On the Seaway Car Park proposals, again

cineWorldPullsOutI was telephoned by the local press earlier this week in regards to the latest development at Seaway Car Park. I have spoken and written about this a number of times, but I think it is worth re-stating my views on the proposals.

I guess it all begins when one looks at deprivation, and how it clustered largely in the town centre. My post (Quietly raging), written just after my election, is still relevant, and explains why I cannot ignore what is going on at Seaway.

I will use bullet points to summarise what is the issue:

• The town centre wards have significant areas of deprivation.
• The town centre wards also see life expectancy rates more than ten years lower than other wards in the borough.
• Population density and overcrowding are a significant factor in deprivation.
• Whilst I do not suggest stopping all development, I am extremely concerned about further overcrowding an already crowded area.
• Milton also has significant traffic and parking issues.
• The town centre wards also do not have much open space – whilst only a car park, it is open.
• The road infrastructure already struggles to cope with existing traffic volumes – the commercial ventures here will attract more cars.
• There is a loss of parking, although I accept that some of this will be made up by other car parks. However, none are as close to the seafront as this is.
• The nearby residents will suffer a loss of view.
• Is there a need for a second cinema? Whilst I accept this is a commercial decision, I suspect that this will exacerbate the current south/north divide in the High Street – which sees (in my opinion) the southern, seafront, end doing much better than the northern, top, end.

Essex Fire Authority Audit, Governance & Review Committee

Amongst the items discussed at yesterday’s Essex Fire Authority Audit, Governance & Review Committee was the Annual Governance Review. This one of a number of audit documents, which despite the good and hard work of those at the EFA, showed that there are some causes for concern.

On page four of the document, under a section entitled ‘Effectiveness’, is the following table.

This is described thus: The table below compares the audit results for the last five years:

Limited Assurance or No Assurance Reasonable Assurance Substantial Assurance
2010/11 0 10 4
2011/12 0 4 2
2012/13 1 5 2
2013/14 2 4 3
2014/15 2 4 3

The Essex Fire Authority is not a body to play political games with. However, because of the critically important job that it does I think it must be properly scrutinised.

The internal controls appear to be robust, but when three follow-up items have not been passed, and therefore have to go forward for another year, then this is an area for concern.

I asked of the auditor at one point: “I work in the automotive industry. To use a motoring analogy, would you drive a car with this level of assurance?” That I got no answer to this spoke volumes. The EFA has got to do better.

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity – Upcoming Actions!

peoplesAssembly
http://www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/

My first Essex Fire Authority meeting

A full Essex Fire Authority agenda this morning. This was preceded by a meeting of the Labour Group, now the official opposition here; we were joined by a representative of the Fire Brigades Union.

The EFA is made up of councillors from three local authorities: Essex, Southend-on-Sea, Thurrock.

I am one of three from Southend-on-Sea; the other two being Ann Holland (Conservative, Southchurch) and James Moyies (Southend Independence, West Shoebury).

The Conservatives have control, having fourteen of the available twenty-five places. Labour has four members, and our Group spokesperson is Cllr Cathy Kent from Thurrock.

I was appointed onto the Audit, Governance and Review Committee, and am Health and Safety Champion.

There was a bit of a debate about proportionality arrangements for the Policy and Strategy Committee. Because you do not get round numbers when trying to work out how many positions each group is entitled to there is always going to be a query over whether to round up or down. The Labour representation was rounded down to one place; and purely by coincidence the Conservative allocation was rounded up. To be fair though the other groups were also rounded up. We have three places on the Audit, Governance and Review Committee which is a rounding up.

There was something somewhat comical about the allocation of Independent Group places as Cllr James Moyies was appointed Group Spokesperson, then appeared to be overruled by the Chair when it came to nominating from his two-person group onto each committee.

We had a presentation on the Integrated Risk Management Plan – Consultation Document. Because of the cuts there is some bad medicine coming, and decisions over where the axe should fall. There is some disagreement over where this should be and there appears to be some creative tension between those that run the EFA and those that work in the organisation. Oddly the presentation was interspersed with snaps from the Eckley Family Album, and Cllr Carlo Guglielmi took exception to my quip that I felt underprepared having not brought photos of me over the last thirty years. Does this mean he wants to see my photograph collection? Anyway, the A/CFO (Acting Chief Fire Officer) made many mentions of fire disaster inquiries and that none had stated that a faster response would have saved lives. I asked, therefore, whether they had recommended slower responses. (I fear that reductions in crew numbers may result in this.)

I also asked whether staff had been involved in constructing the public consultation questions, and received the response that the unions had not offered any suggestions.

We had reports on performance, trade union facility time, and employee absenteeism.

And that was it.

St Helen’s Family Cafe

SHFC

This flyer was given to me by Cllr Anne Jones (Labour, Kursaal).

Alcohol at The Leas sun shelter

Here is a licensing application for The Leas sun shelter in Milton ward, currently being converted into a cafeteria:

Shelter
The Leas2
Western Esplande

Application for a new Premises Licence f to permit the supply of alcohol ON the premises on Mondays to Saturdays from 11.00 until 23.00 each day and on Sundays from 11.00 until 22.00

Any representation must be received by 19 June 2015 ( Ref: 15/01186/LAPREM).

Now is the time to listen

And so, back to those doorstep conversations. A beautiful, sunny afternoon – an opportune moment to get back out there after the rigours of the General Election campaign.

Even if only nine days after the big event I still found a welcome. And after conversations that were often centred around the much mentioned problems with parking in Westcliff-on-Sea I inquired of each person why they thought Labour had been rejected on May 7th.

It was only a small snapshot, but I have to say that Ed Miliband was the most cited reason, followed by huge doubts over Labour’s ability to manage the economy. Whilst I may have privately wanted to counter some of the comments, I realise that now is not the time to argue, but that now is the time to listen. And so, listen i did.

Tommy More Times

tommyMoreTimesMy first interview by a fourteen-year old. Because of time constraints this was conducted by email.

This demonstrates that there are many young people who do take an interest in politics. It also, I feel, adds a bit more weight to the votes@16 argument.

My first ever interview was by the punk fanzine, New Crimes. That was something like 35 years ago!

Labour, for women

Labour’s women’s manifesto sets out measures to:

• Tackle low pay, by increasing the minimum wage to more than £8 by October 2019.
• Tackle the gender pay gap with new pay transparency rules for all large employers.
• Extend free childcare from 15 to 25 hours a week for working parents of three and four-year-olds.
• Guarantee access for parents of primary-age children to 8am-6pm wraparound childcare through primary schools.
• Protect the Sure Start budget and open up an additional 50,000 childcare places.
• Double paid paternity leave from two to four weeks, and increase pay to the equivalent of a full weeks work at the National Minimum Wage so that more families can take up their entitlements.
• Support healthy relationships by introducing age-appropriate compulsory sex and relationship education.
• Tackle violence against women and girls by appointing a new commissioner to enforce national standards on tackling domestic and sexual abuse, strengthening the law and providing more stable central funding for women’s refuges and Rape Crisis Centres.

I want a squirrel

At last night’s Milton hustings a resident interrupted Tammy Cooper (Independent) as she was saying how she would work for all residents; “yes, but what do you actually stand for? We want to see some leadership from those who represent us”.

That, folks, is as good a riposte to those who seek to be all things to all men as you will likely hear.

I am not picking on Ms Cooper, she was merely the one who attracted the resident’s comment – many who put themselves up see their roles as merely to mirror whoever they last spoke to.

I am grateful for the increased Green presence in the borough in one aspect. They are clearly a team, and are sticking to their script. For them, being in a party is important, and in that I can wholly concur. Where the Greens fall down is that their cheerleader-in-chief thinks it is part of his job description to take over a residents’ meeting.

Simon Cross appears in constant need of a soapbox; I pity the poor resident for whom he inflicted earache last night, said resident having the misfortune to have sat directly in front of Mr Cross. Simon claims he was presented to support his candidate. Fine, but that does not mean he must hijack the meeting.

As it was, Vida Mansfield acquit herself very well; she was not in need of a Sir Galahad. Her problem is that her party is attacking and attempting to attract Labour support. In Milton this will make the Tories’ job easier. What gain is that for centre-left and environmentally aware politics?

Gray Sergeant gave an assured and mature performance, and was prepared to be realistic about some of the tough choices that face councillors in the current economic climate.

Bob Howes, who arguably had the trickiest job of the lot as the Liberal Democrat representative, did at least make me laugh when he declared that the current Government is the best we have had since the war (1945). The trouble is that he was not joking.

Jonathan Garston was Jonathan Garston; as usual seemingly oblivious to the damage his party have done to Milton ward. He should be replaced by the clear winner in yesterday’s event in St Mark’s church hall, and that winner was Gray Sergeant. I hope Milton will give Labour its Milton hat-trick on May 7th.

On Wednesday evening I went to an altogether different hustings in Westborough. This was slightly better attended than its Milton counterpart (about fifty present). I do wonder why, for the second year running, it clashed with Chalkwell’s event.

Charles Willis won by a country mile, a result I expect to see mirrored at the ballot box. He will be a welcome addition to the council chamber.

The questioning began with a question on TTIP and ended with asking the candidates how they find out what was going on in the ward. In between were some searching inquiries, and to be frank some candidates come up short.

Unlike in Milton, there was no audience participation. This did not stop Simon Cross wildly applauding whatever Paul Mansfield said, even when he said he knew next to nothing about a particular subject!

David Webb persisted in describing the local council administration as an Independent one. Afterwards I asked him directly who ran the council, and he had to answer me honestly (it is the Independent Group, Labour and Liberal Democrats in Joint Administration); I then said that he had effectively lied several times to the audience. He mumbled something about it being how you chose to describe them – no, the description is taken from our agreement, of which I was one of the signatories.

Both hustings showed that there is some appetite for politics, and that people do care about what is going on in their area. Oh, how I wish for such an event in Blenheim Park.