As some of the readers of my blog know, I take a keen interest in local politics, without belonging to any political party, and follow what is going on to a greater extent than most Southend residents. I am grateful for the Council webcast facility, which broadcasts live (and on catch up) the proceedings in the main Council meetings. I have already blogged on what I have picked up from earlier webcasts (see here, here and here). I decided by way of entertainment and out of interest (although some of the proceedings are boring) to follow last night’s meeting live and, although it did go on for a long time, and I had to multi-task, I did pick up most of what did go on.
Last night’s installment could be titled “the Ron Woodley show”, because the main item up for discussion was the budget, and it was Ron who had to present it and respond to questions (and a good deal of baiting) from the floor. Before that there were various preliminary items, including a number of members of the public (including friends) asking questions to the portfolio holders. While I suspect that a lot of goes on here is already scripted and the answers are guarded, this is still something worth doing. After the budget section, by far the biggest item on the agenda, there were questions and comments raised on a variety of assorted issues. While some of this went over my head, this too was helpful, and I decided to award my champagne moment of the night to Cheryl Nevin for her passionate speech on asylum seekers (although I do declare an interest), but back to the main item on the night – the Budget.
I am probably like most people who don’t find this a particularly interesting subject and if they are honest do not understand many of the underlying issues, although credit to my friend Del Thomas who is up for election in May for trying to understand. While I am glad, unlike one friend who soon gave up, I endured the speeches, especially Ron’s long opener, where he tried to thoroughly explain the details and the rationale behind the decisions made, I have to confess there is much I don’t understand yet recognising the daunting challenge of trying to slice up a cake whose size is decreasing. There are issues like the government giving less money to the Council to spend (necessitating cuts), what the Council can and does borrow to support its programme, our “unsupportive” two town MPs, and of course what the budget is to be spent on and how this compares in previous years. There was a lot of sparring going on as to whether the previous administration were deficient in the way they handled finance, including the thorny subject of borrowing, and whether it was lacking vision in what they had set out to do, and understandably this was thrown back at the current administration. There was a lot (too much imho) point scoring and not enough detached rigour, as well as taking credit where credit isn’t due.
As far as I am concerned, the jury is out on the aforementioned matters, but at least I am pleased I kept my attention to proceedings for most of the time. There were two amendments proposed that were narrowly defeated, and the budget itself was adopted, again by a narrow margin. Regarding Ron’s performance, I give him 7 out of 10 (which is good by my standards). I feel he does himself a disservice by his personal attack on detractors (like my friend Mark) and while I understand that is what happens when one is wound up, I would counsel him to maintain his dignity and also a sense of perspective, for I sense someone under a good deal of pressure, who is in my thoughts and prayers. I suspect there was a deal of horse trading prior to the meeting, giving the desired outcome for the administration, but then of course I am not supposed to know that.
As for this coming May’s election, this should be interesting, for it is by no means certain that the rainbow coalition will have a majority to be able to continue. Based on Ron’s overall performance last night, along with that of his supporting cast, and the difficult but in the main justified decisions that were made (subject to further scrutiny), including putting up Council Tax which seems to me to be unavoidable, I hope the coalition does continue and it continues to be a listening one. As for any other comments, I should add that a difficult meeting where emotions ran high was chaired well and with winsome good humour by the mayor, Andrew Moring. It was a nice touch that when one Councillor voted opposite to the way he intended that he was allowed to change his vote. And I like it that a prayer was said at the start – after all we need all the help we can get. As for the heating – my sympathies are with Councillors – they deserve better. I like to think they earned their tea and biscuits.