Helping refugees does not mean ignoring poverty at home

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is an ever changing feast. It has been ever thus, since before the UK came into existence. Our islands have been the target of successive waves of migration.

My surname is Anglo-Saxon, and those peoples came to these shores as immigrants, refugees even. They assimilated, as did those that came before, and those that have come since. As a genealogist I know my family tree has a fair sprinkling of persons from outside of these shores; this will be the case with almost everyone who calls themselves English, or British.

To deny migration and the positive outcomes it delivers is to deny in many ways what it is to be British. Not only have we imported people, we are one of the more successful exporters of our people. Grab an atlas and look at the many places our cousins have settled in.

I have a son and two brothers in Australia, and a sister in South Africa. If I include my extended family the list grows. My siblings and others have taken partners from abroad too. My typical Essex family is a veritable United Nations if one peers closely.

I am the grandson of a refugee. My Belgian grandfather fled his home in 1914, returning to fight the German invaders, but eventually choosing England as his home after falling in love with my grandmother.

I have had a small number of people contact me because of fears about the settlement of refugees in Southend-on-Sea, often citing that we should look after our own first. Of course we should, but it is not an either/or situation. I would hope we could tackle the blight of poverty at home as well as offering succour to those caught up in the unfolding tragedy that is Syria.

The solution to housing shortages and deprivation at home is not to turn a blind eye to the suffering of those beyond these shores. This wealthy nation can and should meet its international responsibilities.

Don’t walk by (Street link)

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Ridiculous drivel – Daryl Peagram’s idiotic latest leaflet that commits Southend West Conservatives to lavish expenditure at a time their government is making swinging cuts

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Poor leaflet content is hardly news when it comes to the output from Southend West’s Tories, but I struggle to recall anything as bad as the latest offering from their Westborough team. It is beyond awful; frankly it is embarrassing.

It so poor I take delight in reproducing both sides here. Quite how their candidate can call himself competent after authoring this is beyond me.

Mr Peagram likes to dish out slurs. His descriptions of Southend Labour include Old Labour and hard left. Clearly he has not met many of us.

The Joint Administration is variously described as: socialist, coalition of the unpopular, communist, left-wing. Again, Mr Peagram’s knowledge of the members who make up the JA is woeful.

Daryl’s idiotic spending plans include reinstating a five-day a week rubbish collection, which means scrapping the million plus savings per year. He will reverse cuts to the school improvement budget. He is also opposed to assisting local small businesses which employ local people, complaining about the council forwarding grants to a couple of restaurants. I look forward to him explaining where the money for all this is going to come from.

Still, since he is the voice of Southend West Conservatives (one of them at least) he handily provides us with enough ammunition against him and his ridiculous party.

Someone ought to remind Southend West’s Conservatives that Cllr Velmurugan readily, and often, describes himself as Conservative-minded.westboroughInTouch2

The attack on Cllr Anne Jones is so inaccurate as to be almost laughable. Cllr Jones is “not seeking re-election in Kursaal ward after what she did to their vulnerable kids.” Quite frankly, I’d be embarrassed to be in the same party as Peagram.

Daryl states that the “Conservative are the largest party in the UK & Southend“. Wrong on both counts. That they accept someone as delusional as Daryl merely highlights just how desperate the Tories are in Southend West.

I could almost applaud this drivel insofar as it does nothing for the Conservative cause. I do not because it actually demeans politics. If Mr Peagram survives as the Tory candidate until May I will only presume that any semblance of quality control for their candidates has been abandoned.

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.

HARP’s women-only facility is given the go-ahead

Planning consent has been granted for a women’s homeless hostel at the rear of HARP’s Bradbury Centre. The unit, when built, will accommodate up to nineteen women. Access will be via the York Road establishment, with the Hastings Road entrance being used only for emergencies.

It is intended that the women’s hostel will be staffed exclusively by females.

Something like a quarter of rough sleepers are female, and this facility is definitely needed.

HARP can only house those with recourse to public funds. They also charge a nominal amount for food, although they will feed those in need who have no money. Their facilities are fully utilised, and with a growing need they are looking to expand their offering to the homeless. By the end up the year they will be able to help 140 clinets.

A whiff of hypocrisy from the Victoria Tory candidate

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When it comes to leaflets I have a soft spot for the unusual. Whilst there is much to be said for a consistent look and feel (if nothing else, the average lifespan of leaflet is the length of the walk from the front door to recycling bin, so any impact has to be immediate), but I like to see creativity. Where creativity is unwanted, though, is in the text. Political literature should be honest.

Denis Garne, the Conservative hopeful in Victoria ward, has an interesting leaflet. I refer to the design, of course, although interesting may also be applied to what he writes.

Headed ‘Neglect and Extravagance’ he begins thus: Residents of certain parts of our town will know all too well how it is to live in neglected areas.

There is nothing I could disagree with there; I have long campaigned about the huge inequalities on show across the borough.

Mr Garne then goes on to lambast the current administration, whose grip on the council chamber has yet to see its second birthday.

Now, as Cllr Garne (as he was at one point) could be argued to have had a hand in how the town was run (although as a then Labour councillor he would have been in Opposition). But he will know that the borough for the vast majority of the years of its existence, and certainly in recent times, has been run by the Conservative Party. Any fault regarding neglect can be fairly and squarely laid at their door.

He reports about spending plans, either ignorant or choosing to ignore his party’s lavish expenditure, and profligate waste.

Mr Garne also criticises the current trio of Victoria councillors for not living in the ward, failing to point out that neither does he. At least all of the Labour councillors in the borough actually reside in the borough, which cannot be said for his party. To use a word frequently touted by my friend from West Shoebury, Cllr Cox, there is a hint of hypocrisy here.

A reminder that things were not always so blue for Mr Garne

A reminder that things were not always so blue for Mr Garne

Winter Fuel Allowance error

I have had a resident contact me to let me know about the following error that had happened to him. I hope others will check their allowances.

I have been receiving Winter Fuel of £200 each year but this year it has been cut to £100 because there is someone else who is entitled living in the same house. You may recall from your visits that there is indeed someone else in this house but that the house has been divided in to separate flats. When I called the DWP to query what had happened I encountered several recorded announcements, bearing in mind that I was paying for the call, before finally getting a person to speak with.

It appears that the mistake had occurred because the DWP rely on a postcode checker to verify their information and as two separate households are not shown in that checker, the assumption was made that I was living with someone. I would presume that my neighbour has had her payment cut for the same reason but she has not checked the letter she received. Noticing that the cut had been made was purely chance because I normally just put the letter away without reading it too closely.

What annoys me is that the error was made not because of information received but because it was not checked by any other method first. One would think, wrongly, that there would be some kind of communication between different sections of the same Department. This is bad enough but I was told that the extra money would be sent but I would not get it before Christmas and possibly as late as 31st March next year! I am fortunate in not needing too badly this year but I wonder how many people would be that fortunate? I was told that I could write to my MP but if they knew how brilliant my MP is, I doubt that suggestion would have been made.

“Caring” Government at its finest!

November 2015 Focus

blenheimFocusNov15The latest Focus for Blenheim Park ward features Cllr Graham Longley. I suspect he will not be seeking re-election in May, although I note that there has been no official announcement as yet.

I wish him a speedy recovery (and judging by what I have seen he is doing just that).

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.