27th June 2006
So What’s A Councillor Do Then??
This is a quote out from an email I’ve just been sent by a friend -
“........Maybe you could just take a little time to explain what a Councillor is and
what a Councillor does, and where you stand in all this ...........”
An excellent question! And one that deserves an answer. Some people probably think we do no more than make silly faces at each other across the Council Chambers! So I sent back the following email to my friend (more or less) - which I hoped clarified more than confused!!
Wow! You don't want to know a lot does you! Got a few hours?? OK - as briefly as possible. Believe me you are not alone in not really understanding what a Councillor should be doing. I'm sure every Councillor will have his own idea of what it is they should be doing - and none of them would be likely to do what I do. Let's take this week for example.
Last Sunday I was doing my VAT accounts and, working until three in the morning, getting a job ready for delivery on Monday . I had to do that at that time because of all my other commitments from the previous week meant I was well behind!
Monday morning I spent preparing to go to a Planning specialist solicitor in Birmingham for 1.00pm - a legal challenge to the Tamworth Local Plan (very few people know about this yet!). However the appointment was cancelled - but Mr X - who was going with me - failed to get the message to me in time!! Never mind - it gave me some breathing space to deliver some work, pick up some inks and ferry the kids round from school to dentists etc.
Progressed some case work for two homeless couples. Got informed that one empty home was being "checked" for asbestos. That started alarm bells ringing and I was on the internet researching "asbestos".
Tuesday for most of the day I was trying to absorb documents for Tuesday evening's Full Council meeting - I hate leaving it to the last minute - but it always seems to go that way. Had already sent in some "questions" (prepared the previous week) to be asked - so I was also preparing a couple of possible "supplementaries" to their answers. Got a speech prepared on the main topic - the Government's new "Respect" policy. I'd printed a copy from the Government's web-site and really went to town on it - said it was a waste of paper - and I regretted having to print it out! I’d say it was the main topic for the meeting - actually it was only a government consultation document. There was nothing we could do about it at all. I have to ask why it was even on the agenda? But the answer to that question became obvious. It was because they could drone on about that all night - and with such a filibuster they could talk out and prevent debate on what should have been the main item of the night - Tamworth Council's Budget! So the Budget went through on the nod at 8.30pm when the bell went to end all debate! (such are the machinations of the politicians). I got a couple of speeches in. Was not surprised to find the usual councillors sitting there saying nothing - can’t help thinking it means they didn't have to read, research or think of anything to say. And that's what I tend get so irritated about. And people keep voting for such Councillors! People should come to a meeting or two - that might open their eyes!
Anyway - Wednesday was the day to see the Planning Solicitors. Arrived at 10.30am and left at 1.30pm! Went through everything! They agreed there is a clear case of due process not being followed for the Local Plan Anker Valley scheme. Legal Aid is available (otherwise say goodbye to any hope!) - but just how to tackle it is the problem. More talks to come - and more meetings with the Anker Valley campaigners. But was very happy to find a good solicitor (like gold dust in my eyes!).
Wednesday Night had another 3-o-clocker!. Urgent print job for next day delivery - and the machine had broken down (broken cog pin). I’d hoped to be finished by 11.00pm. Managed a makeshift repair eventually. Missed Planning Meeting. I usually like to go and watch them (I'm not on the Planning Committee anymore - for some reason they seemed not to want me!) but had just too much else to do.
Thursday I was in court representing a girl who was being evicted. A strange one. The warrant had already been issued yet she didn't owe any rent - only a proportion charge that was for gas and electric etc. Rent was owed when the girl was first taken to court - but only because her housing benefit was in arrears - and I had to sort that one out for her. Couldn't happen in any other property. Fortunately the duty solicitor agreed with me and argued very well to stop the eviction. Now I have to take the girl over to Nuneaton next week to see this solicitor to get her case reviewed properly. I guess that makes me a support/social worker. Well the Council's own support/social workers certainly wouldn't do any of this! The two council officers who turned up for the eviction were I think a little miffed to see me defending the case. They said they would report it back to the Council. Um.... was I supposed to have done something wrong I wonder? Anyway that shows a fundamental difference between me and what I believe other councillors are encouraged to believe - I represent the people first, the council second. IMHO - other councillors seem to have this philosophy the other way round! Still - two good solicitors in two days! To a cynic like me that’s like lightening striking twice in the same spot!
Thursday evening. 7.00pm - St Peters Church Maintenance Committee meeting. Three local councillors entitled to go - and only three Glascote Councillors exist - but somehow I'm not chosen - so the group have co-opted me anyway! :-)
Home by 8.30pm - just time to get in and have something to eat when - knock on the door around 9.00pm. Anti-social behaviour in the street - neighbour asking me to "do something" about it. Two kids involved - well known troublemakers in the neighbourhood - throwing stones at people in the street and on their doors. Riding round on rollers and zooming close to shout some more abuse at the people. One resident threatened to "throttle them" if he caught them - a comment the kids immediately reported back to their mothers - dysfunctional families both!! So said dysfunctional families three mothers (no fathers involved) come round to our street and start knocking on various doors and generally swearing and abusing residents. I go up to provide a witness and prevent violence - end up getting the worst of the abuse - not least from kids - whose parents seem not to understand the irony of them being there supposedly because "someone threatened their kids" yet whose kids were now threatening me and my son in front of their very faces - and with their active support!! Finished about 10.45pm, without physical violence fortunately, when another piece of casework arrives - another girl due to be evicted on Sunday! Why do they always leave it so far down the line? It ends up such incredibly hard work to help them!
Friday. New eviction case well under way. Data Authority Release forms all signed. And a few phone calls made to Council and Housing Association. Couldn't make it to girl's appointment with Tamworth Council that afternoon for an application for homelessness. Apparently girl was told by an officer she was not entitled to be classed as homeless - and that "Chris Cooke doesn't know what he is talking about". Funny really as the eviction notice she has states no cause - it doesn't need to - it only follows a proper notice to evict (2 months) from a shorthold licensed accommodation. There is going to be a flurry of emails between me and that relevant council officer on Monday morning!
Also been informed "traces" of asbestos found in property from Tuesday - as if I didn't see that one coming. Another homeless couple left homeless for longer! I know about the asbestos scam affecting this country. Apparently all a (vastly overpaid) surveyor has to do is find a fibre for him to be able to "presume" it is asbestos - and then the Council will have to pay vastly inflated charges. This scam is costing Billions across the country. Did some research that threw up a name of a speaker. Spoke to him and he said he would come to Tamworth to give a seminar on the subject that could save the council £100s of thousands - and probably for around £400. Sounded well worth it! So I've spoken to various council officers - and passed on his cv (very impressive!!) to try to get it all arranged. Not very hopeful - I'm used to the Council not caring about money zipping down the drain "so long as they follow the regulations"!! Actually I was surprised to find the Speaker I’d got hold of was the main topic of a Sunday Telegraph article today “The Asbestos Sting Goes On” - (click here to read it)
Friday night. Been bursting to get on with a Kirtley Fire Station document - giving all the Planning reasons and references as to why the proposal should not go ahead (now on my web). Four pages - 15 copies - all ready for 11am Saturday. Took hours! Haven't bothered to put in any complaint about the anti-social behaviour Thursday night. My guess is that these anti-social families want "out" anyway - and are using such tactics to try to force the issue along!
Saturday - Papers all ready in time. Meeting was at St Peter's Church. Handed out documents and helped provide advice to the meeting. I had been invited by one of the Labour Councillors - one of those issues where I'm sure they find me useful and vice versa - so we can work better together than apart.
Saturday afternoon and evening - After several hours finished end of year accounts ready to give to accountants next week. Pregnant girl arrives at doorstep early evening, with friend, in real pain. Pressure on me to drive her to the hospital - but I recommend call an ambulance instead, much better as paramedic arrives in virtually no time at all! God bless the Staffordshire Ambulance service! Best in the world!
Today (Sunday 25/06). Three A4 page closely typed submission to the Planning Inspectorate. A planning application to build two homes on a very narrow plot of grass by 53 Collett, Glascote Heath. Officers recommended for acceptance but with some hard work and research the Planning Committee were persuaded - unanimously - that it should be turned down. The Developer has appealed and so I'm putting in this written submission to give all the reasons I stated at the Planning Hearing as to why the developer's appeal should be rejected. Umpteen pages of documentation to refer to - everything in triplicate - let the residents objectors have a view of it first and then ready to send recorded delivery sometime tomorrow! Been trying to get this done for several weeks now! Finally done it!
So there you are. I don't know if you can imagine how much work there was in all that. Now! Was it all a mere Councillor's job? The wife seems to think it’s one huge pain to the family. I don't know? Other councillors seem not to do too much like it. Then again I suppose I have an advantage over them as I don't have to go to their weekly Party meetings. :-) :-)
Another reason I get so involved I suppose is because I already seem to have this reservoir of knowledge - from over far too many years campaigning now (he says wistfully - where did it all go?) - and it seems a shame to waste it. And I don't like to turn people away. I get so appalled at the careless - even vindictive - way some people are treated by the authorities sometimes - you can’t know unless it has happened to you - I guess that makes me some kind of elected "Equalizer"!! Most of my case work is actually from outside of Glascote Ward - lots of people prefer an Independent to help them - and word gets round! Add to that little things like keeping up with committee paperwork (so much paperwork - God save the trees!), web-site updates, minor casework - litter, repairs, phone calls & emails, and of course on top of family and work commitments. Does that gives you some ideas perhaps?
So let me know what you think about what a Councillor's job is now. Apart from communication with residents through emails far longer than they've any right to be? Probably you're still as confused as ever? Seems being a Councillor is whatever you make it to be! (Also helps to have access to Council information resources - and just having the name "Councillor" seems to help - but not with anti-social miscreants though!)
Have a good night
P.S. - and that applies to everybody else too. Do I take on things I should best leave alone? Is it someone else’s job?