We Can’t Tell You Much ….

At the District Council meeting earlier this month , there were a number of decisions taken in private and confidential. The public minutes are here but there is an appendix to the minutes for councillors only .

One of the items was about a “transfer of engagements” from Rochford Housing Association to Sanctuary. We aren’t allowed to add much more than that, except that a number of councillors voted against teh decision, in particular Chris Black and Chris Stanley.

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No New Chief Executive To Replace Amar Dave

Amar Dave, the District Council’s chief executive, is leaving for another job, and the council has decided against a like-for-like replacement:

Plans have been made for the succession of current Chief Executive, Amar Dave, who is leaving the Council to take up a new position at the London Borough of Brent.
The Council has a legal duty to appoint to a number of statutory roles including Head of Paid Service, Electoral Registration Officer and Returning Officer. These three roles were included in Mr Dave’s role as Chief Executive, and he will retain these responsibilities until Sunday 26 June.
It was resolved at a meeting of Full Council held on June 8 that Rochford District Council’s two directors, Shaun Scrutton and Nick Khan, will take on these roles for an interim period of 12 months. Mr Scrutton will be appointed to the post of Managing Director (Head of Paid Service) and Mr Khan will be appointed to the position of Executive Director (including Returning Officer and Electoral Registration Officer). 
 It would be good if some of the money saved by not having a chief executive could be used to fund a few new front-line staff in overworked departments.



“Sorry It’s Not My Department”

There’s a new blog called Sorry Its Not  My Department that is well worth a look.

It describes itself as follows:

“This is a site dedicated to sharing ideas, thoughts and opinions on issues in local government. The site is aimed at officers, leaders and anyone who has ever dealt with their own local council. As a former council officer I want to lift the lid on the inner workings of town halls ….This blog is an open forum and welcomes posts from anyone who wants to contribute. Your articles can be general reflections on why things go wrong or specific stories about your own dealings with your council and how things might have improved.”

It’s intelligently written and conveys some of the real flavour of being a counciilor or council officer , much better than anything you will find on say, facebook. Though because it is a national blog not everything will apply to Rochford.

Here’s an extract from a piece about councillors dealing with local problems that is definitely pertinent to Rochford:

Essentially more and more councillors are becoming the middle men; passing on a message from the electorate because they are not getting the service they expect. Sometimes these expectations are unrealistic, more often they are just being fobbed off so have to escalate their issues. Officers getting a phone call from a councillor respond differently and more effectively than they do to a call from the public. Therein lies the problem. If the public got the “councillor gold standard service” when they rang up then councillors wouldn’t get dragged in. Elected members then become the sticking plaster to deal with the wider problem of councils not providing the right level of service to the public. But while councillors continue to get dragged into the proverbial fire-fighting activities they are unable to focus on preventing the fire in the first place.

Perhaps some councillors are loathed to change this approach. “Being seen” to be the councillor sorting out the broken streetlight will guarantee at least that one person’s vote. However being the councillor who sorts out the street lighting service as a whole behind closed doors is largely invisible and while it helps 100,000 people it might not result in a single vote.

The above paragraphs are fairly perceptive but don’t tell the full story – most councillors here would like to sort out the streetlighting service or pavement repairs service etc. but don’t get a chance to…

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What We Learned At Tonight’s Annual Council

  1. Hockley Tory councillor Carole Weston is now Chairman. She’s a popular choice, and should do a good job, both on a the ceremonial side of things , and on ensuring fair debate in the council chamber.
  2. The Tories seem desperate to stop Green Party councillor Michael Hoy from being chair of the Review Committee . This is a position that goes to an opposition party councillor. However last year the Tories  nominated and voted through a Labour councillor into the post to keep Michael out. This time they nominated and voted through Independent  Councillor Jamie Burton into the post.  Jamie would certainly be a competent member of the committee – but to have the chair of the committee that keeps an eye on the administration nominated by the same administration seems a bit …. odd.
  3. The Tories seem bent on welding the Greens, Rochford Residents, Lib Dems and UKIP into a joined-up opposition. We had a long series of votes tonight on nominating Councillors onto outside bodies and local organisations.  In each case the Tories insisted on having their choice of candidate – no compromise offered – and they had a long series of narrow victories.


Terry Cutmore Remains Tory Leader, Mike Steptoe Becomes Deputy

There’s some information on the Council website tonight about the leadership of the  various political groups , and their nominations to committees.

  • Terry Cutmore remains Tory leader, with Mike Steptoe from Roche South becoming deputy leader
  • Neil Hookway becomes leader of the UKIP group
  • Chris Black remains leader of the Lib Dems; John Mason remains leader of the Green & Rochford Residents group
  • Tory Mike Carter (Hockley and Ashingdon) is nominated as chair of the Development Committee, Tory John Griffin (Wheatley) is nominated as vice-chair
  • There are 2 nominations for chair of the Review Committee – Michael Hoy from the Greens and Neil Hookway of UKIP
  • Tory Dave Sperring (Trinity) is nominated as chair of the important Planning Policy Sub-Committee
  • The other nominations for this sub-committee are Tories Ioannou (Rochford North & Rural )and June Lumley (Sweyne Park and Grange), plus Chris Black  (Downhall and Rawreth,) John Mason ( Hawkwell West) and Mrs Hughes (Foulness and the Wakerings)

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Time For Paperwork

For councillors, the first two weeks after an election are a time for paperwork .

First of all, there’s a lot of stuff to read, especially if you are a new councillor.

Then there’s the group paperwork. You have to sign a document to say which group you want to be in. Oddly enough, if you are elected as a Conservative, or Rochford Resident, or Liberal Democrat or whatever, you are under no legal requirement to join that group on the council. In theory, you could defect immediately to another party, although that would be a pretty despicable thing to do.

There can be positive reasons to do something unexpected. For example for the last couple of years the Greens and the Rochford Residents Councillors have combined to form a joint group . This can give them more of a guarantee as to what seats on committees they can get , and it works for them.

And even official groups can choose their own names. It’s a bit like when your team turns up at a quiz night, you can give yourself whatever name you like. For example, the Conservatives could call themselves “The Rolling Stones” , and all the council documents would have to refer to them as such. Might look a bit silly though…

Then there’s the selection of group leaders and deputy leaders. We can exclusively reveal that for the Lib Dems, Chris Black is leader and Ron Oatham is the Deputy Leader for the civic year 2016-2017. What’s happening with the Tory Group is not clear, there have been one or two Freudian slips hinting at a change, but the Tories are remaining tight-lipped and we may be misreading things. In any case we should know on Friday evening.

There’s also the question of Chairman of the council. This year’s vice-chair, Jack Lawmon , was defeated in the elections, so someone is having to go straight to be Chair without being vice-chair first.


What The Count Is Like From The Candidates’ Point Of View…

This year the election count is taking place on the Friday morning, which is both good and bad from the candidates point of view. It’s good because it’s such a complicated count this time that it would literally last all night and into breakfast time, so we’d be absolutely exhausted and be too tired to drive home safely. It[s bad because some candidates will be so excited or anxious that they won’t be able to sleep much anyway.

In any case the  candidates  will go to the count on Friday morning with a range of emotions.  But people don’t display those emotions very much , not until the result is declared. It’s considered bad form to gloat, or to whimper. Two candidates who have been fierce opponents during the campaign will often stand next together looking at the ballot papers being counted in the same detached way that a couple of surgeons might discuss a mildly interesting case of appendicitis in front of them. “Looks like you are just ahead ” one will say . “Oh, it’s too soon to tell” will come the reply.

Though usually it does becomes clear who’s ahead.The person with the biggest pile of ballot papers allows him or herself a relieved smile, and thinks about who to thank in the little victory speech.

But it doesn’t always become clear at all. We’ve seen people in Rochford win council seats by one , two or three votes. When the victory margin is small the loser quite rightly ask for a recount.  A recount doesn’t normally change things by very much  But  if you are, say,four votes behind after the original count, you might be only two behind after the recount. Then you ask for a second recount…..

And what happens if two candidates are tied? It happened with a District Council election in Hullbridge back in the 80s, when  two candidates got the same number of votes. The answer is, you  toss a coin…

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This Could Be The Last Time….

There’s a meeting of the District Full Council on Tuesday evening. There’s nothing sensational on the agenda, but it’s the last Full Council before the elections, so it could be ‘the last time’ for any councillor present. And it will definitely be the last time for those who aren’t seeking re-election – unless they make a comeback in future years.

Expect a few farewell speeches. And possibly some point-scoring.

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A Farewell To Amar

Rochford District Council’s Chief Executive, Amar Dave, is leaving – to become a Director at Brent Borough Council in London. This will be seen by some as a surprise, as he has only been with RDC since October 2013.

So the recruitment process will start soon for a replacement.


A Few More Thoughts About That Roundabout….

1. According to the document from the applicant’s traffic consultant, the 500 houses in Hullbridge would cause a big increase in congestion if no improvements are carried out. They predict that by 2019, without the 500 houses , there would be queues in Rawreth Lane in the evening rush hour of 45 cars, with delays of 210 seconds. (some people might argue  the queues  are that bad already)  With the extra 500 homes, the queues would be more than twice as bad – 107 vehicles long and 475 seconds.

roundabout12. Their consultants reckon the bigger roundabout would solve the problem, even with “a  proposed development on the adjacent land of up to 100 dwellings”. Who is proposing 100 houses on the adjacent land?!

roundabout23.  Just to make it clear , the plan that was passed does NOT cut off Mortimer Road from Hullbridge Road.

44. The chair  of the  meeting,  Cllr Seagers, cut off Chris Black from speaking after 5 minutes, even though he was still  talking  about  the details of the roundabout and the surrounding features .   Though council rules DO give the chair discretion to allow speakers to continue for longer:



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Short But Good-Natured

Tonight’s Extraordinary Council was short but good-natured. The only item on the agenda was to approve the list of polling districts and polling stations for future elections. That went through after a short debate, with all councillors agreed.

But after that there was a bit of unofficial business in the council chamber. We found out that Cllr Joan Mockford is leaving the area and moving to Bishops Stortford, and she was given a gift of two books about Rayleigh. Also Cllrs Terry Cutmore and Colin Seagers paid tribute to their colleague Barbara Wilkins who , as we reported earlier, has been awarded the British Empire Medal.

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“No Thank You”, Say Labour

Last week we wrote about the expected reshuffle of committee places owing to Labour winning a second seat and Jamie Burton leaving UKIP.

However this is turning into a bit of an anti-climax, as Labour have declined to take any of the four places they are entitled to. So Chris Black and John Hayter stay on the Development Committee ,and tomorrow night the council has to sort out what to do about the other places.