Friday, July 03, 2009

Home again and time for a more detailed account of the last 3 days. The council's economy drive turned out to be a bit of a pain when the hotel we were booked into proved not to have a restaurant or even a breakfast room attached. The breakfast was delivered in a plastic bag to the floor outside the bedroom door. Or at least it was on the first morning. On the second morning it just didn't materialise at all. The content of the plastic bag was worthy of a photographic record. Fortunately I'd already decided that I was going to an early bird session on planning at which breakfast was provided - a selection of hot items, lots of fresh orange juice, coffee and fresh fruit. Definitely worth getting out of bed for.
The session on planning was useful and interesting, but would have been even more useful 2 years ago - c'est la vie!
The conference proper had a session with Michael Parkinson talking about dignity in old age and how every one of us has a responsibility to treat people with dignity and respect whatever their mental state. He talked with humour and pathos of his experiences as his mother developed dementia.
A fringe meeting with Sandi Toksvig, billed as a Question Time style evening, was more disappointing as lots of pre-prepared questions were put to a panel and there was little time for spontaneous contributions from the audience. It did, however, produce a few excellent moments and gave a name to be watched for in future - Amina Ismail from Liverpool hopes to be a councillor after the next elections there and has been shadowing the leader to find out what's involved. If she's not in a leadership role in 5 years I'll eat my hat. The title of the evening was "A woman's place in local government" and I concluded that Amina's was at the top.
That was followed by a very pleasant meal with colleagues from Yorkshire and Sussex, sharing ideas, hopes and concerns about the next couple of years.
And at the end of all that it was still so hot that I needed a shower before I could settle down to sleep, only to be woken by the ongoing noise from the Rock Bar over the road - the joys of the Harrogate Travelodge.
Thursday's early bird meeting was in a different venue and there wasn't such a good selection for breakfast but nevertheless the fresh juice was very welcome and the bacon sandwich was a rare treat.
A session on inland waterways was relevant to the river both in our ward and in the centre of Stockton. The workshop on climate change was less interesting, but was followed by a talk from Vince Cable, measured and convincing as ever. Why aren't the banks which were bailed out by the taxpayer helping the economy by supporting small and medium businesses more? Why is the government in such a hurry to sell them back to private ownership before they've put right the wrongs which led to their being taken over in the first place.
There followed a session on protecting the most vulnerable in our society - young children who can't protect themselves. The first part of it was full of statistics and had me wondering why I was there rather than doing something useful but the second part, from Martin Narey of Barnardos was excellent. He dared to go against the current view that keeping a child in a family is always the best thing for the child and suggested that at times a well run residential home can be much better for some children. His illustrations included the story of a child with severe behaviour problems who had over 40 foster placements in under 3 years - what earthly good was that doing for the child? It was a very challenging talk and will colour my thoughts on the care of children for some time I think.

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