Who is standing up for Medway commuters?

Spot the difference:

The Secretary of State will be aware that Southeastern is consistently one of the worst performing and most expensive train-operating companies in the country. Can he therefore explain why it has been given the longest extension—50 months? Can he assure my constituents that the extension is not a reward for failure? What opportunity will passengers have to engage in the process of direct awards as it is finalised?
Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford, Conservative)

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. May I also thank him for reducing train fares in the south-east by reducing the retail prices index plus 3% provision to RPI plus 1%? Under the previous Government, Southeastern had RPI plus 3% whereas the rest of the country had RPI plus 1%, and that was exceptionally unfair.
Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham, Conservative)

The Conservatives, like Labour before them, have failed commuters by continuing the Southeastern rail franchise without competition. One Medway MP, a Conservative, has questioned this decision on behalf of her commuting constituents. Another Medway MP, also a Conservative, used the opportunity for political back-scratching.

Constituents v. Career? I know which I’d prefer from my MP…

Medway car parking charges – part 2

As a brief epilogue to the Medway Council car parking charges blunder I exposed last week, it was interesting to note that the Special Urgency Decision was attached to the draft minutes on the Council’s website.

You can find the Decision in two parts (the decision and the appendix listing the correct parking fees) by following the link above, but I have included the first part below.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the document (other than the repetitive nature of paragraph 1.1 – yes, they couldn’t even get the correction right!) is the estimation that the cut in parking charges could have lost Medway Council £250,000 – proving beyond doubt that parking fees are an over-inflated, grotesque tax on motorists from Medway and beyond.

It is also worth noting that the Decision was made and signed off not by one of the 55 councillors you elected to serve you, but by a senior unelected bureaucrat.

Local democracy in action…

Medway car parking charges cut (sort of)

Medway Council’s annual budget meeting descended into farce on Thursday with over one quarter of councillors refusing to vote.

The Finance Portfolio Holder, Cllr Alan Jarrett had presented last-minute amendments to the budget which included incorrect figures that had to be corrected during the meeting.

Despite assurances from both the Chief Executive Neil Davies and the Monitoring Officer Perry Holmes that the verbal corrections were acceptable, the Labour Group claimed that the budget was illegal and refused to vote.

But the embarrassment for the Conservative administration didn’t end when the meeting closed.

Those following my live tweets from the meeting will have seen that, from the public gallery, I picked up an error over the car parking charges in Medway:

In the 2012/2013 budget, parking charges across Medway were increased for the first time in years:

Fast-forward to Thursday night, and the proposed prices for 2013/2014 reflected the pre-2012 prices as both the existing and proposed prices:

When the Council (or, more correctly, the Conservative councillors) approved the budget, they bound the council to every measure and proposal contained within it – including the pre-2012 parking prices.

In a panic, the Cabinet had to use the Special Urgency Decisions provision contained within the Constitution to increase the parking prices back to current levels before they are required to introduce the prices approved in the budget in April.

This means that, once again, there is no happy ending for Medway’s motorists and visitors.

The West London Question

It is a generally accepted fact within the government and opposition that airport capacity in the south east needs to be expanded. Failure to do so now will result in our existing capacity being stretched to breaking point and our economic competitiveness in the global market falling.

The question on everybody’s lips, though, is how? Every option being taken seriously is not short of controversy – whether it be expanding Heathrow with the dreaded third runway, or one of a number of options being explored in the Thames Estuary.

The government has commissioned Sir Howard Davies to look into all the options and report back. The trouble is, such a report will likely not come until after the next general election in 2015, delaying the need to make a difficult decision, but also delaying the inevitable expansion necessary to ensure Britain remains economically viable on the global stage.

Of course the ultimately accepted option needs to have been carefully considered and must be right for Britain – and there are many good and bad attributes attached to each option currently in the public sphere.

The most difficult position, though, is not held by the Prime Minister or the new Transport Secretary, nor is it held by Sir Howard. Each may face a backlash from those who are affected by the outcome, but, crucially, not from their own constituents.

It is those West London MPs – people such as Justine Greening, relieved of her Transport brief at the beginning of this week – who must either sell the final option to their constituents successfully, resign from government, or potentially face a kicking in the polls.

They face a difficult electorate. People living in and around Heathrow do not want to see a third runway increasing aircraft traffic and, crucially, noise on their doorstep. They would prefer any such necessary expansion to occur elsewhere.

However, whatever alternative solution is chosen must not result in the closure of Heathrow, which many (including a hub airport in the Thames Estuary) inevitably would. Such an outcome would be disastrous for the West London economy, not only killing the direct trade and jobs at Heathrow itself, but also the surrounding supply chain. The effect would be to create a ghost town unseen in Britain before.

It is, for our West London MPs, a seemingly impossible contradiction, Catch 22, and one which will be painfully, agonisingly drawn-out until after May 2015. I do not envy Patrick McLoughlin (or whoever holds the Transport brief when Sir Howard reports) for what lays ahead.

The task of selling the result of Sir Howard’s report, even to some of his own MPs and members, will be difficult.

Daily Telegraph letter: Friday, 25 November 2011

A decision is needed on Boris Island, and soon

SIR – Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is correct to assert that Britain is in desperate need of increased airport capacity (report, November 22) to ensure that we keep a firm footing on the international market and do not lose business from emerging economies such as Brazil and China.

There is fierce opposition in Medway to his “Boris Island” proposal, and to Lord Foster’s proposed airport on the Isle of Grain, for a number of reasons – most importantly, the impact it would have on the quality of life for the 250,000 Medway residents not displaced by developments.

Of course, the arguments being presented by Medway council and its residents are similar to those who oppose expansion at either Gatwick or Heathrow. But the greatest risk to our aviation standing is not the “nimbies” in each affected area, but lack of political will in the decision-makers. Mr Johnson does not wish to offer a proposal which will have a direct negative effect on his constituents, while members of the Government do not wish to lose support in their heartlands.

What is needed is an immediate consultation on the proposals, followed by a decision. Action needs to be taken before permanent damage is done to our trade links, a damning prospect for our economy.

Alan W. Collins