The deal

Just over a week ago I was one of twenty-seven signatories to the Joint Administration Agreement Between Independent, Labour and Liberal Democrat Groups on the Southend-on-Sea Borough Council. This document ended Conservative rule in Southend-on-Sea, formally achieved at the Full Council meeting on June 5th.

It is a short document, two and a half pages of A4, and effectively lasts only a year. (Clause 2.11 states: That this Agreement be reviewed on an annual basis.) I fully expect it to be renewed, an expectation that somewhat pre-judges next May’s local election results.

Clause 2.7 addresses policy commitments, and it is worth stating these in full:

To deliver on the following specific commitments:

(a)    Shoeburyness Flood Defences

To undertake a review to identify the best and most effective scheme to provide protection for residents and property, to safeguard the local environment and to provide value for money.

(b)   Delaware & Priory Care Homes

To review the decisions taken by the previous Administration.

(c)    Libraries

To review the decisions taken by the previous Administration.

(d) Kent Elms – Pedestrian Crossing arrangements

To investigate improved facilities for pedestrians to cross at Kent elms.

(e) Victoria Avenue Regeneration

To urgently pursue the regeneration of redundant office accommodation in Victoria Avenue.

(f) Community facilities in Central Southend

To pursue the planning and provision of new community facilities in Central Southend.

(g) Affordable & Social Housing

To pursue the building and other provision of new affordable and social housing as a key priority.

(h) Constitutional Matters

  • To consolidate existing Working Parties (and amend their roles as necessary) at the meeting of Council on 17th July 2014.
  • To bring a report to Council on 23rd October 2014 for it to consider any further Constitutional change, including consideration of the Cabinet and Committee systems.

It is a program that all signatories are committed to supporting. It is worth looking at what this actually involves.

Despite the local media headlines it is worth pointing out that the proposed sea wall at Shoebury has not been scrapped but merely subject to a review. It may be scrapped, but the wording makes it clear that the sea defences at the east end of the borough will be subject to improvement. The commitment is to supporting the review – not to endorsing its recommendations

The review for libraries and the Council care homes is just that – although I will be amazed if another solution is not found for library provision in Southend-on-Sea – the previous administration’s solution was a long way from satisfactory. As for care homes: keeping these open will be a challenge and the Independent Group’s aversion to borrowing may be a stumbling block.

Put in at the request of the Liberal Democrats, presumably to help protect Graham Longley’s small majority, any improvements for pedestrians, especially for those seeking to traverse the borough’s busiest road is an easy one to support.

I cannot imagine any dissent in the chamber to the idea of doing something about the empty and derelict office buildings in Victoria Avenue, and this year’s budget included provision for this anyway.

A new community facility in the centre of town, to replace the now gone Warrior Square Swimming Pool, Queensway Centre, and Focus Youth Club, was a Labour request. There is no detail to accompany this at the moment, but I hope it can include something for our younger citizens.

There is a housing issue in the town. Had I been solely responsible for this document I may have committed to more council housing alone – but I have no real issue with the wording here. I will also press for something to be done about the number of empty properties in the borough.

I am ambivalent about constitutional matters, but can see the sense in at least looking at alternative structures. This is another commitment that really only ensures a proposal is brought forward – there is no commitment on how the three groups (and their members) should vote on any proposal.

I am determined to keep an open mind about all the reviews being planned, and I hope others do likewise.

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