The first of many...
The powers that be on BrentfordTW8 have told me that the blog formerly published by Matt Harmer is sorely missed, and suggested that, as a bit of an old stager on the Forum, I might want to reintroduce the practice of updating people via the website.
I’ve said quite a bit over the years that the Council could do more to keep people up to date with what’s going on so I thought I should take on the challenge. Of course, I will struggle to match the wit, wisdom and prose style of Matt Harmer and as an absolute beginner on the council my idea of what’s going on is as yet pretty sketchy, but I hope that will improve as time goes by. Anyway, my ambition is to be a little informative, a little amusing, and provoke some debate, so nothing ventured...
I woke up early on the morning of Thursday 9th and made my way up Ealing Road to our HQ for the day, whereupon I was asked to drive round the polling stations with folding chairs for the tellers; what I had forgotten was that somebody had helpfully called a tube strike that day. The whole town was gridlocked and it would have been quicker to take one chair at a time and walk them round the polling stations! Meanwhile our organiser James and his team were stuck on the M4 trying to get from Slough so the day didn’t start too well. Fast forward 18 hours and I’m in the Civic Centre, biting my already-bitten nails as the boxes are emptied. The good news is the votes are stacking up; the bad news is I have to make a speech. I mumble something as appropriate as I can manage, accept and give a few congratulations and commiserations then head home via a quick one at the Magpie and Crown.
Monday evening I’m in the thick of it with a Labour group meeting during which I’m the fall guy to fill holes on three committees, causing general glee amongst the other Labour members.
Tuesday evening and it’s Borough Council. I put on my best bib and tucker and early in the proceedings I get to hand over a petition from Hounslow Cycling to the mayor. This has a suggestion for improved cycling facilities in each ward – in Brentford it's to do with better cycle access to Lionel School and in Syon, improvements along London Road and the High Street. Later I commend the council for the good interest rates it’s getting on its bank deposits and suggest they might like to look after the deposits held by Thamesbank Credit Union, of which I am treasurer. There’s a lot of howls of derision, but don’t ask, don’t get.
Wednesday I was intending to go to a hustings for the London Mayor but I decide instead to go to the scrutiny meeting for the Brent Lea proposed free school. Without going into the rights and wrongs of this which have been expounded very well by others – suffice to say that all 3 Brentford councillors are against it – I thought the meeting was an important democratic event, with passionate contributions from the likes of Councillor Tony Louki and Suzie Betlem. Whatever happens, nobody is in any doubt that local people don’t like or accept their Rec being taken away, even temporarily, and that they do not feel like there was anything like adequate notice or consultation.
Thursday evening was the Isleworth and Brentford Area Forum, which covered a wide range of topics and went on until very late in the evening.
On Friday I had a long session with my fellow Brentford councillors Mel and Myra. We emerged with a to-do list of 29 items (thanks - I think that’s the expression - to Myra for putting it together) and a better idea of how we will work together in our attempts to help Brentford get even more Brilliant.
Sunday was Labour party BBQ with Ruth Cadbury MP and a guest appearance form Stella Creasy who is one of the candidates for Deputy Leader. As a Credit Union volunteer I’m an unashamed fan of Stella for what she’s done to clip the wings of the payday lenders who have made such an outstanding contribution to making poor people poorer, so it was a privilege to meet her.
Monday found me tramping around Haverfield and Clayponds with Hounslow Highways. This – as people who read the forum know – is a long-standing activity of mine and I feel we’re beginning to inch ahead with progress on various matters but with a way to go.
Finally today, Tuesday, I’ve been sitting at a computer in the Civic Centre most of the day, getting to grips with Councillors’ IT and making a start with some of the 29 things on the list.
When I agreed to stand for councillor they told me the commitment was a day and an evening per week. In my first week it feels a bit more like 4 days and 4 evenings but I’m hoping that won’t last (though I’m actually enjoying every minute).
More seriously, I’m conscious that running a council is a very hard job: the council has already lost about £60M per annum in central government funding and is expecting to lose the same again over the next few years. Meanwhile the population grows, grows older, and grows no less demanding that services are maintained or improved. I remain of the view that the most difficult and urgent issue facing Londoners is housing and I’ve already heard some heart rending stories: the harsh reality is that we have far less social and affordable housing than we need and the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better because the government policy is to force councils to sell stock to pay for giveaways to people who are buying housing association accommodation. Hounslow is trying hard to fill the gap but it will have to run very hard indeed to do better than keep still.
I’ll try and keep these updates coming, hope people find them readable and informative, and invite any comments to my council email firstname.lastname@example.org or to my phone 07804 284948
July 30, 2015