Sunday, 11 January 2015

Year's End

Well 2015 already - I don't know where last year went! - and the final month of 2014 was dominated by discussions around the budget for 15-16. 

It can be difficult enough when an organisation doesn't get the increase hoped for but in these hard times everyone's budget in the public sector is being cut.  All involved on the council - officers & councillors alike - realise the challenge and know that a new approach has to be applied, be more efficient & effective, and seek ways of giving support so residents can do more for themselves.  And as with last year the council is asking residents what they think and so make decisions in the light of that feedback.

There were of course the usual meetings such as council, Labour Group, planning
and so forth.  But also, and interestingly even after all this time as a councillor, I had another 'first'.  Although I have been a governor before, this was my first meeting at Dylan Thomas School, and I was made to feel very welcome.

And Jeff & I were able this year to attend the annual council Christmas Carol Concert - a lovely way to lead into the festive period. 


Monday, 8 December 2014

Some things new

Early in November we had the privilege of attending an extra council meeting presented by some of Swansea's Looked After Children (ie these are young people supported for a period of time by the council's social services).  Not surprisingly they are not keen on this label, and judging by the quality of their performance it seems ridiculous and totally unnecessary.  They were all extremely competent and their presentation was far superior to many of the countless ones I've had to endure in the past.  Without doubt they showed "give us the right support and the sky's the limit!"

A couple of meetings which on first glance would appear rather 'dry' were both in fact interesting, to me at least...
A working group I went to looked at car parking in Swansea, asking questions like were there enough spaces? and in the right place? was Park & Ride working? and were parking charges at the right level?  And we were told a converted 'camera car' will hopefully be ready in the New Year to help with illegal parking.  So the issueing of fines should be more efficient, easier and cheaper to deal with, although a council officer will have the last word.
And I also took part in a Forum organised by the Welsh Audit Office, to examine how well we as councillors felt Swansea was being run.  I was well aware that I needed to strike a balance between valid praise and constructive criticism, not that easy!

As this year 'celebrates' the beginning of the first World War the Remembrance service at TOPIC House was all the more poignant.  I have never carried one of the wreathes before, another privilege which I won't forget.

Since the new leader has been in place it was decided to try out cross-party cabinet advisory committees, another measure to help backbenchers be & feel far more involved.  I attended both those that I am on, and of course time will tell if these are successful or not, but I think they are a step in the right direction.


Thursday, 13 November 2014

DT's Month

October was an encouraging settling-in period for our new leader.  As I said in an earlier blog, different style but same aims.  One change is that we now have cross-party Cabinet Advisory Committees, and I am looking forward to getting involved on the two I am on.  At first glance it certainly looks like it will give us backbenchers more of a feeling that we are contributing.

In ward context I managed to have a fruitful meeting with my colleagues, albeit 'busy' as it was during a ward surgery.  Usually a quieter session, but of course on this occasion everyone turned up with their various issues!

The most inspiring event of the month was definitely listening to some of the cast - all local to Townhill - talking about their experiences being involved in the TV series Lovely Ugly Swansea.  This was part of the Dylan Thomas celebrations, as in the programmes where they put on a variation of his Under Milk Wood - indeed a very fitting tribute to the man. 


Monday, 6 October 2014

All Change!

Change of leader - different style but same priorities, with a continued aim to help some of the less well off areas of Swansea.  So it's been an interesting month!

Not that busy council wise for me.  Had a week off in the middle (bowls widow, although be warned if you watch too many matches it does get a bit addictive!)  Instead it was more of a 'political' month.

Certainly the Scottish Referendum livened things up a bit.  Apart from anything else what a fantastic turnout - if only we could get people as engaged at election times.  And whilst I really can understand, empathise even, with those who voted 'yes', I was so glad that the majority said 'no'. 

I also had a really positive day out in Manchester, going to a Movement for Change meeting.  As you know I have been a staunch member of the Swansea Bay Fair Credit group, which has been trying to curb some of the more dubious practices of certain payday loan companies.  At this event a young mother from Swansea was awarded Activist of the Year for her part in fighting her corner, and encouraging others to seek alternative ways of getting loans.  A
group of women refugees were also inspiring, who gave their harrowing stories with such dignity.  On the plus side some of us managed to find a decent eatery and a lovely pub.  On the downside was the 10 hours of travel the so called 'executive' coach, possibly the most uncomfortable bone shaker ever!


Friday, 5 September 2014

Same old, same old ... but a bit different!

The month saw the usual round of meetings :

TOPIC House PACT, a bit quieter than usual with not too many queries to follow up.

Audit follows a cycle of agenda items but from time to time will investigate a specific issue, which was the case at this meeting.  Councillors then asked probing questions of the officers present, both to get to the bottom of difficulties that had been encountered, and help provide a way forward.

Full Council was fairly straightforward, with a joint presentation by the Leader and Director for People, on future strategy to address poverty. A lot needs to be done - the task is both huge & complex - but you have to start somewhere. 

DMCC - the full planning group - in the main picked up on planning applications which had been deferred from one of the two sub-committees, to allow for discussion by all councillors.

Equalities was dedicated to looking at the requirements in Wales regarding the Welsh Language.  This can be a bit of a thorny topic as the council does a balancing act between adhering to the law, which gives English & Welsh equal parity, yet being very aware of current budget restrictions.  Not surprisingly a lively debate ensued!

August surgery in the ward was the busiest ever!  

Jeff & I always deliver a few leaflets over the weekend 
to remind people and this time it certainly worked.  Although most enquiries were from those I'd met before 
there were still some new faces with new issues.

Had another positive meeting looking at how to bring the Boys & Girls Club back into life, this time open to the public.  There were a few words of caution by some in the audience, but it got the backing of the majority of those present, most of whom came up with great ideas on how to make use of the centre.

So on the whole its future looks good.


Thursday, 21 August 2014

And still busy!

I started this a couple of weeks ago - just pretend you're reading it early August! 

A variety of different meetings (as well as the usual) in July ...

Attended a Streetscene Inquiry scrutiny meeting - somehow missed this completely when it first started last year but joined it for the last couple of sessions.  Hoping some good practical solutions will come out of it - to change areas that are currently flytipping dumps, tackle rubbish & litter in general, help encourage recycling etc ....

Then met up with two of the local housing officers on a grey morning to check the issues along Pantycelyn Road.  For those who don't know, the view from here can be spectacular, but sadly not when it's doing Welsh drizzle which is seeping through your clothing because you haven't got a coat!!!  However one thing 'shone' through despite the rain, the wonderful array of wild flowers on the corner of Dyfed & Penygraig.  I'm biased but I reckon this is one the best spots across the whole of Swansea where we have given this idea a go - do hope we can continue this trend.

With Student Liaison I'm very pleased that we have kicked one of the additional meetings into touch.  Whilst it was aiming at a different audience it more or less replicated the other forum so we have managed to combine them.  Less time wasted so I reckon this should be more productive.

But the best meeting of the month, without a doubt, was one to discuss the future of the Boys & Girls Club (the sign on the building actually says 'Girls & Boys Club!) on 'the hill'.  It crosses the border of Castle & Townhill and if all goes to plan will be rejuvenated once more.  No guarantees of course as we need both the support and practical help from residents, and others have tried yet failed before, but the enthusiasm of those putting the proposals
- the Boys' & Girls' Club of Wales - is definitely catching.  Just hope it becomes really infectious!


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Busy, busy, busy!

When I look at my diary June seems to be chocker full of meetings and appointments, although quite a few got cancelled for various reasons.  But I was certainly kept busy!

I went to a very interesting & lively meeting open to members of the public, looking at environmental issues.  All the usual suspects cropped up, problems with traffic, parking, rubbish, pot holes etc etc.  So now the trick is to take all these comments, feed them into the next Streetscene scrutiny inquiry panel meeting, and see if we can come up with some clever ideas to try & solve them, but without them costing too much money!  (I have now joined this panel - somehow it passed me by when it was first set up last year!)

Had another useful informal meeting (helped by the surroundings and liquid refreshment provided by the Queens!) of the Swansea Bay Fair Credit group.  We had a good discussion on  ideas for future action.  Here the trick is to keep the momentum going so we are always looking for fresh ways to highlight the issues of sky high interest rates versus affordable credit.  But with the support of Movement for Change we seem to keep coming up with the goods.


And my final council related meeting of the month - at Sea View school, also my last as a governor.  Over the past few months I have been finding it difficult to fit in the many events and other commitments that this role requires, and I don't like doing only half a job.  But by resigning I can still be a 'friend' of the school, being involved when I can, and someone else who hopefully has more time can take my place.  Win-win situation I think.

Bizarre moment of the Month - going up to TOPIC House for a PACT meeting, when there wasn't one!