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!