Political Viewpoint: by Coun Simon Wootton, Conservative Group Leader and former Leader of Rochford District Council.
I AM most grateful to Rayleigh News for giving me, the leader of the Conservative Group on Rochford District Council, the opportunity to periodically give my political perspective on topical issues, which affect all of us who live or work in the district.
Reflecting back to the May elections, there is no denying my huge disappointment at the Conservatives losing control of the Council. In my opinion we ran an extremely good campaign setting out our achievements and “Our Plan” for the future.
We outlined our ongoing commitment to carbon neutrality, the need to progress the Local Plan with an assurance to protect Green Belt and give priority to development of Brown Field sites.
We also outlined our vision for Cherry Orchard Country Park, as well as support for other leisure and play spaces, including the provision of three new skateparks at Rayleigh and Clements Hall Leisure Centres, as well as one at Hullbridge.
In terms of community safety, I was pleased to set aside funds to deliver CCTV in Rayleigh this year, a project talked about for a long time, but which for various reasons, has not yet come to fruition.
Probably the most significant achievement in these financially challenging times, (and the envy of many local authorities), has been to deliver day to day services without the need to rely on income from risky investments or borrowing, whist at the same time keeping council tax well below inflation.
I believe there was a strong mandate for Conservatives to continue to deliver all of the above and more, based on a trusted and proven track record.
Electors, however, thought otherwise, and this was reflected in the outcome of the May council elections.
There can be many reasons for voter intentions to change. We know that what goes on in Westminster has a significant influence locally. Some of the decisions we have taken, however commercially sensible, have not always sought favour with local residents.
There has been a strong anti-Conservative campaign by opposition groups and their supporters, particularly in the west of the district. Other residents have simply felt it is time for a change and to see what others might be able to do and that of course is fully respected.
We are still the single largest Party on Rochford Council with twelve seats, down from eighteen prior to May. There are nine Liberal Democrats, seven Rochford District Residents, five Independent and Green, three Rochford District Independents, two Independent Conservatives and one non-aligned Group Member.
So, with a number of small political Groups, where are we now?
Rochford is currently a council with no one political Party in overall control and an Administration made up formally of four groups, which have agreed to work together under a “Memorandum of Understanding.”
A Conservative councillor elected in May then resigned from the Party a few days later and now also forms part of the new Executive Team.
I am not sure that residents would have had expectations of so many political Groups taking control of running the Council with only the Conservatives, despite being the single largest Group, being in opposition.
To be fair, it is early days for the new Administration to have set out what they aim to achieve over the next year, and how the lives of residents will be positively impacted as a result.
So far, they have stated it is their intention to change the council’s governance from a cabinet to a committee system.
Already we are seeing an increase in Executive Member allowances with two deputy leaders and three more portfolio holders, compared with that previously under the Conservative led Administration.
Combine that with an increase in the number of political group leaders where, under the Council’s scheme of Member allowances, if a group is two or more then the leader qualifies for a payment of £2.5K p.a.
Apart from the day to day running and provision of services, e.g. waste collection, leisure, housing, cleaning and greening, planning, revenues and benefits, etc., etc., it will be interesting to see the new Administration’s proposals on the council’s assets in particular, the sustainability of the Mill Hall and other facilities within its control.
I know from my own experience as the leader for three years, the challenge of running any council is significant.
The balance of delivering high quality services, whilst not making cuts, and at the same time having a strategic vision when the financial challenges local authorities are facing, are immense.
Our job now, in opposition, is to hold the new Administration to account through constructive challenge, but also support their ideas where we agree.
I look forward to the coming municipal year, and thank you for reading this column.
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