Last night I stayed up to watch the full council meeting of Southend Borough Council.
I did so primarily for the vote on changes to the electoral arrangements for the Council — reducing the number of councillors by a third, and switching to all up elections — which thankfully failed.
Bizarrely, that was not the most drawn out of farcical part of last night. It was followed almost immediately for an opportunity for Conservative councillors to grandstand, take up time with manufactured moral outrage, and ultimately call for a vote of no confidence in the leader, Cllr Woodley (IND – Thorpe), which failed ultimately by the mayor’s casting vote.
What a deeply unedifying way to conclude the final council meeting before the elections.
On Thursday evening, I was at the full council meeting of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council to ask a question of the leader of the council.
This is actually quite a fun little feature. Any member of the public can ask a question to any member of the cabinet at any full council meeting. All you have to do is email it to email@example.com clearly marked as question to the executive. You get to go along and ask it yourself.
Anyway, I went along on Thursday, and asked a question to Cllr Ron Woodley (IND – Thorpe).
Southend Borough Council has it’s full council meeting on Thursday 25th February — this coming Thursday. As this is the meeting where the budget for the 2016/17 financial year will be decided, everything else has essentially gone unnoticed.
But there is (At least -Ed) one measure for debate which is particularly vital to the future running of the council.
I am talking about the proposal by the Leader of the Council, Ron Woodley (IND – Thorpe), to cut the number of councillors by a third, in order to save money. The proposal is on the table as a money-saving measure, with estimated savings being in the region of £205,000.
The trouble, it seems to me, is both that the savings are too meagre and the cost to the effectiveness of the councillors representing Southend residents is too high, and ultimately the sacrifice is just not worth it.
The problem with living in a so-called “safe” seat is that there’s not a great deal of reason for your MP to feel they have to work for their constituents. That’s by no means true of all MPs in safe seats, but if re-election is all but assured, the danger is that these MPs are more bothered about the interests of their parties or themselves than the places that they represent.
The two present Southend parliamentary constituencies — Southend West and Rochford & Southend East — have never returned anything but Conservative MPs. Indeed, for anything different you have to go back to 1945, when the seat of South East Essex covered part of Southend and returned Labour’s Ray Gunter.
So given that it has been 70 years since anything but a Tory MP represented any part of Southend, and present MPs Sir David Amess and James Duddridge both sit on hefty majorities (14,021 and 9,476, respectively), it seems fairly clear to me that both constituencies are Conservative safe seats.
Like I said, that doesn’t mean that MPs have to be disinterested in the town. Which makes it all the more disappointing that they apparently are.
Regular readers may recall a few weeks back that I reported a tip from one of my little birds that Cllr Martin Terry (IND – Thorpe) had left his cabinet role as portfolio holder for Public Protection, Waste & Transport.
Attentive reasons may have noted that, in fact, Cllr Terry remains in his post. So what happened? Was my source wrong?
Unconfirmed as yet, but my little birds are whispering to me that Southend’s Cllr Martin Terry (IND – Thorpe) has left his cabinet post of portfolio holder for Public Protection, Waste & Transport, to be replaced by Cllr Mike Assenheim (IND – Shoeburyness).
Dr Velmurugan, one of the councillors for Westborough ward on Southend Borough Council, has announced that he has quit the Independent Party Group led by council leader Cllr Ron Woodley (IND – Thorpe).
Introducing the new make-up of the Cabinet on Southend-on-Sea Borough Council:
Cllr Ron Woodley (IND – Thorpe) — Leader of the Council
Cllr Ian Gilbert (LAB – Victoria) — Deputy Leader of the Council and Executive Councillor for Community and Organisational Development
Cllr Graham Longley (LD – Blenheim Park) — Deputy Leader of the Council and Executive Councillor for Enterprise, Tourism and Economic Development
Cllr Martin Terry (IND – Thorpe) — Executive Councillor for Public Protection, Waste and Transport Cllr David Norman (LAB – Victoria) — Executive Councillor for Housing, Planning and Regulatory Control
Cllr Anne Jones (LAB – Kursaal) — Executive Councillor for Children and Learning
Cllr James Moyies (SIG – West Shoebury) — Executive Councillor for Health and Adult Social Care
That makes 3 Labour councillors, 2 Independent councillors, 1 Liberal Democrat councillor, and 1 Southend Independence Group councillor.
I’ll leave it up to readers to decide who they think is driving this administration’s agenda…
Because it looks, to me, like a leaflet. Like a branded leaflet, going out across Southend.
There’s an election coming (You may have heard- Ed) so in many ways this isn’t surprising. But what I am surprised at(No you’re not -Ed) that the group which has repeatedly insisted that it isn’t a party has produced this. A unified leaflet, for all of the Independent Party Group candidates across the damn borough.
Now, call me out if you like, but that sounds to me like the trait of a party.
Whilst the joint administration at Southend Borough Council, I would argue, is an unambiguous improvement on the previous, tired, stagnating Conservative administration which until May had run Southend (Or rather, managed its decline -Ed) for some fourteen years, there are sometimes stark reminders that this isn’t a pure Labour administration, and there are some areas on which I would like it to do substantially more.
Yesterday’s piece in the Echo about the use, by the council, of zero-hours contracts, for example. 159 council employees, apparently, are on such contracts, out of a workforce of 1,899. That’s just shy of 8% — The Echo’s maths apparently not being great — which in this blogger’s opinion is a long way from ideal.
Whilst I am not pleased at the widespread use of such potentially-exploitative contracts, I can imagine that taking charge of what has been for nearly a decade and a half a Tory local authority, such legacy issues will pop up. What bothers me more is council leader, and Independent Party Group councillor for Thorpe, Ron Woodley’s lacklustre response.