Meg, are your pants on fire?

DavidsonleafletAm I surprised that the local Tories are spreading misinformation? Well, yes actually.

So desperate has their campaigning got that they have resorted to some … how shall I put it … imaginative descriptions of how the Joint Administration is behaving. I thought they would have some regard for the truth.

This is something being put out by Prittlewell Conservative candidate, Meg Davidson. It is not all untrue, but a couple of things are.

Retaining weekly rubbish collections” – these are not under threat. In fact, the only time I have ever heard discussed the possibility of fortnightly collections was under the previous administration – in a meeting chaired by a Conservative councillor. Suggesting weekly collections are to be stopped can only be described as scurrilous.

Opposing plans by the Council’s Labour/Lib Dem/Independent administration to close public toilets and withdraw litter bins from Southend’s streets.” The budget vote is tonight, so nothing has yet been decided. However, the toilets are not now being closed, and only a fraction of the bins are being removed. Again, deliberate misinformation.

Meg lives in Prittlewell so knows the area and understands the local issues.” More accurately, Meg is new to the area, and knows the ward far less well than Labour’s Tony Borton, our candidate for this May.

Conservative council candidates in Southend West

The Conservatives in Southend-on-Sea are the first to announce a full slate of candidates for May’s elections. Their team in Southend West is announced in this week’s Leigh and Westcliff Times (February 10th edition).

The only selection that ranks as a real surprise is in St Laurence, a ward where they are clearly in trouble. Cllr Adam Jones is stepping down to spend more time where he actually lives (in Barling Magna), and it was expected that last year’s failure, Jonathan Hodge, would try again. I know not whether he efforts last time counted against him, or whether he has seen the writing on the wall, but he is not standing here, or anywhere, this year. Mr Hodge was on their leaflets as recently as November.

Belfairs – Lesley Salter
Blenheim Park – James Courtenay
Chalkwell – Stephen Habermel
Eastwood Park – Trevor Byford
Leigh – Bernard Arscott
Prittlewell – Meg Davidson
St Laurence – Steve Buckley
Westborough – Daryl Peagram
West Leigh – Georgina Phillips

The other sitting councillors are all seeking re-election, leaving Adam Jones as their sole retiree – although this correspondent hopes that retirement will be forced on a few others. Whilst the Conservative retreat is more sedate in the west of the borough when compared to the east, I still see this May as being a real test for the Tories, even in wards where victory is usually assured.

Don’t like council tax rises?

southend labour council tax infographic [IMPRINT]

Thirty-four million reasons for the destruction of my confidence

I am grateful for Tony Cox’s latest contribution to the Shoebury sea defences debate (Shoebury Common Flood Defence Review). Whilst I will often find fault with his views on things, Tony is an intelligent debater. I miss our verbal jousting in council committees and meetings.

Let me cut to the chase: I admit to having little knowledge regarding what makes for an effective defence against rising sea levels. I am not able to pass judgement on the relative technical merits of the schemes being proposed.

I have no real opinion on building homes in the east of the borough beyond wishing to see the local housing shortage addressed somehow, and not wanting this solved by cramming them into the centre of town.

Firstly, I do not think I have described “wanting to protect people’s homes, lives and livelihoods” as a “vanity project“. I try to pick my words carefully. However, to choose a scheme in defiance of cost is (arguably) an exercise in vanity.

Tony then makes comment about the toilets. He should know that I have asked for the decision on toilet closures to be revisited – and I suggest he watch this space for developments. I hope I have been successful in my entreaties.

My decision at the time was not just on cost but other factors including aesthetics and environmental impact” writes Tony. I cannot refute that. But he will remember the debates we had. He will remember that cost was a factor for me, and for other councillors too. Costs are important – we are spending tax-payers money here. Besides, we are seeing local government finances under duress at the moment.

The reasons for choosing one scheme over another are largely irrelevant to my latest contention though. I have contended that we, the council members, have been misinformed. I have yet to see anything to disabuse me of this idea.

We have been presented with figures on the costs of the relevant schemes, and at every turn these costs change. This, in itself, leads to a destruction of confidence in what we are told.

Not only do the numbers vary. Up to the production of the Mott MacDonald report we were informed that the council’s preferred option was the cheapest. That was the consistent message in 2013. The numbers changed, but the preferred option was always shown as cheapest.

The Mott MacDonald report stands in distinct contradistinction to reports delivered when the decision on flood defences was initially made.

I value the work of our officers. I trust their impartiality and their wisdom. I respect other councillors, even if I profoundly disagree with them. But, but. Something has gone terribly wrong.

At the moment I see nothing but thirty-four million reasons for the destruction of my confidence. I actually hope that I have been a dullard here, because the alternative is less than pleasant.

Brought to you by Belfairs Conservatives ……

BelfairsInTouchBelfairsInTouch2It is curious beast, the latest leaflet being distributed by Belfairs Conservatives. Entirely focussed on one issue, there is not one mention of either Cllr Mo Butler (the other Conservative in Belfairs ward) or David Amess MP.

Lesley is up for re-election, and so a leaflet promoting her is to be expected; yet this is not really that. I would still expect Mo to get a mention, and Sir David is also up for re-election.

Not one mention of what Lesley has done, or wants to do in the next four years (if successful in May).

She does acknowledge the work of the Council, which I will take as a plug for the Joint Administration.

It is a curious beast. One could argue that Cllr Salter has not mentioned her achievements because achievements there are none. One could argue that Cllr Salter has not mentioned one promise for the future as she is devoid of ideas.

Or one could mark this down as a feeble effort from Belfairs Conservatives. If Lesley remains in the chamber beyond May’s elections it will not be because of this piece of paper.

The Conservatives in Southend would throw away £825,000 of YOUR money

southend tories throwing your money away2

Misled, misinformed, lied to, or just plain incompetence? – take your pick

On the agenda at last night’s Place Scrutiny Committee was the Review of Shoebury Common Flood Defence Improvements.

This report recommended that we note the options review document – Shoebury Common Flood Defence Review, December 2014. This document was prepared for Southend-on-Sea Borough Council by Mott MacDonald.

I voted with the Conservative administration through 2013, and I explained my reasons at the time (see Shoebury Flood Defences – doing the affordable for an example). Basically, in times of constrained finances I had to vote for the cheapest option.

To be honest, the costs quoted did vary at the time, but on every occasion these showed that the Council’s preferred option as the cheapest. Given that we had to improve the sea defences in the east of borough (and so ‘no wall’ was not a viable option) I felt I had no alternative. My view was supported by Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors, as well as the Conservatives.

To quote from my post (written on 17th October 2013): The Council preferred scheme is costed at £4.5 million; this compares to £9.3 million for the BERA scheme and £8 million for the FoSC option.

I was of the opinion that we had to have a review, there clearly was a lot of ill-feeling towards the council’s scheme by those living in Shoeburyness. However, I expected to speak (I called in the report) in defence of the previous administrations recommendations. I could not see how the facts could have changed.

I then began to read the Mott MacDonald report. The executive summary included this: While the proposed preferred scheme within the PAR would have provided a functional and robust flood defence with a reasonable economic return it is clearly unacceptable to local resident groups in its current form.

So far, so good. However, I then began to examine the summaries for each option. I confess to not being overly concerned to the details behind each scheme, when money is so tight one has to focus on what each one costs.

This table summarises the seven schemes’ costs.

Option Baseline costs Whole life costs
PAR 5.0 34.4
FoSC 6.4 35.5
MARMUS 3.6 29.3
BERA 3.4 18.1
Glass Walls 5.9
PAR Option 2 4.6 33.7
PAR Option 3 4.4 33.5

Costs are in £millions
PAR – Project Appraisal Report – Black & Veatch Project
FoSC- Friends of Shoebury Common
MARMUS – also sourced by FoSC
BERA – Burges Road Residents Association

The above table shows that the Council’s preferred option (PAR) is not the cheapest – far from it. It is the second-most expensive. This raises some very serious concerns, concerns that I aired last night.

The first is about which set of figures to believe. Whilst the schemes deliver different solutions, when a decision is being taken based on cost then these numbers have to be right. Cost was a significant feature of the discussions we had in 2013, and on every occasion we were assured that the Council’s preferred option delivered the best value for money.

I am either very stupid when it comes to basic arithmetic, or I have been misled, misinformed, or plain lied to. And not just me. This applies to all fifty-one councillors who sat in the chamber last year.

This is no trivial affair. We could have spent over £34million based on duff information; £34million of tax-payers money.

I could be wrong. There could be a very simple explanation. However, nothing I heard last night was in the slightest bit satisfactory.

We all know that the last, Conservative, administration liked to fritter money on useless vanity projects, and this looks another to add to an already long list.


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