POLITICAL Viewpoint by Richard Longstaff Green Party Councillor for Leigh Ward.
WHAT a fascinating twelve weeks it’s been on Southend City Council, thanks again for
the overwhelming support from our Leigh Community.
Funny how serendipity takes us places we hadn’t previously envisaged.
I have been warmly welcomed by both officers and councillors alike who have
offered friendly support and advice since I started.
The thing that strikes me is the common thread that we are all there to help make a
positive difference, very often working cross party. I find the debate and dialogue
stimulating, even if we do sometimes disagree.
It’s true what they say, just having a green in the room makes a difference. I
certainly sense that others try to out-green the green. This can only be a good thing,
as a green presence has the added benefit of bringing the green agenda to the
My primary roles at the council are split between Development Control, dealing with contentious planning applications, and People Scrutiny Committee, focusing on health and social care in the community.
I also attend full council meetings when necessary to debate and vote on issues of the moment. Matters for council can be brought via the council itself, like the Better Queensway project, or via motions from other councillors, one I recently supported was regarding idling engines outside schools and how we can further address this – a topical issue with most parents including myself.
I have already asked the head of my daughter’s school, North Street, to display banners and helped other parents garner support for a new ‘school street’ which aims to address safety and air pollution around schools.
Alongside idling, the general volume of traffic arounds schools continues to be a serious health issue for our children.
I am of course engaging with local residents on all manner of issues from fly-tipping,
parking, public nuisance, and antisocial behaviour issues around the ward.
Recently I visited Southend Hospital with the people scrutiny committee. We met
with the Hospitals chief operating officer, senior nurses, ward managers and the
head of HR.
We learned how things deteriorated during the chaos of the pandemic and how the
new leadership are working hard on resolving problems, to make patient care more
efficient and improve staff morale.
We visited wards, including Chalkwell, Oncology and also the A&E department, now referred to as ED (Emergency Department) apparently to help people distinguish between emergency and general practitioner advice, which is a big part of the problem, with ambulances sometimes used like taxis. Here they are investing over £9m to reduce waiting times. Work begins soon.
We also visited the multi-faith chapel and sadly witnessed the small food bank for
staff at the lower pay scale, there’s also emergency hardship fund for these staff if
needed, it really brought home the cost-of-living crises and the hardship some face.
The main thrust however, is making sure the right patients are on the right ward first
time, as this reduces bed time up to 5 days for each patient. Liaising with different
external stakeholders, assessing patients ‘before’ they are referred to ED is also an
ongoing work to reduce patients being referred unnecessarily, when they can be
treated at home.
Separately to the visit, I have since learned there is a mobile triage team that proactively visit patients to establish whether they actually need hospital, but there’s not nearly enough to cope with demand.
Another problem is discharging patients, especially the elderly and patients with mental health needs, sometimes there’s a frustrating delay, due to overstretched external agencies, before they can be released back into a safe home environment.
All this takes much needed bed space and resources.
I attended a Leigh Town Council meeting where I heard of the motion to award councillors a higher allowance. This was withdrawn just before the meeting, but nevertheless, the 13 conservative councillors have an overall majority and it is clear they now have the power to control the direction of travel, hopefully for the betterment of Leigh.
I have also recently attended a Q&A meeting convened by MP Anna Firth with Anglia
Water executives, regarding the problem with sewage combining with storm water
drains overflowing into the Estuary. Something we all want to see resolved.
It transpires that Southend’s ageing combined sewers caters for well over 200,000
people and takes all of Rochford and Hockley’s waste too.
What exasperates the issue is people putting stuff they shouldn’t down the pan causing blockages. This, combined with the amount of hard surfacing – especially with out-of-town retail parks and gardens being paved over, more large garden outbuildings and laying
artificial grass, all leads to higher volumes of storm-water runoff, overloading the
system and causing overflowing into the sea.
Anglia Water are committed to resolving the issue and have made many improvements already, but their timeline of investment and solutions by 2025-2030 won’t impress many local people.
Anna Firth pointed out that there will be unlimited fines from December 2023, but this won’t address the Southend issue as the combined sewers were designed to overflow into the Estuary and it’s not illegal to do this.
Finally, we saw the abrupt departure of our newish Chief Executive, Rob Polkinhorne
and the Executive Director of Legal Services.
I liked Rob and shared high ambitions for a Greener Leaner Southend . He was someone I was looking forward to working with in making a positive change. A previous Chief Executive, Rob Tinlin, has now taken an interim position whilst the council searches to fill the post. Rob Tinlin came out of retirement to fill the vacancy, which must be commended.
Our next full council meeting is on the September 7 – Motions to be in by August 23.
There’s never a moment to spare. There’s so much to do.
In addition to representing residents at council, our local Green Party is gaining
Do come and join us for regular Leigh Socials on the last Wednesday of every month from 7:30pm and regular events, like our picnic in Library Gardens recently, where we were joined by Mums who CAN, and Incredible Edible Leigh-on-Sea. Look out for what’s happening on my social media channels, or sign up to our newsletter at
southeastessex.greenparty.org.uk. Come and join us for a greener fairer community.
Contact us. Email: [email protected]