Monday, 27 February 2012

Hospital Parking Management Scheme

Over the past couple of days I have received a few emails from residents concerned with a quote that I made in the Echo on the 15/02/12 relating to parking displacement in the Somerset Estate from the Hospital Parking Management Scheme.

On the 8th March, the Traffic & Parking Working Party will meet to look and discuss recommendations from a review of the Hospital Parking Management Scheme of which I chair. There is a widespread view that there has been some parking displacement to the fringes of the scheme in which these roads had never previously had a problem with parking prior to the implementation of the scheme. A view which I share.

In the Echo article I was quoted as saying that 'I do not believe this to be a problem. We will look at issues with these schemes individually' which has been taken understandably by some that I do not believe the Somerset Estate has a problem.
Yes I did say this quote but it was in relation to a quote from Cllr Terry above my quote in the article in that Cllr Terry believes that funding may be an issue if any amendments are required to Parking Management Schemes across the town, especially for the residents who live on the edges of such schemes.

My quote was designed to give reassurance to residents that funding for any amendments to current Parking Management Schemes implemented across the town will not be an issue.    

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Scottish Independence

This morning, I have spent a little time musing over the various different arguments for and against Scottish Independence.
Most of the analysis and comment seems to look at the issue from a Scottish perspective but not at the potential ramifications this would have for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

As Scottish Independence could effectively mean the end of Great Britain, this could mean the end of membership to NATO, the United Nations, the EU as well as the end to over 12,000 international treaties as England, Wales and Northern Ireland are only incorporated because we are signed up as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

This is coupled with the domestic issues of a Scottish split from Union in relation to defence, the NHS and how much of the national debt will be apportioned to Scotland.
I know that Independence for Scotland may be attractive to some Conservatives especially as Labour has 41 Scottish MP's and the Conservatives have 1 and would mean that Labour would be consigned to the political history books but I genuinely believe that we would be poorer if Scotland were to leave the Union.

I agree with David Cameron in that Scottish Independence is a matter for the Scottish people but where I differ is that I believe any referendum on Scottish Independence is also a matter for the rest of the UK too.
With many Scots living in this town and other parts of the UK why should they be prevented from having a vote whilst the English, Welsh and Irish who live in Scotland would have a vote. As 82% of the UK is made up of English, Welsh and Irish surely the majority should have a say on the future of their country? 

Friday, 24 February 2012

Not the Finest Month for Southend Labour

Some within the Labour Party love nothing better than trying to make out the Conservative Party are the 'nasty party' but when it comes to disagreeing with their Conservative opponents, Labour have taken this to a truly unpleasant level this month.

At the start of the month we had Sunderland City councillor Florence Anderson who "Likes" the idea that the IRA should blow up the Conservative Party Conference and this week we have seen Falkirk West MP Eric Joyce charged with three counts of common assault after allegedly giving Conservative MP Stuart Andrew a 'Scottish Kiss' in a fracas in the Strangers Bar in the House of Commons which was rumoured to have started after Eric Joyce thought that there were 'too many Tories in the place' - Both have been suspended by the Labour Party.

Unfortunately the unpleasantness from the Labour Party has spread to Southend. Earlier this month we had former Thorpe and Belfairs candidate Matt Zarb-Cousin publicly apologise for likening the Queen to a benefit scrounger, last week we had the Leader of the Labour Group Ian Gilbert comparing Conservative opponents to Vermin and West Shoebury Labour candidate Gray Sergeant offending Christian Conservative councillors and suggesting they should pray for forgiveness for having to make budget savings this year after the financial mess his Labour Government left the country in.

This has certainly not been labour's finest month!

SKIPP/Occupy Southend

I would have liked to blog about this earlier but the blogger platform has had some issues this week with new posts but these now seem to have been resolved.
Last Sunday, after threatening for weeks, Occupy Southend decided to set up camp in the Churchyard at St Mary's Church, Prittlewell with no mandate or support from the public. From the recent coverage it is clear that this campaign is the work of SKIPP in all but name with their committee members present at the illegal squat.
For those that will question and challenge me the Vicar at St Mary's has spoken out in the strongest possible terms. I agree wholeheartedly with Rev Shaun Conlon the illegal occupation is disrespectful and inappropriate and it is time for SKIPP to leave and return the site in the state that they found it.
Since their illegal occupation we have heard very little from known SKIPP sympathiser/supporter Brian Ayling the Independent Party candidate for St Lukes ward in the local elections this May on this issue. I'm sure all St Lukes residents would expect their candidates to respect the rule of law. It time now Brian to condemn your friends little stunt, the residents of St Lukes are waiting...      

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Double Standards In Thorpe Bay

I was somewhat bemused to see Cllr Woodley claiming credit for the removal of yellow lines in Brunswick Road, Kensington Road and Victoria Road to assist businesses in that area in the Echo last week.

I was first alerted to the issue by a Conservative councillor who lives in Thorpe ward and was able to take prompt action once the scale of the issue become apparent. Not once has Cllr Woodley and his fellow Independent Party colleagues who represent Thorpe ward in the council chamber, raised this issue with me since Transport was added to my portfolio last May.

I was also shocked to find Cllr Woodley addressing hoteliers and guest house owners of his opposition to pay and display charging of the car park behind the Camelia Hotel in Eastern Esplanade (Echo 20/02/12) especially as the idea for charging in this car park has been repeatedly proposed by Cllr Woodley and his colleagues to officers in their regular meetings dating as far back to June last year.

The saying ‘if you peddle a myth long enough it becomes fact’ is quite clearly apt when it comes to Cllr Woodley and his ward colleagues in Thorpe.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

St Augustine's Church

Not many readers or residents in West Shoebury will be aware that some of the ward belongs to the parish of St Augustine's where St Augustine's Church in Thorpe Bay is located.

To mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, I was invited to a special service at St Augustine's Church this morning where a Royal Coat of Arms was unveiled to mark the occasion. It was a fantastic and very well attended service conducted by the Reverend Jonathan Collis. The new Royal Coat of Arms makes a  wonderful addition to the Church.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Victoria Voice has Woken

After a 3 month hiatus, it would appear that a recent post of mine has helped the author of Victoria Voice, Cllr Ian Gilbert, to find his blogging voice again.

To some on the left, it would appear that the proposed benefits cap is like a red rag to a bull. The idea that no household should get more than £26,000 in benefits – equivalent to a pre-tax salary of £35,000 – is overwhelmingly popular.

British voters subscribe to a strong idea of fairness, particularly when it comes to the idea that working should be more rewarding than not working but it astounds me when some on the left, like Cllr Gilbert, bleat on about equality and fairness and standing up for the working man but fail yet fail to back the Welfare Reform Bill.

Cllr Gilbert's assumption that capping benefits at £26,000 will force people to move out of central London is fatally flawed because socialist economics fails to recognise that the economy is dynamic.

The truth is that some of the main beneficiaries of overly high benefits are private landlords. They may not get payments from the DWP direct, but they reap the cash anyway through inflated rents, secure in the knowledge that every time they put the price up, benefits levels are raised to pay them. This is a racket, exploiting the foolishness of officials in pumping more and more money out and the absence of taxpayer power to rein in this behaviour.

If rents were fixed then yes, some would be affected by capping benefits but rents aren’t fixed, they are fluid. If you remove a large amount of cash from the system then prices will fall. By arguing for the system to remain as it currently is, rather than accept a cap, this supposed “progressive” is effectively fighting the corner of benefit-farming landlords.

There are knock-on benefits to removing the artificial inflation in rents, too. If renting property out becomes less profitable, the desire and the financial means to buy-to-let will be reduced, helping to address the shortage of affordable housing that is so often highlighted as a problem.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Queen's Diamond Jubilee Anniversary

With all the news coverage being dominated by the adverse weather it seems that a significant milestone in this country could be overlooked today.

Although the main celebrations for the Queen's Diamond Jubliee will be in June, today actually marks the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne. Her great-great grandmother Victoria was the only other British monarch to achieve this milestone - and commemoration, marking as it does the anniversary of the death of her father, George VI.

Hopefully as the weather improves and the months go by, there will be nothing subdued about the events which will be staged for a reign which is the second longest in British history.

School Closures

Following the heavy snow yesterday there have been some school closures this morning as a result. Currently, only Richmond Avenue Primary School in West Shoebury is closed but a full list of current school closures can be found here.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

What Have I Learnt

This May will mark six years since I was first elected as a councillor in West Shoebury. Somebody said to me the other day: “I bet you’ve learn a lot in that time.” And they’re right – I have.

Obviously I’ve learnt a lot about how the council functions, how its departments run, how the organisation is structured. I’ve learnt which road repairs are better for different circumstances, how much things cost, how long things take and both the possibilities and the limitations of the position I hold.

In regards to politics I’ve learnt a lot about how the party political groups work (and how they sometimes don’t work) and what opposition groups will say and do to score points. Even so sometimes, just sometimes, people rise above the cut-and-thrust of politics and surprise you. While others do the precise opposite and sink beneath the waves.

I’ve learnt that you can speak your mind, only that a great deal of care must be taken about how things are worded. Local politics is littered with bear traps; opposition parties, local pressure groups, local campaigners, local press – all looking for opportunities to capitalise in one way or another on the things people say. All with their own agendas and often prepared, deliberately or through casual misunderstanding, to use and abuse comments you make for their own ends. Still, despite this, you must try to speak your mind wherever possible and damn the consequences if need be – for your own conscience if nothing else.

I’ve also learnt that councillors are integral to the spirit of a community. Much-maligned, often controversial, sometimes just ignored, the challenge of the job is to just try and make small differences; here, there, wherever you can. As the years pass the small differences begin to accumulate and it is possible to do some lasting good.

If you intend to do it right then this is not an easy job. Every day is a challenge and you will have to contend with local forces that do not wish you well and indeed some that will be actively working to undermine you. You will face harsh scrutiny, sometimes from those who have positive goals in mind, other times from those who are just looking for you to fall down.

But it is the most rewarding job I have ever done. Rewarding for the small differences you can make. Rewarding when you help local people to little victories. Rewarding when you are embattled and, to your surprise, you find your community and new friends rallying around you.

There is nothing quite like being a local councillor. I would strongly recommend it to anyone. But I would particularly recommend it to anybody who would describe themselves as; energetic, determined and thick-skinned. The last being a particularly important trait if you want to come out the other end in a positive way.

If you think this might be something you’d like to do, then don’t stop there. Get involved. It’s well worth it. I promise.

Proposed Benefits Cap

I am a firm believer that the benefits system in this country should act as a safety net in which people should not fall but not be a lifestyle choice.

The Governments proposed benefits cap of £26,000 per year still exceeds the earnings of most in Southend. A BBC article earlier this week looked at a family who could be affected by the proposed changes. I wonder how many people reading this link think that this particular family really face the choice of 'eating or heating'?

The comment that really astounded me was: 'We get the Sky Movies package because we're stuck in the house all week - otherwise we wouldn't have any entertainment.'

From the work that I have been doing on the doorsteps it is plainly clear that Labour's stance on this is way off what the majority of West Shoebury residents think. As one resident put it Ed Milliband is coming across on this issue as the leader who supports you going to work as long as you pay for your neighbour too.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Economic & Environmental Scrutiny

On Thursday evening the council's draft budget proposals were discussed at some length by the Economic & Environmental Scrutiny Committee.

The Lib Dems proposed introducing limited free swimming for the over 65s, re-launching the Advantage Card and offering council tax rebates to special constables. It was agreed that some health funding will be allocated for free swimming for over 65's for one day a week for 2 years with a review in 18 months, agreed that we will re launch the Advantage Card which can be accommodated within the existing budget and have agreed to request a paper on the financial and practical ramifications of offering council tax rebates to special constables. Who says that the Conservatives do not listen?

The Independent Party contribution from Martin Terry and Ron Woodley was little short of amusing. Cllr Terry confirmed what the majority of us already knew that after nine years on the council he did not understand how to read the accounts. It would seem that Cllr Terry also has difficulty in understanding an agenda after throwing a mini strop when he was prevented from asking a question on an item which wasn't on the agenda.

In a budget in excess of £450 Million where difficult choices have had to be made to save £11 Million. Cllr Woodley concentrated all his efforts on a minor issue of car parking charges in Thorpe Ward which was agreed last year without any comment from him and is not proposed to change this year.

Cllr Woodley also tried to raise the old chestnut that borrowing out of control. When challenged by the leader on whether he would cut investment in the pier or cliffs stabilisation to reduce borrowing the silence was deafening 

It was also raised a chuckle when Cllr Woodley claimed that he was a Conservative. I also had a chuckle when he signed the nomination papers of the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate in 2010 and when he claims he is an Independent.

Also called into scrutiny was the Independent report on the City Beach scheme which was approved by cabinet on the 26th January. It was a very good debate and the report passed without amendment. As the Lib Dems also agreed the report in full and accept that the City Beach scheme is safe  I hope they do the honourable thing and remove their appalling news item posted on the Southend Lib Dem website in June last year which they claim that the City Beach scheme puts peoples lives in danger. You can not have it both ways! 

Southend Driving Test Centre

Four years ago, Southend lost its Driving Test Centre under the last Labour Government despite an intense battle by local campaigners spearheaded by James Duddridge MP and the Southend & District Driving Instructors Association.

A few weeks ago, I gave my full support in bringing a mobile test centre to Southend and was delighted to see a letter from the Chief Executive to transport minister Mike Penning confirming that Southend Council would be delighted to host the mobile centre at a council facility.

On Thursday, I was delighted that Mike Penning visited the town at the Tickfield Centre in Tickfield Avenue, the proposed venue for the mobile Test Centre. Transport Mike Penning confirmed that Southend is "99.9% certain" to be included in the Government's pilot of new mobile test centre initiative. Mr Penning also added that it might be a push to get the test centre open by Easter but it should not take much longer than that. I will keep you posted on further developments. 

Hypocrisy on Resients Associations

Last month I highlighted the hypocrisy by Independent Party leader Cllr Martin Terry over the issue of residents associations following his criticism of Lib Dem councillor Ric Morgan in the letters pages in the Southend Echo for being involved in a residents association.

This hypocrisy of Cllr Terry on this issue knows no bounds as he is now actively involved in setting up a new residents association following the collapse of the Residents Association of Westborough - the political wing of the Independent Party in Westborough.

The Westborough Residents Association has been beset by internal feuding following the removal of 8 committee members. In a copy of a flyer that I was given yesterday, a meeting at the end of the month has been set up by the three Westborough ward councillors at the end of the month to set up a new residents association. It is good to see the do as I say and not as I do attitude of Cllr Terry is alive and well.