October Report

Really sorry this is so long, but it has been a busy few weeks. Hopefully you can find what you are looking for.

Notts County Council Meeting
Rushcliffe Borough Council Meeting
Notts CC Health Scrutiny Committee
Notts CC Environment Committee
UN campaign on Domestic Violence
West Bridgford Youth Centre
Framework
Abbey Road and Sir Edmund Campion School Traffic
Lady Bay School
Shortages

Notts County Council Meeting 23rd September

I had a hospital appointment in the morning but I didn’t miss anything crucial, since the first two hours were dedicated to making Kay Cutts and Joyce Bosnjak into Honorary Aldermen. Congratulations to them both. I met Joyce over the lunch break in the Labour Group offices: I have never met her before but even meeting her for a few minutes it was clear that she is inspiring and I am sure she will be contributing to the development of Nottinghamshire in many different ways for years to come.

Once we got down to work (after a rather long lunch break) we debated a proposal from the Council to give all NottsCC employees an extra day off in recognition of the extra work they did for residents during the pandemic. Given that the Council is the front line of many aspects of the civil emergency response, it is not surprising that this suggestion was warmly welcomed by everyone. However the Labour group noted that, given that many of the Council’s staff are very low paid and the cost of living is increasing, then maybe a bonus would have been preferred. Furthermore, we must recognise and thank all the other people in Nottinghamshire who have worked so hard for the last 18 m, or who have done their duty to the community by staying indoors, missing out on so much.

Next we discussed the Nottinghamshire Youth Justice Service Strategy Review. Councillors have specific responsibilities for young people, so it was unfortunate that the officers, staff and young people involved with the Youth Justice Service were done a disservice by this discussion. It was derailed by the Lib Dem councillor stating that he wanted cannabis legalised, leading to an hour of moving personal stories that were ultimately irrelevant to the report. The debate was also pointless as it wasn’t focusing on the key issue: I’m sure virtually all councillors want to discourage the use of recreational drugs: the question is how best to achieve that. In my opinion this discussion should all have been out of order. We should have been focused on the YJS report- particularly since it indicated that the YJS has lost funding for its Speech and Language Therapist and (astonishingly) its Clinical Psychologist.

There followed a discussion on the ‘County Deal’ that will encourage greater cooperation with the City and County in exchange for extra cash. This is part of the ‘levelling up agenda’, (which I think we should call ‘austerity atonement’). The government will only provide money for devolution if we rearrange our council the way they want (which doesn’t feel much like devolution), ostensibly to provide stronger leadership (which doesn’t sound great for the opposition). The Notts Tories changed the council from a cabinet system to a committee structure about 10 years ago and now they want to change back at a cost of £100,000 in officer time. Right now this all feels a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic: Im sure there are more important things the officers could be doing to address inequality and the climate crisis.

Finally at 5 pm we got to questions. I had a question about electric charging points, but I never got to ask it as Cllr Lee (Tory) asked Cllr Cottee (Tory) about support for armed forces families. This is clearly a very important issue, but the answer was more than 15 minutes long and would have been more impactful if shorter.

We never got to any motions whatsoever, making it the second meeting that my motion on 20 mph speed limits in residential areas has been bumped to the next meeting. In my opinion this was the only item in the whole agenda that was going to make an immediate, tangible difference to residents so it is disappointing that we seem to be incapable of discussing it.

In summary: we are meant to be there to work for all the people of Nottinghamshire not grandstand. I have some advice to the council if they are about to be revising the constitution! First why don’t all meetings start at 10 am so we have a better chance of finishing business before 5.30? Investitures and similar events could take place a special Council Meeting associated with another civic event. Discussion of matters that are beyond the control of the council should be considered out of order. There should be a 5 minute limit on length of spoken answers to any question with any further material provided in writing, to avoid the leading group talking out the questions part of the meeting on one issue. I will be timing the length of each speech next month: expect graphs!  

Rushcliffe Borough Council meeting, 30th September

This meeting was so much better than any previous RBC full Council meeting: the Tories were much less aggressive and antagonistic. I may be deluding myself but I felt our ideas were listened to. I really hope it isn’t a temporary change. Clearly I fundamentally disagree with the Tories on most policies and priorities, but we agree on quite a few day to day issues and so it would be so much better for the people of Rushcliffe if we could work together constructively when possible.

It may be that they were chastened by the shenanigans at Bingham Town Council. I’m not going to waste time going into the sordid details but we could benefit from less chaotic Tory administration at all levels of government in the UK. That said, we haven’t got a very good record of standing Labour candidates in Bingham. If you are interested in being a candidate there, please do get in touch!

We subsequently discussed the ‘County Deal’ (see above). I asked for discussions to focus on the environment and tackling inequality. There was a motion on supporting Afghan Refugees which was voted down, a motion on collection of food waste which was watered down so far as to be irrelevant. A motion calling on the government to put planning more in the hands of local people was also voted down: we really do need to get more local input to build a consensus on planning.

Finally I asked a question about voter ID. Apparently the costs will be borne by central government; and the council leader will come back to me on information on how many cases of voter fraud there were at the last election in Rushcliffe (though I think I can guess the answer). I’m worried about the cumulative effects of the Elections Bill, the Police Bill and proposed changes to the Official Secret Act.

Notts CC Health Scrutiny Committee

I am on Health Scrutiny Committee and at the last meeting we scrutinised GP surgeries. This was at the height of the GP bashing headlines. We were provided with data that clearly showed that in our area, patients’ satisfaction with their surgery depended on the level of wealth or deprivation around that surgery (comparing areas to the south of our City). I don’t think this is a surprise as we know that deprivation causes poor health so it is likely that these GP surgeries are under more strain. From the committee I also learnt that GPs are now routinely triaging people on the phone (they speak to you on the phone first to decide who you should see next and how). I think there is a lot of confusion about the status of these calls: many people quite reasonably assume that they are the ‘appointment’. I am sure there are some surgeries that are not being sensitive to people’s nervousness of new method but we have lost a lot of GPs in recent years and most surgeries now are simply overworked. Therefore it was very disappointing when the committee chair rather laid into the receptionists and doctors in her summing up. You can read a very reasoned discussion of the situation here.

Notts CC Environment Committee

The review of road maintenance continues quite efficiently. I am trying to find imaginative solutions to parking and car charging in West Bridgford. If you would be interested in Hiyacar or Enterprise Car Club, or renting out your own charging point or charging point could you let me know?

UN’s campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence

I was contacted by a member of Soroptimist International of Nottingham, an organisation dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls. She asked for County Hall to be illuminated in orange on 25th November, to highlight this campaign. I am delighted to say that the Council were very keen to support this initiative, so now County Hall will join the Council House, Green’s Windmill, the Brian Clough Statue and other buildings across the city and indeed across the world, in highlighting this issue that night. Hopefully this will get people talking, and help to break some of the taboos around this terrible problem.

Women of the World poster from UN

West Bridgford Youth Centre

On Friday night I went to visit the West Bridgford Youth Centre (next to the library). It was lovely to see the young people getting back together after the pandemic- these teenagers missed out on so many of those important teenage experiences. I would have relished the opportunity to hang out somewhere like this when I was a teenager. The staff were lovely and obviously very caring. It was sad to hear how the Tory policy of austerity measures, which decimated local council spending over the last 10 years, led to provision being cut. In particular it is no longer available in the holidays when arguable it is needed most. Residents are often concerned about teenagers congregating around the town, so this service actually helps everyone, young and old. If you know a child between and 11 and 17 who would like to hang around with their friends in a safe environment, send them along!

I’m really excited: this weekend I’m going to see the night hike event at Sherwood Pines! One of the perks of being a councillor!

Framework

I visited Framework earlier in the month. The staff are extremely sensitive to resident’s concerns, to an extent that made me feel rather uncomfortable: I was primarily there to understand the way that Notts looks after young people in its care. (If you have any issues there is a local residents’ group that meets regularly or otherwise I am happy to take them up with staff). To be honest, I found the house a bit impersonal inside, and it felt a bit sad that people were expected to be so independent so young, but I guess that is probably what they want in those circumstances.

Abbey Road and Sir Edmund Campion School Traffic

Well unfortunately we didn’t find a different way of living during lockdown. With the start of term the problems of traffic around these schools seem to be worse than ever. I am going to run a Zoom meeting to discuss issues and possible solutions with residents. This really does highlight why we need every child to be within walking distance of an excellent school.

Lady Bay School

This week I had a very frank and informative conversation with the person responsible for architectural conservation at the County. He was happy for me to report on the meeting. The infant building is of particular interest as it was designed by the same person who designed Trent Bridge and is ‘neo Queen Anne with Arts and Crafts features’ (or something like that!). The junior building could be also considered to be worthy of ‘curtilage listing’ which I understand means that it is itself an interesting building which complements the infant building in that location.

The preferred option for the conservationists is for the building to remain as a school (since that is what it was designed to function as). The conservationist was also clear that there was absolutely no reason that the site could not be upgraded and developed, provided that this was done in a sensible way (no sheds and prefabs). In fact East Markham Primary is a grade 2 listed building that has just had a hall added by Notts County Council, using Arc as the architects.

Protection of listed buildings are the Council’s responsibility. If the school building was vacated by the school it would be likely that it would end up on the ‘At Risk’ register. As I understand it both the DH Lawrence Primary, and Gotham Primary buildings are both listed and currently vacant. As such any future planning application for a new school would need to include an assessment of the feasibility of renovating the current building. Furthermore it is worth noting that it is ‘best value’, rather than ‘maximizing financial value’ that is the legal requirement in such developments.

Finally in terms of the environmental impact, we are now coming to terms with the carbon embodied in the bricks and mortar. Similar to the ‘reduce/reuse/recycle’ concept, our approach to buildings should be ‘refit not rebuild’. Demolishing buildings should be a last resort. In fact, surprisingly to me (as someone about to insulate my house), he told me that carbon foot often depends on services (e.g. boilers) more than the fabric.

If you are a parent you may see a few flaws with a retrofit rather than a new build. First, even if a redevelopment can create some more green space for the children, the children would still have to go up to Adbolton Lane for a full scale playing field, with all the inconvenience that creates for teachers. Secondly when the retrofit is carried out it may be necessary to vacate all or some of each building, leading to potential disruption of education. Nothing is easy.

However since becoming councillor and learning more about traffic pollution and the climate crisis, whilst trying to resolve the traffic chaos around Abbey Road and Sir Edmund Campion Schools, I am now even more convinced that we must do everything possible to retain the school in the Lady Bay ‘city village’ that provides us with the possibility of a sustainable ‘20 minute neighbourhood’.

Shortages

Watching national news over the last month, it has been really sad to realise just how much we have undervalued people doing absolutely vital jobs in our society. Brexit is an appallingly managed tragedy of lost opportunities, and it was all about freeing up the UK to allow further exploitation of workers. But we can treat this chaos as a wake-up call to reduce inequality in pay and assets, and to make sure we respect and value (through pay and conditions) people in all jobs.

In the meantime, if I look bad tempered, it is because I haven’t been able to buy strong enough red labelled tea around here!

1 thought on “October Report

  1. Keith Hodgkinson 4th Oct 2021 — 10:06 am

    Thanks for a wonderful, informative summary.

    Re my own concern, voter ID, there is indeed an underlying trend here – it looks more and more like early NAZI moves gainst minority groups in 1933 – first you identify the group, then demonise, then remove them from voting lists, then you can do what you like and say what you like… BUT what could I do if I am also required to show my own ID in order to vote??? Refusal gets us nowhere…I have already protested to our MP (nil response) and to Rushcliffe Borough Council (fluff response). … But it’s not got through the Lords and Commons yet…

    Thanks again. You must be the most hard-working Councillor ever. Well done.

    Keith Hodgkinson

    from Tory East Leake

    Liked by 1 person

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