A week is a long time in politics! The new ‘Listening Administration’ is in office (!)

I won’t attempt to write as eloquently as my former colleague and Leader of the Council Nigel Holdcroft does in his blog about some of the strange goings in the last seven days (and before, given the proclamation given by the leaders of the Independent, Labour and Liberal Democrat Groups that they were forming the new Administration in a press conference two days before there was a vote to decide who the new Leader of the Council was).

I sincerely hope, for the good of Southend, that Ron Woodley is half as good as he has declared himself to be, although I do suspect he will score roughly the same in that regard as he did attempting to be a worthy adversary to the best Leader of the Council I have experienced in my 31 years in Southend, although I must admit to those of the 1980s and early 1990s I was somewhat less involved/interested than I am now! Still, I am never too proud to be proved wrong… and I was one of the first to shake his hand and wish him the best on Thursday 5th June when he became Leader.

A couple of thoughts come to mind:

“The Conservatives never listened/We will form a listening Administration “and “The Conservatives made all of the decisions” etc.

Well, taking these in reverse order:

For the past 14 years the Conservative Administration did make most of the final decisions. There is one simple reason for this and that is because we had more seats than ALL of the other Groups put together in the Council Chamber. Southend Conservatives have, on occasion, had a tendency to be slightly embarrassed for running the Council. I never have been, for the only reason we were was because that is what the people of Southend voted for. The Conservative Administration did make tough decisions, in difficult times.

Led by Nigel we made savings of £68m on an on-going annual basis, this is (helpfully, as I don’t think many of us can comprehend such a large number – even most Euromillions winners don’t get THAT much!) put into context as the equivalent of over doubling Council Tax overnight, or somewhere between £1,000 and £3,000 a year per household (depending on what Council Tax band you are in). That is a lot of money in anyone’s books!

Why did we, the Conservatives, have to make such decisions on our own? Well one of the main reasons was the opposition didn’t suggest anything else for starters! I only recall one time in recent history ANY alternatives were put forward for ANY part of the budget. This was in 2012, when they (Independents, Labour & Lib Dems) wanted to increase Council Tax further, to increase spending to provide about one roll of black sacks per household PER YEAR (that you’d have to collect) and spending the average annual wage to keep the pier walkway (no trains mind you) open on a cold Tuesday afternoon in February. Not exactly offering a robust alternative budget for an organisation that spends getting on for half a billion pounds a year…

 

“The Conservatives never listened/We will form a listening Administration”. This does seem to be a bit rich when there hasn’t been a Cabinet meeting yet, no consultation with all members of the council, in fact hardly a formal council meeting at all yet, but we’ve seen announcements from the new Listening Administration that the Library Review is scrapped, they are all saved…. Shoebury sea wall is to be stopped (and millions of Central Government funding is either to be lost or put at serious risk – nice one!) and wait for it…. the decision on Care Homes is to be reviewed/reversed – after all the new Leader of the Council put together a business plan that didn’t add up and provided a whole two beds for Southend Council to use whilst flogging the rest to the NHS/private sector at prices they wouldn’t pay, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. Still all of that can be changed when

This all sounds great – and boy does it make a good headline. You’d think all of these decisions were taken by us Tories in a smoke-filled room in a Private Members’ Club where the only woman allowed was Mrs T (and even then only as an honorary member) from what you hear/read. Actually things couldn’t be further from the truth.

The decision on the Libraries came through as a recommendation from a cross-party working party (it is worth remembering that most committees of the Council are made up with ‘proportionality’ where each Group gets their ‘fair share’ of seats – so Lib Dems, Labour and Independents sat on this working party), after massive consultation with public and councillors alike (including scrutiny processes where opposition councillors views and opinions are taken into account). Cabinet rubber stamped this cross-party Working Party decision (amending only the Kent Elms/Leigh Library situation, where we were given praise by the opposition for splitting the ‘Hub’ status across both libraries to ensure there would remain paid members of staff present at both).

However the Council’s processes allow for a vote on this decision at Full Council, which took place on 12 December 2013. The vote was quite simple – you could not like the decision and send it back to Cabinet (asking us to think again) or accept the decision. Cllr Woodley (now Leader of the Council), Longley (Deputy Leader and portfolio holder that covers the Library Service) both voted to accept the decision. I cannot be the only person to find this a little strange.

The sea wall. It is never going to be popular to build a wall along the seafront – but that is where the sea is going to pour over and flood. Not a lot you can do about that! There were various options presented to us, none of which the majority of people wanted. I remember debating this issue for hours on end, with the Director keeping his cool somehow going over and over all the proposals so I understood it. I also remember breaking down the consultation responses and taking a lot more account of those people that live in the area liable to flood, than those people who lived the other side of town – or still further afield. Again there was cross-party consultation and the decision was not railroaded through…

I can only think of two councillors in their 30s (me and Cllr Gilbert) and we are likely to be around for a long time (I hope)… If the floods risk ever actually happens – and it is likely to be a long time in the future I’m sure, then I do not want to sitting in my care home chair reading the local paper and thinking ‘I could have done something to stop that, rather than having jumped on a popular bandwagon back in the 2010s’. I just hope the other retired councillor sitting next to me will be able to think the same thing.

Care Homes – this also went through every form of pre-decision process the Council has, with another cross-party Working Party set up to oversee every step of the process. Strange how this Working Party included the now portfolio holder for Adult Social Care, Cllr David Norman. Will be interesting to see how David’s views may change/be changed for him. David has been someone I have always had the upmost respect for, sticking to his principles. I do hope this won’t change.

All of these decisions of the Council seem to have been stopped and/or reversed without any democratic process being followed, without member consultation, undoing the decisions of their Groups previously and I suspect without any officer advice to do so. How are they to be paid for? Who knows? Who cares? Certainly not the new Listening Administration. They just want the headlines.

Those rotten Tories, doing all that consultation, research and costing things out before making the tough decisions they were elected to make, who’d want them eh?

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About jamescourtenay

Local Southend resident, since before I can remember. I am hoping to represent the residents of Blenheim Park Ward after the May 2011 Local Elections. Straight Talking? - Yes. Approachable? - Yes. Accountable? - Yes. See my blog to find out how!
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