Saturday, February 28, 2009

Arrest, torture, death

That's the fate awaiting many people who are deported from here to some countries of the world when their claim for asylum here is refused. One such country is the Democratic Republic of Congo. For some inexplicable reason the British Government keeps saying that it's safe to return people there. Yet when people are returned they are immediately known as hostile to the DRC government and treated accordingly. Congolese refugees here in Stockton are constantly in fear of being deported. What kind of life is that - to live in constant fear of being returned to a country where you might be arrested, tortured and executed just because you disagree with the government of that land? And that's on top of not knowing what's happening to friends and family left behind when you fled.
There is an Early Day Motion currently in Parliament asking for such deportations to be stopped. Please write to your MP to ask him or her to sign EDM 814. You can contact them through the Write To Them website. You just need to know your post code. It only takes 2 minutes so please do spend that time this weekend.

Fairtrade Directory Launched

At last Stockton's very own Fairtrade Directory was launched this morning at our Coffee morning. The Mayor of Stockton, Cllr John Fletcher, formally announced the launch and over 100 people who came along to the Parish Church Hall for coffee took away their free copy. It was fitting that the new Chief Executive of Stockton was there, having his morning coffee and enjoying a chat with a number of people. It was his "Yes" which enabled it to happen and I'm enormously pleased that it did.
Lots of people worked hard to make this a success and it certainly raised awareness of Fairtrade. We'd a number of people sign up to be kept informed and one wanting to be involved with the Partnership. The directory proved its worth when one lady discovered in it a vegetarian restaurant which she didn't know existed and couldn't wait to tell her vegetarian daughter about it. Both Suzanne Fletcher and I could assure her of its quality as it's one of our favourite restaurants.
Our next event is on Friday when Stockton Goes Bananas for Fairtrade. I'd like twice as many people there for that!
Meanwhile if there's anyone out there who's got a net for holding inflated balloons do get in touch! The events team need one for Friday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Budget Day

Not the budget that makes headlines in the national press but one which matters to the people of Stockton - our council budget. Most of the work of course is done by council officers with much better heads for figures than I have, but the final decision is for elected members. We are elected to represent residents and we are the ones who sometimes have to make hard choices.
This year we agreed to keep to what we proposed last year and to spend the year looking carefully at where we can make savings, doing things better and perhaps not doing things at all so that next year we can avoid having either a huge increase or large numbers of redundancies.
As Liberal Democrats we did support the amendment proposed by IBIS to use some of our capital to buy a plot of land in Ingleby Barwick so that if the Building Schools for the Future money comes through we'd be able to build more secondary places in Ingleby. It's only fair - that's where most demand is now. It would need to be very carefully organised so that it didn't have a negative impact on Egglescliffe and Conyers but that's not outside the realms of possibility.
If the worst came to the worst and the land couldn't be used for school places it would be a valuable asset owned by the council in years to come and could be used for something else.
As expected, the Labour-Tory unholy alliance didn't agree and voted against so we lost the vote but won the argument.
Of course today is also Ash Wednesday, a day for Christians the world over to start a period of reflection and reconciliation leading up to Easter. So it was appropriate to take some time out of the busy-ness for a church service. And it felt right to spend some time on detailed arrangements for the Go Bananas event on Friday March 6th to raise awareness of the poor working conditions of the growers of unfairly traded bananas.
In between I even found time to enjoy the walks to and from meetings on a relatively mild spring day.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Coffee and Bananas

Fairtrade coffee and bananas of course! With Fairtrade Fortnight upon us the final preparations are being made for the Coffee Morning next Saturday and the Go Bananas event the following Friday.
The coffee morning in Stockton Parish Church Hall is at 10 on Saturday 28th February and the Mayor of Stockton will launch our new Free Directory - come along, enjoy a cup of tea or coffee, browse the stall and pick up your free copy.
Go Bananas is an outdoor event at noon on Friday 6th March. It's part of an attempt to set a world record for the number of people eating a Fairtrade Banana in a 24 hour period. Right round the world producers and purchasers will be eating their Fairtrade banana. The numbers will be recorded and registered with the Fairtrade Foundation. So far over 124,000 have signed up to be part of it. In Stockton the Mayor of Stockton will be starting the Tees Valley event and taking a giant banana by train to Hartlepool to hand on the baton. The finishing line will be in Middlesbrough's Captain Cook Square on Saturday morning. Do join in if you're anywhere near. Bring your own banana or buy one on the spot.
As well as organising posters and banana costumes there's been the small matter of where to store 20+ boxes of Directories until they are distributed! Problem solved thanks to Stockton Council's officers who found a space in a building I didn't know existed - but I've only been a councillor for less than 8 years.
And of course, in the meantime there's a European Parliamentary election coming up and so leaflets to be delivered and work to be done for that. Being part of a team doing such things spreads the load and the spring sunshine certainly helps.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I haven't been doing a great deal of writing on here recently, having more pressing issues to deal with. That doesn't mean I haven't been doing things though.
Following the article I wrote in Gossip last month I've been amazed and pleased by the number of residents of Eaglescliffe and Yarm who took the trouble to write, phone and e-mail about the footpath in front of the former Funeral Parlour turned restaurant now being converted into flats. It isn't a public right of way at the moment, despite having been used for about 100 years by people.
Parking in Newsam Road reared its head again this morning with a repeat of a complaint I had last year about parking over dropped kerbs. Couple that sort of inconsiderate parking with people dropping litter and generally being antisocial and is it any wonder some residents get upset. Care for Your Area have promised to have a look at the issues around litter and ruined grass verges and parking enforcement will be looking into the parking issues so things should improve at least for a time.
Meanwhile, please don't put up with such problems in silence. If there is litter being dropped in your garden, or glass broken on the pavement ring 391959 and report it. The people on the end of the phone are very helpful and will soon get the message out to the relevant staff.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Victorian Bush Fires

I've been following the news on these with a personal interest, having family living in Melbourne. I've visited one or two of the affected areas in the past but what can anyone from outside say? Thank God, the family is safe and although some of their friends have lost property or been too close for comfort none of them has lost life or limb.
Photographs convey some of the enormity of the problems. The local newspaper gives a flavour of the human stories. If you want to help the British Red Cross is working with its Australian counterpart on an appeal so please donate if you can. Maybe that's what we should encourage all those bank bosses to do- donate their huge bonus payments to help all those people around the world displaced from their homes by natural disasters or wars. That would put some sincerity into their apologies wouldn't it.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Vandal Drivers!

Another piece of grass is being spoiled by drivers too lazy to go a few yards round the corner to the access road. This time it's at the end of Dalmuir Close where someone has driven over the grass to or from the garages instead of using the correct route. Not only is the grass spoiled but the pavement isn't reinforced for vehicles so the services running underneath can be damaged. Unsuspecting pedestrians are at risk - need I say more. If you know the guilty party please ask him or her to stop!

I heard today that a young woman who's been living happily in the area for the past few years after moving here from South Africa to join her mother and sister is under threat of being sent back because would you believe she was born in the years when apartheid ridden South Africa was not part of the Commonwealth. So though the rest of the family can make their home here, she can't. How crazy is that? She's working, paying taxes, contributing to the community in all sorts of ways and yet the Immigration service go after her. Why don't they concentrate on the people who are causing us problems - the criminals who slip in illegally. But no, a law abiding productive happy member of a community is much easier to find and deport. Her appeal hearing is later this month so I hope that justice is tempered with mercy on this occasion.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

In a few minutes of relaxation today (it is Saturday after all) I caught up on what's been happening in other parts of the Tees Valley by reading some of the local Lib Dem Blogs. I was particularly taken with the description by Mike Barker of Darlington Council's cabinet meetings. It seems that Darlington have something to teach Stockton on how to extend the debate on important issues. Although Stockton's cabinet meetings are open to the public and I usually attend my opportunity to contribute is at the chair's discretion. To be fair to the current leader of the counci he does always allow members of council and other members of the public to have their say, but there's no right for other parties to have a representative sitting at the table. And of course, there's no opportunity for other parties to join in the pre-cabinet briefing sessions at which the awkward questions can be asked and often answered in confidence. Having said that, there is a more open attitude under the present leadership than in the past.
I read with something nearing despair reports of the extreme weather around the world at the moment. Parts of the UK under a foot of snow with more on the way and salt for the roads running out while parts of South Eastern Australia suffer temperatures of 46 and wildfires running out of control. Climate change seems to be producing some mad, bad weather at the moment.

Friday, February 06, 2009

I had a meeting this morning to put in place some plans for our contribution to the International Go Bananas event from noon on March 6th to noon on March 7th. Stockton High Street is the place to be - just before noon on Friday March 6th when we'll have a countdown to the world's biggest ever consumption of Fairtrade Bananas by individuals in one day. Anyone and everyone will be encouraged to bring along or buy on the day a Fairtrade Banana to eat when Stockton will launch the Tees Valley Banana Relay. The Mayor, Cllr John Fletcher, always keen to join in anything to promote Fairtrade in the Borough, will transport the relay baton - a giant inflated banana- to Hartlepool by train for their events later in the day. The serious point behind a fun activitiy is to raise the awareness of and demand for Fairtrade Bananas around the world but especially here. We'd like 500 people to join in - will you be one of them?
The evening was also about eating, but this time it was a very enjoyable meal as part of the Annual Mayor's Fundraising Ball. The Wynyard Rooms do a very good job of transforming a functional meeting area into a banqueting hall for the evening. Lots of people from the council, industry, the university, further education and local organisations enjoyed a meal together. We spent money on tombola and raffle tickets and some even danced when the band played. Young musicians welcomed us with string quartet music and the heating kept the freezing cold weather at bay. A very enjoyable way to make money for the charities supported by the Mayor this year - Justice First and Daisy Chain. And I think that for the first time this year, one or two of the men almost outshone some of the women in the colour and styling of their outfits!

Monday, February 02, 2009

It's snowing!

This is the sight that greeted me when I opened the curtains this morning. I don't think I'll be rushing out! Fortunately I don't have any council meetings today so the only trip needed is for hospital visiting time this afternoon, followed by some much needed shopping.
There's a down side to every beautiful sight of course, and this one is the cost of gritting the roads. Stockton has already used more grit in December than for the previous 10 years or more. These variations can't easily be built into Council budget calculations but residents, understandably, expect us to keep the roads clear. I expect emails and calls today about places that haven't been gritted, mostly because they're not on primary gritting routes. Knowing that your street isn't a main thoroughfare doesn't make it any easier to get out to work on a morning though, and I can understand the frustration.
I hope the snow stops for long enough for the children to be able to enjoy building snowmen and making giant snowballs - that's what makes the travel difficulties worthwhile to me.