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…

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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.

Spink’s Gambit For An Elected Mayor In Question

BOB SPINK and Dave Blackwell will be wondering what on earth they have done, this bank holiday week-end, to upset their tame poodle Colin Letchford.

On Friday, the Echo reported that Letchford would prefer a return to the old committee system of local government – rather than having an elected mayor.

He is reported as saying: ‘A system which involves the whole council making decisions has got to be more democratic.’

That Letchford should publicly come to this conclusion, now that he is so close to achieving the 3,364 signatures he requires to force a referendum on the issue, may well derail our two conspirators’ ambitions to create a lucrative position from which to engineer their separatist plans.

The discredited committee structure

In the same article, Blackwell is quoted as saying: ‘In Castle Point, we are desperate to put democracy back into the council. The leader and the cabinet should sit up and take note and bring back the very democratic committee system as soon as possible.’

‘The leader and cabinet should… bring back the… committee system’?

Blackwell cannot resist the temptation to allude that the cabinet holds all the power; but, as has been shown previously on this Blog, the most powerful body in the cabinet system is the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC) – of which Blackwell just happens to be chairman.

That the OSC can be abused by an opposition to undermine the elected majority is, however, not a good reason to return to the simpler, older system, in which all decisions are made by full council and in which all opposition members vote.

Whilst it is true that, under the old system, Blackwell would not be able to sit back and watch as cabinet are forced to make unpalatable choices – like closing the Concord pool – and could not then ‘call-in’ the decision to make political capital from a situation he had allowed to take place, the fact is that Blackwell’s particular form of politics was born of the old committee system (so it should not come as a surprise to find that the Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIP) would still benefit from a return to the old, discredited, routine).

So, how do the two systems differ?

CPBC's Cabinet System

Well, the cabinet system was imposed by the last Labour Government in an effort to streamline decision making. Rather than requiring all members to vote on every single matter that came before council, day to day matters were removed to a separate cabinet body consisting of a selection of between eight and ten majority members.

Cabinet meetings were still held in public – and non cabinet members could ask questions regarding matters in hand; but they could not vote. However, their questions could always ask the cabinet to refer a certain matter to full council if they thought there were reasons for doing so – and any member could bring any matter debated in cabinet to the attention of another body, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which was given extensive powers to ‘call-in’ any cabinet decision; investigate the matter in detail and, if necessary, refer it to full council.

Day-to-day decision making was made much quicker – because it removed the ability of an obstructive opposition to tie members up debating matters of little local concern – thereby frustrating the ability of the majority to move-on to policy matters. It was argued, by the then Labour Government, that too little was being done by local councils because necessary decisions were being purposely held-up in committees whose make-up did not represent the majority’s views.

Under the old system, many majority election pledges found their way into political committee dungeons to never again see the light of day. The cabinet system broke the back of such obstruction by ensuring that a majority’s pledges could at least be rubber stamped by cabinet before being exhaustively scrutinised. Moreover, it laid the basis for any subsequent full council vote that would either approve or reject an intact proposal. (Committees were no longer able to tinker with original majority proposals in order to ensure their subsequent rejection).

In short, the cabinet system breathed new life into councils where the majority was unable, through opposition obstruction, to implement the policies they had been elected to implement.

It could be argued that the cabinet system is actually more democratic than the old committee system; because the majority is not clandestinely denied the means of implementing its manifesto. However, there is no doubt that many long serving members feel slighted by not being able to vote on every single matter – just as government back-benchers feel slighted that they have not been picked for a lucrative cabinet post.

Of course, Blackwell and his cronies promote the idea that the cabinet holds all the power. But the fact is that the cabinet is just a means for the majority to filter matters into those that can be quickly dealt with and those that might need fuller debate. It is rather like a production line, overlooked by the opposition leader who has the power to remove any product from reaching the stores. But, of course, Blackwell will never admit to that.

You see, Blackwell is not a willing production-line employee. He is not looking to remove faulty products from the conveyor belt before they reach the packing department. He is much more concerned with allowing faulty goods to pass unnoticed so he can complain about the firm’s management when they hit the stores.

That is why you will rarely see opposition councillors attending cabinet meetings. If they did, the attending public might well ask why no CIIP member asked questions when a controversial decision was made. Just as Blackwell ensured he was not around to chair the scrutiny of the Concord pool decision, he and his CIIP councillors like to make themselves scarce when any decisions have to be made. After all, it is easier to join a protest than it is to launch one of your own (and take the risk of wrongly judging the public mood). And the CIIP’s absence has also helped to affirm the lie that cabinet takes all its decisions in ‘secret.’

Tuesday evening’s cabinet meeting was interesting, because it seems, at last, that the ruling group is finally aware of CIIP strategy. At that meeting, Pam Challis introduced an item for the council’s constitution to be modified to allow members of the general public to ask questions directly of cabinet. (At the moment they can only do so through an elected representative).

The motion, calling upon officers to investigate the legal position and asking them to draw-up a revised constitution, was passed unanimously.

The move will be warmly welcomed by residents – although CIIP members made no supportive noises when the decision was taken. Perhaps they took cabinets’ vote as a direct reflection of their own abilities to represent their constituents at cabinet – since the proposal would effectively make them redundant…

‘The People Have Spoken – We Are Just Not Sure What They Said’

For the first time since the Second World War, Britain is to be governed by a coalition. On Tuesday, Gordon Brown decided to break the hiatus by tendering his resignation to the Queen whilst David Cameron and Nick Clegg were still in the midst of final negotiations.

As Cameron addressed the press in front of Number 10 Downing Street, it was still unclear as to whether the Lib-Con agreement would be finalised; but, on Wednesday morning, the markets were finally buoyed as Cameron and Clegg shook hands on the steps of the prime ministerial residence.

A new government had taken shape against the background of UK unemployment passing 2.5 million – the highest since 1994 – and a staggering financial crisis.

One of biggest tasks facing the new government lays in paying-down the country’s debt – and the Liberal Democrats have shifted their position by supporting 6 billion pounds of cuts to take place this year. The Conservatives have modified their aims too, to incorporate Lib Dem policy.

Cameron and Clegg outside no 10

From next April, the first stage in increasing the personal tax allowance to £10,000 per year will come into force – providing a welcome respite for the lower paid in times of economic frugality.

Constitutional and voting reform will take place under the eyes of the new Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and we can anticipate a referendum on the latter. In return, the Lib Dem pro European stance has been set aside for this, five-year, parliament.

The National Identity Card scheme will be scrapped; but the employee portion of Labour’s NHI increase will take place next year, countering some of the benefits of reduced taxation from the personal allowance rise.

Constitutionally, it is likely that the first Act of Parliament in the new session will be to ensure fixed term parliaments from 2015.

The next general election will take place on the first Thursday in May, 2015.

During Wednesday afternoon, it became clear that this was to be a full coalition government. Despite its limited seats, the Liberal Democrats were to be fully embedded within government departments and their subsequent roles were by no means minor. Vince Cable was given the post of Business Secretary; David Laws was appointed as Chief Secretary to the Treasury; Chris Huhne as Energy and Climate Change Secretary; and Danny Alexander became the Secretary for Scotland.

The full list of cabinet posts is as follows:-

  • Prime minister: David Cameron, 43, Conservative
  • Deputy prime minister: Nick Clegg, 43, Liberal Democrat
  • Chancellor: George Osborne, 38, Conservative
  • Home secretary: Theresa May, 53, Conservative
  • Foreign secretary: William Hague, 49, Conservative
  • Defence secretary: Liam Fox, 48, Conservative
  • Justice secretary: Kenneth Clarke, 69, Conservative
  • Health secretary: Andrew Lansley, 53, Conservative
  • Education secretary: Michael Gove, 42, Conservative
  • Business secretary: Vincent Cable, 67, Liberal Democrat
  • Chief secretary to the Treasury: David Laws, 67, Liberal Democrat
  • Work and pensions secretary: Iain Duncan Smith, 56, Conservative
  • Energy and climate change secretary: Chris Huhne, 55, Liberal Democrat
  • Local government secretary: Eric Pickles, 58, Conservative
  • Transport secretary: Philip Hammond, 55, Conservative
  • Environment secretary: Caroline Spelman, 52, Conservative
  • International development secretary: Andrew Mitchell, 54, Conservative
  • Northern Ireland secretary: Owen Paterson, 53, Conservative
  • Scotland secretary: Danny Alexander, 37, Liberal Democrat
  • Welsh secretary: Cheryl Gillan, 58, Conservative
  • Culture, media and sport secretary: Jeremy Hunt, 43, Conservative
  • Leader of the Lords: Lord Strathclyde, 50, Conservative
  • Minister without portfolio: Lady Warsi, 39, Conservative

Also attending cabinet will be the Minster for the Cabinet Office: Francis Maude, paymaster general (Conservative); the Minister of state, Cabinet Office, Oliver Letwin (Conservative); Minister of state (universities and science), David Willetts(Conservative); Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young (Conservative); and Parliamentary chief secretary to the Treasury and chief whip, Patrick McLoughlin (Conservative).

Attorney general, Dominic Grieve (Conservative) will be invited when required.

As soon as the posts had been formally declared, ministers were hurrying to their new offices, determined to get to work.

There was no such drama in Castle Point, where the Conservatives retained a comfortable majority in last Thursday’s local elections. But it did not take long for the Canvey Island Independence Party (CIIP), in the shape of Nick Harvey (leader of Canvey Island’s Town Council and Canvey Island North Ward Councillor) and Canvey Island South resident Colin Letchford to begin berating, what both see as, the lack of democracy in the borough.

Colin Letchford had apparently put pen to paper the day after this Blog published its Dave Blackwell: A Changed Man? piece. In a letter written to the Echo, and copied to this Blog, Letchford alleges that he was banned from the local elections count  – in which he had been asked to act as a teller by Harvey. He further alleges that the reason given was that he had had the gall to begin a petition for an elected mayor – and that the Swann sisters had been similarly banned for beginning the ‘Save Our Pool’ petition.

Like Liz Swann and her remarks regarding ‘it was actually told to Lea Swann by a Conservative Cabinet Councillor in front of one of Conservatives own who is above reproach,’ in the readers’ forum on this blog, Letchford provides no evidence for his allegations.

His letter is a confused patchwork of unfounded statistics and innuendo aimed at manufacturing a case for the CIIP to be represented in the borough’s cabinet. Along with CIIP members, he seems incapable of realising that the Conservatives hold a comfortable 33% majority and that they are therefore entitled to none. He argues that 94% of islanders are unrepresented in cabinet; but that figure is totally discredited. The fact is that 48.6% of island residents, whom took part in the last local election, are not represented by their newly elected councillors – and that the CIIP has no firm mandate because, on a proportional basis, they only have the slimmest of majorities (just 469 votes across the whole of the island – representing only 2.7%).

Letchford is keen to take the opportunity for promoting his petition for an elected mayor; but it transpired in our discussion that the true purpose behind it is not to provide residents with the opportunity of electing a charismatic council leader. Letchford states that the purpose behind his petition to have an elected mayor is because: ‘The mayor chooses the cabinet members.’

As already pointed-out on this Blog, Letchford’s petition is simply another means by which the CIIP hopes to infiltrate the policy making body of Castle Point Borough Council – and provide a lucrative post for its main sponsor.

And Letchford, it seems, is also unable to understand that, even if Spink were elected as mayor, and he were to fill the eight cabinet positions with CIIP colleagues, that there would still be no change in the balance of power. If mainlanders voted in the same way as now, they would still retain their majority. Consequently they would hold a majority on the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, as they do now, and be in a position to call-in every cabinet decision and refer it to full council – where it could be easily defeated.

Spink: "I've been here before. Maybe I'll be here again..."

But Spink is not that disorganised. He knows that, with his media savvy and increased profile, a position as elected mayor would provide him with a platform that could be used to his advantage. And again it is the far-left protest strategy that will be employed. Despite it being the majority whom would defeat his ambitions in the chamber, Spink would continue to call ‘foul’ and point to the Conservatives as continually blocking him.

Same old, same old. And the borough and this island would continue to stagnate while Spink and his colleagues played their political games (while lining their pockets with taxpayer funds and enjoying civil benefits).

Is this all about island independence from Castle Point? Well, if it is, Blackwell and his colleagues are not saying anything. Just as they have never made clear their position on any other matter. If it is, then residents have a right to know just how much separation will cost them. A rough estimate, at the present time, is that islanders’ Council Tax would soar three-fold.

But if it were about island independence, why do the CIIP not stand on the mainland and provide all residents with the opportunity of voting for separation? That way they could democratically achieve a majority with which to pass such a resolution.

The answer is that it would not create a power-base for Spink’s own Independent Save Our Green Belt Party – and his and Blackwell’s ambitions to be Lords of their purposely divided manors would not be fulfilled…

Bookie Fancies Rebecca’s Chances At The Ballot

REBECCA HARRIS has the best odds of any Castle Point general election candidate  – making her more favoured to win the seat than any other candidate.

With odds of 16/5 from website Betfair, Dr Spink has been judged as likely as the BNP candidate to win.

Betfair puts the Conservatives on 30/100; the Lib Dem candidate on 21/1 and Labour at 39/1.

UKIP’s chances are rated at 59/1.

Now compare those peculiar facts with Sarah Calkin’s spin-piece in the Echo

Two Different Campaigns

Candidates sharing a Web platform with Spink

I USED TO THINK that elections were all about selecting a candidate whose views most closely matched one’s own. Bob Spink, I am sure, would be one of the first to agree with me; because, throughout his political career he has done everything he can to represent himself as supporting whatever public position has made headlines in the press. But Bob is a media whore: he is not a conviction politician. His only objective in life is to create a safe parliamentary seat for himself from where he can indulge his egotistical fantasies and enjoy a taxpayer funded lifestyle. This was never more evident than in his latest statement (broadcast by Southend Radio) that a hung parliament would give him even more power, if elected, to put a stop to immigration; withdraw from the European Union; and deal with MPs’ expenses. Poor Bob remains oblivious to the fact that he has no influence in parliament; would not be called upon by any party to present his opinions – and would continue to be a subject of ridicule by his fellow MPs.

As the inset list of present members shows, even the Election Book domain failed to recruit any serious parliamentary candidates once Bob Spink had signed-up to use their facilities.

But, while ‘Spink-the-Spiv’ does his best to convince residents that he represents their views, neither his Canvey Island Independence Party  or Independent Save Our Green Belt party makes any such claims. Residents are given no idea of where either party stands on local or national issues. It seems that the CIIP is content to rely on a simple position statement: that they are against anything proposed by a borough majority; they are against anything that a Conservative or Labour majority might propose; and are totally against the mainland. They paint the Conservatives as liars; Labour as ‘only coming out at election time;’ and continue to focus on Canvey Island’s tidal pool without once mentioning what they intend to do about it (despite being in talks to take-over its management).

During its last session, Castle Point Borough Council had been preparing itself for up to a ten percent reduction in the funds supplied to it by government. But, the fact is, the state of the country’s finances is so dire that, whomever is elected, will see that cut rise to some twenty-five percent.

While the Conservative-led Borough Council has been managing its finances responsibly, preparing for bad times ahead, the CIIP majority on the Town Council will be spending twice its annual precept this year. On what we have yet to discover. All we can be certain of, at this time, is that: this is an election year.

Such is the competence of the CIIP that they would direct precious resources, at this time, to planting shrubs; planting trees; erecting lamp-posts to hold hanging baskets; acquiring high-street planters and displaying plaques promoting the Town Council. Residents’ money has been spent on cosmetics – and not one penny towards ensuring the safety of Canvey’s tidal pool; improving island playground facilities or centres for the island’s youth. Furthermore, when local charities or organisations apply for a grant addressing such matters: they are dismissed with a paltry cheque for £100.

‘THEY [the majority] MAKE PROMISES, WRITE WISH LISTS, BUT ULTIMATELY THEY GIVE US NOTHING’ proclaims the CIIP’s election leaflets. No mention is made of the new Adizone in Kismet Park; the Bumble Bee statue; the opening of Canvey’s West Marshes to the public; improvements to Waterside Leisure Centre or the Paddocks’ improvements and new Health Centre. And no mention of the complete makeover planned for Canvey Town Centre, which the CIIP accuse the council of leaving ‘to die.’

Unlike Spink, the CIIP does not actually lie in its election leaflets: it just omits telling the truth…

While Rebecca Focuses On Local Issues, The Echo Gives Its Front Page To Bob

THIS YEAR’S GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN is likely to be remembered by residents as that in which the main party candidates struggled to have their messages heard above Spink’s clamour for attention from the local press.

On Tuesday, the Echo duly obliged – choosing to ignore a national perspective on its Save Canvey Pool campaign that the Conservative candidate, Rebecca Harris, had provided the previous day.

While Rebecca was explaining to the Shadow Justice Secretary, Dominic Grieve, how fears over excessive Health and Safely legislation – and the growing compensation culture – had threatened the future of one of Canvey’s tidal pools; Gail Boland, Spink’s partner, was on the phone to the local police demanding that they arrest Bill Sharp over a ‘public order offence.’

It seems that Bill Sharp had waived an A3 poster of the Conservative candidate at Bob and Gail when they drove past him in their ‘battle-bus’ (proclaiming Bob Spink as an independent) on Sunday.

The two conspirators must have thought long and hard about using the incident when they returned home that night – and made their decision to get the police involved the following morning.

It appears that, to Spink and Boland, waiving Rebecca’s campaign poster at them is equivalent to a traditional English bowman’s salute, which I, and many other residents, may have performed in similar circumstances.

Of course, the Echo had a duty to report the incident – and had they had time they might also have considered the other point that Rebecca was making about a Conservative government: that it would bring an end to the culture of excessive litigation, while, at the same time, giving legal safeguards to those who really need them. But the appropriateness of her remark was apparently lost upon them as they devoted their whole front page, and a page-two column, to their ‘Tory’s arrest after spat with Spink’ leader.

On Wednesday, Sarah Calkin (an Echo staff reporter) decided to take-up space at the top of page-five to throw her own support behind Spink.

Casting around for a theme, she chose to report on UKIP’s support-ad for Spink in the Southend Standard. Bob could not have wished for more. UKIP had paid for the Standard’s advert – and now Calkin was reiterating its statements here (for nothing). She was even good enough to quote him in one of his biggest lies. (Can you spot it?.. Oh, no… There’s another one… Better make it: can you spot them?).

One thing is for sure, Bob Spink is spending a lot of money on his campaign. Unless I have been singled-out for special attention, his campaign literature was delivered to me by second-class post in a white Christmas-card envelope. (All my other candidate literature has been painstakingly delivered by hand to save on costs).

Is there a story here? His glossy A4 literature, which neither the Tories or Labour can match, certainly contains some whoppers – so perhaps he has no choice but to keep the envelopes’ contents concealed from postmen. But I particularly like the way in which he continues to promote his endorsement by John Mann MP.

Peas and a single pod come to mind…