“If you are a Lib Dem councillor, then sooner or later the Conservatives will probably make you an offer to switch sides. Thankfully I’ve never been tempted, because if I had gone against my principles and turned blue I really would be regretting it now.
Because it should be obvious to any Conservative councillor that councils are being drained of resources by central government. The funding that councils receive is being ruthlessly removed. That’s why the District Council is thinking about closing public conveniences. . It’s why streetlights are being switched off at 1 a.m.. It’s why Essex secondary schools are facing an average funding cut of about £477 per year per pupil. It’s why some children’s centres have closed in Essex, and why charges for home care have increased five-fold in the past four years. It’s why there are big cuts to the police budget, and a more stretched police force.
And there’s more to come – unless Central Government is persuaded that they’ve already cut too much. But in Essex, nearly all the councils are Conservative-run, and they aren’t willing to upset their party colleagues in Westminster.
I can remember when the District Council was led by the Lib Dems. We were facing a new government policy on council housing that would have cost us over £100,000 per year. So we organised an all-party council delegation to go to Whitehall, we argued our case , and got an exemption. Doesn’t seem to work like that nowadays.
Of course there are some savings that councils could make. The Lib Dems have pointed out that the County Council has spent £116 million on temporary agency staff in the past five years. That’s something we would change. We could use that money for things like more road repairs, improving youth provision, protecting concessionary fares for pensioners and providing better street lighting. The County Council and the District Council could both save money by scrapping their expensive and undemocratic cabinet systems. It’s not only councils. The NHS is an even bigger issue. Overall it’s a huge success story. We spend about 9% of our national income (GNP) on health care, compared with 17% for the USA. But we live on average two years longer than the Amercians. We must protect our NHS and avoid going over to the American private system.
But what’s happening locally? There’s a proposal to downgrade Southend’s A & E department so that it becomes just a walk in centre! If you are against this and have web access look for the “Save Southend A&E” page on Facebook Ambulances will have to go to Basildon – good luck with that in the rush hour! Or Saturday afternoons. Or any other times when the roads are busy.
Which brings me on to traffic… A Conservative party whip on the District Council, together with a lack of useful input from the County Council, has led to too much development being planned on the borders of Rayleigh, Hullbridge and Rawreth. That’s going to add even more congestion on our roads.(By the way, the only councillors to campaign against this this since 2007 were Lib Dems and Rochford Residents , don’t believe what you may see in other party leaflets! )
So not only do we have more congestion , we have more air pollution. But we don’t know how much air pollution, because the District Council won’t do enough monitoring. Which is why opposition councillors from the Rochford Residents, Lib Dems and the Greens have teamed up to pay for monitoring from our own pockets. That includes myself and my Lib Dem colleague Chris Stanley. This monitoring is quietly going on but because we are doing it properly and scientifically we don’t have a full dataset yet.
And now we are going to have a general election! Presumably because Labour are looking so weak, and because there are possible prosecutions pending for Conservatives breaching the spending limits at the last general election around the UK.
The current cuts are taking place when the Conservatives have a majority of about 10 in the House of Commons. Imagine what they could do to public services if they have a majority of 100. Let’s hope we can avoid what Tim Farron has called “Cruel Brittania.” ”