Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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I back Nadia Cenci for Tory Leader

Ipswich Spy have being doing some good political reporting on the Ipswich Borough Council Conservative Group leadership contest with their sources telling them there will only be two contenders for the top job: current Deputy Leader Cllr Chris Stewart and Cllr Nadia Cenci.

Current canvassing looks as if Cllr Chris Stewart will win the ballot. This is not good news. As much as Cllr Stewart is an intelligent chap, who I have always found amiable, and instinctively is a Tory rather than a “wet” Cameroon, he is not exactly box office. The current Deputy Leader of the Tory Group might have a grasp of detail and could quite happily table and trundle through pointless motion after motion (which is all opposition parties can do) but he does not stir people to sit up and listen. His diction is at best monotonous, at worst, dare I say it, boring. With most of the electorate not even bothering to turn up and vote for local government councillors, do the Tories really want a man leading them who would not stand out in a crowd?

But the Conservatives at Grafton House are in luck. They have a person in their midst, who despite having some strange views, DOES make people sit up and listen: Cllr Nadia Cenci. And she can actually be heard in a Council chamber: the acoustics might be bad but I can always hear every word Cllr Cenci says whereas when most councillors stand up they drone on to the point individual words don’t punctuate through the ether. Given politics is about the art of communication, this is a pretty dire state of affairs.

I have not always agreed with Cllr Cenci. For instance, when she was Communities Portfolio Holder, during the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition at the Borough Council, I saw her give far much lee-way to so-called “charities”, some of which basically were businesses in another guise, but I always respected Cllr Cenci’s passion and active approach to her brief. When it comes to bread-and-butter Tory subjects like the economy, you couldn’t put a cigarette paper between Cllr Cenci and I. Nadia Cenci is no shrinking violet. She says what’s on her mind and be damned with the consequences. Some members of her own political group might not like this but the media love it. Cllr Cenci is a reporter’s dream: copy guaranteed on every occasion!

Experience is also a big factor when it comes to choosing a leader. This does not mean they should be 101 years old and have done and seen it all. That is not experience, that’s just an ability to not die. Cllr Stewart’s Achilles heel is his lack of experience as a councillor with only two years spent in an Opposition role, which, frankly, is a basic level. Cllr Cenci on the other hand has been on the Executive Committee as a Portfolio Holder when the Tories ran the Council between 2004 and 2011: that counts for a lot when it comes to knowing how to deal with officers (ever a thorn in a Tory councillor’s side) and the politics of local government, skills which a Conservative Opposition will need in droves just to survive as a distinct force on the Council over the coming years.

So, who do the Tories want to be their face to the public: a retired schoolteacher with a touch of the Sir Humphrey about him or a brash Anglo-Italian who, when she stands up and speaks, the blogosphere and the Ipswich Morning Star’s Mr Geater reach for their notebooks. How does the old saying go? All publicity is good publicity. You never know, there might be some votes in it – if I was standing as a Conservative candidate this year or next, I’d be happy with that.

As a sidebar, it is disappointing to see two young Tory councillors sitting on the sidelines in this leadership election. Both Cllr Richard Pope and Cllr Kym Stroet sit in ultra-safe Bixley ward in the east of the town; they are both capable of taking on the mantle of leader but have decided not to throw their hat into the ring. The Conservative Group ARE going to lose seats in 2014: would it have not been wiser for Cllrs Pope and Stroet to step up to the plate rather than see the leadership being decapitated next year?


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Ipswich Borough Council Meeting: 29th February 2012

Budget day took place in Ipswich on Wednesday this week, also a leap day, which led to strange goings on in the Council chamber.

Council Questions
Firstly, in Council Questions, Cllr Kym Stroet accused Cllr Jones of being a “scandalous” woman because she was a Labour and Co-operative councillor (fair enough) and because she lived with Labour leader Cllr David Ellesmere, which meant she had a vested interest in her campaign to prevent Tesco from taking over the Greene King pub on Woodbridge Road. The theory being Cllr Jones was a protector of the Co-op supermarket but it was unclear what her co-habitation arrangements had to do with this.  Cllr Jones retorted she was not “scandalous” and promptly sat down.
We then had a couple of questions from Cllr Debman about snow clearance outside residents’ homes and shops in the town centre. Considering we had double figure temperatures outside that evening this was a somewhat surreal set of questions. But Cllr Debman did have a point when he said residents were fearful of keeping the pavement outside their house clear of snow for fear of being sued. Cllr Phil Smart, Transport portfolio holder, said residents should fear not and he would ensure an article was put in The Angle (the council’s propaganda sheet) in time for next winter.
Cllr Carnall kicked off a theme which ran throughout the meeting: jobs and investment and Labour’s hypocrisy. The Tory leader asked Cllr Jones, Labour’s economic spokesman, what she was going to do to make the town centre more welcoming. She listed off numerous schemes, all of which either Ipswich Central (the town centre management company) or the previous Conservative-led administration had done, and tried to carry them off as Labour initiatives. Cllr Carnall reminded her the only thing Labour had done over the last few years was to oppose a major new £70M development on Grafton Way which will create 900 jobs.
Following a planted question from leading Labour backbencher Cllr Alasdair Ross about the Benefits service, which, naturally, Labour’s finance chief Cllr Cook answered by stating how wonderful the performance of the Benefits service now was under Labour, Cllr Carnall asked another question about how the Council was getting on with re-cooping the £5M invested in Icelandic banks which went bust in 2008. The answer was around 90% of the money will be returned, which Cllr Carnall reminded the chamber ran contrary to Labour’s manifesto at the last Borough elections which said the evil Tories had lost all of the money. 
Nevertheless it is another example of how the taxpayer is suffering in the worst recession in modern times.
Cllr Smart was given a kick up the backside by Cllr Tanya Maclure on the late issuing of orders for yellow lines, parking restrictions and the like. She also encouraged Cllr Smart to get on with the verge improvement works in Goring Road which were approved by the Community Improvements Committee over a year ago.
Housing Revenue Account Business Plan
Next up was the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) Business Plan which was presented to the council for consideration with any comments being taken on-board by the Executive Committee who will make the final decision on the business plan when they next meet. The HRA is basically a pot of money used to administer council housing and receive rents from council tenants. It is a complicated financial arrangement which under the last Labour Government saw £7M a year being syphoned off to central government for re-distribution amongst Labour heartlands in the north of England. The new coalition government has now stopped this arrangement. 
Cllr Mowles, Labour’s housing portfolio holder, also announced Ipswich Borough Council was going back in time and was intending to build council houses again. Although they would love to build council houses at any time as it is another way of keeping their voters in their place (quite literally) it has also become necessary because Labour’s John Prescott presided over the lowest number of houses being built between 1997 and 2007 since the 1920s. This directly contributed to the housing bubble which means a whole generation of young people cannot afford a home of their own.  Just what the socialists want, of course.
Cllr Carnall quipped during the HRA Business Plan debate that there was no mention of re-instating Ipswich’s Area Housing Offices despite Labour saying in the last election they were “indispensable” after the Conservative-led administration closed the inefficient offices down.
Perversely, Cllr Mowles during the debate said he “apologised for raising political terms in this chamber” before he proceeded to say “Labour party”. If you can’t use political terms in a local government council chamber where can you? A very surreal leap day moment!
Corporate Plan
Then we moved on to the Corporate Plan (keep awake at the back!).
This is the strategy document which sets out what the council will be doing over the next five years. It is stacked full of waffle about bringing in jobs and investment (although Labour vote against any new jobs or investment) and how Ipswich will be looking to benefit from the Olympics legacy. Basically, the corporate plan is a waste of time – it is a typical New Labour document from a by-gone era when councils were encouraged to do everything for their residents and which has created the client state with millions of people dependent on state handouts to live. As Liberal Democrat Cllr Atkins put it succinctly, the council should be providing the basics like emptying the bins and mowing the park lawns and should forget about everything else like ensuring people eat five pieces of fruit a day and looking for non-existent community tensions – because the Socialists can’t afford such luxuries any more. Remember, there is no money left!
The Budget
Next up was the business end of the meeting: the Budget.
May be it was the leap day effect but more likely it was because of Cllr Ellesmere’s ego which meant he presented the budget rather than Finance Portfolio Holder Cllr Martin Cook. Oh, and may be it was because Cllr Ellesmere is the Labour parliamentary candidate as well!
One thing which struck me immediately was how bad Labour councillors are at speaking and presenting: they don’t even try to be coherent but instead mumble on about evil “Tory government cuts” and how their budget was for jobs and investment, despite Labour voting against 900 jobs and £70M investment in Ipswich only very recently. Contrast this with Cllr Carnall’s Chancellor of Exchequer style budget speeches over the last seven years.
There are basically two things in the Budget: Council tax will be frozen this year helped by a coalition central government grant and the socialists will be spending investing £1.5M in new jobs and skills development. Labour failed to explain how they will magically create new jobs in Ipswich apart from appointing an Equalities Officer at Ipswich Borough Council to tackle bullying and harassment at the council. From my experience in line management, bullying and harassment is something that mysteriously starts being reported when an employee is told to pull their socks up and do a better job. 
As Ben Gummer recently said in his Morning Ipswich Star column (not online), it would be far better if the council gave residents a tax cut which they would spend in the local economy and in turn would fuel more jobs and investment. It’s called capitalism. But of course socialists would rather create a bunch of non-jobs tasked with inventing claims of bullying and harassment. It’s like a George Orwell novel.
The Conservatives proposed a 3% tax cut in their response to Labour’s budget, which would pump £400,000 immediately into the Ipswich economy. This would be funded by getting rid of a redundant director (may be the one who never speaks!) and not bailing out Ipswich Buses’ pension fund to the tune of £140,000 (which is probably illegal), transferring the HEARS service to Suffolk County Council who are better placed to deliver an Adult and Social Care service and not recruiting the Stasi Equalities officer.
Tory leader Cllr Carnall, when opposing Labour’s wasteful budget, revealed the Labour administration also planned to let Ipswich Town Football Club off the hook by allowing them to not pay an interest bill of £17,500 on the debt they own the council for unpaid land rent. 
The Conservative Budget Amendment was voted on, with all Conservatives For, Labour Against and the yellow peril abstaining.  Paul Geater from the Morning Ipswich Star then left the press benches in the chamber without waiting to see if Labour’s budget was passed by the Council!
Before the vote, Cllr Maclure interjected in the debate and raised again the issue of the Labour council setting money aside for Ipswich Buses. She, rightly, accused them of being disingenuous by not stating what the money was going to be used for. The council is legally allowed to subsidise bus routes if there is a community need but Labour had not stated in the Budget they intended to spend the money on subsidised routes but instead put the money under the header ‘Support to public transport in the Town’. This led Cllr Maclure and the Conservative Group to suspect the money was going to be used to prop up Ipswich Buses pension contributions. Something which Cllr Smart did not deny. If Labour were to do this it would be for purely ideologically reasons: they see Ipswich Buses as a means to control the masses (their voters) and it must be protected at all costs. The problem is there is legislation preventing a council from running a bus company, they can only own it and operationally it must be kept at “arms-length”. Competition Law may also prevent a council from subsidising a bus company’s pension scheme as this would give Ipswich Buses an unfair advantage in the bus transport market (all bus companies would surely then ask why their pension scheme cannot be propped up by the taxpayer?). If Ipswich Buses is run so inefficiently it cannot service its pension scheme then surely it should go bust allowing a more efficient bus operator to take over the routes. Ipswich Buses is not the Labour party’s play thing: fair competition must take precedent to protect taxpayers and the passengers. This one will rear its head again I am sure.
Finally, the budget vote was held: Labour were For, the Conservatives finally voted Against something and, of course, the Yellow Peril Liberal Democrats abstained. 
Polling Station changes

The Council was asked by acting returning officer and chief executive Russell Williams to note the changes to the polling districts. The Council gave Mr Williams delegated powers to make these changes as Councillors themselves are not allowed to be decision makers in the way Elections are run by the Council, for obvious reasons.

One of the changes is in my former ward, Bixley, where the Broke Hall Primary School polling station is going to be closed and residents will instead be asked to travel to Copleston High School to vote, which is a fair walk from the Broke Hall estate. Cllr Kym Stroet, who represents my old seat, spoke against the proposal but the Council still “noted” the decisions made. To Cllr Stroet’s credit he voted Against the proposals and asked for his vote to be formerly noted.
Post-script
Labour Mayor Cllr John Le Grys doesn’t even try to be non-partisan as the Mayor’s role is meant to be. One case of bias was obvious when the allotted time for each speaker expired. When Cllr Carnall was speaking in the Budget debate he ran out of the time and immediately the Mayor started manically pressing on his microphone button so all we could hear was ding, ding, ding as the mad Mayor tried to stop the Tory leader from speaking.
Of course, it was a different story when Labour leader Cllr Ellesmere ran out of time. The Labour mayor just laid back in his chair and continued to chortle at the Labour leader’s bad jokes and even allowed Cllr Ellesmere to cross the chamber floor and slam a handful of 5ps on Cllr Carnall’s desk as part of a stunt to demonstrate how little the Tory 3% decrease would save residents. I’d rather have my 5p a week actually then give it to the socialist pigs in the trough at Grafton House.


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A report from a meeting of Ipswich Borough Council: 25 January 2012

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.