May 2012

Weekly Diary for week commencing 8 May 2012

 

Tuesday 8 May

At 9am I attended a group meeting of Liberal Democrat Councillors to discuss the agenda for the Full Annual Council meeting at 10am in the Council chamber. This was a particularly difficult meeting for the Liberal Democrat Group as sadly we had lost our leader, Tom Smith-Hughes after a long fight against a rare kidney cancer. Lots of fine tributes were paid to Tom as he had served the County Council for some 27 years.

During Full Council, in the section concerning the questions to Cabinet Members, I tabled a written question on behalf of Councillor Roberts and myself. This was the first time a question had been tabled by two Councillors from opposing parties. Councillor Roberts is the Conservative Councillor for the Hutton area and we both share part of Shenfield Railway Station in our Divisions. The question concerned Crossrail and its effects on our community. This link will take you through to details of this question and other documents relating to the Crossrail project.

At 2pm the majority of County Councillors were present at a packed Chelmsford Cathedral for a memorial service for Tom Smith-Hughes where very moving and memorable tributes were paid to a fine husband, father, Councillor and friend. A gathering was held afterwards at the Shire Hall in Chelmsford City Centre.  

7pm Brentwood Town Hall - I attended an inaugural meeting of a Committee to promote youth provisions and facilities in the Brentwood Area. The Committee is made up of the four County Members for Brentwood, three young people from the Brentwood Youth Council, three Youth workers, officers of both Essex and Brentwood Councils and chaired by William Russell, a local Brentwood Borough Councillor. The minutes of this meeting can be found on the Brentwood Borough Council website through the link on the left.

Wednesday 9 May

9am saw me at Kelvedon Park, the headquarters of the Essex Fire Authority, for a meeting of the Policy Board. Since the death of Tom Smith-Hughes who was the opposition leader on the Essex Fire Authority, I was asked by my colleagues to take on that responsibility. As such I have this and many other additional meetings to attend in this new role. There is not much time for me to grow into the role as the meetings are coming thick and fast. Another meeting followed at 11.30am, to talk about the further development of Kelvedon Park Headquarters itself and we discussed the planning applications recently submitted to Braintree District Council for the proposed new training facilities and control room. Currently the control room for the Essex Fire Authority is operating out of our old headquarters in Hutton. It is the only part of the authority that is still there and we hope that the development of Kelvedon Park can evolve smoothly and efficiently so it can be up and running as soon as possible.

 

Weekly Diary for week commencing 14 May 2012

 

Monday 14 May

I met with County Officers to discuss this website.

7pm Brentwood Town Hall - Discussed the agenda at the Liberal Democrat group meeting prior to Annual Council on the 16 May.

For my sins I find I am re-elected as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at Brentwood Council. We welcomed our newest member Graeme Clark, the first non-Conservative Councillor to be elected to the ward of Shenfield since local Government began in the 1800’s. I can quite clearly say it was a memorable evening, one I could share in as I was the campaign manager for Graeme’s election and I now have some help and support to assist me in my role as County Councillor for the Shenfield area. Brilliant! Well done Graeme!

Wednesday 16 May

Annual Council - Brentwood Town Hall.

This was quite a significant land-mark meeting for me, not only did it mark my thirtieth Annual Council meeting but I was given the responsibility of Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee which is chaired by a member of the Opposition. This is particularly poignant as three years earlier I had been stripped of that position by the same Conservative administration because they had accused me of lying in my election material during my County Council campaign. I was subsequently tried and suspended for six weeks by the Standards Board at Brentwood Council. I was totally exonerated and found not guilty by the Appeal Courts of Great Britain and Brentwood Standards Board was held to account for a series of misnomers and incompetences. I am also appointed to the Standards Board and with my very real experience of the Standards Board system; I hope to bring a sense of propriety and justice to this process.

I am also appointed to the Highways Panel. As yet the make-up and constitution of the Committee is to be confirmed. It is shrouded in controversy as there is a full scale war breaking out between Members of the County Council who have the responsibility of making the decisions and administrating the budget on all matters Highway and those members from Brentwood Council who believe they have the right to have their say on matters appertaining to Brentwood. We wait with baited breath to see the results of the outcome.

 

Weekly Diary for week commencing 21May, 2012

 

This has truly been a very busy week. It’s normally pretty busy this time of year, but for some reason an awful lot of meetings, briefings and general council stuff has been compressed into a few frantic weeks. 

Every year at this time, following the Council elections, the AGM’s of the Council and Fire Authority follow close in succession and there are Group meetings, selections of positions on committees, arrangements for the various Chairmen / women and Leaders alike.

Monday 21 May 

At 2pm until 3pm I attended the launch of a Parliamentary Initiative by Lib-Dem MP Paul Burstow which is entitled ‘My Home Life’. This initiative is aimed at care home managers, staff, residents, local councillors and the wider community. The objective is to bring a greater understanding of care home life for the resident, to bring together the best practices employed throughout the country so that our residents in care homes in Essex can look forward to a full and active life; one that is of their choosing, so that they and their relatives can have complete control over their future requirements, where they can plan their everyday meals in advance, can choose their entertainment, their education and their own life choices.

This is to get us away from the idea of a care home being an institutional prison-like experience where people are placed, the door shuts and someone else makes all their decisions for them.

I have been to many care homes in the County as a visiting County Councillor on an inspection basis and I have seen for myself the various degrees of standard of care. There are some excellent homes in Essex but there are also those that need a lot of guidance, change and new management direction. I only hope that this initiative – My Home Life – will go some way to making a better future for our elderly and needy residents.

In the evening Late afternoon, at 6pm saw me at the Brentwood Council Offices (Town Hall) taking part in an Induction meeting for the newly elected Brentwood Borough Councillors. This was Graeme Cark’s first meeting, our history making Councillor for Shenfield and I wanted to be there to support him and ease his way into life as a local Borough Councillor.

Tuesday 22 May

 At 10am I was in the offices of the Fire Authority’s legal section discussing a report commissioned by the Fire Authority and carried out by the Audit Commission on allegations brought by Baroness Smith in the House of Lords, which asked questions regarding financial irregularities and procedures carried out in the years 2008 / 2010.

This followed a comprehensive review of the Fire Authorities financial situation and audited accounts by the monitoring officer of Suffolk Fire Authority, which concluded that the accounts were in order, that no wrong doing had taken place and that there was no substance to the allegations previously tabled by the anonymous accusers. This is very weighty stuff, and my first insight into what the previous opposition leader had to deal with.

In the evening, from 6 p.m. onwards I attended a meeting of the Pilgrims Hatch Environmental Partnership, the main topic being the organisation of the Jubilee Party being organised for our senior citizens in the ward by the Partnership.

Wednesday 23 May

From 10.30am I was at Kelvedon Park (Essex Fire Authority HQ), attending a draft agenda group session prior to the Fire Authority’s Annual Council meeting on the 13th June.

In the afternoon, at 2pm my thoughts turned to family, whilst attending my uncle’s funeral. He was a local man, who never worked outside of Essex, except when on National Service with the RAF and one of my family members who used to keep me on my toes politically and right up until the end was cursing the national government and enquiring on what I was going to do about various items at the Town Hall. He was a tenacious and community caring fellow, right to the end.

In the evening at 7pm I was at Brentwood Borough Council attending a planning meeting. This, in my opinion, was a truly memorable night, but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons! We had a very heavy agenda, which the Chairman insisted on going ahead with regardless of the request from many councillors to reduce the amount of items by deferring them to an extra meeting at a later date. So, it is no surprise that this meeting actually concluded at 11.45pm. This meeting was significant for Pilgrims Hatch as this was the time to decide upon an application for permanent residency within the Green Belt for a mobile home because of Gypsy status. The ward members and local residents had campaigned against this for the last three years and proved to the satisfaction of the Committee that the status of Gypsy for this particular individual was not appropriate, that the land was not designated as a specific Gypsy site and that the land was Green Belt. Permission was refused by all members, save the Chairman, voting against. The Chairman voted in favour of the application. Alas we may be reviewing this at a future date as the person concerned is determined to fight this to the end and may appeal.  

If any reader of this column wishes to know more about this and any other planning application heard that night, the full meeting was webcast by Brentwood Borough Council and can be viewed at leisure from the Council’s website.

Thursday 24 May

10am saw me sitting in Committee Room 1 at County Hall, at the Economic Development, Environment and Highways Policy and Scrutiny Committee (EDEH) meeting.The newly installed Cabinet Member for Highways and Waste Management was present and we were discussing the conclusions of a Task & Finish Group that were recommending policy adjustments on school crossing patrol criteria. This is very close to my heart, and I have been dealing with various issues relating to this in Shenfield. Last year new ground was broken at County Hall when I presented a petition of over 2500 signatures of concerned parents of children accessing local schools and residents concerning the removal of school crossing patrol officers from the pedestrian crossing at the Green Dragon traffic lights in Shenfield. The petition enabled a procedure to click into place for the first time at Essex, which demanded the attendance of a Cabinet Member to the Scrutiny Panel to discuss exclusively, the subject of the petition. At that meeting the Chairman and all Members listened to the petition organiser, Mrs Liz Cohen, resident of Shenfield and unanimously agreed to all the requests and suggestions put forward in the petition. Sadly, however, the Cabinet Member decided to ignore the recommendation from the Scrutiny Panel and therefore was the subject of more questions by me to her at subsequent Full Council meetings.

Details can be found on the Essex County Council website.

In the afternoon from 2pm until 3pm I attended a briefing in Committee Room 2 at County Hall to do with Community Funding. This was for associated groups, parish councils, local district councils and the like to apply for funds for projects needed by their communities. I found this extremely useful, informative and aim to speak to the Pilgrims Hatch Environmental Partnership regarding the possibility of applying for grants and bidding for funding for projects within the partnership’s remit.

7pm saw me attending the Liberal Democrat ward meeting for Brentwood North, in my capacity as their County Councillor. At the meeting I gave a full report of my activities in their ward over previous months and a brief outline of the actions of the County Council and the Fire Authority over that period.

Saturday 26 May

On a glorious sunny morning, I and my Brentwood North Ward Liberal Democrat councillors donned high visibility jackets, picked up our black sacks and litter picking equipment, and patrolled the leafy lanes and avenues of Sawyers Hall Lane, Highland Avenue, Treetops and Doddinghurst Road as part of an Environmental Action Day organised by Brentwood Borough Council, called The Deep Clean, but only the Brentwood North Councillors attended!! I feel that in a council that has 26 Conservative councillors and just 8 Liberal Democrats, for 50 percent of the Lib-Dem to turn out and zero Conservatives is a pretty poor show.

Nevertheless, we endeavoured to fill at least eight sacks of rubbish and identified several areas where the council’s street cleansing team will go back to retrieve dumped sacks of rubbish and general domestic fly-tipping.

Sunday 27 May

No rest for the wicked this week, it seems. Graeme Clark, our newly elected Liberal Democrat councillor for Shenfield and I delivered a community information leaflet to over 300 houses in just over one-and-a-half hours. Not bad going in these hot conditions!

In the afternoon, I was let off for good behaviour and engaged in some test match viewing.