Archive for July, 2013

An update from the garden…

A nice sunny Sunday morning, I’ve brought the iPad out in the garden to give you this weeks update.

It seems such a long while ago that when I last posted this blog that the nation (and indeed the world) was on the edge of it’s seat waiting for a name to emerge of the Royal baby, perhaps because once we learned of Prince George Alexander Louis the media hysteria, thankfully, died down very quickly to give the new family some much needed privacy. I am a royalist, over the past few years I have been intrigued how Princes’ William and Harry have changed the face of the Monarchy compared to previous generations, and wonder how it will change again with Prince George!

Back to more local issues, and I guess the major piece of news this week was the launch of the consultation on the County Council’s proposals for the site at RAF Coltishall. I was fortunate enough to attend and speak at the Environment, Transport, and Development Overview and Scrutiny Panel, where the consultation was presented this week. I commented on how exciting the plans looked as they return the site to use, without forgetting the RAF heritage. The consultation is based online and can be found here. It closes on September 17th.

Also during the week, it was good to go over to Thetford to help our candidate with the County Council by-election happening over there. If you don’t know, the by-election was triggered by the resignation of a UKIP Councillor just 42 days after he took office, as he felt that when it come to light that he had shoplifted in the past he should resign. His 42 days in office have cost the taxpayer an estimated £8,000 in councillor allowances and election costs. It was good to be out on the doorstep with the Conservative candidate Tristan Ashby talking to local residents.

Arts, ICT, Colleges, Lollipop Ladies, Clowns, and a Royal Baby!

A quiet week last week. At the end of the June/July committee cycle things tend to calm down somewhat about the same time as children break up from school.

My week started with a meeting of a trustee meeting at The Garage in Norwich, a performance and educational venue for young people in the heart of Norwich. I am not a trustee on behalf of Norfolk County Council, but rather in my own right. However, as matters crop up it is sometimes easy to slip back into “Cllr Tom”, for instance it was interesting to hear how a Childcare class was settling in to the Garage premises having been moved from Wensum Lodge only in the past couple of weeks and the anecdotal feedback staff had received about the benefit of sharing premises with classes of school-aged children and how it enhanced their learning being in that kind of environment.

Tuesday started with the Corporate Resources Overview and Scrutiny Panel where the major topic of discussion was the future of the County Council’s ICT provision. As a technology geek myself, (the all the gear, and no idea type) it was interesting for me to hear how the council is now looking at how the people of Norfolk will access services in the future and how we as a council can best respond to that demand. It seems to me that with ever increasing personalisation of services, and increasing use of the internet, the challenge for the Council is going to be making information accessible and useable to enable people to make decisions. Information sharing is also key with our partners (NHS, Police, Voluntary Sector for example) in order to make services more efficient and joined up.

Staying on the subject of IT, I took the opportunity whilst in County Hall to attend a training session for councillors on the use of social media. Now, I did think if I attended they would be somewhat preaching to the converted – but you can always learn something further. The interesting fact was that while 6% of Norfolk buy the Eastern Daily Press (although the readership is higher), 12% of people use twitter! Of course, the use of social media is ever increasing and it was interesting discussing with fellow councillors the advantages and disadvantages of using Social Media, and I think one or two of them joined Twitter after!

I then dashed out of County Hall to the coast, to Great Yarmouth College for a Governors meeting. As you may have read, the Governor’s took the decision not to merge with Lowestoft College, but have decided to work collaboratively together, which I am pleased about as it will enhance the Further Education provision in two similar towns.

At the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Panel during the week the main items if discussion were the progress on Social Care and Education improvement. Although it is early days, I was pleased to support the formation of two working groups, one to look at each Social Care and Education. The working groups will have the flexibility to call witnesses and make visits, a flexibility that the Overview and Scrutiny Panel does not have. It will be an exciting new way of working – so watch this space!

I’ve also had a couple of e-mails from concerned residents this week about the County Council continuing the provision of Lollipop Ladies and Gentlemen. Before the elections, the Conservatives fought hard to maintain this service, and I will lobby the current Administration on the need to keep this service in place as I know that it is not only important from a safety aspect but also a community aspect, particularly in Norfolk’s rural schools. Let’s just hope that the Rag, Tag and Bobtail administration listens!

I had the honour at the weekend of being invited to the opening evening of the Hippodrome Circus Saturday night in Great Yarmouth by Peter Jay. It is always interesting to see people’s faces as the pool appears in the Ring in the second half – I believe the only one in the country that does it! Once again it was a superb show (now in it’s 110th year) and well worth a visit!

And finally, as I write the Duchess of Cambridge is in labour, with the country holding bated breath and hoping everything goes to plan. I haven’t had a bet on the name yet but Thomas at 100/1 must be worth a pound??

Cabinet, Community Services panel, NDR Consultation, Parish Councils, and a glass of wine!

Well, it’s my mums birthday and before we go out to lunch with her parents (mum doesn’t know yet) I’ve just got enough time to update you with the goings on of this week.

My week started with sitting in on a meeting of Cabinet at County Hall, which lasted less than 30 minutes! As you can probably gather, not much to report on this one – yet another sign that the Administration isn’t up to much. The only key announcement they made was the appointment of Shelagh Lock, as interim Director of Childrens Services after Lisa Christensen left the department last month. I welcome her swift appointment (as I initially I feared that there would be a void left for too long), however my concern is the time that she will spend in Norfolk, both in terms of hours per week and how long she will be interim as the Improvement Board will be in existence for the next 17/18 months and that will require continuity of leadership. I’m not going to be quick to judge, but it is one that I will be keeping an eye on.

After Cabinet I dashed over to Rackheath to visit the consultation on the Northern Distributor Road (NDR) it was interesting to talk to residents about the proposals, and although I would like to wait until the consultation ends to form a rounded view, it was interesting to see how the residents’ I spoke to concerns were alleviated by the consultation exhibition; there was a very good map of the NDR which showed current and prospective traffic flows (both with and without the NDR) at various points along the route. The consultation ends on 20th September and there are more consultation events planned, more information can be found here and it’s defiantly worth a look! If you’d like to share your views with me on this (or anything else for that matter), you can by e-mailing me at tom.garrod@norfolk.gov.uk.

I then went to Horstead, to join Councillor Alan Mallett for the Broadland District Council Consolation on Site Allocations. I was asked to attend my a resident who had issues with the communication between Broadland and the Highways department at County Hall. It was interesting for me to meet with local residents and officers from BDC.

Tuesday I sat on the Community Services Overview and Scrutiny Panel where the main topic of discussion was the contractual agreement between the County Council and a newly formed Social Enterprise to deliver Day Care services for disabled people. As this originated from the Conservative administration, and was agreed in principle at the tail end of last year, I was pleased to see that it gained cross party support. What was even more pleasing, was the contents of the contract is so that service users will experience a continuity of service both in terms of personnel and price. What it essentially means is that in the future, the service can become more innovative and react quicker to diversify it’s services in the future than it would if it was a service provided by the County Council.

This week I also visited Horstead and Upton Parish Councils and was saddened to hear of the vandalism of the new Table Tennis Table in Upton (I think it was only 1 or 2 nights after they put it out on the playing field), but was inspired when one of the Parish Councillors said “That won’t stop us”!

I received a warm welcome to Horstead Parish Council where they were discussing the development of the RAF Coltishall Site and their response to the NDR Consultation. They decided to postpone their deliberations on their response until they next meet on 11th September, and they decided to send a representative to the pre-consultation unveiling of the RAF Coltishall proposed business plan later this month.

And finally, it was a pleasure to end the week with a glass of wine in the stunning surroundings on Norwich Castle. This was the Norfolk County Council Chairman’s Annual Summer Reception, the weather was glorious and it was nice to see so many familiar faces turn up to support Hillary Cox on her big night.

Right, Mum is now home from walking the dog, quick change, and lunch…

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Update: Liberal Democrats increase Norwich Park and Ride Charges

How hot is it out there? I’d just thought I’d take a break from a lazy family Sunday in the garden to quickly write this update.

This week started Monday morning with the monthly meeting of my Foster Panel. It’s pretty difficult to write in a blog about what is a confidential meeting, but I wanted to mention it as it I think it is the most important meeting (certainly the most rewarding) I have as a County Councillor. All 84 County Councillors in Norfolk are ultimate Corporate Parents (a theory that you should desire the same level of care and ambitions for Looked After Children as you would want for your own) as we are responsible in terms of policy. Foster Panel I find is a great way of hearing about the experiences of children, foster carers and social works to see how we can constantly strive for the best outcomes for children who may not have been dealt the best start in life.

I then rushed across Norwich to get the 12.57 train to Manchester where I was for three days for the Local Government Association Conference. After arriving in my hotel about 6pm, my first engagement was a dinner with representatives from Councils across Norfolk! You tend to think after a four and a half hour train journey why you meet up with people from where you just come from – but it was good to get a chance to catch up and see that Norfolk was so well represented at the LGA. It was also good to catch up with other Councillors from across the eastern region and hear how the LGA is leading the debate for an England Government Department to ensure that England isn’t left behind with devolution in Scotland and Wales, and how they are lobbying government to give more powers to local councils.

Whilst I was up there, I was horrified to read the EDP front page headline that the Liberal Democrat Cabinet Member at County Hall, David Harrison, is planning to increase Park and Ride charges into Norwichby at least 20%! Now, I am proud of our Park and Ride in Norwich, and it should be noted that as part of the proposals they are introducing smart-ticketing (similar to Oyster cards in London) which is a step in the right direction. With all buses in Norfolk planned to have this by 2015, I know that as a bus user myself it will make it more convenient to travel across the county using public transport. BUT, the prices they are going to charge will make it cheaper for people to actually park in the city, increasing congestion and increasing the Carbon footprint. If you read the article (linked above) it’s a 20% increase for smart card payments but a massive 45% increase to pay by cash! As I say, I support the introduction of smart cards, but will be raising serious questions over the need for increases!

On a lighter note, I managed to get down to Wembley last weekend to see Robbie Williams in concert! I’m not a huge concert goer, but for me, this was a must! It was fantastic and an experience I will never forget.

Enjoy the rest of the sunshine!

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