A month ago, yes only a month, I was elected as the member for Grange and Kingsway, and what a month it has been. What with training, finding my feet, meeting people, getting out and about in the community, finding out more about my responsibilities, shuffling busy calendars, meeting officers, meeting residents, and keeping the day job going, it has been pretty full on. But I’m hoping this is just the start, once things start to settle down, then we can go further and some semblance of routing will set in. But I thought that a monthly roundup of highlights may be useful for people (not least of all, my wife, so she knows what I’m doing).
The day after the election was a trip into Shire Hall to get paperwork, photos, IT passes, and meeting with the Chief Exec to sign the Oath of Office. I think we all must have looked a bit glazed and rabbit in the headlights because the staff were brilliant in making sure we had all we needed. Also I was really pleased to see the flexibility in the IT provision. If I needed a Laptop or Phone, then they were made available, but if I already had my own IT equipment then the systems are flexible enough to let me use my own equipment without impinging on security or privacy with remote log ins and the use of Apps for smart phones and tablets. For me this was brilliant, as I don’t need a second phone or another laptop, so everyone was happy. With my iPad and the app from Mod.Gov to provide electronic agendas and minutes I should be able to go completely “E”. However, while I love my gadgets etc, I still prefer to make my meeting noted on paper (I use mind-mapping) so I still can’t claim to be completely paper efficient yet.
The Saturday after the election, was the first Labour Group Meeting where we sat down and took stock of where we were. With a number of new Councillors on board it was quickly suggested that we would benefit hugely from keeping the same leadership within the group, as the most important thing was to look at the Council itself and how that will work. We established that we were going to be an effective opposition rather than form any Rainbow Coalition. This was for a number of reasons, but mainly because we feel that we have a responsibility to those who elected us and rather than posture around for a “power play”, we wold be more effective in providing robust opposition.
After that meeting, there was the plunge into training, both for the general “how to be a councillor” to knowing who to go to for what. I quickly got the impression that the was Shire Hall is mapped out is a bit of a test as many of the corridors look the same, and a distinct lack of signposts. But every time I look even vaguely lost, someone has been keen to point me in the right direction, so no real problems so far (like walking into the wrong meeting or office).
The First Full Council was certainly interesting, what with seeing how it all worked, and the viewpoint from being actually in the chamber, rather than just observing it. But it is just a workplace and after voting in the Chair and Vice Chair, it was down to business of the Leader and Chairs of committee and committee members. Mark Hawthorne was re-elected unopposed, in reality while not having a majority, he was still the leader of the largest group. An interesting perspective was the fact that the Lib Dems changed their leader on the Friday before and this became apparent in the Committee chairs, as they had obviously been talking in amongst themselves (or to the press) but not to the other group leaders. My more detailed review of this meeting is here.
One of my wider issues, and one that got me into politics int he first place is Home education and being on the Council of the Authority who has remit of looking after home educators is a bit of a plus. I had a chat with the Head of the Home Ed Team and the Director of Education. Gloucestershire has always had a good reputation with us and I’m keen to see that progress and for them to make the most of whatever monies are still around. I think having a councillor who is also from an HE family will also provide useful insights.
Some of the fallout of how the minority administration will work is the idea of Portfolio Shadows, so each cabinet member has briefings with Shadow representatives of Labour and Lib Dems. I am the shadow for Fire, Planning and Infrastructure. The Cabinet Member is Will Windsor-Clive and the remit is quite wide-ranging. Whilst still finding my way a bit, I have already met with Fire Chief, Jon Hall and have the list of dates of Shadow Briefs. It think this role will grow as it is a bit new to us all, but in the main, my role will be to be our spokesperson on these issues.
I attended Quedgeley Annual Parish Assembly, both in my role as a Parish Councillor, but also in my role as County Councillor. While it would have been great if more people turned up, it was an opportunity to get out my new “display board” which I am putting together for any event which I attend in this capacity. It’s not a bad start, but a lot of it needs redone do be bigger and more attractive. There is more on the APA here. I have also attended the AGM of the 3 Bridges Partnership which covers Grange, as well as Podsmead and Tuffley. It was interesting to see the comparative attendance between that, the Quedgeley APA and the Kingsway Public Meetings. I hope we share some ideas about how to make these sorts of events more appealing to the general public.
There have been a number of issues that I have been looking at, including the proposed bus route through Copeland Park and Kingsway. Whilst in theory the bus routes are much-needed, the big problem is the impact on residents parking. This is a known problem for Kingsway residents but for Copeland Park there is a number of people who bought properties on the understanding they could park on the road, so this new development is going to be a pain for them. I think there is going to be a lot of work on this one. There is also the deep issue of the Potholes on both Bodiam Avenue and opposite the Pike and Musket. Having discussed this with Highways, it is looking likely that Bodiam Avenue is going to be resurfaced this year, but still awaiting final confirmation. I have now had a lot of information on potholes and have much more of an appreciation about why we are we are where we are. It is also my belief that this new ward structure should serve us well if we get the rumored £10k or £20k highways spending money. As Kingsway is full of new roads, then the majority of that money will go into the Grange Infrastructure, though some of it may be directed into speeding deterrents! There is also some issues of ASB that involve County Council items, namely Bus Stops which have already been looked into by the Police and the Grange City Councillor, Chris Chatterton. WE are now looking to see if there are more effective long-term solutions that can be reached! Watch this space.
Kingsway Big Lunch was a great event, having seen it go from strength to strength in the past few years, it was brill to see the new committee took it one step further and managed to get some amazing weather for it. I was a bit nervous when I saw stocks being built, and it turns out I was quite right to be as a call came over the PA for ‘Councillor Barry Kirby’. I was then put into the stocks and sponges with ice-cold water were duly thrown, some with more force than others! I thought the election had been tough.
I am also now a member of the Appeals Committee and Panel. This mainly looks at the appeals made my parents when their application for help with transport funding to get their children to school has been unsuccessful. We had our first meeting and training, now I’m waiting to sit on my first appeal panel itself, so we will see how that goes.
One of my drivers for this year is improving and increasing resident feedback within my division. To that end I have started online surgeries using Skype (Every Thursday, 1930h) and all a resident needs is a Skype account and to add cllrbkirby to be able to call and discuss their ideas and issues. I am also making use of social media, by encouraging the use of the hashtag on twitter of #ourGrangeandKingsway. It will take time to grow, but I think using these in addition to the more traditional routes is a good idea. For the more traditional routes, I want to hold monthly surgeries in both the Kingsway and Grange sides. These are still in planning phases, but the Kingsway one will be a drop in surgery at Coco coffee shop on the last Wednesday of the month and Grange will probably be in Skillzone, but that is still TBC so watch this space.
So it has been a busy month and that’s not including a lot of other things I have attended such as the City Council “City Plan” consultations in both Quedgeley (for Kingsway) and Grange as well as meeting residents to discuss issues and generally walking and driving round the division to see how things are going. There is still a long way to go though, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how things develop and working out new and better ways to engage with residents.