After Kevin Algar’s excellent report last time round, I was back on ‘blog roll duty’ this month.
The meeting of all Ipswich Borough Councillors in Endeavour House began in a sombre fashion as all sides of the chamber paid tribute to Russell Harsant who died on Tuesday. I still can’t believe I am writing this. My tribute to Russell is here.
Cllr John Carnall, Conservative Group Leader, was first to speak and he recalled how Russell always stood up for Ipswich, even if it meant going against the County Council leadership. Cllr Carnall also spoke about Russell’s devotion to the Conservative Party, something I was very familiar with from my time as constituency chairman, and he reminded us how Russell was an aficionado of leaflet delivery organisation!
Labour Leader Cllr David Ellesmere said Russell was respected by every councillor, whatever their political colour. Cllr Ellesmere recalled how Russell loved the political process and council chamber debate and how he enjoyed a good point being raised even it was made by the opposition at his own’s party’s expense. This is very true: Russell had time and respect for everyone – friend or foe.
Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr Nigel Cheesman spoke about how Russell was “dapper” and always had a “twinkle in his eye”.
It was clear from the speeches how much Russell meant to his political colleagues and friends. We will dearly miss him.
The Mayor then moved on to the evening’s business.
Council Questions were up first. Cllr Judy Terry asked Labour Portfolio Holder for Culture and Leisure, Cllr Bryony Rudkin, how negotiations were going with potential Broomhill Pool developers. Not very far was basically the answer. No time-scales were committed for if and when a developer will bring the pool back to its “glory days”. My bet is it will never happen as the business case just doesn’t stack up.
Cllr Kym Stroet asked how the town centre fared in the Christmas shopping stakes. Cllr Carole Jones, Economic Development Portfolio Holder, said footfall was up 7% on last year, which is good news! Cllr Stroet then asked a somewhat pointless question about how the council can improve service standards in our town centre shops. Sorry Kym, but what has the council got to do with customer service? We don’t run the shops, even though the Socialists would love to.
Cllr John Carnall then swooped in to take a bite at Cllr Jones: “Does Cllr Jones welcome the news Tesco are due to start developing the Grafton Way site in the next few months and does she now regret opposing the planning application, which will create 900 jobs and bring millions of pounds of investment into Ipswich?” Cllr Jones stood up and said no she didn’t welcome the investment and that she “very strongly” opposed the planning application. But then said we are where we are so she does welcome it. Classic anti-enterprise clap trap from a Socialist – I thought she was meant to be in charge of Economic DEVELOPMENT!
Cllr Nadia Cenci raised an interesting point that charity ISCRE had received more money from the Council this year than was awarded by the Community Working Group under the last Conservative-led administration. As ISCRE is stacked full of Labour cronies it is hardly surprising Labour portfolio holder for Communities Cllr Sandy Martin found some extra taxpayers money to put their way.
Cllr Tanya Maclure raised an important point about the cost of setting up the ill-thought-out Area Committees. Why have Special Responsibility Allowances been handed out to the new chairmen of Area Committees without the Independent Remuneration Committee making a recommendation on the amount paid? Cllr Ellesmere waffled on that the Remuneration Committee will still review SRAs for Area Committee Chairmen but they were entitled to an allowance now under the existing rules. Unfortunately for the Conservative Group, the Labour Leader revealed Deputy Tory Leader Cllr Chris Stewart was the first to take up the additional money. If only Cllr Stewart had been at the Conservative Group meeting on Monday to tell his colleagues that!!
Tory Cllr Paul West rounded off the questions by challenging Cllr John Mowles, Portfolio Holder for Housing, on the renovation work at Cumberland Towers, a Council owned block of flats in North West Ipswich. Residents have been complaining of excessive noise, work taking place out of hours, lifts out of order and general mess on the landings. Cllr Mowles said he was aware and that senior officer Joe Howarth had been in touch with the contractor. Cllr West shot back to say this was not good enough and that residents needed a straightforward way of contacting the Council to complain if the works continued to have an unreasonable impact on their lives, such as – shock, horror – a single point of contact! Typically, residents were having to speak with multiple council officers about the same problem in true public sector bureaucratic style. Cllr Mowles promised to tighten up the communication flows.
There was then only one report on the main agenda: Council Houses Rent Increase.
Labour Cllr Mowles announced rent would increase by 5.6% and blamed the Conservatives for it being necessary. Cllr Carnall retorted by saying it was not necessary to increase housing rents in a recession because the Housing Revenue Account in Ipswich was in surplus! So why does Labour need to put up rents? Perhaps because they are addicted to taking and spending public money!
Unfortunately, my Tory friends chose to round off the meeting by deserting their duty to actually vote on behalf of their residents. At the Council Houses Rent Increase vote, Labour naturally voted for it, but instead of voting against the move the Conservatives all abstained despite criticising the increase during the preceding debate. I’ve given my views on abstaining before here so I won’t go on about it again but just to say the electorate don’t elect councillors to NOT represent them.