Voice of the Leader: February

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, Conservative Leader of Medway Council.

Alan Jarrett

A belated Happy New Year to all readers of The Political Medway. In particular well done to Ed and Steve for keeping this blog going, thereby providing a platform for all things political in Medway.

It has been three months since my last contribution to this blog, and what a three months it has been! This presents me with a good opportunity to reflect on a decision I made in 2019 when Conservative Party members had the chance to choose a new Party leader.

I voted for Boris Johnson for two reasons: firstly that he was the most likely candidate to Get Brexit Done; secondly he was the man most likely to beat Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in any upcoming General Election. Boris won the election for Leader of the Conservative Party comfortably, and I was subsequently proven correct on both counts.

After three and half years of dither and delay we did indeed Get Brexit Done. I feel proud that by voting for and promoting Brexit I have done my small part in once again making this wonderful country of ours a free and independent nation. We remain proud of our history, and now more optimistic for our future.

But getting Brexit done was only achievable if there was a majority Conservative government. Thankfully this came to pass on 12th December when the left-wing madness of Corbyn was irreparably smashed at the polls. 

Seats hitherto seen as unwinnable in and through Labour’s fabled northern ‘red wall’ fell one after another as people voted for sanity over madness, and voted for a free country rather than one under the yoke of the increasingly federal European Union. It was for us a happy night – smashing a Maxist scheme and ensuring that Brexit would indeed get done.

Now the hard work begins. To turn our European exit into a meaningful and tenable future relationship with our erstwhile masters will not be easy. But Boris defied all commentators when they said the Brexit deal would not be reopened; when they said Brexit would not get done; and when they said he would not win a general election.

In Medway our three MPs Rehman Chishti, Tracey Crouch and Kelly Tolhurst achieved hugely increased majorities. Well done to all of them. Add those results to our big victory in the May Medway Council elections and it is plain to see that the people of Medway are happy with the service and representation with which they are provided by elected Conservatives.

Eventually leaving the EU at 11pm UK time on 31st January was a joyful occasion for me. Being one of 120 Conservatives sharing a common joy that evening was one which will stay long in the memory.

It is not often that we get to witness in such a definitive manner history being made; a totemic moment that will affect our country and its people, and indeed the world. Of course the ‘flat-earthers’ will continue to carp and complain, but we move on.

In Medway the last three months have been hectic. We have continued to grapple with the fallout from our Inadequate Ofsted rating for Children’s Services, and we have responded in a positive way.

We have taken a number of steps which have been occurring in parallel. We have employed two top class interim senior managers to oversee service improvements; we have augmented the Children’s Services budget in response to burgeoning numbers and the shortage of permanent social workers and other staff; we have in place an Improvement Board, made up of Medway Council and its partners, all of whom share a responsibility for giving our children the best possible start in life.

Crucially, additional training for elected Members is scheduled, in order to ensure that we are best equipped as corporate parents going forward.

We are recruiting more permanent staff, not least to eventually replace the interim staff currently employed. We are carrying out a restructure of not just Children’s Services staff, but more widely across Medway Council to ensure that we have a structure that will work best for the times in which we find ourselves.

That structure will include how we continue to deal with our monumental regeneration programme, which has just got larger with the additional of the £170,000,000 Housing Infrastructure Fund money to provide the infrastructure needed to facilitate additional housing principally in the Hoo area.

A major piece of work during this period is the requirement by the Boundary Commission for us to review our political structures, and with that how many elected Members we have going forward. These changes will take effect in the 2023 election.

So far Members have agreed on a cross-party basis to an increase from the current 55 members to 59. This is in response to considerable projected population growth, whilst trying to balance the public:Member ratio at a manageable level. Currently the ratio is approximately 3,600:1.

Then of course there is the creation of the budget for 2021/2022. This is always a tough process, but once again we will be bringing forward financial proposals that will ensure the continuation of service delivery as we know it in Medway. 

Council tax will rise again: firstly to ensure sufficient funding for our services; secondly by an increase in the social care precept to fund our elderly services; thirdly by an increase in the police and other precepts. Despite all of that we still have the lowest council tax in Kent, and by a significant margin.

Looking ahead to the rest of this month of course we have the Council budget meeting on 20th February. This is also apparently the day that Cllr Naushabah Khan celebrates her –th birthday. I can’t think of any better way to spend a birthday evening than listening to budget speeches long into the night! 

It will certainly be a happy day for Medway residents as they find out about the positive things to come in Medway during the years ahead!

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

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