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Cllr Cowan and Labour will charge Southend residents to park on the seafront from 6pm to 9pm

Updated: Apr 9

Is there any Southend resident out there that demands they pay more for parking!?


The Labour, Lib Dem and Independent Group have amended the budget to charge residents to park on the seafront from 6pm to 9pm, but exemptions will be knighted to the few thousand in a population of 180,000 who hold a Southend Pass.


This will cause serious damage to businesses and jobs all along the seven miles of seafront, as Southend residents, many of whom are already facing financial struggles, decide to stay away.


The worst thing is there was absolutely no pressure to do this as the budget was already balanced.  I’ve heard arguments to say we need the money to pay for certain services, such as fixing pot holes and cracked pavements, but we’re already paying the most tax we ever have! How much more do they want from us?


A line in the sand has been drawn - vote Labour, Lib Dem or Independent Group at the next local election in May and give up even more of your hard earned money.  You might think in a cost of living crisis they would have been the parties to go to. Not to be, so it seems.


The leader of the opposition is ultimately accountable for this decision, and so it is he who I turn the conversation to. 


Rise


On a personal level, he is affable, talkative, knows his own mind, clever, and analytical.  He knows his stuff.  He is also combative and willing to tread where others may be cautious.  He is not afraid of rubbing people up the wrong way, and has the capacity to take it when it is the other way round.  He is willing to engage and have the conversation, and he has achieved his political ascendency in no time at all displaying a clear vision and good tactics.


He won’t remember this, but he sat behind me as we attended a Southend Labour manifesto workshop only 5 or so years ago just before he was elected in St Laurence and spoke well. 


He won that election against the odds and he did the same when he took the leadership of Southend Labour. 


It was a surprise to me that someone with so little time as a councillor could rise so quickly, but somehow he managed it. 


He has now managed to bend the Liberal Democrats, Independent Group and Greens to come together and push through the recent budget amendments causing great uproar from the Tories.


Bear in mind, his party leadership survived despite losing power last May, and it is reported that he is not the most favoured in certain realms.  However, he has come back and trounced the budget amendment he put forward by 27 to 22.  A brilliant win for him.


Cllr Cowan should not be underestimated.  His qualities and mindset have taken him this far and if forecasts are correct, he is certain to be the next leader of the City of Southend on Sea.


Yet, no one can get it right all the time.


He may have been advised against attacking the Tories when they reneged on their pledge to retain weekly bin collections without openly stating it was Labour themselves who allowed fortnightly bin collections in the first place.  That would have come across fair and honest.


He may have been advised against attacking the principle of the Tory's broken pledge without acknowledging that Labour broke and failed to enact almost all of their manifesto pledges when they were in power.


He may have been advised against saying he hasn't cut Dementia Navigators. They started with 12 and Labour's amendments leave them with 4 and a part-timer. I do accept their amendment is an improvement, but, factually, Labour have cut Dementia Navigators.


He may have been advised against saying his party hadn't lost the last local election! I can see, from a small vantage point with two hands covering most of the eyes, how he might come to that conclusion.  But, the fact is they lost power!


He may have been advised against defending his coalition's economic management when they gave Boom Battle bar £500K, whilst leaving the community-driven Ironworks to fend for themselves. That's not to mention their contribution to the £millions in budget deficit, excluding inflation and adult and child social service costs outside their control.


He may have been advised against voting in favour of their budgets whilst in power that charged residents to park in our parks; reduced grass cutting to once a year under the guise of re-wilding; kept the street lights dimmed; would have seen Jazz UK evicted; acquired the Victoria Shopping Centre at £10m plus £4m repairs; earmarked £10m on the failed Seaway development; and put all council tax, parking, fees and charges up by 10% year on year.


And lastly, he may have been advised against listening to loud voices around him in the decision to charge residents to park on the seafront from 6pm to 9pm!


His conduct in the council chambers is often wilfully full of goading and agitation.  It reminds me of how siblings might act. And he tends to win most of the battles despite having the losing argument, and the 6pm to 9pm is a losing argument. 


The evening economy will shrink to a point demand cannot sustain break-even, never mind profit. 


Business costs are rising faster than businesses can charge for their products.


Inflation in energy and wages are storming forward, and almost all seafront businesses being SMEs, won’t be able to endure too much more to send them close to the edge.


The question is do we want a ghost town? 


There are councillors that say Southend should be an all-year-round town. Yes - agreed, but not at the expense of one of Southend's most important economic assets - tourism.


Thousands of jobs are created and though some may not deem them ‘quality’ or ‘real’, aside from insulting hard working people, the money they earn puts bread on the table. I ask those councillors with that attitude, how many jobs have you created?


If seafront businesses go they are gone forever. Look at other failing resorts. When the evening economy breaks, that really will be it.


Re-starting an economy from scratch is a monumental task, and there will be councillors in the future debating on how to re-ignite the seafront!


The businesses on the seafront haven’t just grown overnight and new businesses have started only because they see an opportunity.


We won’t see the decline immediately. We’ll hear about one business going bust in the Echo, and then over a period of 3 to 5 years the others will follow. And it will be forgotten where it started.  But let me tell you now, it will be from here: This decision from Cllr Cowan and his Liberal, green and Indy Group.


A decision that did not have to be made.


When they were in power, they repeatedly spoke of how vital it was these charges were to balance the budget.  In Labour’s election defeat, the Tories have proven this to be untrue over the year.  And now, they bring these charges in totally without good cause.


I low-blowed Cllr Cowan when I said it was a shame he didn’t have more business acumen.  I regret saying that and apologised.  However, this policy will shrink business, lose jobs, and lose the number of hours available for those who manage to keep their jobs.  Visitors will leave early and will not return.  Why risk all this when we don’t have to?


This is a mistake and I implore him to visit the seafront businesses in person and listen to what they have to say. Because right now all his good work to build his reputation is being undone.


He is a man of reason and my hope is he will know what measures constitute success, with one being that seafront businesses are thriving under his watch, like any other area of business across Southend and Leigh.


Final Reflection


There are many things I, myself, would be advised not to say or do. I do not speak as the oracle of right! My gut says there cannot be many Southend residents that want this, and so I would be very interested to know just how far wrong I might be.


Cllr Cowan has done many good things, as did his previous coalition. His group are full of genuinely lovely people, as are most of the councillors across the floor. I am not necessarily saying I could do too much better just because I have highlighted what I might do differently in those areas I have mentioned, and running a local council must be extremely difficult - it's easy to criticise.


As a Director of Adventure Island, of course my truth is tarnished with obvious bias, and I accept there is a possibility I could be wrong. As a party leader, I accept there is a conflict of interest, however, we set our party up to run a unanimous voting system where only one person need vote against and it wouldn't go through. Even the most bias and corrupt person wouldn't be able to have it their way!


The national Tories have struggled badly, of that few people can have a doubt, but locally, they carry the winning argument on this in my opinion. Only they or Southend Confelicity will drop this policy, so I might advise those who want to enjoy an affordable time out with friends and family on the seafront to consider this at the next election on May 2nd.

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