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Voice of the Leader
Medway Council Leader Vince Maple on honest hope, Medway's finances and what his administration has achieved so far
At the turn of the decade, we used to run Voice of the Leader and Voice of the Opposition columns on our old The Political Medway website. With a new look Medway Council, a new leader, and a new opposition, we decided it was time to bring it back. Every quarter, Medway Council Leader Vince Maple and Conservative Leader of the Opposition Adrian Gulvin will write an exclusive column for Local Authority.
Today, we welcome Vince Maple’s column, and we’ll be publishing Adrian Gulvin’s piece tomorrow.
Voice of the Leader
by Vince Maple, Leader of Medway Council
Let me start by echoing Mayor Gurung’s announcement at full council in formally offering my congratulations to Local Authority on winning two prestigious awards at the recent Kent Press & Broadcast Awards. Having something which is not only holding elected representatives to account and tries to demystify the planning system (without any reference to Beware of the Leopard signs) but also highlights what is going on around Medway, where we have our town names used elsewhere in the world, publishing interesting and insightful interviews with the people that make Medway the great place it is, organising hustings and Question Time events and so much more – the fact you are reading this probably means you agree with the awards panel decisions!
We held the first council meeting since the May elections earlier in July. The very first public question I was asked as the new council leader was on the issue of the new Labour & Co-operative administration bringing hope to Medway. I used a phrase which was we would bring “honest hope” – and understandably people have asked what does that mean?
In simple terms, it is a recognition of the terrible financial situation we have inherited from the previous Conservative administration.
We have already been getting on with some amazing things in our first 60 days (more on that later), but we know that the outturn from last year’s budget using £11 million of reserves means that the council is at the minimum recommended level of general reserves and the budget pressures have increased over previous years due to a lack of getting a grip and frankly taking the challenging decisions which would have put the council in a more financially secure position than it is right now.
We will bring financial stability back to Medway Council but I know it will mean having to take the tough decisions the Conservatives failed to do. Not doing so would be a failure of duty.
Of course, one way to help our financial situation would be if Michael Gove’s government department hadn’t withdrawn £170 million of investment into Medway. This was a deeply disappointing decision and one which will have impacts on the much-needed planned infrastructure. The Labour & Co-operative administration remains absolutely committed to delivering a Local Plan for Medway, something that the previous administration failed to do for 20 years.
Be under no illusion that this decision will stop housebuilding – it won’t. It will mean that the level of infrastructure will not be where we would want it to be and we have already seen a number of sites across Medway granted planning permission on appeal with the lack of an up-to-date Local Plan often being referenced.
As I write this, we are currently being inspected by OFSTED for our Local Authority Children Services (known as an ILACS inspection). The service was not where it should have been in 2019 and it received the lowest rating of inadequate. Over the past four years in my view progress has been made and I pay tribute to both Josie Iles and Clive Johnson for the roles they played in that. I believe we now have a strong officer team leading us through the Medway journey. However, there remains work to be done in this area and Medway isn’t immune to some national challenges around the issue of recruitment and retention of social workers. We await the outcomes of the inspection which will be published later in the year.
There has started to be a conversation on the matter of devolution and the potential for a Mayor of Kent and Medway. I want there to be a positive working relationship between Medway and Kent - on some key issues it is important, for example, climate change doesn’t start or finish at Blue Bell Hill or Higham. Be in no doubt I am an advocate for devolution, but the mayoral model is not the right one for Kent and Medway. On the thousands and thousands of doors knocked on in the May election, not one resident said they wanted another elected representative at this time.
On the 10th July, I was proud to sign the One Medway Charter, a bringing together of eight anchor organisations who already do so much for our community. The charter recognises the partnership working which already exists and commits to enhancing that further. I’ve no doubt we will see more organisations looking to be part of this as we move forward. My long-term vision is to have a One Medway Masterplan which will sit with all of the individual plans the eight organisations have or will be bringing forward.
I mentioned earlier that we have been getting on with positive change and delivering for Medway in the first 60 days and I was pleased at full council to highlight just some of those important things:
Bringing forward the GP Task Group recommendations
Signing the Federation of Small Businesses Local Leadership Pledge
Starting to tackle the excessive use of consultants and locums in many council departments
Working to improve air quality and safety around schools
Flying the Armed Forces Flag
Flying the Pride Flag
Flying eight green flags
Welcomed thousands to Armed Forces Day, the Lit Fest, Chatham Carnival and many more community events
Taking on the rogue landlords across Medway
Continue the journey to deliver a much-needed healthy living centre in the Pentagon
Sorting out the Governance at our Council owned businesses and joint venture
Started meetings with our three current MPs
Organising regular meetings with both opposition group leaders
Delivered a Cost of Living Plan which will put money into the pockets of Medway residents
Increased the school travel support for families with SEND
Strengthen the voice of Corporate Parenting
Ensuring voices from all five town centres on Town Centres Board
Enhancing community engagement and involvement in tackling the climate emergency
Created One Minute Medway
I’m proud of the start this new administration has made and I know that moving forward there will be challenging decisions to make but we approach those with values that we said a Labour & Co-operative administration would have - honesty, integrity, accountability and compassion.
Cllr Vince Maple is the Leader of Medway Council and Labour councillor for Chatham Central and Brompton.