When the news first emerged that Cory Environmental had lost the contract for Southend Borough Council’s waste collection service, I thought it odd that the local Conservatives decided to position it as the lynch-pin of their opposition campaign.
For one thing, they are the party of privatisation. I wouldn’t describe myself as a completely implacable opponent of private sector involvement in public services but…well, let’s say I’m sceptical.
This, though, is surely the model of how it should work? A contract comes up for renewal, and all comers are invited to bid. They are whittled down to the best offers, and then a choice made between them.
So why were the Tories so against Cory losing the contract? And why are they now so against the £800k saving as a result of changing provider?
It feels a little redundant to describe the Shoebury sea wall debate as the defining issue of the last local elections in Southend — at least in the ward where I was the Labour candidate, West Shoebury.
At the time I was, I feel, more moderate than my opponents on the matter. Whilst UKIP’s James Moyies (who went on to win) damned the council’s preferred scheme as wrong and unworkable, and Conservative then-Cllr Tony Cox backed it to his last electoral gasp, I took the middle way.
I said, whenever asked, that the decision should be reviewed. That the process should be scrutinised. That the choices should be looked at afresh. But given that sea defences are vital — and I still believe that — I could not, I felt, dismiss the then-administration’s preferred plan, given that it was the most cost effective.
That, however, has now been brought into question. In the review initiated by the new joint administration, the preferred scheme has been found not to be the cheapest, but indeed the second most expensive.