I have been keeping an eye on local politics but I have had no time to comment. I will look at individual members of the cabinet shortly but let’s look at the coalition as a whole.
On the face of it, they seem to be doing very well. Reviews of the seawall, libraries and care homes are all popular (the seawall will be changed – Cllr Terry suggested this on many an occasion in both scrutiny committees and full council). Flattening the tower blocks but beforehand putting out to tender the security of the blocks (thus completing the wishes of the residents via the petition started by me)is a popular act, buying back important historical buildings like the ROyal Hotel is popular. (They have also announced the buying back of Heath and Carby but considering this was in the previous Conservative administration’s budget so we can’t credit them with this). All good solid proposals. You then look at the webcast of the last Full council and you have the new leader of the council promising that he will look after every elderly person in the borough and claiming he will spend whatever is necessary to ensure this. We then have Cllr Velmuragun saying that he does not just want to look after every elderly person but every person full stop. This all sounds fantastic!!
However all these changes cost money, an awful lot of money and where is it all coming from? We all know that despite any offer from the government that council tax is going to rise (it has too, there cant be any job cuts as Labour – well Cllr Ian Gilbert – was certain that the only reason he didnt vote for the budget last year was because of job losses). How much will it rise by? I suppose they could be bold and raise it by 5% or something similiar which will give them a lot of funds. They cant borrow anything as the Independent Party have made their views on borrowing and how we have borrowed too much absolutely clear. I suppose they can increase car parking charges and also charge more for council services but I think the coalition (and in particular the Independent Party) have fallen into the trap of populism without thinking about how to fund it all.
Now of course none of these are definites and it could be that they are just in the habit of releasing information to the press to make them look like they are doing the popular thing but again this a dangerous game to play and indeed their headline about demolishing the tower blocks is likely to have caused much stress and worry to the residents.
Let’s move onto the cabinet starting with those who are performing well;
Cllr David Norman has always been a strong councillor and he has done a dutiful job with the care home. I think he doesnt really want the care home review and realises that there cant be a different outcome but because the Independent Party were desperate to play party politics they had to have it included in the Joint Administration agreement. He answered some strong questions from Cllr Salter for whom Opposition is bringing out the best of her.
Cllr Anne Jones has made a strong start in Education despite some tough situations outside of her control. Her job was made harder by Cllr Woodley promising that all council resources would be thrown at Thorpe Greenways. Now Anne is fair and wouldnt allow that to just be the case for one school and so that is difficult. Her position is also made difficult by her isolation in her own ward where she has one UKIP councillor and one Labour councillor who didnt even bother to go and vote in Anne’s election victory and so it will be interesting to see if Anne returns the favour this year.
Cllr Assenheim is one of the few Independent councillors I have time for. He made a silly mistake at this year’s Essex Police Challenge claiming there were no go areas (a claim later repeated by Cllr Davies in the Big Question) in Southend but on the whole has worked hard and should do well despite the fact he has been bizarrely targeted by Cllr Ward and Cllr Chalk.
Cllr Terry is spearheading the seawall review and has already seemed to pre determine the outcome which in terms of legality leads to interesting questions. It will be interesting to see the outcome of this. Other than this debate he has kept his powder clean which is possibly a very good idea!!
Cllr Gilbert has always been a weak councillor and I always think it is a pity that he is the leader of the Labour Party in Southend. He has poor presentational skills and poor people skills. This has been shown in his performance. Where he does excel is in his knowledge of how councils work and the minor details of the rules and regulations.
Cllr Longley has been on one long photo opportunity. Barely a day goes by where he is not in the local newspaper for one reason or the other. I haven’t really seen much evidence of the impact the Lib Dems are having which perhaps reflects the reality nationally.
Cllr Woodley is the new leader of the council and seems to want emphasise the difference between the two administrations. If he has said `this administration …` once he has said it a thousand times. The reality is as of yet he has had no impact and it will be interesting to see him present next year’s budget.
There have been some notable performers outside the cabinet and fair play to Cllr Ware Lane for sticking his head above the parapet and asking about whether the seawall review has been prejudged.