Voice of the Opposition: December

Once a month we will be offering the Leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition the opportunity to talk unedited about.. well, Medway politics. Starting today with Vince Maple, leader of the Medway Labour Group.

I want to start by thanking Ed and Steve from the Political Medway for giving pieces of this nature a new home. Historically, the local KM paper had a weekly political column which residents would often talk about when speaking to them on the doorstep. Although I’m sure I’ll disagree with the vast majority of what Alan Jarrett will say when his pieces are published, it’s healthy for local democracy for the Leader of the Council and the Leader of the Opposition to have an accessible platform of this nature.

We are in the middle of December, a great opportunity to reflect on the positive actions Medway Labour Councillors have taken over the past year in the community we call home. It goes without saying that Labour Councillors deal with hundreds of pieces of casework to support residents in their ward on a wide variety of issues. Alongside that the Labour Group have shown true community leadership in a number of ways, working hard to deliver for the residents of Medway.

Our fantastic Deputy Leader Teresa Murray has been leading the fight to defend our Health Service. Teresa’s desire to end health inequality in Medway and between Medway and Kent has led her to forefront of many campaigns including fighting the flawed suggestion from the CCG that Medway should not be home to one of the Kent specialist stroke centres of excellence. She has also been arguing for a better deal for all those receiving social care support, and has been tirelessly chasing a large number of missing blood and other test results on behalf of residents.

Our community and regeneration spokesperson Andy Stamp has been pushing for improvements following the decisions which led to massive price hikes in Visitors Parking Permits, and talking to communities across Medway about how to improve the situation. Andy has also been at the forefront of holding MCG to account regarding their shocking management of the CCTV in Medway. Passionate about our environment, Andy has been arguing for Medway Council to scrap the false economy bulky waste collection charge, and has convinced Medway Council to become a Single Use Plastics free authority.  

With firstly Adam Price, then Clive Johnson as our Children and Young People spokes voices of young people and their parents have been amplified – whether it is dealing with the fallout of the closure of Sure Start Centres or making sure the concerns of parents with children who have Education, Care & Health Plans are getting the services they desperately need. 

Naushabah Khan as housing spokesperson has continued to argue for a sustainable solution to the housing crisis in Medway, with a detailed approach to looking to end homelessness and ultimately fighting for quality housing for all. The need for affordable housing is greater than ever, yet too many developers are getting away with not building affordable homes. Naushabah is enthusiastic about growing our local economy by ensuring that there are decent homes for the people who live and work in Medway. 

Our licensing spokesperson Dan McDonald has ensured that protections in service are in place with the new shared Licensing service.  He also been highlighting the issue of Period Poverty which impacts  women and girls across Medway; Dan hopes to convince the council to help provide free period products to school aged girls on free school meals as a starting point so that no one has to miss school due to lack of access to products.

Like licensing, planning is an important quasi-judicial matter and our planning spokesperson Nick Bowler has ensured that planning processes are fair and reasonable, and that new developments benefit Medway residents. This is a huge challenge due to the failure of the Tory administration to have an up to date local plan in place for several years.

As councillors it is our collective responsibility to ensure that tax payers are at all points getting best value for money and as our Audit Spokesperson Tristan Osborne has taken a forensic approach, asking the most difficult questions to make sure Medway Council tax payers are not being ripped off. This year Tristan has relentlessly challenged the council on their risky LOBO borrowing, which is seen by many as a ticking time bomb for local authorities.

This year has seen the 100th anniversary for some women getting the vote for the first time and Pat Cooper has taken time as part of a cross party group to ensure that not only Medway had a Votes for Women celebration but has continued to offer support and solidarity to the Medway WASPI campaigners fighting for pensions equality.

This coming May will see four of our Labour councillors retiring having had a century of service between them but they continue to work hard for local residents

Dorte Gilry has been a part of the committee which looks carefully at the issue of school transport appeals, often ensuring that families and young people can attend schools and receive the support they need recognising the high fare levels across Medway.

Julie Shaw continues to hold elected officials to account by ensuring all councillors, both for the unitary authority and the parish councils, adhere to the Nolan principles of public service in her leading role on the Councillor Conduct Committee.

There is often quite a lot of cross party working which happens away from the political rough and tumble of council meetings – a powerful example of this is the Development Plans Advisory Group looking at the future plans for Medway, Glyn Griffiths has been a long-standing member of this group bringing his strategic knowledge and expertise which is well respected by members and officers alike.

Following the national tragedy that is Grenfell, the working of the Fire and Rescue service has been under the microscope and Paul Godwin has been the Medway Labour voice fighting to ensure the service has the resources it desperately needs.

And finally although he has only been a councillor since 8th March Alex Paterson has been campaigning against the council selling off the “family silver” of the Conservancy Building as well as highlighting the flawed decision making regarding the licensing of the Castle Concerts which this year saw a £300,000 loss to tax payers.

From a personal perspective, a political highlight this year was finally seeing Government agree to the reduced stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals  – something I’ve been campaigning for changes to the law for many years. I’m eagerly anticipating April next year seeing our high streets & town centres free of the “Crack Cocaine of Gambling” which have targeted vulnerable people and ruined lives. 

I am very proud to be Labour Group Leader working alongside dedicated individuals wanting to make Medway an even better place. I know that there is much more we can do for Medway, and I hope that many more will join us on May 2nd as we put forward the case for a Medway that works for the many, not the few.

Finally, can I take this opportunity to wish all readers and contributors to the Political Medway a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Vince Maple is the leader of Medway Labour, the official opposition party on Medway Council, and councillor for Chatham Central.

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