Monday, August 18, 2008

Getting Back to Normal

A day without formal meetings meant I could catch up with what happened while I was away, including the arrangements for appointing a new chief executive for Stockton Borough Council. Although many people think of the Council as something quite small and local it also resembles in many ways a large business. The chief executive has to make sure that all the services, whether very visible like waste collection or invisible like housing benefit payments, run smoothly and give the best value for money to Council Tax payers. At the same time all the partnership working which is such a big feature of public service today has to be worked on and then there's relationships with other councils and the government in Westminster. So it's not an easy job at all and we need someone who can keep up the present standards and make sure that they give results for everyone in the Borough - a tall order! So the recruitment process has to be very carefully arranged.
I've been asked about my comment on the sugar cane industry in Jamaica so I thought I'd elaborate a bit. Sugar was a major product in Jamaica in colonial days and even until relatively recent years. Sugar cane was grown all over the lowland plains and the product was exported to the UK and other countries. Unfortunately for Jamaica and other Caribbean islands their customers began to produce more and more sugar from beet so the demand for cane declined. As a result sugar plantations gradually closed and the land was used for other things. On the Northern coast of Jamaica that has frequently meant hotels and housing which in turn has placed high demands on the water supplies to the towns and villages. As a result new water mains are being laid at a furious rate in order to bring more of the precious liquid from the hills to the plains. Sadly, much of it is used simply to make hotels and their surroundings more green and beautiful, though as these hotels provide good job opportunities with desirable steady wages the local people I spoke to seemed to be content with the situation. What was really humbling was their reaction when I expressed some regret that our use of sugar beet had reduced their agricultural job opportunities. "But it's good for your country and you've got to look after your people" was the common response. No acrimony, no envy - just acceptance that this is how trade works round the globe. It made me glad that Fairtrade sugar is cane sugar from Jamaica, amongst other places, and that we can buy that as well as beet sugar to support our own farmers.

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