescale than was available to the PAR (Project Appraisal Report) and with less background information on the project area.

 

Mott MacDonald accept that the costing by Black & Veatch was conducted to a greater level of detail than they were able to prepare given the time they had available to do the review.

In the Mott MacDonald report which Place Scrutiny considered on 26th January the Project Appraisal option / former preferred option was the only scheme to score a green in the RAG assessment on Technical, Economic and Environment assessment criteria – however it scored red on stakeholder acceptability which is why the Cabinet recommended not to progress it further and to commission Mott MacDonald to develop a further range of options for coastal protection at Shoebury Common.

Given this position Members can be assured that they have not been misled on the costs of the various schemes.

 

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