This has been a year full of new and difficult challenges; here’s some of those challenges along with some highlights.
January: Andrew and I started the year being very heavily involved in budget briefings and debates. We weren’t willing to accept large reductions in care for vulnerable people, and so we took an opposing position (along with the verbal abuse from the 3 larger parties) We are confident we did the right thing.
February Kirklees successfully gained Fairtrade status, and many community groups, children’s centres and schools joined us in celebrating this achievement during Fairtrade fortnight. The Fairtrade Foundation was successful in gaining the world record for the longest length of bunting and it was all made from Fairtrade cotton. Many of the bunting triangles came from Kirklees. In February I was being re-elected as Chairperson of Newsome Ward Community Forum. The title of Chairperson gives the impression of leading on the work we do, and in some cases that is true, but in other cases, the team just tell me what to do now!
February included the ongoing debates over the budget and we continued to champion the needs of vulnerable people. We also had a visit from Caroline Lucas Green Party MP, and I hosted the public meeting where she addressed a large crowd, supported by our Andrew. The questions from the public were constructive and considered.
In March I went to a free conference provided by the Local Government Association about Localism. I know many people are anxious about the bits of information in the news and how it would affect local people. The conference didn’t help much, it focussed mainly on Social Enterprises and working with the voluntary sector; something I already do a lot of and is commonplace across Kirklees.
April I lead on arrangements for a street party in my neighbourhood for the Royal Wedding, and it was great to see so many people, from many different backgrounds, come out to celebrate just being British. April was also very busy with the build up to the local elections, but also very enjoyable, as I got to speak to many positive people.
May: What a great result in the Local Elections! I was delighted to have won so convincingly with over 50% of the vote. Thank you to all of you who believe in me – I won’t let you down.
Following the elections I was reappointed as Lead Member for the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Panel for Resources. It oversees very complex fast moving issues due to the need to restructure the Council due to big reductions in Council budgets. Trying to save £83m without impacting on front line services will be difficult to achieve, e.g. front line workers need to do their own admin / office work as back of house staff are reduced, so they can’t be out doing their main role as much as they used to.
In June I was appointed to the Board of Trustees for the One Community Foundation. It was established in May 2010, to generate financial support for local community activities. Our role is to build and manage a series of endowment funds, so that we can make a lasting contribution across Kirklees, by delivering grants to local groups and the wider community. You can help raise funds by doing your on-line Christmas shopping via http://www.easyfundraising.org.uk/causes/onecommunity
In July, I made time to do a sponsored Dragon Boat Race for the Huddersfield Rotary, and I got to Captain their team. The majority of the money raised went to the two hospices, with a little of the profits going to their local charity funds. I also managed to do the Race for Life this year, I’d not been able to do it for a couple of years, and it was great to be a part of it again.
The Newsome Out To Play sub group of the community forum gained funding to develop local play opportunities for children of all ages, arrange training for volunteers, enable better co-ordination of activity, etc. One of the highlights of the year was the Play Day event on 3rd August; I was amazed by how many people joined in.
August: Newsome High School had tremendous GCSE results, and is going from strength to strength. I’ve been a Governor at the school for several years and I’m so pleased with the continual improvements and achievements.
September: Members of CPRE (Campaign for the Protection of Rural England) arranged for us to talk to local residents at a public meeting in Hall Bower Chapel, which was very helpful. Andrew and I were able to share our views about the impending Localism Bill and the National Planning Policy Framework, and listen to concerns of local people.
October: While I was Mayor of Kirklees, I chose to champion local farming and local food production, and this campaign had several lasting legacies. In October I was delighted to help present awards to several more schools who have achieved the Soil Association Food for Life Bronze Awards. We now have 24 local schools who have achieved this award and 25 more progressing towards it. The School Catering Service itself has achieved the Soil Association’s Bronze Food for Life Catering Mark for its healthy meals supplied to 184 schools across Kirklees. The March figures show that Kirklees Catering Service was the second largest local authority caterer in the country and the only one in the Yorkshire and Humber region to have achieved this award.
There is a Special Meeting of Council scheduled for 23rd November regarding the LDF, which hadn’t taken place at the time of writing this report. We will do all we can to influence the LDF policies; to protect our valuable open spaces, to ensure there is space for agriculture, and to ensure development is targeted at the real needs of our communities.
December: We’ve arranged a Special Public meeting for 1st December to help raise awareness about Welfare Reform. Another huge challenge facing everyone is the cuts to benefits, there are 47 in total which are being introduced in stages until April 2013. One of the biggest changes will be the Housing Benefit changes which will be introduced in January. Council have produced an information booklet to try and help. Copies are available at Together Shop in Newsome, as well as Children’s Centres, Council Information Points and Job Centre Plus.
The Budget process starts again in December, meaning another series of briefings and debates on the best way to manage the huge reduction in funds provided by the Government. It’s a position no one would want to be in and some tough decisions will need to be made. I’m not looking forward to it, but I do take it very seriously and will be taking an active part in the process.
The ‘Kiddies Xmas Party’ takes place again on 10th December, all organised by volunteers of Newsome Ward Community Forum, and always a wonderful occasion; the start of the Christmas season for me. I’ll be doing the ‘Santa Dash’, organised by the Lions Club of Huddersfield, in Huddersfield the next day to help raise funds for the Mayor’s Charity Appeal – the ‘Forget Me Not Trust’; a very seasonal weekend.
Throughout the year, casework for individuals seems to be getting more complex; I’ve helped people with things that are common concerns e.g. planning, highways, cleansing issues, but this year there seems to be an increasing number of more personal issues, e.g. home care, care for people with dementia, domestic violence, and anti-social behaviour.
Despite this sad note to end on, I am looking forward to Christmas and wish you all warmth, health and happiness this Christmas and for the year ahead.
I am a Green Party Councillor on Kirklees Council and have been since May 1999. I was the Green Party Candidate for the General Election in the Huddersfield Parliamentary Constituency. I work in the energy efficiency/microgeneration sector and have done for the last 20 years or so.