World Environment Day: its theme and relevance to Medway

Ahead of World Environment Day tomorrow, Steve Dyke tells us why we should all be more worried about the levels of air pollution in Medway..

I think it is a reasonable guess that many reading this will not have heard of ‘World Environment Day’, coming up on June 5th. This United Nations led event, held annually since 1974, is intended to encourage both global awareness of our environment and action being taken to protect it. The idea is that people commit to doing something to help take care of our planet, either individually or as part of a group. Each year thousands of related organised activities take place all over the world. Sadly so far I have found no evidence of Medway Council promoting it or seen any advertised public events linked to it taking place locally.

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On being a councillor as a working mother

Is being a local councillor compatible with being a working mother? This is a question I get asked a lot along with “why on earth would you want to be a local councillor?” and “how could you be a Tory?”

And the truth is that it is extremely hard to be a working mum and a councillor. It’s hard because you have a full-time job on top of being a councillor and most people tend to forget that, and it’s hard because – let’s face it – misogyny is still prevalent. As for being a Tory, well suffice it to say that the current Conservative Party is most certainly no longer in line with my core beliefs and that’s without even mentioning the “B” word.

I decided to run for local election because I believed that my professional expertise could be put to good use. I wanted to give back to my community by using my skills. I wanted to help people improve their lives by providing a link to an authority they are often too distanced from, or don’t understand the dealings of. I naively believed that I would be taken seriously having spent over 15 years working for large multinational corporations, that my voice once elected would be equal to that of all the other elected councillors. But most naively of all, I believed that we would focus our time, effort and attention to local issues and would focus on what was best for Medway and Medway’s residents. Suffice it to be said that this was not the case.

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It takes a village

In which Vicki Sigston looks at how much support exists for families in Medway in those vital early years..

Did you know that May 15th was the International Day of Families? It was first celebrated in 1994 by the United Nations who wanted the opportunity to reflect and celebrate the importance of families, communities and societies around the world.

As an antenatal practitioner I have been lucky enough to be a tiny part of the journey into parenthood for hundreds of families. It is a real privilege to watch them traverse the magical, and often tricky path that comes when extending a family unit.

As a society though, I think we are letting families down.

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iFAQ: The next four years

As we move beyond the recent local elections, we start to look ahead to the coming four years on Medway Council. We contacted all re-elected councillors to ask them what they think the priorities for the authority should be going forwards, along with the biggest issues facing their wards.

As usual, we told all of them that we would publish their responses unedited. You can find them below in the order they were received.

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Huguenot or Huguewilling

In which Chris Sams remembers when Rochester once accepted religious refugees from a hostile country with open arms, yet at the same time treated them with the suspicions and xenophobia..

In the sixteenth century Europe was rocked by a religious ‘schism’ which was started by the German monk Martin Luther and the English King Henry VIII. This of course was the rise of Protestantism and the separation from the Catholic Church. This has caused ruptures in different countries for hundreds of years, which we are still feeling the after effects now, especially in Northern Ireland. It was only recently that an age old law banning Catholics from being Prime Minister was lifted.

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Being Green

In which Steve Dyke tells us what our Green MEP has been up to in the European Parliament..

Thanks in part to the fairer voting system of proportional representation, since 1999 the Medway Towns have had the good fortune to be represented by a Green Party Member of the European Parliament (‘MEP’). This is as part of the South East England constituency and our elected members have been Caroline Lucas and, since she became an MP at Westminster, Keith Taylor. Keith is retiring at the imminent unplanned election but I am confident that there will be continue to be a Green representative for the South East after May 23rd (Alex Phillips, a Green councillor from Brighton & Hove is our lead candidate). There are also Green MEPs currently representing London and the South West.

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The ghost of European elections future

Once a month we hand over to Alan Collins from Medway Elects who digs into the Medway electoral data to try to tell us what it all means. This month we sent him the fun task of looking at data from previous European elections..

Just when you thought it was safe to open the mail without fearing a party political begging letter from the [insert name here] party, fresh off the close of #MedwayElects19, you are now likely to instead be bombarded with campaign literature for the elections no one gives a fig about – and if the politicians in Westminster had pulled their fingers out (or something) wouldn’t be taking place.

So in the spirit of getting everyone excited for #MedwayElects19version2 (other hashtags are available), Jennings and Keevil have pulled me out of data analysis retirement to look at the ghost of European elections past.

Strap in!

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Voice of the Leader: May

Once a month we offer a platform to the leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition. Today, we have the latest column from Cllr Alan Jarrett, Leader of Medway Council.

Alan Jarrett

This month I really must start with the results of the recent local elections in Medway on 2nd May.

Despite the highly amusing opening line on another website – “…with both sides claiming victory…”; together with the Leader of the Labour Party on his recent visit to Medway congratulating Medway Labour on victory the result is not in doubt.

Conservative 33; Labour 20; Independents 2. That is an emphatic Conservative victory, and allows us to go into the next four years with a very healthy 11-seat majority.

I write this not to be triumphalist, but to put the record straight following those woefully inaccurate comments.

At the Conservative Group AGM last week I was honoured to be re-elected Leader of our Group. The way ahead is now clear.

The next election for Medway residents to consider will be the European Election. If ever there was an election that should never be this is it! European elections are notoriously poorly supported, and this one will be no exception.

However there are a lot of angry people out there, and it would not surprise me if the turnout is higher than normal. The other thing which is widely predicted is that both main parties will get a drubbing at the ballot box, due to their collective inability to honour the result of the 2016 Referendum.

The sadness is that those parties which are standing in the election with the stated aim of stopping Brexit – deliberately promising to thwart the will of 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU – will gain votes quite possibly at the expense of those who are trying to deliver the referendum result.

It’s interesting to hear on both television and radio those who have won seats for minority parties saying that Brexit had no bearing on the local election results across the county. Rubbish!

Those of us who worked so hard in Medway know full well that there was a real groundswell of dissatisfaction among Conservative voters, and there is no doubt in my mind that but for that our victory would have been even greater.

May 23rd will come around soon enough, and then we will know how the good people of Medway (63% of whom voted to leave the EU) have reacted to their wishes being ignored.

Politicians play a dangerous game if they fail to honour a manifesto on which they have been elected. The difference between Conservative and Labour manifestos recently was palpable.

Medway Council budget and the Conservative manifesto align. That manifesto will cost £297 million in the first year to deliver, and everything is on place to do so. The least said about the Labour manifesto the better!

Post local elections it is now time to concentrate on the four years ahead. I remember being asked by a journalist at the election count once the result was clear what we would do next. My answer was unambiguous in that we will continue the work we have been doing.

That for me is taken as read, but we will enhance service delivery where ever we can. There are challenges ahead – not least the continuing shortage of money.

But we have the experience and the competence to make the best of what we have, and also the influence at governmental level to at least make our case for additional resources.

Most recently, thanks to the help of our three excellent MPs I have had three meetings with Ministers. Secretary of State for Health over the stroke unit at Medway Hospital; the Housing Minister about our Local Plan and housing delivery; and the Transport Minister about funding for the Medway Tunnel.

In each case we had useful meetings with some guidance about how to proceed. Only the future will demonstrate whether anything tangible comes from these meetings, but we have to keep putting Medway’s case.

Over the months ahead Medway will be seeing more ongoing change: our regeneration projects in Chatham, Strood, Gillingham, and at Rochester Airport will be further advanced. Those projects are going to pave the way for more homes, more road improvements and more jobs. What’s not to like about those?

Apart from money the biggest challenge confronting us is housing. This takes many forms, and we will be debating this over the months and years ahead.

For me the essentials are these: getting in place that new Local Plan, with part of that being informed by whether or not our Housing Infrastructure Fund bid of £170 million is successful; ensuring we have the right type of housing in the right place; and working even harder to reduce the number of rough sleepers on our streets to the absolute minimum.

Homelessness is a major problem for us to grapple with, but rough sleeping is the first priority in tackling this problem. Fortunately government has come up with over £900,000 over last year and this, and this money will certainly help.

As I wrote before the election these are among our priorities: ensuring we have the lowest council tax in Kent; retaining the best waste collection service in Kent, and indeed one of the best in the whole country; better roads than the rest of Kent; and retaining our libraries and community hubs as well as our excellent leisure offer.

On the people side of things to ensure that our vulnerable children and adults are being cared for, and that our education offer continues to improve. The demand for more Grammar school places is a high priority, as is ensuring sufficient places for SEN children. Both these are not without problems, but the job of running a large council is to recognise and then solve those problems.

Regeneration is not just about bricks and mortar. Yes, it is about building but it is also about creating a Medway that offers more jobs, prosperity and opportunity for all. That is why our ‘growth for all’ agenda is going to be vital over the next four years.

Alan Jarrett is the leader of Medway Council, leader of the Medway Conservative group, and councillor for Lordswood and Capstone.

A Lib Dem view on a Labour Launch

In which Jasneet Samrai of the Liberal Democrats offers her view of Labour’s Medway manifesto launch and makes the case for her party ahead of the European elections..

Jeremy Corbyn launched his manifesto here. But Medway should ‘Demand Better.’

On Thursday, Corbyn launched the Labour manifesto for the Euro Elections on the University of Kent campus. But Medway deserves better than this. We should therefore demand it.

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