Saturday, February 12, 2011

Basildon Borough Heading for a zero Council Tax

Times are tough is local government finance. Thanks to our previous Labour government the country is strapped for cash, and so the coalition is having to cut support to Councils. For Basildon this means reducing our costs, and very sadly having to reduce our staff numbers by up to 100. This last is very regrettable. We have excellent officers and redundancy is a horrible thing to inflict on anyone. In general though, the prudent financial management of Basildon Council down the years means that we are able to get through this without hitting front-line services.

We also don't want to take the easy option of hitting the Council-taxpayer either. The government is helping out with that, with a deal that if we keep the notional increase to 2.5%, they will fund it down to zero. So, for 2011, we won't be raising the Council Tax in Basildon. This is great news for local people, many of whom are still hit hard from the recession and the squeeze from Labour's disastrous handling of the economy. As is heard fairly often in TV adverts - every little helps.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Basildon Town Centre Redevelopment

We have just been through the worst recession in British history, and one which hit the commercial property sector particularly hard. It was so bad that it wiped out most of the large-scale regeneration plans in the country, with project after project collapsing under the weight of the new economic realities. So, against this background it is quite something that Basildon Council will be signing a joint-venture contract for the redevelopment of Basildon Town Centre, a project that could bring in over £1bn of private investment over the next 20 years.

It has taken us three years to get to contract signature and the ambition is to build nearly two thousand homes as well as new retail and office spaces as well as public buildings in the Town Centre. Public buildings includes an expanded theatre by the way. Our selected development partner is Barrett Wilson Bowden, a blue-chip British company. We will be working with them on a first phase on the old swimming pool site as well as a detailed master plan exercise for the rest of the Town Centre. This will involve extensive consultation with public, businesses and other bodies in order to ensure that we get the best set of plans on which to build the future Basildon Town Centre.

At a Cabinet meeting a few months ago Cllr. Lynda Gordon plaintively asked 'why we need to change anything' in the Town Centre. The answer is pretty simple: without continued investment then Town Centres tend to decline, with lower quality retail and eventually empty shop units. Big, integrated Town Centres like Basildon don't support small incremental investment like a traditional High Street. Basically, if you want to change anything then you have to spend big. Without the sort of investment framework represented by the Council's joint venture agreement then decline is the only future for Basildon Town Centre. The trouble is that we can't wait for the Town Centre to reach a state when even Cllr. Gordon decides something must be done before we act. It would be far too late by then. Predictably though the local Labour party have decided to oppose the project. They don't have much in way of argument against it, so it is the usual overblown trivia and a calculation that this will allow them to oppose any planning application that turns out to be unpopular. This is the attitude of a pressure group, not a political party with aspirations to control Basildon Council. It is also a political mistake, but I don't think I will explain why.

Do carry on Lynda.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Coalition agreement published

The Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition agreement has been published here.

Progressive Alliance, though not as Blair planned it

British politics will never be the same again. Instead of the some 'progressive' anti-Tory alliance of losers we have a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition with a joint cabinet, planning for a five-year fixed term. This is a major realignment, but not from the left to the centre, it is from the right to the centre, pushing old, tired tribal Labour out to the margins. Of course, it didn't have to be this way, but Tony Blair lost all enthusiasm for cosying up to the Liberal Democrats as soon as he obtained a large parliamentary majority and Gordon Brown simply hated them. Apparently, he never forgave those who left Labour for the SDP, and then went on to the Liberal Democrats. In another demonstration of his tribalism, Brown always referred the Liberal Democrats as the 'Liberals' as a calculated insult to any former Labour members in that party. This, amongst other things, scuppered any chance of a deathbed Lib/Lab pact to keep him in power. It is too late to start being nice to people when you want something from them after years of showering them with petty abuse.

There is another point about the failed attempt at a Liberal/Labour coalition. This was the last charge of Blair's apparatchiks. Peter Mandleson and Alastair Campbell are both proven serial liars. Neither are elected and both would have personally benefited from the walking zombie of a Labour-led, cobbled-together coalition, damaging as that would have been for the country. So, they talked Brown into a cynical promise to resign and tried to bounce their party into a nasty little deal. Fortunately, for both the country and the Labour party wiser heads prevailed, with MPs and Cabinet Members telling Mandleson and Campbell where to get off. Otherwise we would have had a weak, cynical government presided over by a loser and hostage to minor party interests. That it would have laid the ground for a Conservative landslide at the next election would not have compensated for the damage it would have done to Britain as we struggled to tackle Labour's debt mountain.

Hopefully that is the last we shall see of those two clowns.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

On Coalitions

If you put yourself up for election then you are promising the voters that if elected you will do the job. That means do the job when it is hard as well as when it is difficult. The idea that we can stand back as if we weren't the largest party in the Commons is absurd, and would be hugely damaging to the party, and to the country. So, we have to make an honest effort at government, and that means talking to the Liberal Democrats. Our country is in crisis and indulging in party political naval-gazing would be a betrayal of the national interest. Of course, we cannot yield ground in key policy areas, but David Cameron has made that quite clear. However, on the economy both ourselves and the Liberal Democrats agree on the need for action. If we can work together on the most urgent issue of the day then that is what we should do, because it is, frankly, our duty.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Billericay and Basildon Election redux

I didn't post much during the election campaign, quite deliberately. People do read this blog and I was acutely aware of the possibility that I might drop a clanger. Now the elections are over though, I have a few thoughts:

Stephen Metcalfe showed great character and his campaign manager Mark Coxshall great organisation in the three-year slog that took them to the fantastic victory in Basildon and East Thurrock yesterday. Stephen is a very hard worker and very intelligent. He will be a credit to parliament. One of the best things about yesterday for me was walking into his campaign office to find it full of young people beavering away. The future of the party looks good to me.

I have always liked Angela Smith, the defeated ex-MP, on a personal level and she has achieved so much from her modest start in Pitsea. I do think that her campaign was not well run though. Some of the Labour literature that I saw was very poor and their was a lack of consistent themes. Given that she had the overt backing of the local paper, the Echo, and her local links then she was in with a chance at least. However, bad organisation and Stephen's qualities and campaign was too much for local Labour.

John Baron is back with a thumping increase in his majority, despite new boundaries that theoretically made his prospects worse. He is an excellent MP and my colleague Richard Moore ran a first-class campaign for him. The A team triumphed against a dismal Labour effort that had all of the hallmarks of just going through the motions.

We had Council elections as well as the general election, with the results announced today. The Conservative council administration held every seat that we were defending, and missed a couple of other seats by heartbreakingly small margins. Commiserations to our candidates there, especially the talented young women in Fryerns and Lee Chapel North.

So, the Essex voters have delivered their verdict on Labour, and it isn't pretty. Locally we carry on with our successful Conservative administration. Nationally, well, just keep watching the news...

Monday, May 03, 2010

Conservative Contract with Britain

Who could disagree with this...

We will change politics

Our political system needs to change. Politicians must be made more accountable, and we must take power away from Westminster and put it in the hands of people - individuals, families and neighbourhoods.

If you elect a Conservative government on 6 May, we will:

1. Give you the right to sack your MP, so you don't have to wait for an election to get rid of politicians who are guilty of misconduct.

2. Cut the number of MPs by ten per cent, and cut the subsidies and perks for politicians.

3. Cut ministers' pay by five per cent and freeze it for five years.

4. Give local communities the power to take charge of the local planning system and vote on excessive council tax rises.

5. Make government transparent, publishing every item of government spending over £25,000, all government contracts, and all local council spending over £500.

We will change the economy

Gordon Brown's economic incompetence has doubled the national debt, given us record youth unemployment, and widened the gap between rich and poor. Unemployment is still rising, and this year we will spend more on debt interest than on schools. We need to get our economy moving.

If you elect a Conservative government on 6 May, we will:

1. Cut wasteful government spending so we can stop Labour's jobs tax, which would kill the recovery.

2. Act now on the national debt, so we can keep mortgage rates lower for longer.

3. Reduce emissions and build a greener economy, with thousands of new jobs in green industries and advanced manufacturing.

4. Get Britain working by giving unemployed people support to get work, creating 400,000 new apprenticeships and training places over two years, and cutting benefits for those who refuse work.

5. Control immigration, reducing it to the levels of the 1990s - meaning tens of thousands a year, instead of the hundreds of thousands a year under Labour.

We will change society

We face big social problems in this country: family breakdown, educational failure, crime and deep poverty. Labour's big government has failed; we will help build a Big Society where everyone plays their part in mending our broken society.

If you elect a Conservative government on 6 May, we will:

1. Increase spending on health every year, while cutting waste in the NHS, so that more goes to nurses and doctors on the frontline, and make sure you get access to the cancer drugs you need.

2. Support families, by giving married couples and civil partners a tax break, giving more people the right to request flexible working and helping young families with extra Sure Start health visitors.

3. Raise standards in schools, by giving teachers the power to restore discipline and by giving parents, charities and voluntary groups the power to start new smaller schools.

4. Increase the basic state pension, by relinking it to earnings, and protect the winter fuel allowance, free TV licences, free bus travel and other key benefits for older people.

5. Fight back against crime, cut paperwork to get police officers on the street, and make sure criminals serve the sentence given to them in court.

6. Create National Citizen Service for every 16 year old, to help bring the country together.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ministry of Justice take the people of Wickford for fools over new prison

There is a proposal to build a new prison in Runwell, which is in Chelmsford but on the border of Wickford in Basildon District. The local people are, not surprisingly, rather less than pleased, having voted two to one against the proposal in a recent survey. Now, we all agree that we need more prisons, and Chelmsford Borough has no particular problem with having another prison. The site is also entirely already in public ownership, which when you think about it is a bit of a coincidence. What are the odds that the perfect place for a prison from an economic, social and transportation perspective is also already owned by the government? Just how stupid do they think that the people of Wickford are? For what it's worth my contacts at Chelmsford reckon there are much better locations in the Borough, but these would require the tedious business of land assembly from a variety of public and private owners. Someone has clearly decided that it is better to go for the site that the government already owns and flannel the locals.

The other claim from the MoJ is that the prison will be some huge economic benefit to Wickford. Let's explore this for a moment shall we? Based on MoJ figures the prison will employ 900 people, but based on their own figures only half of them are expected to live in Basildon District. Also, based on correspondence from the MoJ the expectation is that most of these jobs will be relatively low-paid. So, there you have it: 450 mainly low-paid jobs. We can get that from one medium-sized factory on a tenth of the land area, probably with better jobs too. This is not the stuff of which booms are made.

Anyway, Basildon's Cabinet has voted to make representations to Chelmsford to turn the proposal down. Let's hope they do that, and that they aren't overruled by some Planning Inspector in Whitehall. Everyone is talking about localism.

Let's see some.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Angela Smith doesn't like Zoos

Basildon and East Thurrock MP, Angela Smith has decided that she doesn't like zoos. She doesn't like them so much in fact that she wants them all closed. As you might expect, this has gone down very badly with most people, including the Labour government. Animal welfare minister Jim Fitzpatrick was especially unimpressed when he said, 'Angela doesn’t have responsibility for this area. We’re not going anywhere near zoos'.

So, why is Mrs. Smith pursuing this on the eve of a general election where she is fighting a marginal seat that is a must-win for Gordon Brown to stay as Prime Minister? Well, there is the first clue. It is likely that the General Election campaign starts tomorrow and so any such statements from Angela will get lost among dozens of election stories. The Easter weekend was the last chance she had to get any attention with something like this. This begs the question as to why she wants the attention, and the answer to this is that Mrs. Smith is already thinking about life after Westminster. Before she came into parliament Angela Smith was a leading light in the League Against Cruel Sports. If she thinks that she is going to lose, and many people have told me that she is not confident, then she has to be considering what she does next. It seems that her thinking is turning to the charitable animal-rights sector, hence the staking out of a policy platform.

One thing though, Mrs. Smith is a very good at influencing public policy. Look at the way the League Against Cruel Sports pushed Labour into the hunting ban despite its inherent idiocy, the vast amount of parliamentary time and focus it consumed and the long-term damage it has done to Labour in rural areas. If she does exit parliament then this zoo business is probably not going to go away.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Basildon Sign

It must be fairly rare for an English Council putting up a sign gets worldwide publicity, but we seem to have managed it. This, of course, is the 'Basildon' sign that Basildon District Council has erected on the A127 in order to promote the Basildon Enterprise Corridor, which stretches down that highway. There is more to it than that of course; the sign is part of £400,000 project to replace and improve dozens of signs and to tidy up the Fortune of War intersection, which is a key entry point to the District. The point, which has been lost on some critics, is to improve the infrastructure that supports over 40,000 of local jobs, and hopefully to increase that number.

Anyway, it has garnered a great deal of interest in the media as far away as Australia. Better yet the coverage has generally been positive. I think that the sign looks good and that it does its primary job. There's no way you can speed down the A127 now and not notice when you get to Basildon District.