On Thursday 9 July, Sir David spoke in the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government Estimates Day Debate. There was not enough time for the House to hear Sir David's speech in full, below is the speech Sir David intended to give raising key issues including proposals for a South Essex Super Council, parking and speeding in Southend West, licensing laws and Southend city status.
"Imagine my surprise when I read in the Evening Echo on Tuesday that a powerful new super-council is set to be created in South Essex. It seems that this proposal is well in progress, and will merge Southend Council with the others in Essex, and as such do away with Essex County Council. The leader of Essex Council is quoted as saying that he is “keen to engage with all our partners across local government, with residents across all our communities and with wider stakeholders on the potential options which could be explored.”
I understand that the Leader of Essex County Council held a meeting with the Chief Executive of Southend Borough Council to discuss the proposals, and she refused to answer any of his questions satisfactorily. It might have been a good idea to engage with local Members of Parliament before going to the local press.
I have many questions of my own. What is this new Council going to look like? How will it be run, and by whom? Are we going to have a new elected mayor? Where will this Council be based – with these new local government endeavours there is always a temptation to build a shiny new building, and to ignore the cheaper options. How will it be held accountable? Most importantly for my constituents, how much will this all cost, and will it present better value for money than the current model? I do wish that local MPs had been consulted in the first instance, rather than seemingly as an after thought. I certainly don’t want another white elephant foisted on my constituents without proper consultation. We already have the Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner, who was elected on a turnout of just 26.1%, but still collects a salary of almost £100,000 plus expenses, with a deputy on more than £60,000. Do we really need yet another layer of expensive bureaucracy in South Essex?
I do not wish to spend the whole of this speech complaining. Southend Council has done some excellent work over the recent crisis. So many people have contacted me regarding their weddings, which were supposed to be the happiest days of their lives. Southend Council Registry Department, and in particular the Chief Registrar Nicole Rogerson, who has moved heaven and earth to get weddings underway again deserve special mention. I will take this opportunity to send my best wishes to Matthew and Louise, who will be getting married on 18th July at Porters Lodge in Southend. Similarly, I should mention the Southend Coronavirus Action group, whose helpline and support has been invaluable to so many vulnerable people within my constituency.
However, that is not to say that everything has been good in the Council’s response. A very large number of my constituents have got in touch with me to discuss the problems they are having with parking and speeding within Southend West. Extraordinarily, the Council has shut down all meetings of the committees that regulate these things. How is it possible that we managed to work around the need to be socially distanced in this place, but the local council couldn’t? What guidance is the Government giving to local councils to encourage them to get back to the important work that local rate-payers are entitled to expect done.
Whilst I do not enjoy cycling myself, I do admire the Government’s encouragement to get more people onto bikes. However, more needs to be done to ensure that the correct facilities are put in place to ensure that pedestrians are not endangered by people cycling on pavements and along footpaths. What provisions are being made by the Government to ensure that cycling can be enjoyed safely by everyone?
We are blessed with a very large number of excellent pubs and restaurants in Southend West, in particular in Old Leigh. However, a number of my constituents have contacted me with their concerns regarding a new establishment. They are concerned that another licenced bar would only increase the levels of anti-social behaviour that they have been experiencing. Will my RHF look at the rules around licencing, particularly in areas with a high concentration of drinking establishments.
The Government has been very good at recognising the financial difficulties that people have been facing as a result of the current crisis. One of the biggest outgoings that people have is in their bills. Will the Government therefore consider a freeze on Council tax next year? This year, Council tax in Southend went up by 3.99%, and the year before by 4.49%. This means that tax for a property in Band D has gone from £1244.53 per year to £1760.49. this is only set to increase next year. Will the Department consider freezing tax rates next year to help hard-working families in my constituency.
I applaud the Chancellors announcement yesterday that Stamp Duty is being cut. This will help first time buyers onto the housing ladder, and help realise Margaret Thatcher’s vision of Britain as a property owning democracy. I wonder what the hole in the Treasury coffers would be if we made this change permanent? Unfortunately, a lot of these new buyers will be purchasing leasehold properties. In my own constituency there have been huge problems with leasehold properties in the Ecko Park development. It is high time we put an end to the leasehold scandal, and I would urge the Department to bring the proposed legislation before the house at the earliest opportunity.
Perhaps one of the best things to have come out of the recent crisis has been the willingness of local government to solve the homelessness crisis. In Southend, there are unfortunately a large number of homeless people. Charities such as HARP and Off The Streets, with the help of the Government and the local authority, have done excellent work through the pandemic in getting these people into accommodation. Will the Government commit to ensuring that these changes are made permanent after the end of the current crisis. That being said of course, it must be recognised that there was already a large number of people already waiting for social housing before the pandemic. Many of these are families living in temporary accommodation. Will my RHF commit to a review on the guidance for social housing waiting list bands, to ensure that those in most need are prioritised?
Last year the Home Office and MHCLG committed to new rules on dealing with illegal traveller sites. More than a year on and the promised legislation still has not been brought before the House. Illegal traveller sites cause a huge amount of distress to local residents, not to mention the damage to local environments and property. When will local authorities and the local police be given greater powers to move on illegal travellers.
After this crisis is over, we must have something positive to look forward to. Next year, the Duke of Edinburgh turns 100, and in 2022 the Queen will celebrate 70 years on the throne with her Platinum Jubilee. What better way to celebrate than to make Southend a city? My RHF cannot fail to recognise the wonderful features that make Southend worthy of becoming a city. I have mentioned them time and again. I will continue to do so until it happens. Will the Department set up a competition as soon as possible to ensure that we can celebrate these major milestones in a suitable way – by making Southend a city!"