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Monday, February 28, 2005

North coast

Another brisk walk this morning in one of my favourite parts of Jersey, from Devil's Hole to Greve de Lecq along the cliff paths of the north coast. The scenery is outstanding, and I don't see another soul for the whole hour and a half.

It would be perfect were it not for the fact that I'm having to chase the Conservative Group for some draft amendments to the council's response to the Regional Plan, which they promised to email me by last Saturday evening and which I haven't received, so part of my walk up and down the snowy, muddy tracks is spent with my mobile phone clamped to my ear. Still, the view is some consolation.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Blowing away the cobwebs

Ninety per cent of Jersey shuts down in winter. The remaining ten per cent shuts down on Sundays.

One of the few bus routes working on a winter Sunday is to the zoo. I take that, and when I get there start walking north and east to the coast at Rozel. The sea is grey and choppy, and the snow is falling. It's brilliantly and beautifully bleak and I can feel those cobwebs being blown away in the chill wind.

From Rozel I turn south and walk to the Royal pub at St Martin, then on to Gorey for a cream tea in the shadow of Mont Orgeuil Castle before taking the bus back to town.

I hadn't appreciated till now how badly I needed this break.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Plus ca change

The worst thing about catching the 09:00 flight from London City to Jersey is that it entails catching the 06:16 train from Harlow first.

However, by 10:30 I'm happily seated on the Number 15 bus heading through St Brelade to the coast and along Victoria Avenue to the centre of St Helier.

After dropping my bag at the hotel and checking out my room, my first port of call is of course my Mum. Getting there is almost an overload of memories. I walk along the road I used to take back home from my grandmother's guest house. I pass the flat my Dad lived in before he had his strokes, the street corner on which I was knocked down in a car accident as a child, and finally walk through the estate on which I grew up, now radically transformed with railings, balconies and entry-phones.

We walk into town, where Mum, her partner and I have lunch before choosing a lovely bouquet of flowers to put on Dad's grave. It's six months since I last came home, to bury Dad's ashes in his family's plot.

Despite all the changes, some things are eerily familiar. There's a big dispute going on with the local cab drivers around relocation of the rank near the bus station. And there are several big yellow banners saying "Save the Jersey Opera House" - apparently the local theatre, where I used to perform as a child, is experiencing a funding crisis and threatening closure.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Like any other Friday

I have meetings at 08:00, 09:00, 10:00, 14:00, 16:00 and 17:00. Not surprisingly, I can't manage the 11:00 as well, because the 10:00 doesn't finish until gone 12:00.

Tom's come home for the weekend, but when I get home at about 7:15pm I barely get a chance to see him, as I'm making telephone calls, and sorting out the most urgent paperwork. I'm off to Jersey in the morning, so most things that aren't done now will need to wait. I still end up packing about an inch of council paperwork for the trip, though.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Inverse laws apply

The day's work in London ends with a train journey back to Harlow in time for a meeting of the council's Policy & Resources Committee, where a strange inverse law seems to have taken over the Conservative opposition. The smaller the issue, the more they appear to feel the need to dig their heels in and have long, pedantic and nit-picking arguments.

The council's response to the East of England Regional Plan is debated comparatively courteously and briefly, and referred to next week's full council meeting with the recognition that there will need to be a number of amendments, on which the group leaders will liaise during the next few working days. But the biggest arguments appear to be reserved by the Tories for comparatively minor items for which they end up voting anyway. It's all very bizarre.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Another long day

The day gets off to an early start - I'm not going to risk the tricycle in this snow, so Nick drops me off at the Civic Centre at 8:00am. I'm chairing an interview panel all morning; then next door to St Paul's church hall for an hour or so to talk to the local Pensioners Action about the council's budget and the effects on their bus passes.

I feel guilty leaving my fellow joint leader to answer questions alone, but I have to be back at the Civic Centre at 2:30pm to resume the panel's deliberations. Further meetings at 4:00pm and 5:00pm - and I'm not out of the Civic Centre till 6:30pm. After popping into Tesco for bread and milk, a frozen dinner and a bottle of wine, I don't get home till after 7:00. There's a backlog of phone calls building up, but after I've eaten it's beginning to get a bit late to ring people up.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Hastingwood summit

The Rainbow and Dove at Hastingwood is the venue for a gathering of Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidates from West Essex. Apart from a drink and a meal together, it's an opportunity to discuss matters of common concern that span constituency boundaries, and update each other on our various campaigns.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Freedom of choice

Our group meeting tonight begins with a presentation from Ian Christmas, the council's housing strategy officer, on the new system of Choice Based Lettings which will be put in place in Harlow from September.

The new system has been trialled by a number of councils across the country, and all councils must have it in place in five years' time. And frankly, as far as I'm concerned, the change can't come quickly enough.

The present system means that prospective council tenants have to accumulate housing points, and when they have enough points the council tells them where they're going to live. Under the new system, tenants will be put into different priority bands; the council will publish a catalogue of available council homes each week, and tenants will 'bid' for homes that they're interested in. ('Bidding' doesn't mean paying money - it just means expressing interest).

Basically, the new system will treat tenants just like those owner occupiers who look through the housing pages of the local papers or browse in the estate agents' windows. Instead of being told where they're to live, tenants will be able to express views and preferences and make choices. And it should cut down the length of time homes remain empty, as we won't be showing people round houses they don't really want.

I grew up in a family that rented its home - in our case, from the States of Jersey (a sort of Government plus local council rolled into one). I remember once my mother complaining to the housing department that the wooden window box outside the front room window was rotting. "Ah," said a helpful member of the housing staff, "we've let a contract for repairing window boxes - we'll send the contractor round." The contractor visited, and nailed a piece of plywood across the front of the rotten window box. Job done. No wonder they'd put in the lowest tender!

It was a salutary lesson, which I've never forgotten, that owner occupiers have choices in life that tenants usually don't. Anything that redresses the balance, and puts power and choice in the hands of tenants, must be welcome.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Gong Hei Fat Choy!

Chinese New Year is celebrated in style at the Chinese Community Centre in the middle of my council ward. Su, Mike and I are all there as the three local councillors for the area, along with Ian as Chair of the Council with his wife Kuzna.

It's a lively and very hospitable occasion, with fireworks, drums and cymbals, and the Lion Dance, which starts in the car park and works its way inside. There's a raffle, part of a pantomime, games, speeches, and a very generous buffet lunch. Everyone's made to feel very welcome, and the Year of the Rooster gets off to a flying start.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

A day out

Nick and Georgina are off today in the new Skoda to visit Tom and Lottie in Derby. I can't go, however, as I've promised to go across to Watford with a small team from Harlow and help my friend Sal with her campaign as parliamentary candidate there.

The journey, normally a straightforward one, is made more interesting by the shortage of a decent map, Lesley (who doesn't much like driving outside Harlow) behind the wheel, and Chris in charge of navigation. Lesley's car is done up with Lib Dem stickers and flags, and three of us are wearing our Lib Dem yellow polo shirts or sweaters. We're certainly visible.

When we finally reach Watford's campaign HQ we get given a stack of leaflets and another map. We have another tour of the retail parks of Watford, but eventually find our destination and deliver our leaflets. When we've finished, we put our heads round the door of the nearest pub, which is offering "bar food", to see whether it's worth stopping for lunch. It isn't - we almost choke in the cigarette smoke. So we head out of Watford (we're getting the hang of this now) and stop at the cafe of a large Tesco's Extra instead. A hot meal now saves me from the need to cook for one tonight.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Spreading the news

Three staff briefings and one for the press. I'm at the Latton Bush Centre before 8:30am, where it's standing room only for staff in the main hall as the council's Chief Executive, the Labour group leader and I outline last night's council's decisions. Then presentations at 10:00, 11:30 and 1:00 at the Civic Centre.

The message, though difficult, is very clear. But it's not easy to face someone only eighteen inches away across a table when you're telling them you realise they may be about to lose their job.

We're in a position to tell the local press the news today, as we hear before they do that there's to be a judicial review into the proposed second runway at Stansted.

And when I get home, Nick's news is that he's finally upgraded the car - to a Skoda.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Balancing the books

The council chamber is already packed when I walk in with my group at a quarter to eight for the council's budget setting meeting. There are a few well-known 'Socialist Alliance' figures, but many of the rest are pensioners, or parents whose children use local leisure centres, swimming facilities or out-of-school care schemes which are proposed for closure.

Almost immediately, it's clear that the meeting is not going to be straightforward. The rules of debate state that petitions cannot be presented at this meeting, but there's a general feeling among councillors that this would be inappropriate tonight. So in order to ensure that the public has the opportunity to speak, the Chair of the Council, with all party support, suspends the council's standing orders so that people who have collected petition signatures can briefly address the meeting.

But once the debate on the budget starts, it's obvious that order will not be able to be maintained for long. There are constant interruptions, shouting, and cat-calls from members of the public. The really pathetically inadequate microphone system doesn't help, and eventually, when councillors just aren't being given the opportunity to be heard at all, the meeting is adjourned while the police are fetched. They arrive quickly, and in amazing numbers.

Eventually, the meeting continues. We're determined that the council will set a budget, and with each speaker continuing to be heckled, there are only four speeches before councillors agree to simply put the budget to the vote. It's done, and agreed across all the parties with (I think) only one vote against.

It's been a very sad and difficult night. Cutting £2 million from a budget of £14 million is bound to impact on some residents very severely. There are no painless and easy alternatives. We're not allowed to put up the council tax by more than 5 per cent - we've agreed a 3.9 per cent rise as it is, and raising the tax by the maximum the Government permits would only bring in another £90,000 - a drop in the ocean compared to the savings we need to make. There are no more reserves left to prop up services that are basically unaffordable - they've been used up over many years to keep services going as long as they have.

It would have been so very tempting just to abdicate responsibility tonight - to say "I don't want to set a budget that balances", or "I'll set a council tax rise of over 33 per cent and make the Government choose the cuts to our services". But we were elected to make decisions responsibly on behalf of local residents - and we all know that if the Government took over and chose which services to cut, they would have been far less mindful of residents' needs than all the local councillors there tonight.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Going for green

During the course of the morning I get a couple of local press calls, including one from the Harlow Star. The inspector has just published the report of his inquiry into the council's draft Local Plan, and has reversed a number of key items in our document. Chief among these is his proposal to allow housebuilding on the Rugby Club land at Ram Gorse - very disappointing news for those of us who have fought so long and so hard to retain this green area with its delightful view of the old church of St Mary's Little Parndon and the lane down to the mill. Over the next couple of weeks we'll need to think about our response and what happens next.

This afternoon I'm out with Lesley and Chris meeting residents in Mark Hall. We get a warm reception, and a list of local issues to take up with the council.

At 6:30pm I'm one of four councillors at the Churchgate Hotel for an event to discuss the Town Park. There's a group of students from Harvard studying the park as part of their design course, for whom this event has been put on, supported by CABE, the Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment. A number of local organisations, such as Harlow Civic Society and the Town Park Users' Group, have come along to talk briefly about their views and vision for the Town Park, and how important it is as a space in representing the aims and aspirations of local people.

(I watched an interesting programme on television recently about PL Travers, author of the Mary Poppins books - stories I read with great pleasure as a child, and much better than the film! The programme made the point about the importance of parks in the Mary Poppins stories, which I hadn't really recognised consciously, but my pleasure in the books in childhood obviously connected with my experience of my own local park, the Howard David Park in Jersey, and the many happy days I spent there as a child with my parents, sisters and brother).

Unfortunately I have to leave the Churchgate early, as I have another meeting at the Civic Centre at 7:30, but it's good to have been able to be there, however briefly.

At home, after the meeting, I read the online news coverage of the implementation of the Kyoto accord on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The non-involvement of the USA, the world's top polluter, is frankly disgraceful, and leaves a gaping hole in the international strategy to tackle this literally life-threatening issue. I'm pleased however that on the domestic front Charles Kennedy is calling on Tony Blair and Michael Howard to join him in signing a shared statement of intent on meeting the challenge of climate change. If ever there was an issue that crossed the party political divide, this is it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Budget

During the middle of the day, I pop out briefly to be interviewed by the local radio station, Ten-17, about the council's budget. In the evening, I answer letters from residents who have written to me about particular services they want to see protected.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Valentine's Day

I wake up to a lovely card and a box of chocolates from Nick to mark the start of Valentine's Day. I've bought him a card and a book about World War II, which is hardly very romantic, but he's pleased with it.

The Harvey Centre is the venue for the launch this morning of a new telephone number for local residents to report anti-social behaviour. I'm there as Joint Leader of the Council, along with council officers, the police, Victim Support and others to promote the new number (0845 605 2222) that residents can use to report nuisance, from abandoned cars and flytipping to drug dealing. It's a low-call rate number, and the calls are transferred to Contact Harlow in the Civic Centre.

In the evening, I've an appointment with a local resident who is making a complaint and whom I've agreed to support; we go over the paperwork which I take away to work on in the next week before the complaint hearing. Then it's on to St James's School, where Moorfield Residents Association are holding their regular monthly meeting. There's lively debate about the new one-way traffic scheme, the sealing off of the garage block (which now appears to require a gate in it, according to council officers), and the regeneration project for the estate, which continues to struggle for lack of funding. We pile out, cold, into the street at about 9:00pm.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Paperwork

A whole day spent at the computer shouldn't have made so little impression on the huge quantities of paperwork in my in-tray.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Jeans Yardling

As Joint Leaders of the Council, myself and the Labour Group leader are at the Civic Centre by half past nine to receive a petition from local residents opposed to a planning application in Tye Green Village. Local ward councillor Eleanor Macy is also there, lending her support to their campaign.

The petitioners have walked from the village to lodge their objection to proposals from developers to subdivide Jeans Yardling, a medieval listed building, into two semi-detached properties; convert the stable block into a bungalow; demolish outbuildings; and build a garage block and two two-storey detached houses in the grounds.

I know the village well - I've delivered leaflets there on a number of occasions, walked through it, cycled through it. The scale of what's being proposed seems totally inappropriate in a conservation area, especially the hidden treasure that is Tye Green Village, and on a recent visit to look at Jeans Yardling Eleanor enlisted my support for the campaign against the application.

The campaign is still gathering pace; a fighting fund has been established to pay the cost of legal experts, and the petition is still attracting signatures. The petition says:
We believe the 13th century dwelling known as Jeans Yardling in Tye Green Village, together with its stables, paddock and right of way, should be preserved for the people of Harlow to enjoy, as they always have done. We are totally opposed to a local property developer's plans to ruin this beautiful site by the creation of 5 large luxury homes.
Anyone who hasn't yet signed the petition and would like to do so, or would like to offer support and help to the campaign in any other way, should contact Rob Parsons as quickly as possible. Harlow Council's Planning Committee meets on Tuesday 22 February to determine the application.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Comfortable shoes

I'm not a morning person, so an 8:30am meeting is not my favourite way to start the day. But as council leaders we've tried to do something different by way of discussing the council's proposed budget with the local business community, so we're holding a business breakfast where we present the salient features over juice, coffee and croissants.

After that I have an appointment for an interview as part of a 'financial diagnostic' the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has commissioned following the work we've begun on Recovery after our recent inspection report.

Then a meeting with colleagues from Epping, and a brief discussion with the Chief Executive. And then it's off with councillor colleagues Eleanor Macy and Chris Millington, to visit residents at Manor Hatch Close and answer their questions about local issues. The debate is lively, with residents taking the opportunity to put their elected representatives on the spot and make us answerable - and quite right too!

After the Manor Hatch Close visit, I walk with Chris to Netteswellbury Farm, one of the other sheltered housing schemes in the area; he sets a cracking pace, and I find it hard to keep up (shouldn't have worn these heeled shoes!). Eventually my ankles give out altogether, and the only way I can complete the journey is to stop, take off my shoes and walk in my sock feet. When I get to Netteswellbury Farm I take off my wet knee-highs and stuff them in my coat pocket, and put those dratted shoes back on before going into the common room for our meeting, where again we spend time answering questions and taking notes of residents' comments and complaints.

It's back to the Civic Centre at 4:15, a little late for my usual Friday meeting with the Labour Group leader, where we gallop through the dozen or more matters that require our attention.

It's been a busy week, and at 6:15 I'm glad to get a cab back home, where Nick is waiting to drive us up to the Cricketers at Clavering. We're having dinner with a small group of people Nick used to work with at Hertford Regional College - a regular occurrence every few months or so. I've exchanged the heeled shoes from hell for my ancient comfy moccasins - it's great to relax after the demands and pressures of the last five days.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Talking of the budget

At 9:30 I join a group of residents of Tysea Close in their common room, where council staff are explaining the proposals for changes to the warden service. It's a friendly meeting, and residents are very positive about the proposals to create geographic teams of wardens, to replace the use of Careline staff when their own warden is on holiday or sick.

At 11:00, residents of Risdens get their chance to hear the same update. It's a much bigger meeting, and residents have a number of other issues they want to get off their chests - anti-social behaviour, shortage of police presence, dumped rubbish among them. We agree to hold another meeting in a few weeks' time so that we can talk about these in more depth. After the meeting, one of the residents takes me to see an appalling row of garages stuffed with junk - a real eyesore. Council officers will be getting a photograph tomorrow!

Lunchtime is the AGM of Employ-Ability, the organisation that works to find employment for people with disabilities or mental health problems. There are some truly inspiring presentations from people who have been helped into work after mental health difficulties; as someone who experienced a breakdown at the age of 17 and spent five years on anti-depressants, I know how difficult it can be to speak up about these issues, particularly as there's still such a stigma attached to mental health problems. I'm also pleased to see such support for the scheme from Asda, one of Harlow's newer employers.

In the afternoon, I've undertaken to pay a visit to a constituent with a housing problem, which I do; and then it's on to the Civic Centre for a pre-meeting with council officers before tonight's budget meeting.

A flying visit home enables me to open the mail, scan the local newspapers, check my email, have a quick glass of sherry, fry some chicken for dinner - and then it's the budget meeting proper. A lot of residents turn up to hear the discussion, very committed to particular services which the council can no longer afford - and very frustrated when they realise that the rules of the meeting mean they can't ask questions or speak in the debate. The committee agrees to recommend the budget to the special council meeting next week; and also agrees the council's new corporate plan, medium term financial strategy, fees and charges, and a host of other reports.

I'm still typing at 11:35pm and I feel I could sleep for a week.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Making representations

Tomorrow the Policy & Resources Committee meets to consider and recommend the council's budget for this coming year. Some difficult decisions will have to be made, and clearly they're not all going to be popular.

In this morning's post I receive a copy of a petition and a couple of letters about the proposed closure of the Norman Booth Centre. I also answer a letter from a local artist saying that the council shouldn't reduce its arts services. And in the evening I receive a telephone call from a resident wanting to present a petition against the proposed closure of Stewards Pool and Sumners Leisure Centre. That's all absolutely fine - people have views about particular services they use, and have a right to express their opinion.

But during the day I also receive a copy of a notice from one of the council's trade unions, Unison. The union will be lobbying the committee meeting tomorrow, and the full council meeting the following Thursday, against job losses resulting from the budget.

The notice is highly misleading, claiming that resident wardens in the council's sheltered housing schemes are 'threatened with redundancy'. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it's some years since the council began the process of transferring resident wardens to become day wardens. Most sheltered housing schemes no longer have a resident warden, and the council's Housing Committee has now decided to transfer the few remaining resident wardens to become day staff, so that all sheltered housing schemes are treated the same. No warden need be made redundant, and all the current resident wardens will be offered secure council tenancies as part of the arrangements for the transfer.

Now that does annoy me. It's bad enough having to make hard choices about council services, without having them misrepresented by people who should know better.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Pancake day

An absolutely foul journey in to Central London today. The train from Harlow is packed, standing room only, the result of delays to the previous train. And the underground from Tottenham Hale to Green Park is stuffed to bursting point.

I'm standing next to a couple who tell me they're from Montana, visiting their son at a military base, and on their first ever trip in to London. They're confused because they can't understand the announcements on the public address system, and the tube is too packed for them to see the station names as we halt. "Surely it's not like this every day?" they ask in disbelief at the privations of the London commuter. "I'm afraid it is," I reply.

Later at home, I look at the hot, flattened heap of Shrove Tuesday pancakes I've cooked. I reckon I know how they feel.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Going round in circles

I seem to be on the phone for most of the day, which for someone like me who's moderately phone-phobic is quite an ordeal. I pick up the various issues from my ward surgery on Saturday and make enquiries of relevant officers; and as council budget time gets closer there are also more and more things to organise, such as briefings for the staff and the press the day after the Full Council meeting.

At 5:15 I cycle up to the Civic Centre; I'm seeing the Youth Council at 6:00 to explain the budget proposals to them. The half hour seems to go well; the Youth Councillors have some good questions, and I hope we can involve them more effectively in the budget-setting process in future.

At 6:35, five minutes late, I head upstairs to the AGM of the Harlow Trust for the Furtherance of Education, which I chair. I expect to have to apologise to the waiting members, but it appears I'm the only member there; the Secretary, Administrator and accountant have been waiting in vain for councillors to turn up. Five minutes later Lesley appears, and we try various mobile phone numbers, but it seems no-one else is coming. Not for the first time, the meeting is inquorate (it takes four to hold a proper meeting - two isn't enough) and so can't continue. This is a worry, as we need the accounts signed off for the year, and to make some major decisions.

The Trust has been considering whether to continue, or whether to rely on the experience and size of a larger organisation, such as the Essex Community Foundation, to take on much of its responsibilities. This sounds a good idea, as so few members attend the meetings - but to make that decision, we need enough people to attend a proper meeting. This is one of those circular situations that needs to be sorted. I ask the Administrator to set another date for the meeting, and it sounds as if I need to write to all the Trust members to remind them how important it is that they turn up.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Council tax revaluation lurks

In among other paperwork that I've been trying to reduce to manageable proportions today, I've been reading budget papers again. Over the coming fortnight, Harlow councillors including myself will be discussing the council's budget, and settling the level of council tax local people will be charged this year. But round the corner lurks a far more worrying prospect that's out of local councillors' hands - the Government's proposed revaluation of council tax.

The present council tax is based on a series of 'bands' for house values - bands which haven't changed since council tax was introduced in 1991. But of course house values have moved up since then, so after the election, if Labour or the Tories win, every home in the country will be revalued to reassess how much council tax we should all be paying.

At first, that sounds fair - or at least fairer. After all, if you're going to have an unfair tax like council tax that isn't based on ability to pay, but on the value of your house, you could argue that it's fairer to base the tax on the value of your home now rather than the value of your home fourteen years ago.

But the problem is that in some parts of the country, house prices have risen by more than the average - and some residents will therefore find themselves going up one or more bands, and paying more council tax. Here in Harlow the average house price rise since 1991 is 165 per cent, so a number of residents may find themselves hard hit if Labour or the Tories win the General Election and the council tax revaluation happens.

Revaluation has already happened in one part of the country, Wales - and there, 33 per cent of homes went up a band or more. One house in Cardiff went up six bands - more than doubling the family's council tax! Just 8 per cent of homes found their council tax going down as a result of revaluation. In some areas, as many as 90 per cent of homes saw their council tax banding go up - and some of those were already among the poorest.

Revaluation will be a tax rise for many people. It won't make council tax fairer - and it will hit people on fixed incomes particularly hard. It's really time the Government started listening to the arguments for scrapping council tax and replacing it with a fairer tax, such as a local income tax, based on people's ability to pay. And it's also time the Labour Government came clean about its revaluation proposals - rather than keeping quiet in the hope that we won't realise what's going to hit us until after the General Election.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Pride of place

Before I head off to my ward surgery at Staple Tye, the post arrives. In among the flurry of reports, letters and bumph from the council, I'm delighted to see the announcement of the Chair of the Council's Pride in Harlow competition. There are so many things to be proud of in our town, and they're often not made enough of.

After my ward surgery, I cycle past Bishopsfield (my first home in Harlow) and through Tye Green Village to Brays Grove to see a resident about a housing matter, then back along the cycle tracks from Holy Cross church to Second and Third Avenues and home. Talking of things to be proud of, where else in the country would one find such a network of cycleways, with their feeling of countryside even in the middle of a busy town?

I do hope as many people as possible will enter the Council Chair's Pride in Harlow competition and celebrate the many things of which our town can rightly be proud.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Diet and exercise

I know the Government says we should eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and get plenty of exercise, but this is ridiculous.

What with meetings at 9:00, 10:00, 1:00, 2:00, 4:00, and 4:45, I don't get to eat breakfast or lunch, and instead subsist all day on a banana, plus an apple and a handful of grapes from the Chief Executive's fruit bowl at the Civic Centre, with various cups of tea and coffee and a glass of orange juice.

The 9:00 meeting (Regional Plan) is at the Civic Centre. The 10:00 (about issues in my ward) is at the Latton Bush Centre, so I get to explore the cycle track from Asda to Southern Way, which emerges next to Goldings Farm at Tye Green Village. The remaining meetings are at the Civic Centre, so I make the return journey on the tricycle too; it's really beginning to earn its keep, and I'm certainly getting fitter.

At 1:00 the joint leaders meet representatives of Pensioners Action to discuss the council's budget proposals and their effect on bus passes; at 2:00 we meet the Chief Executive, as we do every fortnight; at 4:00 we're discussing the council's Recovery Plan projects; and at 4:45 another chance to catch up with our IDEA mentors.

It's a real treat to relax with Nick in Cafe Rouge in Hertford in the evening, with moules frites and a glass of white wine (a square meal at last!) - and even more of a treat to return home and find that Tom and Lottie are back unexpectedly for the weekend.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The truth will out?

Perhaps it's tempting providence to call a political party Veritas (the Latin for 'truth'). After yesterday's diary entry about the registration of Mr Kilroy Silk's new party, I was intrigued to stumble across further allegations about former Harlow UKIP candidate Tony Bennett, who is now apparently aligned with Veritas. Is there more 'veritas' waiting to come out about this new party?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Out in the cold

The morning is taken up with council business (meetings with the Director of Housing and the Chief Executive) and the afternoon with paid work - I have to nip into London for a meeting and out again, and it's one of those occasions on which the travel time is longer than the meeting I'm going in for.

The evening is the JNC, the Joint Negotiating Committee of the council where union representatives meet with 'the management' (councillors and council managers) to resolve staffing issues. It's a closed meeting, not open to the press and public - and not open to me, either, for about a quarter of an hour. My work meeting in London means I've arrived late at the Civic Centre, only to find the door locked, and no steward in sight. The phone number advertised on the door defaults to voicemail, knocks and even kicks on the door bring no response (and I'm reluctant to kick too hard - "Council Leader on Criminal Damage Rap in Civic Centre Fracas" isn't the headline I want to see in the Harlow Star next Thursday). So I'm stuck outside in the cold until a steward emerges and lets me in (late) to the meeting. They've started early, too, so the business is almost over by the time I arrive.

Back at home afterwards, I see Robert Kilroy-Silk has finally launched his new political party, Veritas. Harlow UKIP candidate Tony Bennett appears to have gone with him - if the party registration on the Electoral Commission website is anything to go by he's even its leader!

Someone has pointed out that 'Veritas' is actually 'satire' spelt backwards with two fingers stuck up at the end. Says all there is to say, I'd have thought.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Partners

Some visitors from the Netherlands are in Harlow today. They're looking for potential international partners for an 'e-Government' project, making better use of information and communications technology in providing council services. Cllr Lesley Rideout and I are both there to welcome them.

I have to leave early because I have another meeting, this time to discuss policies for the local cemetery and crematorium in providing for the needs of Harlow's different minority ethnic communities. It's a constructive and well attended meeting, with council staff, health service representatives and members of various ethnic communities present.

But again, I have to leave early, as there's a further meeting on my schedule this morning - another one-to-one with my 'peer support' Sal. As always, she's insightful and helpful.

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