Place scrutiny this week. There were no Questions from Members of the Public – I struggle to recall when we last saw that.

Highlights included a discussion on the parking charges under the item Draft Fees and Charges 2016/17. Fees for green waste bins also generated a debate, particularly around the scrapping of the 39 week permit; only 52 week permits will be issued in future.

Under the item Draft General Fund Revenue Budget Cllr Courtenay (Conservative, Blenheim Park) asserted that the administration were “fleecing seafront users” because of the increase in car parking charges. As part of his response, the portfolio holder Cllr Martin Terry (Independent Group, Thorpe) stated that “yes, we are targeting visitors”. I hope this is not seen as a disincentive to tourism.

The Member’s Requests List (Ref No 15/11) was referred back to Cabinet. This was proposed by Cllr Assenheim (Independent Group, Shoeburyness) and carried by 10 -1; I was the sole councillor to vote against.

There was, shall we say, an interesting intervention from the Leader under the Introduction of a Policy in respect of the Installation of Bollards. Cllr Woodley (Independent Group, Thorpe) gave a lengthy account of a spat he had had with a neighbour over broken paving slabs.

The meeting lasted for two hours and eighteen minutes.

Still working for the residents of Southend-on-Sea, in spite of the cuts

As the Conservative Government’s austerity agenda continues to bite we, in local government, are faced we another round of tough decisions. Another year, another unpleasant budget.

Yet, there are choices, and Southend-on-Sea’s Joint Administration is choosing to preserve what it can of the vital public services it provides. Prudent management of the borough’s finances has enabled us to soften the blow, and the savings from the new waste management contract has seen over £1 million in savings.

Local Conservatives have expressed opposition to the new waste management contract – and had they managed to get their way then one can only imagine the consequences for the borough. We know that their plans threatened our libraries, libraries whose future is more secure now that Labour has significant input into the running of the town. Children centres are also safer under the Joint Administration tenure in charge.

Of course there will be pain; job losses and increase council tax bills are never a pleasant thing. This is a consequence of Government plans that are seeing austerity continue. Whatever one thinks of the Government’s plans, the attack on local government finances cannot be denied. As a local councillor I am regularly asked to provide things that come with a cost. Of course I, and my colleagues, do what we can. But I cannot magic resources out of nowhere, and with shrinking resources one is faced with the reality of being part of a Council that will be forced to raise charges, and to trim wherever possible. This is true this year, and yet no service is under threat – at the moment. One cannot only imagine that many more years of this and we will see services cut beyond reasonable usability.

EFA – it’s Hedley democracy

I guess there are two main things that emerged from yesterday’s Essex Fire Authority meeting. The first is that there are some very disrespectful Conservative members. Notable is Cllr Guglielmi who chose to laugh aloud when a Labour member was expressing concern about the process of choosing the options to be presented in the consultation regarding cuts. Tories may find mirth in the prospect of job cuts and a degraded service, this socialist does not.

The work workshop suggested two proposals be put forward in the public consultation exercise. Cllr Hedley chose to arbitrarily add a third. Evidently he sees the EFA as his fiefdom; unfortunately for him I do not. However clunky he may think the process, it must be adhered to. Doubtless he is used to the nodding dogs in his party just agreeing with everything he says. I suspect he finds the prospect of a Labour group actually scrutinising what he does quite unsettling.

The consultation exercise is akin to offering a perfectly healthy patient a choice of limbs to be amputated. Whilst I am not blind to the state of the economy (and one wonders just how much mismanagement Osborne can get away with) I do not see my role as being compliant to job cuts, degraded services, and residents being made to endure greater risk.

Doubtless a Labour-run EFA would be forced to make difficult choices. But I have no doubt that these would be made with a heavy heart, not glee. We would also engage with the workforce more, and explore every alternative to the cuts with utmost vigour.

Full Council: Joy, beautiful spark of Gods, Daughter of Elysium, We enter, fire-imbibed

Cllr Julian Ware-Lane with friends from Southend Welcoming Refugees

Cllr Julian Ware-Lane with friends from Southend Welcoming Refugees

That council meetings can sometimes be very dull will surprise no-one. Yesterday I had more than one person inquire of me “is it always this boring?” Not always, not often in fact, but sometimes, yes, they can be very tedious.

The agenda for Full Council appeared quite light, yet somehow we managed almost three hours. The Conservative Group seem intent on criticising processes that were put in place when they were in administration. Don’t they realise just how ridiculous this makes them look?

Cllr James Courtenay (Conservative, Blenheim Park) put up an impressive display of petulance. He is an affable guy outside of the chamber, but inside, last night, he not only had a go at the Joint Administration, he also decided that the Town Clerk was fair game. He also adopted a tactic of intervening in almost every debate, which was a real treat for the fans of his somewhat whining style.

Six motions were presented, including two of mine. Amongst the six was one proposed by the Leader, and seconded by Cllr James Moyies (SIG, West Shoebury). This was entitled Changes in Electoral Arrangements. This proposes a reduction in the number of councillors from fifty-one to thirty-four, and these to be elected in all-up elections beginning in 2018.

I am no fan of all-up elections, particularly with the first past the post system. I am even less keen on a reduction in member numbers. Thirty-four is less than what Southend-on-Sea had before becoming a unitary authority, and the increased workload that entails. Whilst the cuts mean all sorts of unpleasant things have to be put up with, I regret that we now have to consider diminishing our democracy.

The evening began with lobbying by Southend Welcoming Refugees.

Longley replaced by Betson

Owing to Councillor Graham Longley’s fall in October the following changes to the Cabinet, Cabinet Committee and Cabinet Working Parties are being made:

(a) Councillor Mary Betson will replace Councillor Longley as Executive Councillor for Enterprise Tourism & Economic Development.

(Councillor Betson has resigned from various positions which she could not retain as an Executive Councillor, including membership of the People Scrutiny Committee and chair of Audit Committee, and replacements will be dealt with at Council next week).

(b) Councillor Betson will replace Councillor Longley on the Cabinet Committee.

(c) Councillor Gilbert will become the sole Deputy Leader.

(d) Councillor Betson will be substitute for Councillor Gilbert (but not as Deputy Leader).

(e) Councillor Betson will replace Councillor Longley as Chairman of the Cabinet Working Parties which he chairs.

Mary Betson doubles the number of women in the seven-person Cabinet.

Two EFA meetings

Two Essex Fire Authority meetings in as many days. The first was the main body, and the interesting item (as far as I was concerned) on that agenda was entitled Organisational Change.

Organisational Change has been forced on the EFA (who oversee the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service) by the huge cuts imposed on all public services by the Conservative Government. The four Labour councillors on the EFA tried to tweak the recommendations to include a commitment to no compulsory redundancies.

I said that whilst aware of the challenges the cuts are giving the Authority there were always choices. The cuts, described by one Tory member as ‘savings’, were ideologically driven, I added. I, and my Labour colleagues, believed that we should endeavour to protect jobs. We lost the ensuing vote 16 – 4 (with one abstention). At least the Labour quartet can hold their heads high with the realisation that at least we tried to protect the workforce.

Earlier today I attended the EFA’s Health, Safety, and Welfare Strategy Group Meeting. We discussed accidents at work, and at the scene of the incidents that fire fighters attend. We looked at a number of metrics for both Essex and nearby fire authorities. Essex does compare favourably, although there is always room for improvement.

Snog, marry, avoid (don’t bother puckering up, Ron)

There are fifty-one councillors in Southend-on-Sea Borough Council. Three for each of the seventeen wards.

The Great And Glorious Leader Of The Council, Ron Woodley, is suggesting that the number of councillors could be reduced by a third, saving £250000 (according to reports).

Going from fifty-one to thirty-four will save money, although I disagree with the sums allegedly saved. Since we must keep portfolios, etc, the special responsibilities, and their allowances, will still exist. We only save on basic allowances – which I think saves us less than £147900 per annum.

The Borough had thirty-nine councillors before becoming a Unitary Authority; and the addition of a dozen members was argued for on the grounds of increased workload. I doubt that the merit of that particular argument has gone away.

We could, of course, save money by reducing allowances.

Going from three to two councillors for each ward does allow for the intriguing game of ‘guess who is for the chop?

This must be an easy guess for Thorpe ward – one imagines that the author of this bright idea would be the first to volunteer for the Carousel. Adios Ron.

This grand version of snog, marry, avoid for our electorate does allow for some gladiatorial selection meetings. Will Lamb lose out to Evans and Phillips? Will Byford emerge triumphant in Eastwood Park – seducing those liable to believe his battle-cry of “we are full up” – leaving either Moring or Walker to contemplate a longer retirement than planned. Will Folkard again be reduced to finding yet another safe ward for his polemic abilities. Turning three into two will see all sorts of egos bruised as colleagues fight it out in the battle to survive this cull.

I think we should be looking to make savings in the chamber, but I am not convinced that a reduced membership is at all advisable. One notes that Parliament itself, author of the cuts, is increasing its membership by way of the Prime Minister bestowing so many peerages upon his friends. A classic example of do as I say ….

The need to make savings does not make any of the work go away, and so to enact a cull can only lead to a reduced service for those who elect us. As the town’s population grows it strikes me as perverse that we seek to distance those elected to serve – for distance is an inevitable consequence.

We are supposed to treasure our democracy, not knock it around to suit one agenda or another.

Full Council – izzy wizzy let’s get busy

Cllr Stephen Aylen and his special adviser

Cllr Stephen Aylen and his special adviser

Last night’s Full Council had its entertaining moments, and more on that later. I often turn up at these meetings with a list of things I want to say, sometimes with a pre-prepared speech. Last night I had thought I might enjoy a quiet meeting, but was rather tempted into commentary by opposition misinformation.

I guess I was expecting some fun and games, and so tried to work out what numbers we had in the chamber. The Tories were one down on their numbers – reduced to twenty-one by the absence of Cllr Jarvis (West Shoebury). The mayor is one of theirs, and could reasonably be expected to remain neutral. Twenty was not enough to cause any mischief, but there nay been mutterings regarding disaffection in both the Independent Group and amongst UKIP and SIG.

Two councillors have resigned from the Independent Group recently. Cllr Aylen (Belfairs) has been unhappy for some time, whilst Cllr Velmurugan (Westborough) has a reputation for flip-flopping. ‘Dr Vel’, as some like to call him, will never be described as steadfast. I doubt these defections will have much impact in this civic year – both are signatories to the Joint Administration agreement and I expect them to honour that. Beyond May, though, they may not even be in the chamber, and if they are absent then one can describe their downfall as being largely self-inflicted.

The Joint Administration, by my reckoning, still has 26 members: Labour and the Independent Group have nine each, and how long will it be before Labour is the largest on its own with a good shout for having one of its own as Council Leader? That being said, in all three votes this evening Cllrs Aylen and Velmurugan back the Tories – something their electorates should be made aware of.

Minute 305 Beecroft and Central Museum Energy Project: Cllr Davidson (Conservative, Prittlewell) had concerns over the biomass burner. I asked for confirmation that there is an environmental gain in the administration’s proposals. I also sought confirmation that the administration is looking after the environment. The Conservative proposal to have this referred back to Cabinet was defeated 22 – 24.

308 Surface Water Management Plan: Reference back was again proposed by the Conservatives, and again defeated 22 – 25.

337 Corporate Asset Management Strategy: I sought assurances that this administration would not be as wasteful as the previous profligate Conservative administration. Cllr Courtenay made reference to my blog, and described me as “a thorn in the side of the administration”. His references to the number of empty properties ignored the fact that the numbers were higher when his party ran the borough.

340 Better Queensway: rarely am I told I am too quiet, but at this point last night that is precisely what happened. I asked two questions of the portfolio holder. I was seeking assurances regarding traffic management, especially because of the bottleneck that is the south end of Victoria Avenue (where it meets Queensway). I welcomed the plans, and asked whether there will be an increase in social and affordable housing.

341 Review of the Arm’s Length Management Organisation (ALMO) – South Essex Homes: This saw a victory for The Conservatives and their friends as the refer back motion was carried 23 – 20.

There were four motions before the Chamber, none were discussed (they will be dealt with by Cabinet initially). I do not support the Help Refugees arriving in Europe (proposed by Cllr J Garston (Conservative, Milton)) – I do not like that the Government is raiding the overseas aid budget to pay for the settlement of refugees; I think new money should be found for this.

Cllr Hadley’s motion on Printing and Distribution of Hard Copies of Council Papers is likely to be carried as it currently carries the support of 27 councillors (none of which are in the labour Group). This is seconded by the soon-to-be ex-councillor Crystall; the Liberal Democrat having been de-selected in his Leigh ward.

At one point Cllr Aylen produced a Sooty glove puppet to ask a question, and then promptly forget what question he wanted to ask! Stephen is a very affable chat, and although I do question his input at times he can be quite amusing. He certainly likes to contribute. I have to also mention Cllr Davies (SIG, Kursaal) who actually made a couple of interesting and amusing points. I am not normally a fan of his interventions but credit where credit is due, he was on good form last night.

Overall, a reasonable night for the Joint Administration, despite the one defeat. The Conservatives are clearly hoping that dissent amongst the Independent Group (and less than robust support from SIG) will reward their endeavours to unsettle and unseat the administration. I think the independents need reminding that they were not elected to back the Tories; they were elected to counter them.

I find the Conservative insistence on named votes curious. I want named votes too, if only to show how isolated the Conservatives actually are. That they failed in two out of three votes just shows how much ground they still have to make up.


The cuts continue. These are biting hard, and goodness knows what lies ahead when we at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council begin looking in earnest at the budget for 2016-17.

There is a 6.2% reduction in the public health ring-fenced grant. This equates to £584,000. Cuts have consequences, and in public health those consequences will be on us, as people.

The rent reduction of 1% of the next four years, another not-so-bright idea from the Government, will have a major impact on our Housing Revenue Account – something like £9 million will be the total loss in reduced income.

The extension of Right To Buy to Housing Association tenants will also see a reduction in the number of homes available to the Council – thus having a long-term negative impact on housing lists. Whilst the Joint Administration is building new council homes, any gains here could easily be offset, if not exceeded, by the effect of this change.

Cllr Cathy Kent’s press release in respect of the recent Fire Authority Cultural Review

Following the release of a report by Irene Lucas into the culture of the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, Cllr Cathy Kent, a Thurrock representative, and Labour lead, on Essex Fire Authority, said:

I would like to put on record my thanks to Irene Lucas for the hard work she has put in to this report.

Nobody reading it can fail to be aware that action needs to be taken … and now.

That is why I also appreciate the comments of, both, the authority’s chair and Acting Chief Fire Officer that they too welcome the report, although I would have preferred it if they simply accepted the recommendations here and now, rather than saying they need to “examine it in detail”.

I can assure everyone that myself and my Labour colleagues will be unstinting in maintaining pressure of the Essex Fire and Rescue Service and the Fire Authority to ensure these recommendations are acted upon rapidly.

It is no good to say – “we need to study in detail” – that’s what the report was for and that is what Ms Lucas did.

Her report states that what she found “creates a danger to individuals, equipment and property” which “may in turn put the communities of Essex at risk”.

It says this bullying intimidating culture “pervades the culture in ECFRS from the bottom to the top” and that there is a culture of fear.

Since my appointment to the Fire Authority in 2009 I have spoken to many dedicated fire fighters who have raised concerns with me. In turn I have, consistently raised these issues and asked why it is that people appeared afraid to speak out, and why nothing has been done to change the culture.

This is our chance to put things right. Ms Lucas accepts that things are improving – albeit slowly – and that many people want to move on against the “very small, malignant minority”.

Delaying the approval of these recommendations by even one day puts at risk the best opportunity we have to provide the service the people of Essex deserve.

Let’s not waste it. The time to act is now.