Voice of the Leader
Medway Council Leader Vince Maple on the Household Support Fund, work at the Pentagon, councillor pay, and more
Every quarter, Medway Council Leader Vince Maple and Conservative Leader of the Opposition Adrian Gulvin 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
Welcome to the first Voice of the Leader column of 2024 and I wish all Local Authority readers a Happy New Year.
Recently we had the first full council meeting of the year. Before we get to the key political decisions, I wanted to highlight a few positive things which took place during the evening.
Before the formal meeting, there was a playing of “An Ever Flowing River” which was the Medway song created as part of the Kent Album Project, songs created by learning disabled, autistic and neurodivergent young people. Adam Price and I were lucky enough to be at the album launch in November and I was pleased to make sure all those present at St George’s Centre could hear the track – you can listen to it here:
It was great to welcome back Jan Aldous to present cheques to her mayoral charities, Parkinson’s UK and Hands Gillingham. This would normally have taken place in the mayoral parlour but like most of Gun Wharf, this is currently out of action.
I was also pleased to announce a letter of friendship between Medway and Pokhara, which is the home city of our brilliant Mayor Nina Gurung. This is just a couple of weeks after the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship between the UK and Nepal.
Moving onto the business of the meeting, it was positive to have supplementary questions for the public questions section of the agenda. I’ve already had one public questioner who has emailed to say, “Thank you, it was a positive change.” I said back in May we would be more open and transparent, and whether it is the return of supplementary questions, the creation of both One Minute Medway and Medway Matters Live and increased levels of consultation we have made large strides in this area.
After some positive cross-party discussion, we also trialled a number of changes to the full council process to look to make the meeting more effective. This meant we not only finished before midnight despite the packed agenda, but it also ensured that those items for purely noting were taken at the end of the meeting.
I was pleased to see unanimous support for Tracy Coombs’ motion on the Household Support Fund (HSF) being continued. As I write this, there are just eight weeks before that fund is due to finish. It was introduced during covid and has meant tens of thousands of positive interventions, whether that was specific help for pensioners, assisting with free school meals during school holidays or helping individuals and families who are perhaps requiring support for the first time.
A lot of this work has been done in partnership with Medway’s voluntary sector organisations. The letter calling for this to be continued has now gone to Jeremy Hunt – I hope he will listen carefully to Medway Council as well as many other councils across the country who are also making representations to save the HSF.
The HSF was just one element of our cost of living plan which we brought forward in the first 100 days of our administration – you can see the plan here - and I would encourage you to share it widely to make sure everyone is aware of it.
We also moved forward on a couple of key infrastructure projects, ensuring that we continue to work towards delivering both a modern co-working space and much needed health provision in the Pentagon Centre – that is a much better solution than the short-sighted and flawed suggestion from Kelly Tolhurst MP to knock down the Pentagon.
Every four years the council has to look at the allowances that councillors receive. This is always a very awkward report as ultimately, although the work is done by an independent panel, councillors end up voting on how much they all receive. Due to the well-documented financial pressures Medway Council is currently under, it was the right thing that our administration didn’t bring forward proposed increases for Cabinet members and Chairs of Overview & Scrutiny that the independent panel had recommended.
As the report also stated: “The Panel concluded that the current level of the Leader’s SRA does not adequately reflect the level and complexity of work involved and recommends a sum that more adequately reflects the complexity of the role.” Again, despite this independent recommendation, there was no change in the Leader’s SRA which is the right approach in these challenging financial times.
Council also considered a report on polling districts and polling stations which will come into effect for the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) on May 2nd – we have reduced the number of schools being used as polling stations from 17 to 10 with some of those 10 being able to ensure the school remains fully functional whilst also allowing for democracy to take place. The long-term ambition remains to get to a point where no child misses school because of an election or referendum taking place.
Several polling stations have now changed so keep an eye on your polling card when it arrives to confirm where you can vote for your preferred PCC Candidate – I’ll be voting for the excellent Lenny Rolles.
The next council meeting on February 29th will be where we set the first budget for our Labour & Co-operative administration.
I have no doubt this will be the most challenging meeting I’ve ever participated in on Medway Council. The backdrop of the financial challenges we inherited from the previous administration alongside the 91% cut in revenue support grant since 2010 will mean some of the most difficult decisions for our council and indeed our community.
Cllr Vince Maple is the Leader of Medway Council and Labour councillor for Chatham Central and Brompton.