John's Jottings for June 2003

John Ward

Please note: these Jottings are purely personal comment, and do not necessarily or directly represent the policy of either the Conservative Party or the Conservative Group on Medway Council.

What comes next?

Okay, so the local election is well and truly over for another few years, and the Conservatives gained overall control of Medway Council. Fine, super, smashing...

Yes, but what happens now?

It is very easy to sit back and relax at this point, but to effect change we really needed to hit the ground running, and this is exactly what we did. A matter of hours after the final result in the local election was announced—around three o'clock on the Friday morning—a number of steps were taken to begin a sea-change within the Council. Many of these were to do with budgets and protecting the Council's front-line services, so Deputy Leader Cllr Alan Jarrett got the job of initiating these actions.

Oh, and as promised we put a stop to all officer actions on Rochester Airport: that green space can at last be saved from the threat of built development.

The structure of the various committees that act as checks and balances for the administration's activities has been altered quite a lot, and the overview and scrutiny committees (now reduced to just four, with no so-called co-ordinating committee, which had no real function anyway) will now genuinely be working for the people of Medway rather than against them in some political game that was far more interested in gaining party political Brownie points than in being of benefit to Medway.

Ideally these would still have been chaired by opposition members, but those folk have so clearly demonstrated that they are not fit to chair them that this was not sensible. I could go into great detail about the ineptitude of certain former chairmen and the abuse of their positions by others, but anyone who has been watching what has been going on will already be well aware of at least some of these.

Suffice it to say that one former chairman was no bad that he made the John Cleese training video's bit that shows how not to do it seem tame by comparison. We also saw another chairman ignore real issues that were relevant to his committee's work while placing on the agenda non-relevant items from his own ward—using the committee as an aid to his personal re-election. That same chairman would not face up to decision-making and spun all significant issues off to so-called Task Groups, but when appointed to some of those groups he never showed up for their meetings.

Yet another chairman cancelled almost half his scheduled meetings owing to "lack of business", and soon realised that his hoped-for personal power-base simply wasn't happening, so he got himself onto another committee that was more influential. The chairman of that committee was so well-known for abusing his position by speaking far more than anyone else (approximately 30% of the time—interesting for a committee of some 15 members!) that eventually someone actually raised this at a meeting, with Press and public in attendance.

So we've now seen that the change in chairmanship was the right thing to do in practice, regardless of anyone's pet theory, because it really must be the interests of the people of Medway that we elected members need to serve, not our own agendas.

For my sins I have been appointed vice-chairman of the Finance and Performance Management Overview and Scrutiny Committee, so I shall be even more closely involved with watching where your Council Tax money is going and ensuring that we are getting a top-notch performance from the Council at large. Although perfection is very unlikely, I am confident that we can raise standards across the board and send a very clear message to everyone that we are determined to do precisely that.

So, overall, the future is looking much better than it has done for several years now. One thing is certain: if it doesn't work out, the only ones to blame will (in most cases) be us, so we really do have to deliver the goods.

I think most Medway residents will be pleased with the changes that are coming...

Next time: Airports again!