Political Viewpoint by Southend Council’s Labour Group Leader and Councillor for St Laurence ward Coun Daniel Cowan
FOLLOWING the local elections, there’s a lot of change at Southend-on-Sea City Council.
Despite coming second to Labour in seats won for the second year in a row, the Conservatives have managed to form a minority administration, however with 50% of their group up for election next year having squeezed 11 wins in 2021 on the “Boris Bounce”, it is not a stable administration or one that will likely have any longevity.
In another change, I am honoured to have been elected as the new Leader of the Labour Group, and alongside my incredible Deputy Leader, Coun Anne Jones, my talented shadow cabinet and exceptional group of councillors, we will be robustly holding the new administration to account, whilst also putting forward our alternative vision for the future of our city and all our neighbourhoods.
Precisely 74 years ago, as I write this, at the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool on 8th June 1949, the father of the NHS, Nye Bevan, spoke about political priorities saying that “the argument is about power, because only by the possession of power can you get the priorities correct.”
These words resonate as much today on the shores of Southend as they did when they rang out upon the shores of Blackpool, so many years ago. They resonate with the Labour Group because the new administration has already begun to demonstrate that despite possessing the power, they do not have the correct priorities, and it is our job as the opposition to challenge this.
Our priorities for our city could not be further from the Conservatives’ damaging agenda for Southend.
Their first official act was to award Tory cabinet members a 14.285% pay rise on what was claimed by the previous administration.
Cost of living crisis? Not if you’re in the Tory cabinet.
Labour’s priorities this year will have the environment at the heart of everything we do. We will be working to ensure that the council’s new waste contract is properly handled; ensure that the £1.5m environment budget is utilised to improve our city; that the new air quality strategy is fit for purpose; that residents are properly consulted before implementing junction safety programmes; and that our city continues to hold the government and water companies to account on raw sewage being pumped into our waterways.
On the waste contract, we have maintained that the tendering of the waste contract must be concerned with improving our street scene, sweeping up the litter, stopping the gullies from being blocked, and general cleanliness of our neighbourhoods as well as retaining weekly collections. Our vision on this is about social value and not simply awarding the contract to the cheapest bidder.
The environment budget is an important investment that we committed to in the last budget we set as an administration. We allocated £1.5m for capital investment to make a material difference to our natural environment. Strategies such as the Grassland Management strategy to support biodiversity and pollinators, which is now under threat from the Tories, must be backed up by investment if we are to leave Southend in a good state for the next generation.
We will be vocal about the travesty of raw sewage being pumped into our waterways. The Tory Government voted to give the water companies 15-years to clean up their act before they face a fine and now those same water companies are saying the cost of doing so will be added to our water bills.
We will explore every avenue to hold these companies to account.
Our priorities are also to protect our major projects, such as Better Queensway, because they are vital to the future of this city and far too important to be used as political fodder.
Already the Tories have announced they are scrapping the Seaway project, without any consideration to the financial implications and reputational damage this will cause our city. That was swiftly followed by them stating they will not progress the approved plans for the £600m partnership to regenerate the Queensway Estate, putting hundreds of jobs and homes at risk. We will stand up for the residents of Queensway and the improvement this project will make.
Southend Labour continues to go from strength to strength as residents respond to our policies, our hardworking councillors and activists, and when we are back in power, we will get the priorities correct for Southend, from Leigh to Shoebury to Westcliff to Eastwood and everywhere in-between.
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