Date: July 2019
It is a huge honour to have been elected Leader of Southend Council, there is a huge amount to communicate to residents. The position following the elections was far from ideal, but there is now a strong partnership agreement between Labour, Independent and Liberal Democrat councillors to form a robust administration. We know it can work, we ran the council in partnership between 2014 and 2016 and delivered many successes whilst faced with the hugest of financial challenges. I’ve obviously been asked a lot about what changes the new administration wishes to make – there is too much to fit in one article but here is a flavour of what we think is important.
Housing is a key priority for us, in terms of increasing the supply of genuinely affordable housing for people who need it, tackling homelessness and driving up standards in the private rented sector. A concrete step that we can take is to use right-to-buy receipts and housing revenue account capital reserves to buy vacant properties – something that we have already started to do. We are committed to taking forward the Better Queensway regeneration scheme in a way that benefits existing residents and the wider community. The proposal to introduce a selective licensing scheme for landlords will no doubt be controversial, but we need to look at it. Some parts of the town are still, despite current efforts, suffering from poorly managed, poorly maintained housing, and that is not a situation we are prepared to put up with.
We know that public safety is a major concern in the town. Our proposals for an enhanced Community Safety Team were finally accepted a year ago, but we all know that the primary answer to rising crime is more Police numbers. There are more things that the council can do though. We are currently looking at the results of the consultation on the Public Spaces Protection Order, which will make it easier to stop anti-social behaviour parts of Southend. We are also committed to investing in street lighting across the borough, which in some parts of the town is utterly inadequate, and leaves residents fearful to leave their homes after dark.
The council is also grappling with a number of issues around children and young people. Like in many places, Southend is experiencing an increase in the number of children needing to be looked after by the council. Each case is different, but it’s clear that factors in society are causing social problems which deeply affect individuals but also put huge pressure on the council’s resources. One step that we want to take as a new administration is to get a better service from our children’s centres to give more support for young families. We would like to see a much greater role for the local community in our children’s centres, and a wider range of services provided.
One issue that I am pleased to pick up again, which I worked on during my previous time as Deputy Leader, is the council’s ambitious digital strategy.
The council has entered into a partnership with CityFibre to make Southend a ‘Gigabit City’ allowing residents and businesses to take advantage of some of the fastest connection speeds in the UK. Inevitably installing this physical network will involve some disruption for residents, but I am convinced that it is essential for our future prosperity. Connectivity has become one of the most important factors for businesses in making their investment decisions, so this will give Southend a huge competitive advantage.
Having secured this physical investment in Southend, I’m now planning to develop a strategy around skills and other infrastructure to take full advantage of the opportunities that this affords us. Making Southend a great place to business, and attracting better quality, better paid jobs to the town is a key aspiration of ours.
Following the election results, it’s clear that residents from Leigh to Shoeburyness were not happy with the way the council was being run. As a new administration, we have the radical and ambitious plan to get Southend back on track. Working together, across political party dividing lines, we can and will address the problems that have plagued our town the last few years, and transform it into the place we all want it to be. Together, we will deliver a safe, prosperous and welcoming town not only for those who live in the borough now, but for the future generations who in decades to come will proudly call Southend their home.