of THORPE WARD
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I have outlined my views of leadership, which can be found here. The basic premise is that I believe in pragmatic idealism - in other words, work backwards in a realistic manner from the best possible future outcome. I also suggest that a Councillor is better described as a leader. So as a potential Leader of Thorpe and a member of the Council, I wanted to discuss how I might apply my style of leadership to a selection of issues I feel are most prominent.
So, let's begin...
Where do we want Thorpe Ward to be in the future? My vision would be very simply: “we want everyone to be happy and content”. The mission therefore would be “by keeping everyone as healthy and safe as possible, and facilitating the fulfilment of their potential – whatever that may be”. Suffice to say Thorpe does not operate independently of Southend and this can only happen with certain changes to the town. Southend Labour are doing their upmost to make change for the better; however, as a Pragmatic Idealist, the below are just some of what I believe needs to be done if the proposed vision of Thorpe Ward is to be fulfilled. I should clarify that although these views are based in Labour values, they are representative only for myself and what I would push for as a Thorpe Labour member of Southend Council (please click here to view the full Southend Labour manifesto). I must stress that they are not promises, they are my independent and somewhat unorthodox views that cover only a limited range of subjects.
Vision: "For Southend to have the power to change what our community knows it must"
Mission: "By doing everything possible to make the case at all levels, to all people, starting with the people of Southend"
Southend must do everything possible to wrestle as much power as possible away from Westminster. They do not know what is going on with Southend nor anywhere else in the country. When we wonder why everything is in such as mess and feel powerless to change it, this is the fundamental reason. National policies will always be necessary to provide frameworks for local action, but we have to find ways of empowering ourselves to use all our resources to address our priorities. Of course Southend alone cannot do this, however, a movement across the country must either begin if it hasn't, or be behind it all the way if it has.
Southend Hospital and Health & Social Care
Vision: “To keep everyone as healthy as possible for as long as possible”
Mission: "For Southend to ensure all NHS services are ready for the health demands of the town, by responding and anticipating our needs, and investing what is needed, when it is needed. The ultimate aim should be for zero waiting times for quality diagnosis and treatment, whilst doing everything possible to prevent the problem in the first place”"
As unlikely as it sounds, Southend Hospital and other health and social care services should report to local Government. Firstly to stop the criminal transfer of the stroke unit to Basildon, and then press forward with a vision of quality diagnosis and treatment with almost zero waiting times. I despair when I am told there is nothing that can be done locally as the NHS is controlled nationally. I would not mind if our hospital was properly funded and run where we can access what we need in the time we need it, but it is not. Only people in Southend feel the effects of central government decisions, and this cannot be right. Each Local Authority must be empowered to make decisions for the wellbeing of their people because anyone who ever mooted the catastrophic decision such as taking the stroke unit out of Southend Hospital would be voted out at the next available opportunity. As it is, we were left only with the option of writing a begging letter to the Secretary of State! What do they know? Click savesouthendnhs.com to read what is currently going on.
"To train our youth in ways that will directly contribute to the prosperity of themselves and Southend, or give them the best chance of succeeding elsewhere"
Mission: "By creating a true and transparent connection between education and career opportunities"
I was lucky to have attended Thorpe Greenways as an infant, however, as that was over 34 years ago it is not necessarily the strongest foundation in which to make a sound assessment from! What I do know is that it leans quite heavily on fundraising from Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) to raise the extra money required to purchase basic facilities. They have raised almost £100K in Partnership with the Adventure Island Fundraising Partnership Project over many years, which as Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, I take personal pride in. However, it is striking that this should be needed in the first place. And it is not just Greenways, all schools across Southend have the same need for extra funds. I do not yet understand how schools budgets are calculated, however, it is indicative of a central government not particularly interested in properly educating the future of our town.
The other major issue with education in our town is the purpose of the courses being run at South East College and Essex University. Both organisations are of course free to put on whichever courses they see fit, however, Southend teenagers are not fully aware of the connection between their education and their job prospects. I have experienced this myself when I studied Media Studies at the college, where I really was unaware that the course was leading to very little in a practical sense. There were and still are very few jobs in the town for those that wish to pursue a media career, and I have seen this repeat a thousand times with the young people that work at Stockvale. They finish the course and end up with hard choices to either head to London and compete with the world, or stay in Southend and work in a job they never wished to be in, contributing to mental health issues.
For those that look for careers further afield this does not apply, but there does need to be a real connection between higher education courses that are being taught and commercial or public need in the town. At the moment it feels like we are educating people for education's sake; it has become an end in itself.
Ideally, Southend needs to agree on the commercial path it wants to take and work backwards from there. Do we want to be the fashion capital outside the capital? If so, continue to train fashion designers. Do we want to be the Silicon Valley of the UK? If so, let's train that. If there are no jobs in film production, perhaps we ought not to run a course in it, but if we do continue to run these courses, let's open the conversation up to the students and make them fully aware of the path it is leading them, and stop with this culture of false promises to the young people of Southend. There is a strong argument that education is not simply about getting a job, and while this is true, the reality is education is there to do just that.
Click here for my thoughts on how to transform Southend High Street through a stronger connection with the College and University.
Vision: “To keep our community safe”
Mission: “By deploying the right number of police, in the right places, at the right times, across Thorpe and Southend, whilst doing everything possible to prevent the problems in the first place”
Drug related crime is out of hand. Drug dealers are brazenly plying their trade in full view, and there is little anyone is doing about it. This is not a criticism of the Police, it is the fact that Southend has little power to do much. Adventure Island deploys up to 14 Security Guards during the height of summer and is a mere 7 acres! If Southend were Adventure Island the reality is that there would be hundreds of police all over the town. Not 1 or 2 per ward, but 30 or 40. Now I do realise there are funding issues, however, do we want the safest town or not? Only Southend knows what Southend needs, not Westminster.
Vision: "For every Thorpe and Southend citizen to live in comfortable living conditions"
Mission: "By strong regulation of all the causes of inflated rents and house prices, as well as building the right number of homes at any given time to ensure no one is homeless"
There are wonderful properties in Thorpe Ward, which create a lovely environment for us all to live in. However, Thorpe does not live in isolation, and there are serious housing issues across the town. Homelessness is in front of us as we walk through the High Street, and there are over 1,500 families who do not currently have their own accommodation. This is unacceptable, and certainly Labour have already started to address this with an extra £4.2m for social housing.
Vision: "To create full employment"
Mission: "To create the most fertile SME business environment possible for entrepreneurship to flourish, whilst ensuring workers are treated with dignity, support, and paid to a level where they can enjoy their lives - all underpinned by a sustainable natural environment.”
Job creation is central to the Southend economy. Clearly, the more jobs created, the more money people have to spend in the town, creating more jobs! But to clarify, only jobs created in the private sector grow the economy. Public sector jobs are paid for via tax raised by businesses. So the better the business environment the more tax there is to spend on the public services we all want.
Local Tax Retention
Vision: "For Southend retain the majority of its funds"
Mission: "By the town growing alongside the business success they help create"
The tax system must incentivise Councils to grow business. For example, parking charges are actually relied upon as part of the budget, which is clearly an impediment to business. Therefore, a large proportion of tax directly raised from Southend business growth must head straight to local budgets, preventing further counter-productive policies and promoting ones that suggest we are in this together.
Vision: "For Southend to be industry leaders in any industry it wishes to lead"
Mission: "By selecting specific industries and training our people with the necessary knowledge and skills to achieve it"
There is no reason why Southend cannot be the leader of any industry it so wishes to be. Silicon Valley does not have a monopoly on tech talent and expertise! Hollywood does not have a monopoly on great actors and film makers! Milan does not have a monopoly on fashion creatives. Okay, one more: Germany does not have a monopoly on all the best car designers! Any individual from anywhere can be the best. Let's choose what we as a town want to be the best at and put everything into it. Set the infrastructure up and invest in ourselves to grow Southend.
Vision: "For Southend to become the entrepreneurial leader of the UK"
Mission: "By lowering the risk of business failure by helping to reduce costs, and creating a business infrastructure and entrepreneurial culture that would encourage as many people in Southend to use their talent and start their own business"
Owner/operated businesses run by local people are what is needed to raise Southend to back life. We must reduce the risk of people going bust to encourage the likelihood of our people finding the courage to go for it. An aggressive policy to drive business costs down must be facilitated by the Council in all ways from business rates to purchasing premises to allow cheap rent. Ideally, business education should be supplied for free, and a local investment bank set up to provide interest free loans. There are so many talented people in Southend that could create booming industries if we had the political ambition.
Southend Culture: a shared mentality needed to get there
For any of this to work we must all share in a specific set of values, attitudes, beliefs and norms.
What is the current culture?
In order to change a culture it is important to understand what it is currently. Although I have grown up in Southend I could not tell you what it means to be a Southendian and what our shared culture is. I do not hold a Southendian identity. I do not think, feel or act how a Southendian does, I just happen to live in Southend. There is no glue binding us all together. We are basically a disparate group of people living alongside each other going about our own lives. I am sure this is not typical of everyone, but this does ring true from my experience. I have never had a conversation in which I have referred to myself as "that's how us Southendians do things around here" - I would not know what that means. I believe the culture to be individualistic, self-serving and with little affection, love or attachment to Southend. It is not a place that people aspire to stay. I have no idea of the history of Southend: who were the great Teachers, Nurses, Artists, Musicians, Sports Players, Builders, Volunteers, Business People, Architects, and dare I say, Politicians! What are the great stories of Southend people that could be told to inspire the next generation? What were their achievements? How did they do it? No one really knows, and if they do it is quite a well-kept secret!
What would be our ideal culture?
Our history should be displayed across the town in celebration of all our greatest people through art, architecture, monuments, literature, talked about regularly in our schools and community groups, with a world class festival featuring everything that is special about us! Easy really! Our history should be imprinted on us from a young age so we have an aspirational set of expectations for ourselves and our community. And through our illustrious history should emanate a strong sense of ideals that provide us with a deep sense of shared identity and purpose.
Shared attitudes that would help us achieve our vision might include: civic duty, a sense of unity, a feeling of togetherness, looking out for each other, local patriotism, doing things for ourselves/making things happen, being responsible for our own destiny, being ambitious for the town, being ambitious for what we as individuals can do for the town, and thinking about the town as part of our identity. Yes we are part of the UK, but we do not have to wait for the country to hold our hand! With a strong shared culture Southend really could "make every citizen happy and content, by keeping everyone as healthy and safe as possible, and facilitating the fulfilment of their potential – whatever that may be”.
It must be said that I am reacting to what is in front of me as a citizen of the UK and Southend. I am not an expert in any field other than business (and even that could be questionable!) and it is because I am ignorant of the inner workings that go on in running a town that I am able, like all of us outside the political bubble, to comment objectively. I recognise there are people giving their lives to make this town what it is, however the execution of what they are doing has not quite come off to the level I think we would all want. I do not blame any recent administrations or Council Officers, these issues have been created many years before now. But I do take umbrage if we do not make the moves to change it.
I sincerely hope some of this makes sense and that you can put your faith in me in the next election, to pursue an agenda that starts with no less than the best possible future for us all.