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.

Not so many years ago, Harlow had a form of community engagement called Community Partnerships. I am sure if you have never been you can imagine the type of meetings that they were.

Go on – just imagine….

A school hall or a church hall, small child size chairs and an urn of tea. Just the same few regular faces turning up to complain about the same old thing…. Well that’s how the Labour and Lib Dem wards CPs were, and that’s why the Labour/Lib council cancelled them; and went for a series of focus groups instead.

The CPs in Conservative wards were, without exception, successful and well attended by concerned citizens who wanted to take a chance to interact with their councillors and be informed about what the council was doing. Yes you did get some people coming along with single issues, but if the councillors knew their audience, lived in or had a good understanding of the ward, then that was easily dealt with.

All of this became a large political campaign in the town, and a key manifesto pledge for the Conservative Party in Harlow was the reintroduction of CPs.

That’s why I am really pleased that last night, at the Policy and Resources Committee, I was able to vote for just that. The scrutiny committee had been looking at it, and referred it to the Environment and Community committee who also referred it on to the Policy and Resources Committee for final decision, (A big danger of an Enhanced committee model of local Government is this type of referral and the associated scheme of delegation), which we gave.

The Lib dems, having scrapped the CPs in administration, voted for reinstating them, which rather makes me wonder what their “real” motives were for both courses of action. The Labour leader decided not to vote either way because “the report got to me late, so I haven’t had time to properly consider it”….. this being despite the fact that the working group who produced the report had the previous labour leader as their rep on the group, the original report had been published at scrutiny committee on 10th Feb, had gone to the E&C committee on 19th March, and then come to our meeting on the 24th March.

I would normally expect an opposition group leader to be aware of all the reports that go to all the committees of the council, else how can they lead their group properly?

Anyway he abstained, but the Conservative Administration kept another manifesto commitment and I was pleased to be able to vote to bring back Community Partnerships.