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Local Government
Rochford District Council
Eastern Forum - Rochford, 16th October 2012

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Chairing the forum, Leader of the Council, Terry Cutmore and beside him, the Chief Executive of the Council, Paul Warren
Perhaps of special interest to Rochford residents, recently arrived Inspector Jeff Appleby, and Chief Inspector Ian Cummings.
Ever wanting to paint in some more numbers in our ‘painting by numbers’ attempts at portraying the Council and its activities, we attended the Eastern Forum held in the Hawthorn Centre on the Rochford Hospital site, off the bottom of West Street..

It must surely be a sign of the Council’s commitment to open democracy that meetings like this are held for the public to receive information and ask questions. That commitment is enhanced by being led by the two senior-most members of the Council, Terry Cutmore the Leaders of the Council; and Paul Warren the Chief Executive, and backed at the front by senior members of the police, representatives from both Essex County Council and the health authorities. They are also backed by the Portfolio holders of the Council plus a smattering of other members.  

What is always sad, is that so few of the public attend.

Rather than present a blow by blow account of the meeting, we’ll report on the Leader’s opening statement but then make more general comments about things that followed to give just a taster for those who have not attended such a meeting but who might be vaguely interested!  It is a good exercise in local democracy!   
After opening remarks and introducing the various people on the front tables, the  the Leader read a statement covering ‘Community Spending’, the only agenda item for the meeting (the rest being set by the audience in questions). This covered an extensive and wide ranging spectrum of the Council’s activities and associations with others providing services for the community. (Informative but better done by PowerPoint).

Following this statement, he threw the meeting open for questions, initially in respect of council spending and how we should prioritise our spending, but then on any subjects the public would like to ask about. After early questions about reducing allowances (to Councillors), and the need for signs in Wakering, warning of horse riding, the questioning moved deeper into asking about the current state of the health restructuring as it affected this area and a comprehensive response was given.

In the absence of further questions about spending, the floor was opened for wider ranging ranging questions. Possibly, somewhat predictably, the questions turned to the subject of youths congregating in Rochford Square and then onto rowdy behaviour on Friday and Saturday nights in Rochford resulting in property damage. There was a slight sense of déjà-vu about this, we felt, as these very same things came up at the last forum here. Key outcomes from this discussion were, first, that young people gathering were, per se, not a criminal problem and maybe further thoughts need to be given to further provisions for this age group in the area and, second, if criminal damage occurs, it is essential for residents to inform the police so they know it has occurred and can act appropriately.

As we commented above, these Forum Meetings are a real sign of the Council’s commitment to keep the community informed, but it is a shame that so many of us (including the writer in the past) prefer not be be informed.  Perhaps, as two of the Councillors recently interviewed by us suggested, communication needs to be more hi-tec. Will a fortnightly, live, on-line forum with different Councillors and Officers each time, be something we might see in the years to come, perhaps a live studio responding to tweets, e-mails and phone calls?  There’s a challenge for the communication people within the offices in South Street.