What do local councillors do?
INTERVIEW WITH COUNCILLOR JIM MURRAY – What do local councillors do?
CD: Well Hello.
CD: Hello there Jim, yeah hi, its Chris Dabbs here and Jim Murray, the Councillor Jim Murray from Eastbourne. Hello again!
JM: Good Afternoon, nice to be back.
CD: Good to see you again. I think that in this podcast what we are going to be doing is talking about politicians in general and the local area and what they do for the area and how they benefit people in the area. That is about right isn’t it Jim?
JM: Yeah. When I am out door-stepping when we are getting close to the election I quite often find that quite a few people think that they are always voting for their Prime Minister. So I just sort of clear off a few points for them, that there is a whole tronch of different MPs and Councillors that we deal with in our local area.
CD: Well exactly and I think that that’s what a lot of people think isn’t it? That the general election that it’s some sort of presidential election where they are voting for you know like in America where they vote directly for their president rather than voting for well an MP that is supposed to represent the area or a Councillor in a Council election. I know people who voted in the referendum for instance who were voting against the Prime Minister rather than voting for the referendum. So it’s good to have you in here actually to clear that up I think. So let’s start with things from the most local level. Now that would be a local Councillor’s job is that right?
JM: It is yeah. The local Councillor is the person on the ground living in your community so normally living in Hampden Park like I do or Sovereign Harbour. They will be in there and knowing all your problems in that particular area.
CD: And I think that’s the point though isn’t it. So really understanding say you come from Hampden Park so you know that whatever people actually complained about the most there. I mean, what is the most complained about thing in Hampden Park? I think I can guess but go on, what is the thing that people are most upset with.
JM: The most complained about thing in Hampden Park is the level crossing.
CD: Ahh I was right. Okay.
JM: We are trying to put a bid in for £27m which is what we need to be able to build a bridge over the crossing. We have asked a number of times at County Council who are the people who look after our roads and they have told us every single time no.
CD: £27m pounds. Okay, people are going to want to know Jim, I’m sorry I’ve got to ask you and I know that if they say no so it’s pretty much a dead issue until the next time he can come up, I get that, but let’s explain to people how would that possibly work? What it’s like a fly over or something like at Lewes at Beddingham or whatever, how would it work?
JM: So you have got a number of options, we could either go under or we could go over with a fly over. Those that know the area there is a road called Lottbridge Drive which goes up into a cul-de-sac which ends next to the railway crossing. That was actually designed to be the beginning of the fly over to take us into Brodrick Road in Willingdon Trees and that would have given us a direct route without having to go or wait at a level crossing to go into Hampden Park and get over the level crossing area.
CD: Right. So I know we don’t really want to make an issue out of something that can’t be an issue at the moment but it is interesting to know local history like that. Especially if people do complain a lot about that because there are usually two other things from what I’ve heard that people complain about which are the bins and also
JM: Dog poo.
CD: There you go.[Laughs]
Exactly I’m glad you said that like that. Yeah I mean and that’s the whole point about what you do isn’t it. That you are that local that you can deal with things that affect people’s lives on a daily basis.
JM: Yeah. There are a number of things that we can do. For example, Colin Swansborough had a case the other week where a family, a single parent family with two children were getting evicted from a private rented accommodation. They didn’t have enough money for a deposit but they could afford to carry on paying the rent so they were literally going to be thrown out onto the streets and we needed to try and do something to help them. Normally what happens in that case is that they end up in bed and breakfast for a number of months whilst we try and find them some other accommodation. With the intervention of Councillor Swansborough, this particular family was found accommodation in Seaford. It doesn’t suit everybody because it meant moving away from town but in this particular case the young family were more than happy to move over to Seaford and start a new life over there. Still being able to have access to everybody in Eastbourne and all their friends and family over here but it meant that they were secure and had a new start over in that particular area. It doesn’t happen all the time. We don’t always get these success stories but that is another thing which I find as a local councillor, people want you to look into things, they want you to investigate and even if the answer is no, they are pleased that you have actually made the effort and you have gone out there and sort of put your neck on the line to sort of try and solve their problems for them. Then when you come back and you have solved it, hurray, if you come back and it’s a negative answer then people say well thank you for trying for me.
CD: I can understand that. I mean I think that a lot of people who do have problems, who are vulnerable, you know like that family you just mentioned, at the end of the day if you haven’t got anyone to go to, to talk to, to try and get some help from because otherwise you would just be lost. Who would you talk to? You know, friends and family can’t always help.
JM: No and it’s quite often the case that we are just there as a sounding post. You know people will just come in and rant at us and sort of know that we can’t actually do anything but thank you for listening but quite often we can direct people to somebody else who might be able to help. That’s one of the benefits of having your Councillor who has been with you for a long time. I’m coming up for my 8th year now in Hampden Park. I know quite a few people. I know all the different agencies in the area where you can get help. I know the people that you can go to just to talk to and having that information is really valuable to the individuals in the area.
CD: Well it is, isn’t it? I mean, you know that family if Colin hadn’t been able to help them, what would they have done?
JM: They would have ended up in bed and breakfast, that bed and breakfast could have been in Kent, it could have been in South London you know they would have been taken away from this particular area if we couldn’t find anything local for them. This is a massive problem we have got at the moment in Eastbourne. We have got about 80 families waiting for accommodation in town and some of them it doesn’t suit being able to move out of town to places like Seaford or Lewes and things. They need to have local housing because they have got local work or their kids are in school in the area.
CD: And that’s the issue isn’t it of course because you know kids can’t afford to lose any time at school and starting a new school at whatever age isn’t something that they take lightly.
CD: No exactly. So how do people get in contact with you. I mean obviously they can call the Council and ask for your details and they would be given that but what is the usual way for people to give you their view or not their views but to ask for your help?
JM: If you want to talk to your Councillor you can phone up Borough Council first. They will give you our details. They have all our telephone numbers or our email addresses. I’m particularly well known for being on Facebook so very accessible there. I’m more than happy for people to phone me up whenever they need help you know so if it’s at 7 o’clock on Friday morning then give me a ring. If it’s at 10 o’clock on Sunday evening, then give me a ring. I will always answer the phone.
CD: And I think that’s a really good thing actually you know I was quite surprised when I found out how Councillors really care actually about the community. Because you kind of think that you know it’s a local politician, they’re not going to care about the underdog or care about someone who’s struggling, they are just really in it for themselves. But I really haven’t found that when I have been speaking to Councillors from all over.
JM: Local Councillors do tend to do it because they want to be able to help out in the local community. It doesn’t necessarily always go all the way up to MP level. We have got a particularly brilliant MP who is all about Eastbourne and spends every minute of his waking day sort of helping people in the town but Borough Councillors are very similar to that. They are out there to try and help out in their local community. Some of the nice stuff that we do in Eastbourne is we have got a budget each one of the wards has £10,000 that we can give away each year to local charities so that can go to playgroups, it can go to sports groups, we can plant new trees, we can get drop curbs done when the County Council can’t or won’t do it. We are just about to get some new goal posts put in Tugwell Park so that the kids can go out there and play again. So it’s little things like that which make a small difference to the local area but makes a big difference to the individuals that get to use it.
CD: Well no exactly, let’s go back to those dropped curbs that you mention. Now you’re not talking about drop curbs so people can go and park on their front gardens? I guess you are talking about drop curbs where you know wheelchair access or buggy access or something like that where it’s not covered by whatever the County Council has done with the roads, is that right? Or am I barking up the wrong tree there?
JM: No that’s correct so Borough Councillors will deal with everything off the road so all your parks and gardens and getting your rubbish cleared and that sort of thing. The County Councillors that deal with all of the infrastructure so your schools, perhaps your doctor’s surgeries and the roads themselves. So all of the pot holes that we get complained about every week, they are all down to County Council. They haven’t got any money, keep telling us they haven’t got any money and they have really silly guidelines for what a pothole is. So it has to be at least 300 millimetres round or square and it has to be at least two inches deep, so that’s 12 inches around and two inches deep otherwise it’s not a pothole, it’s just an inconvenience.
CD: Oh really?
JM: And then they have certain guidelines as to whether or not something is going to get filled and when it needs to be filled. So if it gets to that stage where it starts going below the 50mm then it becomes a priority and then it gets fixed within a month I think. But anything before that it’s got an 18 month ticket on it and it can get fixed anytime in that particular time.
CD: That explains why the A259 on the way to Hastings is in such a bad mess then.
CD: That is rubbish, anyway that’s my own view. I shouldn’t be saying that. Okay so let’s get to some music now and give everybody a bit of a rest from our voices I think. And we are talking about the Jam here with a song that you mentioned is actually really quite apt with you being a Councillor. Introduce us to it.
JM: So this is Smithers Jones, it’s a song which made me think when I was a kid about getting myself caught in a rut, getting trapped in the rat trap that life is and I wanted to break out from that so I wanted to do something a little bit different so the day job feeds the children and the family and the Council work fulfils the other things which I enjoy doing in my life.
CD: Fantastic and here we go.
CD: Thank you very much there Mr Weller. So now we have got an education and we know what Borough Councillors do and what County Councillors and County Councils are supposed to do. I’m still reeling actually from the pot hole stuff I think that is just quite amazing but anyway. So we are now going to be talking about elections and electioneering and the fact that an election is coming up certainly in Eastbourne for the local Councils. When is that Jim?
JM: The election is in May 2019.
CD: Right so that seems to me obviously over a year from now.
JM: Yeah but as Local Councillors we need to make sure that everybody is aware that the election is coming up and who they are actually going to be voting for. So Borough Council is the one that we are looking at so this is where your voting for the people on the ground, people like myself and people like Councillor Swansborough, David Tutt who is the leader of the Council at the moment. They are all Borough Councillors, they are the people who make the difference in your individual town.
CD: Right so let’s get this straight because there is lots of stuff around election time where everyone complains that no one votes in local elections. Now is that the case in Eastbourne. What’s the turnout rate, how many voters are there?
JM: In Eastbourne the population is about 110,000 now and out of that eligible voters I think there is 60,000. Out of that we end up with about 40% of the eligible vote coming out at 40-45%. That is against where we have a national election so that would be voting for your MP and we get somewhere between sort of 55 and 65% turnout for the national election.
CD: Oh okay.
JM: So it’s the wrong way to be thinking about it really because the MP although he does make a difference to your town or he or she makes a difference to your town, if they are worth their weight and they actually work for the town rather than somewhere like Hastings where you have got Amber Rudd who’s the Home Secretary. She has got the Cabinet position, that takes up an awful lot of her time so therefore she can’t spend an awful lot of time thinking about Hastings. She will have a small team who will help her out and sort of do some of the local work for her but then that’s not the person you have voted for. So we are really lucky that we have got someone like Stephen who just devotes his entire time to the town. So with the Borough Council, we are the people on the ground dealing with everyday problems all the time for you so therefore in reality, we should be getting more votes. We should be getting more people out there sort of making sure that you come out because we are the people that can actually make a difference to the town. You’re the ones who are telling us what you want, you’re the ones who are telling us what you would like in the town, we listen to you, we try and put those things into place for you. So at the moment you have got a Liberal Democrat Councillor in Eastbourne and we have a County Council which is run by the Conservatives. We have a number of problems with County Council, Eastbourne is one of the best run Councils in the country. We have had 65% of other Councils in the country coming to us and asking us how are we doing it? Why haven’t we got a deficit? Why are we still keeping all of our local amenities open? Why haven’t we had loads of redundancies in the town? So we are doing pretty well and we are pretty proud of our track record so far and we would like to carry on doing this. Which is why 18 months before the next election we are going to start sort of telling everybody about it and making sure that you are all aware of the hard work that we have been putting into place for the last few months or years.
CD: Yes, and yes, yes exactly. And I think it is important because local politics effects everybody on a daily basis. I mean obviously national politics does as well with the taxation and things like that but you know coming out of your house, driving down the road, going to the shops, it effects everybody on a daily basis and I think that making sure that you guys put out there you know your, so really yes putting out the communications to people is a really important thing because they need to know that it’s not voting for the Prime Minister and moving forward from there. So what’s the problem with having the vote yearly, I don’t know at some other time? Is there an issue with that or I mean obviously you can’t get any work done I guess if you have only got a year’s mandate?
JM: And that’s exactly the point, imagine if we were always waiting to do another election, we wouldn’t be able to get any work done in the in between time because one we would be fighting for the next election which takes up an awful lot of our time and if you decided that we hadn’t done a particularly good job that year then you would change over to whoever it might be that you have changed to and then you don’t like them and you change back to the other people. Nothing actually gets done. This is what happens in Central Government. You know we flip flop from Labour Government to Tory Government and each one of them changes the views of the other one almost by 180 degrees so we never actually get any success. The fact that the Lib Dems have been in power in Eastbourne for 10 years now, we have actually been able to make a difference. We have actually been able to change things. We have actually been able to make a difference to people’s lives where the number one destination for people moving into in the country. There has been an influx of 35,000 or 45,000 now into Eastbourne in the last 25 years, more than any other town in the country
CD: Oh wow. Well that’s nice to hear as well isn’t it. It makes you quite proud as an Eastbournian. There is a new phrase for it. Yeah you would be quite proud with that as well.
JM: Well we have got a lot going for the town. We have got the Downs all the way around us, we have got the seafront, we are trying to improve all of the events that we have along the seafront with Airbourne, with a number of things like Wintercon, you know there are some great events that go on in Eastbourne every year which brings new people into town. Our visitor numbers are now up to 5.1 million people a year which is a huge result for the town.
CD: Oh wow. It is.
JM: And all the local hoteliers and things so they are all benefiting along with all the local businesses. This is the thing that people don’t really realise as a Local Councillor. I might be dealing with somebody’s dog poo one day but the next day I have got to sit in front of a committee and work out whether or not we can allow a new business into the town which could change the face of everything that happens in the town you know. There are tiny little decisions being made daily which effect people on an individual basis really greatly but then the massive decisions which affect everybody also in a massive way.
CD: And that of course brings us nicely to our next track which is London’s Calling. As I guess that most of these people that move to Eastbourne come from London.
JM: Yes, they certainly do.
CD: And thank you very much The Clash with London’s Calling. So yeah so really the elections are going to be happening pretty soon, you’re going to be telling Eastbourne exactly what you guys have been up to and what your plans are for the future in terms of looking after Eastbourne and going for re-election again and what do you think is the main message to put forward from that?
JM: So the main things that we have got going for Eastbourne, one is the fact that it is the sunshine coast, one is the fact that we have got a nice stable economy, we have got lots of businesses moving into the area. We are slowly trying to change the face of how Eastbourne works as well so we have got the new conference centre which is being built as we speak, that is going to be open at the end of this year. That’s going to attract new businesses into the town and a lot more business visitors so the way that people visit Eastbourne has changed in the last 15 years so beforehand it used to be coach companies coming into the town, they would stay for the week, do their promenades on the beach and then go home again. We are still getting some of that but the majority of what we are getting is people doing shorter visits, so they will come down for long weekends, three or four days, still have the same amount of money to spend so they are looking for something a little bit more special so rather than getting fish and chips on the beach they are looking to sit down in a nice restaurant and have a three or four course meal which is great for our local restaurants and I was wandering around seaside the other day and looking at some of the new restaurants that we have down there and everywhere seems to be sort of brightening themselves up, giving themselves a face lift, changing their menus, the town has just started to look a little bit better which is exactly what we were hoping for when we introduced the conference centre. We are hoping that because we are bringing these business people into the town, the town is going to react and sort of up its game and produce the higher quality establishments that we are actually starting to see in town.
CD: Yeah funnily enough you mentioned the restaurants because before I moved down to Eastbourne from Essex, where I was living in at the time, we came down to Eastbourne, we did exactly what you just said. So we spent a couple of time here for say three days at a time and then found a really nice restaurant, on Seaside funnily enough, and went there and absolutely loved it. And thought actually Eastbourne is something different. You know the sunshine coast you mentioned, the seafront is spectacular when everything is going during the summer, Airbourne is just out of this world and really do you know what that is a perfect link to get back into our last song actually Jim because we have run out of time. So as corny as it may seem, yes Eastbourne is sunny and I’ll let you finish off.
JM: So, as well as being Eastbourne the sunniest place in town and the happiest place in the country, we’ve got Airbourne going for it, it’s got the new restaurants coming to town. It’s got the new Wish Tower coming into town, it’s got the new shopping centre coming into the town, things can only get better so where else could we go but Mr Blue Sky.