Tonight’s Executive Committee meeting of Harlow Council had the very sensitive issue of the future of Parndon Wood Cemetery and Crematorium discussed at it.

Sadly Harlow Council, over the last couple of decades, has not looked after Parndon Wood as well as it could have done; Today there are a number of issues with the site, not least poor road surfaces, a leaky building that does not have the right facilities for a modern Burial or Cremation service. Behind the scenes there are issues too, with new equipment needed to comply with National and European legislation. As we know the council has very little money to spend on these items, yet rightly so the money must be spent on making sure that our local cemetery and crematorium is of a high standard and  provides a good and dignified service to those in a time of grief.

So what other option is there? Well getting a Private Company to come in and help us run the site, one with experience of running similar sites around the country was an obvious answer; to be fair it was the answer selected by the previous Labour/Lib Dem coalition that ran Harlow Council, as they voted to do in January 2008 (5 months before I took over running the council). We have continued the process and voted to confirm one of the companies tonight.

The Lib Dem group stayed sure in their support for the process joining us in accepting the deal as a great chance to make the much needed improvements that are needed at Parndon Wood at as little cost to the taxpayer as possible. The Labour Group denied ever looking for a private bidder despite printed evidence to the contrary here, which clearly shows that they not only resolved to seek an external partner but that one of their cllrs was actually chairing the meeting that decided it. Instead tonight we saw the Labour Group start to play politics with grief and moving back to the very left wing ideological position that private equals evil.

I commend the members of my group and indeed the leader of the Lib Dems who tried to deal with the issue sensitively and without thought of the politics of the situation.

Last night at Harlow Council’s Executive Committee I felt like I was in a parallel universe….

I have always respected the Labour Party in Harlow; I have often disagreed with them obviously, but at heart they are a bunch of old socialists and have often stayed very true to their socialist principles, even during the Blair years, and as such you always know where you stand with them.

Imagine my shock last night then, to hear the Leader of Harlow Labour Party Cllr Mark Wilkinson argue that the council should offer a benefit to millionaires!!

We were debating the Leisure Card changes; the leisure card used to have 3 levels, A, B and C. A and B are now defunct as nowhere in Harlow offers a discount for them, so we were tidying up the system by removing them and re branding the category C cards as just “Leisure Card”.

Category C cards were available to anyone on benefits, which under the old Harlow Council definition, which had not kept pace with the rest of the country, included anyone in receipt of child tax credits or working family tax credits. As you might know households earning up to £50k per year can be in receipt of these “benefits”, so we have decided that Leisure Cards should be available to those who are in receipt of Housing or Council Tax benefit, on Income Support, Jobs Seekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance, those who are disabled or with special needs and any children in full time education.

Where Councillor Wilkinson got upset was that previously anyone over the age of 60 was able to have a Category C card and now we have decided that if they are over 60 and fall into one of the above categories then they can have a card. Cllr Wilkinson played to the trade unionists in the gallery and spoke as though all people over the age of sixty are plunged into financial crisis and in need of as many benefits as possible. He wanted the Leisure Card to be available to all those over 60, regardless of the cost to the Council, and regardless of need.

As a compassionate Conservative, I believe that we should look after the most vulnerable in society and wanted to keep the Leisure Card for those in most need, given the councils diminishing resources and need to respond to the age of austerity.

Cllr Wilkinson thinks anyone over 60 deserves a “benefit” be they millionaires or just rich…. Shame on Him!

The saga of Maunds Hatch has been going on now for 8 years, but last night at the Executive Committee meeting of Harlow Council it may have reached some form of conclusion.

You see, about 8 years ago some land around Maunds Hatch was sold for housing and some money (about£ 350k) was put aside for use in the nearby community. Initially there were some grand plans for a rebuild of the community centre at Maunds Hatch and architects were even hired to do some drawings. Sadly the project lost key tenant after key tenant as various sporting clubs and community organisations couldn’t agree.

Then in 2007/8 when the Liberal/Labour Coalition then running Harlow, were trying to balance the budget they used the money. It didn’t “go missing” or “disappear” as some Labour members suggested last night. The then administration removed the ring fence, and raided the pot, just like they raided so many others, like the Church Langley Reserve.

The issue came to the Executive last night because the GPCA who are trying to keep the building in community use by using part of it as a nursery need some money spent on the building if it is staying as it is to ensure they meet OFSTED standards. The committee was fully supportive of spending the money needed on the building to refurbish what was needed and agreed to this spend. The committee also wanted to send a positive message to the local community (even though the money had been spent previously) by passing a resoultion that other ideas for the local community that groups brought forward, would be looked upon favorably by the council.

So if you live near to the Maunds Hatch area and have an idea to help make your community a little better, why not get in touch and let me know, and we will see if we can make the scheme reality.

Last night at the Executive Committee of Harlow Council we were discussing the Good news of the £1.5m underspend in the council budget. The underspend was a result of very tight budget management during the year and a number of one of “windfalls” during the year.

The oppositions Councillors were critical of the original conservative budget, as of course is their right, but none of them seemed to see the foolishness of their arguments. Previous Labour and Lib/Lab coalitions in Harlow had often set budgets gambling on the thought of windfalls that might come during the year, and if that failed they drained reserves. As a prudent Conservative council we decided to not rely on these potential one off windfalls to back up constant revenue spending, thats only sensible.

Anyway, to sensibly use the money that was left this year we decided to top up the councils reserves (which were drained of millions & millions of pounds by profilgrate labour councils in the 80’s and 90’s) and also to top up some of the specific reserves for problems like future redundancies and insurances.

In the last two years of the Lib/Lab coalition a lot of the emergency reserves were raided to prop up spending. The then administration refused to make the tough choices that my administration has since had to face. During those two years they drained £390,000 from the Church Langley reserve; money given to the council by the developers of Church Langley to help maintain it. We gauranteed that a Conservative Administration would pay back that money within 5 years of taking control. Last night it was a pleasure to move a motion of repayment three years earlier than planned, and know that prudent budgeting had made that possible.