One of my earlier blogs was to do with my experience having coming across Council webcasts (a good thing imo) for the first time. As this was something quite new to me, I was quite taken with what I was to observe, even though I was later taken to task by some for being too critical for, while not altogether surprising, things didn’t quite live up to my high expectations. As I reflected further in the months that followed and having just gone through the two subsequent webcasts for the main council meetings (11 December and 28 February) by virtue of being somewhat incapacitated with flu like symptoms (what an exciting life I lead – ed), I realize my perspective of what goes on in main council meetings has since changed somewhat.
My main criticism previously was there was too much point scoring, unnecessary verbiage and lack of depth, and to an extent that impression still remains. In fairness to the councilors, many of who were new, and there was a new administration just beginning to find its feet, so the whole experience might well prove daunting. I have also since got to realize that much of the hard work is done in scrutiny committees and such like, so what one witnesses in main council is a culmination of all that has gone on before and being charitable (and this blog intends to be just that) I will take it as read that in the main that is exactly what does happen. While there are a lot of devils and details to wade through, I like how the findings and deliberations of the various committees are reported back.
Having got myself into a charitable mood, and having waded through assorted contributions, I find there was much spoken that made sense. I like the way the meetings were run and while snide digs were evident what took place was done with good humour and the whole show was well managed and conduct was civilized, building on traditions and protocols established over many years. Talking of tradition, I like the opening in prayer (I would wouldn’t I – ed), recognition of awards, formal ways of addressing and protocols, presenting of petitions, members of the public being able to ask questions as well as the councilors, encouraging the youth mayor, and at the end (I assume it is a tradition) the mayor inviting councilors for a drink in his chambers (and at his expense).
Of the two meetings, the second one was by far the most important as it touched on the tetchy subject of the budget and the big question of how to provide best services with less money available. Before I return to the subject of the budget, the one question that has bugged me for a while and was touched on at length in the first meeting was that of flooding and the delicate issue of who is responsible and how to resolve issues. While pleased the subject was discussed and points were well made, I didn’t get the impression of matters significantly being resolved and no doubt this is one example of watch this space.
Back to the budget, a huge subject if ever there was one, with no doubt how to set a budget that best meets the needs of the town (and the aspirations that we hope councilors have for making a positive difference) with the limited pot of money at one’s disposal being the million dollar question and one that I admit is beyond me at this time. But to give the new coalition credit, what they proposed appeared to make sense and while some will differ (notably ex-leader of the Council, Nigel Holdcroft on his blog) I felt the new leader, Ron Woodley, made a fair go of making his argument and convincing onlookers like me that it was near enough the best that could be done given the circumstances. I felt the opposition response was a little disappointing and clutching at straws and often more intent on claiming credit for laying good foundations their successors later built on. I felt James Moyies speech, and given the recent UKIP hullaballoo, was impressive and brought out some decent points such as taking care of council staff who suffer as a result of the cuts and regarding mental health provision.
I will award my champagne moment to the question my own councilor, Brian Ayling, raised regarding the St. Lukes Health Centre and the sympathetic response by the relevant portfolio holder, David Norman. (I have to say that given Brian recently had a go at me for supposedly knocking local councilor performance in Council – ed). While I can’t fault the question (or the answer), it did illustrate to me that getting stuff done that makes a difference is still very much work in progress and a long drawn out affair at that, for in eleven years of campaigning St. Lukes health provision is still scandalously inadequate and with little resolution in sight.
Regarding the new rainbow coalition, my own verdict is that while it is still early days they have performed well and better than most, including myself, expected. I feel I have been more listened to, and not just me, and all need to take note if Southend is to prosper. With local elections looming large, I dare say that after Easter we will see a lot of fireworks as our local politicians up the ante and seek to attract public support. I have yet to declare my hand because I have not yet made my mind up. I will, however, be carefully watching developments with interest and blogging on what I see taking place.