The one bit of praise I feel I can bestow upon Southend’s Conservatives is their willingness to experiment when it comes to their literature. The experiments are not always good, but they at least are sold on the idea of variety.
Sometimes their output borders on the surreal, sometimes it is very good. They like glossy, which does not always work. There is also a noticeable lack of coherence across the borough – which for some illustrates their independence of thinking. For me, though, it is a weakness; voters want a strong team to run the borough, not a bunch of individuals with competing agendas. This is the Independent Group’s weakness, although in output they actually manage to be more consistent than the Tories.
The Tories latest offering defies their usual strategy – they have opted for identikit leaflets across the borough, altering only the ward and candidate in each locality. They have also offer up some policy, for a change, which allows those of us who value debate a chance to dissect and discuss.
The leaflet is almost good. It lambasts cuts, and regrets increased charges and taxes – things that I can endorse, sort of. For you see, whilst I too can express disappointment, my ire is trained on those that have forced the Joint Administration’s hand, the Conservative-led Government.
The XXXXX (insert ward name here) Record blames my party and our partners for the budget. Fair enough, we authored it, we supported it, and we won the vote to carry it through. However, local authorities, Southend-on-Sea included, are facing a tsunami of cuts in recent years, cuts caused by central Government.
Whilst we can argue over where we choose the axe to fall, we cannot disagree that however we juggle the figures the cuts are going to come.
To ameliorate some of the shortfall the local administration has opted for a modest rise. This amounts to about 42p a week for a Band D property. This modest rise has consequences beyond the immediate year, for it helps boost our council tax base too. This is important as we face the axe for a few more years to come.
Car parking charges has seen a rise, offset to some extent by a reduced charging period in parts of the town. This has been a difficult decision, but I suspect the extra few pence per hour this means for motorists will not be the disincentive the Tories are claiming for it. Tony Cox likes to cry ‘hypocrisy’ – but has conveniently forgotten the rises and suggested lengthened charging periods of recent years when his chums ran the town.
Toilets closure were headed off by me, and I acknowledge that some will claim that victory here had little to do with me. It is a strange ploy to big up a cut that never happened.
I accept that the removal of 54 litter bins is contentious. Cuts have to be made, much that I wish it were otherwise. I have argued for new bins in Milton ward, and so to see that some will be removed is not enjoyable. I blame Eric Pickles.
I must say I do find it distasteful to see the dead being used as a political football. Cremation charges are being increased, but this one-off charge merely aligns us with nearby authorities – and I again repeat that we have to find the money from somewhere.
The former local Tory leader (who does not pay his council tax in Southend-on-Sea) has written some interesting pieces on the budget. For an alternate take on what is happening they are worth a read. Whilst I admit to finding much to argue with, I am grateful for his intelligent (sometimes) contribution to the debate. Now, it only remains for Nigel to see that all this misery is a direct consequence of electing a Government intent on an ideological attack on local authority finances.