Is the Sutton Coldfield Town Council fit for Purpose?

To the Editor, Royal Sutton Coldfield Observer

Dear Sir

I am prompted to write following the letter by Olive O’Sullivan in this week’s edition concerning the legal responsibilities affecting refuse collections. While I have great respect for Olive she completely misses the point. The Town Council had an opportunity to show some leadership by organising a service to assist the residents with taking their rubbish to the tip if they were unable to do so themselves. This is a big problem for the elderly and the disabled. This happened in other parts of Birmingham, why not Sutton? We need the Town Council to respond during a crisis, to stand back and say that it is down to the mismanagement by Birmingham is to make a political point which does not help the residents.

I voted against setting up this Council in the first place in line with the Conservative view at the time because I feared it would be a waste of time and money or a ‘Pig and a Poke’ as stated by our MP. Subsequently I have watched the council being run by the majority group as a ‘One Party State’ with elected Town Councillors being told to toe the party line. As a result, it is neither inclusive or representative of all the town’s residents.  Boldmere in particular has suffered at the hands of the Town Council as out lined by Councillor Long in his resent letter. The reasons for this are unclear but one suspects that it is down to the ward electing only one Conservative Councillor in 2016

The Town Council should be run for the benefit of all residents by the residents and should be open and transparent with decisions being taken in public and not in private meetings of the majority group. I also feel that Councillors should not sit on both BCC and SCTC as there is an obvious conflict of interests.

Neighbourhood planning would be a major benefit to the whole Town, Lichfield is a good example of what can be done when a council takes a positive approach. However, in Sutton this has been blocked at every turn. Maybe the problem is that BCC and many Councillors do not want to see neighbourhood plans implemented as it limits their flexibility. I have also noted that Rob Pocock who was a supporter 2 years ago is now not as vocal on the subject.

One can only hope that next year when new Councillors are elected for the Town and City we will see some changes.  The Town Council should represent all residents and spend the precept on improving the town for their benefit. Currently they seem to be obsessed with not funding additional services for Sutton which fall within the BCC remit. As a result, we suffer with dirty streets, pot holes, limited facilities for the disabled etc. while the bulk of the precept sits in the bank. If they cannot spend it on services which the residents want maybe they should give us all a refund.

Yours Truly

Tony Cannon

Footnote,

The Sutton Observer chose not to publish this letter this week and preferred Clare Horrocks’s rather poor letter in my opinion which does her no credit and picks on one aspect of a well measured letter by Councillor Long last week by launching a personalised attack.

Well, I also am not impressed with the attitude of the ‘Planning Committee’ towards ‘Neighbourhood Planning.’ In fact when I raised the subject at a planning meeting the Chair was extremely rude to me as a resident and conservative party member. (Not anymore – if they had bothered to send me a membership card I would have the pleasure of cutting it up but as they haven’t I can’t. No wonder the Conservative Party is shedding members hand over fist – too many of the executive are out of touch, and remote)

Did the Lichfield Councillors have specialised  training on neighbourhood planning – I doubt it –  like most people I am sure if they were unclear on a subject they sought advice. There are a number of planning officers in the town who offered their services to the Town Council for free and were turned down! This council prefers to waste money on unnecessary training, vanity projects and party political objectives. Roll on 2018, I feel it will be as much of a wake up call for SCCA as the General Election was for the National Party (Though they do not seem to have taken much notice.)

Birmingham Bin Strike & Sutton Town Council

Will a petition calling for a Council Tax refund help resolve the dispute – no. Could the Town Council take a lead in looking at alternative ways to handle the collection of refuse and recycling – possibly. It could definitely initiate a programme to support residents who are unable to take their rubbish to the tip. Time to step up and show some leadership I suggest.

New Boldmere Playground Update

For the sake of transparency here is the address and question which I put to Sutton Coldfield Town Council tonight. Unfortunately the time allowed was reduced from 3 minutes to 2 so I had to precis it for the meeting. The request to allow the Sutton Vesey Town Councillors and the Resident Groups to progress the matter was ignored and the BCC Landscapes consultation will go ahead on Mossy Bank and Boldmere Gate at a cost of some £2000. There will also be an online survey on the SCTC website. When you consider that the Cofield & Warden Road residents presented a survey with 169 signatures against Mossy Bank it makes you wonder why they are going to be canvassed again as part of the official consultation. Maybe the council is hoping for a different answer the second time around. Or are they hoping that the number of Boldmere residents who want a playground at Mossy Bank will out number those who live there – quite possible I suppose when you consider there are 360 pupils at the school. There will also be a public meeting at the Carpenters Arms at some point. A great shame that what started with a request for a ‘Pocket Playground’ for younger children in the heart of Boldmere has been hijacked.

The ‘Mossy Bank’ Saga

Yesterday there was a flurry on Twitter when it was reported that Town Councillors had been in to Boldmere Junior School asking the pupils their thoughts on a new playground. This should have been answered immediately but with the 140 character limit you need to be clear and concise.

What does this mean? The School Pupil Council decided to hold a debate on whether the new playground should be located at ‘Mossy Bank’ and Carl agreed? What did they vote on – presumably whether the new playground should be at ‘Mossy Bank’ or ‘Boldmere Gate’? I am however assured that no Town Councillors attended. No doubt the outcome of this debate will be announced at some point. It was perhaps ill-advised to choose this topic as the children went home and told their parents and it escalated from there with concerned parents up in arms that their children have been dragged in to the issue.  A number will be seeking clarification from Carl on Monday!

One final thought is that Bob Churn of BCC stated that in the consultation children would be consulted on what type of playground they would like, he did not indicate the choice of location would also be included. I wonder if this has somehow been misinterpreted.

New Vesey Playground – January Update

At tonight’s Amenities Committee Bob Churn gave his report which indicated that a seven piece playground could go on Mossy Bank subject to BCC Planning Approval or Boldmere Gate subject to approval by Natural England. Boldmere Gate also has the potential to accommodate   a much more ambitious plan subject to funding. Two Residents of Cofield Road/Warden Road voiced their objections to Mossy Bank due to Traffic, Parking, Anti-Social Behaviour and that there was not adequate oversight of the site which gives rise to child safety concerns. No resident objected to Boldmere Gate which could be approached on a phased basis starting with the seven piece unit and possibly attract funding from other sources for further development. At one point the committee nearly signed off on a motion to just pursue Mossy Bank, fortunately an amendment to the motion was passed by 4 votes to 2 that Boldmere residents should be consulted on both sites before a feasibility study was commissioned.

There is also the possibility that part of the Boldmere Adult Education site could be utilised. Projects of this nature should be community driven – unfortunately some committee members seem to have lost sight of this and that they are there to represent residents.

The dangers of Social Media in Public Life

Most public bodies have a Social Media Policy due to the potential for reputation damage to the individual and their organisation if ill-judged or unguarded comments are made. The problem with the internet is that once a post is published it cannot be withdrawn.  Even if the originator deletes it the comment will have already been registered with the other members of that particular group. Chances are it will re-surface at the most inopportune moment to the intense embarrassment of the originator.

A classic example is Emily Thornberry’s ill-judged tweet “Image from #Rochester” which cost her a shadow cabinet position. Admittedly she has now been reappointed as Shadow Foreign Secretary but there were probably not a lot of alternative options. I doubt that she will be invited to support the labour candidate in the Copeland by-election.

As a holder of public office it is very unwise to argue with another user on social media. As many people have found to their cost the watching audience can be vast – ask Sally Bercow who thought she was being ever so clever by asking a “loaded” question and regretted it later to her cost.

 

Chairing Committees – Best Practice

The role of Chair of any group or committee is not easy, there is a lot of guidance available but ultimately it comes down to the individual. I have worked with some excellent Chairs who made every member feel valued and appreciated, I have also worked with Chairs who were autocratic and felt their role was to direct operations or too weak and failed to move the group forwards because they allowed infighting to develop between the members. Successful Chairs guide and support, while they have to keep to an agenda they realise that during discussion it may be necessary to exercise judgement to bring items to a resolution. If outcomes are pre-planned you will quickly lose the support of the members as a whole. The Chair should always try to avoid unnecessary votes. This is particularly relevant for cross-party groups where the minority faction will always feel aggrieved if they are constantly outvoted when compromise solutions are available. The Chair needs to exercise discretion and recognise the need to think on their feet and adopt a modified position as a result of the discussion. Good Chairs are able to do this and stand up for the group and the decisions they make. By nature the Chair needs to be impartial and not try to impose their own personal views on the others.  These ideas and suggestions are based on my experience having chaired a number of committees/panels with up to 25 members over the last 8 years. I also have the pleasure of working with Jacqui Smith, Chair of UHB and HEFT who sets an excellent example of best practice in my opinion – though her roles are of a totally different scale..

New Vesey Playground – Update

Attended the A.C.L.S meeting in the Town Hall tonight to hear the presentation by the Landscape Practice Group. It was apparent that Fir Tree Grove was likely to be ruled out as a possible location once all the regulatory and technical issues were evaluated – however, it deserved to be considered as part of the initial feasibility study along with Boldmere Gate and Mosse Bank so that the reasons why it was unsuitable could be independently established and explained to the Vesey residents.  Instead, what looked like a pre-agreed decision,  was voted through for no good reason in my view.

It was encouraging to hear that the initial consultation, once a site has been determined, would included the local schools to ascertain what type of equipment and activities the children would like to see on the site – after-all they are the ones who will use it. So often we wrongly assume as adults we know best!

Team Building in the Voluntary Sector

For any voluntary organisation to work well and fulfill its objectives it requires a group of like-minded people with the necessary skills to come together. Crucial roles are:- Leader/Prime Mover, administrator and book-keeper (If applicable.) So often voluntary organisations fail because people take on these roles without an understanding of work involved. This leads to confusion, frustration and ultimately the failure of the group.  Too often the excuse is “well its voluntary so we cannot expect too much.” The secret is to attract people with the right skill sets for these key roles and then build the rest of the group around this core. The other issue is to aim for a good demographic spread with an eye towards continuity. Members need to bond and enjoy the group activities. Voluntary work should generate a feeling of fulfilment and that it is time well spent – you do it because you want to not because you have to! If ever it becomes a burden or you find yourself getting stressed then it is time to step back and review the activity and the reason why you are involved. After 8 years experience in a number of groups with a variety of roles I consider myself fortunate to have worked with some committed and far-sighted people. In the main I have enjoyed the work and felt that it was time well spent. Such activity helps one grow as an individual and is a way to challenge oneself. I recommend it to anyone who wants ‘put something back’ and contribution to the wider community in which they live.

Good Hope Hospital – Ward Visits

Great to talk to the Ward Managers and Senior Ward Sisters with Elaine Coulthard this afternoon to discuss what the Friends of Good Hope can do in 2017 to help improve the patient experience at the hospital. Bids were invited for funding to provide some of the little extras which make a big difference to a hospital stay. What always impresses us is the dedication of the staff and their commitment to do the best for every patient. Please refer to the Friends Website for updates on the groups activities and our fund raising initiatives.