Wednesday, 4 February 2009


Last night was Cabinet, on which I sat as a non-voting representative of the Lib Dems along with Heather Scott for the Conservatives, the Labour Chair of Resources Scrutiny and Alastair MacConachie, Chair of Darlington Partnership. Cabinet attracts more interest from the public than Council, mainly because, apart from the budget, it is Cabinet where all formal power within the local authority resides.

There are always speeches and contributions from "the floor" from councillors and residents, as well as from me and Heather. The atmosphere is relaxed and quite informal. Chaired by the Leader of the Council, the strict application of Standing Orders which governs debate in Council is absent from Cabinet. Residents and Councillors are encouraged to speak - often at considerable length - and even allowed ripostes. Contributions are heard in respectful silence though, as Cllr Gill Cartwright knows from her repeated efforts to support the bus users of Harrowgate Hill, not necessarily without comeback from the Chair.

The only potentially contentious issue on last night's agenda was the decision, finally, to approve the continuation of the right to cycle in the pedestrian areas of the town centre. There were several speeches from the floor from the Darlington Cycling Campaign, the Darlington Association for Disability and two councillors.

I said that the Lib Dem Group was inclined to support the right to cycle in the town centre, though I asked Cabinet to take action to exclude illegal car drivers from the pedestrian areas. As I said, "If some people think that cyclists and pedestrians don't mix, then a lot more people will think that cars, cyclists and pedestrians don't mix."

I also spoke in the discussion about a new strategy for young people aged 11 to 19. I picked up on the fact mentioned in the report that 21% of 11 year olds in Darlington are clinically obese, a figure some way above the national average. Adding in those who are simply overweight brings us to 30%. Yet nowhere else in the report was there any mention of what action could be taken to tackle this problem. I asked Cabinet to consider adding obesity to the list of targetted interventions in the report.

Unfortunately, if you read the Northern Echo, you won't know any of this, because they had no reporter present.


Aeres said...

I've no real reason to doubt it, but it seems a bit of a strange statistic that only 9% of kids are classed as 'overweight' whilst 21% are obese. Assuming that this leaves 70% as either healthy weight or under weight then the figure for overweight seems very small.

In the minutes I could only find reference to the 21% figure. Is there another source somewhere for the statistics that are referenced in the minutes?

As I say, no reason to doubt it - quite interesting if it's true though as it would suggest that some kids are very overweight whilst some are an ideal weight but there's not many in between. Wonder if there's a theory at to why this may be?

Mike Barker said...

paragraph 2.8

You'll have to copy and paste to your browser.

Aeres said...

Great stuff - thank you!

Most peculiar..., although there's probably a perfectly rational and obvious explanation that I'm completely missing.

Mike Barker said...

I don't know if it's rational or obvious, but I suspect the cause of your puzzlement was me taking statistics from two different sources.

Unfortunately, the source of the 21% obesity level among 11 year olds mentioned in the DBC report to Council is not given. The PCT figure is for "the measured child population", and the source is also not given.

So, possibly, the PCT figure is more balanced between "obese" and "overweight".

Unless TPTB give the source of their stats in a footnote, all we have to go on is what they report.

For instance, at the Council Meeting I also asked Bill Dixon if he could tell me why his report to Council showed a statistical increase in alcohol-related ASB, but then told us to "treat these figures with caution". But the report didn't tell us why we should treat the figures with caution, not did Bill answer the question.

There is a sloppy use of statistics in reports to Council, which we are just supposed to accept without question. Indeed, most members frankly aren't interested in trying to understand them. They just want headline figures and commentary.

When this sloppiness is mixed with the wide variety of studies and methodologies employed, it is no wonder that ordinary mortals simply give up when confronted with statistically-based reports.

Disraeli's comment is as apt today as in the nineteenth century.

miketually said...

Thanks for the Lib Dem group support, Mike.

Your comments about motorised vehicles need taking on board by the council. There were a huge number of cars parked on Skinnergate when I rode down there at five to five tonight.

Aeres said...

It does explain a lot - thanks again.

Agree that it would seem to be good practice to provide a source for all statistics used and find it surprising that DBC haven't adopted this practice, particularly in view of the clear liking for multiple appendices to their item documentation.