I was recently accused by Colchester Conservatives on Twitter of having “no vision” for Colchester. Of course, this is complete rubbish. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am passionate about Colchester in all aspects, including the promotion of Colchester’s ancient history. However, I am also realistic that promoting Colchester should never come at the detriment of the day-to-day problems Colcestrian’s face – such as unfair changes to benefits, problems with healthcare, and the gradual erosion of people having a say over matters which affect their communities.
In my opinion, the Labour Party is the only political party with a vision to make Colchester the greatest town in East Anglia. Not just by taking advantage of the obvious things like the Town’s great history but by making people proud of their communities and helping solve deep-routed social issues. Only the Labour Party have a realistic vision for Colchester which is sustainable.
Stopping the divide
Like many, I have seen how the Conservatives have begun to separate societies within towns and cities across England and Wales. A lack of investment has resulted in Colchester Hospital being in the newspaper almost every week. Teachers have had enough of constant rule changes, attacks on their pay and conditions resulting in them leaving in their droves and even disabled people have been targetted. The Conservatives continually seek to discredit some of the best people in our communities – just look at the situation regarding Junior Doctors pay and Tory attempts to dismantle the NHS.
The Conservatives also have a proven track record of picking on the most vulnerable in society. Colchester Labour party will defend the elderly, vulnerable, frail, disabled and poorest members of our Borough from the attacks on them by central government. Colchester Labour will seek to complement the existing Welfare Rights Service with a Money Advice Service aimed at promoting financial capability and responsibility.
Cuts have resulted in more than 200,000 care workers being illegally paid less than £6.70 per hour. There may be some in Colchester who are low paid workers and among the tens of thousands of homecare workers across England and Wales who are still being paid less than the minimum wage, as they are not being paid for driving between clients. Colchester Labour member, Martyn Warnes, is already taking up this issue with the County Council, and it’s one which I support wholeheartedly.
To truly make Colchester the greatest town in East Anglia we need to make people proud, and start from the very heart of the communities we live in. This means making people valued members of society, it means making people know they can get help from Councillors when they need it, it means making sure people have a voice that is listened to, and it means communities coming together to share facilities and enjoy the culture that makes Colchester such a great place to live. It also means leaving Children’s Centres running which are groups at the heart of many communities!
Colchester Labour promoted a policy to ensure Colchester Borough Council employees were paid a living wage, not just a minimum wage. Within time, this policy will be actively encouraged within independent companies in the Borough making people proud of where they work; giving them more money to provide for their families and more confidence.
The little things matter
Take wheelie bins, for example. When I lived in New Town I had no space to store wheelie bins and I wouldn’t have wanted them. However, now I live somewhere with more space I would like a wheelie bin. There’s absolutely no reason why areas with storage for bins can have them, and the tighter streets of the Town do not. Labour are prepared to consult on this issue – the Tories are not.
Central Government also continues to force masses of new housing on Colchester, but these developments often allow little in terms of green space for children to play. Developers are reluctant to use space for play areas and carparking as it means they can build less houses. It’s time that the Conservatives listened to the people who want housing estates building with more provision for parking and safety for children, rather than allowing new homes to be built almost on top of each other. Central Government doesn’t have a vision for Colchester which expands any further than turning it into a concrete jungle.
And then you have the divisive issue of switching off street lights at night. In the past, I’ve supported this move, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone or the right decision! I don’t have to travel at night but many people do. Taxi drivers, emergency services, people who work nights to mention a few. Essex County Council forced the switch-off of lights on the residents of Colchester with virtually no consultation. That’s not fair and is just another step in making people feel they have no say about things that matter to them.
Keeping the pressure on Essex County Council
Essex County Council is majority Tory run. This means that at the moment the Tories have their fingers on the purse strings and they can keep on supporting the Governments policy of imposing austerity on people and it’s the poorest in society which continue to be hit with Surestart Centres being closed and continued cuts to Youth Services. Only a majority Labour County Council can stop this.
A vision for Colchester costs money
It’s fairly typical of the local Conservative Party to accuse someone of having “no vision” as soon as they face opposition, but the fact remains that it is the Conservative Party that has enforced millions of pounds of cuts to the budget of Colchester Borough Council.
— Ritchie Hicks (@ritchiiiiie) May 2, 2016
Instead of lighting up Roman walls for certain times of the year for the benefit of few, lets make it cheaper for our Town’s young people to access the history the town has to offer. We can start by making it cheaper for people to enter Colchester Castle.
So what would I personally like to see for Colchester?
- more focus and funding on community groups including groups for children, Youth Groups (Youth Cafes) and groups for pensioners
- free school swimming lessons for all children under the age of 10 for at least one term per school, per year
- faster response times from Essex County Council to repair problems with road surfaces and pathways with pressure applied to Central Government to provide more money into this area
- continued monitoring and reevaluation of fair wages for people working in all sectors of the Borough
- pressure put on planning departments to reevaluate how new developments are planned, with more provision made for parking
- more support for independent local businesses with the ethos focusing on buying local
- continued encouragement of local people to join forces to keep their neighborhoods clean through local litter picks, volunteering skills for minor repairs and taking active steps to reduce antisocial behaviour
- more Neighbourhood Watch schemes introduced which have a proven track record of reducing crime and assisting the police during cuts to front line officers
- a full public consultation on switching the street lights of Colchester back on at night time – let the people decide – and explore alternatives such as low power LED lighting
- where possible, more support for greener energy schemes (although this will be difficult with the Tories constant attacks on green tariffs)
- massively reduced prices for all schools and Youth Groups to make the most of Colchester’s heritage, including a nominal £1 charge per Young Person to enter Colchester Castle at agreed times of the year as part of a regonised group (perhaps at time when the footfall from tourism is known to be historically lower)
There are many things I would like to see introduced for the Colchester PLC, but the superficial must never supercede the core needs of people. It’s also a trite attitude to expect people to have aspirations when their families finances, local education system and hospitals are under constant attack from the Tory Government.
A vision for Colchester need to be one of social fairness and equality across all areas of the town, not just for the wealthy.