Sunday, 13 May 2012

New Economic Policy for Medway Council

NEP for Russia brought about regeneration
A few weeks ago my blog was mentioned in a Full Council meeting by Councillor Alan Jarrett, deputy leader of the Conservative group and portfolio holder for finance. This, as always, amazed me as I didn't think many people actually read this blog let alone that it had any clout what so ever.

I was thinking this morning about local politics and the Council's hilarious over spends that we (the Libdems) and other opposition groups (especially Labour) have been critical of. Maybe we're going about this the wrong way... Maybe we should make suggestions rather than continual criticisms and if Cllr Jarrett or one of his staff/researchers is reading this then please take this in the spirit it is suggested.

So Al, (can I call you Al?) please get comfy and prepare for some mind blowing Economic policy.

I don't know if you, or any readers are familiar with the episode "Empok Nor" from Star Trek Deep Space Nine?
The engineering crew of DS9 are preparing to go on an equipment gathering mission to a similar station Empok Nor. Chief O'Brian comes up with a list of equipment divided into three sections:

The Must haves

The Could do withs.

Would be nice.

Right, as a household on a limited income we are used to prioritising what we spend and we pretty much divide all expenditure for the household in this manner. We must pay our council tax and utilities, we must buy food, we must buy nappies. We could do with some new bookshelves to replace and reshuffle furniture, we could do with powerful weed killer for our back garden. It would be nice if I could buy those Hornby engines or those 1/72 scale German infantry men for painting.

You said in your article for "Party People" in Friday's Medway messenger that the Council is getting on with the job. Yes they have achieved some good things but at the same time the over spends have been crippling especially when compared to some of the cuts you have made. Tough decisions have to be made but selling off Nelson Court looks heartless when you've overspent on the bus station, Stoke Crossing, Roadworks, Woodlands School bail out, Photocopier contracts... people see the money you are wasting and the "price" that is being paid. Might I humbly suggest that you apply the O'Brian list to Council spending - and be brutal when applying them. It may be worth going through the upcoming budgets and prioritising in this manner because at the moment it looks like the Council is running a Coulda/woulda/shoulda style budgets.

OR better yet ask the populous. An information gathering exercises need not be expensive. Who needs phone polls and marketing companies, in fact you don't even need printers. Get one of the Council's many officers to draw up a table on Microsoft Word or Excel with three columns of Musts/Coulds and would be nice and then photocopy some 500 and dispatch them to the 18 local libraries and made available to users to fill out and hand back to staff.

The main drive is to live with in the Council's means. It doesn't take a Financial wizard to know that the economy is up a certain river with out a certain rowing implement and things are not going to improve greatly over the next few years. Government grants are going to get slimmer and slimmer and the day that Council taxes will be forced to rise is on its way but you will need to prove to the people that you can be trusted with their/my money.

Years ago I used to play the computer game Simcity where you build and administer your own city and generate wealth so I have a rough, simplistic idea of the current situation. Grand projects are eye catching but often the old adage spend money to make money doesn't always ring true and people will often point out great big White Elephants. It'd be an idea to get rid of all those pesky empty properties that are taking money and sitting idle and derelict - I understand there's about a hundred that could go? Housing is good so keep up the good work with the new housing in Rochester but serious steps to encourage people into the city centres to go shopping is just as good, there is a good mix of shops that are stock affordable goods its just the numbers of shoppers has dropped and is going elsewhere.

Regeneration is needed. Lets be honest, parts of the Medway Towns are run down and tired but lets not go bolting off towards big shiny things lets keep it small. What is necessary regeneration? Roads are a good start, pavements, parks, high streets, kids play areas... small jobs that paper over the cracks until real investment comes knocking or the economy pulls out of its slump. People don't care about shiny new dynamic waterfront bus facilities they want to see things they use working properly or tidy and neat. Paper over cracks as a quick fix, clean up the rubbish, licks of paint on municipal buildings, sort out the moonscape roads and paths and people will feel less down about where they live.

I'm sure you're already applying the O'Brian principles but I (and probably a great number of denizens will feel the same) not tightly enough. We know times are tough and cuts will come but you guys need to be showing that you aren't wasting the money unnecessarily (after all projects never run to time and there are always unexpected problems that require more money - may be it would be worth setting the price of a project then setting aside a further 10-15% to cover unexpected problems).

The people of Medway, and I include my self and my family in this, don't want to see the council pouring our money down the drain whilst basic services that we use all the time (roads/pavements/car parking) are not attended to. As I said - better to prioritise and explain priorities to the people than run a coulda woulda shoulda administration. It may not lead the Medway towns to economic recovery but it will certainly keep them on an even keel until the Storm passes.

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