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Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The Village Green Preservation Society

I arrived home from another busy session on the allotment (My cucumbers are a nice size - thanks for asking), to an urgent voice mail. My voice mail can distinguish between family and friends - (a low ponderous bleep) and really important stuff like offers of a holiday for two in Kabul; or business  - (piecing shriek). On this occasion it was the Manager of my local council's Community Councils (CCs).

We had a meeting last night but the chairman was ill could I fill in as Vice Chair?

This was my opportunity. For too long I'd been overshadowed by my Chair (I'm quite short but well proportioned). At previous meetings I've sat next to her; a silent brooding presence. I could hear them all muttering - what's he doing there? he says nothing, just smiles and laughs at silly places. Now, I could come out into full sunlight and my genius would be acknowledged.

The meeting was at 7:30pm and I received the message at 6;15pm. No time for supper - that would have to wait but plenty of time to knock back two moderate glasses of Chilean Sav Blanc. With agenda in hand - which I hadn't read and previous minutes which I hadn't read I stormed up the road to the local school where the CC meeting was to be held.

It was a lovely evening. And as I walked past the young things supping their pints at the local, I was sorely tempted to stop awhile. But no; the middle class public duty ethic (I'm a fully signed up member of David C's "Big Society" whatever it is) and guilt complex kicked in and I redoubled my efforts to arrive at the venue in plenty of time to brief myself fully.

I should explain that CCs were set up by our Council - prodded by central government to address the perceived "democratic deficit" in local government. That is, you elect your local councillors once every 4 years and they then spend the next 4 years taking bugger all notice of those people who elected them.

CCs were New Labour's answer this deficit. (Had they spent less time on this deficit we might not have such a fiscal deficit).  Each CC covers a number of the wards in the borough and at each meeting we have the local councillors who represent those wards, representatives from the police, the local health and public housing services (except the last two hardly ever bother to turn up). The meetings are quarterly and they're open to all residents in the wards covered.

I arrived before 7pm and was briefed by the CC manager. Barry - you introduce this - make apologies for these people, introduce these people and don't forget to ask people to fill in the evaluation questionnaire etc.

My first announcement was to ask if someone here owned a blue car, registration x. I pointed out that it wouldn't be outside for much longer as they'd left the window open. The police in attendance  didn't seem at all interested so we moved on

Then onto the meat of the meeting. After welcoming all and introducing uncle Tom Cobley and all, missing out a few and mispronouncing the names of even more, I was interrupted  by my minder, the CC manager. I was doing the Councillor's introductions. After that slight misunderstanding was cleared up and the Councillor who was a virgin like me had done his piece, I went on to approving the minutes of the last meeting.

That was fun, and so onto the police who would give us a report of their complete inability to stop people leaving their windows open on hot days and evenings and having their valuables nicked. Oh, and closing down a cannabis farm, arresting a few drunks and issuing a few AntiSocial Behaviour Orders (These are badges of honour  worn with pride by any scrot who is lucky enough to receive one).

At the end of this liturgy of criminality, I had to apologise because the agenda had promised a fascinating talk on anti-social behaviour including such high lights as fly tipping, dog fouling and dangerous dogs. Unfortunately when we were setting the agenda none of us noticed that this had been covered at the March meeting. Who said local government wasn't inefficient?

After that we moved rapidly onto a talk on Environmental Health: Food & (sic) Safety and Trading Standards.

Now this, I know, is where things got a little confusing. There were meant to be two speakers but one cried off so the two talks were to be given by one person. I introduced her with a flourish confident in the knowledge that she had 20 minutes to fill and I could at last find out what the hell she was meant to be talking about.

We learnt in graphic detail about the Council's food standard  badging system for fast food outlets which went from 0 to 4 stars. When questioned as to who would receive a 0 star we were shown a picture of a food tray with a rat in it. It seemed to us that there was something wrong with a system that awarded even a zero star to a rat infested take away.

Our speaker seamlessly moved onto Health and Safety in the borough and looking at my watch I thought she'll come in well on time. As she ended I was effusive with my praise - except rather disconcertingly she carried on - explaining that she would now deliver of herself the talk her absent associate would have delivered had she been around.

I don't think I went too red, but the next five minutes or so were spent rather unconvincingly looking at my nails, pen, cup and papers.

Then she finished and with I flourish we moved onto the Open Forum where those in audience still awake or not receiving oxygen could raise any issue of local concern. Except I'd missed out the update from the Community Safety Board meetings. The guy who usually gives them was not there so the CC manager and my minder read out the notes.

I'm sure it's extremely important and hugely worthwhile but I still don't have the foggiest idea what it's about!

We did get to the Open Forum, eventually. My input was to point to someone who wanted to speak and get someone else to shove a microphone in their face. Oh, and half way through their diatribe, interrupt them for their name and street (It's a riot control tactic used by all the best police forces). I got rather pissed off with such niceties and instead asked for their full rank and number. I thought that went down quite well. 

I'll gloss over the 2010/11 Budget Spend. Suffice to say I was deeply involved in encouraging residents to come up with ideas to spend rate payers money on things the Council would in the past have spend that money on. If you get my drift.

And then it was over. The other Vice Chair closed the meeting and I went home pleased having done my part towards David's "Big Society". Heaven help us all!

Later I did e-mail the CC manager asking her to get someone in the Council to explain why something they'd promised to do 12 months ago having won the court case was still not started and suggesting that I wasn't much pleased with the blatant obfuscation in the Council's answers to numerous questions on this and other issues.

It's great having power! 


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