Voice of the Opposition: July

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.

Today we hear from Vince Maple, leader of Medway Labour, the official opposition on Medway Council.

I’m writing this month’s Voice of the Opposition at the Local Government Association (LGA) Conference taking place this year in Bournemouth. This is an annual event which sees councillors from all political parties as well as senior council officers coming together to look at the state of the nation.

This year we will hear from people like the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney and the Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis. Alongside this hearing from senior Labour politicians including Keir Starmer who addressed the Labour Group. During the session I raised with him the issue of devolution and the need for quality jobs and skills agenda in post Brexit Medway.

The first part of the LGA Conference is hearing motions. This year there was only one, moved by Labour, on the issue of UN Sustainable Development Goals and declaration of a climate emergency.

I was pleased to vote for this recognising the unanimous support for the Labour motion at Medway Council. The Medway cross party working group will be formalised at cabinet next week and I’m looking forward to seeing activity not just words – I’m sure this will continue to be a focus of many people. Something other councils have done is hold a climate change summit – something that brings together all interested organisations and individuals to make sure actions are both ambitious and achievable.

LGA Conference is also a great opportunity to hear from other Labour colleagues in power and opposition as to what is happening in their area. I’ve been pleased to share with others the excellent motion Andy Stamp put forward on single use plastics which other councils of various political make ups have subsequently approved.

Conservative councillors are likely to be visited by Jeremy and Boris. They both seem to be falling over themselves to make leadership bid pledges, but neither want to talk about local government funding which has been hit by almost a decade of austerity. I note with interest one Medway MP is claiming to have a promise from Boris about his ludicrous airport proposal – I have to say that promise is worthless as his track record of lying and breaking promises (even those written on the side of buses) is there for all to see.

Away from the LGA, the Castle Concerts are just around the corner. Last year these concerts cost tax payers more than £300,000 – a loss which is unacceptable at any time but particularly after years of cuts to local government funding. I’m sure all Political Medway readers wish Jess Glynne a speedy recovery but regrettably this means losses are likely this year. It’s worth noting that the council didn’t give a response to Dean Kilpatrick, Local Democracy Reporter, when he asked legitimate questions on the ticket sales for the Castle Concerts.

The Medway Labour and Co-operative team have been consistent on our position – we are supportive of the principal of the Castle Concerts but we are not supportive of losing hundreds of thousands of pounds. We firmly believe that corporate sponsorship, in line with the council’s policy, could play an important role in making the Concerts financially sustainable. Regrettably the Conservative administration have so far failed to take this forward.

On social media many people continue to raise the flawed and inconsistent approach to people being able to taking their own drinks into the venue on some but not all nights. This year you are once again trusted to drink your own champagne if you are coming to the proms but not allowed your own G&T if you are listening to Heather Small – people have said they attended for years but are boycotting for a second year running for this incredibly divisive policy.

Last week was Armed Forces Week which sees communities across the country recognise current serving personnel, veterans and armed forces families. Here in Medway with our long standing links this is particularly important. It was a pleasure to be with Labour colleagues including one of our newly elected councillors Mark Prenter as we are both sons of Falkland veterans. Like many people who call Medway home, my family came here during naval service in the early 80s and chose to put roots here. I’m pleased we will be welcoming HMS Medway here in the early Autumn once again further enhancing those links.

Finally, this month I want to focus on the recent members item bought forward by recently re-elected councillor Stephen Hubbard regarding regeneration of Strood. Nobody is principally opposed to regeneration and can often bring a wide range of benefits – however the situation in Strood where it has had some huge negative impacts, from putting residents in Kingswear Gardens at risk to impacts on health and air quality, from unacceptable gridlock to small businesses being impacted. The members item gave a strong focus on these issues and is an example of what we will continue to do, holding the administration to account and being the voice for residents, small businesses and the Medway community at large.

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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