Sunday, September 30, 2007

Burma - You're in our prayers

I've been following the protests in Burma with increasing concern over the course of the week and spent time over breakfast reading the coverage in yesterday morning's newspaper. I was almost in tears as I read it. We take voting and free speech so much for granted that many of us don't even bother to vote. In Burma young and old alike were out on the streets, peacefully protesting against not having those rights. What was the reaction of the military leaders? To send out the guns, shooting indiscriminately and killing goodness knows how many people. I have a particular interest in Burma, having taught a student from there many years ago. When she was preparing to return she was very worried and insisted that if we wrote to her we put Myanmar rather than Burma on the address because she said that if a letter arrived with Burma on it would indicate that they were not "loyal" and would cause trouble and possible imprisonment. I wrote to her, and so did several others but none of us ever heard from her again. Every so often I wonder if she's OK, but when there's news like this week's I fear for her and others like her.
I just hope and pray that the visit from the UN special envoy does some good, but it seems that nothing affects the military junta for the good.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


I spent Friday morning in a meeting of North East Liberal Democrats, discussing various political issues. Part way through the morning I received an e-mail from Stockton Council's PR department with the result of the Darlington referendum on having an elected mayor. A pretty comprehensive victory for the No campaign was greeted with relief - such votes on the whole are a distraction from the main job of councillors to represent the people who elected them.
The afternoon was taken up with a meeting to examine the issues and possible solutions so far in the scrutiny of policy and practice on memorials in our cemeteries. There are new issues every time we take evidence from someone. Now the problem is - if we allow some extra memorialisation on lawned graves who is going to be responsible for removing them if the grave needs to be reopened for a second or third burial is to take place in the plot. We still have the problem of who should "police" any rules - there doesn't seem to be an obvious person or service at the moment. And of course there are budget implications for any changes.
Time for a quick tidy up at home before a really enjoyable network was re-established in the flesh. My husband grew up with a cousin living very near in both age and housing. They were almost inseparable until his cousin's family moved away to the south of England in the days before internet, phones in almost every house or family holidays to further away than Whitby. As a result contact became much more spasmodic so this was the first time in many years they'd actually met up. It's amazing to me how some relationships survive this sort of distance and others disappear under much less stress. Seeing them together it was as though they'd never been separated. The jokes flew, the laughter, the conversation were all as they had been years ago. We eventually managed to load ourselves into the car to go and meet the rest of the family for a meal. It was an opportunity also to catch up with our nephew and his plans for his career. It seems no time since he was a toddler getting into trouble for examining things too closely for their and his safety - switching things on and off, pulling bits out to see if they would go back in! Now he's planning to be a civil engineer.
So, different sorts of networking during the day, all worthwhile but only one producing side-aching laughter. Perhaps just as well otherwise I might not have survived.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thursday already?

On the home front we now have our lovely wooden floor but have yet to choose and fit new skirting boards so some of the furniture is still in other places. However, we have brought back our comfy seating so at least we don't have to try to relax sitting round the dining table! I even managed to catch up on some reading and filing while the work was being done.
Around the ward we've made decisions on where to have spring bulbs planted this autumn so we should have swathes of crocus, hosts of golden daffodils and mixed tulips appearing next spring. I'm sure residents will let us know what they think of them at the time.
We've had some discussions about the playing of inappropriate ball games on some of the medium sized plots of green in the area, especially at the moment on Hindhead, but without reaching any solutions. It's a real tragedy that the handful of young people who misuse the school playing fields and vandalise the buildings have led to all youngsters being deterred from using them to kick a ball about. We'll keep working on it but I don't hold out a lot of hope at present.
I spent a sizeable part of Tuesday evening and yesterday as part of a panel of members selecting a manager for the Stockton Darlington Partnership. This is one of those obviously sensible ideas which has only just become appropriate - the two boroughs are neighbours and both need to upgrade their ICT systems, make even more cost savings to keep within government targets and keep costs down for the Council Tax payers, and at the same time improve the services which the people of the two Boroughs get. The answer is to share some of the services which no-one sees but which keep the front-line services working - things like ICT, Design & Print, HR services. Work has been going on in the background for a couple of years, trying to see whether two different authorities could work together like this and earlier this year it was agreed that we could. Yesterday a Partnership Manager was appointed to take the vision into reality. It was a very difficult decision to make with some very good candidates and we're all left feeling that we'll only know for sure whether we chose the right one after a couple of years. For the sake of all the residents and staff I hope we did.
Later in the day, catching up on the e-mails which needed dealing with, I spent an interesting half hour chatting with the leader of the Labour Group about the regeneration projects in the borough and especially about the delays being caused by the local Urban Regeneration Company. I'm not au fait with all the details but it sounded to me as though the sooner ministers make a decision about funding channels to the city region the better.
The really good news of the day came late in the evening. An e-mail from the director of Neighbourhood Services told me that Stockton had won Best City in the Britain in Bloom awards. Yippee and congratulations all round! However, the results aren't on the RHS website yet so I can't get hold of any details except that I know we were awarded Silver Gilt, ahead of London Borough of Brent and Dundee who both got silver awards.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The weekend flew by in a haze of housework and furniture removal in readiness for the twin joys of seeing relatives we haven't seen for years and having a new floor laid in our main living room. The house is now reasonably presentable apart from the rooms which are storing the furniture we moved!
This afternoon started with the kick-off meeting for the Environment Select committee's next scrutiny, trying to work out what the scope of the review should be and what information we need gathered together. We'll be looking at the Borough Waste and Recycling strategy, trying to determine the best way of moving forward over the next 5 years or so. Which of the kerbside recycling collections are worth carrying on; which if any should be dropped or increased; should we move to fortnightly collections of residual waste; what's the total environmental impact of the strategy we have at present and how can it be reduced? Lots of interesting and challenging questions which the review will attempt to answer in order to come up with a policy fit for purpose. There'll be a need for a lot of engagement with press and public to keep everyone informed of any proposed changes and also to try to gather evidence of any problems people are having.
Three of us went straight from that to the meeting of the Select Committee to hear evidence from the memorial masons and the Funeral Directors on what memorials they think are suitable for our cemeteries and any problems they've had with the present arrangements. They are certainly outspoken on what they want to be allowed and what Stockton Council should be doing but some of their evidence raised questions rather than answered them and didn't always ring true with other evidence we have had from other sources. However, they did raise one good point - that if anything other than the headstone is to be allowed we need to be clear about how it's going to be removed when a grave is needing to be reopened to add a body and also whose responsibility it is to remove it.
The third meeting of the day was the Western Area Partnership Board which has agreed to move to monthly meetings now that our agendas seem to be of increasing length. Tonight's meeting had very little opportunity for discussion but still lasted over 2 hours. We agreed that in October we'll put in an extra meeting to discuss the Building Schools for the Future programme especially as it applies in the Western Area. We also heard from our young representative, Alice, that the youth club in Yarm has moved premises and is now at Layfield Primary rather than Conyers. The Crime Reduction Partnership reported that crime in the Western Area is significantly lower than elsewhere in the borough which is lower than in similar boroughs in the country so we ought to feel much more secure than perhaps we do. Maybe we need to spend some more effort on improving perceptions as the perception seems to be that crime is getting worse.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Back to Normal

Back to council business with a vengeance today, with a seminar on the various changes to local government which will come in the next couple of years. The Westminster government wants to revitalise our democracy but they seem incapable of realising that the only way to do that is to allow local people to elect councillors who decide on how to spend the money and deliver the services locally instead of having to fulfill central government targets all the time. It seems to be almost impossible to set a vision for the area in case we fail to deliver it in the required time frame - utterly stupid in my opinion. The result is that many people don't see any point in voting or getting involved because they find that it doesn't actually make much difference.
Once the new local government bill is enacted we'll be faced with making a choice between having a directly elected mayor who then takes all the important decisions and appoints his/her own cabinet to help in that, or a directly elected leader and cabinet as a slate so very little chance of a coalition ever again, or a leader elected by the council as at present who would then appoint his/her own cabinet and be in post for 4 years instead of the current one year. We know that the Independent groups on the council favour the elected mayor scenario because they seem to think that anyone who's not a member of a mainstream political party has more democratic credibility than someone who is. They're also convinced that people would reject the offerings of the main parties. They could be right on the latter point but they could be very wrong. Interesting times ahead.
An hour spent chasing up bits of work which hadn't been resolved while I was away was followed by a trip to the shops to restock the depleted fridge and cupboards. Then it was time to sort out Fairtrade goods to take to one of the local churches in time for their harvest festival stall on Sunday before going to celebrate my mother-in-law's 85th birthday with the other half of her family. It was exciting to hear our nephew's plans for going to university next year and to realise that he's also planning to be an engineer - the family tradition continues despite his father's departure from it!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Homeward Bound

The last day of the conference dawned grey and wet, so no regrets at leaving the seaside this time. We'd decided on a morning train because the later ones were prohibitively expensive so we weren't around for Ming's speech. We did have time to hear the debates on the two Emergency Motions of the day, neither of which should have been needed in a civilised society. The first called for the government to grant asylum to those Iraqis who've been working for the British forces as interpreters. These people have been working in very dangerous circumstances which now mean they are marked men. Once our forces don't need them they're expected to go home and live a normal life as though they never had anything to do with the occupying army. Absolutely disgusting and yet again made me ashamed of this government.
The second was on Darfur, led by Liberal Democrat Youth and Students, and included a moving speech by a Darfuri asylum seeker who described life in Darfur and then in England. He was given a standing ovation at the end and not one person complained that his speech had slightly over-run its allotted time.
Our train journey was uneventful but irritating in that there is still no apparent will in the London Underground to help people who are not actually disabled but do have problems negotiating stairs with suitcases. Victoria station not only didn't have an escalator or lift but didn't have any interested staff. It made me question the requirements of the DDA to take reasonable steps to accommodate people with disabilities. I couldn't see any changes since the first time I'd used the underground twenty years ago.
Once back home there was just time to go through the post for any urgent items before going out to Parish Council where the most exciting item turned out to be the possibility of a new office for the Council. For many years the clerk has used a room in her house as the office and the Council has paid what is now a paltry sum for the electricity and inconvenience. A few years ago we had looked for other premises but anything reasonable was too expensive to consider so the idea was shelved. This week a happy coincidence had led the clerk and chairman to a real possibility. The Council decided to go ahead and to establish a small sub-committee with delegated powers to spend the necessary money for removal of furniture and equipment, purchase of any necessary new furniture or equipment and installation of the telephone. A real sense of achievement pervaded the rest of the meeting.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Buy it Naked!

A slightly ambiguous and tongue-in-cheek title for a very serious campaign to reduce packaging.
This morning's first debate was on Action to Tackle Excess Packaging, something which has also been highlighted in the past few months by the newspaper which drops through our letter box most mornings (delivered by the most charming and polite young man anyone could wish to meet - daily proof that not all young people are rude, thoughtless and badly behaved.) One of the most telling facts produced in the whole debate is that packaging accounts for around 17% of the average household food budget. That's an awful lot of cardboard, plastic and paper. I know that some of it is necessary to protect the goods from damage, but a huge amount isn't. We heard one person describe how he spent considerable time at work designing a toothpaste tube which doesn't need to be in a cardboard box. Every other country in Europe sells it without its box but in the UK it still goes into a cardboard box. Why??
I always have fabric bags in the boot of the car so that I can use them when I shop, ever since I got my first one in a German supermarket years ago. I try to pop one into the bottom of my handbag too so that I'm never without. If everyone did that we'd not need any plastic carrier bags - just think how much oil that would save as well as the rubbish not going to landfill or incineration.
Quote of the day came in the debate on the governance of the UK: From a speech by Pericles of Athens in 431/430BC "Our form of government does not imitate the laws of neighbouring states. On the contrary, we are rather a model to others. Our form of government is called a democracy because its administration is in the hands, not of a few, but of the whole people."
Long may that continue to be true of this country, though I fear that the present government is working hard to change it.
After a morning of debate it was time to head off to a nearby hotel for a training session but I couldn't resist a detour down to the beach. The wind was so strong it was difficult to walk upright and the sea was lashing the beach and the remains of the old pier.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

God Bless you Chris

A break from most of conference today for the funeral of our friend, Chris Bard. Chris was a Church of England priest, a very active member of the Association of Interchurch Families and a radio broadcaster. I first met him in 1978 and came to know and respect him enormously. He's sorely missed both in his public life and by his family and friends. I hadn't known that he was so involved with the local horticultural college and had been part of the team responsible for their multi-faith garden at Chelsea. It seemed entirely fitting that the recreated garden in the college grounds will be dedicated to Chris' memory. Chris had just completed a term as co-chair of AIF at the AGM in late August and the association will decide later how to commemorate him. For now it was good to see so many members at the funeral and to be able to read tributes from young people round the world whose faith lives were touched by Chris' combination of humour, intelligence and lateral thinking.
Some years ago I realised that we shared mutual friends in John and Suzanne, so it was fortunate that Suzanne and I were in Brighton this week and able to make the train journey to Chelmsford for the funeral. It meant missing the debates on Immigration and Poverty but that seemed a price worth paying in the circumstances.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Drivetime Fame

Today's agenda had lots of really good, solid policies to be debated and voted on:
Dentistry - calling for changes to the NHS dental contracts to encourage preventative work as well as treatment.
Climate Change - radical plans to take Britain towards a carbon-neutral future. This includes helping developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change, just as important as making sure that we in developed countries do our bit.
Women in Prison - calling for an urgent implementation of Baroness Corston's findings in her review published in March 2007. Women in prison are often much more vulnerable than men and are most often convicted of non-violent crimes for which prison is not an appropriate punishment.
Tourism - policies to improve the tourist offer in Britain and encourage sustainable tourism.
Action on Bullying - because I'd chaired the scrutiny review of anti-bullying policy and practice in Stockton earlier this year I was very keen to take part in this debate so put in a speaker card during the morning. Imagine my surprise and delight when I was called to speak second in the debate! Butterflies soon gave way to calm as I put into practice the things I'd learned on the Leadership Academy about breathing and so on. I talked about Stockton's new accreditation scheme for schools and youth clubs and mentioned Buddy schemes and Peer Massage. Radio 5 rang to ask me to go to their temporary studio for an interview on Drive Time - first time I've ever given a live radio interview. It was a fascinating experience from a techie point of view, and good to be able to give Stockton some national publicity for a good activity. Funnily enough I was perfectly calm in the studio but when I got outside the butterflies took over and I needed a long walk to recover before going to a fringe meeting.
It was a surprise to realise when going out of the hotel that according to a plaque on the wall Gladstone often stayed there - a good place to stay for a Liberal Democrat Conference.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Brighton Beach

The annual Liberal Democrat Conference has started at Brighton. I arrived last night after a problem free train journey - well done all 3 companies. We even had time for a walk along the beach and to watch people younger and more energetic than us playing volleyball and other active games.
My night was disturbed by the return of a rather raucous stag party, but Suzanne managed to sleep right through it!
So far today I've managed to be part of a consultation on housing with our Front Bench spokesmen on the subject and lots of other councillors and party members from around the country. It was good to get agreement from them that VAT needs changing on house building and refurbishment so that there's less incentive to knock down those lovely houses on Yarm Road in Eaglescliffe, Leven Road in Yarm and similar parts of Fairfield, Norton and Hartburn. We also had agreement that planning for the new homes needed in an area should be the prerogative of the local authority and not diktats from on high.
Then on to a fringe meeting about breaking the vicious cycle of offending, prison, release, re-offend. Lots of good ideas there which make good economic sense as well as being right from a social justice standpoint.
Now I've located the internet cafe I can do this quick catchup before going into the debate on whether to support an academic boycott of Israel, a subject which I've read a fair bit about and fear is being treated far too simplistically.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Overview and Scrutiny

Today was the sort of day I most dislike about being a councillor. Normally I try to keep Thursday for visiting my mother and mother-in-law, both severely disabled and elderly, doing shopping with them and generally helping out. However, I'd been persuaded against my better judgement to go to the first annual Scrutiny Conference in NE England. A car-sharing arrangement was worked out so that we didn't all drive to Sunderland in separate cars so I was picked up at 8 this morning. By 9 we'd arrived at the Stadium of Light. By 11 I had a raging headache, partly caused by the noise of the air conditioning unit in the ceiling above my head. Having decided to use my new handbag I hadn't transferred my usual paraphenalia into it so didn't have any paracetamol. Football stadium doubling as conference centre doesn't have useful shops so it was a case of soldiering on without.
The talks for the first half of the morning told me nothing I hadn't heard half a dozen times before and the second half confirmed my early impression of the government's bright idea for Community Calls for Action - any councillor worth their salt is doing that sort of thing anyway! Lunch was uninspiring but at least there was the option of some nice fresh fruit for pudding. Then the afternoon session could have been condensed into one half hour slot - yawn, yawn I'm afraid. It was all the more frustrating because I knew that others were at the Fairtrade Town Conference which would have been a lot more interesting and useful. I just hope they come back with loads of good ideas.
One minor bright spot is that the local paper seems to want to run a story about the change in the hospital phone number which Julia highlighted to them last week. I did a phone interview with the reporter in the lunch break, though thanks to my head I'm not sure it was the best I've ever done.
Meanwhile lots of work to do in the ward, including more on our Small Environmental Improvements budget, more on inappropriate ball games especially this time on Hindhead and more on planning including the new application to convert the Riverside Lounge into flats. Hey ho!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Town and Gown

Yesterday morning the engineer came bright and early to fix the phone line so I was back to normal very quickly. I also managed to get the tree people to come and trim back the shrubbery in our front garden so we now can see much more of the individual plants and also the path round them. Flushed with success I followed it up with some filing of papers and disposal of long out of date ones.
Yesterday evening was the Civic Dinner for the 175th anniversary of the founding of Durham University. Because the University now has a thriving campus at Stockton (Queens Campus) we have been very much part of this year of celebration. I was privileged to attend the University Dinner in March deputising for the Mayor's Consort, but I was invited to this one as leader of the Liberal Democrat Group. The evening started with a formal welcome from the present Mayor and then members of the University School of Medicine talked about their approach to medicine which involves understanding how chronic illnesses affect the daily life of the sufferer and their family and friends, how the local community works and how deprivation of one sort or another affects people. There's a lot of emphasis on getting involved in the community by doing voluntary work and in depth studies of particular patients. It was extremely interesting and is quite different from the traditional approach to medical courses. As a result they attract students who believe that doctors should be part of the community they serve. There were some leaflets put out but unfortunately by the end of the evening we were having coffee in a different room and I forgot to go back and collect one.
The dinner itself was excellent and was followed by a speech from the Leader of Stockton Council, Ken Lupton. Ken didn't try to follow on with a lecture about Stockton Council - wisely deciding that the University team would be a hard act to follow. He chose instead to entertain us with tales of his life as a Football Referee. Although I'm not a football fan he was entertaining and it's always good to see another side to someone. From the laughs around the room I think everyone enjoyed listening.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Phone Problems

If anyone is trying to leave me a phone message on my council number I'm sorry to say it won't reach me at present. When I tried to log on to the council laptop this morning it wouldn't connect through despite the modem having all the right lights on it. So I decided to ring the IT Helpdesk, only to find that the phone didn't work either - dead as a dodo seems an appropriate expression. An e-mail via Web Outlook brought a call from one of the helpdesk staff who promised to ask BT to check the line, but there's been no result and no further contact. The computer problem isn't too difficult to overcome with the aid of the Blackberry, Web Outlook and visits to Municipal Buildings but the lack of the phone means that I've no idea whether residents are trying to contact me. Technology's wonderful when it works but when it doesn't it's rubbish!
I just hope it's not our fault that it's gone and disappeared - yesterday afternoon we were continuing the preparation of the living room before the new wooden floor is installed in a fortnight. Part of this involved removing some extraneous cables which didn't seem to be fulfilling a useful purpose. We did keep checking the phones to make sure they still worked but it's still a niggling worry until BT respond.
I just hope the floor is worth the effort after all this.

Sustainable Energy

Preston Park hosted a small but extremely useful exhibition yesterday - The Sustainable Energy Roadshow. I was determined to fit in a visit, even though lots of work needed doing at home. I'm keen to see if we can install solar thermal heating in the house and want to have the information in plenty of time before our current combination boiler gives up. I was told that I should only expect 7 years from it, so the 10 that it's already given is quite superb. I had discussions with a number of suppliers and with the man from the Energy Saving Trust which supplies impartial advice. Much more research needed now, as there are special problems associated with dormer bungalows not having as much roof area as other houses nor as much loft space!
Sadly, in walking to and from church in the morning and to and from the Park in the afternoon I saw more evidence of vandalism to bus shelters than I've seen in a long time. They've been reported now and the glass will be cleared and the shelters repaired, but it's infuriating that some people find their pleasure in wrecking things. Broken glass is dangerous, even when it's the safer variety used in such shelters. I felt for cyclists trying to negotiate between scattered glass and the 4+ wheeled vehicles on the road. Even the pavement wasn't free of glass but at least pedestrians didn't also have cars and lorries to contend with.

Friday, September 07, 2007

R & R

After a frantic week of meetings, some very interesting but confidential at the moment, I headed off yesterday morning to the 4th module of a training course I've been doing over the last 7 months. The idea of the course is to help councillors do a better job for the borough and it's been interesting, useful and hard work at times. However, this module was a little different - it covered some of the things we'd identified as areas on which we wanted more help, rather than being part of a set "curriculum". So yesterday we spent a couple of hours on voice production and diaphragmatic breathing with someone from RADA in business. This is a wonderful organisation which helps fund talented drama students who can't access other funds through charging organisations and individuals for training in communication skills, especially voice production skills. It was a fun way to learn and to be reminded of things which it's easy to forget in the heat of a meeting.
The remaining sessions were more intense but also very valuable and then we adjourned for dinner together before a well deserved early night - bed before 11.30 for the first time this week.
Today was warm and sunny so after breakfast I took the opportunity of a brisk walk down towards the racecourse before the morning session. No races, but lots of people walking dogs and enjoying the sunshine.
The morning session was about dealing with the media so very useful for me as the scrutiny of the management of cemeteries reaches its most sensitive stage. Two and a half hours flew by and all too soon it was time to pack up, and say our goodbyes. Over 4 modules we've become friends and I now have colleagues all over the country to whom I can turn for advice if I want to.
This evening's ward surgery brought yet another problem of inappropriate ball games on a piece of open space just too small to accommodate them. I don't think we'll ever solve that issue but we did have some ideas to try out so we'll see how they go.
Because I'd not had chance to do any shopping we decided to eat out tonight, so our local Fairtrade vegetarian restaurant was the venue for tonight's meal - an excellent lasagne with olive salad. And despite it being September the evening was still warm enough to walk home comfortably with no coat!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Feeling Mortal

On Saturday came a phone call I'd been half expecting but hoping not to get, telling me that a friend of my mother-in-law had died. This is someone I've known for almost as long as I've known my husband - he partly rewired our first home before we moved in. A genius at growing leeks as well as many other vegetables in his garden, always cheerful - he'll be sorely missed in their neighbourhood. Although some years older than me, I never thought of him as elderly, and he often seemed to have more energy than I had until very recently. God bless you, George.
Today's shopping therefore included sympathy cards. I was somewhat taken aback to find that fully a quarter of the display in the shop was of Christmas cards - a little early I felt. I did succeed in finding two suitable cards and fitted in a quick visit to my mother to let her sign hers before I delivered them and spent some time with my mother-in-law who's naturally very upset.
The rest of the day was taken up with two contrasting meetings: one on cemetery and memorial management followed by one to finalise a bid to Big Lottery for funds for play equipment and activities in the Borough. Both are important in different ways but the former is much more sensitive and difficult to manage.
Home late, and catching up on the 60 or so e-mails which had arrived in my inbox during these meetings and visits when our home phone rang. My husband's gasp of horror brought me dashing into the room, to be told that a friend of ours from Interchurch Families had died suddenly. May he rest in Peace.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Little Boxes.....

Life over the last few days has been full of boxes - little ones to tick so that the council retains its Excellent rating and big ones to fill with books etc so that we can empty our large bookcase and move it to allow a nice new wooden floor to be installed in our living room.
The boxes to tick are by far the most difficult and time consuming. Officers have to work out how the Government's targets fit with the things which residents of the borough say they want and then work out how to satisfy both - not always possible and rarely easy. Councillors then have to try to get the things we know our residents want within all these targets and within the available budget which gets tighter every year. Creative lateral thinking is a councillor's greatest asset! Currently the council is preparing for a series of inspections which will leave everyone worn out by Christmas - the full council gets assessed for its overall performance against government targets, children's services are assessed over an above that - both the ones the council is responsible for and the ones which are the responsibility of the NHS, the Youth Service has its own inspection and so does the Youth Offending Service. As you can imagine, anyone with any connection to youth work is going to be assessed to death.
Meanwhile we need to get on with the work of doing what we were elected to do - make sure that services are delivered to residents in the way they want at the time they want. Miracles take time - please be patient!
This morning, though, a reminder of the wider world. The first Sunday of the month means the Traidcraft stall and Fairtrade coffee morning at church, always hard work but enjoyable and a reminder that whatever the problems and irritations of life here, others have much bigger problems and rely on us to help overcome them.