Thursday, May 31, 2007

Phone problems

I discovered yesterday evening that I'd got a problem with my council phone. Unknown to me it was giving an engaged tone to people ringing in from outside. It was doing the same for me ringing out but I thought that was genuinely because the people concerned were using their phone. I'm not sure how long it's been misbehaving but today I had to collect a replacement handset and connect it up to prove that it wasn't the line at fault. Fortunately it was the handset and I'm now back on line. However, I discovered that 3 people had managed to get through to the voicemail service on it, two of them on Tuesday evening when I was in the same room as the phone and I'll swear it didn't ring! Very strange. Luckily the messages were ones which weren't urgent.
This afternoon was the first planning committee of the new municipal year. Perhaps because it was on Thursday instead of Wednesday, or perhaps because some people couldn't give a second day of the week to planning, it wasn't well attended. We were quorate but not full. It was also strange in having a very light agenda, considering how long it is since we had a meeting. It gave the opportunity for new committee members to feel their way in without too many problems and for the new chairman to stamp his mark on the committee procedures - looks as though it'll be more professionally run in the future though whether that'll make the decisions any better is up to the rest of the committee of course.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Apart from some family commitments today it was time to catch up on some of the things that need doing in the ward. First up was replying to some outstanding e-mails but then it was time to look into one of the suggestions for spending our environmental improvements budget. Improved lighting has been requested some years ago for the path linking the ends of Finchfield Close and Birchfield Close. I walked up today and confirmed that there's a street light at each end of the path but of course at this time of year it's not easy to picture what it's like on a dark night. Alan's going to go and have a look later tonight to see whether he thinks an extra light is necessary. Meanwhile we need to look at the request for bulb and flower planting near Newsam Rd. It's been mentioned in Focus but it remains to be seen whether anyone responds with comments.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Back to Earth with a bump

Today was a training day for councillors who are part of the planning committee or might act as substitutes or have an interest in planning issues. If we want to be able to take part in making planning decisions we have to do this training, otherwise there's no guarantee we will make the decisions for the right reasons. If we don't have our reasons clear in our minds and clearly within planning law and guidance then we could find the decision being appealed against or even worse, the authority being accused of maladministration with all that implies.
For the first time since I've been on the council the training was given by outside planning consultants, so it was very interesting to hear an outsiders' view of what we can do as councillors and what should be asked of the developers. Some of Stockton's procedures are apparently very good and go beyond what is required of us, while some other things seemed to me to be not so good and actually in one or two areas a bit questionable. I'm going to have some interesting discussions with planning officers in the future I think.
Meanwhile it was good to have 6 of our group present so we can take our turn on the committee. I just hope it wasn't too daunting for those who've not done it before. One of my new colleagues is sitting this week - there's an application in her ward and it's going to be interesting for her to see how it's determined. Site visit tomorrow - whoopee!! We've a new chairman and vice-chairman and already the chairman is making his presence felt. He wants us to turn up half an hour early to committee to read any update reports that are produced. There's no chance of my doing that this week because it's on Thursday and I just won't get finished with family commitments in time for that.

Monday, May 28, 2007

R & R

On Friday Denis and I were invited to join friends in celebrating Suzanne's year as mayor, especially the contribution she'd made to improving relationships with the University and her work with refugees from around the world who've arrived in Stockton. It was a fitting end to the year, especially as we could also celebrate John's election as Deputy Mayor and look forward in hope to his year as Mayor in 2008-9.
On Saturday evening we managed another party, this time to celebrate a friend's birthday. Two in one weekend is some sort of record for us!
The rest of the weekend was spent in catching up on all sorts of jobs which have been on hold for the last 6 weeks or more, and then having a day out in the Yorkshire Dales yesterday to celebrate our wedding anniversary early. Denis is missing the actual day as he's travelling to China on a business trip.
Of course there's no getting away from being a councillor for that length of time, so there was also Focus to finish sorting out, letters to our helpers thanking them for the work they do year in, year out to help us to keep in touch with constituents, planning applications to look at and comment on and several issues to look at before deciding on actions.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Life Goes On

Yesterday was the Annual Meeting of Stockton Borough Council. Suzanne's year as mayor came to an end and I was privileged to propose the vote of thanks to her and John. Thinking back over the year made me realise just how many successes she had, through all the frustrations. I was also able to nominate John as Deputy Mayor, so double pleasure at one meeting.
On the down side the "Joint Administration" of Labour and Conservative was formally sealed, with Conservative leadership. How that's going to work out and quite what the labour group leader has in mind remains to be seen. For the present the Council has a conservative leader - Ken Lupton.
Changes to what Eaglescliffe councillors do when they're not dealing with casework for Eaglescliffe - John will be chair of Audit committee - quite a dry subject but absolutely vital to the proper running of the council. Maureen will be chair of the Environment committee, looking first of all at some difficult questions around memorials in cemeteries. Alan will sit on the Children and Young People Select committee looking into the provision of school places round the borough. In addition John is Deputy Mayor, standing in for the Mayor on occasion.

After the meeting the reporter who'd caused such a problem last week collared me to ask about some phone calls she said they'd had at the office, suggesting that the Labour group would be thrown out of the Labour party if they went into coalition with the Tories. I told her she'd have to ask the Labour group about that - our view is that we have a cabinet now and we work with what we've got. Later I was told that she'd asked someone from another group about the labour group, only this time she'd allegedly claimed that I'd told her the story!! Not what I'd call responsible journalism if it's true.

At the weekend we sent out a letter to all party members in the borough telling them what had happened and why we weren't part of the new administration. Several of them thanked us for doing that so quickly, so it was well worth while. Now we get on with working with the people who elected us to get the best possible results for Eaglescliffe.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

And the second week's even longer!

For a brief spell on Monday it seemed that the Conservative leader might have seen the strength of the argument against having Labour in the administration, so we spent some time on Monday evening sorting out who we'd nominate for various posts with options and alternatives at the ready. Armed with reams of paper John and I arrived for the meeting on Tuesday. Within seconds of starting it was obviously "No Change" so the Tories walked out rapidly followed by Labour. The Tories then tried to persuade one of the Independent groups to join them and Labour, but that failed so they went ahead with just Labour and the three remaining groups spoke to the press to try to let the people of Stockton know what had happened.
Disappointingly, the regional paper which is normally quite good at reporting Stockton happenings, produced a very slanted report which painted the big parties as the good boys and us as the petulant little children going off in a sulk. Can't be helped - a free press is one of the signs of a democracy and I'm thankful we have it.
So here we are, approaching the Annual Meeting of the council tomorrow. There will be a cabinet made up of 4 Conservatives and 4 Labour members, with a conservative leader, while the Select Committees are all reduced in size. Chairing of the committees is shared between the groups. The conservative leader decided which group would chair each committee and e-mailed it out to us. The independent groups were pleased to be offered what they were though we were less happy. However, we'll make the most of opportunities to represent the views of the people of Eaglescliffe in whatever role we take.
John is to be Deputy Mayor, as the longest serving councillor who hasn't already either been mayor or turned down the chance. This means that he'll be representing the Borough at events when the Mayor can't attend for some reason and next year he'll be Mayor. Suzanne will be his Deputy Mayoress. We're delighted that his long service is being recognised in this way and know that he'll do a good job for Stockton. BUT he is still a ward councillor for Eaglescliffe so people still have 3 Liberal Democrat councillors working with them.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A week's a long time in politics!

Someone famous said that once - I don't know who but whoever s/he was they were right! The election came and went in a flurry of campaigning, canvassing and other things of interest only to those involved. At the end of Polling Day we had no idea what the count would bring across the borough but retired to bed exhausted, trying to get some sleep before what we thought would be a difficult day on Friday. The count went smoothly but slowly, and gradually it became obvious that the political landscape of Stockton was changing. Only late in the afternoon was it clear by just how much. We won back the seat we'd lost in Billingham when one of our members became an independent. Thornaby Independents took all the Thornaby seats and the Conservatives snatched a seat from Labour by a majority of 7 after a recount. So there we are - no overall control and a smaller Labour group by far than started the day.
We knew very soon that Labour wanted a coalition with the Tories and wondered whether the Tory leader would be tempted. He said no, he wanted to have a rainbow administration of all parties which wouldn't share any policy platform but would debate the decisions and come to a democratic decision. Admirable in theory perhaps but I wasn't convinced it would work.
Cutting a long week short - our group decided to give it a try and see if we could get a constructive working arrangement with all the other groups. Meetings, e-mails and phone calls later and it emerged that Labour had no intention of working constructively but wanted to be in charge even though conceding the leadership! They would tell us how to run things, tell us what portfolios we could have and generally try to shout down any comments from the smaller groups. True to form they managed to wind up one of the independents to the point of a shouting match before we'd been in the same room for 30 minutes. What chance democratic debate and decision making? Sadly, our group has decided that we can't be part of such an alliance. We can't see how it can work. There's not enough trust between us and the Conservative leader to counter the mistrust there is of Labour. We'll work with the other 4 groups if they'll work with us, but not Labour. They can have their 4 years of opposition or they can form a minority administration on 22 seats. Another interesting week ahead I think.