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.