Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Happy Holidays

With my mother currently snowed in and her pre Christmas visit abandoned, and both my father and other half contemplating whether to make trips to the frozen Scottish Border it’s difficult to answer when people ask what we’re doing for Christmas. Staying home mostly seems to cover it! Whilst I deal with all the domestic things that mysteriously happen “as if by magic” over the holiday season, the younger members of the household are building an igloo in the back garden.

I hate driving on snow at the best of times and accomplished a very controlled, slow speed, 180 degree spin this morning – much to my eldest son’s amazement and amusement. Caldecote, as with many other areas in the County, gets little / no gritting when it snows. Whilst we all hope that the current gritting review will be completed in a timely fashion, it’s a good time to remind people that Parish Councils can purchase their own gritting bins and the County Council will fill them for free. If you’re suffering with icy areas at the moment, please contact your Parish Council before their next meeting in January and ask about gritting bins.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot is probably more productive than waiting for an early morning bus in Caldecote or Hardwick at the moment! It used to be that you waited for a bus and two came along at once. If only that were still true.

My current Councillor workload is almost entirely built around infrastructure – or lack of it. We are continuing to build more and more houses locally for families – but the infrastructure required for our existing inhabitants and the ever-increasing number coming to live in our villages is just not keeping pace.

The Citi 4 regularly leaves 6th form children at bus stops in Caldecote and Hardwick (and people on their way to work) because it’s full before it gets there. Some local Children are bussed in to Secondary Schools in the City because the local one is full. Our Village Primary School has a few places left, but next week Caldecote will consider an application for another 97 houses. If we don’t extend the Primary School what will we do with the children these new houses bring to the village?

Whilst we need to build houses I think we’re in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water at the moment. We can’t keep building more housing developments without the necessary infrastructure in place to service them. And as some villages are finding out at the moment, what the bus company giveth, the bus company can oh so easily take away again!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Half Term almost over

I was expecting a quiet week this week as the local school children are on half term. It hasn’t turned out that way!

I seem to have spent most of the week at Shire Hall looking at the budget for Adult Social Care for the remainder of this year, the provision of secondary and sixth form school places for local children, overfull buses travelling in to the city (watch this space on Monday as we’ve been promised a bigger Citi4 bus running at Peak times) and the expansion of the A14.

Roll on business as usual next week!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Surely there's a better way .....

On the first day of the Harrogate Conference last week, we lost most of our pre-arranged MP speakers as they were recalled to London to vote on what appeared to be a three line whip. They then returned later that evening.

I’m all in favour of tradition, but with the current communication facilities available to us surely there has to be a better way for MPs to vote.

What price the train fares, carbon footprint and working time for such an old fashioned way of doing things?

Shaping the future

I spent three days in Harrogate last week at the Children and Adult Services Conference. There were many topics of discussion – probably the most pressing one being the Green Paper on “Shaping the Future” for adult social care.

The statistics relating to the future cost of care for adults is truly terrifying given the declining number of adults in paid employment for the number of retired people. When the system was first set up in 1948, there were 15 people in employment for every one retired person. Today that figure has dropped to between 3 or 4.

As a Council we’re currently formulating our response to the Green Paper – all responses have to be back by 13th November.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

That aching feeling

As the County Council were debating TIF on Tuesday – and the need to do something to curb congestion in Cambridgeshire – all Lib Dem Cllrs left their cars at home and explored alternative ways of getting to Shire Hall.

Many years ago, as a reasonably fit teenager, I used to cycle from one end of Guernsey to the other to get to school. For those that know the Island I wasn’t quite fit enough to manage the Vals des Terres by peddle power so I walked up that part – but did cycle the rest of the way.

Tuesday morning reminded me of why it’s important to get more of us out of our cars and on to bikes – and when it stops hurting I know that I will appreciate it!

On a more serious note it was actually something that I will be doing on a more regular basis – weather permitting – and it was a real eye opener as to what cyclists face. In my case this included:

A motorist who crossed in front of me whilst I was on a clearly marked cycle path – because they didn’t want to wait for the car in front to turn right

The vegetation that would have taken an eye out if I hadn’t been wearing glasses

The overhanging low tree branch ready to knock someone off their bike

The non visible white lines in Hardwick that depicted the cycle path many years ago.

All noted and I’ll be reporting them.

And if any of you see me out in my yellow coat peddling – be kind and overtake gently – I may have discovered an alternative use for the L plates I took off my motorcycle just a few months ago!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Consistency and Integrity

I was feeling a little under the weather yesterday so took a few hours off in the afternoon. Having nothing much to occupy myself, little on TV, and a mug of tea to hand I curled up and tuned in to Gordon Brown's closing speech for a few minutes.

Five minutes in to listening he had my full attention! Having failed, last week, to be persuaded by Eric Pickles that my true home was in the Conservative Party, I was dumbstruck to realise that Gordon Brown wanted to join the Lib Dems. I'm sure that unless my hearing was out of synch yesterday I heard the words "Referendum", "Alternative Vote System" and "Scrapping ID cards" all uttered in quick succession.

As Lib Dems we often get criticised for our approach. We don't go for the easy option, we don't come out with glib soundbites. And we often shy away from the easy: look at our fight for the rights of the Gurkhas and our refusal to support an illegal war in Iraq. Instead we pride ourselves on consistency and integrity. Politics is a funny old world but I find it deeply unedifying at the moment to see two of the main parties ditching most of their policies in the hope of getting elected next year. Makes you wonder what they'll offer us next week!

Monday, 28 September 2009


10 years ago I lived in an old farm house in Holland. The insulation was non existent and we had no central heating – but we were used to wearing layers of jumpers and taking exercise to warm up. To be fair we did have a gas fire in the living room and a tiny heater on the wall of the bathroom which coughed out enough heat to prevent frostbite when bathing small children. In fact my son, who was four when we moved back to England, was thrilled at the sight of radiators on the wall in our house and thought they were “a very good idea”.

I have finally given up any optimistic hope of a late summer and begrudgingly accept that autumn is well and truly here this morning. I am trying to remind my now softened offspring, who endured one spectacularly snowy winter when the temperature dropped to -11 without heating, that “No” I am not about to turn the heating on, and that if they are cold they should wear a jumper and put slippers (or even socks) on their feet.

It’s character forming I remind them – and we are doing our own little bit to reduce our carbon footprint now that we have signed up to the 10:10 initiative. This means that we will try to reduce our footprint by 10% by the end of 2010. Next step is to use my bicycle (I’d like to add the word “more” but it’s probably more accurate to just say "use"!) and stop my sons leaving things on stand-by.

If you’d like to know more about 10:10 have a look at:

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Acknowledgement for our campaigning!

Sometimes I dread looking at my Inbox: 70 unread messages in less than 24 hours is not unheard of. For once though, I opened my Inbox this morning and got a really nice and totally unexpected surprise. Having sat through all the awards at our Bournemouth Conference, and cheered for the very worthy recipients, I was stunned to discover we’d won something too!

Without telling us, our Agent, Martin Land, submitted our Hardwick By Election Campaign for the newly constituted ALDC Campaigner Awards 2009. Our category was for the 'Best Ward Campaign 2009'.

The award was won by Kensington & Chelsea who recently won their first ever borough council seat with an excellent campaign. However, we were Runners Up.

"Commended - Hardwick County Division of Cambridgeshire, with campaigning organised by Martin Land and with Cllr Fiona Whelan as candidate."

All I can add is that the Boss – aka Martin – really knows his stuff, and a great team worked their socks off to get me elected. The candidate is always the public winner in an election, but as anyone who has ever stood for election knows, it takes a lot of people in the background to win it. My heartfelt thanks to all those who grazed their knuckles on letterboxes and wore their shoe leather out on our behalf.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

A grumpy Hal9000!

The Blog is back – and how I have missed it. After a very relaxing summer holiday I returned to find that just about every electrical item in my house has either given up and self destructed or just developed a bad attitude and begun an irritatingly slow work to rule. Most prominent of these has been my laptop ("affectionately" named Hal9000) which is currently refusing to log me on to certain sites in a timely fashion – most irritatingly my BLOG! With the reassurance of tender words and the promise of extra memory, a harmonious relationship seems to have redeveloped. On a side note, for 2001 fans, I was over the moon to meet someone recently whose uncle's first names were Hal David!

I’m full of the joys of autumn this morning having just come back from a great conference in Bournemouth. It’s always good to catch up with colleagues when you have time to actually discuss things and look at future issue with a bit more time. One of the additional benefits of attending conference has been the stunning array of free, high quality training on offer which I have made full use of.

So I’m back, re-energized, and ready for action!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

That squelching holiday feeling

I'm quite sure that I am not the only divorced parent in the country cursing the summer holidays. Don't get me wrong - I have a good relationship with my ex-husband - that's NOT the problem!

In our house getting ready to go on holiday always involves Olympic feats of getting my children to different parts of the country for drop off and pick ups - and never at the same time - despite having the same two parents!

Friday saw me at a Year 6 leavers’ assembly at 09:30 and on the road by 10:30 to drop my elder son off at Heathrow for a six week trip to his father who lives in the USA. Then a rush back for the Year 6 after school picnic. In theory plenty of time to do both!

Having settled into Cambridge so well that it now takes wild horses to get me to use the M25, I was dumbstruck to discover that it's being widened again - junctions 18 to 16 in both directions - and that traffic is stop start. So my 3 to 4 hour round trip became a 6 hour nightmare. I feel all the more aggrieved because I lived in Egham during the last round of widening and frequently travelled from there to Cambridge at weekends. I have spent many an hour "parked" on the M25. Had I not been on such a tight timescale on Friday the train would have been a much better option! Luckily I had a plan B and my son was not on his own at the picnic. As the day went on it got more exciting because Caldecote lost it's power for 5 hours in the afternoon - I think everyone in Year 6 will remember their last afternoon of Primary School for a variety of reasons!

This morning (having long since given up the will to live and realising that, no matter how much I want it, there is no point in getting my sons to pack for themselves) I got up bright and early to get through the mammoth amount of washing that son No. 2 seems to have hidden in the TARDIS that is his washing bin. He leaves to follow his brother out to the USA soon and so the packing begins again .........

I am currently updating my Blog whilst waiting for towels to mop up the water that has seeped out from under the washing machine. I can almost guarantee without fail that holiday week will bring out the washing machine's inner teenager with a protest breakdown.

Happy and relaxed holiday time strikes again!

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Bruises, Sweat, Tears and a Pass!

As some may know I have been learning to ride a bike for some time now and severe nerves have meant I fluffed a few tests.

Today I finally passed. Chuffed that I got through my Module 1 on Friday with no faults, I relaxed today and sailed through my Module 2 with 3 minor faults.

The prospect of the summer on an open road beckons - or the weekend in the garage putting a Yamaha Virago 750 on the road if you're my other half! No more riding pillion. Bliss!

Friday, 26 June 2009

What's going on?

This last week seems to have been manic – and sadly I’ve discovered a few things that I haven’t got done quite as quickly as I would have liked. I sit here at Shire Hall, metaphorically locked away from the phone for a few hours, whilst I reclaim ownership of my Inbox and have a chance to get my “To Do” list in shape.

I’m frustrated at the moment with the amount of time it’s taking to get an update on things that I report. All Councillors seem to be reporting Potholes and Pavements that need repairing – but then we wait and wait to see what happens. Even more frustrating is to report a problem, see it temporarily fixed, and then see that temporary fix fail just a few days or weeks later.

I appreciate that officers are working flat out at the moment to rectify the damage and that money is going to be tight at the Council for some years to come. As a group we are currently pushing for more “customer feedback” when we report problems. Whilst in a utopian situation things would be done instantly, we know that that can’t happen (no matter how much we wish it could!).

But as the person on the receiving end of what constituents want to see fixed, it would be nice to be able to give more meaningful updates!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

A year in the life of .....

The work (re)starts here!

The first two weeks after the election have been quite gentle in comparison to the last two months of campaigning – a very different scenario from parachuting in to the job last November. There are the usual Parish Council Meetings and emails and phone calls to attend to and some training at the Council for new Councillors. Funnily enough I qualify for these as I did not have formal induction training in November.

But this week the real work starts. On Friday, the Lib Dem group met to decide who our spokespeople and committee members would be and on Tuesday we have the first full Council Meeting of this new intake. We all shuffle seats depending on the position that we hold – and I’m thrilled that after 6 months in the job I am moving much closer to the front. I am now the Lib Dem Spokes for Adult Services in Cambridgeshire – something I feel very passionate about given the case work I've been doing in the villages. I take over from a wonderful man – Cllr Geoff Heathcock – who is moving to be Chair of the HASC Scrutiny Committee where he will bring his inimitable style and energy to the job! We have some new faces in our party group and all of them have already made their mark and bring tremendous energy and expertise to the group. A formidable team!

Tuesday I turn 45. This time last year I’d just finished all my law exams and was wondering what I was going to be doing with them. What a difference 12 months makes!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Humbled by bravery.

Listening to the news each day it is sometimes easy to become immune to what is going on in the world. Sadly, I believe we call it compassion fatigue. Nationally, people have shown how appalled they are with the MPs expenses scandal and the tide seems to be turning now with a real commitment to change at Westminster.

But sometimes you have to stop and take note of people’s bravery in the world of politics. People often remember where they were when Kennedy died – and I certainly remember where I was 20 years ago when the troops opened fire on the students in Tiananmen Square. But today we are witnessing breathtaking bravery in Iran – people coming out and fighting to make sure that their recent vote counts. I admire their bravery and can only hope that they will be successful without blood shed – but only time will tell.

During the election I posted blog entries citing my concern over people who no longer valued their vote. On the day of the County Council election I was privileged to witness two senior Chinese people being able to vote for the first time ever. It’s impossible to convey how excited they were and how moved those of us in and near the polling station were. They were overwhelmed to be able to exercise a right that many no longer value.

My thoughts are with the demonstrators in Iran – and I can only admire and applaud their bravery in the face of such opposition.

Friday, 12 June 2009

A week away from the Blog!

It’s been a busy week – euphoria after the group’s wins last Friday have settled down (not worn off!) and now it’s back to business as usual.

Having been on probation for this job for the last 6 months it’s wonderful to know that I now have 4 years to get things done. Top of the list on an ongoing basis are:

- Rural Buses
- Potholes/Pavements
- Services for the elderly

But I’m adding to it on a daily basis! We all know that the coming years on the Council are going to be hard in terms of available funding – but the key is making sure that what is spent, is spent wisely. No waste on grandiose schemes when there is no funding for the basic ones.

My other continuing goal is to be as accessible as possible to the electorate. The election flagged up loud and clear how some local politicians only knock on doors when they want a vote. I need to get the message out to those who haven’t had it yet that we put out a Focus leaflet every 2 – 3 months detailing what we’ve been up to. I have email, a website and this blog. Mobile and home phone numbers get me – and I’ll try to arrange regular constituency surgeries from now.

The bottom line is that if people don’t tell me they have a problem, it’s hard to fix it.

Friday, 5 June 2009

We won!

No Blog yesterday as we were out from early until late trying to catch every last vote that we could. It certainly paid off!

Thank you to everyone who voted yesterday, the votes have been counted and the results are:

Lib Dems: 1881
Conservatives: 1091
Labour: 323
Greens: 158

Our majority has gone from 200 in November 2008 to 790 today

After a few days off to recover I'll be back out there on Monday sorting out bus services!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Fiddling whilst Rome burns

While Westminster seems hell bent on implosion, I can’t help wondering if they’ve remembered the people on the street that they represent. My post bag is full of issues relating to affordable housing, people worried about services their elderly relatives need to access – dwindling rural bus services, roads, pavements, council tax demands – things that the average person is truly concerned about. Knocking on doors I’ve met a significant number of people who have lost their jobs or think they’re about to.

I’m beyond frustrated with the back and forth verbal fisticuffs at Westminster – particularly as people’s readiness to vote seems to be diminishing on a daily basis as a result of it. Many of our elected parliamentarians seem to be entirely disconnected from the electorate – more worried about saving their own jobs and careers - or hoping to enhance them after a general election.

In the mean time, the local politicians who are actually in touch with the electorate and their concerns plod on, hoping people will turn out tomorrow and put their “X” on the ballot paper.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Calm before the storm

It’s a very eerie “calm before the storm” sort of feeling today. All my leaflets have been delivered. Most of the doors have been knocked on. No sign of any Blues, Greens or Reds out there - or anywhere else ..... very strange! The tellers’ rota is organised and the army of those “knocking up” on the day are ready to roll.

So for now we just keep plodding on, knocking on the last few doors and waiting for the count of the votes – which will take place on Friday. Sons No 1 and 2 are miffed that I haven’t asked for them to have the day off school to attend. But I think once was enough. No 2 is just annoyed as he managed to sleep through November’s count!

But the weather is beautiful and one of my neighbours has just knocked on the door to wish me good luck and give me a very fragrant bunch of sweet peas from her garden. I’ll enjoy the calm because next week I hope to be back at Shire Hall sorting out the bus services through the villages and looking at a raft of social care case work that has just come in.

Monday, 1 June 2009

The home straight

The last week of the election campaign is upon us - Friday the count will be held and we'll see how the votes have been cast.

I'm thankful for blue skies and sunshine - having last canvassed in November this is a lot more pleasant and my woolly jumpers and thermals have staying packed away! My election shoes are very comfortably worn in now.

The family are well into the swing of things second time around - the boys have finally worked out that their contribution is to help with washing up without grumbling! My mother has got things running well on the domestic front and my other half has got to grips with manipulating all the canvass data and deploying us on all the day to the places where we can best remind people to turn out and vote.

A final small reminder: Thursday June 4th - you don't need to have your voting card with you - it's fine to turn up without it.

Lazing on a sunny afternoon

Today that’s exactly what the Whelan household have gone for. I’m never keen at disturbing people with canvassing on a Sunday so we’ve made the most of the good weather and had a quiet family day.

We had an unusual and early start to the day when we saw a pair of deer walking through the streets of Caldecote. Walking boots on, we went for a five mile walk across the fields at 06:00 and I think I can best describe it as being a bit like a secret world that you don’t get to see often. We saw no one until we were almost home an hour later. Well no one human! But the bridleways and fields were populated by the local deer and rabbits and they didn’t seem to mind sharing their early morning peace and quiet with us.

A great way to start a day!

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Last week and counting ....

We're in to the last week of campaigning and although we're all still knocking on doors (and asking people to come out and vote on Thursday) I shall be glad when this particular election is over.

I was lucky enough to win at a by-election in November. Then, it was all hands on deck and, having never been involved in a County Council election, a very exciting time. We were all full of enthusiasm and it paid off as we won what had previously been a Conservative held seat.

This time I, and my County Council colleagues of all party persuasions are finding it very demoralising. For myself, I have been to almost all of my 9 parishes Parish Council meetings over my sixth month term, I’ve responded to constituents emails and delivered on the issues I promised during my last election campaign. And yet I’m still not sure it’s enough to persuade people to turn out and vote on June 4th.

Let the politicians in Westminster underestimate the strength of feeling in the country at their peril. The system has to change –saying sorry and paying the money back is not going to be enough!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Baroness on the beat!

Residents of Cambridge Road in Hardwick probably didn’t realise that the lady with a twinkle in her eye, canvassing them with me last night, was none other than Baroness Ros Scott of Needham Market, Party President of the Lib Dems.

For all Lib Dems it’s a case of mucking in if something needs doing. Just ask my saintly mother who will tell you all about stuffing envelopes to the wee small hours of the morning during an election campaign! At the moment with all the press attention on the expenses MPs are claiming, it’s easy to forget that the vast majority of work at a constituency level is done by a behind the scenes group of dedicated volunteers. They do anything from knocking on doors, putting up poster boards in their gardens, delivering leaflets and calling people on the day of the election to remind them to vote. And trust me; we couldn’t do it without them!

Anyone who has met Ros will know what an extraordinary woman she is – tirelessly hardworking, witty and a gifted orator. She speaks from the heart and is always happy to respond to questions and look at new things. After her stint on the doorstep with me, we held a Q and A session with local people. It was interesting to hear her talk about what life is like in Westminster at the moment and the frustration of the party that the changes we have been calling for, for years now, are suddenly being lighted on by the other parties as the realisation dawns that the system really does have to change now – not at some magical time in the future.

We’ve been advocating these sorts of changes for years. Under the pressure of public disgust with the system they have perpetuated, the other parties are now toying with them. We all remember Dave’s green phase don’t we! And 12 years ago Labour swept to power on a pledge to reform the House of Lords. Well most of the life peers have gone, but we still have religious and non elected peers. Can anyone really trust the two other parties to finally deliver any part of what we’ve consistently been advocating for years now?

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The walls come tumbling down

Back in 1990 I lived in Frankfurt, West Germany, at an extraordinary time in world history – the total collapse of the USSR and dismantlement of the Berlin Wall.

I had a subscription to Time magazine and week on week it would report what they expected to happen in Eastern European countries, but things were happening so fast no one could accurately predict what would happen next. “Trabbi Trummel” moved across western border points at breath taking speed and articles were out of date by the time they hit the news stands.

At the moment life in politics seems to closely mirror these events. Any one of the revelations about MPs expenses is something that would normally have run and run in the papers for weeks. Now there is so much that we are almost immune to the seismic implications.

But we shouldn’t forget that much as the USSR seemed invincible, it eventually fell. Not surprising when you consider that:

  • The leadership were out of touch with the people and world events
  • They had spent the nation’s wealth unwisely on foreign wars
  • The elite had their Dachas and the people paid for their western luxuries

Those who cynically call for a general election are merely opportunists. The problem of our Parliament is fundamental. The solutions are fundamental. And the reforms need to be radical. Not tinkering with a few things such as fixed duration parliaments and publishing expense claims of MPs and well paid public servants.

I smile at the Labour rush to endorse our own Roy Jenkins proposals on the introduction of Alternative Vote Plus system – 10 years after it was suggested – whilst the Conservatives reject it out of hand, deeming it to take away power from the man and woman in the street and hand it to the political elite. Funny how everyone wants change – except when it might affect them. Gorbachev tried to save the political elite by controlling the extent and pace of Glasnost and Perestroika, but as he learnt to his peril the momentum had built up and the system was just too rotten to be saved. All the walls fell.

Come the next election and the demise of the few MPs tossed overboard – and the significant number kept in with a stinging slap administered from their bosses to the fingers that have been in the public till – we need to remember one thing: opening the gates and allowing a new cohort of party
apparachiks in, is not going to be enough to fix what’s wrong.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Ester, Martin and Joanna

We all keep plodding away, knocking on doors and canvassing votes this week – but I’m finding it very disheartening that so many people don’t seem to want to turn out and vote on June 4th. I’ve stood on the doorstep and debated the issue at length and pointed out that as someone will get elected for each seat it’s better to have your say now than complain about it later. Some are swayed – others are not. It’s hard to miss the irony that we have people falling over themselves to stand as politicians in the next general election (and good luck to Esther Rantzen, Martin Bell and Joanna Lumley if they decide to stand), whilst in Burma Aung San Suu Kyi is put on trial, yet again, just as she’s coming to the end of her latest house arrest and about to stand for election.

I’ll confess I almost chocked on my coffee this morning listening to the MP on Radio 4 explaining that they were positively encouraged to maximise their claims to boost their salary. I can't help but have this warped view of some middle aged people sitting in a club, smoking cigars and gently warming a tumbler of amber liquid in the palm of their hands, whilst discussing their claims in a school boy one-upmanship fashion - does a moat trump a garden folly or a swimming pool? But it's sad to think that our hard won democracy is something we now take for granted and no longer value. The suffragettes and others must be turning in their graves right now.

It takes people to stand up and be counted to change things, but in Britain we have a habit of voting with our feet. No mass revolution for us – not even in the days of rotten boroughs and the Enclosure Acts. We do things differently – through the ballot box. All it takes for Evil to prevail in this world is for enough good men to do nothing. Doing nothing can take many forms. It happened in Parliament because many good MPs saw the rotten practises, kept within the rules, and made no embarrassing claims. But they did nothing to change it. Did nothing to make it public. Did nothing to make a difference. The ballot box is both our shield and our sword and I hope we can persuade people to use it on June 4th!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

A man’s word is his honour

Yesterday was the last full Council session before the election. We sadly said goodbye to people from all three parties who are not standing again in the elections on June 4th. There was a definite hint of “last day of school” about the place but we got through all the business and managed to finish by 4:00pm – a first since I was elected.

But the big news of the day had to be what’s happening in Westminster. Although I firmly believe the speaker did the right thing – proceedings last week and this can best be described as unedifying – I hope that this is not the end but truly is the beginning of remedying the state of affairs. I hope party leaders carry through with their proclamations about not letting people stand if they have abused the rules – but I also hope that the Met Commissioner and the DPP do something to hold those who have abused the expense system to account for their actions. Parliament shouldn’t be recommending that MPs pay Capital Gains Tax from now on – Joe Public doesn’t have the right to that sort of concession. I’m sure hard up pensioners would like the choice as to whether or not to pay their Council Tax or buy food.

Rant over – but national politicians will lose what little credibility they have if they don’t carry through with the suggestions they made yesterday. Those of us locally pounding the streets are being lumped in with them and night after night have to explain that we do most of our work voluntarily.

One retiring Councillor yesterday pointed out that if we want to encourage younger councillors – those in their 20s and 30s - then we have to pay them a fair salary. Cambridgeshire has a budget of close to a billion pounds. Effective oversight of the efficient spending of such a budget requires not only competent officials, but competent and effective elected representatives. This will not be achieved if only the retired and the rich can afford to be councillors.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Comfy Shoes

Well it’s definitely election time. My VERY comfy election shoes as they are referred to by the family (functional and practical but hardly the height of fashion) are comfortably broken in and clothing is starting to feel less snug than it has done since Christmas. Crisps are banished in favour of peanut butter on rice cakes to keep me going as I’m not home for regular meals (and yes I agree that they taste like cardboard at times but if you’re intolerant to wheat like me you eventually learn to find them palatable!) Like most people out knocking on doors at the moment I can only add my agreement that canvassing is good for you!

My evenings this week seem to be mostly taken up with Parish Council Meetings and a number of their AGMs. Monday saw me sprint between two of them. Much to their amusement I was in time for both with some careful planning and jiggling of my placement on the agenda.

And as the week goes on people are gradually thawing in their hostility to local politicians. The record of what I’ve achieved over the last 5 – 6 months speaks louder than any printed party political waffle can. Plus I can hold my head up when asked if I’m only around in the villages when I want a vote. My track record of attending County and Parish Council Meetings, sending in reports and following up on constituents calls speaks for itself. And I’m very much looking forward to tea with the over 60s on Friday morning! Those living in sheltered accommodation in our villages are an absolute mine of information and give me most of the best feedback I get in relation to pavements, pot holes and other things that need to be done.

So shoes dusted off again today and back out on the doorstep.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Apathy and abstinence

It’s been a long day today. I’ve had a lot of casework to follow up on and two Parish Annual General Meetings to attend. The day started early, it finishes late and I have this feeling that another 12 hours still wouldn’t see me done. Election time is upon us!!

I spent the afternoon in Grantchester knocking on doors and talking to local residents about the possibility of a monthly mobile Post Office Service now that their regular one has closed, and a bus to take them to a local supermarket.

Normally I love nothing more than being out on the door step talking to people. But today I feel truly deflated by the number of people who are adamant that they are not going to vote on June 4th because they are fed up with the conduct of politicians. Sadly we are all being condemned because of the actions of a number of MPs.

My former history teacher, Mr Rowles, would be apoplectic at such a turn of events. He instilled in to his students that we had a duty to use our vote because of the lengths that people before us had to go to, to ensure universal suffrage. I still remember listening on Radio 4 to people in South Africa, joyful at being given the vote for the first time, some queuing for days to cast their vote.

I too am disgusted at some of the financial claims that have been made, and can only hope that people will turn out and vote on June 4th based on our conduct in representing them at a local level.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Gravy Train

“Knocking” on the doorsteps over this last week people have quite rightly been very vocal about their distaste over sums claimed by MPs – and I have had to defend the position of local Councillors who do not have their noses in the trough.

For the record we get £7610 a year as a Councillor's allowance on which we pay tax and N.I. We can claim £10 a month for use of our home broadband, and we can claim mileage of 40p per mile for meetings that we attend. But not all meetings! If we go to one that we have been asked to attend by officers, or a full council meeting, then we claim. If we are attending meetings with constituents or Parish Council Meetings then we don’t. I haven’t asked the Council for use of a computer and nor do I have a Council Blackberry. I use my own home and mobile phone and don’t charge for calls I make.

Having been in the job for 5 months I’ve claimed approximately £70 for broadband and mileage (I didn't claim anything for December and January as I didn't manage to put my claim in on time). Nothing from John Lewis – and no second home!!

On the plus side those elected on June 4th will have job security for the next 4 years which is something very few people are lucky enough to have at the moment.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Batteries recharged!

My two weeks of holiday were superb. Two weeks of good food and local wine, no TV, no internet access and no telephone were just what the Doctor ordered before another round of electioneering. That, and considerably more sleep than I usually manage to have at home. We stayed in a small village with just 7 houses so needless to say there was no light or noise pollution at night – perfect for light sleepers.

I’m fairly enthusiastic at the best of times but at the moment I am more energetic than usual. I am however board gamed out for the next few weeks! Whilst I will happily play Scrabble or Rummikub every day – it may be some time before I agree to play Monopoly and Cluedo with the family again. Monopoly brings out the worst in some of my nearest and dearest!

I’m holding Constituency Surgeries today and catching up on the last of my Inbox “to do” list. Tomorrow I hope to spend a few hours in the garden tidying up the growth spurt that happened whilst we were away. Amazing how fast weeds grow at this time of year.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

A funny sort of week

It’s been a funny sort of week - and my blog has suffered a bit over the last few days as I picked up the stomach bug doing the rounds in our villages and managed to get 2 days enforced rest and relaxation - whether I wanted it or not! My entries will be sporadic over the next 2 weeks as I'm trying to take time off to spend with the family before I subject them to another round of electioneering. My other half is looking forward to all the exercise and fresh air he's about to enjoy out delivering leaflets!

My father turned 70 at the weekend and my Grandmother (who is fitter than most people 20 years her junior) will turn 94 at the end of the month. My mother will disown me if I publish her age!

Having such fit and healthy relatives has been something I've always taken for granted. But the work I've been doing with the relatives of people attending the Day Care Centre at Home Meadow in Toft over the last few weeks has made me realise just how lucky we are in the gene stakes in the Whelan family.

I'm thrilled that at the last minute there has been a change of heart and the Day Care Centre will now remain open for another 12 - 18 months. Of all the things I've been able to achieve since I was elected this is the one that means the most. I hope that the momentum of interest in this issue wont fade and that the working group who fought to keep it open will be able to look at helping others in coming months.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Multi-tasking and toffee

Having 2 weeks off with the family over Easter will be fantastic – but it’s proving interesting trying to fit everything in before I go.

So far this morning I’ve bundled up 300 leaflets to drop off to a kind soul for delivering, replied to some emails from relatives concerned at the impending closure at Home Meadow Day Care Facility in Toft, drawn up a recap of my meeting with Social Services last Friday, chased up a Road safety Survey for a street layout in Hardwick – oh and got 2 boys off to school (on time and without argument!), and sorted out the dishwasher and washing machine in between doing a few other things – but I did forget to buy my son a compass – so as far as he’s concerned I can’t multi task for toffee

Still it’s only 8:30 and I have three more meetings after 2:00 this afternoon (I'll be at Home Meadow with relatives for their meeting at 2:00 pm and 6:30pm) so I may just manage to squeeze it in and get out of his bad books!

Sunday, 29 March 2009

That EUREKA feeling!

I don’t think I shall ever match the prolific blogging capacity of the County’s Chief Executive, Mark Lloyd, but a second blog entry today as I am bursting with enthusiasm having finally mastered the art of the U turn on a motor bike.

It turns out that all that was needed was a slightly smaller bike – now that I’m not on tiptoe, and the centre of balance is better, I feel in control of the bike rather than it of me! All suddenly becomes clear as to why I’m so confident riding the bike and why I turned into a gibbering wreck as soon as we pull in to a side road and I know it’s time for the dreaded U turn.

A much more rested night’s sleep tonight I predict!

A roaring success

It’s a beautiful day today – one of my favourite times of year because I love seeing all the local villages in bloom with lots of daffodils. The hedgerows as you pass through Toft are just spectacular. Well worth a visit if you haven’t seen them.

Last night was a late night as I hosted an evening for those new folks who are standing to be a County Councillor in the elections on June 4th. In keeping with others turning their lights off for an hour to highlight how we waste energy; we spent a twinkling evening by candlelight. I’m also grateful that I remembered to change the clocks last night so I woke up in time to witness Jenson Button’s spectacular win in the Australian Grand Prix – never have I seen three grown men smile quite as much as Jenson, Reubens and Ross – although Jenson’s father came a very close second!

My bike test is coming up soon, so today I’m out for a special session to help conquer my Achilles heel – U turns. It’s becoming a family game to talk me through the steps - mind over matter and it should all come good.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Wait for a problem and three come at once - NOT like buses!

My phone and email continue to go crazy today. I spent the morning at Shire Hall talking to an officer about the 09:00 service on the No. 18 bus from Toft which will disappear after 12th April. There are a lot of angry people who are going to be seriously affected when / if this service goes.

One option I’ve asked the Council to explore is funding a 09:00 service themselves – if a minimum number of passengers use the service it would be self supporting. I’m waiting to hear what that magic number is and then I can canvass Toft in the coming days to see if we can go down that route. Other alternatives I’ve asked to be looked at are to drop a service in the afternoon in favour of the 09:00 run. I meet with our local expert on buses tomorrow morning to get a history of what's been going on over the years.

Caldecote bus passengers on the other hand would love to have the above problem - they have nothing other than the 07:30 No. 2 service so I’m continuing to plug away on their behalf and Saturday will see me knocking on more doors with my bus usage survey.

But my main activity today has been about the closure of Toft Day Care Centre at Home Meadow. The stories I’m getting from carers about the effect this closure will have on their lives reminds me exactly why we are elected – to make sure everyone gets represented .

There are lots of discussions (many of them heated) going on in the background at this stage to see what we do – and I will be updating as soon as I have anything concrete to report.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

What ever happened to care for the elderly?

It’s a funny old life being a Councillor – a bit of a rollercoaster ride at times. Some days you get to the end of and think of what you’ve accomplished and other days you look at how long it is going to take for money to be available for a particular project or for someone to reply to you and frustration takes over.

I can’t believe we’re only at Tuesday, so far this week, because my phone and email have not stopped since Sunday with distraught relatives phoning to ask what I know/knew about the closure of the day centre in Toft. The short answer on Sunday was nothing – the answer today is much longer!

Having spent yesterday and today talking to relatives and putting them in touch with each other for support, I got a group of about 20 together outside the home (on the public footpath) for a photograph and tomorrow we hit the papers to make sure this doesn’t get brushed under the carpet. I’ve spoken about it on Antonia Brickell’s programme on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire this afternoon, and I hope that the more noise we make, the more likely someone is to hear what we are saying and do something! This is the third day centre in a year that one attendee has seen close, and another relative told me of her desperation – the only time she can do anything such as shopping is during the time her mother spends at the day centre. No local Councillors were informed, no relatives / attendees have been officially informed – not even the local doctors have been informed. So much for the “consultation” promised!

Yet again it seems that our most vulnerable citizens draw the short straw.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Mother's Day

Mother’s Day – the hardest part has been pretending to be asleep whilst my younger son has been desperate to wake me up with cards since 06:30 – but was warned by his grandmother that he had to wait for his elder brother to wake up – I gave in at 09:00 – my mother has obviously forgotten how long the average teenager can sleep – and that fact that he would need to go back to bed for a nap after the trauma of an "early morning" breakfast!

I started to jot down some thoughts for my blog this morning – just as the news flashed up that Jade Goody had died overnight. Like many parents I had a feeling that she would hang on in there and try and make it to Mother’s Day. Whether you loved or loathed her, you can’t help but feel for her mother who has lost her only daughter and for those two young boys who have woken up to be told the worst possible news on Mother’s Day.

My thoughts are certainly with them today and I gave my two boys a tighter than usual hug this morning.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

The Bike, The Baroness and the Bountiful Ice Cream

Not a Sunday tabloid headline, but an enjoyable day in the Whelan household!

Friday was a memorable day for two reasons. As I've previously confessed, I'm a closet biker but have not passed my test despite owning a Virago 750 cc for an embarrasingly long time. It sits in my other half's garage waiting for me to bring it back to it's rightful home 12 miles away!

Well, with the sun shining and all the spring flowers in bloom I have dusted off my visor and got back on the road - Friday seeing me out doing my first Direct Access session and loving every minute of the open road on a 500cc bike; albeit with "mirrors , signal, life saver" being repeated in my ear piece at regular intervals by an Instructor. Today sees me shattered and stiff from all the manoeuvring and swearing to get fit again!! Test soon - date remains a state secret in case I put my foot down whilst doing the dreaded U Turn on a bike!

The second memorable thing of Friday was going to a talk by Baroness Ros Scott (our new Party President) and hearing about how she got in to politics. We share a surprisingly similar path into politics at the beginning (not least of which is both repaying a student loan at an age when most people are paying out for one for their children). It was an inspiring evening and nice to know that I'm not alone in my desire to see more women enter politics once they realise that all you need is to be passionate about your E/environment.

Son No.1 is chuffed to have met a real life Baroness who he was surprised (and delighted) to find was "normal" and easy to talk to. He is also starting to take a real interest in what I am doing but has the begruding respect of a teenager that prevents him from saying much! Son No. 2 enjoyed his evening because of the diner that followed Ros's speach. There were less takers for ice cream than the main course and by smiling VERY sweetly he got 4 bowls and could probably give most Politicians a run for their money in the endearing stakes! Both continue to be ardent Lib Dem Supporters - albeit for very different reasons!

Pits and Pavements

Part Two of what I’ve been up to in a nutshell …..

A great Triumph! The Highways Department, having been out to walk the village with the Parish Clerk and myself, have agreed that the High Street is in a truly terrible state – so they are putting in a capital bid for the complete resurfacing of the pavements and sorting out the sorry state of dropped curbs. It has been neglected for many years now so I feel very pleased to see it finally getting some TLC.

In addition I’m working closely with Robin Paige and others to see if we can prevent the demolition of Barton Bridge – one of only 4 such bridges left in the County.

I’ve amassed a lot of data from all the letters, phone calls and emails I’ve had about the Broadband Problems. These have now been set out officially in a letter to BT and hopefully we’ll have a response soon.

I’m working hard to find a solution to the closure of the Post Office for those residents who are not able to access facilities elsewhere and the saga of the Interactive Speed Sign may be nearing a successful completion. I don’t want to tempt fate but hope to have a positive update on this VERY soon.

Last, but by no means least is:
where I’m keeping a keen eye on proposals for Clay extraction “borrow pits” – required for the A14 improvements. I’ve been to several meetings about this both at a Parish Council and County level and will be following and reporting back on developments as they unfold.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Eyes Down ......

It feels like a bingo roll call with an “eyes down and away we go” but here is what I have been up to in the Ward since elected

Caldecote and Childerley
I’ve visited and surveyed residents about the village’s needs for the re-introduction of the No 2 bus Service, and I'm lobbying for the removal of the infamous speed thumps – not to remove traffic calming from the village – but to enable the Parish Council to put in effective speed calming measures that slow down traffic whilst minimising damage to cars.

I’m working closely with the Parish Council to sort out the dangerous traffic situation in Cambridge Road and the creation of a cycle path from Hardwick to Toft (to join up with the Toft to Comberton cycle path. In addition, I’ve organised the Highways Department to come and paint some white lines denoting the need to give way between The Pastures and Grace Crescent.

I’m involved with safer routes to school, in particular looking at CVC, and have been active with local residents who were opposed to planned new houses being built off Swaynes Lane.

As for Hardwick, I’m actively pushing for a Hardwick to Toft Cycle path

I’ve met with County Officials about the 18 bus service and requested it be run a few minutes earlier in the morning to enable sixth students to arrive at school on time.

And for all villages I’ve been reporting pot holes in the road, shoddy and dangerous pavements and, in the recent cold snaps, roads that required gritting, and meeting to find out about a new Sure Start Children's Centre planned for our ward and likely to be located in Caldecote.

Tomorrow – Barton, Coton, Grantchester and Madingley!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Council Meetings

So – what else do I do?

County Meetings
County Councillors have a full day Council meeting once every 6 weeks at Shire Hall. A few days before that we also have a day where County Officers will brief us in the morning of any new things coming up (such as the budget last month, and information of Autism Services this month) and then an afternoon of Policy Planning within our own political groups. We are all VERY thankful for the tea and coffee provided!

All Councillors also sit on a committee and I sit on the Health, Adult and Community Services Scrutiny Committee. We hold officers to account for decisions made and as a result I have probably attended 5 additional meetings following on from the decision to close Wessex Place. I’ve met relatives of those residents affected by the closure, been to meet with staff at Wessex Place, talked to the County Officials involved and I’ve been to visit two of the proposed alternative accommodation sites.

Emails and phone Calls
People email and call all the time and again this is a great source of information because much as my children think I am all seeing and hearing (which in their case I am!) in reality I can not be in 10 places at once. But as the residents of Green End and Branch Road, Comberton, know, if you need something such as a road gritted then give me a call and I may be able to persuade Highways to get it done even though it’s not on the list. Mind you, it’s a bit scary when you haven’t logged on for 2 days and come back to an avalanche of emails. At least it prevents paper being used! I have a mobile phone and a laptop but I’ve drawn the line at being instantly contactable 24 hours a day so I’m resisting the urge to upgrade my mobile phone to one that will give me email too.

Tomorrow – the “to do” and “done” lists!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Local meetings

Yesterday I said I’d blog what I’ve been up to for the three months since I’ve been elected and here is a quick overview.

Parish Council Meetings.
Every Month I try to get to the Parish Council meetings in Caldecote, Toft, Barton, Coton, Comberton, Grantchester and Hardwick, and once every two months the bi-monthly meetings in Madingley and Kingston. I give a report at those meetings about any issues affecting the villages and follow up on any issues the Councils have raised.

Raising issues for me with your Parish Council does get a reaction and results, although some issues can be resolved quicker then others. Cambridge Road in Hardwick and the speed thumps in Caldecote will take a bit longer to get resolved, but they have been an issue for years and can not be fixed over night given the costs involved. In contrast the issue of mobility scooter users not being able to access Barton shops was raised at Barton PC last month – a week later I was out in the morning with the Highways Department looking at the High Street and they are going to put in a bid for a grant to resurface the whole of the High Street, sort out the position and condition of dropped curbs and move about staggered barriers currently preventing passage by wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

Throw in a Governor’s Meeting at Caldecote Primary School every 4 – 6 weeks and a Neighbourhood Police Panel Meeting every 3 months and that just about covers the village meetings. That said I have an extra one today as I'll be going to the Tuesday Club in Caldecote to talk to local residents about how we get back a No. 2 bus service for the village.

Tomorrow – Council Meetings and what I’ve managed to get done as a result of attending all these meetings!

Monday, 9 March 2009

09 March 09

I am absolutely shattered today and not sure if it is more my poor voice that is tired from talking to people all weekend, or my wrist which has just recovered from RSI and spent 45 minutes clapping Nick Clegg’s fantastic speech. I crawled in to bed at 9pm last night and slept the soundest I have in a long time!

My highlight of the weekend, other than Nick’s closing speech? Seeing Vince Cable speak in person on both the economy and, rather surprisingly, education! He is a wonderfully informed man and it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is that makes him stand out so much. He is a very quiet and understated man, but has that rare attribute that cannot be taught; presence.

So with my first conference over I’ve cracked my election flat shoes out of the wardrobe and I’m out on the pavements again.

Starting tomorrow I’m going to start blogging what I’ve achieved in the three months since I was elected, and what I plan to be doing over the next three until the election on June 4th. Someone asked me at the weekend why I hadn’t got the parking in Cambridge Road, Hardwick, sorted yet. The short answer is that the problem has existed for over 20 years and I have not been able to get it changed in two months – Rome wasn’t built in a day as they say. But it is in hand and on a planned list of work to be done. The proviso, as always, is budget permitting.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Education, Education, Education.

When Labour were elected in May 1997 I was pregnant and suffering incredible insomnia and heartburn. I vividly remember sitting up and watching the whole thing and the absolute decimation of many sitting Conservative MPs. Michael Portillo’s speech was one of many that stuck out. Many people throughout the country were ready for a clean broom to sweep away their ills and sort things out – in particular the education system.

Today the cause of that insomnia (and, as most parents will understand, the cause of many sleepless nights since!!) was given a place at Secondary School. I’m very lucky as we got our first choice: Comberton Village College. But how let down parents must feel when none of their choices were accepted and some are going through the lottery process to get a place.

I’ve always said to my sons that other than an embarrassing surfeit of love (and see previous blogs for my views on public affection to keep them in check in a supermarket!) the best start in life I can give them is a decent education.

Disappointed, Disappointed, Disappointed would probably seem more apt for many parents today!

Monday, 2 March 2009

02 March 2009

Harrogate here I come!!
I’m off to Harrogate at the weekend and feel really excited. Gentle slap on the wrist from my agent for not being out there knocking on doors and looking at pavements – but Friday to Sunday I shall be soaking up the atmosphere at my first party conference. The added bonus is that Harrogate is such a beautiful town so I’m hoping to have a bit of time to look around.

Betty’s Tea Room has been a recommendation from everyone I’ve mentioned my trip to. Sadly, being intolerant to wheat I’m not sure I’ll get the full benefit that all my colleagues will!

1st March 2009

Having never got into the habit of keeping a personal diary over the years – although a great fan of the work / schedule sort – I have to confess to finding it hard to get into the routine of keeping my blog updated on a daily basis. I’ve now got a note in my diary to do it each evening!

Sunday’s, when I tend to have a bit of a catch up in the office, are great. I have time to think and clear my mind and then jot down some ideas.

My diary and to do list are full at the moment. One of the great things about winning a by-election is that only one election is taking place – not every single 69 seats across the County – so there is lots of help available.

Now I sit in a strange no man’s land. There is another election in 3 months time and very soon I’ll have cracked my comfy shoes out of the cupboard. But at the same time I’m steadily working my way through a long, long list of case work as little was done in the Hardwick ward in the last 3.5 years. And – time permitting – I want to be out knocking on doors. It's a great way to keep updating my list of pavements that need to be repaired!

So time management is the name of the game these days!

Monday, 23 February 2009

23rd Feb 09

I drove into the centre of Cambridge today to have a meeting with a colleague and as I walked along The Backs I had one of those moments where it strikes you just how beautiful Cambridge is.

My family and I have lived here for the last 3.5 years and absolutely love it – but there is the odd moment when you are suddenly reminded just how lucky you are to live in such a beautiful city. All the crocuses are in bud and by Trinity College there is a purple carpet of them. Truly wonderful and worth taking a few minutes to appreciate.

22nd Feb 09

We all know that our pavements are in a sorry state and I’m walking most of the streets in the Hardwick Ward at the moment delivering our latest edition of Focus whilst compiling a list for the Highways Department so that we don’t get forgotten again when the next round of repair work is done.

But spare a thought for those less steady on their feet and those who use mobility scooters. There are plenty of dropped curbs around but not always at the best place to cross and the sorry state of some pavements – especially in the High Street in Barton - make it very difficult for some people to get to their local shops on their own.

Between now and the end of March I’m trying to flag up as many pavement problems as possible, so if you do notice one please let me know at fiona.whelan@cambridgeshire.gov.uk

19th Feb 09

U Turns!

I need to master these – but of the 2 wheeled variety not the political sort.

Now that the weather is better I’ve plucked up courage and sorted out my bike lessons and test – date a closely guarded secret having already failed on U Turns (well throttle control too!)

The weather is certainly more conducive – but the pot holed state of the roads means that I will be doing my practice runs in daylight and not risking life and limb on our sorry Cambridge Roads until pot holes are filled in.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

9th Feb 09

Sometimes you just have stop for a few hours and take stock of things.

Today will be very long but it’s a day for running through all my paperwork and double checking that my to do list hasn’t missed anything I’ve been contacted about and that my diary is up to date . I also hope to trawl through my ever expanding Inbox and deal with the emails that are just a quick read before deleting and action those that really require it.

And – time willing - I also hope to update my website which others have kindly been keeping ticking over whilst I hit the ground running as a new County Councillor.

Along with lots of families across the country I’m bracing myself for half term next week and mentally sticking a lock on the office door to stop things being moved about or borrowed! As I have sons, I find threatening to give them very public displays of affection normally does the trick. They are the best behaved individuals you could ever find on a shopping trip to a supermarket!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

8th Feb 09

I.T. when it works is a truly wonderful thing – my sons thinks I’m a dinosaur when I tell them that I was the bees knees in my office back in the 1980s with an 80 Mb hard drive.

When it works, I can email friends and relatives all over the world. My ex-husband and I have dramatically reduced our phone bills now that he and the boys use Skype and a webcam to keep in touch between the UK and USA. Even my ever patient other half (who doesn’t live with us and travels a lot) frequently helps out with maths homework over Instant Messaging.

Because I, and most of my neighbours, use a wireless connection there is the odd moment at weekends when things are a bit up and down but most of the time it’s fine.

But it’s not like that everywhere locally – particularly in Coton – and it really staggers me that they are so close to Cambridge and yet have such a poor broadband connection.

I’m looking into this as the County Councillor and hope to have an update soon. But until then I can only imagine the frustration of trying to work from home with a service that just drops out with no warning and may not be back until the next day.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

5th Feb 09

With lots of County Schools closed this morning my children got an unexpected tour of Shire Hall whilst I attended a Scrutiny Committee Meeting – I was determined that no amount of snow would stop me getting there to discuss the proposed closure of Wessex Place. At least it answered the question of “So Mum, what did you do today?” which one of them asks me every day when he gets back from school.

My usual 15 minute journey took about 90 minutes, not least of which was due to the lorry stuck on Madingley Hill which brought the area to a gridlocked standstill.

What struck me most about my drive in, was the plight of cyclists. Despite the fact that Cambridge was recently accredited as a Cycle Demonstration City, our cyclists get a raw deal from the County Council administration.

Cycle paths are gritted if all the following are ticked on a checklist:

· surface temperatures are unlikely to rise above freezing point for the period;
· ice is forecast and conditions continue until after midday on any individual day;
· there is enough salt to grit roadways.

So cyclists have to struggle in on untreated cycle surfaces and hope a) they don’t have an accident, b) the checklist conditions will be met sooner rather than later.

I’ve yet to be convinced that this administration really does want to encourage motorists away from their cars and to encourage cycle use!

All I can say is that the two people I saw cycling through the snow of Madingley Village this morning are hardy and brave souls. Motorists showed them no consideration and a few managed to drive so close to them that they were sprayed in Slush. Shameful!

Monday, 2 February 2009

2nd Feb 09

Well – it was indeed snowy today – and as I span 180 degrees I did at least remember the advice to take my foot of the brake and steer into it. Luckily I was doing 5 mph at the time but I wont be back out there again this evening. Car and driver intact!

My day started early with son No.2 desperate to listen to the Radio and see if his school was closed. I've seen very little of him since he got the “good” news that it was closed.

It’s been a quiet day really. Focus was finished yesterday and should be back from the Printer’s by the weekend. My “brave” forage out was for a few more photos to complete it.

My only regret is that I didn’t build a snowman in the garden with my sons – they spent the day with friends having a great time in a snowy field. If the Radio tells us that schools are closed again tomorrow I think we’ll be out there early building one.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

1st Feb 09

I’ve spent the afternoon tucked up inside, in the warmth, typing up articles for a FOCUS due out this week. I seem to be becoming a “Southern Softie” as my Scottish other half puts it. My days of living in Holland and “enjoying” temperatures of -11 seem to be long gone – but not the memory of living in an old, unconverted, farmhouse with no central heating!

The other members of the household are just keeping their fingers crossed that there will be enough snow falling to keep the schools closed tomorrow. If only all of life’s issues could be solved so simply!

31st Jan 09

Phew – tax return in by the skin of my teeth – along with a lot of other people! I’ve promised myself to get it done in April this year but have just been reminded I said that last year as well. Oh well - it's something to work towards.

It has been very cold today and I'm not sure whether or not to be thrilled or upset about being called a hoodie in my quest to keep warm with layers. I refuse to accept that I have to give up wearing jeans and a sweatshirt at the weekends just because I'm over 40 – After all, I do wear a suit Monday to Friday.

Which has made me think about Michelle Obama. I've not been particularly impressed with all the press coverage this week focusing on Michelle Obama's wardrobe. Neck on the block time I think whoever advised her about the dress and glove combination on inauguration day got it wrong – but that’s just my personal opinion and not worthy of column inches. Why is she defined by what she wears?

She is a successful lawyer whose husband worked as her office intern twenty years ago. Anyone remember Tony and Cherie Blair and see a resemblance? Cherie's wardrobe might not be to everyone's taste at all times - but that seems to get more comment in some quarters than her successful career as a QC.

Friday, 30 January 2009

30th Jan 09

My Wednesday entry about 14 days advance notice to hold us to account at full Council Meetings has provoked some replies about the length of the notice required.

And my apologies - I got it slightly wrong. Whilst it's 14 days for Councillors to put forward written questions to a full Council meeting, the public only have to give 2 days notice. Apologies for any confusion caused!

Well today's grumble is that there is snow forecast over the weekend. Children in the villages will be ecstatic if the schools are closed on Monday - my two will be walking with fingers and toes crossed all weekend - but for myself it's a blow to my decision to dust the bike off in the garage and get back out there and practice U turns (of a motoring rather than political nature) before I take my bike test again.

I have owned my bike for an embarrassing length of time and have promised my nearest and dearest to either finally take my test or sell it this year.

I may have to wait another few weeks ……….

Jan 29th 09

At a time when life is very challenging for so many people, it was really heartening to stop for a few minutes during the News bulletins this evening and look at what can only be described as a true celebration of a life.

Bill Stone, one of the last veterans of the First World War, was buried today in a ceremony that was a celebration of a life lived to the full. What has always struck me whenever I’ve seen him interviewed was the beaming smile on his face. He just exuded an infectious happiness.

I was truly struck by the dignity of Bill and his two colleagues at the cenotaph in November when they laid wreaths for their fallen comrades. The wonderful Remembrance Day refrain of “they gave their tomorrows that we might have our today” begs the question – have we made best use of the gift we were given?

I don’t have a glib answer but it is my thought for the day.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Jan 28th 09

It’s been one of those hectic days where it’s only now when it’s finally quiet I can find a few minutes to put thoughts to paper and muse over the things that I’ve done today. I’ve never been one to keep a diary in the past but there’s something strangely cathartic about bashing out my thoughts in a Blog.

I spent the morning catching up on emails, the afternoon looking at the proposed closure of Wessex Place and the evening in Comberton at what can best be described as a lively discussion over the two proposed sites for affordable housing.

But what has really made me think was an email from one of my constituents unhappy at the recently announced Council Tax rises. I don’t have a glib answer and I’m putting it out there just as food for thought for my political colleagues of all persuasions and parties.

This person wrote to both my Conservative opponent and I, prior to the by-election in November, about our thoughts on proposed Council Tax rises. Now that the Council have announced their Council Tax rises and the Lib Dem Group have made our own recommendations, I’ve been back in contact with this person to give them an update.

Their reply: “If I write to my Liberal Democrat councillor, I am told that it is the fault of the Conservative majority, and she can do nothing about it. If I write to the Conservative Council, I am told it is the fault of Labour government for not providing sufficient central funding, and they can do nothing about it. If I write to my Conservative MP, it takes three months to get a similar response………….. In short, everyone points to everyone else, and I am left feeling disillusioned with politics and politicians, not to mention considerably poorer as a result! If there were any way that I could effectively make my views count, I would leap on it like a shot.”

Well there is!

When you find that going through the usual channels doesn’t work – and sadly sometimes it doesn’t – all I can do is urge you to use your right to turn up and put us on the spot at full Council Meetings. You need to give 14 days notice prior to a meeting, but you elect us and you have the right to hold us accountable!

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Jan 27th 09

It was a chilly early morning start that saw Cllr Stewart and I out in The Pastures in Hardwick at 08:00 this morning pressing the Highways Department for something to be done about the treacherous junctions and lack of designated parking spaces. Hopefully we’ll have something concrete to let you know about soon in the form of a safety survey .

Tonight is my last Parish Council meeting of the month (Hardwick) and it’s intriguing to see the very different approaches taken by all of the Councils in the way they run their meetings. Some are quite short – some not so! – but all are one of the best ways of feeding back to me where I need to be following things up for local constituents. Many people have phoned me with issues that they’d like me to raise and almost to a person have apologised for disturbing me. I simply can’t stress enough that I need local people to let me know how I can help them to be able to get things moving. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you need help.

From a Shire Hall point of view I’ve spent the afternoon at a Scrutiny Committee looking at the impact of the A14 improvements and how it will affect local villages. In particular the proposed Clay Borrow Pit at Junction 14 of the A14, which I will report back on to the folks of Madingley next week.

It’s a quiet time to sit in Shire Hall as everyone leaves after the meeting and a good opportunity to quietly catch up on some paperwork. I’ll be out pounding the streets of Caldecote on Thursday morning doing a survey of local residents about an improved bus service and also asking them to sign a petition to help speed up removal of the speed bumps (not quite what they are referred to locally!). After the election I was shattered and super fit and have to admit that like almost everyone else post Christmas the exercise and fresh air will be very welcome!

Monday, 26 January 2009

Back to the Blog !

I’m finally back to my blog after a few weeks during which the residents of the Whelan household went down like skittles with bug after bug. We didn’t quite have to resort to painting a white cross on the front door but it felt like it at times!

The first two months of being a Councillor have flown by and I still pinch myself for what a fantastic opportunity I have been given. My enthusiasm for the job grows day by day. The most often asked question is “what do you do?” and I recently spent a morning with Year 7s at Comberton Village College telling them all about Councillor’s work during their PD day when they set up a fictional Parish Council. Quite a few were interested in the job but once they found out how much we earn that number quickly dropped!

What I “do” is just about anything I get a phone call or email about. Sunday saw me out in raincoat and wellies looking at the poor access to a field in Comberton where new houses are being proposed. Saturday saw me hosting a thank you party for all those who helped during my election campaign (my mother’s recipe for Irish Soda bread is on it’s way to all those who asked for it). Amongst other things (and trust me this is not an exhaustive list) I’ve been to 8 Parish Council Meetings, a meeting about the new Comberton Education Trust, 2 meetings in relation to the proposed closure of Wessex Place and a Scrutiny committee (all Councillors sit on at least one committee and I sit on the Health, Community and Adult Services Scrutiny Committee). I’ve been looking at broadband access in Coton, recycling of plastic wrappings (more of that to come), and on the border of Haslingfield and Barton I’m involved in proposed changes to the Railway Bridge. I've helped a Barton resident get benefits and access to household support and in Caldecote I'm working hard to get an additional daily bus through the village at a time when residents can use it. In Hardwick I'm plugging away with the Parish Council, District Councillor Jim Stewart and Andrew Lansley MP to get an improvement to the traffic chaos in Cambridge Road. And that’s just this month - which isn’t yet over. Oh and the small matter of being in the paper and on the radio over gritting of roads and cycle paths locally.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been contacted by lots of local residents throughout the 10 villages, and all I can say is please keep those calls coming. I need you to tell me about issues you so that I can help.