Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Water Aid

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I am very proud of my daughters. This week it's Kirsty's turn to make me say it. I shall let her husband explain the reason, and hope someone might join me in sponsoring her.

Lots of cool stuff is going to happen in October, I am sure, but the one you need to know about right now is that my ever-delightful wife Kirsty is going to be walking 10,000 steps each day this month. Probably 40,000 steps in reality because her pedometer only seems to register every fourth step!

I'm not quite sure how she is going to manage this feat as there are only so many hours in a day, but I'm sure she'll do it. If you know Kirsty, you'll know that water is one thing she is very passionate about and this challenge is for Walk 4 Water 2009 for WaterAid Australia.

WaterAid enables the world's poorest people to gain access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene education. These basic human rights underpin health, education and livelihoods and form the first essential step in overcoming poverty.

The reason that you need to know about this is because Kirsty needs your support. You can sponsor Kirsty and her friends by going to Walk 4 Water and following the instructions. I know she will appreciate your support and I do too.

How could I put it any better? For someone who spends an enormous amount of time at her desk or travelling to site it's going to be a huge challenge. I foresee very active lunch breaks.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Area Transport Strategy Group

Tonight's meeting of the Area Transport Strategy Group showed how much can be achieved by working together. This was the meeting when decisions had to be made about spending the balance of the budget. The traffic calming scheme near The Links school couldn't be considered because it's still not finalised. Consultation with the Parish council is ongoing. The scheme might be a contender for next year's funding but not this.
Similarly a suggestion to do part of the work on Greens Lane in Yarm couldn't be progressed because the cost was way beyond our budget so that'll have to wait until the golf clubhouse is built and the section 106 money is available.
A build-out to prevent unsafe parking on Spitalfields was well supported and then we were back to the thorny issue of speeding traffic. Staffing problems have meant that the safety camera has been deployed less often than we'd like on those roads where speeding is thought to be an issue. We heard more evidence about Speed Indicator Devices and how they can be used. It's possible now to use them to record speeds and to show what time of day or night is most in need of the enforcement camera, thus allowing for more effective targeting of those more expensive cameras.
We discussed Yarm Rd, where most people thought the speeding was related to taxis going to and from Yarm but there were several views as to which section has the worst problem.
We talked about the problem of the A67 from the Hunters Green roundabout towards the Tesco roundabout where for some reason many drivers don't seem to realise they're in a built up area. Having said that, a few years ago I took part in filming for a documentary about speed cameras on site with the camera on that stretch of the A67 and some drivers seemed to be deliberately speeding up, flashing their lights and gesticulating at the camera and at us filming so it's not accidental speeding for some people.
We also discussed Worsall Rd where everyone seemed to agree that speeding is a problem but there were several opinions on which stretch is the worst.
Because there was so little agreement on the detail of the speeding problems officers are going to have to do more investigations on Yarm Rd and Worsall Rd before we can go any further on that matter. Fortunately we agreed tonight that the remainder of he work could be done without more meetings! We even agreed on a proposal to put to a neighbouring Area to jointly fund something which is in their area but has an impact on ours. Co-operation indeed.

Can one woman save the world?

The article in today's Indie is actually entitled Can One Woman save Africa? but the principle extends to the world. It's an amazing inspirational story so read it then do something, however small.
It reminded me of cramming for my O level Geography exam, for which we needed to know the growing conditions of various crops - honestly. I can't remember which crop needs 70 days at 70 degrees under the shade of banana trees but something does. The point being, that trees aren't just trees, they're also sun-shades, carbon sinks, homes for birds and insects, fuel for fires, compost for the ground and so ad infinitum.
If there's room in your garden, plant a tree. If not, plant one in a woodland somewhere through the Woodland Trust or one of the countless other schemes around.

Monday, September 28, 2009

ICT - slave or master?

Once upon a time there were some councillors who wanted to be able to do such complicated things as download and save a document to read off line later. Those same councillors wanted to be able to write letters on their laptop sititng out in the garden or waiting for visitors to their ward surgeries and then to email said letters at a suitable time later. Foolish councillors - they didn't realise that this is too complicated for the wonderful IT system to cope with. To be able to do such things they need to have endless visits from the computer doctor who seems to get younger and more chirpy with every passing problem. And all because a team of computer doctors devised a solution to a problem, not realising that their miracle cure would cause a myriad of other problems in its wake.
Thus, this morning I had a meeting at the unforgiveable hour of 9am in Municipal Buildings. Unforgiveable not because I had to leave home early but because that time means travelling through all the school traffic and parking problems on the estate. The schools supposedly have green travel plans but all I can say is that they don't seem to have much impact on the number of cars taking children to school each morning.
The computer doctors listened to us, nodded sagely and promised to cure the problems.
So what happens? 9 hours later an email from Suzanne to say that the problems have got worse and cost her an enormous amount of time this afternoon. The patient is not cured and there is no sign of a cure on the horizon. The rest of our group are protecting our computers jealously, lest they too succumb to the dreaded "upgrade".
This evening I chaired the shortest ever meeting of the Western Area Partnership Board. The main business of the evening was an update on the work starting in the area on helping people to cope with financial problems in the recession. It's starting later in the year than we'd hoped but sounds even more comprehensive than we'd first thought so a bit of swings and roundabouts. I just hope that people find it helpful. If you live in Eaglescliffe, Yarm, Long Newton, Elton, Kirklevington or Aislaby watch out for the flyer coming through your letter box. If nothing else it has some useful phone numbers on it and a helpful checklist to look at your monthly income and outgoings.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jobsworth bureaucracy

Why do the good things all come at once? I have the chance next month to go to Brussels and see the European Parliament, a chance to really understand some of the differences between it and our national parliament as well as an opportunity to see something of how it works. All fine and dandy - arrangements made to join a party from the North East travelling by train. But it finishes on a Thursday night and I want to be in London the night after. Can I leave the party early and stay in London? No! That would invalidate the group rail ticket. Now I can understand if someone wanted to join the train part way, but someone not taking up a seat? How can that possibly cause a problem? So rather than run the risk of having the party organiser fined I must go home to Eaglescliffe on Thursday evening and then travel back to London on Friday afternoon.
And to add insult to injury the North East isn't going to get a high speed rail link! Though I must confess that when the train is as crowded as it was going to Bournemouth last week I'd rather have some extra luggage space and extra seats than a few minutes shaved off the journey. Having to balance a suitcase on my knee to let the refreshment trolley get down the aisle was no joke.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Guess who forgot about the Mayor's sponsored walk today along the Teesdale way from the Borough boundary past Aislaby and Eaglescliffe. I met the party walking up Carnoustie Drive this afternoon. That part of the walk has to leave the banks of the Tees as the Golf Course and Teesside High School are in the way. A stroll through a housing estate and then along Yarm Rd rather takes the edge off the rest of the walk along some of the loveliest parts of the river.
I've now promised to sponsor the Mayor retrospectively. This year the Mayor's Benevolent fund is directed towards organisations supporting older people and encouraging young people to enjoy the outdoor life.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Spending money, maybe

A pleasantly empty diary this morning allowed me to catch up on some of the things which haven't been done recently. Cancelled meetings do give these opportunities, though they also bring problems of course.
This afternoon I had the pre-meeting briefing session with transport engineers to discuss the issues for next week's Area Transport Strategy meeting. I'd hoped that we'd have some local evidence to put with the national evidence we had last time about the effectiveness of Speed Indicator Devices (SIDs) but such evidence as there is doesn't really help - some slight reduction in speed sometimes in some places but not enough evidence to really be sure whether mobile or fixed are better or indeed whether either has any long term effect. There seems to be some evidence from such areas as Ingleby Barwick that a little like fixed speed cameras or some speed bumps, they cause people to brake as they reach them but not to alter their normal speed or driving style. However, the evidence is mostly anecdotal.
Other projects which we'd decided to look into spending money on are coming out either far too expensive or to be covered by other budgets in due course or the consultation hasn't been completed. At present Yarm, Eaglescliffe and the surrounding villages are very safe according to the statistics with no accident blackspots and no residents coming along to ward or town councillors with serious concerns to take to the Transport Strategy Stakeholder meeting.
Because of the way the funding is arranged we can't carry it over into next financial year so what isn't allocated at next week's meeting will go back into the central pot to help out with general works. It's going to be an interesting discussion - what to spend money on when there are no pressing requests from residents and no statistics suggesting that some safety work should be done.
On the way home I did manage to spend money - my own this time - on some much needed grocery shopping!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Back to normal

The rest of the conference passed in a whirl of activity, too long to note here. Very limited access to the internet while away meant that posting more blog entries didn't happen.
Suffice to say now that there were excellent debates and resolutions on MPs' expenses, torture, consumer rights, tidal power, cutting our carbon emissions, preserving our natural heritage, housing, the war in Afghanistan and much more.

Sadly, the amendment which had been submitted and worked on by a number of members the length and breadth of the country on contracts for waste treatment plants was rejected because people just didn't grasp the complex argument for it.

Suzanne Fletcher
took the opportunity to remind conference of the appalling situation in housing revenue where rents from council houses in some boroughs like Stockton are used to subsidise housing in other boroughs. Over the past 9 years she had found out that Stockton tenants paid £88m out to other boroughs, money which otherwise could have been used to improve houses here in Stockton.

The membership took a number of opportunities to remind the leadership team just who makes policy in this party and it seemed as though the message had finally got through. Conference votes on policy and the Federal Policy Committee decides which things should be highlighted in the manifesto. We are the Liberal DEMOCRAT party.

The key messages we all seemed to agree on during the week were:

In the wake of the recession, the world has changed significantly and many of the old assumptions no longer apply. Given the state of public finances it would be dishonest for any party to go into the election with a long shopping list of pledges and not say how they can be afforded.The next government will have to make hard choices about spending. Fresh Start sets out a framework for how the Liberal Democrats would go about making those choices to deliver three key priorities:
Create a sustainable economy: Putting people back to work through investment in green economic growth; breaking up banks so that the risks they take never again jeopardise the whole economy.
Build a fair society: The best start for every child – so that young people do not pay the price for mistakes made today, through smaller class sizes, extra help for children struggling at school, cutting student debt, training and jobs for young people.
Clean up Politics: Cleaning up Westminster – to stop Labour and Tories going back to business as usual after the expenses scandal; Fair votes – so that every vote counts and safe seats are a thing of the past.
And we will cut taxes for people on middle and low incomes – so that no one pays a penny on income tax on the first £10K they earn – paid for from green taxes and closing the loopholes for the very rich.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mosquitoes should be banned

And not just the winged variety.
In this afternoon's excellent debate on civil liberties Liberal Youth had submitted an amendment calling for the banning of mosquito devices. For those readers not familiar with them these are small devices fitted to the outside of buildings which emit a high pitched noise, extremely uncomfortable for young people whose sensitivity to that pitch has not yet been degraded by age. Typically, people over about 25 aren't affected. They are marketed as effective tools in dispersing gangs of youths, but of course they affect young people gathering together with no ulterior motives. Babies and young children who happen to be in the vicinity are also affected. There have been calls to ban them from no less than the Children's commissioner, Sir Albert Aynsley-Green.
Today Liberal Youth successfully argued the case for a ban being Lib Dem policy. Well done I say.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

More from Bournemouth

This morning there were three consultative sessions – sessions run at conference to consult on possible direction for future policy development. I believe we’re the only major party which does that openly with all members able to take part. I went to the session on Quality of Life, a brave attempt to tease out those things which make a real difference to our quality of life and to see if they can be expressed in a way which will help all of our policies to enhance it. There was a lot of discussion, very passionately for and against government interventions in some things, and we could have spent at least as long again on it I’m sure. I look forward to seeing the second stage consultation next spring.

A session on participatory budgeting filled the lunch break, but there were some nice sandwiches, vegetable sticks and fruit to eat. Participatory budget setting is a relatively new idea which enables communities to decide priorities for funding in their area. It can be done with fairly small budgets right up to hundreds of thousands of pounds. A quote from a Brazilian man struck me: when talking about the difference between this and consultation he said “If it feels like we’ve made the decision it’s PB. If it feels like they’ve made the decision it’s consultation”. I certainly want to explore the possibilities in Stockton. It goes much further than anything we already do. What’s more, the speaker from the PB Unit talked about how it empowers LSPs because in order to make the money go further there needs to be partnership working and levering in of extra funds.

The major part of the afternoon agenda was on a policy paper on women’s issues. It’s an excellent paper on the whole, but some of the wording of the motion struck me as a bit sloppy. It produced an excellent debate and although I didn’t agree with all of the wording I could vote for the motion as a whole, confident that if we get to the position of being able to enact it into law the wording will be sorted out and in the meantime the drafters of the policy are working with some of the important bodies which need to be influenced in order to start the process of change voluntarily. That’s the value of bringing something to the forefront as a proposal for policy – outside bodies sit up and take notice.

And then on to a discussion on campaigning on the environment. Fiona Hall MEP spoke very well about how many jobs are up for grabs in the renewables and energy efficiency industries and the need to grab some of them for the UK. But she and Simon Hughes both made the point that unless we as councillors and individuals start to boost the market for the goods by granting the necessary planning permissions and by using the goods ourselves where possible and leading the way in the community the market won’t be there and the jobs won’t be created. Food for thought.

Conference rally was good in places – but I’m going to write a formal complaint about Sarah Teather’s “jokes” about individuals especially Mark Oaten. I just thought it was completely out of order.

Later tonight I’d a phone call to say that everyone was here and meeting up to discuss the amendment so at 10pm I was walking down the road to meet up with people I didn’t know. Only at conference!!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Off to conference

Everything packed up and ready to go, a quick visit to my mother and then off to the station. With a long train journey ahead I’d packed lunch and plenty of documents to read. Two changes of train ensured that we could have a little walk occasionally. We were fortunate and had seats all the way but there were plenty of people getting on the train at around 5pm who didn’t, some of whom complained bitterly about paying good money and not getting a seat. One woman said she’d paid £107. We really do need much more investment in our railways to make the journeys both affordable and comfortable. Cars don’t have standing room only, and until trains & buses are as comfortable they’re not going to compete on an even footing.

The evening was pleasantly warm when we arrived in Bournemouth so Suzanne and I took a walk along the promenade and through part of the town to shake off the lingering stiffness from the journey. There’s something very attractive about the pier and the sea at night. Away from the sea Bournemouth by night reminded me a bit of Yarm by night – a lot of mainly young people enjoying drinking, music and loud chatter.

Adopt a Phone Box

That was the invitation received by Egglescliffe & Eaglescliffe council earlier this month - pay £1 and take over the red phone box on the village green at Egglescliffe. Apparently just 19 calls were made from it in the whole of last year and BT have decided it no longer justifies having a phone maintained in it. However, it's an old red phone box and it's in a conservation area so the council made enquiries about what was involved in adoption. Not a lot it seems. Loathe to see this little bit of our history disappear the council resolved tonight to take it on. When the necessary paperwork has been completed the phone box will be looked after by the local council, along with the village green which it stands guard over.
A little bit of history preserved for another generation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fairtrade Stockton

It's official - Stockton is still a Fairtrade Borough! After a great deal of work by the people on the Fairtrade Partnership all the evidence was collected, all the photos and press cuttings correlated and sent off. There followed weeks of waiting until out submission was evaluated. Had we done enough? Were we still flying the flag high enough for Fairtrade in the Borough?
The answer is a resounding yes. We have done enough to earn that accolade for another 2 years. We are now looking forward to getting our new Fairtrade Borough logo and using it on our publicity.
If you want to know more just click on the picture and browse.
A huge thank you is due to all the people in the borough who've bought and sold Fairtrade goods over the last couple of years, to those who've encouraged people to try something from the vast range (from avocado to zaytoun olive oil) and to those who've turned out to support events. The producers across the world do appreciate your efforts and they benefit from them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Man's inhumanity to woman

I spent most of this evening on the phone with a very distressed person who worked extremely hard, not just in her employer's time but in her own as well, on a project only to find now that its success is being recognised her manager has removed her from it and is doing his very best to claim it as a success for the organisation with no acknowledgement of her contribution. I could do nothing practical to help and could only offer sympathy.
Not on the same level as rape and torture in Darfur but very upsetting all the same.
Perhaps tomorrow I'll have something more cheerful to report.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Communities Together

That is the name of the project for which Stockton has been awarded several thousand pounds from a quango in order to try to involve more people in the Area Partnerships. At a meeting today I heard people getting very enthusiastic about the idea of encouraging more people to be involved by taking them round the area, showing them what's happened when money has been spent and how local people have influenced the spending and then asking them what they'd like to see in their area. All very laudable, but with budgets being cut left right and centre at present I'm not sure it's the best possible use of taxpayers' money. But who am I to question a government quango? Only an elected representative of a few thousand people, that's all.
The sad thing is that I don't think a change of party in charge at Westminster will deliver any better local democracy until we get proportional representation and a significant Lib Dem presence in government. Neither Conservatives nor Labour believe that local politicians can be trusted, so we will go on having quangos with "directors" getting expenses for doing jobs that councillors and council officers should be doing. Such is Britain at the moment.
A recent poll has shown that most people would support the idea of having a referendum on voting reform. What are Labour and the Tories afraid of? Could it be the people?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Roseworth Lodge Open Day

Following substantial refurbishment Roseworth Lodge celebrated with an open afternoon. The staff had worked flat out to make sure that everyone and everything looked their best, there were some wonderful items to be auctioned, a raffle and the Mayor and Mayoress of Stockton were there to make the day for many of the residents. The only disappointment was that no social workers turned up to see the unit which offers stepdown/step up beds for residents of this borough, clients as the current jargon has it, who need that extra support from time to time. Although they do carry out the necessary visits to people who are in temporary residence to see how they're getting on, I thought they might have taken the opportunity to see the home in a different light with the community spirit which makes it such a welcoming place to people who are feeling vulnerable and poorly.
Back at the ranch, so's to speak, there were plenty of emails to sort through including the information that the week after next (21st Sept) work will start to put traffic lights at the entrance to Preston Park. Short term that will cause some problems but long term it should make it easier to control the traffic for big events.
There were other things too, including plans for a consultation on whether Stockton council should have an elected mayor, but that's too big an issue to tack on the end of a blog and needs a section on its own when I've digested all the documents.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Holding the Cabinet to account & Standing up for Justice

Not the Downing St cabinet, but the Stockton Council cabinet. The meeting of full council is one time when it's possible to question cabinet members in public about anything that falls into their remit. Tonight's meeting had a marathon lot of questions down for responses. Of course the question is submitted in advance and the cabinet member can ask officers of the council to prepare answers but then the questioner can ask a supplementary question and that is unscripted. Tonight Alan asked again about facilities for young people in the borough and especially why we don't have anywhere for our youngsters to go and enjoy skateboarding and off road cycling in a controlled safe environment. He got the usual anwers about us having lots of other things but it doesn't get away from the fact that our cabinet has not put the resources into getting that sort of facility when other neighbouring boroughs have.
John's questions about the disruption to bus services during SIRF produced a woefully inadequate answer from the cabinet member, claiming that the delays to bus services were only 5 minutes when we have evidence from one of our own members of an hour wait for a bus that should have been running every 10 minutes as well as complaints from others. Then he claimed that some relevant minutes hadn't been shown to him when they're sent to all members on the same e-mail. I do wonder, yet again, about the quality of some of our cabinet members.
I'm sure that Suzanne will have something to say on her blog about the missing millions paid into other councils from our council tenants. Suffice to say here that the answer to her question wasn't surprising but was appalling.
Perhaps the snappiest quote of the meeting came from a Thornaby Independent councillor protesting about a local PPC trying to claim credit for work done by council officers and councillors. I didn't see the alleged piece in the local paper so I can't comment on the veracity or otherwise of the statements made in the council chamber tonight but his question did bring at least a smile to most faces and applause from some: "Is the ability to distort the truth a product of legal training or being a Conservative?".
On a more serious note the meeting ended with a motion deploring the continued deportation of people back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The deputy leader of the labour group moved the motion with a very good speech on why people shouldn't be made to go back there when they're not safe. Suzanne Fletcher spoke movingly of the young man who'd stayed with them for a time before being deported and of the dangers and privations he faced and is still facing. I spoke of Stockton's history of people who stand up and are counted on the side of right and Justice and of how proud I am that Stockton is the home of Justice First, working for justice for people trying desperately to be granted a safe place to live. I'd thought of mentioning the disgraceful response Fiona Hall MEP had from the Minister concerned when she'd raised the issue of safety for those going back but decided against introducing any possibility of being accused of party politicising the subject matter. Those who need to know do know the work that Fiona did at that time.
The motion was carried unanimously of course, because no-one would vote against such an emotive motion, but I hope that many councillors will do more than just go home after it. I'd hate to think it was just lip service.
On the way home I found out that there's to be a fund-raising dinner to support this work so if you live in the Teesside area and you can afford to pay for a ticket you could keep Nov 7th free and watch this space for more details.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

More questions and still no answers

I went with John and Alan to meet the owners of Witham House this morning in an effort to find out what their plans are and how long the people of Eaglescliffe will have to wait for a replacement housing scheme. The answer seems to be How long is a piece of string? The housing market isn't strong enough, building costs are high, we need to make some money in order to replenish the coffers having made big investments in housing elsewhere in the borough, etc etc. What it comes down to is that the admittedly not up to modern standard housing which was available isn't any longer there and there seems to be no prospect of its replacement coming any time soon. The deal which was struck between Erimus housing and Stockton council has turned out to be a pretty poor deal for Eaglescliffe even if it has been of great benefit elsewhere in the borough.
I needed a bit of good news and it came later in the day as our daughter told us they've moved a step nearer to selling their house and finding a better one. Hooray. One bit of the housing market that's recovering anyway.

Monday, September 07, 2009

I spent some time today studying the papers for Wednesday's council meeting and drawing together comments and questions on all sorts of issues. There's so much happening at the moment and it's not always easy to keep track of the things that really matter to our residents. For instance, we have the issue of whether Stockton should have an elected mayor or have a Council Leader chosen from amongst the councillors. We have a massive programme to rebuild or refurbish the secondary schools of the borough except for Egglescliffe, Conyers and All Saints. How to spend the money wisely for the future education of the children who're only just learning to walk? What do we do with the schools which aren't included in this funding bonanza? Egglescliffe school building is hanging on by the skin of its teeth and really should be replaced but where and how? Ingleby Barwick needs more places near at hand for its children but where and how will it be paid for?
Council owned housing is about to become a thing of the past thanks to Government policy on funding but who should take it over and how can we be sure that our tenants will be happy with their new landlords?
Young people in our ward and other parts of the borough ask constantly for better facilities for them to spend their leisure time so how do we get them? Why hasn't the present or previous administration in Stockton done more for them?
So many questions and so few answers. Maybe we'll get a bit nearer with some of them on Wednesday.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Out around the ward meeting residents yesterday it was interesting to hear their concerns but also their compliments. The Parliamentary expenses scandal has really damaged politics and democracy in this country, with many people unable or unwilling to distinguish between the different levels of government. It's helpful to be able to meet people face to face and explain what local councillors do as opposed to MPs. When people can talk and ask questions understanding grows. It's a pity that some of the players on the world stage don't remember that at times.
Last night was spent in a completely different task. My sister had returned from a trip to Ireland with lots more information for the family history we're compiling. A couple of hours with the computer and bits of paper and we think we're up to date. Of course, that's only till we meet up with someone else or one of the family remembers something else!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Yesterday was an exhausting but exciting day. I started off wearing my school governor hat, taking part in a professional development day at a local primary school where I'm a governor. We take it for granted that teachers take part in these days on a regular basis but on this occasion the whole adult part of the school community had been invited to take part. So round tables in the school hall were teachers, lunchtime supervisers, governors, teaching assistants, admin staff and the caretaker. We discussed what we expect from everyone in the school, what makes the school the special place it is, what could make it better and our relationships with the wider community.
High on everyone's list of hopes for the children is that they leave the school with confidence in themselves and a hunger for learning, able to achieve their full potential as people not just as exam fodder. I was sorry to have to leave after lunch to go to another meeting. Most people were carrying on in the afternoon and more governors were arriving for that session. I left feeling bouyant and excited about what would be happening in the school in the coming months and years.
The meeting I left to go to was very different - a meeting of the cumbersomely titled "Multi Agency Looked After Partnership", known as the MALAP for short! It's a gathering of representatives of all the bodies and agencies which have any responsibility for or do any work with the children who are in the care of the local authority. Until I became a councillor I'd no idea that I'd be taking on the role of parent to a number of children whom I'd probably never meet. But that's exactly what happens when a child comes into the care of the authority. Whether they're in a children's home or in foster care the council is their "corporate parent". We have a responsibility to ensure that they have a safe home, an education, leisure opportunities and so on - all the things we'd expect to give our own children. Over recent months some representatives of the young people in our care have been meeting with some council staff to discuss what they would like the council to provide for them and what their own responsibilities should be. Yesterday we were shown the results.
One of the young people concerned came along to the meeting and delivered a presentation to us, explaining what was important to the young folk she represented. She seemed quietly confident in herself, in her relationship with the council officer accompanying her and in her role as a representative of those less able to express themselves. As someone who's been in care for a few years she had some valuable messages for us.
The wishes of the young people were not in any way excessive. They wanted a commitment from the council that they'd have as normal a life as possible for someone who's not able to live with their natural family for whatever reason. The next step is a pledge to be drawn up to encompass those needs and for the council to commit to. Then there'll be a regular monitoring of how well we keep our promise and what we do if we fail on any point in it.
So two meetings, two different groups, but both on the same track of doing their best for the young people depending on us. Both looking for definite actions, not just words. The name of the group of young people doing all ths work - Let's Take Action - said it all.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Well, the die is cast - the draft recommendations on Carbon Management are more or less agreed now with just a few details to be sorted out at the next committee meeting. If they can be implemented and enforced they should make a significant contribution to the council's carbon footprint reduction work and, perhaps more importantly build up the council's ability to act as community leader. By sharing our experience openly and fully with businesses and other organisations we can help and encourage people to take the steps needed with the confidence that they're not going to make a costly mistake. By using our buildings as educational tools we can help the wider community to understand the implications of their actions (or lack of them) on energy efficiency, micro-generation and so on. Now all we have to do is write the report, word the recommendations properly and present to cabinet for their approval. Then the real work begins!

Later in the afternoon another die was cast when Cabinet agreed to the proposal to carry out a feasibility study on a further 3 options for secondary schooling in this part of the borough. For reasons best known to the mandarins in Whitehall the only schools in the borough which are not to be included in the funding for major refurbishment or rebuild under Building Schools for the Future (BSF) are Egglescliffe, Conyers and All Saints at Ingleby Barwick. Too many children are needing to travel out of Ingleby for schools around the borough but primarily at Egglescliffe or Conyers and it would be wonderful if IB could have another secondary school or a bigger extension of All Saints. However, land availability is a problem so the IBIS councillors have come up with the suggestion of relocating Egglescliffe comprehensive into Preston Park. The feasibility of that option will be investigated under this new decision.
I've made my views quite clear on the suggestion that a park, loved throughout the borough and beyond, should be partially taken over by a school and it's gratifying to see from the reaction of residents that Im not alone in that view. It will be very interesting to see the result of the study!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

This morning I went to the funeral of Jim Cooke, Freeman of the Borough and Honorary Alderman. I didn't know him personally, though I think I met him when I was a child. He and my father were active in the Boilermakers union and I sometimes went with my father to collect or drop off papers at other officials' houses. Jim Cooke had been a councillor in Stockton for many years, serving as mayor for a year and leading the council for several years. It was appropriate therefore that his funeral was something of a civic occasion. Councillors and council officers were led by the Mayor and Mayoress at a simple service in the Parish Church in Stockton High Street. I hope the family found some degree of comfort in the presence of councillors, council officers and ex-councillors.