The Labour-led coalition in Southend are currently managing the formidable ramifications of COVID 19. It is an impossible task given the way central government has handled the crisis, and highlighted just how little power local government has to implement policies that many of Southend resident’s wanted.
As trusting citizens, people in the town performed their civic duty and respected the so called lockdown. With the idea that the disease was highly contagious and could kill people in large numbers we were prepared to wait it out. Being that the government’s policy was supposedly based on ‘the science’, Councils across the UK implemented lockdown and did everything possible to ensure we followed the rules. On this, Leader of the Council Ian Gilbert and the Council have done as much as they could possibly be asked of – perhaps even more so.
As time has moved on and the government’s stance has changed, it has come too early for a number of people to be able to logically and emotionally accept. The Council have had to change direction almost overnight, which, after long periods gearing up for protecting lives by putting things in place that will do so, will not have been easy.
There are still voices in the Council against the government’s new measures openly contradicting what is being advised. In the case of COVID-19 it is clear that local Councillors do not have direct access to the science - and more importantly, the scientists - that are informing the government. As a result it is indeed inconceivable that any Councillor could possibly know better and espouse views that differ from the government because they just don’t know. In the same way we trusted the government to change our lives so completely, we have no choice but to continue that level of trust as they ease the so called lockdown. To be in the hands of people that are widely known to be untrustworthy is a dreadful situation, but this is all we have.
So local government needs to have far more power than it currently does. Of course it must be informed properly with the same credible sources as central government, and then include the voices of Southend as the foundation of policy making. If the level of power does not change, then we cannot expect decisions taken by those that may never have even heard of us, to work for us. For example, many felt the beaches should not have been opened with roads to the seafront closed. This may well have been right, but we neither had enough information about COVID to make this decision, and were to a large degree powerless to make it.
To raise the issue of local power may seem insensitive and untimely, however, there are so many issues surrounding the pandemic that my intention is to break it down into separate blogs. This just so happened to be the first of many.
I must also state that it is not Labour policy to press for this currently, however, it is an area that I will be pursuing in the future for the betterment of Southend.
Lastly, but most importantly, our gratitude to all the key workers in Southend and the UK will never be enough for the bravery and courage they have shown. When it first began they did not know just how contagious it was and who was vulnerable, so the fear would have been magnified to such a degree that would have been hard for most of us to take. I hope we never forget what they have done for our town and country.