Monday, 31 December 2012

Out With The Old, In With The New

In a few hours of writing this blog we will be marking the start of 2013. There has been no doubt that 2012 has been a turbulent time economically for the UK.

I am in no doubt that in 2013 cases will be made for state-sponsored intervention to promote “growth” (which will, over the next year, become the most repeated and abused word in politics). Special groups – many very worthy and honourable – will plead for protection.

But the truth is that, like I’ve always said, there is no  magic bullet. There never was. There never will be. When you’ve dug yourselves a giant hole full of debt and state subsidy and market-stifling regulation and special privilege there is only one way out. Get rid of the duff regulations and red tape – and then do a whole lot of hard work. Conservatives – and British people in general – understand the value of hard work. We just expect that at the end of a day’s graft (in whatever profession) we will get to keep the lion’s share of the reward we have earned.

This is as true for the bricklayer, or shop assistant, or hairdresser, or policeman, or civil servant as it is for the lawyer, or banker, or union boss.

I said three years ago, and two years ago, and last year, that barring some miracle like finding oil under Milton Keynes - there will be no miraculous burst back into economic good health. This country will bump along a difficult line with things occasionally looking slightly rosier.

In some respects that has not just been a recession but a correction - from years of pretending we were wealthier than we are by borrowing ourselves into oblivion back to the true situation that has been created by years of ill-considered and wrong-headed economic and social policy.

The Left Wing of politics, both nationally and locally, spend their entire time doing two things (In this I include the Southend Independent Party who are about as politically-independent as Karl Marx).

They try to sow discontent by pretending that money can be plucked from thin air to appease the special concerns of anybody who they think might vote for them and then they pretend that previous bad policy was not in error and try to fix it with more suggestions of even worse policy.

It is a cynical and dangerous ploy, but one that does sometimes bear fruit for them. My hope is that nationally and locally the sensible British people will reject this negative politicking and paucity of ideas – in the same way they would reject Get-Rich-Quick schemes.

On the positive side we should remember that the United Kingdom is second to no nation in the world for invention, entrepreneurship or hard work. We have centuries of history and excellence to demonstrate this. These traits, so special to this little island and its smaller neighbours, have not gone away they are alive and well and ready to burst back into life if the State will just get out of the way and let it happen. It needs no help. It just needs a little less hindrance, and fewer people pretending that making stuff, doing stuff, creating stuff, is somehow evil. Its not. It’s wonderful and we do it so well.

Anyway enough of the ranting for 2012, I wish you all a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.

Friday, 28 December 2012

A Welcome Christmas Surprise

A few years ago, under the last Government, the law was changed which prevented empty commerial properties becoming exempt from Business Rates. Historically, any commercial building which was unused was exempt from Business Rates but a change in the law ment that they no longer qualified unless the owners could demonstrate that the building could no longer be used.

As times have toughened economically, to avoid paying business rates, land owners started part demolishing buildings. This has had disastrous consequences up and down he land as communities had eyesores inflicted upon them.

Sadly, Southend hasn't been exempt with our seafront and Victoria Avenue suffering in particular. At a recent cabinet, I asked if it were possible for a local change in that we would only give Business Rate exemptions if the land owners totally demolished these types of buildings and cleared the site.

Despite the endeavours of officers investigating we are unable to do so despie local authorities now keeping Bussiness Rates. Here in West Shoebury we have similar issues with the former Turpins Tyres sie in West Road.

Yesterday, residents in West Road were given a pleasant surprise as the land owners started work on demolishing the rest of the building and clearing the site. We are lucky that this work is being undertaken so are less so. If the coalition government really want to help change and transform local communities a very simple change in the law to allow local authorities to set Business Rates criteria will stop this misery being inflicted upon us.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Merry Christmas Everyone

I'd like to wish all residents in West Shoebury and particularly readers of this blog, a very, very Merry Christmas and and a prosperous and healthy 2013.

Keep Blood Tests Local

I am very selective regarding which cause or campaign I add my signature to. There can be a tendency for politicians to jump on every passing bandwagon or become a rent a quote on every given subject.

By being selective, if my name is added to a cause or campaign then I believe that this gives residents the assurance that it is something that I believe in. Sometimes campaigns are like buses, in that you can wait ages for one and then two come along at once. Over the past few months there have been a couple of campaigns that I have believed in, the fight to save the Shoebury Delivery Office in George Street and now keeping blood tests local in Southend.

Bedford Hospital, some 90 miles away from Southend, have been announced as the preferred bidder by the regional Health Authority to screen blood tests. This means that all blood test screening currently undertaken at Southend and Basildon Hospitals will now transfer to Bedford Hospital. This will lead to inevitable delays with a real fear by many that lives could be put at risk.

The local Southend Echo have set up an e-petition in a bid to get 100,000 signatures to force a debate in parliament on the issue. I added my name yesterday, you can add yours too by clicking here.


This last month has been the usual hectic. Meetings in the Civic Centre on most Tuesday afternoons this month primarily focused around work on the forthcoming budget for the next year, were intense and detailed.  As you might imagine setting the budget for the town is a big job and one that comes with significant challenges – not least because of rising demand and costs versus falling revenue.

Earlier this month, I attended the first meeting of the Shoebury Youth Centre Steering Group which has been set following criticisms by the public, me and other members alike to address the under usage and lack of activities that young people want to participate in. I am pleased to say that usage has increased in the second half of the year but there is still more to be done in 2013 but I am encouraged by the work that officers and the portfolio holder have undertaken so far. I was delighted to attend the West Road Community & Traders Association Christmas event in West Road and hopefully this group will go from strength to strength in the New Year. 

In December I have attended meetings of Full Council, Cabinet, chaired the Public Transport & Buses Working Party and attended an on-site visit at City Beach regarding the work which is about to be undertaken in February on putting in the informal crossing points.

In addition I also attended a meeting on the proposed flood defences at Shoebury Common with representatives from the Beach Hut Association and Uncle Toms Cabin. It was pleasing that at this meeting for the first time there was a recognition by all parties that there is a real threat of flooding at Shoebury Common which needs to be addressed.

There has also been the ward work including the battle to get three untaxed lorries removed from Bishopsteignton which thankfully has now been resolved.

It has been a long month, but with the presents wrapped and all the Christmas shopping now brought there are only a couple of days to Christmas.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

A Party in all but name

'Cllr Martin Terry the Leader of the Independent Group (A party in all but name)'. Not my words, but those of Cllr Dr Vel this afternoon in an email sent to all councillors.

This week Cllr Dr Vel announced that he is leaving the Independent Group as his spat with leader Cllr Terry turned ugly and became public - so much so that Cllr Terry urged him to stand down!

The developments this week have been spectacular considering that Cllr Terry was Cllr Dr Vel's agent in his bid for re-election in Westborough earlier this year and that they were the founders of the  'Independent project' in Southend.

Without any knowledge, it would appear that the spat started after one of the Independent Party charges put in a bid to become leader of the council following Southend going into no overall control following May's local elections. Southend has a Conservative minority administration after the opposition groups could not unite around a leader, despite the only thing they all had in common during the election campaign was the belief that they could do a better job than the Conservatives in running this town.

What this public spat between Cllr Terry and Cllr Dr Vel has done is officially put in the public domain that Cllr Terry leads a sudo party. Cllr Terry thought he had mastered the art of leading the public to believe that they were a group of people opposed to party politics despite one of their group belonging to a political party (Cllr Ric Morgan, Liberal Party, Prittlewell), have a leader who draws a salary, hold political group meetings, have identikit literature, form electoral pacts with political parties, have what suspiciously looks like whipped voting on certain issues and go ballistic if somebody stands as an Independent against one of their approved candidates.

It was inevitable that one day the Independents in Southend would implode, all Independent groupings invariably do and you can only be the repository for the dustbin vote for so long.

With Southend council being in no overall control, more scrutiny is placed on the opposition with the Independents failing at the first hurdle. The Independents have been busted. When we look back in time 2012 may prove to be the beginning of the end for them

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Revised Christmas Recycling and Waste Collection Dates

With there being just 9 more sleeps to Santa there will be revised waste and recycling collection dates over the festive season.

For West Shoebury residents, the normal collection on Friday the 28th December will now be collected on Monday 31st December. The normal collection on Friday 4th January will now be collected on Monday 7th January and the normal collection on Friday the 11th January will be collected on Saturday 12th January.

Webcasting Given Green Light

At a meeting of Full Council on Thursday night, webcasting of meetings of Full Council were given the green light in a named vote by a majority of 27-13 votes.

As my colleague Cllr James Courtenay explained on his blog it will open democracy and allow more residents to see what councillors do any say in their name like the member who the question whether a freezer left in Belfairs Woods was to blame for the snow last week.

It will also stop the ruse of councillors saying one thing in the council chamber and then another on their blogs or newsletters to residents. For example, following comments made by Labour Leader Cllr Ian Gilbert regarding the new English Baccalaureate (ebacc as it has been dubed in the press) Cllr Chalk then spoke to say this that she has concerns with the proposed single examination at the end of the course which is completely opposite to what she said on her blog in September, which claims that the ebacc is a good idea and that coursework 'dilutes the educational experience'.

I'm sure it will come as no surprise that Cllr Chalk was one of the 17 who voted against the proposals.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Council Backs Royal Mail Motion

"We call on this council to back the campaigns to stop the closure of the Royal Mail Delivery Offices in Shoeburyness and Leigh which will force some residents in this town to have a round trip of over 10 miles to collect parcels and signed for mail and have an adverse impact upon both the economic and environmental core of the town's operational effectiveness".

Proposed by Cllr's Tony Cox and Mark Flewitt
Seconded by Cllr Roger Hadley

I am delighted that the above motion was unanimously backed by all members at Thursday night's full council meeting. I was able to lead the debate by stating the reasons why this controversial proposal by Royal Mail is flawed in so many ways and opposed by many - even by staff who work at the Shoebury Delivery Office in Goerge Street.

I am also grateful to the Labour Group Leader Cllr Ian Gilbert for the acknowledgement of the work that Cllr Hadley and I have done in leading the campaign against the closure of the Shoeburyness Delivery Office.

I am also pleased that all four Group Leaders signed the strongly worded letter below following the sham of a meeting held with Royal Mail which I mentioned here last week.

You can still add your voice to campaign by signing the online petition here.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

'Portfolio of Work to be Proud of'

When I was first elected in 2006, the big issue of the day in Shoebury which dominated my mailbox was the high levels of Graffiti which blighted many streets, buildings and street furniture.

So bad was the issue that a big clear-up operation was undertaken, a multi-agency task force set up to try and curb the problem and me and my colleagues in West Shoebury even produced and delivered a whole newsletter dedicated to the topic.

Thankfully those days are behind us and on the whole, Shoeburynes remains graffiti free although I remain vigilant and report new occurrences as soon as I spot them or residents inform me.

Graffiti costs council and industry a colossal amount every year and I feel that by calling it graffiti actually trivialises what is actually criminal damage.

I was stunned to read yesterday that three vandals who caused £150,000 damage to trains during a three-year spree, were told by Judge Henry Blacksell that they should be proud of their work.

Sentencing the trio to a minimum prison term, the judge said: "I will pass the least possible sentence. These are young men and people care about them. I don't endorse it but I understand the adrenaline rush and the feeling it gives them and they may be isolated in their families.

"I don't want to be doing this and I will be as lenient as I can be. They've got talent and some of Mr Rowe's portfolio you would be proud of. Clearly they are talented artists. What message does this send out. Still, I suppose it isn't as bad as Judge Peter Bowers who told a burglar his crime must have taken "a huge amount of courage"!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Thank You

For some weeks, I, along with my colleague in Shoeburyness ward Cllr Roger Hadley, have been leading the fight to save the Royal Mail Delivery Office in George Street.

A petition has been available online and in local shops in Shoeburyness for the residents to voice their fury and to get Royal Mail to think again about their plans to force Shoebury residents to collect their parcels and signed for mail at the Short Street Depot.

So far, over 950 residents have backed us in our campaign with the number rising daily. We are planning to hand the petition to Royal Mail early in the New Year but you can still have your voice heard by signing the online petition here.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Beach Huts to return to East Beach

Sitting in my in-box this morning was a press release of the design of the Beach Huts which are set to return to East Beach after an absence of a number of years.

Architects Pedder & Scampton have won the contract to design the new Beach Huts after they were selected from a short list of three bidders after 40 architectural firms from across the UK expressed an interest. The full press release can be found below.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Fight Still Continues

Earlier this week, representatives from Southend Council met with Royal Mail to discuss the proposed closure of the Shoeburyness and Leigh Delivery Offices. Below is a press release issued by the council following the talks:

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council is appalled at Royal Mail’s decision to shut five of its sorting offices in south east Essex without bothering to consider the views of local residents.

Chief Executive Rob Tinlin wrote to Royal Mail in October requesting an urgent meeting after it announced plans to close the sorting offices in Leigh, Shoebury, Canewdon, Great Wakering and Rochford.

The meeting was arranged for the Civic Centre this morning and attended by Mr Tinlin and the leaders of all four political groups on the Council.

They had planned to discuss their united opposition to the closures with a senior member of Royal Mail’s management team and talk about possible alternative solutions.

But instead two members of staff without the authority to make decisions or alter the proposals were sent to inform them Royal Mail was publicly announcing the closures tomorrow (Dec 6).

Council Leader Nigel Holdcroft said: “I am quite appalled and shocked by Royal Mail’s behaviour with regards to this matter, which has the horrible feel of a stitch-up about it.

“Royal Mail announced in October that it intended closing the sorting offices and consolidating all its sorting office functions at its Short Street base in Southend.

"It appears to have taken absolutely no account of the affect this would have on the four communities concerned, let alone the logistical difficulties it would cause in Short Street".

Royal Mail has previously objected to Tesco’s plans to build a new superstore in Short Street on the grounds that it would be likely to cause traffic disruption in the area.

But it plans to centralise all of its sorting office activity without making any extra provision for customer parking at Short Street, where reorganisation plans have still to be finalised.

The Council wrote to Royal Mail’s Chief Executive Noreen Perry requesting an urgent meeting to enable it to discuss its concerns about the planned sorting office closures.

In her reply she wrote: “No decision has yet been made. We are still exploring our options, but expect to be able to share more information in the near future".

Cllr Holdcroft added: “At the meeting today myself, the other three group leaders and Rob expected a senior Royal Mail official to attend to listen to our concerns.

“Instead two representatives without the authority to make alterations to the current proposals were sent to tell us the closures would be publicly announced the very next day and that Royal Mail had no obligation to consult with anyone over them.”

Whilst the news is disappointing the fight still goes on. On the 13th December, I have put a motion to the Full Council supported by colleagues Roger Hadley and Mark Flewitt calling on Royal Mail to reverse their decision to close the Shoebury and Leigh office's. There is still time to add your voice by signing the petition here.