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!

Martin: will he, won’t he?

As I write this Cllr Martin Terry has yet to resign from his Westborough seat. Martin, it will be remembered, has declared that he intends to stand in Thorpe this year – in spite of having a year left on his tenure in Westborough.

This highlights an anachronism – a sitting councillor can contest elections. Only on victory will he or she be forced to resign from their previous seat. Cllr Terry could hedge his bets – remaining a Westborough councillor whilst contesting Thorpe allows him to continue in post. It also ensures that he remains a councillor should he lose the Thorpe contest. Resignation will mean he ceases to be a councillor, albeit only until May 22nd (if successful in Thorpe).

I think it inconceivable that Martin Terry will not win in Thorpe. Whatever his personal attributes, his victory is almost guaranteed owing to the opprobrium Cllr Alex Kaye attracted when switching sides last year.

So, we are left with the following possibilities.

1, Martin remains a Westborough councillor whilst contesting Thorpe. This would mean that the first full council, when the Leader and post holders are appointed, will be a fifty-member council. This could be crucial if the votes are close. The mayor has a casting vote, and the mayor for the next civic year will be Eastwood Park Conservative Chris Walker.

This scenario also subjects council tax payers to the expense of an extra, probably June, by-election.

You could even envisage the Tories holding on in a drawn chamber, only to become a minority administration after the by-election.

2, Martin resigns, but too late for a by-election to be called. See above for what this means.

3, Martin resigns in a timely manner, allowing for the by-election to be called. This saves money, allows for Westborough to have three councillors in the chamber for the first full council of the civic year, and means one more non-Tory come those crucial votes.

I expect Martin will resign, but leaving it to the last possible moment could be a case of foot-shooting if two electors are not given enough time to call that by-election. Oh, what an irony if Martin is the cause of his group failing to seize power!

Confused Tories #3

In today’s (February 25th) letters page of the Southend Echo is a missive from David Burzotta, (Conservative) Candidate Westborough ward. He criticises Cllr Martin Terry for his decision to stand down this year in Westborough in order to stand in Thorpe ward.

I, too, find fault in Martin’s decision.

However. Mr Burzotta asks: “Why is he creating extra cost for the taxpayer …”

I am intrigued. Perhaps the Southend Echo could inquire of Mr Burzotta how and what this extra cost will be? Aside from a few extra sheets of paper required for nominations, the by-election runs alongside the other May local elections, and therefore there is no real extra cost at all.

I would suggest that Cllr Kaye incurred more cost by switching sides mid-term – which necessitated not just extra paperwork but also councillor and officer time.

Coming home to roost

So there we have it, Chicken-run Terry thinks that his best chances of remaining a councillor lie in an escape from Westborough to the comfort of Thorpe ward. This somewhat underlines a few points that I have made over the years.

Martin obviously cares more about his status than the residents of Westborough. He may think that his work there has been somewhat undermined by Cllr Velmurugan, but he must admit to being at least partly at fault. It is also on his watch that the warring amongst the residents’ groups has occurred.

Martin, a Thorpe resident who in reality had little affinity with Westborough, has exposed his shallow pretensions. He is moving to avoid an almost inevitable 2015 defeat, and thus has shown that the accoutrements of office subsume any real desire to fight for Westborough. Moving after defeat is one thing, moving to avoid defeat is political cowardice.

His move to Thorpe further undermines claims that his merry band is not a party. The Thorpe trio pictured in today’s local newspaper is a giveaway – you are either independent or part of a team. What irks is that Cllr Terry wants to have it both ways.

What is really quite interesting is that we are seeing a picture developing where the Independents are gradually replacing the Tories in the east of the borough, whilst becoming shrinking band in the West. I think Cllr Velmurugan (if he stands again) will lose his Westborough seat in 2016, leaving Cllr Aylen somewhat isolated over in Belfairs.

What will Thorpe voters make of all this? I expect Martin will secure a comfortable victory in May, and this once super-safe Conservative ward continues to show what complacency leads to.

It does make you wonder whether a decent UKIP campaign here in 2015 will see the under-performing James Duddridge removed from the green benches, especially if the Tories fail to hold a single ward this year in his constituency. A local election wipe-out was once unthinkable, whereas now it is a distinct possibility.

The education encouragement process

They were expecting large numbers of spectators and so the Place Scrutiny Committee was moved from its usual committee room setting to the main council chamber. This created a more formal evening (although these things are never that informal) and a colder one – the chamber is not a warm place in autumn or winter. In the end the attendance from interested parties was not so great and we could have kept to our usual venue – although there may be merit in always using the chamber for the scrutiny committees.

There were a couple of items likely to illicit excitement in the wider community – Shoebury flood defences and the future of the library service in the borough.

My view of the proposals to beef up the sea flood defences in the east of the borough is unchanged; in an era of climate change and likely sea-level rises we cannot afford to do nothing. Therefore, it is a choice of schemes, and in a climate of austerity we must go for the cheapest option that provides the best solution. This is the council’s preferred option. I am not a usual supporter of the schemes dreamt up by the current administration but I have yet to hear anything to convince me that the alternatives are better.

However, I did ask about the provided costings and why these differed from earlier costings. I was unimpressed with the answer that the variations were minimal. The council preferred scheme is now costed at £5.182 million (up £0.6M from £4.5M). The Friends of Shoebury Common is now costed at £10.360M (up £2.3M), and the BERA scheme is now shown to be £9.128M (down £1.2M). If the council thinks these monetary movements are trivial then this explains why they are so adept at wasting tax-payers money.

The library debate generated a little heat and very little light. How anyone thinks it a step forward to opt for the libraries in the leafier part of town over those in the deprived areas is beyond me. The waffling portfolio holder reminded me of Soviet era spokespeople who could relay news about increased tractor production and record grain harvests, whilst ignoring the tyranny and penury inflicted on its citizens. I, of course, would wish to stand up for all libraries, not just those servicing Tory voters.

I am not blind to economic reality, yet I am also acutely aware that the borough is already failing its younger citizens whose educational attainments fall some way short of national averages. An earlier agenda item addressed the need for a Southend skills strategy – something the Tory administration is in desperate want of. Apparently the library changes are part of a “vision” for the town. Good grief! Quite how we improve the skill-sets in the town whilst simultaneously removing facilities that educate is a mystery to me.

Cllr Martin Terry and his rejected pink sack

Cllr Martin Terry and his rejected pink sack

Near the end we had a debate on refuse collection, specifically the rejection of pink sacks. My input was less about invalidly rejected sacks than about the perceptible rise in the number of pink sacks that are being rejected in some areas for having no-recycling items in them.

I think the rise is coincidentent with the ending of black sack supply and the residual supplies being exhausted. This debate was notable for the filibustering by the portfolio holder. He will not be receiving prizes any time soon for coherent or concise answering.

Apparently, rejected pinks sacks on the public highway are picked up after 48 hours (at what cost?), whereas those on private land are left as part of the education encouragement process. Newspeak is alive and well and residing in Southend-on-Sea.

Anyway, Cllr Martin Terry enlivened proceedings with an example of a rejected pink sack. His invitation to the portfolio holder to examine it was declined owing to a lack of gloves. Next time he knows what to bring to chamber!

Playing fast and loose

Cllr Martin Terry, bandwagon-jumper extraordinaire, is often quoted as complaining about the parties in the council (his party excepted) playing Politics. He repeats this spurious claim in this week’s Leigh and Westcliff Times. My experience is that of all the fifty-one councillors it is Cllr Terry himself who most often plays politics. It really defies belief that he can make these utterances with a straight face.

His party-in-all-but-name has also managed the trick of having him elected as Group Spokesman For Life. For an independent bunch they seem reluctant to share this responsibility, defying the idea of an informal collective. Informal groupings usually share leadership and other roles on a rota system, they do not gift leadership in perpetuity.

I also note that Cllr Terry likes to claim that his group lead the way on many issues in the chamber; for instance, on the grammar school debate. I feel beholden to correct this. It is me, Cllr Ware-Lane, who kick-started the whole discussion, unearthed the facts and figures, and wrote at length about it. Trawl through the archive in this blog if you want confirmation.

Less of a gauntlet, more like a chicken-run

Yesterday’s Southend Echo carried a story about the Independent Group Leader, Cllr Martin Terry, who is suggesting that was-Independent-now-Conservative Cllr Alex Kaye should stand down, forcing a by-election. In this story Cllr Terry indicated “he was willing to give up his safe seat in Westborough to contest a by-election.”

I have privately wondered whether Cllr Terry, whose grip on Westborough is far from safe (fragile, even), would jump ship to Thorpe ward, the ward he actually lives in. He faces a difficult re-election in 2015, one that will be fought at the same time as the General Election.

If Cllr Kaye does not step down she will be up for re-election next year. Will Cllr Terry challenge her then? If so, there will be two vacancies that will need filling in Westborough (Cllr Paul Collins seeks re-election there in 2014).

Whenever Martin Terry fights his next election I hope his agent does better than the rather slipshod job that he did in Westborough last year.

The Westborough Misinformation Bureau

Cllr Martin Terry’s latest Newsletter includes this: “… I wish to publicly distance myself from some of the comments made by Dr Vel.” Dr Velmurugan has, post-election, described himself as a Conservative.

This attempt at damage limitation will not wash. Cllr Terry was Cllr Velmurugan’s election agent in May; is he really trying to say that wanted him elected whilst profoundly disagreeing with him? If he really wants to put clear water between him and his Westborough colleague he should call on him to resign.

It became clear, earlier this year, that a vote for the Independents in Southend was a vote for the Tories. Cllr Velmurugan has been lavish in his praise of Cllr Holdcroft and his Tory administration whilst the Thorpe Bay Independent trio were far too easily bought off.

Written using shockingly poor grammar, the stuck record that is Cllr Terry still maintains the pretence that his group are not a de facto party. This defies reality. He proudly announces (under the heading of ‘political round up’) that he is “lead spokesman of the opposition” (who is lead spokeswoman?). He has a group, collects a group leader’s stipend, and has group meetings where group decisions are taken. How is this different from the Labour, Liberal Democrat, or Conservative groups?

This newsletter is full of half-truths and misleading statements. My belief is that the residents of Westborough are now waking up to the reality of what representation by Independent councillors really means. The manic dissembler’s time is up – it is time for Westborough to be represented by people stand up for what they believe in.