Leader of Southend Council survives vote of no confidence by Tory opposition

Southend’s council leader defeated a vote of no confidence by his Tory rivals as criticism mounted over a “reckless” move to plough £10m of taxpayers’ cash into the Seaway seafront cinema scheme.

Conservative leaders challenged Labour’s Ian Gilbert as they piled on the pressure over the controversial Seaway scheme in addition to perceived failures over provision for special educational needs children.

Tories also highlighted the council’s special needs school transport service Vecteo,  a partnership with London Hire which has left children waiting on their doorsteps and the decision not to consider buying the former Beecroft art gallery.

In a tense vote at Southend’s full council meeting, councillors voted 27 to 23 against a motion calling for the removal of council leader Ian Gilbert.

Of the three non-aligned councillors, Jennifer Beck and Maggie Kelly voted against removing Mr Gilbert, and Keith Evans abstained.

Conservative group leader Tony Cox told the meeting: “It is with some regret that it’s felt that this course of action needs to be taken.

“Later we will have a debate regarding Seaway. We are told we don’t know the level of income, we don’t know how much we will pay.

“No deal is without some risk but to then be told that we have to speculate in this is reckless.”

He added: “We have widespread disagreement on the way the decision was taken on council’s first refusal or whether they want to purchase the Beecroft. We’ve had failings with our vulnerable children which needed an investigation. We’ve then had the Vecteo contract.”

Cllr Gilbert replied: “I’d like to thank Councillor Cox for the early Christmas present of giving the opportunity to set out this administration’s record. When I took over as leader nobody envisaged Covid but it’s been a privilege to lead this organisation through it.

“The council has risen to every challenge with diligence, professionalism, and integrity – qualities that are in short supply in the national Conservative government.”

He added: “Despite COVID we have made huge progress on tree-planting, road and pavement repairs, on building and acquiring more council housing, on accommodating rough sleepers, in working with partners to stage brilliant events in the town, and the shrewd acquisition of the Victoria shopping centre.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter