Friday, 31 October 2008

"I'm a Councillor..." The verdict

Gallomanor, the company that organised "I'm a Councillor, get me out of here", have sent us their evaluation of this year's event. I have copied it below.
As you can see, Darlington kids and councillors were the hardest working of all the participating Councils and together we did "stupendously well".

Much of the credit for this goes to Paul Dalton from Democratic Services.

No doubt one Labour Councillor in particular will have something sarcastic to say about the fact that I gave the best answer to the cookie question. For the record, as far as I can remember it, my answer to the question, "Do you like cookies?" was:
"I love 'em. In fact, I make them and sell them in my shop...and flapjacks and cakes and cookies and strawberry scrunches and cookies and flapjacks, stop , I can't go on, I'll have to go and eat one now." It must have been that answer that provoked his anonymous attack on my performance in this event.

Event Evaluation 2008
Darlington Borough Council
Key facts
Event: I’m a Councillor, Get me out of here!
Purpose: Improving the relationship between young people and local government

Dates: 6-17th October 2008 (to coincide with Local Democracy Week)

Participating Councillors:
Cllr Chris McEwan 46%
Cllr Jenny Chapman 24%
Cllr Mike Barker 17%
Cllr Kate Davies 10%
Cllr Cyndi Hughes 2%
Cllr Gill Cartwright 0%
Winner: Cllr Chris McEwan

1) Statistics

Your Council Ranking (out of 21)
Registered users 498 1st
Votes cast 562 1st
Questions asked 524 5th
Votes per user 1.13 5th
Questions per user 1.05 17th
Log ins per user 2.78 5th
Page views 13,479 1st
Live chat, lines by students 11,115 1st
Live chat, lines by cllrs 1,618 1st

2) Commentary
Darlington did stupendously well this year. As you can see from the statistics, you had more young people registered, more page views and more said in live chat than any other council. Often you’ve got more than double the average activity levels – nearly five times the average for chat by young people. When you consider that this was Darlington’s first year of taking part, and that your population is a fraction of many of our councils, it’s even more impressive.
Frankly, we can’t praise you highly enough. We are certain that much of this success was down to the dedication and organisation of the staff responsible for the event at the council. As an example, in the run up to the event Gallomanor needs various information from councils – logos, names of competing councillors, etc – Darlington was usually the first to supply this, always in correct formats, etc. Staff were always good-humoured, organised, paid attention to details, took responsibility and knew what they were talking about but were also willing to
learn from our experience.

The success in Darlington must also be partly due to the sterling efforts of councillors, who were committed, cheerful and down-to-earth and did a great job of communicating with young people at their level, without patronising them. And of course, teachers and young people themselves put in a lot of effort. We wish all councils were like you!

The young people of Darlington were fiery and made sure their personalities shone through in the chatrooms and in their line of questioning. The same can be said for the councillors too though! The councillors notably had fun, and worked well together to act as a team. We saw in Darlington some of the most adoring fans emerge over the fortnight and the finalists had a lot in their inbox to, in their own words ‘make their heads grow big.’

It was almost certainly local facilities that were of biggest priority for the young people of Darlington. Not only was there demand for more youth clubs in ‘Darlo’ but for ones with the right music, facilities and clientele. Students protested that whilst they recognised investment in such schemes in the past, they just weren’t cool enough, or they were full or ‘undesirables’. What became apparent was that the council needed to provide different services and facilities for different types of young people. There was an obvious frustration that different identities are not recognised in the current council provision.
Sadly too there was a lot of concern in Darlington about safety. Rather than objecting to a watchful eye, young people were calling for more, better CCTV.
Many wanted to share their stories of feeling scared and various confrontations. It
certainly gave the councillors food for thought.

Some students thought of different insightful questions. Username ‘Pickles’ asked Cllr Cyndi Hughes (of American origin) how she felt about the BNP ‘saying all people who came to england should go back to where they came from.’ A regular in the chat-room Zachri made sure he asked all the councillors whether they liked cookies. When asked by the moderators why he had chosen to vote for Cllr Mike Barker- Zachri simply stated he had given the best answer to the cookie question!
Maybe something to think about for their future manifestos!

Analysis of the result

Cllr Chris McEwan romped home to victory in Darlington. He won with a large share of the votes, because we are told, he promised the young people things that they wanted such as the scheme ‘small trees’ and cheaper bus fares on Saturdays.

Jenny Chapman was the runner up and was not short of her own admirers. As username ‘Jenny Lover’ so enthusiastically puts; “Dear Jenny. Your views are amazing I take in everything you say... your the best Councillor. I would follow you on your ideas everywhere you go. Your my idol!”
Jenny had been especially committed to the event, spending a great deal of time in the chat room engaging warmly with students, patiently answering their questions and showing an interest in their opinions. We feel sure that this commitment has paid dividends in terms of how those young people feel about the council and whether they feel included and valued in their community.

3) What was the breakdown of questions asked in your council?

Question Category % National Average

About you and being a councillor 32% 24%
Crime and Anti-social behaviour 13% 11%
Education 13% 10%
Transport and the Environment 7% 13%
Youth Issues 3% 8%
General 11% 16%
Local Facilities 23% 17%

4) Which schools and youth groups participated?

Schools/youth groups with more than ten registered users:-
Hummersknott School 145
Hurworth Comprehensive 136
Education Village 118
Branksome Comprehensive School 35
Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College 18

Schools/youth groups with fewer than ten registered users:-
Carmel RC
Harrowgate Hill Primary
Heighington Primary
Springfield Primary
Darlington Youth Service

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Council to "defer" almost £2m capital spend

Darlington Borough Council's Cabinet meeting next week will be asked to approve the "deferment" of £1.723million of capital expenditure in the current financial year. You will recall that the Council recently went £1.9million overbudget in building the little-used Eastern Transport Corridor.

Schemes which will go include £400,000 of unspecified environmental improvements, £700,000 on a new Skerne Park Community Centre, £159,000 on various town centre improvements and several other smaller projects.

The effects of this will vary and in some cases will mean on-going repair bills will increase, which will put further pressure on the Council's Revenue Budget.

This Council has not covered itself in glory over the past few years when it comes to controlling its capital budget, with several examples of over-spends and wastefulness. Some chickens coming home to roost here, methinks.
However, it behoves all individuals, businesses and government organisations to carefully review their expenditure in the current economic climate. I do not envisage any improvement for some time, unless, of course, Gordon Brown decides to pump money into public projects in order to re-stimulate the economy in a desperate bid for votes in 2010.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Make a Difference Day

Today is Make a Difference Day, when community volunteers across the country take part in projects in their neighbourhood. It's Britain's biggest volunteering day of the year.

Cllr Fred Lawton and I went along to join in a riverside litter pick in the North Riverside area of the ward: an event organised by the North Road Community Partnership. We took our by-election candidate, Anne-Marie Curry (pictured above), along to meet the local volunteers. Unfortunately, none of the other by-election candidates turned up, even the Independent candidate, who is also the Chair of the Community Partnership. But then he's only managed to attend one CP meeting in the last six months (one more than the number of Council meetings he managed).

While we were filling our plastic bags with rubbish, I had a quick chat with the Labour candidate, John Vasey, who was out in the estate with a couple of councillors delivering leaflets. I like John, but I couldn't help thinking that, as fast as we were collecting rubbish, he was shoving more through letterboxes.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Dinner with Lembit

Taking a break from canvassing, writing and delivering leaflets in our North Road ward by-election, I went with some colleagues from Darlington Lib Dems on a short jaunt along the A67 to Yarm, for a "hot fork buffet" with Lembit Opik.

Readers who are not part of the Lib Dems will not be aware that we are in the midst of a Presidential election campaign. Lembit is one of the candidates, together with a couple of people I hadn't heard of before, though one of them, Baroness Ros Scott, has been very successful at getting delegates at Conference to wear badges supporting her.

Lembit is a real star, pitching his speech just right for his local audience, raising spirits and inspiring us all to get out there, painting in primary colours, as he puts it. My vote is going to him. With Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne and Vince Cable providing superb leadership of the Parliamentary party, we need someone with Lembit's personality and drive to lead the party in the country.

My photo shows Lembit with our North Road ward candidate, Anne-Marie Curry, and in Question and Answer action at the Parkmore Hotel.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Well done, Chris

Although the Darlington page of the Big Vote website still does not show the local result, I can reveal to an impatient world that the duly elected winner of "I'm a Councillor, get me out of here", and Youth Champion for the coming year, is bookies' favourite Cllr Chris McEwan.

Since Chris is also the Borough's Play Champion and portfolio holder for Children's Services he has rather cornered the market.

Most of the secondary schools in town participated with great enthusiasm, though it's a shame that neither Carmel nor Eastbourne Academy joined in. I'd be interested to know how many kids voted: it must have been in the hundreds. One chat room session had 45 kids all online at the same time (and then wondering why me and Jenny, the two councillors online at the time, found it difficult to keep up!).

One sad Labour councillor tried to make political capital of the fact that the Labour councillors in the event did better than the Tories. He also took the opportunity, on a publicly available website, by quoting one of his Labour colleagues anonymously, to personally criticise my performance, (for reasons I still cannot fathom, other than that the person who broadcast them is an intellectual bully). He was in a minority, however. What he failed to understand was that the point of the exercise was not for one party or other to win, but for 13 and 14 year old kids to participate in and learn about the political process. In that respect, it's a bit like youth football, where the purpose of taking part should be to enjoy the experience and learn the skills required to play the game well, rather than to win at all costs and by whatever means.

I am certain that many young people, and the participating councillors, gained a great deal from the experience. Hopefully some way can be found to enable these kids to continue to play a part in discussing youth provision in the town. It will be of benefit to us all.

Friday, 17 October 2008

"Ludicrous" screams the Echo

Front page lead story, huge "Ludicrous" headline: today's Echo lays into Steve Jones for his decision to stand again in the by-election he caused.

"Totally ludicrous" were my words to Paul Cook last night when he phoned me about it, and totally ludicrous it is. Steve must have a hell of a thick skin. He probably doesn't realise what some of the Council's officers and councillors are saying privately about his decision to seek re-election.

Well, if I was Steve, with a headline like that about me, I'd think twice about standing. He has til next Wednesday to withdraw his nomination. He can continue to represent his constituents as Chair of the North Road Partnership and Chair of the Friends of North Park. But he obviously isn't interested in attending Council meetings, so why is he wanting to be elected as a councillor again?

Update: My friend Alan Macnab has posted this elsewhere, but I thought it was so good that I'd reprint it here:

The fact is Mr. Jones failed to attend a single Council meeting for six months and as a result he was disqualified from being a Councillor. He must have known the rules about this. I am sure that if he had broached the subject at his job interview with his prospective new employer some arrangement could have been found between them and Darlington Council to allow Mr. Jones to attend Council meetings.
All employers are legally required to give employees reasonable time off for public duties. Employees in this position will normally make the time up by coming into work earlier or in other ways. Darlington Council bent over backwards to contact Mr. Jones in the intervening period and he did not contact the Council. Therefore he was rightly disqualified as a Councillor.
The fact that Mr. Jones is standing for Council so soon after being disqualified and because his actions caused the by-election in the first place is extraordinary, it does make a mockery of the democratic process and is a flagrant waste of public money.
Not only that, it deprives children of a day’s education, employment for teachers and support staff in schools used for the election, working parents their wages which they can ill afford to lose in this present economic climate and for employers the loss of money and production as a result of employees being absent.
Perhaps Mr. Jones should consider these facts and then decide what he wants to do.

Out of the jungle

Well, I didn't make it to the final day. Eviction from "I'm a Councillor, get me out of here!" came five minutes early yesterday at 2.55pm.

It had been a hectic day in the jungle, with two long chatroom sessions booked by the Education Village and a number of informal sessions where students just logged on themselves to see if anyone was there. At one point there were kids from a number of different schools in town all chatting on line with each other, me, Jenny and the moderators.

I wish you could have seen some of the chatroom conversations: some were just pure fun while occasionally we caught a glimpse of the vulnerability and awkwardness of some of the kids. At the same time, others were so confident, clued up and interested in the world around them.

I'm sure that appearing behind a nom de plume made it easier for some of the kids to express themselves, without fear of personal humiliation or being laughed at.

It's been a real eye-opening experience and I hope the Council get involved again some time, so that other councillors can enjoy it to.

Congratulations to Jenny and Chris. I would have put them first and second at the start of the exercise. But when I heard their plans: for a £6m youth centre near The Forum, a mini-Glastonbury in South Park, Darlington's own version of Tall Trees and an amusement complex at Feethams, I knew the rest of us were sunk!

Good luck to both of you on the last day. I hope you find time to do some of your "proper" work today! And good luck with turning those plans into reality.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Another young death

The news tonight that a 21 year old soldier has died in Afghanistan sends a shiver down the spine of all of us with sons fighting in that country. Will is the same age, just a couple of weeks into his first tour with the Royal Marines.

Yesterday I got his first letter home, full of the sort of stories any father wants to hear (not!), Apparently, while on guard duty, an rpg whizzed over his head, exploding 100 metres behind him. And then he was riding shotgun in the last vehicle in a convoy when it came under attack. Will told me he let loose at anything that moved.

And, in this modern age, despite being at war in a far country, Will and his colleagues still get to go on Facebook and keep in touch with home. It's a strange world!

It beggars belief

Former North Road Independent Councillor Steve Jones, thrown off the Council recently for not bothering to attend any Council meetings for six months, is to stand again in the by-election he caused!!

Steve, expelled from the Lib Dems in May 2007 for supporting a BNP candidate in the local elections, must have the hide of a rhino. The cost of this election to the Council is estimated to be £11,000. On top of that, hundreds of parents of pupils at North Road Primary School are going to have to take time off work to look after their children because the school must close for election day. The Pupil Referral Unit at the Phoenix Centre will also close for the day.

How Steve Jones has the nerve to stand for election again, having shown what he thought of the people of North Road by not representing them for six months, when he was perfectly fit and able to do so, is beyond me.

I hope the people of North Road ward ask him what facilities they have lost because of this waste of tax payers' money. I hope the parents of local school children ask him to repay their lost wages on November 13th. And I hope the voters of North Road show what they think of him by giving him a derisory vote.

Why, then is he standing again? Obviously it has nothing to do with the £7,000 a year he lost when he was expelled from the Council, so it must just be that he loves his Council work.
But why, I hear you ask, do you have a photo of Police Station 11 in the Nania District in a Far Eastern country at the top of this article? Well, if you type "Beggars Belief" into Google Images, the first image that appears is this photo. No, I don't know why either, any more than I understand what's going through Steve Jones' head.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Pants to Poverty.

Today is Blog Action Day, the day in the year where bloggers are encouraged to post about a specific subject. This year the theme is poverty.

Bloggers around the world are today posting earnest comments on poverty, so I thought I'd stick to the theme but give you something different: Pants to Poverty.

Here's a bit about these guys:

The Pants Story
Well, it’s been a crazy, beautiful, exciting, inspiring and gorgeous journey so far! We started out as the young people’s group from Make Poverty History in 2005. Remember Live8? That massive rally in Edinburgh? Remember the white band that 8 million people bought? Well that’s where we began.

and if you want to know the rest of story, check it out

Hanging on in there!

Each day, as the clock ticks remorselessly round to 3pm, the butterflies start their daily exercise in my stomach. For 3pm is the time we get to hear who has been evicted from "I'm a Councillor...Get me out of here!"

So far, I've survived three evictions. Leaving us this week have been Gill Cartwright and Kate Davies for the Conservatives and Cyndi Hughes for Labour. Now, though, I'm up against the big two: Labour Cabinet members Chris McEwan and Jenny Chapman.

Jenny is the Chair of Newblood and really knowledgeable about youth issues. Chris is the portfolio holder for Children and Young People, so knows everything that's going on. He also has a block vote from the EV, where his daughter's at school!

Still, there's nothing Lib Dems like more than an election, and I've had a great time doing this. School visits and Question Times, live online chatrooms, interactive question and answer sessions. It's been really informative as well as great fun.

Go and have a look: Log on as a guest and scroll down to Darlington. There are dozens of answered questions on each person's page. Some are quite painful to read, particularly about bullying. Others are just hilarious. They all get an answer, though.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Candidate Chosen for North Road Ward by-election

The results of this evening's selection meeting to choose a candidate to fight the North Road Ward by-election have been announced on the Darlington and Sedgefield Lib Dems website here.

Echo reverts to original format

Hooray! The Echo has reverted to carrying two pages of Darlington news in the front half of the paper. I teased them some time ago in this blog here and here about their new, convoluted layout and it's pleasing to report that they appear to agree with me that it just wasn't working.

And while I'm on the subject, as my friend Nick Wallis has already pointed out, there's a new kid on the blogging block.

Shame our MP (or his PA) couldn't keep it up!

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Street Scene under the spotlight

After insisting for a couple of years that the Street Scene revolution, based around creating "generalists" in the workforce and downgrading the importance placed on specialist horticultural skills, was working well and that the town was benefitting from the new regime, it appears that the Labour leadership has finally admitted what we've been telling them all this time: Street Scene isn't doing the job; residents are fed up and the town looks dirty, uncared for and unloved.

Walk through the town centre any day and see the sad floral displays, the overflowing waste bins, the rubbish and fag ends blowing about. Visit residential areas and see the unkempt flower beds and grassed areas.

Sure, Street Scene is pretty good when it comes to responding to problems. But being good at putting out fires is not much help when incendiary devices are exploding all over the Borough.

In walks around North Road ward I have often been able to chat to Street Scene workers. There's no doubt they feel undervalued and de-motivated.

The problem lies not with the staff, but with the Labour leadership who pushed the generalist philosophy through as a cost-cutting exercise.

Now the Leader has announced that a review of Street Scene will be conducted at the highest level in Council. Neatly, and with political astuteness, this review has been announced just as the Neighbourhood Scrutiny Committee has started its review of Street Scene. By the time Scrutiny gets round to reporting, the Leader's review will be long finished and (hopefully) improvements in Street Scene will have been implemented. Scrutiny's work will be out-of-date.

Realising this, the chair of the Neighbourhood Scrutiny Committee, Conservative Councillor Doris Jones, offered to merge the two reviews into one, an offer rejected by the Leader at Cabinet last week. "She's cute, Doris, I'll give her that", said Cllr Williams.
Whatever changes to Street Scene the Leader's Review recommends, Scrutiny's work will be a minor historical footnote, unless its review is delayed and amended to take account of these changes.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

"Your Ideas Needed on How to Save Money"

This headline appears in October's edition of The Flyer (or "the flyer") the glossy in-house magazine produced by Darlington Borough Council for its employees. This magazine is always full of happy smiling faces, with photos of DBC employees winning awards, having babies, getting married, telling us about their hobbies or their jobs.

This month's magazine contains a call to arms, though, for DBC staff to come to the rescue of our cash-strapped Council. The article reads:

"The Council like, everyone, (their use of commas, not mine, which makes it sound like a teenager, like, addressing a large crowd, init) is feeling the impact of the credit crunch and this means we need to adjust our financial plans. Our lack of land sales and increasing energy and food costs are just some of the pressures we are facing.

"The Council has started its service and financial planning process and it is already clear that we will have to make significant savings to balance the books - this is where you come in.

"Paul Wildsmith, Director of Corporate Services, said: (their inappropriate use of a colon) "We would like all employees to give some thought to how savings can be achieved. Clearly big savings would be great but the old saying, "every little helps", comes to mind so all savings ideas are welcome no matter how small. I am sure you will have plenty of great ideas we can consider and I look forward to seeing (their use of the wrong physical sense) what you have to say.

"Send your ideas to"

Well, since this magazine is available on the DBC Intranet at the click of a button, they can start with this glossy magazine. When front-line services are under threat, expensive in-house publicity should be first on the list for the chop.

The invitation is there, so why don't we all join in. All ideas for cutting waste can be emailed to the above address.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Someone can't count!

They're at it again!

Remember how the Council claimed there were "over 300 stalls" in the Market Spectacular earlier this year, when in fact there were less than 60?

Then they said there were "around 100 stalls" at last weekend's first Darlington Food Festival. Well, if 25 is around 100, they were right: but it isn't.

Now they say "25000 people visited the Food Festival". If so, there would have been one person entering the marquee every 2 seconds constantly from 10am to 5pm on both days. Thank Heavens I only spent half an hour there on the Saturday, it must have been sheer bedlam the rest of the time, with a quarter of the town's population squashed and trampled underfoot. I'm surprised we haven't heard about this from the hospital.

Ok, give 'em some leeway: it was a very good Food Festival. Read what other bloggers said here and here.

I bought quite a few things, though not as much as one Labour portfolio holder who was persuaded to part with over 100 nicker for a saucepan. Good to see they're doing their bit to help stave off the recession.

The ostrich, goats' cheese and red onion marmalade pie was the culinary highlight for me. And some gorgeous seeded wholemeal bread from Richmond was wolfed down within a few hours. I also found two new suppliers who I'm hoping to persuade to supply my shop.

Let's hope they do it again next year; I might even invest in a stall myself: though they'll have to get a marquee four times as large, just to get all this year's stalls and shoppers in!

Monday, 6 October 2008

"I'm a Councillor..." begins

Today was the first day in the two week "I'm a Councillor...Get me out of here" on-line popularity contest for schools and local councillors. You can visit the site. This link will take you there:

Then just log in as a guest (it can take up to a minute at busy times) and have a look around. For some reason the first page you see is that for Coventry City Council, but just use the drop-down menu to locate Darlington's pages.

Once there you can read the six local councillors' manifestos, personal profiles and the answers we give to students' questions.

Today many of the questions appeared to come from Longfield School: I was sent general questions about being a councillor, questions about anti-social behaviour, CCTV and youth facilities in the North Road area, and about the North Road by-election.

It's been a really interesting start to the event, but my enthusiasm to log on at work to see if any more questions had arrived meant I did get a bit behind with my real work today!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

"One mixed up chick"

Thursday night's Full Council meeting veered from party political bickering and rudeness to laughter, through to the surreal sound of Cllr Doris Jones, erstwhile scourge of the Labour Group, being applauded by members of the Labour Cabinet.

And the "mixed up chick"? Well, regular readers of this blog will recall that I moved an amendment at this year's Budget Council which would have devolved responsibility for spending £300k on minor environmental improvements to ward councillors. The amendment was ridiculed by the Stalinist tendency in the Labour Group, who all voted against it.

The recent White Paper, "Communities in Control", published by Hazel Blears, includes a commitment to give ward councillors localised budgets that they can target on ward priorities. I asked Cllr Chapman, the portfolio holder for communities and engagement, if, in the light of her Government's commitment to devolved budgets, she had changed her mind on the issue. She didn't say yes and she didn't say no, but she did say, to general amusement, that if she agreed with everything Hazel Blears said, she would be one mixed up chick.

Perhaps I'll try again at next year's budget. After all, eventually the "we know best" Darlington Labour Group is going to have to embrace modern local politics with genuine power and responsibilities being devolved to communities and their elected representatives. Though it might take a change of leader following their defeat in the 2011 local elections to achieve this.

And why was Doris the darling of the Labour Cabinet? Well, Bill Stenson, the eccentric Tory Councillor, was, so far as it is possible to interpret his speeches, highly critical of Labour for their failure to keep our drains and gullies clear. Now, this is a real problem across the Borough, but it does appear that, following an excellent report by a Task and Finish Group led by Tory Councillor Doris Jones, a new servicing and manning regime for our gully cleaner will mean it is better able to cope with this problem.

Doris got on her hind legs and laid into Bill, her Tory colleague, who probably wished he'd read his Council papers a bit better over the summer. As Doris brought her remarks to a close, senior Labour Councillors broke into spontaneous applause: a somewhat bizzare sight.

Other highlights from Council:

Cllr Chris McEwan gave an excellent speech, apologising for the secretive nature of his officers' report on individual school achievements and assuring Council that he was, and always has been, fully commited to openness.

Cllr Alan Coultas laying into Cllr Bill Dixon for his off-the-cuff, and inaccurate, remarks in Cabinet about Cleveland Terrace Post Office. Cllr Dixon dismissed the attack with a flick of the wrist: which I thought was an entirely inappropriate response to Alan's attack, particularly as Council had just heard Cllr McEwan showing grace and humility in his remarks.

The silence which descended on a suddenly thoughtful Council Chamber following an impromptu speech I made calling on the Council to do everything possible, in concert with partners and voluntary organisations in the Borough, to help local residents to cope with the worst effects of the economic crisis in which many of them will lose their jobs, their homes and fall into fuel poverty. I also called on the Labour Group to recognise the financial pressures local residents will be under this winter and not to impose another 4.9% Council Tax increase on us all in the Spring.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

North Road Independent Councillor leaves the Council

Former Lib Dem Steve Jones, the Independent Councillor for North Road ward, has not attended any Council or Committee meetings for six months. He is therefore deemed to have ceased to be a Councillor. A motion before Full Council tonight will declare a "casual vacancy" in the ward.

Steve is a former Lib Dem Councillor who resigned from the Party following the revelation in May 2007 that he had signed the nomination papers of a BNP candidate: news which even reached some of the national dailies.

A by-election must be held within 35 days. This will be a real headache for Democratic Services since the new electoral register is due to be published on December 1st and all new voters in the ward need to be brought forward onto the existing register so that they can vote in the by-election.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

"I'm a Councillor...Get me out of here!"

Starting next Monday, running for two weeks, Darlington is participating in this year's "I'm a Councillor...Get me out of here!" competition. There is no suggestion yet that this involves anything to do with eating live insects or having to guess which one is Ant and which one is Dec.

Six Darlington Councillors, three Labour (all very senior), two Conservatives (newly elected) and me, do battle over t'interweb to be crowned Youth Champion of Darlington. We've all written personal profiles and manifestos, which you can read here (just log in as a guest). You can find out all sorts of interesting things: guess who has a power/speed boat licence, for example.

We have to answer questions from pupils at the participating schools, and go into chat rooms to talk with them in real time. There are also school visits planned. One Councillor gets voted out at the end of the first week and then one each day during the second week. It's going to get brutal!