In announcing the Coalition administration I would like to indicate the background thinking and the sense of direction behind the posts.
The elections in May offered a graphic illustration of the fact that Councils are not self perpetuating hierarchic medium sized businesses but a forum of democratically elected Councillors all doing their best for their communities.
The Coalition direction of travel will be determined by what we heard on the doorstep.
One thing we encountered was a frustration that many Councillors were limited in what they could do because of a top down decision making structure.
Consequently, the Cabinet is initiating a constitutional review that we intend will lead to a committee based system of decision making.
You will see from your agendae that Cllr Baldock will lead on this but he is most anxious that PDRC plays a real and significant part in this process.
An enhanced and credible role for PDRC is one of three immediate signs of a change in style. A second concerns the role of Scrutiny, which is a vital part of a Cabinet led system for as long as it lasts.
It was an egregious failing of the previous administration that the Chair of Scrutiny was denied to any of the opposition parties and we are righting this wrong immediately so that a Conservative can Chair Scrutiny.
Thirdly, there will be a change at Full Council meetings. The elongated grandstanding circus around the Leader’s statement is going to stop. It reached an ultimate depth when an answer given to a reasonable question was “if Labour ever get in control Swale will be turned into Venezuela”. In future there will be a verbal statement from the Leader, a response from the Leader of the Opposition and then, hopefully, we can move on to serious and constructive motions from around the Council.
Another concern amongst voters was reflected in repeated references to the poor ratio of GPs to patients in Swale. This spoke to a wider concern about inequalities and deprivation, equally underlined by levels of child poverty.
A number of portfolio holders will be working to reverse this trend
- Cllrs Ben Martin and Whelan will lead on a drive to reduce homelessness and to provide more social and affordable housing
- Cllrs Harrison and Perkin will give Swale council a higher profile in public health
- Cllrs Palmer and Saunders will be strengthening our local communities, making them safer and more inclusive
- And Cllrs Bonney and Sarah Stevens will be working for a local economy that makes employment for local people better paid, more stable and more rewarding
Planning and the Environment naturally were key election issues.
- Cllrs Baldock and Gould will conduct a radical review of our Local Plan- housing allocations of course but also design, landscape protection, meeting real local need not developer aspiration and providing infrastructure
- AND Cllrs Valentine and Eddie Thomas will be improving our environmental services, such as street cleaning, but also seeking to reflect so many local people’s real concerns about our global environment
Finally, whatever we do, Cllr Carnell and I will be making sure that it is within a sound fiscal framework. In this context there are two risks to accommodate. First is the continuing uncertainty about Government support to local government. The second is the investment viability around the Sittingbourne Town Centre which, more than ever, I hope is sound but about which I remain exceedingly cautious.
Can I say personally, I am glad of the change, of course I am. But the past is the past. It’s another country as is unfathomable path of Westminster politics. Let’s concentrate on going forward with robust debate but not vindictiveness. Let’s build on what is sound and innovate to improve the lives of our people in Swale.