12 Jul 2013

Summer Report - or, What I Did Before The Holidays

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As the summer holidays approach and most council work winds down for a month or so, I thought I'd let you know what I've been doing for the last 12 months.

At a constituency level I have helped residents with planning applications, both their own and opposing others. I’ve commented on license extensions, helped with residents parking issues and housing problems. I’ve got dumped rubbish taken away, got a disabled resident a free TV connection, and reported damage to roads and pavements.

I’ve continued to have a range of emails, phone calls and meetings on all sorts of subjects, with residents, council officers, and other councillors.

I constantly badger First Capital Connect on various issues, with a notable success being the creation of four new disabled parking bays outside platform 4.

As a professional copywriter I ran a series of free consultations with council officers to improve their written communications. In this guise I also helped put the new Street Trading Policy into Plain English, and have offered advice on several other projects.

Highlights from the last year as a member of the Local Services Scrutiny Committee include quizzing representatives of FCC and Network Rail, examining the proposed Local Plan, and looking at energy efficiency measures.

I’ve continued to be a member of the car parking working group, and made sure that its terms of reference include looking at a move to an emissions-based parking policy.

I’ve also sat on working groups on how to help the new neighbourhood forums under localism, how to improve the administration’s new tenancy policy, and what the Council should ask for in the new Thameslink franchise. I continue to badger the portfolio holder for the environment to set up a climate change group – one of the many promises he has made to me that he seems to find hard to keep.

At the Council I have continued to be leader of the two-man Independent and Green Group. As a member of a group, I am able to get my council motions seconded, and have to be offered a certain proportion of committee places. As a Group Leader I get consulted on a wide range of council matters, from the legal challenges on the rail freight issue, to the appointment of the new Chief Executive. As a Group Leader I also have better access to senior council officers, and feel able to ask more of them.

At Full Council meetings I have asked questions on low wages, energy efficiency, the Green Deal, recycling, solar panels at Westminster Lodge, the Clarence Park trust, and, this week, the proposed German-style Christmas market and loss of income from broken ticket machines in the Westminster Lodge car park.

I have also proposed motions on emissions-based parking charges, making Council meetings more open to the public, supporting the Energy Bill Revolution campaign, restoring free parking for blue badge holders at the hospital, and, this week, the bedroom tax. All of these have had at least some measure of success, and have at the very least stirred up debate.

The elections in May this year made no difference to the overall balance of power on the Council, so the Tories continue to have a minority of one. This in theory puts me in a strong negotiating position, and I have sometimes joined with the other opposition parties to defeat the Tories in Council votes. Just occasionally I have been surrounded by other parties’ councillors in meetings, all lobbying for my vote. And I get quite a number of friendly phone calls from the other group leaders, including the Tories, trying to sound me out or win me over.

For the second year in a row, the highlight in terms of achievement has to be the 11 measures that our group successfully proposed during the budget debate this January. These measures ranged from using more local businesses as suppliers, to implementing a cycling action plan. There was also agreement to invest up to half a million pounds in more renewable energy or similar projects, and £50,000 in quick-win energy efficiency measures. That is on top of the £250,000 we secured in 2012.

It’s early days for most of these new measures, and indeed I am still chasing council officers over many of last year’s budget measures. Some will inevitably fail to come through, but others have already started to happen – such as solar panels on Verulamium Museum, insulation measures in Council properties, and the expansion of the Farmers Market.

I look forward to being joined next May by at least one more Green councillor, so that we get on more committees, have more influence in council votes, and achieve more of what we are here to do.

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