Voice of the Leader: September

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

After a missing month, there is a lot to write about, both here in Medway and nationally.

The biggest national furor of course continues to relate to Brexit, this time the decision to prorogue Parliament with an awful lot of hysteria surrounding that. However, by standing back and sniffing the coffee we can see the prorogation relates to four days with Parliament traditionally closing down for the party conference season anyway.

As I write this there is a row within my party over voting. It is no coincidence that most of the usual suspects promising to undermine the will of the British people in the 2016 referendum have been recently fired from the government. “Hell hath no fury…….!”

There are varied views about what should done with those people who vote with the Opposition against their own party, and the threat of deselection has been mooted. Good!

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Voice of the Opposition: August

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.


So the man who wanted to build an airport in our community has now got the keys to number ten.  There are many alarming things about Boris Johnson’s election to the role of Prime Minister. His obsession with the estuary airport, a vanity project of the highest order – considering the wide variety of evidence from environmental to economic all pointed to it being a flawed concept – but it’s not just us here in North Kent he managed to dismay.  

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Voice of the Leader: July

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

So, by the time you read this we will have a new Prime Minister, and I shall be 5,000 miles away with not a thought for politics at home!

Not entirely true of course! For I shall be fervently hoping that my vote for Boris Johnson was one of many, and he now occupies 10 Downing Street.

Not that I have always been a Boris fan, and am still not in some ways. In fact in those days when as Mayor of London he sought to have a massive airport built in Medway I was anything but a fan!

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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.

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Voice of the Leader: June

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

Hmm! Tough choice to make this month: spend most of my 1,000 words whining about Medway Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committees, and who is Medway’s Mayor, or get on with discussing the things that really do have a major impact on the lives of Medway people.

May 23rd saw the Euro elections we were never supposed to have. Those elections were the electoral equivalent of having sand kicked in our faces. Like all of us the electorate does not like having sand kicked in its face, and decided to kick back.

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Voice of the Opposition: June

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.


Following the local elections around 110,000 of Medway’s residents are now directly represented by Labour. I’m proud that we increased from 15 to 20 councillors and I welcome Siju, Harinder, Simon, Jo, Hazel, John, Mark, and Chrissy, along with welcoming back Stephen to the Labour & Co-operative Group.

We didn’t get the extra few councillors we would have needed to form an administration and that is disappointing. We will continue to be a constructive opposition group; offering criticism where the administration are getting it wrong and working collectively when there is cross-party consensus, as we have seen in the battle to defend stroke services in Medway.

I wanted to take a look back at some key decisions taken at the full council meeting the week before the election, starting with the declaration of the Climate Emergency. I was proud to move this motion which received cross party support because if we don’t tackle this then realistically everything else becomes irrelevant if we have no planet left. I pay tribute to the young people who lobbied for this to be discussed, their arguments were powerful. I am genuinely hopeful that the cross party advisory group which will be set up will give an opportunity to go into some detail and listen to key community partners to make sure Medway plays it part in tackling the Climate Emergency.

Labour’s licensing spokesperson Dan McDonald, seconded by our Deputy Leader Teresa Murray, also secured cross party support to tackle the fact that Uber are not currently licensed by Medway Council and are operating here under the claim that Medway is part of London. Our local Taxi association, the MLTDA, has obtained powerful legal opinion and the passing of this motion will mean the council will obtain their own independent legal opinion on the matter. I’m clear that the issue here is that Uber are simply not playing by the same rules as our hard working taxi drivers and are likely in breach of Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, Section 46 (1).

Unfortunately other motions did not secure the same cross party support – Alex Paterson and Adam Price proposed a key motion on the issue of food justice, recognising that in Medway close to 6,000 packages of support were given by Medway Foodbank alongside help and assistance from other charities and community organisations. We are one of the richest economies in the world so to see these sorts of statistics are sickening. Sadly the Conservatives failed to grasp the nettle and have not recognised the urgency of this matter.

Moving forward, there are a number of challenges on the horizon including the ongoing state of local government finances.  Worrying for local residents is that our council had one of the highest levels of reduction in our council finance reserves, being 11th on the list (out of 426 local authorities) for emergency reserve depletion since 2015. That list shows Conservative controlled Northamptonshire County Council top of the list – this is the council which has effectively gone bankrupt, exercising very poor financial management including ignoring numerous warnings. Dwindling reserves is one of the first warning signs of financial mismanagement and it’s extremely worrying that Medway is at risk of running out of reserves in the next four years. I look forward to the Conservative administration providing some further detail and putting Medway residents at ease about Medway’s ongoing financial situation.

We have also got the very practical issues around the regeneration of Strood which has repeatedly led to absolute gridlock, causing misery for residents and businesses. Of course communities want to see positive regeneration taking place, but not when it has been so poorly handled as we have seen here including a much loved local pub, the Riverside Tavern, at risk of closure due to the negative impacts regeneration are having in that part of Strood. Stephen Hubbard will be bringing forward a members item to try and make sure things are improved and quickly.

At the next full council meeting we will be debating the issue of how the mayoralty is selected. In the grand scheme of everything that Medway Council does this is not the most important thing but it is absolutely a point of principle. At the recent elections the Conservative Party got just 34% of a 31% turnout – that doesn’t mean they have the support of 100% of residents and absolutely doesn’t give the right for the first citizen of Medway to be the gift of one political party. Some Conservative members have privately said to me and other Labour colleagues they would be supportive of returning to the points based selection model so I hope they will vote to return to it at the July full council meeting.

This sits alongside other democratic issues such as the Chairs of Overview and Scrutiny committees.  My Labour colleague, Roger Truelove, recently became the Leader of Swale Borough Council. In his maiden speech as Leader he made it clear he would be offering the Chair of Scrutiny to the Conservative Group which they accepted.  In Westminster we see people from all parties chairing Select Committees.  However here in Medway, throughout my time as a councillor, all we have ever seen is Conservative Chairs of all Overview and Scrutiny committees – this is another change which would lead to a greater level of scrutiny and something which over the next four years should be strongly considered.

I can’t finish this month’s column without recognising that by the time the next column is published we will be close to having a new Prime Minister.  Frankly after nine years of Tory austerity and the hugely negative impact that has had on our communities the way I would like to be selecting a new prime minister is with a General Election and the person going through the front door at number ten being Jeremy Corbyn, but regrettably I recognise that it will only be Conservative Party members who will be selecting at this stage.

It is not for me to interfere in the “personal grief” of a selection process for another political party but I would respectfully remind all readers of The Political Medway that one candidate spent years attempting to singlehandedly create an Estuary Airport which would have been bad for Medway, bad for the environment and bad for UK PLC.  He had utter disrespect for Medway, repeatedly ignoring the cross party and community campaign and attempting to press on with his completely ludicrous idea. On KMTV’s Paul on Politics show I was asked who would be the next Tory Leader – my answer was simple A.B.B – Anyone But Boris.

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

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.

Voice of the Leader: April

Once a month we are offering the Leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition the opportunity to talk unedited about.. well, Medway politics. Today we hear from Alan Jarrett, Leader of Medway Council and the Conservative Group.

Alan Jarrett

‘Going forward I promise that we will protect Medway from those who seek to close down facilities and services; against those who belittle Medway and its hard-working people; and against those who snub our military heritage and insult our monarchy.’

The place to start this month is surely Brexit (scream!). Between them our national politicians have brought shame on an ancient profession, by their collective refusal to honour the will of the people – in Medway 63% voted to leave.

That wasn’t to nearly leave; or sort of leave; or be asked to vote again on what was supposed to be a once in a generation vote. THAT WAS TO LEAVE!

I admit that my own party has not covered itself in glory, and the negotiations to leave have been very poorly handled. But when it comes to it the political game-playing by the Labour Party in parliament is the reason we are in yet another extension, and the reason we look almost certain to have to endure the charade of European elections!

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Voice of the Opposition: April

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.


They often say that a week is a long time in politics – that can certainly be true, but if a week is a long time then seven years is almost a lifetime!

Seven years ago, back in 2012, was the first time I raised concerns around Fixed Odds Betting Terminals or FOBTs at overview and scrutiny.

What then followed was a long campaign which I was proud to play a part in. That campaigning has led this week to the change in law taking place, removing the ability for people to gamble £100 every 20 seconds in our high streets and town centres. It was the high stakes, quick speed of the product which led many to calling it the “crack cocaine of gambling”. I’ve heard from many individuals who have lost their home, their job, and their family as a result of these machines.

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