Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The County Council's Wisbech Day

As a break from usual ways of working, the County Council held it's Cabinet Meeting at the Boathouse in Wisbech today as part of a whole day focused on Wisbech and its issues.  I am not one who denies those issues exist, the evidence is all too clear.  So, in terms of trying out something new, it was absolutely the right place to start.  I do want to say however, that the Daily Mail (my least favourite newspaper) and others who choose to exaggerate and stretch reality in order to sell papers does absolutely nothing to help.  The point was made today that we need to start talking positively about the future of Wisbech and realising that even a community that has issues, has strengths that can be captured and built upon.

The day started with a breakfast hosted by Archant (owners of Cambs Times and Wisbech Standard) and attended by Cabinet Members, local dignitaries, readers of abovementioned newspapers and others. The leaders of both Fenland District Council and the Council spoke during this session - a great way of setting the scene for the day.  

We then went on to the Cabinet meeting, where we discussed a number of issues.  The Lib Dems excelled themselves by talking about a bus service, having spoken to passengers about the impact that ending the subsidy would have, in fact, the bus they travelled on was commercial and therefore not under threat.  But, overall the meeting was a good one with some really good contributions from most of the speakers and some positive discussions. 

There were a number of important announcements made today.  I could comment on each and every one, it's probably better to just catch up with the Wisbech Standard website and Steve Tierney's blog.  But it is worth saying that the most important announcement was the 20-20 vision, because it potentially encompasses the rest.

As a Whittlesey Councillor, I do want to highlight that once again Alan Melton, the Leader of Fenland District Council, said that the A605 Whittlesey Bypass is key for the future of Fenland - a vision both he and I have been selling for some time.  This solution is a long way from being done and dusted but it is moving forwards.  Why is the bypass important?  Well, Whittlesey residents are screaming out for it, but for the rest of Fenland the potential to have the sort of easy access to the A1 from the heart of Fenland that an A605 bypass would provide offers all sots of economic benefits.

During lunch we had a discussion with community representatives and some very positive contributions from Inspector Robin Sissons, Christopher Smith, the former MD of Roddons and a number of primary school leaders which gave us, as a Cabinet, plenty of food for thought.

I then went for a trip to a day centre and a residential centre for adults with learning disabilities - all linked to my Adult Services cabinet role.  Once again, it was incredibly helpful.  I really enjoy getting out and talking to people, spending time getting to know how things work from the bottom-up.  In an organisation that spends over £180m a year (which Adult Services does) this is a vital part of what I do. It is this sort of, often hidden, work of a Cabinet Member that takes time and effort, but offers a real contribution to helping improve services and, in turn, peoples' lives.  As ever, I learned a huge amount, took a few issues away and left cards for people to contact me and so they can invite me back if needed.

We finished the day with a wash up, just discussing the day and what we learned from it - overall the feedback was really positive.  Three things come out of today; some much better informed Councillors; some real positive momentum for a Town that needs and deserves exactly that; and a model that can be repeated elsewhere in the County.

I have to say, when the idea of a Cabinet meeting in Wisbech was mentioned to me, I was a bit sceptical; I felt that it would be seen as tokenism.  I was wrong, well partially wrong, because what today turned into was something that was far more worthwhile than just simply moving a meeting out of Shire Hall and I hope the press response has proven that.

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