Sunday, October 31, 2021

NALC - it’s election time!

A few weeks ago, I mused upon whether or not to run for one of the various committees of the National Association of Local Councils (NALC).

Nominations closed on Monday, and with all of the three key leadership roles up for grabs (our Chair and both Vice-Chairs are term-limited), it will be interesting to see who emerges to take them on at a time of flux. There are significant challenges ahead as devolution bids roll out across the shire counties - how do town and parish councils sit in terms of service provision, for example? The new leadership will need to make sure that our voice is heard whilst establishing strong relationships with ministers and opposition spokespersons to maximise our influence.

We'll also need to develop our "asks" too. We've been successful in some areas - business rates on public lavatories, avoiding referenda on precept increases - but can we think bigger than that?

The elections take place in two stages;
  • voting for Chair, Vice-Chairs (finance and member services), Management Board and the Finance and Scrutiny Committee will occur between 10 and 22 November 2021
  • voting for the Policy Committee, the Larger Councils Committee and the Smaller Councils Committee will occur between 22 November and 6 December 2021
Results will be announced on 8 December, so I await my ballot papers and may the best candidate(s) win!

In the end, I did dwell on the question of whether to put my name forward but came to the conclusion that I was happy to be in an outer tier both actually and organisationally. I've sat on a lot of committees over the years (and I do mean a lot), and there's a danger that you end up sitting on a committee because you can rather than because you genuinely have something to offer.

Now that isn't to say that I have nothing to offer the right committee, but I'm also a great believer in scrutiny and there has to be someone on the outside willing to do that in a supportive, constructive way. I hope that one of those "someones" can be me, representing the voice of the many micro parishes who, because of their lack of capacity, tend to get overlooked to some extent. The very fact that I don't know everything, but bring my professional curiosity to the arena, will perhaps help.

Whatever happens though, I look forward to working with all of those who have committed themselves to work in support of taking NALC forward over the coming years. It is an organisation that will doubtless continue to play a huge role in terms of strengthening local government, and anyone who is part of that effort deserves my respect.

Friday, October 29, 2021

I appear to have become a grandfather...

Those of you who know me well will, perhaps, be slightly surprised by this news given my evident lack of children. But then, that's the thing about "second time around". Not only are you hopefully a bit better for the lessons you learned from a previous failure (in my case), but you benefit from the experiences of your new life partner.

Apart from the obvious general loveliness that is Ros, there are my two stepchildren, to whom I have become the evil stepfather they never knew they needed. In fairness, they've been generous and welcoming, which is not always how these things go. And now, there is a granddaughter.

And, despite my total lack of experience of small children - and at this point, I ought to reflect that I wasn't the best of uncles to my nephew and nieces (it's a long story which gains little value in the telling) - I have been surprised at how much fun this grandfathering has been.

It is early days, I acknowledge, and having spent six days with her, I suspect that it won't always be quite so blissful, but it is amazing how quickly you feel a sense of protectiveness towards a small person. It was certainly worth travelling more than three thousand miles for.

I even have my official grandfathering mug, designed so that I have tea whilst administering valuable advice on which way up to hold up a plastic star so that it fits through the hole in the top of the box it is stored in, or whether raspberries are more appropriate to the season than blueberries (the answer, by the way, appears to be "hardly ever"). It also has my official "grandfather name" on it, which will remind me who am I as I am overtaken by the inevitable "senior moments".

It is, I guess, a factor of modern life that with families more far flung than hitherto, that more grandparenting is in two dimensions rather than three, something which at least comes more naturally to me, with a family scattered across twenty time zones on four continents. But, it must be said, it's better in person...

Thursday, October 28, 2021

SALC: the Board meeting!

I have to admit that I've rather gotten behind with my reporting of events. You know how it is, you look at the blog and think "I really ought to write something" but never quite get round to it. I ought to do better...

But enough mumbling, and on with events.

I've now served a whole year on the Board of the Suffolk Association of Local Councils and, having been re-elected by Mid Suffolk South Area last month, I got to return for another term. The first item of business? Elections.

We've got a new Chair, Andrew Lewis, from Walberswick Parish Council, where he's their Chair too. He has a tough act to follow in William Sargeant, the Chair of Botesdale Parish Council, whose calm, dry wit and sense of ordnung served us so well. I think that Andrew will be just fine though - he's not one to allow meetings to drift into anecdotage, which I appreciate, and he brings a sense of professionalism to the task which suits our needs well.

I admit that I rather leant on Julie Bell, the Chair of Gislingham Parish Council, to take on the role of Vice-Chair, having noted how nice it would be to have a gender balanced leadership team. The fact that Julie is highly experienced in local government helps and she's a good meeting chair too, having had the pleasure of working with her at Mid Suffolk joint meetings.

Russ Rainger gamely agreed to continue as our representative on the East Suffolk Council Community Partnership Board, and I was reappointed as our representative on the NALC National Assembly - I think that my rather curious enthusiasm for the role surprised my colleagues.

I reported back on National Assembly matters before we turned to our finances. We're lucky in that we have a good Finance Officer and, being Suffolk, a cautious sense of the possible when considering expenditure, so it's fair to say that all is as well as one might hope.

We then turned to the knotty problem of membership subscriptions, something I've experienced before in other organisations. The challenge is to create a fee structure that is fair, relatively easy to explain and likely not to repel potential and current members. And, just as in my days on the Financial Advisory Committee of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe, the basis upon which members are billed is a bit of a moving target, especially as development leads to sudden, dramatic population increases in relatively small communities. I believe that we have a workable solution, but we need to communicate it to member councils rather than just drop it on them from a height.

I was able to offer a solution to the question of pay awards for our professional staff which allows us, hopefully, to somewhat reflect their hard work and dedication in the face of the pandemic. Sometimes, being a mathematician by training comes in handy.

We considered the activity report and I continue to be impressed by the sheer volume of activity generated by a small team of dedicated professionals, including increasing collaborative working with neighbouring counties. There are definite advantages to pooling some services on a regional basis and, if we can develop sufficient capacity to play a leading role in that, I am sure we will.

There's a new Code of Conduct to consider, developed in conjunction with the Local Government Association, and whilst it can never resolve all of the problems that arise in the various tiers of local government, it at least offers a set of guidance that it consistent across the tiers, especially welcome to those amongst us who operate at more than one level.

We ended by renewing our Complaints and Motions policies, making sure that they're as up to date as they can be. Something that the pandemic has brought is a greater appreciation of different ways of doing things, especially through technology. I accept that, especially at Parish level, not everyone is comfortable with online working, but it offers access to those who might otherwise be excluded from the opportunities and training we offer - those with caring responsibilities, or disabilities, or who simply might not find it easy to get across the county to a physical meeting.

So, all in all, a very successful evening. Next up, our annual strategy meeting in February, which should be interesting and another step on my personal learning curve.