Weeks 3 and 4 as a County Councillor
I’m pleased to say I have been put on the Health Scrutiny Committee and the Environment and Transport Committee, which are areas that I have a strong interests in. Day to day I have had lots of emails from residents about highways. And I have learnt just how hard it is to get anything changed in terms of parking, speeding or yellow lines. I am going to have some more meetings about that next week!
In the context of national news, I’ll report that we had ethics training on Monday. Someone asked about gifts. We were told for instance that it would be acceptable to buy an officer a cup of coffee but not lunch. I cannot imagine not declaring anything I was given.
The highlight of the week was the first council meeting. We met online as a Labour Group on Tuesday to discuss the agenda. Everyone is very friendly and supportive. The Labour Group has a new leader, Kate Foale, replacing Alan Rhodes who sadly lost his seat. She did a really good job this week and is clearly very fair and acts very collectively. We have a fantastic researcher and a secretary which surprised me at first, but I have rapidly realised that they are really important to help us to provide more effective opposition and support for our residents.
On Thursday the full Council met at the East Midlands Conference Centre to allow social distancing (weirdly we were using the desks that the students usually use for exams).
I understand that previously these meetings have been at least as argumentative as the Rushcliffe Borough Council meetings where some people seem to consider nasty political point scoring to be much more important than collaborating to do the best for residents. But the Notts County Council meeting seemed friendly, supportive and even amusing. The tone was set by Cllr Ben Bradley, the new leader of the Tory group, who was clearly wanted to indicate a change from the previous leader who was apparently very abrasive. He is going to be so busy being MP, Cllr and Leader of NottsCC: maybe he has decided he needs all the help he can get, and recognises that the opposition have the talent! Bradley has said some really unpleasant things in the past which I cant quite square these with the person I saw this week. Time will tell.
The meeting started with prayers. I just tuned out, but they are excluding some groups and I will step out in future. These were followed by thank yous, congratulations and good byes and slightly off colour jokes, interspersed with some tales of truly commendable public service. All this took best part of two hours and was followed by an hour for lunch so I think it was a bit of a waste of time and money, but I guess it did embed the sense of ‘new brooms’ sweeping through the council before we got down to business though.
The morning meeting is here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JW0QLjYqeY&t=4864s
Down to business
I asked a question about whether NottsCC could renegotiate its recycling contract to allow improved doorstep recycling. The answer was yes!!! I will happily take credit for this change in direction, though to be fair the renegotiation was long overdue and we have to ask why it wasn’t done before.
Apparently officers had suggested no motions at this meeting so the Labour group hadn’t submitted any whereas the Independents and the Tories had.. lesson learnt. There were then 4 motions.
The first from the Independents was to rule out the possibility of a unitary authority incorporating the County and its constituent Boroughs. Obviously as a group that believe in localism we supported this motion. The Tories didn’t.
The next was on single use plastics. Initially it was hard to read so it had been amended by the Tories, after which it asked the council to ‘aim to’, ‘promote and ‘reduce’. Motions are meaningless without hard targets.
The third from Cllr Bradley was to declare a Climate Emergency and aim for Carbon Neutrality by 2030. It was passed unanimously. This is excellent but I hope that the Tories realise its full implications. The renegotiation of the recycling contract gives me some hope, but the weasel words in the plastics motion and the fact that the previous day Ben Bradley MP had voted against an amendment to the environment bill aimed at banning fracking, make me less hopeful. But we are here to hold people to account and help them understand how to keep this promise to the future generations in Nottinghamshire.
The final motion will make lots of people happy. It was to establish a cross party group to investigate how our highways can be better maintained. I think every single person in Nottinghamshire can agree this is an urgent problem. We established that highways include footpaths and pavements as well as cycleways.
You can hear the afternoon meeting here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4L6R4gZrGo&t=8796s (my speech on the climate motion is at about 2’25”).
Better go now.. lots of emails to answer!