People Scrutiny

Two hours and twenty minutes of Tuesday evening was taken up by People Scrutiny. I was a substitute for Cllr Borton (Victoria) who had another engagement.

I am not keen on the idea of Opposition members chairing scrutiny committees, and Cllr Salter (Conservative, Belfairs) demonstrated why. Cllr Salter is an able interrogator, a good performer amongst those in her party, and she clearly wanted to make a contribution to the debate. Whilst she did her best from the Chair, I think her contribution would have been stronger had she not had this role. If we are to have Opposition Chairs, then I would encourage the Conservatives to select less able contributors to undertake this role, freeing up their big guns for the cut and thrust of their vital role in holding the administration to account.

On the item Delaware and Priory Update we had the contradiction of some pretty obvious political point scoring from the Conservative members, and then Cllr Buckley (Conservative, St Laurence) complaining that “this is all too political” when Administration members responded. I think Cllr Buckley needs reminding that like it or not he is now a politician. Of course, this may be a precursor to him going ‘independent’, although I doubt it.

I asked two questions here. I asked the portfolio holder whether the biggest threat to the project (the setting up of a Local Authority Trading Company to deal with the proposed care campus) was the savage cuts being imposed on this local authority by the Conservative Government. I also asked whether the use of low wage earners was necessitated by these same savage cuts. I can report the agreement of the portfolio holder with my view on this (that the cuts are a threat).

In responding to the debate on In-depth Scrutiny Project – How the Council assists and excites individuals and community groups to achieve healthier lifestyles (and a healthier lifestyle is definitely something I am in need of) Cllr Moyies (SIG, West Shoebury) mentioned the 8% Government budget cut. Inexplicably (or perhaps not so) Cllr Salter from the Chair ruled that budgets could not be mentioned. I wondered whether she lived in a world where finance was unimportant, and I disagreed with her decision. I spoke up about this, resulting in the Chair’s suggestion that I could be expelled from the meeting. I have to say that money is a very relevant issue, and Cllr Salter’s attempt to stifle discussion in this way was regrettable.

I am pleased to note that in the Monthly Performance Report, indicator CP 4.9 (The % of children in good or outstanding Schools (Monthly Snapshot)) shows an improvement on last year, and this is a testament to the good work of the Joint Administration.

UKIP’s representative, Cllr Waterworth (Blenheim Park) left early, something he regularly does. This was a reasonably short meeting, certainly when compared to the previous evening’s Place Scrutiny. I know he is reluctant to contribute, but surely he owes it to those who elected him to stay the course.

Effective communication

Are we communicating effectively? By we, I mean Southend-on-Sea Borough Council. Amongst the litany of failures by the previous Conservative administration was their awful track record when it came to keeping residents informed of what was going on. Of course, they cherry-picked those that put them in the best light when it came to their glossy leaflets.

There is a noticeable drip-feed from residents who are concerned that they are sometimes kept in the dark with what is happening on their doorsteps. It is not always that they find themselves disagreeing with what is going on; but they are often left with guesses. It is this lack of information which causes antagonism.

In the short time that the grand coalition of those determined to keep the Tories from failing the borough further have been running the town there has been improvements. This is most obviously evidenced in the current administrations attitudes to surveys; lo, we are actually listening to what our residents want. Radical (or perhaps not), and certainly a departure from the failed Conservative administration.

We could do better, and we should, and I think we will – despite savage Conservative Government’s cuts.

I hope I can wield some influence and make the listening council a talking one too.

The Southend Green performance

This year the Green Party almost fielded a full slate in the Southend-on-Sea Borough Council elections. Here is how their candidates got on:

Westborough 4th 11.7% 6 candidates
Leigh 4th 11.5% 4
Milton 3rd 10.9% 5
Kursaal 4th 9.6% 5
Victoria 4th 9.0% 5
Prittlewell 5th 8.8% 5
Chalkwell 5th 8.3% 5
Eastwood Park 4th 8.1% 4
St Laurence 8th 7.6% 10
Blenheim Park 5th 7.6% 5
West Shoebury 8th 7.0% 10
Shoeburyness 4th 5.6% 5
Belfairs 6th 5.1% 6
St Luke’s 5th 4.8% 7
West Leigh 5th 4.8% 5
Southchurch 5th 4.3% 6
Thorpe 4th 4.2% 5

Whilst this is the most candidates they have put up, they have been a presence since 2001. So far their impact has been as a spoiler, by and large.

In many wards it was the Liberal Democrats who spared them from last place. This was not true in Leigh, although it is true that the Green vote appears to have been drawn largely from disaffected Lib Dem supporters – and enough Lib Dem switchers delivered the surprise of a Tory victory in Leigh.

I have already written about the Milton result. This ward gave the Greens their highest finishing position, although quite some distance from success.

The number that surprised me was the Westborough vote share. Whilst I have no wish to be rude, the Westborough Green candidate did not have a good hustings and gave every impression of being unprepared for a councillor role. Perhaps that is what attracted the one in nine Westborough voters who chose Green – they wanted a candidate unencumbered by ideas of what he actually wanted to do if elected.

You would expect a large Green presence next year, as Southend-on-Sea, electing by thirds, has another round of local elections. Whether the borough-wide 7% attained this year can be reached or bettered we shall see. There will be no TV leaders debates to boost the Green profile, but then again the absence of a General Election should allow smaller parties in lower turnouts to prosper.

The Conservative performance in Southend-on-Sea: 2015 compared with 2010

This table compares Conservative votes shares in the Southend-on-Sea Borough Council elections for 2010 and 2015. Whilst it is true that the coincidence of the General Elections distorts local election voting, it nonetheless is a good guide to where Conservative support is in the borough, and how that support is holding up.

2010 Con vote % 2015 Con vote % Change
St Laurence 36.31 51.16 14.85
Prittlewell 32.17 46.3 14.13
Eastwood Park 46.09 57.89 11.8
Chalkwell 42.71 49.44 6.73
Westborough 23.26 29.44 6.18
West Leigh 46.41 52.12 5.71
West Shoebury 46.10 51.20 5.1
Blenheim Park 33.96 37.81 3.85
Leigh 37.95 41.49 3.54
Belfairs 39.21 42.56 3.35
Southchurch 37.37 38.56 1.19
Milton 37.91 38.97 1.06
Shoeburyness 38.33 38.81 0.48
Victoria 27.82 23.53 -3.99
Kursaal 29.58 25.39 -4.19
St Luke’s 25.66 20.87 -4.79
Thorpe 32.32 26.33 -5.99

I have sorted this table by the size of the change in vote share over five years. This indicates where the Conservatives are doing well, and where they are going backwards.

The first thing to note, though, is that whilst in no ward in 2010 did they receive more than half of votes cast, in 2015 they passed this mark in four places. Eastwood Park not only shows the biggest Conservative vote share, it is one of their better wards in terms of improved vote. Cllr Trevor Byford, in his acceptance speech, credited the SNP with his significantly improved vote. I am not so sure that is true, but whatever the reason it looks increasingly like their safest ward.

In four wards their vote has gone backwards. Thorpe is a surprise as this was once solidly blue, and yet now looks like they are not making a comeback here any time soon.

The 1.06% improvement in Milton was almost all of their majority there (accounts for 46 votes, and the majority was 51).

In 2010 the Conservative won in ten wards, this time around it was twelve (with thirteen councillors elected as West Shoebury gave them two seats courtesy of a by-election).

If you look at vote share there is a clear east-west divide. Of the best eight only one (West Shoebury in third place) is in the east. Considering how recently they had councillors there, St Luke’s as their worst ward is a surprise. In 2010 Westborough was their weakest ward, and three eastern wards were in the top eight.

Of the wards where they have a councillor presence they are weakest in Blenheim Park.

Silly season in Nelson Street

Nigel Holdcroft is a clever man who likes to give the impression of being a very silly one from time to time. His post on the legitimacy of a Cllr Woodley led administration (Southend Council – a question of legitimacy!) is a good example.

I shall skirt over the leadership vote in 2012, when the then Cllr Holdcroft held onto power despite his group being one short of a majority – although one could question that administration’s legitimacy. I shall not because within the limitations of the electoral system current in Southend-on-Sea, he won a fair election.

This does not change this year. The Independent Group is some distance from having a majority on its own, and so some sort of coalition has to be cobbled together. If this is achieved then Cllr Woodley continues to lead. Nigel can bleat all he likes, until his party has enough councillors they will be condemned to opposition. (One could question why they are devoid of friends – four groups look set to reach an accommodation, whereas the Tories are left on their own.)

Our Nige quotes the latest set of election results in Southend-on-Sea, and correctly points out that those adorned with blue rosettes saw thirteen victories out of a possible maximum of nineteen. However.

I counter this with a look at the votes each party attracted.

Only 39.3% voted Conservative. Whilst this is more than any other party, it is some way short of a majority, and leaves 60.7% of the borough choosing to avoid the Tories.

Legitimacy?

Labour, the Independents, and the Liberal Democrats attracted a combined 43.5% of the vote – 4.2% above the Tories. I call that a mandate.

If the Conservatives can persuade both UKIP and the Greens to back them then the debate takes an interesting turn. Until then, please shut up.

Southend Independence Group

Just before today’s Full Council meeting I was handed a press release by Cllr James Moyies (West Shoebury). This formally announced the creation of a new grouping on Southend-on-Sea Borough Council.

It begins: Councillors Callaghan, Davies and Moyies have today announced that they will be forming a new Group on Southend Borough Council called the “Southend Independence Group”.

The press release then goes on to lay out their aspirations, which include being part of the Joint Administration (which Cllr Moyies describes as the “Rainbow Coalition”).

I think this means the UKIP civil war in Southend-on-Sea is at an end, with that group now reduced to two: Cllr Floyd Waterworth leads it, with new Cllr David McGlone doubling their presence.

Borough elections 2015, Southend-on-Sea – the headlines

So, the local election ballot papers have been counted in Southend-on-Sea, and here is a summary.

Party Votes % Wins
Conservative 39.3 13
Labour 19.2 3
Independent 14.4 2
UKIP 10.2 1
Liberal Democrat 10.0 0
Green 7.0 0

So, an overall second place for Labour across the borough (and two second places in the Westminster elections). Three first places (two in the East, one in the West) and four runners-up ((one in the East, three in the West).

The most marginal victories:

31 St Laurence (UKIP over Conservative)
51 Milton (Conservative over Labour)
165 Westborough (Labour over Conservative)

This leaves the chamber looking like this:

22 Conservative
11 Independent Group
9 Labour
4 Liberal Democrats
3 UKIP Local Group
1 UKIP
1 Unaligned UKIP

Therefore it is still a story of no overall control.

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