Well folks, we managed it – We have just agreed at Full Council to freeze Harlow’s Council Tax for a historic third year running.

For the third year running we have topped up the reserves – a far cry from the “black hole” we inherited on taking over the council four years ago.

For the third year running, the Labour party in Harlow failed to put up an alternative. Bereft of ideas they were happy to laugh and blame the government.

I don’t call that responsible opposition….

Last night at Full Council at least two members of the Labour Group repeatedly mentioned stuff on my blog.

I think in their confused little socialist world they wanted try and use things I had written against me…. It failed.

Just so that those from the other side reading this know three things:

One  – Its fairly obvious that I knew you could read this blog!

Two – I am not ashamed of anything I put on this blog, afterall it is what I think and do that goes on here.

Three – Thanks for all the extra page hits!

Amongst my group of friends are a nucleus of people who work in Local Government, the Civil Service, the Health Service and Education. Sometimes we joke with each other about “Joined Up Government” not really existing; In truth it often frustrates all of us that it often doesn’t!

In Harlow we are about to break that mould!

We are proposing to share our Revenues & Benefits service with neighbouring Uttlesford District Council, to our north. Cllr Jim Ketteridge, the Conservative leader there and I see eye to eye that the future of Local Government is shared services between councils, making savings that we need without dropping service quality and so we have been keen for our two councils to work closer together.

Both Harlow and Uttelsford Councils are recommending to their members, that in principle a joint partnership for the administration of Council Tax, Business Rates and Benefits is started. The issues is going to be discussed at Uttlesford’s Full Council on 19th October and Harlow’s  Full Council on 4th November.

A feasibility study was commissioned in the summer to identify costs and benefits (including savings) of the Councils working in such a partnership. Staff from both Councils have been involved in the feasibility study. That study has identified the potential for the Councils to save around £635,000 a year (Harlow £390,000 & Uttlesford ££245,000)

Now to most people who live in the “real” world, this sounds like a really obvious idea, and some would probably question just why this hasn’t been done before. Local government is tribal and councils often have not thought like this in the past, but given the financial situation that faces all councils at the moment it makes sense to start thinking differently.

Working with other councils is part of my plan to help the finances of Harlow Council and I hope that all members of the council, regardless of political persuasion will feel able to support this, as obviously its going to be good for Harlow!

Last night I went to a briefing session held by Harlow Police for Harlow Council.

The purpose of the meeting was for the police to pitch their latest idea to councillors. Their latest idea being to designate more than half the town for dispersal orders.

What is a dispersal order? Well the legislation as part of the Anti-Social behaviour Act 2003 allows police to disperse groups of 2 or more persons from an area if an officer thinks that the group has caused or might cause public harassment, distress or alarm.

I don’t actually think that’s a bad law. I can see all sorts of use for this law around football stadiums, big social events, or festivals. I think it could be very useful to clear large crowds from areas where needed.

The police in Harlow were not talking about that sort of situation though, nor anything as targeted.

They were talking about moving on small groups of kids and effectively imposing a 9pm curfew on anyone under 16.

Now I know that some groups of kids do cause problems, just like I know some groups of adults cause Anti Social Behaviour Problems. The police were not concerned with the adults who cause 3/4 of all ASB (by their own stats), this was blatantly about getting the legislation in place before the school summer holidays.

I was sceptical. Very. The whole proposal seemed vastly draconian and bulky. The whole basis of the proposal seemed more about the police having the ability to just move people on if they thought there was a problem rather than dealing with it.

There were a lot of questions from the eleven councilors (of all three political parties) who had come to the presentation. Most of the councillors accepted that ASB was a problem, but like me were sceptical of the Police’s proposed solution.

I asked what powers the police didn’t already have to deal with ASB in the (mainly shopping) areas listed. The police started talking about young people swearing and spitting. When I challenged them that these were covered by public order offenses and were arrestable, they talked about kids playing knock down ginger. I wondered aloud how many games of knock down ginger get played in shopping areas. The police were not happy.

It appeared to me at the end of the meeting that the police have all the powers they need to deal with Anti Social behaviour by the powers of arrest but for the sake of “A Quiet Life/not raising their crime statistics/not wanting the paperwork or some combination of the above, they were looking for an easy out to just be able to move the kids on. Not satisfactory policing in my view.

Add to that the unseemly “rush” for the police who wanted to get this law enacted in time for the school summer holidays, and no promise of any real additional resources to enact these powers, and it all seemed more than a little ill thought through.

Members from all parties were concerned.

I have asked for a report to come to Full Council so that all elected members can give the police their views in a proper debate. I have a feeling that the police wont get the local consent they are seeking.

That must not absolve them from dealing with problems using the arsenal of laws they have at their disposal, and if that means making arrests that is what the people of Harlow want, no matter how much paperwork it generates for the police and no matter how “bad” it makes their crime stats. People want to see police on the street and arrests of troublemakers.

Perhaps it really is time for elected Sheriffs to be in charge of local policing – at least then residents concerns would finally be addressed by the police.

Tonight was one of those good evenings, where the Full Council in Harlow got to talk about the good things about Harlow; and the future.

Full Council is a chance for all of the councillors to get together and discuss important issues, move motions for consideration and ask questions of me as Council Leader, and the Committee Chairmen.

The First motion that I had put forward for discussion, was one that I was really proud to speak on.

It was granting the Freedom of Entry to the town by the Essex Yeomanry as part of our St. George’s week of celebrations. Its the first time that the freedom of entry to Harlow has ever been granted, and to do something to support our boys and girls, who are based in our town, we felt was important. The Essex Yeomanry, who have a 220 year connection with Harlow, are territorials and shortly due to head out to Afghanistan. We thought it would be a nice way for our community to show how valued they are. Its also nice to make it part of St. George’s week (note WEEK not DAY!).

Since taking control of the Council last year, The Conservatives have made a number of these small but important firsts. We have hung a portrait of Her Majesty for the first time ever, appointed the first Council Chaplain, and held the first ever Civic service. Now the first ever Freedom of Entry, with full parade raising money for the Armed Forces Benevolent Fund, Help for Heroes and the Chairman of the Council’s charity Child Victims of Crime. It promises to be a great day. So if you are in or around Harlow on the 25th April, then do please come to the town centre and see the parade!