Cllr Stephen Aylen and his special adviser
Last night’s Full Council had its entertaining moments, and more on that later. I often turn up at these meetings with a list of things I want to say, sometimes with a pre-prepared speech. Last night I had thought I might enjoy a quiet meeting, but was rather tempted into commentary by opposition misinformation.
I guess I was expecting some fun and games, and so tried to work out what numbers we had in the chamber. The Tories were one down on their numbers – reduced to twenty-one by the absence of Cllr Jarvis (West Shoebury). The mayor is one of theirs, and could reasonably be expected to remain neutral. Twenty was not enough to cause any mischief, but there nay been mutterings regarding disaffection in both the Independent Group and amongst UKIP and SIG.
Two councillors have resigned from the Independent Group recently. Cllr Aylen (Belfairs) has been unhappy for some time, whilst Cllr Velmurugan (Westborough) has a reputation for flip-flopping. ‘Dr Vel’, as some like to call him, will never be described as steadfast. I doubt these defections will have much impact in this civic year – both are signatories to the Joint Administration agreement and I expect them to honour that. Beyond May, though, they may not even be in the chamber, and if they are absent then one can describe their downfall as being largely self-inflicted.
The Joint Administration, by my reckoning, still has 26 members: Labour and the Independent Group have nine each, and how long will it be before Labour is the largest on its own with a good shout for having one of its own as Council Leader? That being said, in all three votes this evening Cllrs Aylen and Velmurugan back the Tories – something their electorates should be made aware of.
Minute 305 Beecroft and Central Museum Energy Project: Cllr Davidson (Conservative, Prittlewell) had concerns over the biomass burner. I asked for confirmation that there is an environmental gain in the administration’s proposals. I also sought confirmation that the administration is looking after the environment. The Conservative proposal to have this referred back to Cabinet was defeated 22 – 24.
308 Surface Water Management Plan: Reference back was again proposed by the Conservatives, and again defeated 22 – 25.
337 Corporate Asset Management Strategy: I sought assurances that this administration would not be as wasteful as the previous profligate Conservative administration. Cllr Courtenay made reference to my blog, and described me as “a thorn in the side of the administration”. His references to the number of empty properties ignored the fact that the numbers were higher when his party ran the borough.
340 Better Queensway: rarely am I told I am too quiet, but at this point last night that is precisely what happened. I asked two questions of the portfolio holder. I was seeking assurances regarding traffic management, especially because of the bottleneck that is the south end of Victoria Avenue (where it meets Queensway). I welcomed the plans, and asked whether there will be an increase in social and affordable housing.
341 Review of the Arm’s Length Management Organisation (ALMO) – South Essex Homes: This saw a victory for The Conservatives and their friends as the refer back motion was carried 23 – 20.
There were four motions before the Chamber, none were discussed (they will be dealt with by Cabinet initially). I do not support the Help Refugees arriving in Europe (proposed by Cllr J Garston (Conservative, Milton)) – I do not like that the Government is raiding the overseas aid budget to pay for the settlement of refugees; I think new money should be found for this.
Cllr Hadley’s motion on Printing and Distribution of Hard Copies of Council Papers is likely to be carried as it currently carries the support of 27 councillors (none of which are in the labour Group). This is seconded by the soon-to-be ex-councillor Crystall; the Liberal Democrat having been de-selected in his Leigh ward.
At one point Cllr Aylen produced a Sooty glove puppet to ask a question, and then promptly forget what question he wanted to ask! Stephen is a very affable chat, and although I do question his input at times he can be quite amusing. He certainly likes to contribute. I have to also mention Cllr Davies (SIG, Kursaal) who actually made a couple of interesting and amusing points. I am not normally a fan of his interventions but credit where credit is due, he was on good form last night.
Overall, a reasonable night for the Joint Administration, despite the one defeat. The Conservatives are clearly hoping that dissent amongst the Independent Group (and less than robust support from SIG) will reward their endeavours to unsettle and unseat the administration. I think the independents need reminding that they were not elected to back the Tories; they were elected to counter them.
I find the Conservative insistence on named votes curious. I want named votes too, if only to show how isolated the Conservatives actually are. That they failed in two out of three votes just shows how much ground they still have to make up.