Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


2 Comments

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.

Advertisements


1 Comment

Ipswich Borough Council Executive filmed for the first time

These are the people who run Ipswich and it is the first time (I’m aware of) they have been filmed, outside of the stage-managed arena of the Full Council meeting at the Town Hall, in the power base that is the Executive Committee.

It is the Executive (also known as Cabinet at some local authorities) where the crucial decisions affecting Ipswich residents and businesses are made. Even the Council Tax is set at Executive and only rubber-stamped at Full Council when the ruling party has a majority – which the Labour Party certainly do, having 21 more councillors than their nearest Tory rivals.

I congratulate Ben Redsell over at the Ipswich Spy parish for spending a large amount of time getting to the point where he could film the Executive Committee last night. Grafton House mandarins have been reluctant to comply with the Local Government Secretary of State’s advice (soon to become Law) to Councils to allow filming, tweeting and reporting at all local authority public meeting, but with persistence Mr Redsell was able to overcome these obstacles with some caveats. Officers were not filmed – a whole bank of them – probably more than the number of councillors present are sitting to the right of the Executive Chairman and Council leader, Cllr David Ellesmere. In local government, councillors are paid an allowance not a wage and certainly not enough money to make it a full time job (if they want to eat and pay rent/a mortgage that is) so the Officers wield much more commensurate power (with many decisions delegated to them to save on councillor time) than civil servants have in Whitehall –  making a case for senior officers to be filmed as they direct proceedings. Ipswich Spy – whilst filming is in its infancy – have, rightly, taken the decision not to antagonise the powers-that-be by filming the Chief Executive and his Directors.

Ipswich Spy  is also taking full responsibility for data protection, which would not be the case if they were just filming say the external architecture of the beautiful Town Hall on the Cornhill – another public place just like the Orwell Room at Grafton House was during the Executive Committee’s meeting. That’s a discussion for another time but you can gauge how difficult it was for Ipswich Spy to film last night and they should be congratulated for their public service.

The decisions made at this Executive meeting were to increase council housing rents and approve funds (details excluded from the public) for the Holywells Park renovations, amongst other items. The full Agenda can be read here.


1 Comment

New Ipswich Cornhill design announced

New Cornhill: A revised Concept C 'won' the competition

New Cornhill: A revised Concept C ‘won’ the competition

Today, Ipswich Borough Council along with Ipswich Central have announced the ‘winner’ of the new design for the Cornhill – Ipswich’s equivalent of the town square.

Unfortunately, the choice was not actually in the competition announced to the public in September last year, which begs the question why did the Borough Council bother to ask Ipswich residents which scheme they preferred? Isn’t a local authority meant to practice the virtues of democracy or at least be seen to?

Anyway, a variant of Concept C (unfortunately no longer online) was chosen by the powers-that-be in Ipswich. The judging panel was made up of Labour council leader David Ellesmere, Conservative Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, the town centre management company Ipswich Central, Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee, a representative from University College Suffolk and Jay Merrick, the architecture writer on The Independent newspaper.

Concept C was the one with the 2001: A Space Odyssey style tower in the centre of the Cornhill albeit without gorillas clawing at its base. However, we are told by the judging panel the tower will be ‘remodelled’ by ‘winning’ architects Hall Mcknight.

“You’ll see through it, so it doesn’t stand in the way of seeing the buildings behind it,” partner Mr Hall said.

The architects also propose to level the Cornhill from the bottom of Lloyds Avenue to the front of the Town Hall. There will still be unlevelled space going down past Mannings and the Golden Lion public houses so a ‘cafe-style’ environment with tables can be set-up outside these premises.  With no disrespect to the proprietors of these premises, they are hardly glass of chianti and cheese establishments – more Carling and vodka shots.

Although I am very much in favour of improving this public space as a magnet to attract more people to spend money in the town centre and help Ipswich grow, there is an elephant on the Cornhill which just won’t go away. What am I talking about? The market.

Former M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose – who gave Ipswich Borough Council the idea to re-design the Cornhill back in September 2012 – called for the market to be moved. Labour’s Cllr David Ellesmere at the time lept out of his seat at the Ipswich Beacon Conference Sir Stuart was speaking at to say he thought moving the market was a great idea. At the time, I questioned his sincerity and sadly my suspicions have been proven right. You see the traders are Labour’s chums and even though the market is a tatty, somewhat aggressive, dirty affair on four days a week, the Labour-run council aren’t going to bite the hand that feeds them and push the market down Princes Street where it belongs.

Conveniently for Labour, Sir Stuart Rose was not at or wasn’t invited to today’s press conference to announce the ‘winning’ design. There’s no doubt Sir Stuart gave the Borough Council a good kick up the backside when he rattled off several ways to improve Ipswich’s offering (only one of which was the Cornhill improvement) but he put a figure of £200,000 on the re-design. Once the Grafton House mandarins got their fingers on it, the cost has rocketed to £3.5 Million, which is another half a million on top of the £3 Million announced at the start of the public ‘consultation’ in September last year.  At this rate, the budget could be heading north of £4 million by the time it is finished.  No wonder Sir Stuart stayed away: he’s got a business reputation to protect.

The decision by the judges to opt for the revised Concept C was unanimous. It is understood the amended design was chosen as it would allow the Cornhill space to remain flexible. The total funds for the project have still to be found: a fundraising campaign will now begin with town centre businesses being asked to contribute. Ipswich Borough Council has already allocated £800,000 of taxpayer’s money to the project.

The next question is one of timescales. When can we expect to see the implementation complete subject to the cash being stumped up?


10 Comments

Labour happily see Ipswich lie derelict

Derelict: Grafton Way site - just as Labour like it

Derelict: Grafton Way site – just as Labour like it (Pic: Ipswich Spy)

During the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Ipswich Borough Council controlled days Tesco approached the Council with a very large cheque book and requested permission to build a new superstore, a hotel, a piazza, apartments and smaller retail units on the former B&Q site on Grafton Way. Tesco also offered – if they achieved planning permission for the Grafton Way site – to pay for new traffic flow improvements where the flawed double roundabout currently exists outside the Novotel hotel. Total investment would be £90 Million from Tesco. Total jobs would be 900. And that’s not counting the construction jobs which local firms would have enjoyed during the build stage.

The Conservative-led council weighed up the pros and cons of such a development (cons very difficult to envisage) and duly gave Tesco planning permission and looked forward to the massive investment and jobs Ipswich was soon to enjoy. Labour had vigorously opposed the investment and new jobs every step of the way.

The economy, run by the Labour Government, then took a disastrous turn for the worse and by the time Labour took control of Ipswich Borough Council in 2011 Tesco were wondering if they could afford to go ahead with such a scheme. Their new chief executive, Philip Clarke, ordered a review of their proposed developments. Despite this, Tesco proposed to still invest in Ipswich but perhaps with just the superstore element of the scheme, which would still create hundreds of jobs and payment for the road improvements.

Labour’s response was not to promote Ipswich as an area where Tesco would be welcome to spend their cash and create much needed jobs for local people. Instead, Labour councillors made it perfectly clear to anyone who would listen (local paper, radio, TV) they didn’t want to do business with Tesco and in fact hated Tesco so much they opposed their smaller investment into a site in East Ipswich only to find out Tesco weren’t seeking planning permission – it was Sainsbury’s.

Needless to say when Tesco’s planners at their Cheshunt HQ were deciding where in the country to invest millions of pounds they concluded it was not worth their while to tackle rabid socialists in Ipswich on top of the challenges of developing their business in very difficult economic times. So they pulled the entire scheme, superstore and all. Bye bye millions of pounds and hundreds of jobs. I bet Cllr David Ellesmere and the Ipswich Labour politburo were very pleased with themselves. I can hear them now in Silent Street patting each other on the back for helping to keep people on welfare payments and trapped in their council-owned homes.

And today we learn the consequences of Labour’s hatred of enterprise and business. Tesco have put the Grafton Way land on the market with the Borough Council promoting the site for sole residential use which will bring in only a fraction of the investment Tesco’s scheme would have ploughed into the Ipswich economy. Consequently, this part of the Waterfront from the ‘wine rack’ down to Princes Street bridge will be derelict for many years to come.

But why should we be surprised by the destructive economic policies of Labour. Ipswich docks was one of the last in the country to be privatised and so the kick-start to regeneration of the Waterfront was ten years behind towns with similar inland ports such as Bristol – with the Ipswich redevelopment only taking place from 2003 onwards. I wonder who was in charge of Ipswich when towns like Bristol were investing for the future in the early 1990s? Yep, you guessed it. The good Old Labour party.


2 Comments

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.


3 Comments

Ipswich Labour parliamentary candidate is ignorant

The Mother of all Parliaments

The Mother of all Parliaments

An article over at the Ipswich Spy parish demonstrates once again how some people in this country are playing a dangerous game, which could see this country spiral into anarchy.

One such protagonist is Cllr David Ellesmere, Labour’s challenger to Ipswich MP Ben Gummer in the 2015 General Election. He has spoken out against MPs getting a pay increase from their current salary of £60,000.

The prevailing attitude that MPs should have tuppence thrown at them and they should be jolly well grateful is ignorant. Does Cllr Ellesmere even know what an MP does and stands for?

He/she is a legislator in one of the greatest and oldest democracies in the world – in the “Mother of all Parliaments”, to coin a phrase.

Put aside the work they do to develop legislation and represent their constituencies in the massive machine that is Whitehall, they are the body of democracy in this country! Trivialise MPs and you trivialize our democracy and that is a very dangerous game to play indeed.

At the current rate, if politicians continue to be debased in terms of their role and contribution to our democracy it is then a very small step for the population to stop, en masse, respecting our democratic institutions and the rule of law. And then anarchy will prevail – it is closer than you think.

MPs have more responsibility than any FTSE 100 CEO and are currently paid less than a middle manager in one of those FTSE 100 companies. I’d pay them £100,000 a year immediately.

Let’s take a constituency issue as an example of their work: the railway service for the MP’s commuter constituents is appalling (ring a bell). It’s not just a case of the MP speaking to the Transport Secretary over a quick coffee and hey presto the railway improvement programme is signed off next Tuesday. Instead they must speak with tens of ministers, bag handlers (parliamentary private secretaries to ministers), mandarins (especially to show them where Ipswich is on a map) and build a business case which takes months, if not years – do you have any idea how much someone gets paid to do this in the private sector? This and the slight matter of legislating for the entire country, I think £100,000 a year is a bargain.

The same article talks about the pay our councillors in Ipswich receive. As the Independent Remuneration Committee found, compared to most other councils in the country, our councillors are paid an absolute pittance for the work they do. £3000 a year for 15 hours a week. Do you think they live off that? No, most have full-time jobs to pay for food and a roof over their head and then they do another 15 hours plus a week ensuring IBC is democratically represented. This demands respect not insults.

If we value democracy, we must value our politicians unless they break the law. If we continue to treat MP-bating as a national sport , all we will do is push power further away from you and I and towards the unelected bureaucrats in Whitehall and Brussels. And with that, you might as well have a dictatorship.

Be careful what you wish for.


1 Comment

Labour shut door on 900 jobs and £90M investment into Ipswich

Tesco ditch Grafton Way proposal

Tesco ditch Grafton Way proposal

Tesco have pulled out of their Grafton Way development.

The writing was on the wall since current Tesco chief Philip Clarke announced a dip in profits last year and said Britain’s largest supermarket was rethinking its expansion plans.

Hotels, a piazza and other shops were set to be built

Hotels, a piazza and other shops were set to be built

Immediately, I feared for the future of the Grafton Way site, which once was earmarked for not only a huge Tesco supermarket (bigger than Copdock) but also a hotel, other shops, a piazza in front of the waterfront etc. The previous Conservative administration at Ipswich Borough Council, apart from one local Tory butcher, were wholly in favour of the new development which would have brought £90 Million of investment into the beleaguered Ipswich economy.

But Labour were dead against Tesco from the start, voting en masse against the jobs and infrastructure investment (the Novotel roundabout was to be scrapped and this junction vastly improved) at Planning Committee. Once they regained power in 2011, they threw up the ‘Closed for Business’ sign and made it quite clear they detested enterprise, only half-heartedly welcoming Waitrose and John Lewis At Home to Ipswich on the former Cranes site off Nacton Road.

Tesco had already downscaled their proposal for the former B&Q site, which led to former Conservative Group leader, Cllr John Carnall, putting it to Labour that since they took over the reigns at Grafton House they had lost £20 Million of inward investment in “one fell swoop!”

This was more than just a quick jibe at Labour. Business is not some abstract world – it is about personal human relationships. Do you think Mr Clarke’s team looked at Ipswich when they were deciding where to axe expansion and thought “oh yes, we can do business with Ipswich Borough Council easily?”. Nope, me neither. Believe me Labour’s anti-business rhetoric would have been heard at Tesco HQ in Hertfordshire and would have been a major deciding factor in Tesco pulling out of Grafton Way.

So Labour managed to lose 900 jobs and £90 Million investment in two years. Good work, Cllr Ellesmere!