Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


I am your father, Richard

Christmas spirit: Ipswich Town Hall

I attended the full meeting of Ipswich Borough Council, where all 48 councillors should (but rarely all do) turn up for a good old political ding-dong.

Local Government, and especially district councils like Ipswich, is terribly bloated with councils having probably double the number of staff they really need to do the basics: collect the rubbish from the kerbside and the litter from the street (although this is rarely done in residential areas if at all), tend to the parks, collect the business rates and do the only thing district councils have any real power over: processing planning applications. The rest of their activity on community cohesion, applying for Fairtrade town status, ensuring council house residents eat five pieces of fruit a day etc is merely done to keep people in non-jobs. When did government become a place for people who can’t get any meaningful productive work to spend their days?
Wannabe MP: Cllr David Ellesmere
Anyway, this is why full council meetings are 80% pointless. Motions are put forward which boil down to an hour of hot air which achieve a big fat zero. Take the motion proposed by wannabe Labour MP David Ellesmere, Labour council leader and part-time software engineer on the rumoured closure of the Royal Mail sorting office on Commercial Road. What power has Ipswich Borough Council got to stop it? That’s right, no power at all. Do you think Royal Mail even know a motion was proposed last night? Did they hear it? A few posties turned up but was anyone from Royal Mail management there taking note of this earnest motion. No. Most Royal Mail management wouldn’t even know when or where Ipswich Borough Council met or which political party was in charge.
On a political note, Cllr Ellesmere’s motion backfired on him. He was hoping the Tories would be in favour of the sorting office closure. Not so. The Tory amendment  presented by their leader Cllr John Carnall, went one further and said Ipswich should be the sorting office centre of East Anglia. The posties even clapped Tory John. When the motion ping-pong ball was batted back to the Labour leader he didn’t know what to do with himself. So he proceeded to tie himself in knots by saying he agreed with the Tory amendment but didn’t agree with it and he wanted Cllr Carnall to drop his amendment so Labour could adopt the Tory amendment and present it as their own amendment. Cllr Ellesmere made himself look like a little schoolboy who wanted to have the last word. The arithmetic at the council meant Cllr Carnall had little choice but to agree to Cllr Ellesmere’s childish plan.
Then the meeting moved on to Council Questions. This is probably the only part of the gathering which has any meaning and benefit to the democratic process. It’s just a pity no one hears the questions and answers other than the councillors and two or three members of the public who normally turn up. This is why Ipswich Borough Council’s communications officers should pull their finger out and get on with web-casting council meetings to the wider Ipswich community. 
I love wind farms: Cllr Sandy Martin
Questions about the height (they will each be 130 metres tall) of the proposed wind turbines at Thorington Hall were asked by A Riverside View blogger Kevin Algar to Cllr Sandy Martin, Portfolio Holder for Fairer and Greener Ipswich, who yet again dismissed the concerns of local residents over these monstrosities. Labour love wind farms so why bother standing up for the majority of residents who don’t: it is clear Labour will not represent local residents and in doing so are actively supporting the wind farm development by not standing in the way of energy firm Partnership for Renewables . 
There was also a question from Cllr Carnall on council tax for 2013/14 to finance chief Cllr Martin Cook. Cllr Cook refused to say whether council tax would increase. Labour have form in raising council tax rather than find savings so don’t be surprised if the Ipswich precept goes up in April.
We also learnt at the meeting through a question from Cllr Robin Vickery that emergency repairs to County Hall, the former home of Suffolk County Council, are taking place. The site has been stood derelict since 2005 and is in a bad state. Its listed status and current financial climate seems to be delaying any development. And Cllr Judy Terry got out of culture chief Cllr Bryony Rudkin that the number of performances at council-owned The Regent theatre dropped in 2011. This is typical of Labour: they inherit a revitalised Regent theatre – masterminded by former culture chief Cllr Terry when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats ran the council – and they begin to run it down the moment they get their hands on it. Just like the economy.
Next up was a report on Council benefits and how from April 2013 local councils will be responsible for paying out discounts on council tax to those on low incomes from their own budgets as determined in the Welfare Reform Act 2012. The Coalition Government’s aim is to force councils to find savings in all that non-job stuff like five-a-day coordinators and segregating communities in the name of multiculturalism (didn’t they get the memo from David Cameron?) rather than see their low wage voters miss out on a council tax discount. This got socialist Cllr Keith Rawlingson very excited about people deserving hand-outs. He should try living in Eastern or Southern Europe where they wouldn’t know to laugh or cry if you told them how much taxpayer’s money was dished out to people to top up their salaries here in the UK. Despite all this fuming from Red Keith and for the record, Labour in Ipswich chose to hit people on low incomes rather than scrap pointless activity at Grafton House.
Paternity test: Cllr Richard Pope
The final business item was another motion, this time from Tory Cllr Richard Pope, the Shadow Housing Portfolio Holder. Cllr Pope proposed, in keeping with the Christmas spirit and saying thank you to Father Christmas for our presents, the council should ask the Chief Executive, Russell Williams, to write a thank you letter to the Government’s housing minister, Mark Prisk MP, congratulating the Government on their Housing Revenue Account reforms, which will allow local councils to keep more of the money they collect from council housing tenants. This money is being used by the current Labour administration in Ipswich to build new council houses. 
As amusing as the motion was it served no purpose other than a light political knock-about before the Christmas recess. Cllr Ellesmere questioned why Cllr Pope didn’t write his own thank you letter but instead wanted to get his “dad” to write it for him. A sound of bemusement spread through the council chamber. Was Russell Williams Cllr Pope’s father? 
This little quip from the Labour leader spoke volumes on how Labour councillors see officers as superior to them. Either that, or the chief executive is to tell Cllr Pope: “I am your father, Richard”.

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Ipswich Borough Council Meeting: 21st March 2012

The last gathering of all 48 councillors of Ipswich Borough Council before the local elections was a short affair.

There is never a full year of Council meetings in local government because of something called purdah, which basically means elected councillors can’t be seen to be influencing the bureaucrats at the council during the election campaign period, which runs from now until 3rd May. It’s another way for Sir Humphrey to really run the show. 
Council Questions

The first question was to Labour’s transport chief, Cllr Phil Smart, from Cllr Nadia Cenci of Stoke Park ward. She queried the service performance of Ipswich Buses on the route from the town centre to Asda supermarket in her ward. A simple enough question but one which Cllr Smart managed to overly complicate by feigning confusion about which route Cllr Cenci was referring to and then he proceeded to mumble about performance statistics. Somewhere in his answer was the obligatory Labour line that “Ipswich Buses are brilliant” and how they were the “most reliable operator”. He didn’t say if their pension fund was going to be propped up by Ipswich taxpayers – I guess we’ll have to wait for that denial or confirmation another time.
Portfolio Holder for Economic Decline Development, Cllr Jones, then received a question about the derelict former Kwik-Fit garage site at St Margaret’s Green from Tory leader Cllr Carnall. He asked what the Council was doing to encourage development on this eyesore. Cllr Jones waffled on about the owner being out of the country, that the Labour dominated Planning Committee had turned down a car washing venture on the site and that local residents had told her they wanted to take over the site and turn it into a “little park”. Ah, how nice. And who will pay for this? 
Cllr Carnall then asked another question to Labour’s Economic Decline Development chief about empty shops in the town centre. Cllr Jones said there were few empty units that remained empty, which to be fair is true. I am big advocate of Ipswich town centre and do not see the doom and gloom said about the high street from local people. As I’ve said before, some northern cities would cut their right arm off to have a town centre like we have.
But then Cllr Jones entered her little fantasy world again and suggested her Economic Development team at the Council had negotiated the sale of the privately owned Tower Ramparts shopping centre and that they had single-handedly filled empty shop units with the likes of the shoe shop Office and the Apple electronics iStore. She really needs to get a grip on reality: the Economic Development department may have promoted the empty units (but the Overview & Scrutiny Committee found they were not very good at that during our analysis in 2010/11) but they certainly did not ensure they were filled – that was very much the result of the private market and investors only.
If the Economic Decline Development Portfolio Holder really wants to encourage investment into our town she should encourage the Labour dominated Planning Committee to give permission to private companies to set up shop in Ipswich, for instance on the Golden Key public house site.
Cllr Judy Terry then asked a question to Labour leader Cllr Ellesmere on what value his Administration puts on the Council’s policy on Consultation. Cllr Ellesmere took the opportunity to read extracts from Cllr Terry’s maiden speech to the council back in 2004 when she said: “…the council should get on with things, not consult.” Very well put Cllr Terry. What is the point of electing councillors to make decisions on behalf of residents if they then just pass the buck back to them? That’s not called leadership.
Next up was Holywells candidate Pam Stewart who asked two questions to Cllr Phil Smart about the topic which interests this parish greatly: the Gladstone Road/Foxhall Road footpath scheme (approved by councillors nearly three years ago!). 
Mrs Stewart asked a somewhat technical question on if “Section 26 of the Highways Act 1980” had been complied with. I am not sure this was the best way of confronting the incompetence and delay of Ipswich Borough Council on this issue – I would have probably asked what the council had been doing since August 2009 when the decision was made by councillors for the footpath creation order to go ahead, but we all have our own styles. Predictably, Cllr Smart said “Yes” to Mrs Stewart’s answer.
Mrs Stewart’s second question was far better when she asked: “When will the process be completed and the path surfaced?”. Cllr Smart shuffled on his feet and and mumbled that the order “had been sealed” and that the next milestone was 19th April when the deadline is reached for any objections to the footpath being created. But then Cllr Smart pretty much summed up this saga when he said if there were objections the process could become “very elongated”, as if it hadn’t been already! The only reason the order for the footpath has been issued and advertised is because myself and Cllr Harsant have been pushing for action from the faceless bureaucrats in Grafton House. Sir Humphrey really is in charge.
Council’s Pay Policy

One of the successes of the Coalition Government is the Localism Act which, amongst many measures, forces Councils to reveal how much they pay their senior staff. This was actually the policy of the former Conservative-led Council before the Localism Act received royal assent but the law has now forced Labour to continue with the policy and reveal what their chums are paid at Grafton House. The headline is Russell Williams, the Chief Executive, is paid tens times the lowest paid member of staff, which is a pretty good ratio. And as Cllr Carnall said: “Ipswich Borough Council is not one of those councils that pays their CEO more than the Prime Minister!”.
Cllr David Ball took the unusual step for a Labour politician and stood up to criticise the writing of the Pay Policy report. To be fair the report was a bit of a shambles with officers lazily duplicating text throughout the document to pad it out and not summarising the content of the report correctly on the front sheet. 
Socialist Cllr Sandy Martin shot up to defend his friends in the civil service and said they were doing a great job on a low wage. Well if £60,000 a year isn’t enough to ensure a report is written correctly, I am in the wrong job!
The report was voted for by all councillors.
Contractors Standard of Behaviour Policy

Labour’s Finance chief Cllr Martin Cook presented a report which said contractors must not bully or harass employees of Ipswich Borough Council. Fair enough.
But I have to say, from my experience, an employee’s knee jerk reaction is to say they are being bullied if a manager tells them they need to improve their performance. But Labour love a policy that keeps people in work but not actually working.
The report was voted for by all councillors.
Ipswich Heart Town

This was a report that shows you how peaceful and prosperous Great Britain is that councils are allowed to bid to become Heart Towns to promote healthy living. This is up there with employing five-a-day coordinators. It’s jobs for the public sector boys and girls to get paid to fill out out paperwork so the council can say we are a heart town, whatever that is.
But this report gave the loony-left on the council the excuse to ramp up the Communist rhetoric. Firstly, we had Cllr Alasdair Ross of Rushmere ward get on the bandwagon of footballer worship and crocodile tears we have seen since the sad incident where a normally healthy young man collapsed on a football pitch having suffered a heart attack. As sad as this is, the gushing grief which it triggered is only comparable to the Diana hysteria or when Michael Jackson popped his clogs. Cllr Ross said Ipswich Town Football Club would be having a minute’s applause in Fabrice Muamba‘s honour later that evening. I’m sorry, what a load of sentimental tosh. It is sad a young man is ill but so are thousands of other young men across the country. A sixteen year old boy collapsed on the school playing field and died only this week. Where are the footballers with their “Pray 4 Luke” t-shirts underneath their football shirts, ready to expose in an ecstatic thrall after kicking a football into the back of a net? Please, less of the tears. There are plenty more serious issues to get worked up about. While Christianity is trashed on a daily basis the worship at football stadiums continues apace. In the words of G. K. Chesterton: ‘When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.’
The Liberal Democrats chose the Ipswich Heart Town report to advocate the banning of everything: cigarettes, alcohol, fun etc. I wish we could ban the Yellow Peril.
For what it is worth, the report was voted for by all councillors. It was difficult to tell though, as some voting intentions were little more than raising the index finger off the desk a couple of centimetres.
Post script

Labour Mayor Cllr John Le Grys, wearing a scarlet red waistcoat just in case his political allegiance had gone unnoticed (chance would be a fine thing), thanked councillors who would be stepping down this year. There are only a handful but he couldn’t be bothered to name them. My wife is one of them so well done to her for serving her constituents for four years – longer than most people spend in one job!


Economic Development takes a back seat at Labour run Council

Ipswich Borough Council held a full meeting of its Councillors last Wednesday. There was some disquiet as to why the meeting was being called at all and I note Paul Geater from the Morning Evening Star made a big thing of the cost in his Friday column (not online) last week.  However, I believe it is important all Councillors of the Borough present themselves in public on a monthly basis, especially as one of the main agenda items is Council Questions, where the Opposition Parties and members of the Public get a chance to hold the ruling Party to account by questioning Executive Councillors. It enhances democracy and considering the money wasted by Councils up and down the land, a monthly public meeting is good value for money.

There were eight questions on Wednesday, seven from Opposition councillors and one from a member of the public.  It is impressive to see the Conservative Group, who are by far the biggest Opposition political group (with the Lib Dems only having four councillors to their sixteen), looking organised with six questions being asked by the Shadow front bench including two from the Conservative Group Leader, Cllr John Carnall.

First up was Cllr Nadia Cenci, shadow portfolio holder for Fairer and Greener Ipswich and Safer Ipswich, who asked a question on the locality budgets policy which Labour reversed when they took office in May. If it had been implemented, it would have allocated £5,000 to each councillor to spend on community projects put forward by residents in their ward and has proven a very successful policy at Suffolk County Council and at other councils across the country.  Cllr Martin Cook, the Finance portfolio holder, replied that the money was still needed to save libraries, a service provided by the County Council and which were never going to be closed, despite the Labour Party’s propaganda in their leaflets at the last election (see here).  So it looks as if Labour are going to ensure your money is spent only where it will benefit them come next year’s election.

The next couple of questions were on the important subject of Economic Development. This portfolio is looked after by Labour’s Cllr Carole Jones. She was asked by the Conservative spokesman for Economic Development, Cllr Kym Stroet, what steps the Council had taken, in light of the retail chain T J Hughes entering administration, to save the jobs of workers at the store in Ipswich. Now, Ipswich Borough Council can’t actually do much in this scenario – as much as the Socialists would like, the Council can’t dictate to private businesses. Cllr Stroet should have perhaps alluded to this in his question to make it more credible. Nevertheless it was a good attempt for a new councillor and at least it gave us the pleasure of Cllr Jones floundering around for a few words to make it sound she cared many more jobs could be lost in our town.

Next the leader of the Conservative Group, Cllr John Carnall, stood up to pose another question to Cllr Jones. He asked if the Labour Party planned on honouring its pledge in its manifesto to “redouble efforts to bring new investment and jobs to Ipswich”. Instead of setting out ways in which the Labour Administration would assist in facilitating the development of private enterprise in the town, Cllr Jones blamed the lack of staff in her Economic Development department and that it was all the fault of the Tories. In his supplementary question, Cllr Carnall shot back that he had yet to see evidence the number of officers working in the Economic Development department directly related to the number of new businesses opening up in the town. Cllr Carnall then went on to ask if the Labour Executive were in support of  the new Tesco development – approved* by Planning Committee over a year ago – and the retailer’s commitment to inject £70 Million into Ipswich and to create 900 jobs?  Even mentioning the ‘evil’ word Tesco caused an uproar on the Labour benches and they proceeded to shout Cllr Carnall down saying the Tesco development was a matter for the Planning Committee and shouldn’t be raised at Full Council.  Of course, Labour do not wish to be reminded that at the Planning meeting they voted against Tesco’s application and the creation of 900 jobs in the middle of a recession.  This massive investment in Ipswich was only approved because of Conservative and Liberal Democrat votes.  Cllr Jones refused (not something she can do but there was not a peep from the Labour Mayor) to answer Cllr Carnall’s supplementary question, and instead said she would read out her prepared supplementary answer, which is difficult to do when you don’t know what the supplementary question will be in advance!  So we were treated to Cllr Jones waffling on about another pot of taxpayers money (aka Regional Growth Fund) they could waste. Perhaps they should take some new money from Tesco and not hard earned taxpayers but, of course, that’s not what Socialists do.

Cllr Carnall then had another question, this time to Cllr Martin Cook, on the total savings achieved by consultants contracted by the Council to find ways of cutting costs in the Borough.  Cllr Cook was forced to admit £6.4 Million savings had been found from a £4 Million investment in a consultancy firm.

Then Mrs Sally Wainman stepped up to ask a question on, you guessed it, Broomhill Lido.  Mrs Wainman asked what the Council meant by saying they would “pledge up to a million pounds” in its advert to potential Lido developers. Her question was directed to the portfolio holder for Culture, Cllr Bryony Rudkin.  This was a very dry question but Cllr Rudkin put a brave face on it and explained to Mrs Wainman that the wording was standard procurement language.  The next exchange was more interesting when Mrs Wainman was at pains to point out that lidos were back in fashion in the UK, especially in London. Cllr Rudkin begged to differ and pointed out when she went swimming in Plymouth’s lido, she was the only person there! And that London is a very different place to Ipswich (shock horror!). It seems Cllr Rudkin is not so keen on lidos.  This is promising news as whatever the merits of lidos, I don’t want a penny of my Council tax paid out to running one.  What on earth has a Council got to do with running a lido Mrs Wainman??!!

Now it was the Liberal Democrats’ turn.  Cllr Inga Lockington asked the Labour Council Leader, Cllr  David Ellsemere if the Council intended to honour the “promise” made in their leaflets to save all Ipswich Libraries?  Sometimes I wonder which side the Liberal Democrats are on, then again so do they!
Cllr Ellesmere was delighted once again to talk about “saving the libraries”.  This forced an interjection from Conservative Cllr Judy Terry, who is also the portfolio holder responsible for libraries on Suffolk County Council, to point out not a single library was ever earmarked to be closed.  A point cleverly lost on Labour during the election and it would seem even after the County officially announced no library would be closed (unhelpfully after the Borough election).

And then we came to the final question of the evening to Cllr Jones from (and at this point I declare an interest) my wife, Cllr Tanya Maclure, who asked what the Labour Administration’s plans were for the ‘Town Centre Masterplan’ created under the Conservative-led Council that had been due to go out to consultation in May, which happened to be the same time Labour took back power of the Borough…
Cllr Jones’ answered that Labour were still deciding if they agreed with the Masterplan for bringing jobs and growth to Ipswich and that they had also been asked by Ipswich Central – the town centre management company – to postpone the consultation until later this year, which they duly did. Instead of taking the reins of power, Labour have once again demonstrated their lack of leadership and vision for Ipswich (see here for more) and bowed to a body unaccountable to the people of Ipswich.
Cllr Maclure’s supplementary question cleverly caught the hapless Cllr Jones out. She pointed out that whilst the Council was dithering over the Planning Masterplan for the town, a developer had submitted a planning application for the Lower Brook site currently occupied by the Morning  Evening Star.  Should the Council not be ensuring effective development of the town centre rather than piecemeal development?
Cllr Jones spluttered there would be more than one development application coming along.
YES, that is why a Town Centre Masterplan is needed to allow a cohesive planning strategy for growth!

The final business of the evening was for the Council to agree to a “friendship agreement” between Ipswich and Nettuno in Italy.  There are religious links between the two towns through the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace at St Mary at the Elms Church. There have been pilgrimages from Nettuno to Ipswich to visit the Shrine.
A number of councillors spoke to offer their support for the civic “friendship agreement”.  Cllr David Goldsmith informed us that Nettuno would like to sell their wine in Ipswich.  I bet they would but what is the Council doing to help Ipswich sell our wares in Nettuno?  Cllr Richard Atkins from the Liberal Democrats spoke in his usual philosophical style, saying Nettuno had smiled at us and therefore we should smile back: all very cuddly Liberal!  Cllr Carnall and Cllr Maclure made good points that the benefits to Ipswich needed to be measured, to assess the value of the “friendship agreement” and that it can’t just be seen as a councillor junket.  These ties between communities in different countries are important but it is also important that whilst “social capital” is beneficial to the soul it doesn’t pay the bills and therefore “economic capital” needs to be garnered from all these forms of activity – have we any wine we can sell the good people of Nettuno?

*The new Tesco development is currently being held up in the Courts as a rival developer has asked for a Judicial Review of the Council’s planning approval decision.