The following article appeared in the Leigh and Westcliff Times published last week.
At around 2am on Friday 6th May, I found out that I had passed the most rigorous selection process that I had ever gone through to get a job, when my agent turned to me and said, “We’ve done it, you’re first!”. That day, now almost five months ago, seems like only yesterday and, since then, the residents ofBlenheimPark ward, quite rightly, haven’t let me stop to catch my breath.
I can say without doubt that it is the most bizarre and rewarding job I have had to date and whilst I might be young, I have tried a fair number – Sales Assistant, Banking (sadly not the high paid variety), Police Officer, Trainee Air Traffic controller to name but a few. I’ve got no boss to report to and no deadlines to meet, but my employers (the residents of Blenheim) have given me a mandate for four years whereupon I will have the mother of all appraisals!
In the past I have been disappointed by the number of people who are “arm chair” critics and don’t complain until it is too late. Since being elected though, I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of people that have taken on the task of making Blenheim a better place to live. I have joined up with the Community Speed Watch (formed by members of the Mendip & Treecot Residents Association) that spends time ensuring the residential areas around Mendip are safe for all of us to roam around in. In the south of the ward I was delighted to be invited to go out with the Prittle Brook Community Group who, once a month, don wellington boots and rubber gloves to clear the Prittle Brook of all of the rubbish that has been left by our less considerate citizens – so improving our local area by a simple group piece of action.
The pedestrian crossing at Kent Elms has been an issue that has been around since well before I was elected, with many residents complaining that they aren’t able to get from one side of the A127 to the other without a brave dash across it or taking a taxi(!) if they are not fit and able enough to use the bridge. I have committed myself, along with my colleague Mark Flewitt in St Laurence, to ensure that progress is made on how we can improve this crossing in the longer term as well as any possible short term improvements.
The best part of the job has been getting things done, quickly, for residents, be it repairs to road surfaces, clearing of graffiti, removal of litter or some of the more unusual things such as removal of a motorbike from Prittle Brook and requests for the services of the “spy car” to protect our ward verges.
I have joined the council at probably its most difficult financial time in living memory. The money that the council receives from the government is decreasing – the nation has to do what we all have to do after a big spending spree – pay our credit card off! Unfortunately, the overspending went on for so long we have almost become accustomed to having more police and more benefits, but did this mean better communities and greater happiness? I don’t think it did. I feel the pain of public sector workers – being one myself – having a pay freeze and pension reforms, when we didn’t get the bankers’ bonuses and I know what it is like to have redundancy hanging over your head – 20% of my organisation has left this year and there is the possibility of more redundancies to come. However, the nation cannot afford to keep spending as it has been doing and, with a deficit of over £150 billion, something really has to be done to reduce this to a more manageable figure.
Southend’s Council Tax bills – one of the lowest in the country – were frozen last year to help residents who are experiencing their budgets being squeezed from lots of directions. In future years, it will probably have to rise to help pay for the most needed services but, instead of just spending more and more money – which, at the end of the day, is yours and mine – I will be pushing the council to continue down the path of not only reducing inefficiencies, but also doing things collaboratively and differently to ensure the best results. This may result in a smaller council with preserved services, meaning serving not at universal levels but to targeted groups with a need upon the third sector and volunteers to broaden the services outside of just those who need it. We can already see this happening with on-line services expanding rapidly, mobile teams to deliver services directly, trialling moving care out into the community when, and only when, it is better placed to be there. This isn’t only just to save money, but also to improve the services that the council deliver.
The changes that I will be supporting during my four years in office will not be for ideological reasons but to ensure that the council provides the best services whilst spending our money as wisely as possible.
The road ahead will be challenging, but it is a challenge I relish taking on.