onlineFOCUS – News and Stuff For Rochford District since 2003

 

Archive for Council Drama

“Getting stuff done as a ward councillor can be a marathon not a sprint. “

A Labour Councillor in Hackney. Luke Akehurst,  is stepping down after 12 years, and has written ten things he’s learned in his time in local government.

Putting party differences aside for the moment, there are some useful things for candidates from any party , especially the last five:

6) Getting stuff done as a ward councillor can be a marathon not a sprint. When I first stood in 2002 we pledged to rebuild two very rundown housing blocks, Bridge House and Marian Court. That project is happening, but it isn’t complete yet as I come off the Council now.

7) But never take no for an answer. I was told “the Council will never fit security doors on Trelawney Estate, there’s no budget for it” and “the Council will never agree to adopt Stevens Avenue (an un-adopted road hence no street lighting or road or pavement repairs), it sets too expensive a precedent”. Loud campaigning on both by the three ward councillors meant that miraculously the budgets were found to do both.

8) Life as a councillor is a lot easier when you have good colleagues in your ward. I’ve been very lucky to be in a mutually supportive team for 12 years with Guy Nicholson and Sally Mulready as ward councillors. I’ve seen councillors who fall out with a ward colleague or have to carry the workload for someone not pulling their weight made completely miserable by it.

9) Campaigning and casework aren’t separate activities. If you don’t canvass and deliver survey leaflets you won’t find out about most of the problems people in your ward want sorting out. Similarly when you do casework most of the people you do it for are far more likely to bother to vote for you.

10) Good officers are as important as good councillors to driving forward change. We were very lucky that at the point when we really needed to improve Hackney we were able to persuade key people like then Chief Exec Max Caller to take a huge risk with their careers and be part of Jules Pipe’s attempt at rescuing what was a badly failing council. Without dedicated and incredibly hard-working civil servants implementing the changes Labour wanted, we wouldn’t have been able to turn Hackney round.

Hat-Tip to Southend councillor Julian Ware-Lane for this.

A New Group

Dave Sperring and Toby Mountain have officially formed a new group of councillors on the District Council – The Independent Conservatives, with Dave Sperring as group leader.

The make-up of the council is now:

Conservatives 29
Liberal Democrats 4
Green Party 2
Independent Conservatives 2
Rochford Residents Party (John and Christine Mason) 2

Awaydays

John and Christine Mason write about council ‘awaydays’ here.

They conclude:

All discussion and debate decision making should be done in the Council Chamber with residents interests at the heart of it and not in closed political meetings with party interests paramount. There is no need for a Whip if proposals are truly in line with the wishes of residents and ALL Councillors are allowed to represent residents rather than tow the political line with the Whip as dictated by a single Leader.

“unpleasantness, hypocrisy, threats and abuse”

blue rosette

 

The Echo has an interview with Independent Tory Councillor Toby Mountain here.

….Mr Mountain said: “It is important to remember that at every level, we are the servants and not masters of those who elect us, transparency is paramount.

“Since I pushed the suggestion that there should be a higher level of democratic accountability and more transparent discussion and debate within the decision-making process of the ruling administration, I have been on the receiving end of unpleasantness, hypocrisy, threats and abuse.

“This is not what I signed up for.”

Mr Mountain explained in Tuesday’s meeting how an idea to increase parking charges throughout the week, along with the idea of Saturday charges, was put forward at a council awayday in January.

Members agreed to further discussion on the suggestions, but no debate was held until the full council meeting on January 28….

 

Free Saturday Afternoon Car Parking Is Lost

Market Car Park 2 78009. crop

The vote to keep free car parking on Saturday afternoons was lost tonight 19-14. :( The Echo has a good blow-by-blow account of tonight’s meeting here.

In favour of keeping free car parking on Saturday afternoons:

Pat Aves (Tory) Chris Black (Lib Dem) Robin Dray (Tory) John Griffin (Tory) Angela Hale (Tory) Diane Hoy (Green) Michael Hoy (Green) Chris Lumley (Lib Dem) Christine Mason (Rochford Resident Party) John Mason (Rochford Resident Party) Toby Mountain (Independent Conservative) Cheryl Roe (Tory) Dave Sperring (Tory) Ian Ward (Tory)

Against keeping free car parking on Saturday afternoons:

Lesley Butcher, Phil Capon, Mike Carter, James Cottis, Terry Cutmore, Heather Glynn, Trevor Goodwin, Keith Gordon, Jim Grey, Brian Hazlewood, Keith Hudson, Gillian Lucas-Gill, David Merrick, Joan Mockford, Colin Seagers, Simon Smith, Mike Steptoe, Carole Weston, Barbara Wilkins. (All Tories)

There were no abstentions, though some councillors were absent.

Here’s a few quotes from councillors during the debate:

Toby Mountain, moving the motion to keep free Saturday afternoon parking:
80% of the council are Conservatives – we should be make decisions in an open and transparent way, based on proper information…. we should review this rush decision”

Dave Sperring seconded the motion. He pointed out that the reason why Websters Way Car park was busy on a Saturday morning wasn’t because of shoppers, but because of football being played on King Georges Field.

Ian Ward had been doing some research with Rayleigh shopkeepers to see how much they depended on Saturday afternoons:
“We have failed to think long enough and hard enough about this”

Cheryl Roe:
“This is suicidal for all of our towns”

Chris Black:
“However hard our local businesses try, however innovative “Shop At Mt Local Is”, however good the Italian Food Market will be, it won’t counteract the loss of business from getting free of free SAturday afternoon parking”

John Mason pointed once again that the £65,000 extra income that is supposed to come from this is the amount of money that the County Council DOESN’T pay us for cutting grass verges – we should be looking to the County for money.

Michael Hoy pointed out once again that the £65,000 could be covered by getting rid of the £75,000 “Innovations Fund” which seemed to be a slush fund for emergencies. He said this was:
“Madness”

Chris Lumley spoke without notes but very effectively. He is the chair of the Review Committee, which met 5 times this year to examine car parking charges, looking back at data since 2008. Officers had advised that that the £65,000 for Saturday afternoons was only a guesstimate, as we had had free parking then for 10 years. But looking at car park income in recent years, allowing for inflation, increasing the charges didn’t really produce much more income, people just stayed a shorter time. He added that :
“This will have a devastating effect”

The only person to speak against free Saturday afternoon car parking was the Tory Leader Terry Cutmore. He said:
“We have a thriving night-life”

None of the other 18 councillors who voted for this were willing to speak. Not even Hockley Tory councillor Brian Hazlewood, who had originally signed the motion to bring this back to council, but later changed his mind and voted instead with Cllr Cutmore.

Toby Mountain Resigns Conservative Whip

blue rosette

We heard last night that Toby Mountain, one of the Conservative councillors for Sweyne Park Ward in Rayleigh , has resigned from the Conservative Party Whip under the current leadership of Cllr Terry Cutmore.

It’s been clear for some time that various Conservative councillors in Rayleigh have been unhappy about various issues, and about the lack of discussion on some important topics. Toby was willing to speak up at last Full Council and say he couldn’t support the budget if it meant increasing car parking charges AND abolishing free Saturday afternoon parking.

Toby’s decision means he now becomes an Independent councillor, and the make-up of the council becomes:

Conservatives 30
Lib Dems 4
Greens 2
Rochford District Residents 2
Independent 1

It will be interesting to hear what Toby has to say in the council chamber on each issue.

Now There Really Is a Chance To Keep Free Saturday Afternoon Parking

Straight after last week’s council meeting we wrote:

Still A Chance ?

The vote tonight to increase car parking charges AND end free parking on Saturday afternoons was quite close.
It might just be possible to persuade some councillors to switch sides and replace what was passed tonight by a compromise motion, that still increased the charges but kept free Saturday afternoons.

 

So we said a compromise motion might work, and now 9 Tory councillors have followed our lead and signed a motion to bring this back to Full Council!, So there will be another vote on free Saturday afternoon car parking at next Full Council. If their motion is supported by the 7 opposition councillors who voted against last time, that makes a total of 16 out of 39. It could be a very close vote, and a very interesting night…

This is their motion (click on it to enlarge)

motion to rescind

When the same councillors abstained last week, the public reaction was pretty contemptuous. Bringing a motion to council is a very different matter, and should attract more respect. We’ve received a couple of comments tonight regarding the abstentions that we haven’t published yet, and we’ll hold them back in light of this different situation.

Things remain uncertain:
- will the bigwigs in the Tory party concede that they have got this wrong, and agree to this compromise? They’d be wise to do so.
- or will any of the 9 Tories be persuaded by their party whip to back off? They’d look really foolish, though.
- how will the voting go on the night? If the Tory leadership don’t concede, they might still have the numbers to win the vote.

Read It And Weep…. Car Parking Increases Go Through , But Only 14 Councillors Vote For It

Market Car Park 2 78009. crop

The increase in car park charges went through tonight. And the free parking on Saturday afternoons was ended as well. But the vote was closer than expected – you could weep with frustration. 14 voted for, 11 abstained, 7 voted against.

14 Councillors voted for (all Conservatives) :
Butcher (Hawkwell), Cottis (Rochford) Cutmore (Ashingdon and Canewdon) Glynn (Hawkwell) Gordon (Rochford) Grey (Rayleigh) Lucas-Gill,(Rochford) , McPherson (Hawkwell), Merrick (Rayleigh), Mockford (Rayleigh) , Seagers (Wakering) , Smith (Rayleigh) , Steptoe (Barling), Wilkins (Wakering)

11 Councillors abstained (10 Conservatives and 1 Lib Dem)
Aves (Rayleigh), Dray (Rayleigh), Griffin (Rayleigh), Hale (Hullbridge), Hazelwood (Hockley), Mrs Lumley (Rayleigh), Maddocks (Hockley), Mountain (Rayleigh) , Roe (Rayleigh), Sperring (Rayleigh) and Ward (Rayleigh)

7 voted against (3 Lib Dems, 2 Greens 2 Rochford Residents)
Black (Rayleigh and Rawreth), Mrs Hoy (Hullbridge), Mr Hoy (Hullbridge), Mr Lumley (Rayleigh), Mrs Mason (Hawkwell), Mr Mason (Hawkwell), Oatham (Rayleigh and Rawreth)

It was quite a sight to see 10 Tories defying their powerful party whip and abstaining. Pity that 8 of the abstainers didn’t actually vote against – then we w0uld have won.

Three things worth mentioning:
1) Cllr Dray abstained, though the minutes will probably show him voting for, that will be corrected later.
2) It was good to see some people watching in the public gallery.
3) By this evening, it was clear that the increases are no longer linked to flood prevention measures, it’s part of an attempt to increase council reserves from £750,000 to £2,690,000

Saying Goodbye To Paul

At last night at Full Council, councillors said goodbye to Paul Warren, who is retiring from being Rochford’s Chief Executive.

Paul has been Chief Executive here since the 1990s, and he told us last night of some of the things he’s proud of, such as getting the substantial funds from Thames Gateway to renovate Rayleigh Windmill, even though it wasn’t inside the official Thames Gateway area at that time!

Councillors spoke and paid tribute to Paul. “Paid Tribute” is a bit of a hackneyed phrase, but they spoke very genuinely. In particular Michael Hoy and John Mason said how much they valued the help Paul had given them. Terry Cutmore made a very eloquent speech describing Paul’s abilities and achievements, and ChriS Black got a smile or two by saying that, unusually, he agreed with every word that Terry had said.

Veteran councillor Heather Glynn spoke particularly well, thanking Paul for his efforts, not only on behalf of those there last night, but on behalf of those former council chairs whose portraits hang on the council chamber walls, whom Heather and Paul had both known, though many of them are sadly now no longer alive.

When Keith Hudson gave Paul a couple of retirement presents, some fishing gear and a plaque (both paid for by the councillors) Paul read out the wording on the plaque, and bless him, his voice quavered with the emotion of the moment.

Have a great retirement Paul, you have deserved it !

The National Coalition Doesn’t Extend To Council Chambers

Occasionally we find people who think that because Conservative and Lib Dem MPs are in a coalition in parliament, that must extend to council chambers as well.

That isn’t true.

The Conservatives have a huge majority in Rochford, and have certainly not offered the Lib Dem councillors here any kind of coalition – nor would we expect them to do so.

Relations between the two parties are generally very professional – we often disagree on issues but there are normally no bad feelings.

Meanwhile in Brentwood feelings between the two parties seem to be very bad and downright unpleasant- as Lib Dem Councillor Karen Chilvers explains here .

My “crime” was doing my job of scrutinising the council and my punishment was to be hounded out of the Scrutiny Chair position by a pack of baying Tory wolves all trumping up charges as to how I am incompetent because they didn’t like being brought to account as a failing administration by the vote I allowed…

…..There is no other organisation that would allow this to happen – can you imagine in the workplace 20 employees being allowed, in fact encouraged, to subject another employee to a barrage of abuse like this in the office….let alone on the internet for the whole world to watch?  ….. If you can stomach it, please do watch along

 

On Being A Councillor

polling station signChris Black writes:

A little while ago ago Christine Paine suggested that I write something about what is involved when you become a councillor. Here’s a few thoughts off the cuff:

First of all , in our area there are three kinds of councillors .  At the top level you have the five County councillors for our area. The County Council deals with big subjects like highways, social services, education and libraries. Meetings are daytime, generally in Chelmsford. As each County Councillor represents a lot of residents, if he or she is  doing their job properly they have quite a heavy workload which makes it tricky, but not impossible , to combine with an ordinary job. County Councillors get a basic allowance of about £10,000 per year.

At the next level down you have the 39 District Councillors. The District Council deals with things like most planning applications, most parks, waste collection and recycling, leisure and car parks. Meeting are mostly evening , though some are in daytime, and are normally held in Rayleigh. Planning issues tend to be very important. District Councillors represent a smaller electorate , so their workload is less, but they will also be asked by residents about stuff that the County Council deals with such as  highways. Basic allowance for district councillors is about £4000 per yaer.

At grassroots level you have town Councillors in Rayleigh, and parish councillors in Rawreth , Hullbridge and all the other parishes in the district. Parish and Town councils vary considerably in size and activities, some have allotments or manage open spaces, some run events like the Rayleigh Christmas Lights. Parishes are consulted on planning applications. Meetings are normally inside their own parishes, though parish councillors may well travel to attend or speak at other council meetings. Parish councillors are frequently asked by residents for help on County or District issues. Allowances tend to be small, expenses-only, or zero. Parish or Town councillors may need to be more ‘hands-on’ than their District or County counterparts – if there’s an event to be run, they may need to join in, they don’t have a big team of officers to run it for them…

Whatever type of councillor you are, there are meetings to attend, and generally a lot of reading to do, and residents to help. But really each councillor has their own way of doing things. Some like using email and websites a lot, some don’t. Some like to speak a lot in meetings, others only speak when they have to.  Some like to hold regular surgeries, other don’t do surgeries and just visit people in their homes.  We all have opportunities for training – you’re not just thrown in at the deep end!

At District or County level almost all councillors are in a group. Even independent councillors tend to form an ‘independent group’. One reason for this is that where councils have committees, places on those committees are shared out according to the size of each group. And most people stand for election to District or County at the urging of a political party.  People imagine that councillors belonging to a political party are controlled by some kind of party mafia, but that’s not been my experience – I’ve never been compelled to vote against my conscience, and as a small council group leader I certainly am not instructed by party HQ on how to perform or how to vote.

Whether you are an independent on a parish council or in  a group on a district council,  teamwork is important ;  for example one member might be good at going through the council budget but hesitant at speaking in public. He or she may have a colleague who isn’t so good at accounts but is a persuasive speaker…. or one councillor might build up expertise in  the planning rules, while another  might be more interested in health or social services issues..

But most important – being a councillor is about helping people, either individuals or a whole community, and you have to have a little bit of passion for that. And you have to be able to work with people, whether they are agreeing with you or not. And you have to be willing to listen to criticism…..

And finally – it’s easier than you think….

 

Paul Warren To Retire At The End Of The Year

From the District Council website today, some significant news:

The Chief Executive of Rochford District Council has announced he is to retire after 15 years in the job.

Paul Warren has been Chief Executive at the Council since 1998 and will step down in December. He is currently the longest serving Chief Executive in Essex.

Speaking about his reasons for leaving, Mr Warren said: “This has been a hard decision to make, but I feel the time is right for both me and my family. I’ve always said that I would go once I reached 60. I still get a lot of enjoyment out of the job but it’s important I now hand over to someone new who can steer the Council through its next set of challenges….

…. An Extraordinary Meeting of the Council was held on 4th June to decide on the future management of the Council where Members decided to advertise externally for a replacement Chief Executive.
 

Paul has been a very capable Chief Executive ; definitely a ‘safe pair of hands’ but actually much more than that. It’s now an important task for the council to find a suitable replacement.

There is a subtext to all this. One possibility now would have been to try to share a chief executive with say Castle Point, or Southend Borough. However the council is NOT intending to go down that road – the intention is to stay a completely separate organisation.

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This is the official master document for planning policy in our district! To download it, click here click here. (2.5mb)

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If you want information on a particular planning application, you can find it on the District Council website here.

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