Saturday, 30 March 2013

Political Defections

Whilst everyone has gone off to bed for an early night, I have been catching up on the local newspapers from the back end of last week.

Am I the only one who thinks it is odd that a Lib Dem councillor on Southend leaves to join the Liberal Party and become part of the Independent Group and not a word is uttered by the 'Independents'. Nice to see the Independents sticking to their pledge of keeping party politics out of local government.

Yet an Independent councillor leaves the Independent Group to join the Conservatives and the 'Independents' are outraged. The irony. Politics can be a strange old game. Churchill crossed the floor twice. I wonder if the Independents would have asked him to stand down and force a by-election?

Friday, 29 March 2013

Graffiti on Maplin Way

With last night marking the start of the Easter holidays it seems that the graffiti artists were out in force over the town. Was this a coincidence? Unfortunately, the bridge in Maplin Way, Shoeburyness was again a target as the vandals left their tag on the clean surface. I have reported this to officers so it can be removed after the Easter bank holiday weekend. Despite Easter being a holiday period for many, it is not for West Shoebury councillors.

Shoebury Common Flood Defences Public Consultation

Next month, from the 15th April to the 12th May, the long awaited public consultation on the Shoebury Common flood defences will take place.

Between these dates an exibhition of the plans will be on display at Thorpedene Library with a public meeting to be held on the 22nd April at Shoeburyness High School, starting at 19:30.

It is important that residents come along to the meeting and view the plans so they can have their say and feed in their thoughts so they can be incorporated into the final design on the embankment concept to go for planning permission.

From the residents that I have spoken to I do not believe that there is universal opposition to the flood defences being proposed at Shoebury Common, despite a leaflet doing the rounds from a couple of local individuals.

From time to time it is inevitable that people will disagree with their elected representatives and unlike the UKIP candidate in West Shoebury in recent years I will not resort to abusing those that I disagree with.

Whilst the two authors of the leaflet live on high ground and are not at risk of flooding at Shoebury Common, I do find it somewhat distasteful to illicit support for their campaign to stop the improved flood defences from residents in the flood plain plus claim that Shoebury Common is a low risk area and describe the sea defences as a luxury we can not afford.

According to the Environment Agency map, the following roads and areas in West Shoebury, Shoeburyness and Thorpe wards are at risk from flooding at Shoebury Common:

Doing nothing at Shoebury Common could have some serious consequences. At present, in a recent survey of the flood defences, homes currently in the flood plain at risk of flooding once every five years, eventually leading to the risk of flooding every year. If we act now with the proposed scheme the risk of flooding to homes reduces to one in two hundred years.

If we do nothing and keep with the existing level of protection at Shoebury Common, not only is there a real risk to peoples lives and homes, there is also a real danger that in the future that homes in the blue areas may become uninsurable.

As the rumour mill has gone into overdrive, many people believe that a huge brick wall is going to be placed on top of the existing sea wall at Shoebury Common creating a 'Canvey Island' effect. The leaflet depicting a brick wall on the front asking residents to help urgently stop this being built certainly has not helped. The artist impression circulated at the Shoebury Residents Association meeting on this issue last Spring does not suggest that a structure resembling the Berlin Wall is about to be built.

The one thing that has been striking since the proposed flood defence enhancements are were first put in the public domain last year is that all the Independent Party and Conservative councillors in Thorpe, Shoeburyness and West Shoebury wards are fully supportive of the proposed flood defence arguably the only issue which has united all nine councillors.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Food Waste Blue Boxes and Liners

It has been a busy week for Independent Party leader Cllr Martin Terry. Earlier in the week he offered to abandon his residents in Westborough to challenge Cllr Alex Kaye to a by-election duel in Thorpe ward.

It would have been an interesting prospect to see how Cllr Terry, a former Labour Party member and candidate in Southend, would have explained to residents in Thorpe that he is a 'Conservative a heart' as all Independent Party candidates in Thorpe are encouraged to do.

Cllr Terry then though that with all his flexing of the muscles talk he would put it into practice by taking on the challenge of holding four new blue recycling bins in an Echo article criticising the council in its efforts to increase food recycling rates.

It is the drivel spouted in this article, which as I have said on many occasions, has a tendency to become fact when it goes unchallenged. Whilst it may have been a month ago, lets not forget that Cllr Terry was in favour of removing black sack provision in order to try and reduce our landfill costs when he voted for the Conservative administrations budget.

With some members pushing the Cllr Terry myth, it is easy to forget how the increased focus in food waste recycling came about.

The Department for Communities and Local Government announced in 2012 that it had made a £250 million ‘Weekly Collections Support Scheme’ fund available for local authorities in England to ‘increase the frequency and quality of waste collections and make it easier to recycle’.

Southend Council made an application to DCLG’s Weekly Collection Support Fund. The Council’s bid was to seek funding to support the re-launch of the food waste recycling scheme in order to increase our recycling rates.

The proposal included the issuing of new blue food waste bins and compostable liners to all residents in the town. Feedback from residents indicated that a significant barrier to participation in the scheme was the lack of free food waste bin liners.

The Council successfully secured a grant of £1.635M allocated over the next 3 years - £635k in 2012/13, £500k in 2013/14 and £500k in 2014/15.This would make a significant contribution towards raising the profile and uptake of the food waste scheme but also provide an opportunity to further promote recycling as a whole to our residents.

A condition for the issuing of the grant was that the council had to retain a weekly black sack collection. The intention was to increase the amount of food waste that is recycled and diverted away for black sacks. We estimate this initiative will save the Council approximately £100k per year.

The roll out program started the week commencing 4th March 2013 and will be running for 6 weeks until 12th April 2013. We are now at the end of week 4 and there are two delivery phases.

In the first phase containers, liners and information leaflets will be delivered to 60,000 households across the town. Once the roll out is complete residents will start to receive on-going deliveries of liners every 6 months with their allocation of pink sacks.

In the second phase bins and liners will be provided to high rise properties and flats. This requires engaging with managing agents to agree the location of a communal bin and may take longer. It is worth noting that our contractor Cory has already established a roll out program for high rise properties and flats with 10% already having communal food bins.

I appreciate that residents who have already been using the scheme may feel that it is unnecessary for them to have a new set of bins. However, the design of the new bins are a vast improvement on the old style bins with increased functionality, larger capacity, better design and additional locking mechanism. If was felt appropriate for those residents who have been participating in the scheme to also have access to the superior new bins as they are more secure and resistant to foxes.

It is simply more cost effective to provide all householders with a new bin with their food waste bin liners than try to identify all the households who were not using the scheme or those who would have required a new bin. The entire cost of this is met by the DCLG grant meaning that we can use the grant to make revenue budget savings in the long run.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Welcome Aboard Alex

I was delighted to hear this evening from the borough solicitor that Thorpe councillor Alex Kaye's decision to join the Conservative Group on Southend Council has been finalised.

Since Alex was elected in 2010 there has been no doubt that she has worked tirelessly for her residents and has been an exemplary chairman of  the Community Services and Culture scrutiny committee. This comes as no surprise to me from the years that I have known Alex as Chairman of Milton Conservatives before she was elected in Thorpe.

Although Alex was an 'Independent' this is still a defection for me as the Independents on Southend are a party in all but name. We all know that they have a leader who draws a Group Leaders salary, hold Group meetings, have identical political literature, have a group whip on certain decisions as confirmed by their leader Cllr Terry during the budget discussions, vet candidates, as exposed by Cllr Ware-Lane this evening and go berserk when a true Independent or single issue candidate stands against one of their charges.

Alex gave the reason for leaving the Independent Party was complete disillusionment with the them. This is not the first councillor to leave their party this year as Dr Vel quit calling them a party in all but name in a parting shot. I said back in December that 2012 may go down in history as the beginning of the end for the Independent Party in Southend.

Alex and Dr Vel have seen the danger of Independent Party and have decided that they can better serve their residents elsewhere. I just hope that the voters have heard Alex and Dr Vel's message too.

Bank Holiday Revised Refuse Collection Dates

Budget 2013

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Police, Councillor, Action

Shoebury's Neighbourhood Police Team hold regular meetings with the public in the form of Neighbourhood Action Panels. I attend many of these meetings and raise issues on residents behalf.

Following feedback from residents, I have highlighted issues regarding anti-social behaviour, speeding traffic, issues in our parks, uncontrolled dogs and graffiti in the past.

If you have any problems that you would like raised with our local Police team or questions answered, then please email me at or come along yourself to the next meeting:

When: 19:30 Wednesday 22nd May 2013
Where: Shoebury Police Station, Shoeburyness High School.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Travel Disruption

I recognise the difficulties that a great many motorists experienced last night and this morning as it took me over two hours yesterday to get from Cuckoo Corner to Shoebury yesterday and over an hour and a half to get past the borough boundary this morning. As the portfolio holder responsible for transport I can only offer my apologies on behalf of the council but it is not true to say that the Council did not grit the roads.

From the many abusive emails that have made my way into my inbox on this subject ranging from personal abuse to one suggesting that I should line my family up by a roundabout in Shoebury to allow cars to slide into them to teach me a lesson to, believe it or not, one resident actually accused the council of wasting money by attempting to grit the roads at 18:15 yesterday evening.

The Council gritted the road network on Sunday evening putting some 16 tonnes of grit down over 360 km of road so there was already substantial coverage on the town’s road network.

Throughout yesterday we monitored the weather forecast and had staff driving the road network to assess the condition and from late yesterday afternoon through to 10.30 am this morning a further 72 tonnes of grit were spread over 850 km of road. In addition to this we mobilised our quad bikes this morning to support the journey to work/school run.

Despite the treatment, we experienced a severe wind chill which rapidly dropped surface temperatures in the early evening to around minus 7 degrees and froze the surface water on the treated roads.

Whilst we felt the impact in Southend we were not alone in being hit by the abnormal effects of the wind chill.  Reports from across the South East indicate similar impact – the Highways Agency hadbeen reporting the same effects throughout last night on the Motorways and in Kent and Sussex that despite continuous gritting, the wind chill had caused a rapid blast freeze on the road surfaces followed by difficulty in getting trucks through to retreat the surfaces. 

The weight of commuter traffic, travelling slowly, also meant we had difficulty in getting the gritters through the network to address the impact. To give residents assurance, the road network has started to be gritted from 19:00 this evening with a further grit run at 03:00.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Bishopsteignton Part 2

My involvement with Bishopsteignton did not end with the public meeting today as straight after, I attended a meeting of the Abbotts Walk Management Committee.

This management committee was created to look after the management of Abbotts Walk and Cornworthy as these roads were not adopted by the council when they were built in 1981. At the meeting, I was handed a petition by the committee asking for certain areas in the two roads to be adopted by the council.

I have given an undertaking to hand the petition to the Mayor at the next meeting of the Full Council in April and pledged to give their campaign my full support when it goes through the council system..

Bishopsteignton Public Meeting

Last year, my fellow ward councillors and I launched a parking and speeding traffic survey of the Bishopsteignton area following numerous concerns regarding excessive speeding in Bishopsteignton itself.

As a councillor, I have regularly undertaken residents surveys and this was by far the best return of any to date with an absolutely massive response. After taking into account the responses and suggestions put forward by residents it was clear that residents wanted an end to dangerous parking in certain areas of the estate and the existing 30mph speed limit observed.

As part of the process, we pledged to hold a public meeting to discuss the options after long consultation and dialogue with officers before anything was implemented. This morning we hosted a packed public meeting at Thorpedene Community to discuss the various different options.

To encourage motorists to observe the 30mph limit, there was support from the residents to put white lines in the middle of the road to encourage drivers not to drive down the middle of the road at speed. For those of you familiar with the area will know that Bishopsteignton has mant twists and turns in the road and many residents have commented that one day there will be a serious head on collision.

Support was also given for the road to placed on a list of locations where mobile speed warning signs will be deployed across the borough periodically. We were also given the green light to ask at the next meeting of the Police Neighbourhood Action Panel for the Community Speed Watch to also be deployed.

A number of key locations were also discussed and the residents who attended have asked for junction protection at the Abbotts Walk-Bishopsteignton, Weare Gifford-Bishopsteignton and Appledore-Maplin Way junctions which I will be pursuing.

One thing that I have learnt since having transport as part of my portfolio is that when requests by residents are made to members for any traffic or parking schemes to be implemented is to fully consult and engage with residents before anything is implemented as what is originally asked for may not necessarily be what all the residents want.

For example, before we started this process we were asked by some residents for a 20mph zone to be created in Bishopsteignton but have ended up with a series of measures in which residents were supportive of. I hope that members in other wards will do the same which will ensure that we are not revisiting schemes that members have requested to be put in, in the first place because they have then upset a large number of residents with their requests.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Cat Let Out Of The Bag

At some point in the not to distant future, a decision will be made by councillors as to whether the council decides to hold all up elections once every four years or retain the present system of electing in thirds, where 17 councillors are elected every year for three out of four years.

By holding all out elections once every four years and combining them to coincide with either a General Election or European Election up to £200,000 a year could be made in savings. The savings are made as the Government pays half the costs of holding a national set of elections.

A sensible idea you would think. Well, not according to Cllr Terry the leader of the Independent Group. When asked by the Echo for his views he gave some cock and bull that:

“To me, national politics should not get involved at the town hall, and this risks that happening"

When abviously pressed by the journalist he replied:

“I’ll be honest - it would hurt our vote" 

It will hurt our vote! And there was me thinking that they were Independent.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

2013/14 Budget: What The Opposition Proposed

It is interesting to read the analysis and comment from Thursday's budget Full Council but I thought residents may want to have a look at what the three opposition party leaders were actually proposing, or in some cases not proposing at all in more detail.

The first thing that is very noticeable was as I mentioned in a previous post that despite all the protestations, none of the political parties supported retaining public subsidy of the Airshow. With the opposition only putting forward different options totalling £195,000, this effectively means that they supported over £10 Million of the savings proposals put forward by the Conservatives.

Published in the Echo on the day of the budget debate, there was a full page feature on their proposals. Firstly, they claimed that by taxing residents to the hilt they would see free black bin sacks provided to residents saved. Who are they trying to kid.

A careful examination of this proposal is required. Currently, one roll of black bin sacks is provided to every household every six months. When you look at the proposal closely you will notice that the saving was for 2013/14 financial year only. What were they proposing do from 2014/15 onwards, scrap them?

Also you need to look at the numbers. The suggestion was only to provide 40,000 rolls. With the 2011 Census showing that Southend has an estimated 74,700 households this equates to roughly half a roll of black bin sacks per home. Hardly saving the current provision is it. This then poses the question as to whom they proposed to issue the black sacks to. Were they going to means test for them? Were they only to be available to residents in certain wards or would it a free for all until they all went.

This then begs the question, would you be happy to pay an additional 4p a week in the hope that you may be one of the lucky ones to receive a roll of black sacks? I certainly wouldn't, it would be cheaper to by them myself from a supermarket considering that I, like over 50% of Southend's residents, use less than one black sack a week as 99.9% of all household waste can be deposited free of charge by using our excellent household recycling service.

It was interesting during Cllr Terry's budget speech in that residents would face a choice between buying a tin of beans or buying black sacks. This is complete stupidity as the baked beans could be brought, eaten, with the tin deposited free of charge using the pink sack collection.

Whilst I accept that in some quarters this saving may not be popular but as I highlighted in a post back in January there is no joined up thinking as we need to get people recycling more to cut down on the £3 Million a year we are paying in landfill costs. If our current landfill waste continues, even at the same rate, our landfill costs will continue to increase due to the rising tax escalator as landfill availability becomes increasingly limited over time. For me, the main key priority was ensuring that we retained our weekly black sack collection service.

The next proposal I want to touch on is the School Uniform grant. As my colleague Cllr Courtenay explains, it is not unreasonable to expect schools to pick up this entire cost as they have received an increase of 37% in the pupil premium to £900 per pupil, per year.

The proposal to close the Pier on Monday's and Tuesday's during the off-peak was a necessary one. On some occasions, there are more staff than visitors on these days during the winter months. You have to ask yourself why Adventure Island is closed on these days during the winter and then realise why we took this measure.

By removing the Domestic Violence Co-ordinator role, it also needs to be understood that we are doing away with the necessary support for domestic violence sufferers. This is co-ordinator role in which the person in the role undertook no casework. The domestic violence provision is provided by the Domestic Abuse Strategy Group. There was a need for the co-ordination of this group in its infancy. Now established. without the co-ordinator role this work will continue.

Finally, we have the combined proposal to keep £24,00 for toilet maintenance and supplies and services in Public Transport. Officers have repeatedly assured members that these savings are completely deliverable without seeing no impact to the services.

Once you look closer into what the opposition wanted to tax residents to the hilt for it just smacks, as the leader of the council described,as pure economic madness.

In his speech, Lib Dem leader Cllr Longley commented that it was fine to propose the highest possible council tax increase as it wasn't an election year.

Like many of my Conservative colleagues, I support the minimum council tax rise to protect vital services and not recklessly spending our reserves every year not just in election years.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Parking Mad

Following a petition handed into the council, a debate on the CCTV Vehicle was triggered at Full Council on Thursday night.

The petition, calling for a review of the operation of CCTV Vehicles, was presented by Thorpe Independent Party councillor Mike Stafford. Some residents may not be aware that Cllr Stafford recently had a cameo appearance in a BBC programme Parking Mad, aired in January, as part of a campaign group to force the council to abolish the CCTV Vehicle. The campaign group from the programme (pictured above) were the authors of the petition.

In his speech, Cllr Stafford proclaimed that the vehicles are a waste of money and should be abolished following a review. This was seeming odd, considering that I brought forward a review of the CCTV Vehicle after its first year of operation. The review was supported by all 51 councillors and nobody proposed to abolish the vehicles. Interestingly, Cllr Stafford did not utter one single word during the review but certainly had quite a lot to say for himself on Thursday evening.

I can only assume that Cllr Stafford 'forgot' that there was review of the Vehicles being undertaken as avid followers of this blog may remember that Cllr Stafford famously 'forgot' which ward he represented. It was even more peculiar that considering we were setting the budget that night, if Cllr Stafford thought the CCTV Vehicles are a waste of money then why on earth did he not propose to put this up as a budget saving proposal.

The problem is of course he couldn't, as part of the memorandum of understanding with us that he signed along with his Thorpe colleagues was that he agreed to the continued responsible use of the CCTV Vehicles.

Next up in the debate for the Independent Party was Cllr Anne Chalk. We had the usual from Anne as she once again protested about the use of the vehicles in Shoeburyness High Street. It is somewhat strange that Cllr Chalk only moans about the CCTV Vehicle in Shoeburyness High Street in her ward but I somewhat suspect that this may be because she actually lives in the road.

Anne also commented that she had not seen the car patrolling as much in Shoeburyness High Strret recently. Doh, this was due to the fact that as part of the review it was recommended that there would be a relaxation of enforcement in local shopping areas. Lets also remember that my proposal to publish the routes of the Vehicles was also agreed in the review which will enable residents and councillors to make representations as to areas or roads that they wish to see or not see the CCTV Vehicle patrol.

It would appear that the message is loud and clear from Anne in that she will only speak up for the road that she lives in but could not give a toss about any other road that she represents, especially as she was happy for the vehicles to be deployed on East Beach to monitor noise nuisance as ruthlessly exposed by the Echo.

The final Independent Party speaker was their leader Cllr Terry. Again, Cllr Terry did not cover himself in glory as he said that he had 'concerns' regarding the legality of the Vehicles. The legality issue was dealt with as part of the review but Cllr Terry obviously did not have concern especially as he actually proposed to increase the hours of operation of the CCTV Vehicle.

During last years election campaign, the Independent Party run the following poster ad campaign all over the town where their candidates were standing:

Yet some Independent Party  councillors and candidates were actually me for the CCTV car to be deployed in their wards! What the Independent Party need to remember is that being the official opposition also comes with responsibility.

Full Council

As I described in an earlier post it was a marathon full council on Thursday night in which the budget for financial year 2013/14 was set.

This wasn't the only item of business on the agenda. I also had members questions to answer on the removal of the Domestic Violence Co-ordinator role and the final stage of the Belfairs cycle rote, respond on the debate calling for a review of the CCTV Vehicle and finally on the council's formal response to the Governments consultation on Airport capacity.

Despite the rumours, I was happy to publicly state that no trees will be lost in the final phase of the Belfairs cycle route. Whilst the removal of the Domestic Violence Co-ordinator role was a budget item I gave council the reassurance that the removal of the role will no see any victims of domestic violence in Southend being denied access to the excellent support programme in place by the Domestic Violence Group.

It was then onto the CCTV Vehicle debate triggered by a recent petition. I will talk more on this item in a separate post shortly. It was then onto the 3 hour plus debate on the budget. After all four party leaders spoke it was then the opportunity for all remaining councillors to have their say.

Whilst most speakers covered ground depending on their party political persuasion, it was then down to Liberal Party councillor Ric Morgan, who is now part of the Independent Party, to take the floor.

Bizarrely, Cllr Morgan used his allotted time to say to the chamber that could not vote for or against the budget and that he was heading off home. His actions did seem odd considering that he was highly critical of his former Liberal Democrat colleagues for sitting on the fence during the leadership vote last May. It was this fence sitting which allegedly prompted his defection he Liberal/Independent Party. Either Cllr Morgan was showing rank hypocrisy or it was past his bedtime.

The vote for proposed budget was carried by 36 votes to 16, although an amended proposal was defeated by 27 votes to 21. What did strike me as very odd was that the Independent Party councillor Mike Assenheim and leader of the Independent Party Martin Terry voted both for the amended proposals and the proposed budget. There is nothing like trying to have it both ways.

It was interesting in that all four parties supported £10.4 Million of the proposed savings, including the removal of the public funding of the Southend Airshow. I was pleased that the leader reaffirmed that should a sponsor come forward then the Airshow will be back.

As the budget has now been settled, I am pleased that my plan to slash the first hour car parking charges in half to 50p and the creation of a nominal 20p charge for 30 minutes in our local shopping areas has been approved.

I could not support the proposal to increase Council Tax to nearly 2% as I believe that taxing residents to the hilt when some are struggling to make ends meet is unwise. I am a firm believer in minimum taxation to ensure that residents get access to services so only supported a 1.75% increase.

Next came a debate on the number of Southend pupils who are allocated places in Grammar Schools. Cllr Courtenay told the chamber that all Southend pupils who passed the 11+ were allocated a Grammar School place. Yes, there more pupils from outside Southend who attend our Grammar Schools but I find myself in complete agreement with Labour councillor David Norman in that one of the reasons why there are not more Southend pupils attending Grammar Schools is down the ideological beliefs of some head teachers as there are primary schools who do not have a single child going to a Grammar School. This was a very brave thing for a Labour councillor to say.

The other reason of course is due to the quality of our state secondary schools, like Shoeburyness High School in my own ward, who produce exam results that are right up there with our Grammar Schools. Before anyone asks, no, I did not attend a Grammar School and went to a typical London Comprehensive School that Tony Blair once famously classed as bog standard.

Next on the agenda was Boris Island and was only to happy to once again state my complete objection to any such proposal which frankly would be an absolute disaster for Southend.

Finally we saw the spat between Cllr Dr Vel and Cllr Terry get nasty when he announced he was going to sue Cllr Terry and branded the Labour Group liars. This prompted Labour leader Cllr Gilbert to go into a fit of rage.

With the SKIPP issue and the CCTV vehicle debate thrown into the mix it certainly made good viewing! I can not wait for when these meetings are to be filmed and streamed over the Internet as there was more surreal drama and twits and turns than an episode of EastEnders.

SKIPP Protest

Feeling suitably recovered after the marathon 6 hour budget full council on Thursday night which ended in the early hours of Friday morning I will touch on proceedings in a series of posts.

One incident which may not receive much headlines or column inches in the local press next week was the appearance of semi-naked members of the Saxon King in Priory Park (SKIPP) group in the public gallery.

At first glance, it seemed like another one of their potty stunts rivalling squatting in a graveyard claiming to speak for the 99%. It would appear that they were forced to remove clothing if they wanted to enter the public gallery to watch proceedings, as they had the slogan 'sack the cabinet' emblazoned on t-shirts.

If this was the case, then it is wrong, plain wrong. As a member of the cabinet am I offended, no, I am not. Was it offensive, no, it wasn't. Whilst as a general rule of thumb everything SKIPP stand for I am opposed to, they still had that right to protest in the manor that they wanted to.

I have written to the Chief Executive asking him to conduct a full investigation as a slogan so trivial should not have lead to members of the public having to be forced to remove items of clothing to watch democracy in action.