Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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Ipswich Borough Full Council Meeting: 29th January 2014

Last Wednesday’s Full Council may well be the last I attend for quite sometime as I am moving out of the area so I thought I’d make an effort to witness the political shenanigans one last time.

I won’t give a verbatim report, as now you can watch and listen to the entire meeting of the councillors who bothered to turn up (the Mayor’s apology list was nearly as long as the attendance list!) courtesy of the Ipswich Spy parish (scroll down for video).

Even with the apologies from all parties, Labour still rule the roost in Ipswich with three long rows occupied by the socialists with the Liberal Democrats (all two of them!) and the Conservative Group shuffled off to the far side of the room. It will only get worse come the May local elections when, as I have predicted before, there will be another bloodbath of the blues. Thankfully, it will be the high water mark for Labour but the Tories will be out of power for up to 20 years (and that’s no exaggeration).

Council Questions covered a broad range of subjects and were kicked off by local Tory blogger, Kevin Algar, who asked questions on tourism and facilitating social media reporting. It was somewhat amusing to hear Mr Algar ask what the council were doing to facilitate filming of public meetings, whilst Ipswich Spy‘s Ben Redsell was filming to his right hand side. A case of being a bit late to the party!

Mr Algar also encouraged the ruling Labour group to have Ipswich Borough Council meetings in Suffolk County Council’s head office because it is set up for webcasting. Rightly, Labour leader Cllr Ellesmere slapped him down and pointed out Ipswich Borough should have their meetings in their Council chamber in the magnificent Town Hall not a corporate office block.

The questions on tourism from Kevin Algar were typically not answered by Labour’s Economic Development chief Cllr Carole Jones. She has a perfect ability to just waffle a reply to any question which – if you can hear her rather grating and whining voice at all – are couched in local government speak to the point of incomprehension. 

For some reason only known to Cllr Kym Stroet, he asked a question to Labour’s culture spokesman Cllr Bryony Rudkin which managed to reignite the Broomhill Pool row. “Does the portfolio holder believe that spending £1 million on a lido, likely to be used by very few people, is a wise use of taxpayers money?”, Cllr Stroet posed. This caused an uproar of heckling from the public gallery. Now, I’m not in a favour of any public money being given to starting up an outside pool business, which very few people want to pay to use, but there are a lot of people in North West Ipswich who are exercised by the Broomhill Pool nostalgia – and most of them vote in seats the Tories are trying to win or hold on to! Baffling.

Labour’s housing chief from the 1970s and also in the year 2014, Cllr John Mowles, was asked a question by former Tory group leader Cllr John Carnall about the decision by the Council to knock two homes together to house an unemployed couple and their (now) thirteen children and why he didn’t listen to the 84 petitioners who were against the move at a cost which is now almost three times the original budget. “I have no intention of discussing this and I am surprised this was raised and it disappointments me and demoralises councillors when such a question is asked – it should not be aired in public!”, Cllr Mowles replied. What on earth is he talking about? The council is spending a large chunk of taxpayer’s money commensurate with the Borough Council’s relatively small budget and Cllr Mowles has the audacity to say it is an issue which should not be raised in public. This smacks of Labour not wanting to discuss a subject they are ideologically influenced by and was boosted by Cllr Sandy Martin saying during the Council Rent Increase report later in the meeting he would prefer to see everybody in Ipswich live in a council house! Well, if he is that keen on living in a council-owned property, why doesn’t he move down the road from his privately rented cottage on Milton Street to the Priory Heath estate?

As was decided at last week’s Executive meeting (the real power-base of the Council), Full Council on Wednesday was asked to rubber-stamp a 5.5% increase in council house rent. Several Tory councillors asked how this policy ties in with Labour nationally always bleating on about the “cost of living crisis” – no answer did cometh from Cllr Mowles or Labour leader Cllr Ellesmere except to say they were “only following Government guidelines”. Conservative Cllr Carnall retorted the only reason rents were going up was to fund the new Council home building programme done to bolster Cllr Ellesmere’s Labour parliamentary campaign. There’s more than a grain of truth in that statement!

Later in the same meeting, there was a report discussing business rates and the Government’s plan to let Councils keep most of the money raised (before the Coalition came to power, all of the business rates were sent to Whitehall for re-distribution into Labour heartlands). Supposedly, there has been a few issues with the paperwork and Grafton House mandarins haven’t been able file their documentation to Whitehall yet.

The Labour group naturally blamed central Government and Cllr Ellesmere used the opportunity to let the Council know he was still waiting for Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles, to tell him the council tax increase percentage threshold at which the Borough must ask permission of residents in a referendum – no doubt so he can lower it by 0.0.1% and then that will be this year’s council tax increase in Ipswich! Just for the record, Government guidelines stipulate council tax should be frozen but it seems the Labour-run council are ignoring the guidelines when it suits them.

There was an interesting report from Labour’s rising-star and Borough communities chief, Cllr Adam Leeder, where he told the meeting Area Committees were receiving new powers, mainly to do with being able to spend their budget as they see fit rather than always deferring back to the Executive. The points of interest weren’t in the detail of the report but in the debate amongst councillors. Cllr Sandy Martin made the most pertinent point when he told the meeting just one Area Committee represents a greater population size than any parish or town council in the rest of Suffolk, but still Conservative-run Suffolk County Council were not engaging with Ipswich’s Area Committees despite actively engaging with a Parish council in Lavenham or Bury St Edmunds Town Council. You just need to look at Suffolk County Council’s ‘Find your County Councillor’ site, where Ipswich is relegated to a ‘Parish’ to see the point!

This is one of the most powerful arguments for Ipswich being a Unitary Authority. Ipswich Borough Council has very little power, apart from planning application matters. All the roads, verges and any changes to traffic flow in the town are in the hands of Suffolk County Council; earlier in the meeting, Liberal Democrat Cllr Inga Lockington raised the condition of grass verges in the estates of Ipswich since the County Council took away the Highway Authority from Ipswich (meaning no decisions on anything to do with transport are now taken by the Borough Council) and low and behold it is nigh on impossible to get a verge repaired in Ipswich because it is like trying to climb Mount Everest to get it in the hands of a bureaucrat at Endeavour House, who has the whole of Suffolk to look after. Additionally, all the local authority schools are run from Endeavour House and as Cllr Martin made patently clear, the corporate structure at the County Council doesn’t even recognise the main conduit of communication between the electorate and their councillors. It is as if Ipswich is East Germany behind a modern day Berlin Wall, out of sight of County leader Mark Bee and his Cabinet in the “West”.

Despite Labour’s Cllr Martin articulating the raw deal Ipswich receives from Suffolk County Council, it was pointed out by Cllr Carnall that Ipswich has 11 Labour county councillors compared to just the one Tory in the Borough and perhaps they should get on with lobbying the County Council on behalf of Ipswich and its residents.

Another notable aspect of the Council meeting on Wednesday were the number of people in attendance to ask and support questions on the proposed Northern Fringe development. Questions on sewerage, traffic congestion and the New Homes Bonus were asked – all with an anti-development slant. Both Labour and the Conservatives (who cares what the Liberals think!) are in favour of building houses on the northern outskirts of Ipswich’s borough boundary; it was the Tories who approved it in the Local Development Framework when they were in power before 2011 and Labour are naturally in favour of upping the number of social houses built. So it really has become now a Town versus Country issue. As soon as the Council Questions were over, there was a mass exodus of rich baby boomers and their flat caps as they traipsed back to the 4X4s and their pretty villages. God forbid Ipswich will have more houses for their children to live in!

And this was the main thrust of the meeting, all two hours of it filmed below for your infotainment. Next time, Ipswich Spy won’t have to beg the Grafton House mandarins for permission, as the right for public meetings to be filmed by bloggers and the mainstream media is now enshrined in law, courtesy of Eric Pickles’ Local Audit and Accountability Bill which obtained Royal Assent the next day.

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Dead tree press finally catches up with Ipswich Blogosphere: it only took them five days!

Dead tree press finally catches up with local blogs

Dead tree press finally catches up with local blogs

If there was ever an example of how the traditional print media is not able to react as quickly to current news, it is the Morning Ipswich Star. The local rag for Ipswich and Felixstowe took five days to publish a story on three Conservative councillors walking out of an Ipswich Borough Council meeting. Considering thousands of their readers are represented by these three councillors it really is quite disgraceful they did not pick up the story and publish sooner.

As I reported here on Thursday and even quicker on Wednesday by Ipswich Spy, the blogosphere told the story of Tory councillor Nadia Cenci, former Council leader Cllr Liz Harsant and Bixley councillor Richard Pope walking out of a meeting of all elected councillors in Ipswich after Cllr Pope was on the receiving end of disability slur by Labour’s Economic Development chief Cllr Carole Jones.

Only today – Monday – did the Ipswich Star catch-up. Is it political bias, incompetence or the sheer time it takes to get from story to print compared to pixel? Although I can’t see why they couldn’t publish to pixel earlier – that’s what a website is for, surely?

Or is it more to do with the fact the Ipswich Star couldn’t be bothered to send their political correspondent to a meeting of all representatives of the town’s 80,000 electors?


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Labour refuse to apologise for disability slur against Tory opponent

Tory attack: Labour's Cllr Carole Jones last night used a Conservative councillor's disability to score a political point

Tory attack: Labour’s Cllr Carole Jones last night used a Conservative councillor’s disability to score a political point

They don’t like it up ’em as Corporal Jones eloquently put it in BBC hit sitcom Dad’s Army. And it was true last night at a full gathering of councillors at Ipswich Borough’s Town Hall when Labour’s Cllr Carole Jones marched headlong into a disability row by publicly ridiculing her Tory opponent over his spelling of the word “embarrassment” in his council question to her.

Tory Cllr Richard Pope demanded an apology from Cllr Carole Jones over disability slur

Tory Cllr Richard Pope demanded an apology from Cllr Carole Jones over disability slur

Conservative Cllr Richard Pope, who was on the receiving end of Cllr Jones slur, stood up on a point of order to state Labour’s Cllr Jones knew he was a registered dyslexic and to use his disability to make fun of him at a public meeting was in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act. Cllr Pope then demanded an apology from Cllr Jones. She refused. The Mayor also refused to sanction her from his Chairman’s position.

The Labour Party are always banging on about minority rights, as if they have a monopoly for standing up for the vulnerable in our society, but when they slur a Tory they refuse to apologise. You can hear them thinking “We don’t REALLY care about standing up for discrimination, it’s just a cynical ploy to win votes!” “And let’s face it, they’re TORIES – they don’t count!”.

Say what you like about Conservatives, as a political tribe they stand out as showing common courtesy and decency towards their opponents. I suppose you could call it the the best of British that is prevalent within their ranks. But Labour councillors and MPs have no such qualms when it comes to doing battle with their political adversaries. It wasn’t the first time last night Labour had resorted to personal attacks and defamation to skirt around answering the questions put to the Executive. Cllr Ellesmere decided he didn’t like Tory Blogger and former Conservative candidate Kevin Algar’s question on the status of Ipswich as the county-town of Suffolk and so just blurted out he found Mr Algar’s question “bizarre, just like the person”.

Transport chief Cllr Phil Smart’s immediate response to an earlier question – coincidentally from Cllr Pope – was to give his Tory opponent a less in grammar and the use of the word “infer”. He spent more time admonishing the Conservative councillor’s English language skills rather than answer a question about a bus route in his ward.

Once Labour took their personal attacks up a gear with the disability slur against Cllr Pope, several members of the Tory Group had had enough. Cllr Nadia Cenci rose to her feet and told the Mayor she could no longer continue to partake in a meeting under such conditions where personal attacks against a member of the public and Conservative councillors, including possible illegal action by Cllr Jones, was being condoned by Mr Mayor and the Monitoring Officer.

Cllr Cenci proceeded to walk out of the meeting and was closely followed by former Tory Leader Cllr Liz Harsant and Cllr Pope.

IBC chief executive Russell Williams

IBC chief executive Russell Williams

Sources tell me a formal complaint over Cllr Jones’ behaviour will be sent to Chief Executive Russell Williams. It is important he orders a thorough review and investigation into last night’s exchange (the audio is recorded by the Council) as from the public gallery where I was sitting it sounded like a contravention of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct, the Disability Discrimination Act and possibly the Equality Act too.

This blog will be watching carefully for the response from the Council over the next few days.


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Cornhill re-development catalyst for Ipswich renewal?

Cornhill: It's seen better days

Cornhill: It’s seen better days

I recently walked through Ipswich town centre with my parents and I was pleased by how much “good” I could point out. We walked from Christchurch Park through to the Novotel roundabout (we had eaten a couple of nights before on the Waterfront) and during this short walk I first pointed out the map-based monoliths and associated signposts. These were implemented by the last Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition at the Borough Council, spearheaded by my wife (can’t forget that!) Cllr Tanya Maclure – Labour were opposed to the scheme. My parents replied they had used them a few times to help them navigate the town centre when my wife and I were not around. They also recalled they were given a map of the town centre by their hotel receptionist (part of the Council’s signposting scheme). All good stuff.

Ipswich potential is not far below the surface

Ipswich potential is not far below the surface

We quickly darted past Carr Street (undoubtedly a blot on the town centre landscape) and headed for Buttermarket where we ended up at Giles Circus, transformed under the previous Tory-led council (again Tanya was heavily involved!) to make it more pedestrian friendly and to make it look aesthetically pleasing –  Labour were opposed to this economic growth scheme as well. Waitrose, happily, were not. They set-up a Little Waitrose shop shortly after the renewed Giles Circus was completed and have been trading since.

We didn’t walk across the Cornhill, which was a shame because the market wasn’t operating that day. But I hope when my mother and father visit next time, Ipswich Borough Council will be getting on with redesigning the Cornhill to make use of this fantastic space. This was the brainchild of Marks & Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose, who when speaking at the second Beacon Town Conference in Ipswich last September, challenged civic leaders to do something with the Cornhill and get rid of the tatty market. Cllr Ellesmere, being the schoolboy politician he is, glowed and jumped up and down when Sir Stuart made his recommendation. His partner, Cllr Carole Jones was less impressed and suggested in front of Sir Stuart Ipswich was “fine” and he “just didn’t know it well enough” – by all accounts her intervention was a touch embarrassing, but then when did Labour politicians get business and enterprise?

But Sir Stuart is a wily operator and knew his very public recommendation would have to be taken up. So Ipswich Borough Council over the last year put out to tender proposals for a re-designed Cornhill. The proposals are now in and have been whittled down (not sure how this was done and using which process – hopefully it was councillor not officer-led) to five competitors for public consultation. The architects’ designs can be viewed at the Town Hall or online (naturally) at http://www.ipswich.gov.uk/cornhill. Sir Stuart set an original budget of £200,000 to make the changes but local government being local government the budget has increased to £3 Million (which will come from various tax payer funded pots). To be fair even Sir Stuart’s estimate was somewhat unrealistic for a town square redevelopment but for £3 Million I expect a very good result indeed!

My choice for the Cornhill renewal

Concept B: My choice for the Cornhill renewal

I prefer Concept A or B and at a push I’d probably choose B. Concept C looks like the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey so I’ll pass on that one!

However, I’m not sure what Lloyds Bank think of their front door being turned into on-street cafe in Concept A and B?

I’d recommend Ipswich residents reading this to go to the Council website and choose your favourite design. This is a great initiative kicked off by Sir Stuart and once implemented will boost our town centre, which means more people with spending money and more people with money leads to better shops and places to visit. This is what the Council is here for in my view: create the environment for economic growth, then get out of the way and let private business and enterprise do the rest.