Posted by: iangilbert | October 22, 2012

A week in the life

Being a councillor is not meant to be a full time job. You get a fairly generous allowance, but it isn’t, and isn’t meant to be, the equivalent of a paid job. Some weeks are busier than others. Last week was one of the busier weeks, and covered an interesting variety of issues, so I’d thought I’d write it up.

Monday

9:00 Full day at work.

17:45 Markets task and finish group

Markets or lack of them have been a hot issue in Southend ever since the council closed York Road market. The administration has not always sounded very sympathetic to the idea of a traditional market in Southend, but a number of members feel passionately about it, and it is an issue that a number of Victoria residents have asked me about. When I was a teenager my dad did a brief spell as a market trader, so it’s something I know a bit about.

19:30 Political meeting

Having been elected as a Labour councillor, I want to continue to do all I can to make the party stronger and break the Conservative stranglehold in this part of Essex. After meetings in the civic centre I went to give some advice and support to colleagues hoping to be elected over the border in Rochford. (Checking before I left the civic centre that there was indeed Labour representation on the culture and tourism budget briefing)

Tuesday

9:00 Full day at work.

18:00 Primary School Places – Pre-cabinet Scrutiny

A depressing meeting really. We need to provide considerably more primary school places in the centre of town, as our group has been arguing for a long time. None of the options presented sounded ideal because of lack of funds and the government’s ridiculous free school legislation, which means we cannot just open a new school ourselves. If the Conservatives had listened to my Kursaal ward colleagues and used the Maybrook site for a school we would be in a much better position. We pointed out some pitfalls in the preferred solution, but there’s not a lot of flexibility at this stage.

19:00 Balmoral Residents’ meeting

It was actually 19:25 by the time I got here after the schools meeting. I was keen to make it as the stuff in the press about South Essex Homes is causing uncertainty and I wanted to know what residents thought. Also got a plug in for the Community First Panel. Some residents were clearly worried about the government’s cuts to housing benefit. I had to pester South Essex Homes for many months to get these meetings set up (there used to be a community circle for this area run by the police, but eventually the police said – quite correctly – that the issues being raise were more SEH matters than police matters) but they are clearly a useful exercise and it was well attended.

Wednesday

9:00 – Morning in work

13:00 – took a half day off, intending to have a bit of a break and watch the re-arranged England game. I ended up dealing with a bit of administrative disaster in the office. Saw about fifteen minutes of the England v Poland game. David and Margaret were of course at the very controversial Development Control Committee meeting.

5:30pm – Triangle Residents’ Association Committee meeting

A few years ago I found myself voted on to the committee of the Triangle Residents Association that covers the ‘Poets’ estate area of the ward. I really enjoy working with the residents in the association and also the very active community group that covers the area. The residents are very involved with the workings of South Essex Homes and again I felt it particularly important to stay in touch with them over the review.

18:30 – Special Community Services & Culture Scrutiny Committee – Review of South Essex Homes

A packed meeting, councillors, tenants of South Essex Homes, employees of South Essex Homes, council officers. A number of people said that this was their first and only council meeting that they’d attended. We spent about three hours discussing the issues raise, which is a heck of a lot for a single item. I shall post a full review of what I said and my opinions on the issues because there’s too much to go into here.

Thursday

9:00 – Full day in work

Found a few minutes to speak to BBC Essex about the discussion on South Essex Homes the night before.

13:00 – spent lunch hour delivering letters to residents

17:30 – break

Looking forward to a less stressful night, went for a pint and ended up chatting to a new member of the Labour Party. Fortunately I only had one pint because…

18:30 –

…Realised there was no Labour representation at a budget briefing taking place that night and decided that I ought to go along. Glad I did because there was an interesting and good natured discussion of the councils budget for public protection, transport and waste.

Budget briefings are always tricky for the opposition because at the end of the day the Conservative cabinet are the ones who will direct officers’ work and shape their thinking day-in day-out. Conservative Leaders like to taunt us that we don’t come up with any alternatives, but at the end of the day the council’s senior management team can only draw up a fully-costed robust budget based on the priorities that are set them. If Councillor Holdcroft thinks that the six Labour councillors can do this by ourselves, I’d question why he needs a cabinet of eight and all that expensive officer time!

I believe that opposition councillors can and should engage and offer constructive suggestions about the council budget. However, I don’t think there’s not much point in pretending that it won’t, when all is said and done, be a Conservative budget.

Still, I do hope that my Labour colleagues and I will be in a position to craft a budget that better reflects the needs of the town sooner rather than later. I was able to offer a few (I hope) constructive suggestions about how we could provide services more efficiently. Attending the budget briefing greatly clarified my thinking about how I would cope with the awful budget cuts inflicted on the council were I to find myself as Leader of the Council.

Unfortunately the budget meeting meant that I didn’t get along to watch the YMCA Question Time event that sounded very interesting.

Friday

9:00 – Full day of work

Echo rang to get my reaction to David Amess’s latest expenses scandal. I don’t much care for personality based campaigning, but it’s difficult to avoid it in the case of David Amess. How you can support austerity politics whilst being so extravagant with taxpayers’ money is really beyond me.

13:00 – Queensway

Visited the Queensway flats where we’ve succeeded in getting South Essex Homes to put CCTV in the lifts. All three ward councillors have been calling for this for some time. A year after a spate of serious crimes, I called for a public meeting to bring together agencies to work together urgently to improve things in these flats. Since then I’ve had meetings with officers at the civic centre to monitor progress. There have been a lot of suggestions put forward as to how we could improve safety in the area, but CCTV was one that was clearly affordable and proportionate. This will not be a magic bullet of course. I continue to think that tower blocks are fundamentally unsuitable places for young families, but hopefully this will go some way to making people feel safer in the short term.

Saturday

10:00 – Surgery

Labour councillors take it in turns to do a weekly surgery on a Saturday morning at 268 Sutton Road. It’s very handy for residents to know they can see a councillor on any given week. I often visit the office even when it’s not my turn because it’s a good way of keeping on top of things.

12:00 – Marching…

After the surgery, I set out to take part in the TUC march against the government’s austerity policies. Having seen and spoke to people during the course of the week who are affected by this government’s cruel cuts, not to mention the cuts in services that Southend Council will be more I’m more determined than ever to pursue all legal and democratic means to get rid of this of this awful government.

Sunday

Meant to be a day of rest. However I ended up delivering some newsletters for several hours. Got a message on Facebook to say my quote about David Amess has made it into the Sunday Mirror.

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