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Put your best voice forward, and ask your questions to Southend's leaders about your concerns

Updated: Oct 22, 2022

The Full Council Meeting gives Southend residents the chance to ask 2 questions to the Cabinet.


I would urge everyone who has an issue or idea to do this. It doesn’t matter how small you think the subject is, if it matters to you, it is likely it matters to others too.


You do not even have to attend; you simply need to email committeesection@southend.gov.uk with your questions and then you are invited to read them out. If you do not wish to attend, you will receive a written answer from the relevant Cabinet member.


Your questions will have pre-written answers, which the councillor responsible will read out.


It is not, however, a debate.


You raise your concern, and they answer. It’s over.


My questions concerned both the Victoria Shopping Centre and Southend High Street.


Protestors


As I arrived at the Civic Centre to attend the meeting, I had the pleasure of introducing myself to the leaders of Southend Against Sewage, who were protesting about the sewage in our seas.


I had previously written an article about the sewage problem and provided a very basic explanation as to the reasons why it has been happening. And so, I was delighted to hear of Southend residents taking up the mantle to do to something about it.


I look forward to speaking in more detail with them as time passes, as I think Southend could really come together on this issue.


It is important to note that during the summer months our waters are, according to the authorities, perfectly clean to swim and enjoy. The problem is when there is a certain level of rainfall, which means parts of the year present a problem.


Ideally, Southend should want zero sewage in our seas all year round!


Questions from the Public


The meeting started by recognising the passing of the Queen, Sir David Amess and Graham Longley with sombre and poignant words said by all the leaders.


And then it came to questions from the public.


They ranged from re-homing Jazz UK after they are being forced to leave the Beecroft, more litter bins, pollution from Southend Airport, shelving the £10m for Seaway, and recycling glass.


The meeting did cater for an unexpected rendition of Michael Jackson’s underrated song, ‘All I want to say is that they don’t really care about us’ by 3 climate change protestors in the public gallery. Genuinely good song that they sang to the Environment cabinet member with guts and gusto. They were politely asked to leave.


All the questions from the public showed a real interest in Southend, which I loved. And the answers were all plausible enough.


Questions I put to the Cabinet


1. The Council's acquisition of Victoria Shopping Centre was potentially an exciting move to inspire new, local independent businesses in Southend to start their entrepreneurial journeys; however, there does seem to be a number of vacant units at the moment. What is currently being done to attract budding entrepreneurs from the thousands of people who have an array of talents across Southend?


2. Southend High Street, filled with local owner/operated independent shops, could turn us into the most unique high street in the country. However, good business ideas will always fail when faced with unworkable business costs. Being that the shops are central to bringing Southend High Street back to life, what can the Council do to reduce all business costs in order to make opening a business for Southend people a realistic opportunity for success for them and the city centre?

Q1 Response


The first question was summarily replied with: they are already filling the shops. Five units have recently been taken.


This is encouraging, but I am looking for a real drive to shout out to Southend and say come to us with your business plan and we will give you all the opportunities to allow you to succeed, such as super=favourable rents and offering business advice such as finance, marketing, operations, and HR.


There are 200,000 people in our city - we can definitely fill 50 units! We just need a dynamic approach to engage with the public. For example, launch a competition, Apprentice-style. Raise its profile. Put it front of mind. We are looking for budding entrepreneurs who want to start out. We’ll give you that shot and that shop!


Q2 Response


The second question was replied with: essentially there is nothing we can do to lower business costs.


Well, I was kind of aware of this one, but it’s nice to have it confirmed.


There is, however, always something that can be done, it is whether anybody wants to push to make the person, people or group in power to see how changing their minds would be a good thing! Not easy, but all rules are made up and must be challenged where wrong.


We know we do not control energy costs, but someone does. Same for wages, rents, rates and so on.


Yet, I would have liked to hear things like we are writing to our MPs and central government, constantly, to find out what we can do to lower business costs and encourage small businesses to start up.


We know that if nothing is done, there will be no shops anymore and therefore no high street. Therefore, we do not have a choice but to pursue all avenues as forthrightly as we can.


Not hope, but bloody-minded drive.


Who is talking to the landlords talking to the national brands? What’s happening there? Brighton has them all in abundance.


We probably need a new Cabinet position just for the high street. It is that important to the community of our city that someone needs to devote all their time and energy in searching and evaluating every grain of opportunity there is.


And, of course, we need the road back - a question I shall be asking on my next outing.


After the public questions are complete, the councillors are then permitted to ask questions, which I will be reporting on in due course.


Gift of Democracy


All in all, a productive visit if nothing substantial was gained.


Whether you are part of a political party or not, once again, I would encourage all Southend residents who are affected by something that needs attention to get involved and put your best voice forward.


Let us utilise the gift of our democratic system and challenge our leaders to remain sharp by letting them know that we are watching, listening, and ready to ask questions about the things that do not quite make sense.


And when our politicians know this is the case, rather than them knowing we will passively, albeit begrudgingly, accept the fates of some of their stranger decisions, they may instead be slightly more conscious about what they are doing knowing that these decisions will have consequences at the next elections.


To put it another way, we are reading their work, and we are grading their papers.

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