(Check against delivery)
Thank you Mr Mayor.
Whilst the Council no longer has a Leader or Deputy Leader, as the newly appointed Chair of the Policy and Resources Committee, I should like to say a few words.
I would like to place on record at the start my thanks and gratitude to Cllrs Turner and Blake for their work as Leader and Deptuy Leader of the Council.
It isn’t easy to be a councillor – or actively involved in politics at any level at this moment in time, so to put your head above the parapet and to assume leadership roles on a council such as Basildon deserves respect and you both have it from me.
Basildon is a brilliant Borough. One that we are all rightly proud of and which is a fantastic place to live, work and raise a family.
My own ward of Pitsea North West is a vibrant community full of people who want to do the right thing by themselves and their families. This council should exist to put opportunity – real and meaningful opportunity – into the hands of all our residents whichever side of the A127 or Towngate Theatre that they live.
Tonight we reject the idea that because the council cannot do everything, it should do almost nothing. That basic philosophy that you’re on your own, should not be the public’s impression of what this authority thinks about them and their aspirations.
Because I believe in Basildon and all of its people.
Mr Mayor in my first speech as the Leader of the Basildon Labour Group – at the AGM of May 2015 – I said that night that the challenges facing local government were so vast that no one man or woman and no one party could possibly have all of the answers to our collective problems going forward.
I was clear that I believe greater cooperation was needed, in order to restore public confidence and make the best decisions on behalf of our residents.
That is why the decision we have taken tonight represents a clear and stark choice between those of us who have put our faith in the democratic decision-making processes of the 42 elected members of the council versus those who wish to place all trust in the executive power of just 7 members – all of whom represent wards in Billericay.
It is a step that I believe is right for the whole of the Basildon Borough.
And that is why Mr Mayor I’d like to congratulate all those councillors appointed into their respective positions tonight.
The Council has taken a very important step tonight to change the way that decisions are made – those who voted for that change did so because we believe this will make the council more democratic and more effective. It is now incumbent upon us to prove that we were right.
Of course the changes we have made did not command the support of all councillors.
We will often disagree about the right course of action to take. That’s the point of this chamber, and of our democracy.
But our disagreements must be secondary to working together to make things better for the residents we all serve.
All of us need to re-commit ourselves to listening to what our constituents and our communities are saying and to making sound decisions based on good evidence and careful consideration.
We will need to work together and listen to each other too.
That’s the sort of Chairman I will be and I know others will follow suit.
Of course Mr Mayor, tonight’s step change in our governance does not dilute my desire to argue strongly for the things I passionately believe in. But I will always remember I am one councillor among many – we all have a legitimate voice and we are all here to represent our local communities.
Tonight 42 members of the council are liberated to play a more wholesome part in the future of our borough.
The business of the council of course has continued while we have deliberated and debated these changes – and it will go on.
The council has its corporate plan and the many commitments and obligations it needs to meet.
That does not change with tonight’s events.
I want to take this opportunity thank the staff of the council for their continued hard work and commitment to ensure we provide the services that local people need.
I also want to thank the chief executive and his staff who have worked to enact the change the council has decided on – despite the wholly uncalled for and narrow-minded attacks you have come under.
Mr Mayor, we have yet to see what the outcome of the General Election will bring for Basildon, for local government and for this council.
Whatever the uncertainty, we know it will be a challenging year ahead. Continued cuts to local government, and other public service funding, makes it ever more difficult to provide the support and opportunities our communities need.
We need to face up to the challenges in an open and transparent way so that people understand what needs to be done and what role they can play to defend services and to make things better in Basildon.
Ten years ago when I first began studying politics I was drawn to the Labour movement because of its principle core belief; that through the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more together than we do alone.
I believed that a decade ago, I believe it more keenly tonight.
And I look forward to working with all councilors to put that principle into practice.