Political Viewpoint by Conservative Coun Kevin Buck – Prittlewell Ward, Shadow Cabinet Member for Transport & Infrastructure
FIRSTLY, I would like to say a warm welcome back to the Leigh Times. Yes, it has a new name for obvious reasons, but we all know and love it for what it really is. I wish Mike and the team every success with the new paper and I’m sure many locally will want to support it.
I must mention the war in Ukraine, as I have seen a lot of negative comments recently about the UK’s support for Ukraine. As a descendant of those who fled the racial and religious persecution in Poland at the beginning of the 20th century, and who secured a safe haven in the UK, we should never forget history and what humans are capable of.
Ukraine was a peaceful sovereign nation, progressively moving forward in the world for its people. It was invaded by an aggressive neighbour with a long history of doing so. Be under no illusion, the Russian objective is genocide of the Ukrainian people, as Putin has made it clear he wants Ukraine without Ukrainians.
The UK asked for help in the 2nd World War and although it eventually came in sufficient capacity to win, it’s late arrival maybe delayed the wars ending, potentially costing millions of lives. Today in the 21st century in Europe, it is Ukraine who needs help and if successful, Russia, under Putin, will not stop there.
We comment on this with the very freedom and impunity a safe nation offers, paid for by the millions who sacrificed their own lives for it and us. How would those today, saying we shouldn’t help Ukraine, feel if it was the UK instead? ‘Lest We Forget’!
It is currently Council budget time. We have seen some extraordinary suggestions of how the council should save money, or generate additional income. Once again our old friend parking is on the agenda. Increases not only to existing charges, but increases in times to 21:00 as well, affecting the night-time economy.
I went to Basildon Festival Leisure a few weeks ago for a family birthday celebration. Easy to get to from Leigh, being about a 10-minute drive. Once there, like Southend, you have a myriad of restaurants to choose from. What differentiates it, is that it is very easy to get to by car, and there are 2000 free car parking spaces. On a cold January Tuesday evening at 19:00, the place was very busy. The business is there, we are just not attracting it!
Continuing on the same theme, parking charges are to be introduced at all our public parks and open spaces. These parks currently enjoy free parking. Belfairs Park & Golf Course will see parking charges introduced under the 3 party coalitions budget plans. My fellow golfers at Belfairs, who play using their senior citizen season tickets, could see the cost to play golf during the week almost double with these new parking charges.
Those elected Councillors who think that parking and parking charges are not an issue for a local economy are fooling themselves and being extremely disingenuous to the people they are supposed to represent. The evidence is there for all to see. I am fully opposed to the parking changes currently being proposed.
Even if you are able to enjoy free parking for a short time, if going to Belfairs or any other public toilet, they are introducing charges to use them. Using a public toilet should be free and the ‘Paying to Pee’ policy is one that I find in the 21st century, completely unacceptable.
Many of these suggestions have come from external consultants, which the council has engaged at considerable taxpayers cost. The immediate question that comes to mind is, if we are using expensive external consultants to draft Cabinet budgetary policy, what is the current Cabinet actually doing? That is a very good question and one that remains unanswered!
You will hear coalition members in this column tell you that Southend is in the top 25 percentile of local authorities in the UK for financial standing. That would be correct, although it was of course, the Conservatives who originally put it there.
What they won’t tell you, is that in the last 4 years of their administration, it has rapidly descended in its fiscal rankings. They have taken a budget surplus and healthy reserves of nearly £100m, and turned that into a budget deficit, depleted reserves and by their own budgetary forecast, bankruptcy in a few years if they don’t change their current fiscal approach.
After 4 years of the Labour/Lib Dem/Independent coalition, it is very clear that they have placed political ideology above prudent fiscal management.
Can Southend afford to allow them to continue in this way? The answer is of course no, Southend can no longer afford the 3 party coalition and by their own admission, they are currently on a path to bankruptcy. It’s time for change in Southend.