Voice of the Opposition: February

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.

Despite the excellent efforts of the Political Medway website and our own Medway Labour Facebook Live feeds, it is difficult for those who are interested to see everything that is going on at Medway Council. I want to highlight a few issues which Medway Labour councillors have been raising over the past few weeks:

One committee which is often overlooked but is very important within the council is Employment Matters – this is where the role of Medway Council as an employer is looked at.

Back in December, on a cross party basis, it was agreed that there would be a long overdue independent review of the performance related pay scheme Medpay.  Since it was introduced, the Labour Group and the trade unions which are recognised by Medway Council (primarily GMB, Unite and Unison) have consistently raised concerns about Medpay – that it may be discriminatory, divisive and not the best way to reward hard working council officers.

The decision in December was welcomed by all. Having seen the principle of the review agreed, Medway Council’s HR professionals liaised with local trade union reps to look at the scope of the independent review. This came in a report to the January Employment Matters committee and despite voting for the review to be done in December, in January bizarrely the Tories on Employment Matters voted against it.

This would be bad enough, but literally the following report at the meeting highlighted that the gender pay gap at Medway Council has got worse over the last 12 months – more reason than ever to review their Medpay system.  

Ultimately, this strange behaviour by Tory Councillors shows they have no regard whatsoever for things like tackling the issue of the gender pay gap. By their actions of saying they want a review and then voting against it, they are actually placing the council at greater risk of legal action on the issue of equal pay which will be a huge cost to the taxpayers of Medway.

It wasn’t just Employment Matters Committee where the Tories’ decision making is questionable at best. At the last full council meeting, three logical motions were submitted by the Labour Group with all three being voted against by the Tory Councillors.

Naushabah Khan moved, seconded by Nick Bowler, a very sensible motion regarding the flawed and outdated section 21 process needing reform.  In case you haven’t heard of section 21 – this is the part of the Housing Act which effectively gives Landlords the ability to evict without giving a reason. Once again, Medway Tories voted against it.  It was interesting to note how many Tory Councillors had to leave the room as they were private landlords.

Alongside the housing motion, Medway Labour also proposed that Medway signs up to the Modern Slavery Charter as promoted by the Co-operative Party. This would put Medway alongside dozens of other councils, of various party political leaderships, sending a clear message that Modern Day Slavery is not acceptable. The motion, which was proposed by Dan McDonald and seconded by Alex Paterson, was not supported by Tory councillors which sends a worrying message that somehow they tolerate Modern Day Slavery.

This is particularly galling as a number of Tory Councillors were quite happy to pose for photos with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby when he recently visited Medway but still didn’t vote to support signing up to the Modern Slavery Charter despite that being the main issue the Archbishop spoke about at Rochester Cathedral.

The final motion the Tories voted against was a further call for Medway Council to prepare for Brexit, which I was pleased to move and which was seconded by Clive Johnson.

Whether you voted leave or remain, the reality is that we are now less than 60 days away from the March 29th deadline when we are due to leave the European Union.  We know that here in Medway, sectors like agriculture and tourism are critical to our local economy.  

For some time, it is Medway Labour who have been calling on the council to make appropriate preparations for key areas for our community, and to publish these plans. Dozens of councils, of all tiers of local government, have produced similar documents but the leadership of the unitary authority which is slap bang between the capital city and English Channel, refuses to do so. This is despite a cross party recommendation to cabinet to carry out that work.  

Since the council meeting, central government has announced that Medway will receive over £200,000 to prepare for Brexit – it will be utterly hypocritical of Alan Jarrett and his cabinet to spend that money having buried their collective heads in the sand about preparing for Brexit.

I want to finally touch on the fight for the stroke service which is critical to the future health and wellbeing of both the population of Medway and also our hospital.  As I’ve said previously, if you accept the concept of “Centres of Excellence” in any aspect of public service delivery, there will be occasions where the evidence suggests that your area may not be the best option available to base any centre of that nature.

In the case of the stroke service that is simply not the case, the evidence is very clear that Medway should undoubtedly be one of the sites for this service. I pay tribute to Medway Labour’s Deputy Leader Teresa Murray for being at the forefront of the fight to defend against this cut in service, working on a cross party basis with Councillors and officers.  The CCG have got this wrong, plain and simple, and in my view this decision ultimately could cost lives.

There are limited options as to the next steps to fight against this proposal, some of which will come at a cost to Medway taxpayers, but rest assured Medway Labour Councillors will support those moving forward as we must do all we can to defend our NHS here in Medway.

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

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