Sunday, 30 September 2012

Labour Isn't Learning

The Conservative Party has launched a major national advertising campaign highlighting that Labour hasn’t learnt from past mistakes when it comes to managing the economy.

Calculations by the independent think tank, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, estimate that if Labour were in power, and the Coalition Government had not made the tough decisions it has, our country would be borrowing over £200billion more by 2016-17.

This equates to shackling every person in the UK to £3,200 more debt. And this staggering figure is in addition to the debt they already ran up when they were in government.

The IFS have estimated what the level of borrowing would be under the plans inherited by the Government from Labour (the Darling Plan) given more recent economic forecasts. The IFS show that in the absence of additional fiscal tightening announced since the general election by 2016-17 borrowing and debt would be £201 billion higher than under Government Plans (IFS Green Budget 2012, 1 February 2012, Table 3.1, p57).

Saturday, 29 September 2012


I received an email this week informing me of a new initiative called Parkrun. Parkrun are free, weekly, 5 kilometre runs, that are safe and easy to participate in.

The first Parkrun will take place at 09:00 Saturday 13th October and every Saturday thereafter, at 09:00.  The venue each week will be Gunners Park, Shoeburyness.

People of all ages and abilities can take part.  Anyone wishing to take part needs to register in advance of their first run by registering here.

Save The Royal Mail Shoebury Delivery Office

There was some worrying developments from Royal Mail this week with the news that Royal Mail plan to close 5 delivery offices including the Shoebury Office in George Street. 

Despite assurances from Royal Mail back in March this year that there were no plans to close local delivery offices, plans are underway to force all residents in Shoebury, Leigh, Rochford, Great Wakering and Canewdon to collect parcels and signed for post at Short Street in Southend next year.

This measure will particular hit the vulnerable and elderly in Shoebury and force Shoebury residents to do a round trip of over 10 miles to collect parcels and signed for mail.

There are also concerns that this measure will force residents to use alternate companies putting further local Royal Mail jobs at risk. If like me you are concerned at this proposal please sign the petition
here and send Royal Mail a powerful message that this proposals are not supported by local residents.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Filming of Council Meetings

At the Economic & Environmental Scrutiny Committe meeting last Thursday, the idea to webcast council meetings was first discussed before a final decision is made in November.

I have long been an advocate of this as I believe this will open local democracy to many who find Full Council meetings unaccessible. The beauty of webcasting means that web surfers can watch broadcasts of Full Council either live or on demand from the comfort of their own home.

I also believe it will stop some members saying one thing in the council chamber and another to residents safely in the knowledge that the comments they make in the chamber are only viewed by one man and his dog and the SKIPP members that are usually present in the public gallery. By the looks on some of the members faces you could sense the nervousness that this wheeze could come to an end.

I know in times of austerity that any council spending comes under close scrutiny and rightly so, but can you put a price on democracy? I could understand the lukewarm reaction by the Economic & Environmental Scrutiny Committe if we were talking astronomical sums, but we are only talking a maximum of £20,000 per year, a small price to open up local democracy in Southend to thousands of people - especially when statistics show that more people watch council meetings live on line than attend in person in authorities that have webcasting.

The reaction by some of the committee members on these grounds seems absurd especially when they seemed happy to spend £66,000 on improving the audio equipment in the Council chamber. I do agree that the audio equipment is in desperate need of replacement but do not accept the logic of needing improved audio for the handful of people in the Council chamber and public gallery at Full Council at £66,000 but not spend the additional small sum to open up proceedings to a larger number of people.

With the Government last month giving members of the public the same privileges as the press allowing for potential live broadcasting on blogs and users of social media allowing for greater scrutiny and transparency, in my view webcasting will only enhance this.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Beach Huts Association Meeting

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of the Beach Huts Association. The main item on the agenda was the proposed flood defences for Shoebury Common Beach.

I was under no illusions when I accepted the invitation to attend that it had the potential to be very hostile due to the recent coverage. It would have been easy for me to decline the invitation, maybe to easy, but those who know me know that I will not shy away from the opportunity to express my views and beliefs.

I have found over the course of years that residents have more respect for you by being open and transparent, leaving no ambiguity to your views and never promising more than you can deliver.

I have always been a supporter of Beach Huts at Shoebury Common and despite some fierce criticism have supported their return to East Beach. Whilst some Beach Hut Owners who belong to the Beach Hut Association advocate doing nothing I was pleased that this wasn’t the overall position of the Association although quite clearly do not collectively support the preferred scheme.

I have been crystal clear on my position in that as an elected member I have a duty to ensure that measures are taken which protect residents homes and lives with the caveat that any improvements are in keeping with the character of the area. It is for this reason and because I support the Beach Huts why I would never support the option of just raising the existing sea wall.

Despite the scepticism in some quarters, the preferred option of an embankment, is far from a done deal as it is still subject to Environment Agency funding and requires full planning permission.

I had the chance to reiterate my thoughts on the preferred scheme in that if it were to go ahead I would like to see the flood gate go round the back of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and not in front and the issue of improved lighting and potential vandalism to the Beach Huts needs to be addressed. I also in no shape or form would support the soil from the Cliffs Slip being stored at Shoebury Common before any works commence.

I was also pleased to re-confirm that I had secured an additional public meeting to be held in Shoebury as part of the formal consultation if and when a planning application is submitted.

It was interesting as I made these comments on the night as one gentleman did comment that it is a shame that there were not more people like me on the council and that all decisions are taken behind closed doors by the cabinet, although he did remain quiet for the remainder of the meeting when I pointed out that I was a member of the cabinet!

Whilst the project to improve the flood defences is still in its infancy and whatever peoples views are I just hope that they base their arguments on fact rather than what they have read in a library.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Political Identity

From time to time, most political parties go through a re branding exercise which sometimes includes the changing of the logo.

In the not to distant past my own party changed the logo from the Freedom Torch to the Conservative Tree. Whilst I have a personal preference for the torch I am rather ambivalent when it comes to the tree and it may just well be that I have got used to it over the years. It was interesting to read that the latest party to go through this process is UKIP who are looking to axe their poundland logo.

A change of logo may even persuade the UKIP candidate in West Shoebury to use it on a future ballot paper, although I would suspect the absence of the UKIP logo on the ballot paper may well be due to the fact he was trying to deceive residents in thinking that he was part of the local Southend Independent Party rather than dissatisfaction with the current UKIP logo.

Evidence suggests that I may not be far off the mark following an 'electoral pact' just before the 2011 local elections, the leaflet distributed to residents this year claiming that he had been asked to stand for the local Independent Party and received the backing from their 'leadership' and the rather candid post from a local Independent Party blogger. Call me cynic, but I am sure an explanation will try to be given for this coincidence.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Accolades Continue

From experience of meeting and talking to residents over many years I have long held the belief that all residents really want is to live in a clean, safe and pleasant environment and be left alone to get on with their lives. In all decisions that I make I measure it against this criteria.

Apart from the amount of green and open spaces, the one thing that gets commented to me the most from friend and family that visit is how clean the streets are – especially for a seaside location which attracts large numbers of visitors.

It is nice when these comments are made but it is nicer when official recognition is received. I was delighted to hear last week that Southend had received a prestigious 4 Star award from the British Cleansing Council for the third consecutive year.

A team of inspectors made an unannounced visit to the borough in August, visiting most areas across the borough. A report was compiled following the inspection and I thought I would share some extracts:

“The airport and train station was an exemplary start to the inspection attaining near perfect scores”
“It was good to see both manual and mechanical sweeping and washing taking place during the visit and there was a good provision of litter bins both throughout the High Street and on the seafront”

Airport & Train Station:

“An exceptionally clean and tidy entry point to the town.  Excellent litter bin provision and positioning and exemplary standards of cleansing”.

Shoeburyness, Seafront and Shoebury Common Beach:

“A really clean and tidy area, very well kept indeed”.

Southend High Street:

“On the surface a tidy area but suffers from high levels of smoking litter and gum in places; however this is to be expected due to the high footfall.  Good to see both manual and mechanical sweeping in operation during the visit”.

Southend, Victoria Station:

“A good and well kept area”.

Seafront & Pier area:

“This is clearly a very busy area and it was peak holiday season at the time of our visit.  All things considered it is holding up well. Bin provision was good”.

Southend, Chalkwell Park:

“A lovely Park, busy due to it being a hot sunny day but fantastically clean and tidy”.

Leigh on Sea:

“A very busy area visited at lunch time but being maintained extremely well”.


The standard of street cleansing was of a reasonably high standard, particularly in the tourist hot spots and main areas.  It was a sunny day in peak season so challenges for the Council were clearly at their highest level yet they seemed to be coping well. Overall the Council should be commended for its cleansing procedures which are clearly working well.

I would like to express my thanks to the Waste Management Team and our contractors Cory’s for their ongoing efforts.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Back to School, Back to Formal Council Business

This week marks the traditional end of the school holidays and a return to formal council business. Although the major decision making committees break over the summer, I was still heavily involved in dealing with residents casework and discussing various issues with residents on the doorsteps which I am sure many of my other colleagues were likewise doing.

Tonight, sees the return of the Traffic & Parking Working Party, meetings that I enjoy as they rarely divide across political lines. Some the items which are discussed at Traffic & Parking can be very emotive and usually is one of the meetings which is very well attended by members of the public, something which I see little change this evening.

Tuesday was also the first Cabinet meeting following the summer recess and there were a couple of important papers on the agenda including the review of the town's library service and the borough's sports strategy which is appropriate as we are nearing the end of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

I also had an important paper on the agenda which included measures to be taken on London Road following the death of Joseph Ball killed by an irresponsible driver whilst crossing the road with his mum. Whenever this item is discussed it still never gets any easier but even though a formal crossing wasn't proposed, the measures that were agreed by cabinet, are the belief of many, will lead to better road safety in this area which will ultimately be the legacy of Joseph Ball.

This paper was one of the first to go through to the new pre-scrutiny route and I think considering the nature of the topic it was the right thing to do. I know I have been very vocal and sometimes highly critical of the conduct of some members at council meetings but the Economic & Environmental Scrutiny Committee deserve some credit in the professional way it handled the debate and conducted itself. It showed Southend Council at its best.       

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Southend's Paralympians Shine

I was privileged last weekend to see some of Team GB's in action over the weekend. Despite being one of the lucky recipients of tickets to the Olympic Stadium on Saturday morning, I was looking forward to seeing one of Southend's own in action..

Whilst Anna Sharkey may not be a household name to many, based in Westcliff and a physioptherapist at Southend Hospital, Anna is part of the Women's British Goalball team. Sharkey scored in the 7-1 defeat to China in their opening match and featured in the 1-1 draw with Finland.

Sharkey was also on the scoresheet again with a brace in the 3-1 Victory over Brazil. What was significant about this result was that it was Britain's first victory in any sport in Copperbox at either the Olympics or Parylympics and it was a privilege to witness the achievement. Hot off the press, this was followed up by a 5-0 victory over Denmark this morning with Anna bagging a hat-trick.

The atmosphere in the Olympic Stadium was electric and was right up there with some of the fantastic sporting moments that I have witnessed over the years. The scenes after Richard Whitehead's win in the Men's T42 200m Final will live long in the memory.

Following the Goalball, it was over to the Wheelchair Tennis at Eton Manor in the Olympic Park to see the legend in Men's Quad Singles Peter Norfolk in action. Now 51, Peter was was in fantastic form beating his opponent 6-0, 6-0 to advance to the quarter finals.

With a packed stadium I was unable to see the GB Men's 5-a-side team in action so the final action of the day was at the Basketball Area to the GB Men's Wheelchair Basketball in action against Poland. After defeats in their first two matches, this was a must win game. They didn't disappoint and were in scintillating form with an 87-58 victory to keep their medal hopes alive.

What struck me most was how physical Wheelchair Basketball is with one gentleman sitting next to me claiming that he had never seen sport so brutal since the Leeds United team of the 1960's! It is a good job then that he does not have tickets for the Wheelchair Rugby later this week because this sport wasn't once called murder ball for nothing!