Monday, July 23, 2012


Today I attended a session for members of  Stockton's Health & Wellbeing Partnership to discuss inequalities in health and how to tackle them.  It's generally accepted that on average healthier people live longer, more independent lives than unhealthy people.  Which means that the life expectancy of people in a town or a district gives a reasonable idea of how healthy they are likely to be.  The shocking fact about Stockton is that the difference in life expectancy between the best and the worst end of the spectrum is bigger than almost everywhere else in England!  In general it's the people in the more affluent areas of the borough who live the longest and the difference is around 15 years between the best and the worst.  I don't think that anyone in the room was happy with that statistic.
The difficult question is how to make the gap smaller.  All sorts of things have been tried and some things have shown a good effect - early deaths from coronary heart disease are decreasing.  But smoking in pregnancy is still far too common, as is drug and alcohol abuse.  Most people today were convinced that improvements need to start young, and carry on.  So encouraging more mothers to breastfeed their babies for at least a few weeks would lead to a significant improvment in health later.  But today we were asking whether more radical intervention was needed - should children who are born to drug or alcohol abusing parents be taken into care at birth?  Should women who continue to smoke pregnancy be charged with child abuse?  There's not a simple yes or no answer to these questions - where would the necessary foster and adoptive parents be found for example?  But the questions certainly focused the minds of those present on the need to make every penny of funding and every scrap of intervention count.  A happy healthy child who attends school regularly is more likely to benefit from education, get a job, live a fulfilled and healthy life on average than a child without that start in life.
So the question for us all is - how much is that good start in life worth and where do we get the resources from to give it?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Week's round-up

No chance of doing daily posts this week I'm afraid.  Apart from the meeting of EARA on Monday, there were meetings of Stockton Council committees and partnerships looking into the problem of long-term empty properties, fuel poverty and conserving the environment while providing housing which people are willing and able to live in; meetings of the Parish Council and its Recreation Committee, partly to consider the problem of waterlogging at Amberley Way play area; representing the Liberal Democrat Group at the royal opening of the White Water course; a public meeting organised by Alan Lewis and me, helped by Lesley, to explain and discuss the planning system and how plans for development are submitted and handled at Stockton Council; a full meeting of Stockton Council on Wednesday evening; a meeting with our MEP, Fiona Hall,  about the skills gap causing problems for the manufacturing industry here in the North East including Eaglescliffe.
At Wednesday evening's council meeting there was a debate on a motion put forward by the Conservative group advocating taking a look at whether to reduce the number of councillors in the borough.  It wasn't a very clearly worded motion and didn't offer any reason for doing so other than that it might save some money.  The Labour leadership had evidently known it was coming up and had done their homework by having discussions with the Boundary Commission at the LGA conference.  It turns out that Stockton councillors represent significantly more residents per head than those of neighbouring boroughs despite the latter having recently had boundary reviews.  The whole debate prompted me to look at the hours I'd spent this week on council work - over 37 formal hours and then I hadn't logged the hours spent responding to letters and phone calls, chasing up answers on casework for residents, reading papers in advance of meetings in order to understand the issues being discussed, and so on.  It was a busy week, but not a unique week, and I wasn't the only person to be putting in long hours I'm sure.  So yes, having fewer councillors would save a few thousand pounds a year in allowances, but at what cost to the representation of the people of the borough?  Would the lady who wrote to us on Tuesday have had a visit in response to her problem on Wednesday if Alan and I had also been representing a further thousand residents?  Would we have had time on Tuesday to spend explaining the system and encouraging people to get involved and have their say?  How many little corners of the ward wouldn't get a regular visit from us if we also had to look after part of the present Parkfield & Oxbridge ward for example?  Local democracy isn't perfect by any means but I don't think that reducing the number of councillors is necessarily the best way to improve it, despite what some people think.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Egglescliffe Area Residents' Association

Following a hastily arranged meeting in the Pot & Glass side room last week the inaugural meeting of EARA was held on Monday in the Parish Hall.  A committee was formed from among the hundred or more who packed into the room, and agreement was reached that although the priority at the moment is to fight the proposals for development in the green wedge next to the village there will be a wider remit for the future including positive developments like developing Egglescliffe in Bloom activities.  Working in partnership with the Parish Council was also seen as a positive move.
For now, the committee will be looking in detail at the planning proposal being put forward by Yarm School and at the policies in Stockton Council's development plans so that suitable arguments can be framed. I look forward to seeing the Association develop.
It's membership is open to those who live in or have any interest in the area round Butts Lane, St Margarets estate and the village.  People came to the meeting from a wider geographic area because they care about the village and its surroundings.  Of course if other areas want to set up such groups Alan Lewis and I will be happy to help.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Durham Lane Primary School

I am so lucky to be a governor at one of the primary schools in our ward.  I was first appointed in the days when Parish Councils appointed one governor at each of the primaries in the parish and I've been lucky to be able to continue when the law changed.
Today the older children in the school delivered the history of the Olympic movement in music - Olympic Odyssey, directed by their head teacher.  To see so many children enjoying singing was truly thrilling.  At the end I had the opportunity to say thank you to all involved, as the chair and deputy chair will be at today's performance.  I told them, honestly, that I really miss seeing my own grandchildren perform in their school and so they were my proxy grandchildren for this afternoon.  I could then tell them that I was really proud of them.
When I went to primary school there was a tendency to tell pupils like me, not quite sure how to pitch a note, just to mime and no-one would notice.  Thank goodness those days have gone.  Every child at Durham Lane will have a go, and none of them will be told to just mime.  With care, every child gets to take part and show off their talents.  Whether they're the child with the wonderful facial expressions or the ability to hit high notes or the confidence to launch into a list of long words at speed - whatever their talent it's on show on that stage.
Thank you Durham Lane pupils, staff and families - you produced a very special afternoon.
No photos this time, just lots of lovely memories.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Preston Hall & Park

Toys for sale in Museum Shop
On Sunday I had the privelege of being a guest at a behind the scenes preview of the refurbished museum.  The word refurbishment really doesn't do it justice.  This isn't simply a lick of paint and a reshuffle of exhibits.  This is a complete rethink about what the museum is there to do and how it should be done.  So it will tell the story of Stockton in a new and more interesting way.  There will be a natural route through the exhibits and plenty of space to stand and stare.  The museum shop is stocked with lots of fun and beautiful goodies. The Victorian street will be alive with a tea room serving real tea, a sweet shop selling real sweets and so on, as well as the blacksmith, the violin maker and others showing off their skills.  The walled kitchen garden is already flourishing with veg and herbs growing there.  And there's much more to come with craft workshops and all manner of interesting events over the year. 
The museum is scheduled to open for the public on July 27th but the recent deluge has penetrated part of the roof so it's to be hoped that the damage won't delay the opening.  Also on that day is the Tristar Fun Day in the park.  Let's hope the rain has eased off by then to allow it to go ahead.
Despite the weather the sculpture beside the path to the river is taking shape.  It's a very laborious process and is a genuine labour of love for the sculptor.

Meanwhile the Friends of Preston Park continue to plan for the Picnic in the Park on August 18th, hoping for fine weather to encourage everyone to come and join in a huge picnic with children's crafts, games, and more.