Quote of the week

Life isn't about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself'

George Bernard Shaw
If you cannot mould yourself entirely as you would wish, how can you expect other people to be entirely to your liking?
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/wish.html

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Spring Show

The Great Waldingfield Spring Horticultural Show on Saturday was rather less well supported than usual due to the very wet and windy weather that we have been having.

What was on display was of a very high quality however as can be seen from the pictures above. The winning flower arrangements are by Ann Francis and Pat Highton. The hellebores shown were the winning entry in their class. Some hellebores from Newmans Green came second!

Friday, March 28, 2008

An afternoon at Endeavour House

As an antidote to recent setbacks Colin invited me yesterday to accompany him to a full Council Meeting at Suffolk County Council.

I thought that the glass and chrome headquarters (pictured above), which opened in 2003, was very impressive, although whoever designed the Council Chamber should have come to see our lovely facility at Babergh, which in my view is the nicest I have seen. Although light and attractive, the Chamber in Ipswich seemed a bit cramped, although the way that the parties sit opposite one another, plus the screens and automatic voting, certainly add to the drama of the occasion!

It was nice to see some of the Babergh Councillors doing their stuff as County Councillors. Debate at the County is on a different level really - much more political, and less spontaneous than discussion at Babergh. I found it very refreshing to hear reference to national politics from time to time. Both Colin and Peter Beer contributed to proceedings without dropping their papers, losing the plot, or letting the side down in any other way!

The two debates that I heard were particularly topical. The first was on the subject of the appointment of Andrea Hill, the new Chief Executive. I have written about this on the blog recently, and am not surprised that it has caused controversy. Interestingly today the Taxpayers Alliance has published the fact that at present only six Council Officers in the UK are paid the sort of money that is going to be paid to Ms. Hill. As a Council Tax payer I can only hope that she will be, as Jeremy Pembroke, the Leader of the Council, promised ‘good value for money’.

The second debate was on the subject of Local Government reorganisation. I had to leave before the end, but I understand that the Council voted to go for a ‘one Suffolk Unitary’ option. I have to say that I am not fully convinced that this is the right way forward, despite the fact that it is undoubtedly the cheapest. We are debating the matter at a special Council Meeting at Babergh on 8th April, and I will elaborate further at that time.

I accept that listening to the proceedings at Endeavour House might not be everyone’s idea of a fun afternoon out. However, I was so riveted to proceedings that I was almost late for the the Little Waldingfield Committee Meeting to discuss the QUIZ NIGHT ON 3rd MAY. (Tickets available from me, or Elizabeth Tora; £7.50 to include supper)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Joan of Arc moment.

If I have seemed a little pre-occupied recently it is because I have been embroiled in ‘political struggle’.

Colin, having served with great distinction for some years, recently decided to stand down as leader of the Conservative Group at Babergh. The only person to put himself forward to take over the role was John Hinton (whom residents of Great Waldingfield will no doubt remember from the Piggeries Site Visit.) In the light of this I felt that, if no-one else could be persuaded, then I had no choice but to stand for election myself.

This was a relatively audacious move, given that I have been a councillor for less than a year. However, I have had quite a lot of experience of team-building and leadership in previous lives, and also do understand the basic ideas that underpin a Conservative attitude to the world. (See posts flagged ‘Ideology’). I was gratified by the fact that some of the more thoughtful of my colleagues were prepared to back me, and also received encouragement from elsewhere within the Group. Anyway it seemed worth a go….

In the event I was defeated 12 – 7. I have no regrets about standing although I have been ejected from the prestigious Strategy Committee, and shall now be serving on Overview and Scrutiny instead. You will notice that the picture at the top of this post is of Joan of Arc. I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

This change will make no difference to my work for people in Waldingfield Ward, which as always remains my Number One priority! Onwards and upwards….

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Acton School meets Gainsborough's House

Pictured above are images from a visit made by Liam Beeton, Education Officer of Gainsborough’s House, to Acton Primary School a month or so ago. With Liam's help Gainsborough’s House organises a good number of these ‘outreach’ events, not just to schools but to pensioners’ groups and also to people with learning difficulties.

The Acton event was a great success. During two school assemblies children had the opportunity to see lots of different works by Gainsborough and express their own opinions about them.

A number of workshops were then held at which children created model landscapes using techniques that the artist himself is known to have employed. They used items such a sticks, stones and broccoli to set the scene, and then painted their own landscapes. Some children tried on replica costumes from the House and then painted their own self-portraits.

It seems that the event went down so well that pupils and teachers were inspired to actually visit the House, and an unexpected group of no less than 86 pupils arrived the following week. Luckily there were plenty of staff and volunteers on hand to show them around!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

First Annual Parish Meeting.

Last night I went to Great Waldingfield’s Annual Meeting, which was held in the School, rather than the village hall due to ongoing repair work. This was my first Annual Meeting as a District Councillor, and I had to give my first annual report!

Unfortunately due to persistent computer glitches, (which, cross-fingers, have now been resolved after lengthy discussions with charming computer people in Madras) I have been unable to access Babergh’s server. This meant that I was not in a position to regale the assembled company with a recitation of Babergh’s achievements over the past year (to help Councillors out on occasions such as this the Officers kindly provide us with a list.)

Instead I gave a more personal view of the year, tailor made for Great Waldingfield. I hope that this was interesting for those present. It is an approach which I think I will continue to adopt in future as far as possible. Most of the topics I talked about have already appeared on the blog. However, when thinking about the report, I was struck by the thought, how unique Waldingfield Ward is, due to the fact that the area is so close to the edge of a town. Still essentially rural, the area suffers disproportionately from the threat of over-development, traffic and other pollution, rubbish and fly-tipping.

This is not exactly an earth shattering conclusion, but nevertheless, as the new Council year starts in April, I should make a new year’s resolution to try to resolve rather than exacerbate these problems!

How unlike the home life of our dear Babergh!

Unlike Babergh, some councils in Suffolk do not appear to have adjusted to the fact that Local Government re-organisation is likely to mean the end of Council life as we know it!

For example, there has been quite a furore about the salary that Suffolk County Council is going to pay its new chief executive. According to the EADT it seems that headhunters advised the County that they would have to pay £200,000 or so to attract an appropriate person. The story is reminiscent of my days in the City of London when headhunters were always keen to recommend the most expensive candidate for any job. Of course, they take six months or so salary as a fee, so it is in their interest to hike up the numbers as far as possible. I have an old schoolfriend who works at the headhunters engaged by Suffolk County Council, but suspect that unfortunately she won’t let me in on any secrets with regard to the latest appointment!

Another feature of the affair that is reminiscent of City Life is the speed at which senior officers seem to move about. I gather that the average period in post for a Chief Executive of a Council at present is only a very few years. What seems to be developing is the sort of merry-go round of talent which did a great deal to bid up salaries in the good old days in the City. The difference was of course that the money that was being dished out to high flyers reduced the dividends of the shareholders, rather than hitting the pockets of Council Tax payers.

To be fair, a factor that has to be taken into account is the uncertainty surrounding the future of Local Government in Suffolk. It must be more difficult to attract people to come and work in an organisation that may not be in existence in two years time! However, one does wonder if, in the light of this, there wasn’t an alternative solution in the short term.

Another recent surprise was the decision of another Suffolk District Council, also threatened with extinction, to spend £3m on refurbishing its offices. Goodness me!!! How wonderful it would be if Babergh had this amount to splash out at the present time. We are furiously trying to raise money from various capital sales so that we can get the Hadleigh Leisure Facilities scheme under way before the Council is no longer able to give the project the support it deserves.

On the other hand, Babergh is also cutting back on projects where spending money now would be pointless. The area of IT comes to mind, but there are others. Additionally officers who leave are not always being replaced where work can temporarily be done by others, and this seems right while we wait to see what the Boundary Committee recommends later in the year.

(The illustration is of Freia picking the Golden Apples, which seemed appropriate somehow)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Weekend at the Sudbury Festival

This weekend I have been doing one of my favourite annual jobs, helping out at the Sudbury Festival of Music, Speech and Dance. This year I was given a new task writing out certificates. There seemed to be hordes of competitors, all aged between 8 and 16. It was very important not to make any mistakes! Little Polly and her Ma or Pa, are very well aware of the significance of Polly’s marks, and it doesn’t do to give out a certificate which says she has a ‘Merit’ if she actually scored a ‘Commended!’

Pictured above are Audrey Ewen from Little Waldingfield, who has been one of the leading lights of the Festival for some years now, plus some of the older competitors from the Solo Drama class with Ian Wilson, adjudicator for the weekend.

One of the best things about the speech classes is that you get the chance to enjoy lots of extracts from childhood favourites such as Alice and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe without friends and relations wondering when you will grow up! It is also interesting to see how children, and indeed people, of different ages respond to performing in public. The younger ones don’t seem to have to struggle with the self consciousness that suddenly afflicts those of us who are over 12!!

The Festival is a great plus for Sudbury and deserves to have a higher profile. Volunteering at the Festival is not too time consuming and very enjoyable. If you are interested in helping out next year let me know and I will put you in touch with the right person.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Chilton Quarry - another battle won

I am afraid that this post, reporting a famous victory for the people of Waldingfield at the County Council yesterday, is a little late due to the fact that very frustratingly I was unable to be at the meeting, and then had to travel up to London yesterday evening. Since working in the City I have always been very neurotic about failing to be first with the news, since in that working environment it could be the difference between receiving a bonus or one’s P45.

Anyway, better late than never.

As I am sure many of you know by now, Colin together with representatives of Chilton, Newton and Great Waldingfield Parish councils repeated their success at Babergh on Wednesday by persuading the Suffolk County Development Committee reject unanimously (9-0) Brett Aggregates’s application to extract gravel and do all sorts of other related and unpleasant things on land at Chilton (shown above).

Everyone worked really hard on the campaign to stop the quarry. Representatives from Parish Councils were particularly assiduous in showing that Brett’s figures didn’t stack up, both from the point of view of anticipated lorry movements and accident statistics for the A134 (also shown above).

So that is one battle over, but will we win the war? It is certain that Bretts will appeal. There is only limited scope to do much to influence the Inspector. I am looking into what possibilities there are, but I do know from experience of an appeal currently underway relating to development in Acton, that it is possible to send information and letters to him. Given that every local authority in the area has expressed opposition, I think that there are reasons to be optimistic. If the opinions of local people are ignored however a mockery will be made yet again of the Government’s commitment to community consultation.

In this connection I feel I must quote Hazel Blears, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, writing the forward to ‘Participation Nation, Reconnecting Citizens to the Public Realm’ (published by Involve, 2007) I have reproduced the quote exactly as it is written. The glaring grammatical error and doubtful use of English are the Secretary of State’s not mine!!!!!

‘These are exciting times for those of us who are committed to community empowerment……Policy making and politics is about finding shared solutions to the shared problems our nation faces. And whether obesity, climate change or terrorism, there are no shortage of issues to be addressed in the modern world. Yet I believe we can also find solutions to these problems by tapping the vast reserve of passion, knowledge and wisdom that resides in the British population……Over the past 10 years ….we have devised wide ranging changes which bring decisions closer to citizens and the elected officials that represent them.’

Well, we shall see…..

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Russian events round Sudbury

I am really disappointed that owing to a prior engagement we won’t be able to go to the Russian concert that is to be held in Great Waldingfield on 4th April (details in the Parish Magazine). Choral singing in Russia is uniformly excellent, in part because no musical instruments are played in Russian Orthodox churches, and therefore everything depends on the choir! I am sure that the event will be a success and I urge you to go along.

Some years ago I did a degree in Russian studies, and despite my feeling of despair about what has happened to the democratic process in Russia, I remain attracted by most things Russian. I don’t have much time or opportunity these days to practise speaking, although I do try to read a little something in Russian every day. I also give the occasional illustrated talk on Russian cultural subjects to support charitable causes. My last outing was to Foxearth WI some weeks ago, where I spoke about St. Petersburg, Peter the Great and the Bronze Horseman (the statue of Peter erected by Catherine the Great in 1782 that can still be seen today). The ‘review’ from the WI in the Free Press last week wasn’t too bad, so I hope I will be invited back again in the future.

Russia is a vast place, and roads and traveling loom large in its culture. At Gainsborough’s House, on the evening of Friday 14th March, I will be giving a talk, illustrated with lots of slides, about Russian Roads. Two of the slides are shown above. I will speak about the adventures of travelers in times past and the work of the Wanderers, a group of socially aware artists at the end of the 19th century. I will also focus on some works that are concerned with the most affecting Russian road of all: the road that leads to exile, or worse, in Siberia.

At the time of writing there are a few tickets left (£8.00 to include a drink), so let me know, or call into Gainsborough’s House, if you want to come along. Every penny of profit will go to the work of the Museum.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Decision expected on Gravel extraction at Chilton.

On Wednesday Babergh's Development Committee will be consulted once again with regard to Brett Aggregates's application to the County Council to extract gravel and undertake various industrial activities in Chilton.

Colin will once again speak out to try to ensure that Babergh maintains its opposition to the plan, which is ecologically unsound and completely inappropriate given the traffic problems on the A134.

Unfortunately, owing to the fact that I have a meeting of the Strategy Committee at Babergh, I will not be able to go to the County Council on Thursday when the application is to be heard. Colin, as County Councillor, will have three minutes to make his case. Representatives from Chilton and Newton Parish Councils are also likely to speak against the plans.

I will report back as soon as I am able to get in touch with those who were able to attend; probably on Friday.

Two different Conferences

Caroline Spelman, Chairman of the Conservative Party, who is perhaps best known for her Private Members' Bill aimed at reclassifying gardens as greenfield land.

It has been just like old times! I have spent the last three days at a couple of sharply contrasting conferences, (one at your expense and the other at my own.)

The council tax payers of Babergh kindly paid for me to attend the Public Sector Transformation Summit 2008 in Islington on Thursday. I was there in my capacity as E Government Champion and Chair of the Information Technology Task Group. The idea was to see, and take note of, how other Councils are bringing about change and restructuring in their organisations to effect the Government’s requirement that we all save 3% per annum. Of course the productivity improvements that can be achieved by information technology are significant, and it was this aspect in which I was particularly interested.

I shall spare you the technical stuff, but I am pleased to be able to tell you all that Babergh, if not actually racing ahead of the pack in this area, is certainly up there with the competition. In addition to an ongoing programme concerned with better customer access, which has already delivered savings and an improvement in response rates to those who call in by phone, we are currently working on an Information Strategy for the Council that will help us to bring about further improvements. The conference was very interesting, and among other things there was the opportunity to see a presentation on the Public Service Village, that is currently being built at Bury St. Edmunds as a joint venture between the County Council and St. Edmondsbury Borough Council.

Then on Friday morning it was off to Marylebone Station, to take the train to Warwick for the Conservative Councillors’ Annual Conference. I very much enjoyed this event. Unlike the Party Conference it is a relatively small affair, with only about 230 councillors attending. They came, however, from all over England and it was very interesting to share experiences with them. David Cameron (Yes!!!) opened the Conference, and it was closed by the truly excellent Chairman of the Party, Caroline Spelman, who is a role model for all of us women in politics! Liam Fox , Shadow Defence Secretary, and Eric Pickles, Shadow Local Government Minister were also there.

Contrary to what many people think, Conservative policy makers are gradually creating clear blue water between their policies and those of the Government. They are keen to shift politics away from centrally imposed targets, and to return power to local people. I shall be writing a short report on some of the initiatives that were announced, plus a brief conversation that I had with Eric Pickles. If anyone is interested to see this please e mail me and I shall let you have a copy.

Much was made by presenters at the Conservative Conference of a need to kill off ‘the grey man at the centre with the lever, trying to get results’. It occurred to me as I returned home on the train that I had seen this bugaboo on Thursday at the conference in Islington, in the persona of a very bossy man from the Government Connect Programme, Department for Communities and Local Government.