My latest Leigh and Westcliff Times article
February 14, 2015 2 Comments
On the first Thursday in May there will be nineteen contests in Southend-on-Sea. The towns two Conservative MPs will be battling to retain their party’s Parliamentary stranglehold locally, a stranglehold that has seen Southend-on-Sea elect nothing but Conservative MPs since 1906.
At the same time there will be contests in each of the seventeen wards as a third of the council chamber is also up on the same day.
In some ways these two sets of contests are contrasting. Obviously, the two MPs have a say in how our country is run, whereas councillors only directly affect their own town. In recent years we have seen the inexorable eating away of the Conservative edifice that for so long ran Southend-on-Sea, until last May when they were finally toppled from power. Looking at the results in the borough since the last General Election I am reminded of comments made to me when I first tried to get elected in Milton ward: “only Tories get elected around here”. I soon proved that wrong.
Voters will be able to look back at almost a year of a Joint Administration when deciding who to vote for, and perhaps they will be impressed. The “they are all the same” argument cannot be applied to the council chamber; in the short period since the Tories were ejected there has been significant progress made. The Priory House closure is to be reversed, there will be full-time staff at every library, and the Shoebury sea defences issue is being looked at again.
Southend-on-Sea has just seen its first new council house in decades, and new LED lights and road resurfacing programmes are renewing our street scenes. And, despite Conservative scaremongering, we will still have a weekly rubbish collection after the waste contract renewal. However, the budget, which is still be debated as I write this, is not without its challenges. How could it not be, what with another huge hole blasted into local authority finances by the Government?
It is likely that we will see a modest rise in council tax. My experience is of tax-payers who want to know that their taxes are being spent wisely. When it is wasted (and the MPs expenses row allowed voters to see how some of their tax money was wasted) then people are rightly indignant. However, I hope that the Joint Administration will be seen as prudent, and that Southenders will be mindful of the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in. Essential public services have to be maintained, and this against the backdrop of £11 million cuts to be made this year, and in addition to the equally punitive cuts in recent years.
The National Health Service is a frequently discussed topic at the moment, and there can be little doubt that it is struggling to cope. The local hospital is missing its A&E target with alarming regularity – the latest statistics I have seen show that it failed to hit the four-hour target in thirty-nine weeks of the last year.
I am pretty clear in my mind as to why targets are being missed at the hospital, and I believe it is a combination of staff shortages and the ever increasing intrusion of a market-based philosophy that is being imposed on public healthcare. The National Health Service has always had an element of private enterprise, but not until recently has this become pervasive.
I was a home-birth baby, and home in 1959 was 401 Fairfax Drive in Westcliff-on-Sea. I could see the hospital from my home (as well as Fairfax High School that I attended in the early 1970s). The hospital has been a feature of my life ever since – sometimes good, sometimes sad. The good including the birth of my two youngest there, and a granddaughter last year. Whenever I have had scrapes I have been patched up speedily, and with great professionalism. I have seen the place change quite a bit too. Throughout , though, it has been a wonderful public resource, a refuge for those in need of being made better. It has welcomed all, regardless of the depth of their pockets. I fear, though, that another five years of a Cameron-led government will see the NHS, and our hospital, changed beyond recognition, changed for the worse.
It was a remarkable thing that was done by Clement Attlee’s Government in 1948 when setting up the NHS; possibly the most remarkable British achievement of the whole of the twentieth century. Prior to this it really was the case for many of whether they could afford a visit to the doctors; I hope those days are not revisited.