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
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!