Blogpost: A view from the public gallery….

Blogpost by Mr Perrin

“I have been a regular attender at the monthly meetings of Full Council for some years going back to the introduction of “wheelie bins”; indeed I have a better attendance record than some councillors. Mostly I have been disappointed with the standard of debate, but every now and again a motion is debated with passion and genuine belief for what is right. Such was the case on Wednesday 23rd July, 2014 for a motion submitted by the Leader of the Council, Cllr John Kent, on a scheme known as “workfare”, a scheme supposedly designed to assist “job seekers” in finding work. Cllr Kent’s motion was seconded by Cllr Martin Kerin and read as follows:-

“This Council believes that work should pay and therefore opposes the introduction of schemes which force job seekers into unpaid work or face losing their benefits – schemes known popularly as workfare.

“This Council is concerned that there is no evidence workfare assists job seekers in finding work and in fact working a 30-hour week makes that more difficult; that workfare is replacing paid work; and that workfare stigmatises benefits claimants and locks them further into poverty.

“This Council therefore pledges not to use any workfare placements and also calls for our partners and contractors not to use the schemes.”

I will not repeat all of the contributions made by individual Councillors; they can be viewed by means of the excellent video recording made by “Your Thurrock”. Suffice to say the Labour Group, ably led by Cllr John Kent, ran rings around the Conservative Group, not so ably led by a somewhat “cocky” Cllr James Halden, who could not resist turning the debate into political point scoring involving trade unions and Barking and Dagenham Council.

The main thrust of Labour Councillors opposition to the workfare scheme was based on the supposition that one should be paid for one’s labour, not exploited by employers as a “free” workforce. Cllr Kent went on to say ”Workfare requires unemployed people to work for up to six months for no pay whatsoever or face benefit sanctions. There is no evidence that workfare is successful, the Government’s own peer study found that mandatory work activity had zero effect in helping people get a job. I believe we must resist workfare placements becoming little more than a flexible, low skilled, low valued workforce that has no employment rights and gives unscrupulous employers more power to cut pay for their regular workforce as, for some, the message is clear if you don’t like it, if you don’t take it we will get somebody to do your job for free. Equally it is wrong for Councils to use workfare as, not even cheap but free labour, as part of the response to savage cuts we are all having to deal with. Frankly, public services should be funded well enough for us all to pay the going rate for the job”.

In contrast the main thrust of the Conservative Councillors support for the workfare scheme was based, almost entirely, upon the notion that workfare is an incentive to instil in the long term unemployed the desire to work by encouraging them to get up and go to work for no pay and never mind the type or quality of work offered. As Cllr Coxshall so eloquently stated “Just think if you had three years of not wanting to work could you get up at 8-o-clock in the morning, I know I couldn’t, this is not giving you training or skills it is just making you get up in the morning, catch the train and do some work”. I wonder what the response from Cllr Halden, well known for his concern regarding the quality of education in Thurrock schools, if the same criteria applied to school attendance i.e. going to school is not about education or acquiring skills, it is simply instilling in children the practice of getting up in the morning, catching the bus and going to school. There was also inconsistency regarding the number of long term unemployed affected by workfare placements, Cllr Maney talking about the very small number involved and on the other hand Cllr Coxshall talking about the staggering 42% of long term unemployed in Barking and Dagenham revealed by Cllr Halden.

With the support of the UKIP Councillors the motion was carried. I do not recall any UKIP Councillor speaking for or against the motion. If any one of them did, I apologise for not mentioning it.

In September we will be treated to the spectacle of the “Last Night of the Proms” where an audience of patriotic UK citizens will sing “Rule Britannia”. I recommend the sentiments expressed in that “anthem” and advise our Conservative Councillors to take note of the line “Britain never, never shall be slaves”.

P.S.The debate lasted about 45 minutes with each contributing Councillor speaking for an average of five or six minutes, without interruption from the Mayor urging them to hurry along or be brief. It is a pity that the same tolerance is not extended to members of the public when asking questions at meetings of Full Council. Members of the public, me included, are constantly harried by the Mayor if we have the temerity to attempt to make a brief statement prior to asking the question. A period of 30 minutes is allocated for questions from the public and in the four or so years I have been attending the meetings, questions from the public have been dealt with within 10 minutes and, very rarely, if there are more than 2 questioners 20 minutes at most.

Unlike the Councillors, who frequently ask for an extension of time, members of the public are grudgingly allowed about 2 minutes before being interrupted by the Mayor and urged to hurry up and ask your question.

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