Voice of the Opposition
Opposition Leader Cllr Adrian Gulvin on the Rainham red route, the Pentagon, car parking, and more
Every quarter, we publish exclusive columns from Medway Council Leader Vince Maple and Conservative Leader of the Opposition Adrian Gulvin. Today, we welcome Adrian Gulvin’s column following Cllr Maple’s column yesterday.
Voice of the Opposition
by Cllr Adrian Gulvin, Conservative Leader of the Opposition at Medway Council
At the recent Full Council (Wednesday 24th January), the Conservative Group were able to support many of the items on the agenda, as we want to be a positive and constructive opposition, not just opposing for the sake of it.
We supported the extra funding for the new Healthy Living Centre that is proposed for the first floor of the Pentagon. This extra funding is needed in order to cover the increase in building costs since the project was costed two years ago. The new facility will be a win-win for Medway: Chatham gets a new up to date medical centre, and the extra footfall in the Pentagon will boost trade in the town centre. The only problem with the project is that the Health Service are dragging their feet with signing the agreement to proceed, and they are proving to be an unreliable partner. Further delay will result in higher costs, both for the project and also for Medway Council taxpayers who are bearing the cost of the delays.
We could also agree on the purchase of homes to provide temporary accommodation for homeless families in Medway. In the medium term, it will be far cheaper than renting or leasing properties for this, and in the longer term, the Council will own assets that will increase in value and could be sold at a profit if no longer required as temporary accommodation. I do hope that these properties will be here in Medway. It would be highly hypocritical of the Council to buy property outside of Medway after we have criticised London councils purchasing properties here in Medway. We must also remember that it's not good for people to be rehoused away from their friends, families and local connections.
Another issue we could agree on was to not accept the Independent Remuneration Panel report on Member’s Allowances. At a time when the Council's finances are under great pressure, and families in Medway are struggling due to high inflation, it is not right for Cabinet members to have a pay rise, even though the Panel did acknowledge that the workload had increased substantially in the past few years.
We were also willing to support the Labour motion to the Council asking that the Council write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer asking him to confirm the long-term future of the Household Support Fund. In fact, as Leader of the Opposition, I seconded the motion and made the suggestion, which was accepted, that the letter not only be signed by the Council's Chief Executive but also by the Leader of the Council and the leaders of the opposition groups, in order to show that this was supported by the whole of the Council. This fund has been able to help many families here in Medway, so it is important that the Government funding is continued after April.
One area in which there is no agreement is over the imposition by Labour of the very appropriately named red route in Rainham, despite the overwhelming opposition of local residents and traders. Cllr Gary Hackwell submitted a very reasonable motion to the Council, asking for the evidence to back up the case for having the red route imposed on Rainham. This was voted down by Labour, showing the weakness of their case, and also their contempt for local views.
Outside of Council meetings, we are being drip-fed Labour's ideas on how to close the Council's budget gap. The latest are to sell two small car parks, one in Union Place in Chatham and the other, Temple Car Park and Yard, Strood. These together will sell for only three or four hundred thousand pounds at the most. The Conservative Group called in the Cabinet item authorising this sale, in order that the business case could be examined. Needless to say, no business case emerged and the call-in was voted down by the Labour members.
Another brilliant Labour idea is to scrap the proposed public facility accessed by an outside lift on top of Mountbatten House. This is a great shame, as the view from up there is simply stunning, and it would have been a wonderful place to go for refreshments. Labour though, have a track record of not wanting to make the best use of Mountbatten House. When the proposal for its refurbishment went to the Planning Committee, every one of the Labour members voted against it.
Another money-making exercise is to charge for parking at our County Parks (Capstone and Riverside). This had been suggested by Council officers in the past and turned down by the Conservative-run Council. We thought it was important that families should be encouraged to use the parks for exercise and fresh air, and also contributing to making Medway a child-friendly place to live.
Adding all these ideas to the money saved by scrapping the Christmas lights and free parking on Mondays, Labour have only come up with ideas to save only four or five hundred thousand pounds. With the budget gap still standing at over £12m, they are relying on Council officers to bail them out. With only four months to go to the end of the financial year, they are running out of time, as well as running out of ideas.
Cllr Adrian Gulvin is the Leader of the Opposition at Medway Council and Conservative councillor for Lordswood and Walderslade.