In an article on the Thisisgloucestershire.co.uk website, there is a comment made that asks why anyone would want to stand in opposition when no matter what, difficult cuts need to be made. I think that’s a very fair question because on the face of it, they are right, it seems a very impossible task, but I believe being a Labour Councillor in todays conditions is more vital for everyone than ever. Whilst having to deal with cuts is going to be difficult, we have an oppotunity to ensure cuts are done in a way that is fair and balanced for those that are in greatest need as well as ensuring proper value for money is not just a “buzzword”. However, I believe being a Councillor is much more than what goes on in the Council Chamber, it is in the community that the greatest work is done, understanding the community needs, facilitating and enabling residents to grow a strong and thriving community spirit and being there for when people need support.
The Comment that provoked this was
“I wonder why anyone puts up for election these days. After all what can councillors do in the face of central government cuts? They certainly can’t improve services for their electorate. All that can be done is souless cutting at the behest of the coalition. Why then do people volunteer for such a depressing prospect? could it be an ego trip for the elderly. Attend a cabinet meeting, they’re open to the public, see if you agree with my diagnosis. Local government is being decimated, soon it will be reduced to American style “commissioning authorities” with privatised services, no autonomy or ability to improve things locally. Just what the Tories always wanted.”
In many ways I agree, it will be difficult. If Labour do win enough seats to win a majority in May, then the elected councillors will have to make very hard decisions and decisions that they don’t want to have to make. But they will make them and make them fairly, with solid values of fairness and equality. But also if there is not a Labour Majority, I would want to drive to scrutinise, challenge and critique every decision in order to promote those values of fairness and equality for everyone. It’s not going to be easy, whatever the outcome, and, referring to the quote above, at aged 34, I certainly don’t see it as an ego trip for the elderly. I have devoted a good proportion of my life so far to working for my community and in these difficult times, I see this as an oppotunity to keep doing that in a positive way.
The Councillor life is more than the Council Chamber, it is about the community in which you represent and I really believe in accountability. As Chair of the Kingsway Residents Association, I believed in standing front and centre in front of my community and being accessible and accountable. As a Parish Councillor it is one of the things I keep “harping on” about, the accountability to the electorate. But it is more than accountability, it is protectiveness. It is doing more than door knocking at election time. That is why I set the Residents Association up in the first place, in order to work with like-minded people to make our community a better place. I have to admit, it’s not been easy and I have made many mistakes as well as the positive results. But for me the key thing is that people feel they can approach me to help them, be it in the Cafe, the pub, on the street or knocking on my door. Together we can make a difference.
So why bother standing to become a Councillor? Is it for the Prestige? well hardly – most people seem to hate Councillors by default, unless you know them. Is it for the money? As I already have a job, then no, not really. Is it a nice Hobby? Well helping people is certainly good, but it’s not a hobby, I consider it quite a serious thing, which is why I want to do it now, making it part of my life, rather than just waiting until I’m retired and need something to fill my time. Is it for the title? Well to be honest, titles do little for me, except when being used in the appropriate capacity. I am a Chartered Engineer, I have been a Magistrate, I’m a Parish Councillor all of which come with titles and letters, but to everyone who knows me (and many who don’t), I am Barry, and that’s quite enough.
For me, it is about being there for my community and my neighbours. When we first moved to Kingsway, People were every frustrated at having nowhere to go. I facilitated the ability for residents to get their voices heard, the committee I lead put on great events to build community cohesion. All this leads to people living in a happier community and seeing (albeit sometimes slow) progress. From a very selfish perspective I also get to meet great people, and work on a wide variety of problems and issues that I don’t see in my paid employment. But , in essence, it is about giving our community a voice.
So, in a very convoluted way, that’s some of the reasoning why I am standing to be elected as a County Councillor.