Monday, September 26, 2022

Liberal Democrat Internal Elections: "a million thanks, dear friends!"

A few of you will know that I've thrown my hat into the ring again this year. Again, I wish to serve as a member of the Party's delegation to the ALDE Party Council - it's something that I think I've done well and credibly. I've also put my name forward to be a member of Federal Council, for reasons I'll explain another time.

This year, the nomination process has become rather more technologically advanced. You notify the Returning Officer that you wish to stand, and you are then added to a list of candidates who can nominated by any party member wishing to do so. Once they have, the candidate gets an e-mail advising who their latest nominator is and, eventually, that you have enough nominations to be accepted as an official candidate. It works pretty well, although there will be some valuable lessons learnt for next time, I suspect. Much credit should go to those responsible, nonetheless.

Now, having not really publicised the fact that I am running (with the exception of one Facebook group), I was somewhat surprised as a steady stream of e-mails arrived, especially as many of those who had gone to the trouble of nominating me aren't actually members of that group. It was, and is, rather touching that people with whom I've worked, in a range of capacities over more than thirty years, have sufficient confidence in me as a candidate. They've actually done so unprompted (at least, unprompted by me).

I am a realist. Nominating me doesn't necessarily mean that I'll get their first preference, or even a very high one, but it does offer some confidence that I may have a shot at getting elected, which is reassuring.

So, if you are one of those who have nominated me, many, many thanks. Your kindness has given me a bit of a fillip, never a bad thing.

And now, to produce a couple of manifestos...  

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Recognition for the unsung heroes - the Suffolk Community Awards

It's one of the things about moving from a city to a small village as I did more than a decade ago, you become much more aware of how communities survive and thrive. In a city, because the level of population churn is greater, you may not gain a sense of continuity, and of individual contributions to civic society. That's not to say that it doesn't exist - there are no end of community groups operating in our towns and cities - but it can easily feel impersonal.

In our small towns and villages, however, where the presence of local government is less "overt", the importance of volunteers is more evident. From Parish and Town councillors to good neighbour groups, from village hall committees to Parochial Church Councils, you're more likely to know the people who make things happen, who go that little bit further to improve communal life.

And, in Suffolk, three key umbrella groups have come together to recognise those people - the Suffolk Association of Local Councils, whose Board I have the honour to serve upon, Community Action Suffolk, where Ros is a trustee, and Suffolk County Council. The Suffolk Community Awards are open to nominations from across the county, and last night saw the awards ceremony.

Now I ought to note that the awards are not just for small towns and villages, with Felixstowe and Carlton Colville being recognised for their achievements in the fields of health and physical activity and community building respectively, but my particular interest is in how small villages and hamlets face up to the challenge of sustaining communities in the face of the challenges wrought by the shrinking of local government in the tiers above them.

And when Bredfield won the award for the best small village in the county, I was amazed to hear what they've achieved in terms of creating opportunities for residents both in their village and in its neighbours to take part in a range of activities. Given that Bredfield is barely larger than Creeting St Peter, with a population not much above 300, it sets the bar rather higher than I could have envisaged. I'm not daunted... much...

Other awards went to young volunteers, and to groups working with young people to enhance their lives and to create opportunities, and it is rather moving to hear of the impacts they have despite limited resources.

The organisers, whose efforts should really be applauded, had managed to persuade Mark Murphy, the former BBC Radio Suffolk morning show host, to present the awards, and he enthused the audience and engaged with the various winners in a very natural and encouraging way.

All in all, a really invigorating evening, and one almost perfectly designed to spur on those of us in the audience to give just a little more of ourselves in the campaign to build stronger communities across our county.

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Creeting St Peter: it's time to bring the professionals in...

Last November, our long-serving Clerk resigned somewhat unexpectedly. Naturally, as Chair, I sought to find a replacement but, in the absence of anyone else, I ended up acting as Clerk, Responsible Finance Officer and Chair simultaneously. It wasn't sustainable in the long-term, and I fully understood that but, if there wasn't anyone else...

Luckily, our affairs are quite simple, I'm enthusiastic about transparency and, of course, I'm a professional bureaucrat. That still doesn't mean that the option of such power in the hands of one person is a good idea.

But, as winter turned to spring and then summer, there was no sign of an applicant to fill our vacancy. And then, in the course of a conversation that I was only part of because I'm married to the person they really wanted to talk to (and I was invited), another option was uncovered - to appoint someone to act as Clerk, and someone else to be Responsible Finance Officer.

To cut a long story short, they've started work, effective from 1 September and I've been answering questions, supplied information and documents and updating our website so that they can hit the ground running. It is, I confess, a weight off of my mind, especially as, despite my sworn intention to transfer power to someone else, it didn't work - I'm back as Acting Chair after less than three months with an understanding that I will be re-elected as Chair formally on 19 September. It would be fair to say that my remaining colleagues weren't terribly keen on taking the reins of "power".

It is also reassuring that my new professional team are highly experienced, extremely knowledgeable and competent. I do fret about breaking rules, especially given that we are, for all my light-hearted commentary, a tier of local government with a slew of legal responsibilities. And the conflict of interest that arises from holding a multitude of roles made me extremely uncomfortable - it's not necessarily a fear of wrongdoing as much as the risk of perception of possible wrongdoing from residents.

In truth, there isn't enough money in the kitty for me to disappear with, but that isn't really the point - those responsible for public funds must demonstrate the right attitude towards accountability and transparency as far as is possible, and certainly as far as the law requires.

But I'm also an officer of the County Association of Local Councils, and therefore have a responsibility to set a good example, even if that's more an aspiration than something actually expressed by any of my fellow Parish Council Chairs.

In the meantime, I've developed a far better understanding of what goes on "under the bonnet" of local government, especially the hyper-local operation that is a micro-Parish. As a Chair, the temptation is to leave all of that "organisational stuff" to your Clerk. After all, they're trained, and you aren't. But, and I think this is important, the Chair, and preferably other councillors, should have a sense of what is happening in their name, as they are ultimately responsible to the electorate.

So, despite the stress of the past nine months, I think that I have gained something useful from the experience, something I can pass on to other Parish Council Chairs undergoing similar difficulties.

Let's just hope that I don't have to do it again any time soon...