Saturday, April 28, 2007

Press and publicity

On Thursday morning I was interviewed by a reporter from Radio Cleveland about the election and the future for Stockton. She was putting together a piece with interviews of all three main party leaders. I managed to catch it on Friday morning before 7.30. If that was the only time it was broadcast it's a pity because many people wouldn't hear it and she'd done a good job.
Friday morning's paper showed that a Conservative shadow minister had been at Egglescliffe Comprehensive and the report indicated that it was a political visit - The north isn't a Labour area according to him! Well, true - Newcastle & Durham Councils are Lib Dem, Redcar & Cleveland is a Lib Dem - Tory coalition, but it seemed odd to have such a one-sided political visit in election time to a school with voters amongst its 6th form and staff. Questions to be asked there when normal service resumes on Monday.
Friday evening's paper brought a story of a local woman protesting about the parking of dangerous chemical tankers on land behind her house. Alan and I drove round there this afternoon to have a look and found that the haulage company seems to have extended its storage yard and is now relying on the houses and garden fences to provide part of the boundary. More questions to be asked on Monday, this time of the planning department to see whether permission is needed.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Week to Go

Well, postal votes have hit the mats and lots of people have already sent them in. Canvassing continues apace and people do seem very positive. Next Friday morning's count will tell the final tale. So many things could change in Stockton if only people will give us a chance.
Meanwhile the last planning committee of the council year took place yesterday. The plans for the temporary cafe in Stockton High Street were passed despite serious misgivings on the part of some. A cafe that relies on the Shambles being open to give access to the public toilet seems to me and some of the other members a wrong approach. To say that it's temporary and will move if need be for the International Riverside Festival seemed to fly in the face of business planning - who moves away at the busiest time for them? However, a majority of the committee agreed to approve the application so it went through. Leaves a bit of a sour taste at the end of the municipal year.
The Parish Council had its final meeting of the year tonight, but the two members who decided not to stand again couldn't be there so no chance to say a final farewell to them. Sue's been on the council since before me, and Pete for 10 years. In their different ways they'll be missed. In two weeks there'll be a new chairman, new vice-chairman and one new member. Times they are a-changing.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Tory Innocence?

Today a leaflet dropped through the letterbox from the local Conservative candidates. Only one actually lives in the ward and his phone number was obliterated by Tippex or some such whitener! So we know how much he wants to be contacted don't we. It could be of course because he's a university student so probably not in the area at the moment.
I couldn't believe that a deliverer had walked past our window with its Lib Dem poster in it to deliver their leaflet, nor that she hadn't been given a list of the sitting councillors and candidates to avoid their addresses. But then I read the first sentence and nearly died laughing - "We know you've been well served by your present councillors". Doesn't anyone tell these people about how to write a leaflet? Someone at church thought that meant the Tories were supporting us, and thought it rather nice of them. I hadn't the heart to disabuse him.
Otherwise it's full marks to them for getting the name of their PPC into more homes than it would have gone otherwise. The general election campaign has started already in Stockton South.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Children, children, more children!

Today seemed to be all about children. Stockton's "Virtual School" for Looked After Children was first on the agenda. This is an idea that's been growing in the council for almost a year now, that we need an organisational tool to bring all the services together to make sure that children in the care of the council get the best deal we can give them. They're not with their birth parents for all sorts of reasons, mostly round the parents' inability to give them a stable caring upbringing, and the council has the responsibility of being "corporate parents" to them. Now we have one person with an overview of what should be happening, working with schools, social workers, councillors, and everyone else to make sure it does happen. We heard some very honest and moving comments from young people who are in our care system or have just left it about what they would have liked to see in their lives. We had really useful workshops coming up with suggestions about practical matters, and I came away determined that whatever the outcome of the election I'm going to know more about what's happening to these children and work to get better results for them than we've got at present.
After that there was just time to get home and have a meal before going out to Egglescliffe Parish Annual Meeting. This is the biggest thing that sets first tier councils apart from Borough and County councils - the Parish has to have a meeting at which it reports to the electorate and answers questions from them. There was a really good turnout, largely because people wanted to talk about the potential new development at AllensWest, and people asked lots of questions and made lots of comments. What was really good was that 3 women, all mothers of young children in the area, came forward afterwards with ideas for ways to improve the play facilities in the parish. They're very enthusiastic and talked of setting up a "Friends of Amberley Way Play Area". I hope they carry on and have promised to keep in touch and to find out about insurance restrictions and so on. One of them knew that Tesco have sponsored a play area in another town and is going to find out how the people there got that funding.
So high hopes on two fronts, and a very positive day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Some Good News

At last a bit of good news on the planning front. I picked up my council post on Monday evening and found a letter telling me that the application for Quad biking and motor cycle sport at Riverside Lodge had been refused. It was one of those applications where the vast majority of local residents are absolutely opposed and have been complaining about the noise for the past 3 or 4 years at least, but the applicant was determined that he could do enough to get planning permission. I just wasn't sure whether he could or not, and I wasn't looking forward to it coming to planning committee with a recommendation for approval. The committee would have needed the wisdom of Solomon I think, to make the right decision. As it is, the officers have said that the traffic hazard and the noise will be unacceptable and that there's a possible impact on wildlife which hadn't been addressed. I'm sure the applicant will go to appeal but I hope now that the inspector will agree with the council and the residents.
The not good news was that my friend's relative had died on Sunday in hospital. Police are appealing for any witnesses to the accident on Durham Lane on Saturday morning to come forward. (PC Craig Portas on 01642 301552)
We're at the stage in the council year when some committees complete their work and can't start anything else till after the election, while others like planning have to keep going to the bitter end. Yesterday another of the former completed its year.
It was also our last ward surgery of the municipal year, and the last one ever for Mike. We didn't have time to get maudlin though - a resident came along in response to articles about the area to suggest some ways in which we might brighten up Eaglescliffe and make it pleasanter for people travelling along Yarm Road. They were good interesting suggestions and I've noted them for consulting on after the election.
There was just time for a little bit of canvassing before going to our group meeting - again the last one before the election. We went the length of Elmwood Road where I'd been told there was a great deal of worry about road safety, but not one person raised the issue with us on the doorsteps. We did, however, get issues raised about the park which will be followed up. Yet again we have young people congregating, making it seem intimidating for older people, leaving the debris of their illicit drinking behind, but they have nowhere to go that doesn't cause these problems. A real priority for after the election.

Monday, April 16, 2007

I finally managed to reply to all the residents who kindly completed surveys for us over recent weeks. Yet again leisure facilities, especially for young people, and recycling/green issues were prominent. I've also sent a long list of people to the Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator for him to contact with more information on joining. Somewhere for young people to hang around safely, being able to chat or kick a ball about without upsetting others, is a real priority but I just don't know where we're going to find a suitable space.

The latest editions of Focus for all the wards are now uploaded to the website and we're getting a number of enquiries via that route which shows that people are finding it a useful resource. I also succeeded in putting the Parish Council Newsletter up onto that site so that people can find it there. It was good to be able to escape the heat of the sun and do a little work indoors. Sunday was far too hot for April, though apparently not the hottest April on record.

On Saturday morning Durham Lane was closed off by the police for a time due to an accident. I'm always sorry to hear of accidents but didn't know any details until yesterday morning at church I discovered that the driver of the car involved was a relative of a friend. I pray that she pulls through.

The national news is full of the arguments surrounding the sale of two stories to the press after the release of the prisoners from Iran. I hope that the easy target of whether the defence secretary authorised it doesn't stop a proper investigation into why it was so easy for the Iranian forces to take prisoners in those circumstances. I should have expected better armed and protected personnel to be doing that job and if it turns out that we're still sending people into danger without proper training or equipment that's a much more important thing than who authorised the sale of the stories. It's bad enough that we allow 17 yr olds who are too young to vote to go into battle for us, but if they're not getting the best possible protection then heads should roll and fast.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday the 13th

The end of a very busy week approaches. Last weekend passed in a blur of hospital visiting, rearranging Easter Sunday activities and preparing to have our grand-daughter for her first visit without parents. She was a real hit, attending meetings with me and generally being a great distraction from the work around us. I managed to return her safely to her parents mid-week.
On Thursday I presented the report of the Children and Young People Select Committee on Bullying to the Cabinet. After almost no debate the recommendations were all agreed except one. Interestingly, it was the one which was strongly promoted by one of the Labour members of the committee. On this occasion, as on several others in this committee in the past, party politics was put aside in a genuine attempt to get the best result for the young people of the borough. The recommendation which caused the upset was one suggesting that the council doesn't buy a piece of software until the schools have all been consulted on whether they'd use it. The officers say they have no choice, the union reps said they were very dubious and the Cabinet followed the advice of the officers. It'll be interesting to see whether anything is made of the decision at Council on Wednesday.

Though I'm not normally superstitious about such things, today certainly wasn't an auspicious one! Hurrying to get some tasks done before a meeting I was first stuck in a traffic jam caused by the Gas main needing emergency work, then in one caused by a train at the station keeping the level crossing shut. Then discovered that my mother-in-law hadn't been able to go out on a planned trip because she wasn't well, then that I couldn't access the internet on the council laptop. I gave up and went out for a late meal at the local vegetarian restaurant with my husband!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday

The first day of the long Easter weekend. Yesterday was busy, trying to do all the bits that needed doing before Municipal Buildings closed for the weekend. I had a good meeting about the agenda for the Western Area Partnership meeting next month, and agreed a community engagement idea to develop with the relevant officers. Felt much more positive about the Partnership, partly as a result of discussions with people from other parts of the country on Tuesday and Wednesday on my course.
The Statement of Persons nominated was published officially and it was a relief to see that all of our candidates are in place and validly nominated. I was sad to see the list of nominations for Billingham Town Council and to see how few people other than Labour party borough council candidates had put themselves forward for the Town council. I can't see how some of those Labour people can hope to have the time to devote to the town council if they're on the Stockton Cabinet again. But several of the people who've worked so hard to establish the idea of the Town Council then didn't decide to stand for election to it. I can't understand it.
Egglescliffe Parish again has too few nominations so there won't be an election, and similarly Preston. In fact the only ones that are having elections are the ones where there's a real issue like Yarm, Ingleby, Thornaby and Billingham. I don't know whether people in Egglescliffe and Preston are satisfied with their councillors or just don't see any hope of getting better ones.
Sadly, this morning a family crisis arose and so I spent a large part of the day at the hospital, seeing yet again how wonderfully the staff cope despite long shifts and little thanks. For the first time in I don't know how many years I didn't make hot cross buns for this morning and didn't get soup made for lunch. Two more traditions bite the dust. Never mind. I also missed the ecumenical walk of witness this morning carrying the cross into Yarm, so I hope there was a good turnout. It's one of the very few days of the year when something overtly Christian happens in the area and it's the best possible day for it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Deadline Day

Well, like it or not, the deadline passed at noon for nominations. Too late now to wonder if someone would have liked to stand for a parish council or even the borough. I was on a course in York, along with other councillors from all over the country, and several were frantically sorting out last minute hitches by phone, darting in and out of the seminar room.
I came home to a quiet phone for a change and just a little hiccup over our Focus deliveries. They'll be a bit later than we'd planned because we hadn't communicated properly around the team. A lesson to be learned there!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Election Fever

Only two days to go before the close of nominations for the elections. This morning I took in the nomination papers for Alan, John and I for the Parish Council. They were the easy ones to complete. John and Alan had sorted out signatures for the Borough Council nominations and they've gone to our agent. People from all 3 main parties are scurrying round trying to get nomination papers signed in the wards where they don't have a big membership base, and looking increasingly fraught. The electoral registration desks are a hive of activity but seemed very well organised.
I spent time trying to organise things before I go away tomorrow morning on a course - not a good time to do that. Colleagues were still getting papers signed in far flung wards, and then Alan and John went out to do some surveys in the ward. I must say I'm impressed by the return rate we're getting on them. People do seem to be pleased to be listened to. Many of the responses have issues which need taking up and replying to, so that's a pile of work for later in the week when I return.
In the midst of all this were frantic phone calls about a problem that had cropped up, rumours of things going wrong for other parties, and the effort to carry on doing the casework which residents bring to us. And there's still a month to go till the election!!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Palm Sunday

Sunday mornings are politics-free zones, with family and church taking precedence even this close to an election. That doesn't stop people talking to me about local issues when they see me, but I'm not going to do anything about them immediately. Palm Sunday service starts in the Parish Hall with the blessing of the palms, and continues with a procession into the church. It's not a very long way, but it is a rare act of witness in our busy lives.
A large chunk of the remainder of the day was spent on laying out Focus, ready for printing and delivery before Easter. I enjoy working on the layout, but it does take a long time. The regular buzz of e-mails arriving reminded me that the rest of the team were busy too, responding to complaints and enquiries from residents and commenting on planning applications in the ward.
When not working on Focus I had other IT problems to worry about. A virus on our PC meant I was working on a laptop, which isn't as comfortable for long periods. Something went funny on it and I couldn't handle one set of photos a colleague had sent me. Then it decided to crash every time I tried to do certain things. By the end of the evening I was tearing my hair.