Back in the summer, Southend Borough Council took what I considered a long overdue step to bring itself into the 21st Century.
You see, as things stand, Councillors receive printed copies of all council reports, agendas and documentation ahead of meetings, couriered to them wherever they may be in the town. In the case of important, sensitive documents — such as the annual budget — this might make sense. But for every last document, this is wasteful and needless.
So the decision was taken to move into the digital age, and instead send such documents to councillors by email. As I said, this is long overdue. Of course, as with any change there are those who react against it, those who cling to the old ways even when they no longer make sense. And here is no exception
At the full council meeting this evening, there will be a motion discussed. Below is the text of this motion:
“We the undersigned wish to put before the council a motion to rescind the decision of this council to stop the printing and distribution of hard copies of council papers.“
Very simple, but in this one sentence the signatories want to wipe out a saving that has been estimated to me as around £28 million a year, for the sake of their own convenience.
Now, the motion has 29 signatories, including the proposer and seconder. In a stroke of utter genius the motion itself says “This motion is proposed by me…“, but I understand ‘me‘ in this context to refer to Cllr Roger Hadley (CON – Shoeburyness). Presuming this to be the case, the 29 councillors are as follows:
Cllr Roger Hadley (CON – Shoeburyness) [PROPOSER]
Cllr Alan Crystall (LD – Leigh) [SECONDER]
Cllr Bernard Arscott (CON – Leigh)
Cllr Mike Assenheim (IND – Shoeburyness)
Cllr Stephen Aylen (IND – Belfairs)
Cllr Brian Ayling (IND – St Luke’s)
Cllr Steve Buckey (CON – St Laurence)
Cllr Mo Butler (CON – Belfairs)
Cllr Trevor Byford (CON – Eastwood Park)
Cllr James Courtenay (CON – Blenheim Park)
Cllr Tony Cox – (CON – West Shoebury)
Cllr Meg Davidson (CON – Prittlewell)
Cllr Fay Evans (CON – West Leigh)
Cllr Mark Flewitt (CON – St Laurence)
Cllr Nigel Folkard (CON – Chalkwell)
Cllr David Garston (CON – Southchurch)
Cllr Jonathan Garston (CON – Milton)
Cllr Stephen Habermel (CON – Chalkwell)
Cllr Ann Holland (CON – Southchurch)
Cllr Derek Jarvis (CON – West Shoebury)
Cllr Derek Kenyon (IND – Southchurch)
Cllr John Lamb (CON – West Leigh)
Cllr David McGlone (UKIP – St Laurence)
Cllr Georgina Phillips (CON – West Leigh)
Cllr Ian Robertson (CON – Chalkwell)
Cllr Lesley Salter (CON – Belfairs)
Cllr Paul Van Looy (IND – St Luke’s)
Cllr Chris Walker (CON – Eastwood Park)
Cllr Nick Ward (IND – Shoeburyness)
For clarity, that amounts to one Lib Dem councillor, one UKIP councillor, five independent councillors, and 22 Conservative councillors. That is the entire Conservative group, and I am a little surprised to see Cllrs Cox and Courtenay, who generally I regard as fairly sensible, number amongst them. It smacks, to me, of a whipped vote on the blue side of the chamber.
There are a few things that are worth noting about this. Firstly, that councillors still have access to the civil centre facilities to print whatever they like, council papers included. Secondly, that councillors will be provided with a tablet computer for the purposes of receiving and accessing documents. Thirdly, due to the volume of documentation received from outside sources, this will not apply to Development Control Committee (Planning committee -Ed) papers.
And finally, at a time when Southend is receiving disproportionate and swingeing cuts from the Conservative government at Westminster, for councillors (Including the entire Conservative group -Ed) to refuse to make savings on the grounds that it might inconvenience them is frankly disgusting. There is simply no need for routine, non-time sensitive papers to be couriered around the town for the sake of making life easy for councillors. I note that several Labour councillors were approached and asked to sign the motion, and all refused on those very grounds.
I will be watching with interest tonight, to see whether this motion passes and who votes for it. I hope that, ahead of the local elections in May, Southend residents will take note of who does.