Thursday, March 08, 2012

Community Covenant

Last night's meeting of the full Stockton Borough Council started with the signing of the Community Covenant with the Armed Forces.  This is a further step along the way of ensuring that the armed forces personnel with links to our borough feel supported and valued for what they do.  Although sometimes the battles they have to fight are ones which some of us might not support politically there is general agreement across the council and the wider borough that the men and women involved in the forces deserve our support.
 Representatives of the army, navy and air force signed along with the Mayor on behalf of the Borough and Cllr Bob Cook as Chair of the Stockton Renaissance Partnership.  In thanking the community the Forces representative spoke of the high proportion of people from the North East who sign up to serve in the forces (20% of total recruitment) and therefore the high proportion of veterans who return to the North East.  As he said, some don't need any particular help but others need a great deal of medical, emotional and social support to settle into civilian life.
Stockton led a review of services for veterans in the North East over a year ago now, and that has made a difference to how such services are advertised to the returning veterans as well as trying to make sure the services offered are good ones.
This, coupled with such things as Freedom of the Borough and the associated links, and the current mayor's charitable work for charities associated with the armed forces, was noted.  As the Brigadier said, "The thing that matters most to Defence Forces abroad is to feel valued when they come home.  We have never felt so valued as we do at the moment here, and that is really important.  Thank you."
Each of the signatories was presented with a framed photograph of Infinity Bridge to remind them of the event.

 The rest of the meeting wasn't nearly so interesting, being the formal approval of a variety of things which had already been well debated in committees and cabinet meetings, though one member question raised the issue which no-one connected with the Ingleby Barwick Free School application seems to have properly addressed yet:
In order to build the "Free" School land has to be found.  The preferred site is also proposed for housing development.  If a deal is done such that significant housing is allowed in exchange for land for the school how will the resulting children be accommodated in the primary schools which are already pretty well full?  Will primary children have to be transported to other schools round the borough in order to provide space for secondary children to be educated on the estate?  Will the children whose parents are currently campaigning for the school find that their children don't benefit because the new school has to accommodate the children from the new, currently unplanned housing?  All interesting questions which of course the Labour Cabinet member quite enjoyed agreeing were interesting and important questions.  The answers might have all been thought about by the campaigners but we haven't heard them yet.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Health and Social Care

In recent months this topic has come up in news bulletins, in political debate and in conversations more than any other.  It's something that affects everyone in some way, something that costs a lot of public money as well as private investment for many, and something that we seem unable to agree on changing in any way.
Most people agree that "something must be done" about the spiralling cost of care and medicine as our population grows and ages.  What we can't agree on is just what that something is.
As a relative and as a patient I've seen some of the best of our National Health Service and our care system.  But I've also seen some of the worst.  So I don't view it through rose-tinted glasses, and I don't believe it's just about more money or government targets.
I read the current debates around the bill going through Parliament and find myself agreeing first with one person then with another - has enough been done to the original bill to make it acceptable as a way forward for the Health service in this country?  Yes....No...Maybe!  Unfortunately I shan't be at Gateshead next weekend to hear the debates first hand.  But in Stockton I am part of the Health & Wellbeing Partnership, representing the people of Yarm, Eaglescliffe, Long Newton and the surrounding villages.  I hear professionals and voluntary workers in a number of fields working together to try to join up their services and their thinking in a way that will use resources effectively for the good of the people of the borough.  And through being part of that body I realise that a return to the systems of a year ago, prior to the publication of the controversial bill, is never going to happen.  Things have moved on, largely in anticipation of the way they'll be expected to move if the bill becomes law, but also partly because people recognised that this was a good thing to do - working together to agree what's necessary and then what's desirable and then working together to deliver those aims.
So whatever happens to the bill in its remaining time in Parliament I'd like to see one outcome - fewer publicity seeking soundbites from national politicians and more help and encouragement to local people to sort out what's important to them and how to deliver it.
And on the subject of pressures in the Care system and dignity for all, I can do no better than recommend reading Ruth Bright on the subject.