One of my more interesting and quite revealing discoveries in recent months, when it comes to the Southend local political scene, are the Council webcasts, made available by Southend Borough Council. The Council is to be commended for providing these, via the Internet, such that anyone can watch live or later as a podcast. While this way of informing the public of what goes on in main Council meetings will be met by objections by some and, without knowing the background information, it easy to get a warped view of proceedings, yet overall it is beneficial. I have no idea how many, besides me, avail themselves of this facility, but I for one have learned a lot and, as political blogger, find this to be invaluable.
I have already blogged twice on the subject (here and here) and am still getting the measure of what is going on. Having just listened for much of the three hour recording of last Thursday’s main Council meeting, a number of things were brought home to me. The main thing is that not everything is at it seems. There is a lot happening outside the Council chamber that is relevant, and often we do not see this. While one can easily come to a view of who are the good and bad councilors and what are the good and valid points being made and questions being asked, it is wiser to take stock and reflect first and take pity on those who have become Councillors, many / most of who do so with every good intention.
So back to last Thursday’s meeting, being held as it was two weeks before the local elections when one third of councilors will be standing down. There seemed to be an added edge at the meeting, with more acrimony than at the previous two meetings. I do not wish to take sides on what took place, not knowing all the facts, but a fair bit of it fell below the true, necessary and kind yardstick by which I judge such matters. The two main areas of discussion, which gave rise to some heated exchanges, were regeneration and education. While some good points were made, I felt it could have been a lot more constructive. I wonder if the real losers, besides the point scorers that lost some credibility, were those living in those areas that were needing regenerating and the children attending some of our failing schools.
While these exchanges were, for me, the main highlights of the webcast, and ones I understood, there was a lot more that went on and, while I learned a lot that was of interest, a good deal of what was said went over my head. Given the amount of matters arising and reporting back from the many committees that had met since the previous main Council meeting (which was only one month ago), it showed me where a lot of the hard work is done and made me realise that we should be pressing our elected representatives regarding how they spend their time and contributions to these important meetings. It brought home that some councilors are harder working than others, and the need for more accountability. While I do not begrudge the circa 8K pa expenses councillors receive, they do need to earn it.
I continue to appreciate some of the niceties and traditions of these meetings, such as the presentation of awards at the start and, while perhaps seen as just another tradition, I welcome prayers being said at the start. I like the stylish way our mayor chaired the meeting, which had more than its normal share of disruptive behavior (public and councilors) – I did sponsor him for his wall of death charity ride and well done btw! There was more than the normal number of questions from the public, it seemed, and lot to do with cuts in mental health services. While I welcome this democratic means to engage, I did feel from the ways questions were dealt with there was an element of tokenism. The other thing worthy of mention concerns the recent passing away of Councillor Liz Day and applaud her long public service. I had only a few dealings with Liz who I found was a capable yet kindly lady. I mourn her passing and would add my good wishes to Mel (her husband) and family. I am glad the chamber observed a one minute silence in her memory.
I have written by way of an interlude before I return to some of the more hefty matters to do with the elections on May 7th, but I was glad to have been a witness to the proceedings that took place and would encourage those to who it applies to take on board the above points. I wish retiring and continuing councilors, irrespective of their political affiliations, all the best in or out of office and declare I value their important contribution to this form of public service.