Blessed are the tourists – Medway Council’s 2013-14 budget

And so the vast shadow of Eric Pickles finally fell upon the people of the river. No, his largeness didn’t decide to go for a stroll through All Saints churchyard at sunset. As most people will be aware, the most joyous axe wielder since Lizzie Borden has come out swinging, and the dark masses that live beyond Westminster are going to suffer.

Medway’s finance chief Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con), referred repeatedly, and apparently with some bitterness, during his budget speech, to his “dear friend” Eric. The Local Government Secretary has cut the central grant by 3.65% with worse to follow next year. The first thought that may occur to the reader when informed of Cllr Jarrett’s position is “well don’t be a Conservative then”.

But cognitive dissonance goes with the territory for most Tories of my acquaintance, so cashing in his membership or standing up to his masters has probably not occurred to the councillor. He is therefore just going to have to make lemonade. Although manure pie might be more accurate.

It has occurred to me that such municipal place men are increasingly little more than the “grooms of the stool” that were employed in Tudor times to keep the well upholstered rear of the monarch clean and covered. Even the occasional reader of The Medway Broadside will be aware by now what reckless Eric is doing on us from a great height. His factotums in the shires and boroughs are being asked to do more with less, essentially bagging up the gifts that central government deliver us and tying them up with a bow to make them look nice.

So what has Cllr Jarrett got for us then? First the good news my lovelies, this year’s council tax will only go up by an average of 43p per week, yes 43p! It is at this point that it begins to sound like a payday loan advertisement. Even more so when one considers that there will be as many as 14,000 people who were previously deemed too badly off to pay anything, who will have to find hundreds of pounds they don’t have. This was a decision made by Medway Borough Council, their hand may have been forced, but it was their choice.

So it is clear that our duty holders are scrabbling about for money wherever they can find it, even if it is down the back of a sofa recently taken in lieu of payment from an unemployed person. But what are they going to do with it?

There is of course much to-ing and fro-ing between Peter and Paul, one example concerning the roads. Lopping £1.25 million off the road maintenance budget only to re-allocate a fifth of it to pay for insurance claims from pothole trips is expediency with a capital “E”. A policy of “let’s not bother and then hope no one sues” effectively. Pity about that broken leg though.

One might say such things are necessary in a time of austerity when the bankers have been allowed to run free and destroy the economy. But if cutbacks are required I would contend that it would be best to look after services for the people that can least protect themselves from the coming storm rather than glamour projects designed to attract the last few people on these islands with any money to spend.

For example, The council is pouring £5 million in to the South Medway Development Fund to do up Rochester Airport. The hope is to create “a thousand hi-tech jobs” to boost the local economy. Aah jobs! There’s no better way to gain public support in times of high unemployment. But who will they be for? Some will go to locals I hope. My guess is that many will be commuters who will earn their dough in Medway and spend it where they live. That is if there are any takers to set up businesses here in the first place. There have been issues of that nature with large projects in Medway before. Many of the units at Medway Maritime remain unfilled since it was built, not to mention the houses sprouting up at Liberty Park for which there are no buyers. Maybe when times improve these projects will thrive and the council coffers will be full. Then maybe all the people who have had their council tax benefit wiped out will get it back. I know, sometimes I’m just too funny.

This leads us finally if indirectly to the Brian Blessed affair. To be honest I think it could be a lot of fun to have a bus ride around the area narrated by shouty Brian, even if it does cost thirty grand. Just imagine it –




Or something like that. There has been a similar thing done with a talking lift in Wolverhampton voiced by Noddy Holder. He does though, at least come from the area. They could have asked Billy Childish. But he of course isn’t as famous as Brian, which is the whole point. It reminds me of The Medway Culture and Design awards where the interval music was provided by a bought in band as a room full of distinguished local musicians looked on.

So what links Rochester Airport and a shouty bus tour? The fact that the council are prepared to throw any amount of money at attracting people to come here. Be it with vanity tourism schemes or hi-tech business parks. They do this while at the same time extracting as much as they can from the people that already live here in order to pay for it. There are pot holes and litter all over Luton but hey! We’ve got Brian Blessed!

Now there’s a nugget to consider. Could you wrap that for me councillor? It’s a gift.

Words:  Todd Sileen


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