Do I Detect The Seeds Of Another Canvey Petition Protest?

IT SEEMS THAT  Canvey Island Town Council, under the new chairmanship of CIIP member John Anderson, are now about to spend more residents’ money in obtaining the views of islanders regarding a pedestrianised shopping precinct in Canvey’s town centre.

Not content with wasting £180,000 on Canvey Lake, which is in any case earmarked for improvements under the Town Centre’s regeneration plans, the Town Council has apparently decided that the 3,687 participants in the public consultation process do not reflect islander opinion. They are certain that, given the opportunity, islanders would choose a pedestrianised High Street as opposed to wider pathways; cycle tracks; and a two-way traffic system to overcome the present congestion problems.

Indeed, it seems that congestion – whether it be island traffic or just petulant opposition to any modern progress – is the Town Council’s stock-in-trade. They have had the opportunity, since September last year, to promote their own ideas regarding the town centre’s regeneration; but instead they have, as usual, waited until the last moment to criticise the consultation process and infer that the developers have it all wrong.

True to form, the local Echo has taken to providing its column inches to the Town Council’s view – with no coverage of the alternatives that the visitors to Canvey Island’s Regeneration Shop have had the opportunity of choosing between. Furthermore, the Town Council is not urging residents to visit the Regeneration Shop to make their views known, they would rather just pose a simple question to residents – rather than give them the opportunity of making an informed decision.

The Town Council’s proposed opinion survey is heavily weighted against the developers. Most people, asked if they would like to see the Town Centre pedestrianised – and given no alternatives – are likely to say, ‘Yes.’ A fact that is not lost upon the Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIP), which has a reputation for taking arguments out of context and then organising petitions around them.

The protests over the Concord pool and Kismet Park’s Adizone have since flowered and gone to seed; but the CIIP is determined, in this the Town Council’s election year, to create another local issue that it can use to retain its political foothold.

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TC Mismanagement Gives Way To More Adizone Stories This Week

Cllr Peter Burch exercising at Canvey's Adizone

AS IF IN AN EFFORT to quickly change the subject, the Echo, this week, decided not to follow-up this Blog’s revelations regarding Canvey Island Town Council’s financial mismanagement. 

Max Orbach, presumably stung into action by a Canvey Island Independent Party source, was, I am told, querying my interpretation of the Town Council’s latest budget; but dispensed with trying to contact me after looking at the actual figures

Interestingly though, the Echo did not run a similar article. Instead it reverted to rehashing an old piece on Kismet Park’s Adizone – with a twist. 

Instead of padding its allegations of yobbish behaviour with comments drawn from CIIP councillors, it introduced the island’s latest local celebrity, Colin Letchford, as the unhappy residents’ spokesman. And Colin, true to form, gave his own inconsistent take on why the public gym should be removed. 

Whenever I go past there are children as young as eight playing on it, even though a sign clearly states it is only meant for 12 years and over. 

It is dangerous for them, but they use it because the neighbouring playground for younger children is so run down. 

Shouldn’t the council have some form of security to ensure younger children are not injured using it? 

This is the same Colin Letchford who, when speaking to Rebecca Harris, in my presence, completely sided with her view (regarding Canvey’s Concord pool) that the Labour Government’s onerous Health and Safety Legislation needed to be rolled-back and a more sensible approach adopted to public facilities. And the same Colin Letchford (whose own report on the Concord pool highlighted its dangers to youngsters) who took the view that those dangers were acceptable and the council need only erect a sign saying that the facility is used at the public’s own risk to avoid any possible prosecution. 

So, having a youngster injure a limb through jamming it in dangerous rock crevices, or falling 1.8 metres from a slippery foothold is acceptable to Colin; but having the same child use the Adizone’s equipment as a climbing frame is not. 

The Echo does not make clear which council Colin is referring to in his statement. Logically, it is the Town Council (TC) to whom residents should first make their complaints; but it seems that the TC, rather than taking responsibility for the island’s yobbery alluded to in the article, would rather remain silent and pass the buck onto the local Borough Council, via Colin, in an effort to gain political points. (The Echo willingly conspired with this strategy later in the week by again raising the Concord pool topic – and quoting more Letchford comments). 

Refreshingly though, Matthew Stanton at the Yellow Advertiser, decided to adopt an objective approach to the Kismet park story. Moreover, he actually chased down Lee Barrett for a comment and succeeded in getting behind the real reason for CIIP-led residents’ protests. Despite the numerous press articles on the Adizone facility’s proposed location; coverage of its installation; announcements of its opening and, some time beforehand, having been informed by CPBC letter of the decision to erect it in Kismet Park, it seems that some 40 residents do not check their letter-box or read the local papers. 

Lee Barrett was reported as saying:- 

… The residents who want the equipment moved feel they were not consulted properly and only knew about the work when it was happening. 

I had a few calls from confused residents asking what was going on but it was too late to do anything about it. 

Meanwhile, on the subject of the Town Council and my Freedom Of Information (FOI) Act requests, the TC has not even acknowledged my last FOI’s receipt. Nor has it deemed to provide any further information regarding my first. It seems that, like denying residents their right to an Annual Town Meeting this year, the Town Council is determined not to release details of the companies and individuals whom have benefitted from their enormous expenditure over the past three years.

Hi Ted…

Brian Wood

HAVE YOU seen that C.C. Brian Wood has been welcomed back into the Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIP)?

Dave Blackwell says, in the Echo, it’s great to have a County Councillor in the Party.

That’s not what was said when he wanted to stand for election as a CIIP county councillor!

I wonder what has changed?..

Jim Robbins

Rebecca Calls For Review Of Pool’s Health & Safety Laws

Rebecca Harris, MP

CASTLE POINT MP Rebecca Harris has called for a review of Health and Safety laws relating to Canvey’s paddling pool.

Writing to Lord Young of Graffham, yesterday, Mrs Harris said ‘It cannot be right for a local authority to be put in a situation where it feels forced to close cherished public facilities with a good safety record because of the fear of the health and safety compensation culture.’

Lord Young was yesterday appointed by the Prime Minister to review the operation of all health and safety legislation.

Mrs Harris continued: ‘A balance needs to be struck between the safety of the public and the legal risk to public authorities. A common sense approach is needed, not a stifling health and safety bureaucracy.’

Rebecca has also been busy this week, teaming-up with ITV’s This Morning celebrity GP, Dr Chris Steele MBE, to support this year’s Carers Week and celebrating the contribution made by people in Castle Point, and throughout the UK, who provide unpaid care for someone who is ill, frail or disabled.

Rebecca said: ‘A trip to the cinema, or even a full night’s sleep are luxuries for many of the thousands of carers in Castle Point. I am supporting Carers Week and all those helping to raise awareness of carers, and their priceless contribution they make to our local community. There are some great charities and organisations like Castle Point Crossroads, who support local carers and I hope that as a result of Carers Week, many more carers will find out about services and support that exist to help them.’

Last week, Rebecca was one of the twenty MPs who won the right, by ballot, to present a Private Member’s Bill to the house.

Where Do You Stand On This Week’s Town Council Issues?

FIRST exposed on this Blog in April, Canvey island Town Council’s political agenda and financial competence have come under scrutiny this week. Residents have been shocked to find that the vast majority of Town Council (TC) spending has not been safeguarded by formal contracts – and dismayed to learn that the contributions they make to the TC may need to rise by as much as eighty-four percent, next year, if the current shortfall of over £200,000 (between what the TC plans to spend, and what it receives) is to be avoided.

In a letter to this Blog, Bill Sharp proposed a radical solution to the Town council’s imminent demise and invited reader opinion; but where do you stand on the issues?

Do you believe that the Town Council should be disbanded? Or do you believe it should be retained? Do you agree with the TC’s agenda of taking-over control of island assets from Castle Point Borough Council (CPBC)? Or do you believe the TC should plough its precept back into the community to address the island’s poverty and deprivation issues?

Do you believe that Canvey Island is a special case, deserving of additional CPBC funds, over and above those amounts spent on our mainland neighbours? Or do you think Castle Point should try to distribute its resources evenly throughout the Borough?

If Canvey Island Town Council is to be disbanded, another petition will probably need to be raised. Is that what you want? Or are you prepared to trust that Democracy will provide its own solution to the problem in next year’s Town Council elections?

These are fundamental questions that need answering by islanders. Huge cuts are on their way as the Coalition Government reigns back on its public spending; and benefits, upon which many islanders rely, are to be reassessed. Local charities will come under increasing pressure for their scarce resources, while the majority of islanders will be unable to continue providing them financial support.

Bleak times are ahead. Can we still afford the luxury of a Town Council pursuing its own political agenda? Or can we rely on electing a new swathe of councillors who will work with local businesses, charities and church leaders to mitigate the harm that inevitable spending cuts will have upon the island’s vulnerable?

Please take part in this straw-poll…

Canvey Island’s Parish Council – An Opportunity Lost

WHEN ISLANDERS elected their first Parish Councillors, back in 2007, it was hoped that the new body – like those in neighbouring Leigh-on-Sea and Rayleigh – would form close links with residents and the Borough Council to improve islanders’ lives and tackle Canvey’s poverty.

With a joyful heart, islanders signed-up to an extra Council Tax charge to finance the new organisation, and looked forward to the island’s deprivation being addressed.

Rank Ward
1 Canvey Island Central
2 Canvey Island North
3 Canvey Island Winter Gardens
4 Canvey Island East
5 Canvey Island West
6 Canvey Island South
7 St Mary’s
8 Victoria
9 Cedar Hall
10 St James
11 Appleton
12 St Peter’s
13 St George’s
14 Boyce

Nothing was more urgent. Canvey Island’s six wards take up the top six positions in the borough’s poverty and deprivation rankings (as shown in the inset table) but it soon became evident that the newly elected councillors had other things on their minds.

Their first act was to re-title the newly formed Parish Council as a Town Council – and their second was not to work with the Borough Council to improve island facilities: it was to work against the Borough Council’s attempts to improve the lives of islanders at every turn.

At no stage has this Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIP) Town Council attempted to address islanders’ needs – and its local Grants Budget, for each year since its inception, has only provided some £5,000 support for charities engaged in meeting them. That is just 1.8% of its 2010/11 precept – and £4,000 less than councillors have awarded themselves in allowances and expenses this year.

The last three years have provided an opportunity for councillors to come to grips with the lack of facilities for the island’s youth in poverty stricken areas like the Avenues. Three years in which to engage the island’s youngsters and address anti-social behaviour. But, when the Borough Council saw fit to erect a £150,000 Adizone in Kismet Park, the CIIP immediately launched a petition for its removal.

The Town Council (TC) has had three years in which to assess the island’s facilities and identify areas that need addressing. But, in all that time, the TC was apparently oblivious of the safety concerns surrounding the Concord pool. It seems that no town councillor had ever bothered to visit and assess the facility. In contrast, Leigh-on-sea’s facilities are regularly appraised by their Town Council, and councillors are keen to work in partnership with Southend’s council to ensure they are always maintained to a high standard.

Canvey Island’s Town Council instigated no such arrangement with Castle Point Borough Council (CPBC) – just as it has never attempted to table a solution to the island’s desperate housing needs.

This year, the Town Council will have squandered over one-million pounds of residents’ money. One million pounds, which, with proper planning and financial management, could have seen vast improvements to the island’s social cohesion. Local charities could have been supported; the island’s Citizens’ Advice Bureau might not have been forced to seek additional accommodation on the mainland; residents might have had their own, subsidised, Dial-a-ride service; and islanders might not have had to rely upon the local police force to arrange suitable events for Canvey’s youth during the summer holidays.

The fact is that Canvey Island Town Council does not represent the residents it was elected to serve. Rather, the Town Council is seen as serving the political agenda of the CIIP. Few residents talk of the Town Council Offices – they speak of the CIIP Clubhouse.

Parish Councils were never envisaged as political bodies. Instead they are run, in the main, by local business, charity and church leaders whom have close links to the local community – and whom are fully aware of its needs. In particular, being free of political bias, parish councillors are able to work with higher tier public bodies to ensure their services are accurately targeted where they are needed – and, because they are parish based, they also have access to grant funding that is not available to borough or county councils. For example, grants from: Awards for All; O2 It’s Your Community Programme; Green Prints Flagships; and the Sport England Small Grants programme.

Notably, Canvey Island’s TC has never applied for such funding – even though the CIIP is apparently committed to island youth facilities and preserving the environment. Perhaps this is because such bodies require detailed plans, which the Town Council appears incapable of producing.

Since its inception, the Town Council has not begun a single project that could be described as new. Not a single penny of the one-million pounds, contributed by islanders and which will have been spent by the TC later this year, has been ploughed back into the community. Instead, those funds have been wasted on maintaining existing island community assets that, until the Town Council decided to take them over, were the responsibility of CPBC and funded through the Council Tax collected from all Castle Point residents.

It is only islanders who will now contribute towards those assets upkeep – and for no corresponding reduction in their Castle Point Council Tax bills. And, because islanders are far fewer than the total number of Castle Point residents, their individual share of such upkeep will be considerably higher.

In other words: the Town Council has done nothing – other than to substantially increase islander taxes in return for no community benefits.

CITC Standing Orders On Contracts

One million-pounds is an awful lot of taxpayers’ money. It is equivalent to £25 for every man, woman and child residing on the island – or several new community centres. But, to whom that money has been paid, at this moment, remains a mystery. Moreover, it appears that the Town Council has not entered into a formal agreement with many of its contractors.

That the vast majority of the Town Council’s budgets have been aimed at building works, site clearance, greenery and environmental furniture (each totalling many thousands of pounds) residents will find it difficult to understand why these amounts have not been subject to formal contractual arrangements. After all, such contracts are the first concern of any householder embarking on engaging similar services themselves.

Here is part of the email conversation I had with John Burridge, the new Town Council clerk, regarding a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

  • Me: Please supply a detailed, dated, list of all contracts awarded since the Town Council’s inception, along with each contract’s purpose and full details of the individual contractor.
  • Burridge: Please let me know a minimum price for contracts, as, clearly, it would be disproportionate to provide information on, say, stationery orders.
  • Me: I do not think the commissioner would agree with you there, John. It is, after all, just a detailed Bought Ledger report (and I would be surprised if your stationary were not bought in bulk to ensure maximum discounts). I am not requesting details of the Town Council’s Petty Cash expenditure. Once again, paper is fine – just let me know when you would like me to pick it up.
  • Burridge: Please find attached a list of the contracts that CITC has with suppliers. We do not have any formal contracts with any other bodies or authorities.

Burridge’s list consisted of the following contracts for 2009/10 (I still await previous years’ details):-

  • Guardtec Security, annual maintenance charge: £285.53
  • ING Leasing, photocopier lease: £1,315.96
  • Pinnacle Essex, grounds maintenance: £7,080.40
  • Talk-Talk, phone rental: £113.85

Residents have a clear right to know to whom their money is being given, so, following Burridge’s obfuscation, I submitted a further FOI focusing upon the TC’s Purchase Ledger.

  • A detailed list of the firms, organisations and individuals to whom the Town Council has paid taxpayers’ money since its formation – along with the total individual amounts concerned. Just to be clear: the details of each firm, organisation and individual recorded by the Town Council’s purchase ledger and, for each, the accumulative invoiced amounts, less any credit notes. (I am not asking for details of any Petty Cash expenditure that might require manual compilation – and I am not requesting individual Purchase Ledger balances).

I have yet to receive a reply.

Formal contracts are an important element of any public body’s administration because they ensure only those works or supplies that have been agreed by council are in fact carried out – at the agreed price and with the agreed contractor. Without them it is possible for contractors to bill for other ‘necessary’ works; evade their responsibilities; or simply inflate the previously agreed price. But contracts have a further purpose when it comes to protecting taxpayers’ money: each needs to be formally approved, and it is therefore possible for residents to trace the arrangement back to responsible councillors and the minutes taken at the respective meeting to discover who agreed with, and who opposed, the proposals.

For example: who was it that agreed to the Town Council spending £1,000 of taxpayers’ money on ‘Regalia’ this year?

If it is indeed the case that the TC has entered into no formal arrangements, other than with those declared by Burridge, councillors will be in serious breach of their own Standing Orders – which is a very serious matter.

In the meantime, while the Town Council considers my latest FOI request, residents can only speculate on the reasons it might have for not immediately dumping the requested purchase ledger information to paper or electronic spreadsheet for detailed public inspection…

Never Mind The Cost To Residents, Just Keep Voting For An Increase

YESTERDAY’S REVELATIONS regarding the Town Council’s finances exposes the myth behind the Canvey Island Independent Party’s slogan, ‘Canvey for Canvey.’ If residents want to separate Canvey Island from Castle Point: it is going to cost them – big time.

With Bob Spink temporarily removed from the local picture, this week’s Echo coverage was the first, since this Blog’s inception, not to include any reports about protests on Canvey. Despite angling their Castle Point stories from protester viewpoints, the paper’s coverage has only been of Borough Councillors quietly getting on with the job of debating local matters and implementing their promises under the public’s eye.

Nothing has changed in the Council chamber – residents have just not been confronted with Spink and Dave Blackwell posing for the Echo’s cameras and dispensing their stream of lies.

Dave Blackwell, it seems – despite being an avid reader of this Blog – is back in hiding. When questions are raised here, he chooses not to answer – just as his party chooses not to be open about its separatist aims, or to be truthful about how much those ambitions would cost. But readers now know why the CIIP led Town Council has failed to publish an Annual Report on its Website since its first year in 2007/08 – to have done so would have revealed the extent to which pursuing un-costed policies have led to a pumped-up Parish Council’s imminent insolvency.

But Blackwell and the Town Council’s chairman, Nick Harvey, are not concerned with bankruptcy; because, unlike any private organisation, they can simply vote for islanders to contribute more. They know that, next year, they can simply tell the Borough Council to increase Canvey’s Town Council levy by 84% – and there is nothing that anyone can do about it. (If you refuse to pay: you will simply be pursued through the courts and face possible imprisonment).

It is a win-win situation for the CIIP – and one from which they have chosen to spend some three-and-a-half percent of the TC’s precept (over a quarter-of-a-million pounds) on their own remuneration.

The Town Council ploughs on. Posted today, on its Website, is the Spring 2010 newsletter, finally announcing the Armed Forces Day Parade on 26th June and stating their intention to take-over the management of Canvey’s seaside pool from the Borough Council. Moreover, a statement by the new Town Clerk, John Burridge, hints at further plans by the Town Council: ‘to provide ever improving services to our residents.’

At the moment, the Town Council provides no services – they are all provided by CPBC – but it is clear that the TC has that ambition. Furthermore, it is becoming frighteningly clear that neither the CIIP, nor the Town Council, have any idea of how much their ambitions will cost.

Islanders are being forced to write a blank cheque to a financially incompetent administration…