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.

No comments: