Over to you James ….. Blenheim Park intouch Summer 2015

inTouchBP1The latest instalment of Cllr Courtenay’s intermittent newsletters hit my doormat recently. Judging by the quality of this one I can fully understand why these are not a regular feature of the political year in Blenheim Park ward.

James expresses his delight at his re-election “with a significantly increased majority“. “I hope this reflects the work I have put in….” Whilst I am more than happy to offer my congratulations, I think even James would admit that the coincidence with the General Election was the real reason for his success. He will seek (I presume) a third term in 2019, and I expect a tougher campaign for the Tories then.

It looks like Helen Boyd will have a second stab at convincing Blenheim Park residents that she deserves their support. I fully expect that a Labour candidate (possibly Matt Dent looking to continue the good work he has already put in) will succeed next year. Helen will find it difficult going as local elections tend to find those representing the Government party as out of favour. More cuts will be biting by then too, and I expect to see more Tory losses next May in Southend-on-Sea, not gains.

The dominating theme in this leaflet is the proposals for a pavilion in Blenheim Park. Two things strike me. Firstly, whilst I welcome James’s support, the reality is that it was me who proposed referring these proposals back to Cabinet – and James seconded my motion. His article reads like it was all his work, rather than the truth which is that he played a supporting role.

The second point I would make is that whilst I am opposed to the plans, James does not appear to share this view. He merely wants to see a proper consultative exercise, and neatly sits on the fence as regards to the actual plans themselves. I invite him to condemn the proposals, or at least clarify where he actually stands in the issue.

Traffic and barking

Cllr James Courtenay is very wrong on a number of issues. I would never vote for him, and have engaged in a number of verbal jousts over the last few years. I hope that I have not been personal, for despite his Conservatism James is a very likeable chap.

For some reason or another, though, he has been abused by a number of councillors, most notably from the Independent Group. This is quite unwarranted. Last night Cllr Martin Terry, chairing the Traffic and Parking Working Party, decided to abuse James by describing him as a “redneck”. James was affronted, and I am not surprised. James showed remarkable poise by remaining in his seat – I am not sure I would not have walked out.

Cllr Martin Terry is one of my partners in the Joint Administration, and I am pleased to back him in decisions made by the Joint Administration (although he has an alarming tendency to make policy up on the hoof on occasion). I am not going to applaud his rudeness though. I hope he sees fit to apologise soon.

I sat through three, occasionally surreal, hours of T&P before getting to the item I was really interested in. I am pleased to be able to report success, and I thank Cllr Jonathan Garston for his support (despite almost messing it up with a last minute suggested amendment, fortunately squashed by his colleague, Cllr Jarvis).

We will now, at some indeterminate point in the future, have a one-hour evening restriction in three roads near the Cliffs Pavilion when permit parking only will be in force. This is designed to deter patrons of the Cliffs Pavilion from clogging up residential streets when there is ample car parking nearby. Success!

Blenheim Park Ward inTouch Issue 7

CourtenayP1Issue 7. Of what? Is that the number of newsletters put out by Cllr James Courtenay since his election in 2011? Whatever, I am pleased that he is communicating with his residents – which is more than can be said for Blenheim Park’s newest councillor.

In comparison to what some of his compatriots have putting through letterboxes recently this is a wonderfully erudite A4 sheet. However, this is faint praise in reality, and like his colleagues James seems to struggle to have anything of substance to say since being consigned to opposition in the council chamber.

James’ piece on Europe is a good example of him appearing to wanting to tackle an important subject. Maybe he struggled to condense his views into the small amount of space he allocated to this subject, but it does come across as somewhat muddled. I think James wants to be on both sides of the debate over Europe – a position not unique amongst Conservatives. I think this is the root of their troubles, and why they are leaking support to Europe. Arguing for a referendum neatly avoids a commitment to the EU.

Cllr Courtenay also addresses changes to community policing. He writes: Essex Police, like the rest of the public sector, has been going through some changes, primarily to save money. Aside from his curious use of commas, he is being somewhat disingenuous; the public sector is under sustained attack from a Government intent on shrinking services for ideological reasons. Policing has been hit, and it leaves me with difficult conversations with residents who want to feel safe, yet see police stations closing, fewer police on the frontline, and now community meetings trimmed.

I recommend everyone to subscribe to Cllr Courtenay’s E-newsletter. I am sure that should one ever materialise it will be a marvellous read; or perhaps not.

A candidate so poor even his own Chair will not vote for him: come in Floyd Waterworth, your time is up

When even his own side will not be voting for him then you know that there is a particularly poor candidate on the ballot paper. Such is the case with UKIP’s Parliamentary Candidate for Rochford and Southend East, Floyd Waterworth.

Cllr James Courtenay (Conservative, Blenheim Park) reports a conversation he has had with Cllr James Moyies (UKIP, West Shoebury). He writes: I’m sure it won’t surprise many people to hear that I will not be voting UKIP in the next general election. You might be rather more surprised to hear that James Moyies, the 2010 UKIP Candidate in Rochford and Southend East (R&SE) Leader of UKIP on the Council and West Shoebury Councillor isn’t either. On the 14th October James said to me: “I won’t be voting for him [Floyd Waterworth] in the general election”. When I pressed him to confirm that means he will not be voting UKIP in the general election he said “Yes”.

Apparently, Cllr Moyies is happy that this conversation becomes public knowledge.

James Moyies leads the UKIP Group on Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, he is also Acting Chairman of their South Essex branch – the branch that preferred Floyd Waterworth over Cllr Moyies. Cllr Moyies has also been Chair of the Eastern Counties for UKIP. James Moyies is neither known for his disloyalty, nor is he a minor player in his party. That he thinks so ill of Cllr Waterworth therefore speaks volumes.

Floyd Waterworth represents my home ward (Blenheim Park); his is an invisible presence. He has not knocked at my door, and has delivered no ward newsletter either. He can also boast an indifferent attendance record at council meetings.

Veni, promisit, deliqui

Under 1,017 Thankyous! is this:

I made some pledges in my election campaign and I will stick to them all. One of them was to do a monthly “E-newsletter”. Please comment on here or send an email to blenheim@jamescourtenay.co.uk and ask to be added to the email distribution list.

I am still waiting for an E-newsletter.

Under About is this:

Everyone can make pledges though, that are all too soon to be forgotten about shortly after the election. James, however, will measure his performance against these pledges in the newsletter that he will send to residents – 3 times a year!

I do not recall seeing a newsletter in some while, and certainly there have not been three in the last year. (I think that imprint is wrong, too.)

That is two fairly straightforward promises that have been abandoned. Can you trust a Tory?

Should Tory Cabinet members be updating their Facebook status whilst in Full Council?

It is odd at least, although I doubt it actually offends any official protocol. Some, though, may consider it a slap in the face for local democracy that those who wield power take so little interest in what ordinary members are saying. The meeting was long, but there were many important topics that needed discussing.FacebookJC1FacebookJC2

Blenheim Park Ward In Touch Issue 6

BlenheimParkInTouchIssue6Oh, the joys of opposition literature! The latest In Touch from Blenheim Park’s under-performing portfolio holder for children and learning landed on my doormat yesterday. It is ascribed as “Issue 6” which neatly avoids the potential embarrassment faced when trying to deliver across a ward with dwindling resources of an out-of-date leaflet. “Issue 6” could be any month, any year. Neat.

This leaflet announces the candidature of Helen Boyd, who will contest Blenheim Park ward for the Conservative Party on May 22nd next year. Helen’s electoral pedigree is the impressive feat of losing a super-safe ward (Belfairs in 2012) for her party – doubtless incumbent Liberal Democrat Cllr Duncan Russell will be swapping notes with Cllr Stephen Aylen.

James Courtenay, who is apparently MY Conservative councillor, has never knocked at my door. To be fair though, neither have the two Liberal Democrat councillors. All are welcome – I promise a cuppa, a comfy chair, and I will try to be charming. Perhaps Helen will call, after all she does promise “approachability and dedication”. Then we could discuss all the things missing from this leaflet, like all the public services that are facing cuts.

I reply to the letter in Friday’s Southend Echo from Cllrs Courtenay and Moring

Two Conservative Cabinet members defending the political leadership in the Borough of Southend-on-Sea is no surprise, as it is no surprise that I lambast them for this woeful leadership and its profligacy in regards to spending taxpayers’ money on vanity projects. I note that they describe their Government’s cuts to local authorities as delivering “more than its fair share” – I think we can agree on the unfairness of this Government’s agenda.

Their attempt to justify spending £55,000 on the council website poses more questions than it answers. I have some experience of websites, by profession I am an IT Consultant. The first such question is that if the council website is no longer fit for purpose who was it that oversaw the design of this labyrinthine system? One also wonders how they think they can increase website transactions whilst closing libraries which, for many, is their only place for online access?

Behind this drive to encourage online access is the cull of those staff who deal with telephone and face-to-face inquiries. Whilst I also wish for the best IT system we can reasonably deliver I do not think this should cause the cutting of staff numbers. I happen to believe that for many who wish to contact the council, IT systems are more of a hindrance than a help. Many want human interaction, and I think we should oblige.

It is a big if to hope for increased web transactions and I wonder what leads them to believe this is a possibility. However, to beautify a working system at a time of financial constraints is an exercise in vanity and I do not believe that most residents would prefer this to kept open Children’s Centres.

That they compare the council’s budget to Mr Micawber’s household expenditure amply demonstrates this ruling administration’s failure; there is no corollary between the two.

They close by arguing for investment now; I concur. I hope they will speak with their Prime Minister and Chancellor and encourage them to invest in this nation’s future by creating jobs – something desperately needed in Southend-on-Sea.

I’d prefer more buses

Cllr James Courtenay compares his blogging to buses, which whilst a flippant remark speaks volumes about the quality of service in the Borough of Southend-on-Sea. Now to what the Blenheim Park Conservative councillor has written recently ….

In a post entitled Children’s Centres: listening to residents is this: “… the Council to review its proposals and re-consult parents and residents …”. This seemingly innocuous remark hides the truth that the original consultation was flawed and that they have to re-run it to establish what the users and residents want. The original survey cost £2,774 – and whilst this is not a large sum it is another example of wasted money.

James also addresses the issues surrounding the proposed closure of Deanes School in Thundersley by Tory controlled Essex County Council (interesting timing that announcement, after the local elections). A number of the Borough’s children cross the Castle Point boundary to attend that school (I do not have the figures, but I personally know some pupils). You can imagine that some parents in Castle Point will be considering schools in Southend – I suggest that there should be room at the town’s grammar schools as these already import most of their intake from outside of Southend (and, in some cases, outside of Essex). The closure announcement is shocking news and it shows that Government cuts, eagerly mirrored by Tory local authorities, do strike at the heart of communities and do attack essential services.

James writes in his latest post that “It has been said, usually by the same few opposition councillors to be fair, by those who like to put down our town that our schools are doing badly, getting worse or we are falling asleep at the helm.” I am not sure whether he was thinking of me when he wrote this, but I have certainly been critical of his performance as portfolio holder for Children and Learning. This is not a criticism of schools or pupils, but rather of their political leadership at the council. I do believe James has been complacent, and he gives the impression of being unconcerned that Southend lags behind national averages in many measures of educational attainment. I am pleased that progress in some areas is evidently happening, but there is a long way to go.

Age

One of the many things I campaign for is the lowering of the voting age. I wrote to my MP about this recently, and his reply indicated that he did not support my view.

David Amess added: “this is not a party political matter but I am against the reduction to 16”.

David is very aware of my politics and he regularly responds to my emails. Although I can and do complain about his politics, I cannot fault his assiduousness in this regard.

Votes at 16 does cut across the political spectrum, although I feel that there are more who are inclined to support this within Labour and Liberal Democrat ranks than amongst Conservatives. That being said, there are Conservatives who do campaign for all sorts of electoral reforms (see Conservative Action for Electoral Reform).

The age at which one can vote is 18 at the moment, and the age at which one can seek office is the same. Eighteen year olds can be councillors and Members of Parliament, and once in place can by extension have ministerial positions etc.

Cllr Ron Woodley strikes me as a pretty easy going fellow outside of the council chamber, but clearly has a bee in his bonnet regarding the portfolio holder for Children and Lifelong Learning on Southend-on-Sea Borough Council. Privately Cllr James Courtenay and I get along pretty well, but politically we are poles apart. I share much of Cllr Woodley’s concerns about education in the town.

My views about Cllr Courtenay’s unsuitability for his role have nothing to do with his age. I was in the chamber when Cllr Woodley labelled him a “child in charge of children’s learning” (reported here) and thought it not only rude, but had ruined what until then was a pretty decent set of remarks about the grammar schools in our town and how they seem serve the interests of those outside of the borough above those who reside within.

I am fifty-three, and in the eyes of some already past it. However, I hope to have a few more years of campaigning left in me, and would certainly hope that it is my ability that I am judged on and not my age.

Of course, age does have some influence on ability, but I would hope that we would see a good spread of ages in the chamber and in the Cabinet.

Cllr Woodley has some salient thoughts on education in Southend; I hope we do not see these lost in controversy because he cannot resist abusing his opponents.