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…

Are There Alternatives To Canvey’s Town Council?

Hi Ted,

I can see where you are coming from on this matter.

I have never been a supporter of the Town Council as it is another tier of government, which, as you have pointed-out, takes three-quarters of its income just to be administered! (I.e: for every one person it takes to put up a planter, three people tell him/her where it is to be planted.)

I have a suggestion, and would be interested in peoples’ comments…

  • Do away with the Town Council.
  • Let the Borough Council allocate a separate sum of money, to a selected Councillor representing Canvey on the Cabinet, which equates to half of the precept raised from the Town Council.
  • That way more money is allocated to the island than is able to be used as of now – and the continuing waste of a further tier of administration is taken away.

Any thoughts?..

Bill Sharp

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…

Huge Cuts Required By Canvey Island Town Council If They Are To Remain Solvent

If you were thinking of applying for that Warden position: don't look upon it as a long-term job.

SERIOUS DOUBTS are being raised today over the Canvey Island Town Council’s ability to stage the Armed Forces Day Parade planned for June 26th. Furthermore, other events planned for the summer have also been brought into question. 

Last week, the Town Council was heavily criticised by Castle Point Borough Council’s Regeneration Officer for being shambolic in its presentation of events; but it is not the organisational skills exhibited by councillors that are now coming under scrutiny. 

The Town Council’s finalised 2010/11 budget, obtained by this Blog in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request, reveals that the Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIP) led regime, in just three years, has brought Canvey’s new Town Council to the brink of bankruptcy. 

The figures show that for every pound paid by residents in addition to their Castle Point Council Tax, over 78 pence is absorbed by Town Council overheads. That leaves just 22 percent of its annual £265,941 precept to be spent on community and environmental projects (some £58,000); but those two budgets currently total £280,100 – leaving a massive £222,100 shortfall (equivalent to a hike for residents in their Town Council levy of around 84 percent). 

In this, its last year before re-election, the Town Council (TC) plans to spend £6,000 on its Armed Forces Day; £35,000 on ‘Summer Fun’; £10,000 on Citizen Awards; £10,000 on an ‘Environment and Conservation Event;’ £20,000 on Christmas Events and Lighting; and £5,000 on other events – together totalling £86,000 and, alone, costing £28,000 more than the remaining 22 pence contributions made by residents. 

But there is more bad news for islanders. Already forced to plunder the TC’s reserves to meet its public relation’s programme, the costs of its Environment and Open Spaces Projects have also called upon that rainy-day fund. £10,000 is to be spent on Seafront Gardens; £11,000 on the Skateboard Park and Bungalow; £3,000 on Bumblebee Park; and an eye-watering £130,000 on Canvey Lake. Then there are the Street Lights, £15,000; and the inevitable High Street Planters and Hanging Baskets for £8,000 and £4,000 respectively. 

To meet its obligations, the Town Council is calling upon over £220,000 of reserves, leaving just £160,000 for 2011/12, and of which half is earmarked (£10,000 for election expenses – in addition to the £10,000 in the budget; £10,000 for allotments; £5,000 for Tewkes Creek; £5,000 for Seafront Gardens; and £50,000 for Canvey Lake). 

The Town Council’s financial position will be of little comfort to those who thought the TC would save the island’s Concord pool. The facts are that the Town Council, without a substantial rise in the TC levy paid by islanders, does not have the funds to maintain it. 

Next year, an incoming administration will have just £58,000 (from its annual precept) and £80,000 in reserve with which to keep the Town Council afloat. In practise, no responsible administration is likely to touch those precious reserves, so the question is: where do you find cuts amounting to over £200,000? 

It is not an easy question to answer. The fact is that the situation arises from the CIIP’s insistence on taking-over island facilities from the Borough Council – and the only logical solution appears to lay in asking that authority to take them back. 

If the political will were there, £211,000 could be saved immediately by the TC abandoning its Canvey Lake plans (£130,000) and cancelling its programme of Christmas and Summer Events (£81,000). In addition, having the Borough Council take-back responsibility for Canvey Lake would also relieve pressure on the reserves – releasing an ominous £50,000 burden on next year’s administration. But the CIIP appears intent on maintaining its strangle hold upon islanders’ purse strings in pursuit of its separatist strategy. (Castle Point Borough Council can only accede to a motion, seconded and passed by the TC, to increase islander’s Town Council levy). 

On the face of it, there are some substantial annual savings to be found in the TC’s salaries budget, which has soared from £62,846 in 2008/09 to £95,000 in 2009/10 and 2010/11. No local Town Council, it appears, spends much more than £60,000 on staff salaries – and few members claim allowances or expenses. Indeed, this Blog’s FOI request revealed that: ‘At its inception, Council resolved not to pay allowances and this has been repeated in each subsequent year. Councillors may claim travel expenses, but have never done so.’ 

However, the 2010/11 budget reveals otherwise. Included in the overheads section is £6,000 for members’ allowances, travel and subsistence. And there is an additional amount of £3,000 for members’ expenses and training. A total of £9,000. 

It appears that CIIP councillors have voted themselves a substantial pay-rise, in their last year of office, as a reward for their financial incompetence…

Has Canvey’s Armed Forces’ Day Been Abandoned?

JUST LAST MONTH Bob Spink was announcing to residents that, through his efforts, Canvey Island would again be celebrating Armed Forces’ Day on Saturday, 26th June. Indeed, the recently filed accounts for Bob’s Independent Save Our Green Belt Party, financed by himself for some £2,500, uses an A4 reproduction of the event’s promotion poster – inviting anyone who has not received a Veteran’s Badge to contact him directly. But the only event promoted on the Town Council’s Website, for the 26th June, is its previously reported Night of Nostalgia (being sold for a limited audience at £7.50 per ticket).

It seems that the Canvey Island independent Party (CIIP) has withdrawn into silent retreat regarding its ‘Fantastic Projects’ announced on its Blog in March. Despite promising further details, none have ever been forthcoming – just as promises regarding further information, made by Neville Watson, to contributors on the party’s message board have never been fulfilled.

‘They only come out at election time,’ was the criticism laid at the local Labour Party by the CIIP during the election campaign; but the latter’s Blog has only lasted the duration of the long campaign, beginning in March and ending on May 7th. There have been no further posts, nor any fulfilment of the party’s promise to keep residents ‘updated with our latest news right here on our blog.’

Following Spink’s defeat in the polls, the CIIP appears to be in some disarray. Unconfirmed sources suggest that the public claims of support declared by Watson and Anne Wood for Dave Blackwell are not shared by all the party’s councillors. And it also appears that some were dismayed over Wood’s handling of the Adizone matter last week. If the reports are true, Bob Spink may no longer be posing for photographs alongside CIIP councillors as the party tries to distance itself from the once MP.

It is understood that an announcement regarding Canvey’s Armed Forces Day will be made once the organisers decide if Spink will be a welcome participant or not.