This morning, BBC Essex are reporting what my little birds have been telling me for the last few days: that Cllr John Lamb (CON – West Leigh), leader of the Conservative Group on Southend Borough Council, has struck a deal with Cllr Floyd Waterworth (UKIP – Blenheim Park), leader of the UKIP group, to take control of the council.
To say that I’m disappointed at the news is an understatement, but after the elections the Joint Administration was on a knife edge, and Cllr Lamb clearly saw this as his last opportunity to achieve his long-held dream of becoming council leader — and was willing to do almost anything to make it happen.
The magic number on the council is 26. 26 councillors is a majority. The Tories have 24 councillors after the elections. The Joint Administration had 25 councillors (10 Labour, 9 Independent
Party Group, 3 Southend Independence Group, 2 Liberal Democrat, 1 non-aligned -Ed). Thus the two UKIP councillors held the balance of power.
Now, the terms of this deal have not fully been revealed yet. BBC Essex this morning reported that UKIP would offer a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement, whereby they did not participate in the minority Conservative administration, but backed them on the budget and on confidence votes.
What UKIP have gotten in exchange hasn’t yet been revealed, but of the whispers coming from my little birds, the most common thing I’ve heard is for Cllr Waterworth to be given chair of the Development Control Committee. This is probably bad news for those residents opposing inappropriate developments, given that on that committee he has previously described people who object to planning applications as ‘nosy’ and ‘complainers’.
All of this still has to get through a vote on the floor of the council, which might be expected, but one wonders how those Conservative councillors feel, who have condemned Labour over the past years for working with other parties. I’m particularly interested in Cllr Cox’s (CON – West Shoebury) view, given that he has personally promised he would do no deal with UKIP.
I fear for what Cllr Lamb and co will do once unleashed on the council once again. I expect we can see an end to the building of sorely-needed new council houses. I expect we will see care homes and children’s centres closing, as well as paid staff being removed from libraries. I wonder what the fate of the Southend Energy Company will be, with those who vociferously opposed its existence once again holding the reins.
The Joint Administration has not been perfect, I would be the first to admit that. It was an arrangement bought out of pragmatism and necessity, and was not able to do everything I would have liked it to do. But in just two years, it achieved a lot of good for Southend, in the face of the near-rabid opposition of those who now seem to be back in control. I fear that most, if not all, of that good will now be rolled back, and Southend returned to the dire state that it was in when the Conservatives were turfed out of power in 2014.