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.

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.

Who won in 2012, and whether they will be standing in May

ward elected in 2012 party in 2012
Belfairs Stephen Aylen Independent Group Has left the Independent Group
Blenheim Park Graham Longley Liberal Democrat Retiring
Chalkwell Ian Robertson Conservative Defending
Eastwood Park Chris Walker Conservative Defending
Kursaal Anne Jones Labour Moved wards (to Westborough)
Leigh Allan Crystall Liberal Democrat De-selected
Milton Julian Ware-Lane Labour Defending
Prittlewell Mary Betson Liberal Democrat Defending
Shoeburyness Mike Assenheim Independent Group Defending
Southchurch David Garston Conservative De-selected
St Laurence Mark Flewitt Conservative Defending
St Luke’s Brian Ayling Independent Group Defending
Thorpe Mike Stafford Independent Group Defending
Victoria Ian Gilbert Labour Defending
West Leigh John Lamb Conservative Defending
West Shoebury Derek Jarvis Conservative Defending
Westborough Marimuthu Velmurugan Independent Group Now left group. Is defending, but will have an official Independent Group candidate up against him.

This table shows who was elected in 2012, and whether they will be seeking re-election in May.

Belfairs – I have no idea whether the Independent Group will put someone up against Stephen. The other Independent in that ward, who has fought both elections since 2012, is a friend of Stephen’s and unlikely to stand against him.

Blenheim Park – Graham has been privately talking about standing down for some time. His recent ill health has likely strengthened his resolve to make 2016 his retirement year.

Kursaal – Anne has chosen to contest her former home ward of Westborough. She did not seek re-selection in Kursaal.

Leigh – This will be Peter Wexham’s comeback attempt, tempting headlines of “Lib Dems opt for youth”! I do not know whether Allan will seek somewhere else to contest.

Shoeburyness – There is some speculation that defeated Independent Anne Chalk will continue her vendetta against Mike and stand against him in May.

Southchurch – David has somehow managed to be de-selected, and end up with a brighter prospect in Prittlewell. However, this could be his swansong as Labour have high hopes for Prittlewell.

Westborough – Marimuthu has chosen the route of total independence. This is a brave decision, in a ward that many are seeing as a certain Labour gain.

Motion to welcome, support and accommodate our fair share of refugees both locally and nationally

This is my second motion for the next Full Council:

Motion to welcome, support and accommodate our fair share of refugees both locally and nationally

This Council notes that:

Conflicts in the Middle East have created the largest refugee crisis in generations.

Thousands of people have died while seeking sanctuary from the violence this year alone trying to cross the Mediterranean sea; many of them were children.

The United Kingdom has played a leading role as one of the world’s top international donors, supporting refugees in Syria and the surrounding area.

The UN estimates there are over 320,000 people though who live in urgent need of resettlement. Survivors of torture or sexual violence, the very elderly or disabled, there are people who cannot survive in UN refugee camps near in countries surrounding Syria.

The UK has a long and important tradition of offering sanctuary to those who need protection. 100,000 Huguenots, 10,000 Jewish Kindertransport children spared the Nazi concentration camps, 160,000 Poles following the Second World War many of whom had served in the Battle of Britain, the Vietnamese Boat People, the 28,000 Asian Ugandans fleeing Idi Amin and the people who fled the war in Kosovo. This is our proud and decent tradition.

To play its part fully in solving this global crisis the British government must work for durable long term political solutions in the region, lead as a major international donor, and live up to its reputation as a place of sanctuary, integration and protection.

This Council believes:
  • That this crisis will be better managed if incoming refugees are accommodated around the whole country;
  • We can best rise to the crisis if a National Welcome and Resettlement Board bringing together local and national government, civil society and business leadership, is created to oversee efforts to resettle refugees and mobilise public support as in times past;
  • Long term political solutions are needed to ease the crisis, but in the mean time we must do what we can;
  • The UK must welcome its fair share of refugees to ease this crisis.
This Council resolves to:
  • Formally express an interest in both the VPR and Gateway programmes to the Home Office, requesting that 100 refugees be resettled here;
  • Write to local housing associations to encourage them to make properties available to resettle refugees;
  • To commit to ensuring that refugees are welcomed in this area and help facilitate this process by coordinating local service provision and coordinating the immense public will to help;
  • Write to the Prime Minister to assure him that the country stands ready and willing to help at this time of crisis.

Resolution on Sunday Trading

Here is a motion I have submitted to the next Full Council, which will be held on 10th December 2015:

Council notes that the Government has launched a consultation on whether to devolve the power to set the hours of Sunday trading.

Council further notes that whilst Council would generally welcome the devolution of new powers that these are powers that local government has not asked for.

In addition, Council notes that the government’s own economic evidence states that longer Sunday opening will not generate more consumer spending and will lead to fewer retail jobs, so this is not a tool for economic regeneration and that longer Sunday opening is unpopular with the public – the latest survey showed 77% support the current opening arrangements – and will have negative consequences for communities including shopworkers, who are already pressured to work longer hours than they wish on Sundays, convenience stores which are often a ‘lifeline’ to communities will lose trade and the government’s evidence shows that some stores will close and Sundays will become more like any other day, making it harder to hold community events.

Council resolves to write to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government advising that this Council believes that the Sunday Trading Act has worked well for 20 years and ensures that Sunday remains a special day whilst allowing shops to trade.

Council further resolves to write to all local MPs outlining the Council’s position.

Full Council – izzy wizzy let’s get busy

Cllr Stephen Aylen and his special adviser

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.

Re-selected!

Pleased I is

Pleased I is

I contested my first Milton ward selection in the summer of 2010, and yesterday I was successful for the third time (also being selected in 2011). It was a great honour in 2010, when the political backdrop was a safe Tory ward with three Tory councillors and a ward that had never elected a Labour candidate in its current configuration. That has all changed since, and we were mightily unlucky not to have secured the hat-trick in May this year.

I do not doubt, though, that despite the advances Labour has made in this most wonderful of wards this is going to be a battle. I won in 2012 with a narrow majority, and the Tories will see this ward (particularly after holding it this year) as a top target. I am sure that they would be pleased to see not just Labour defeated, but me too. I do not take this as a sign of personal animosity though, but rather a testament to my industry when it comes to challenging them, both locally and nationally.

What has also changed since 2012 is that Milton ward now boasts the largest Labour Party membership in the east of the town, and this increase is not just in ‘silent’ members. The ward now has a fine and growing band of activists, and as other ward selections are announced you will see Milton members now becoming our candidates. In 2011 and 2012 I had a shoe-string operation, largely based around my willingness to work and work – this year I will have a loyal band of supporters, big enough that I can also lend them to other campaigns.

I look forward to the campaign, and I hope to meet as many Milton residents as I can. This is a mere continuation of what I have been doing since 2010, and Milton residents are never surprised to see a Labour face at their door nowadays. I am a keen proponent of pavement politics, and despite what it may seem with my forays into the local media and contributions in council meetings, this is where I am happiest.

I am modestly proud of my achievements in the three and a half years that I have thus far served the residents of Milton, and whilst I have neither always succeeded, nor indeed even pleased, all the time, I hope that people will recognise my willingness to speak out for both the ward and the issues I champion.

I must thank all those who have placed their trust in me. It truly is an honour to represent Labour anywhere, but especially in Milton ward.

And … don’t forget to vote Labour on May 5th, 2016!