The lovely thing about owning a dog is that you have to exercise it and you meet all sorts of people at all times of the day and night – never mind Covid-19 making people talk to one another, dog walkers have been doing it for years. There is a lovely couple who live in our road and I see them most mornings and the other day, they asked me about a huge oak tree that was in a neighbour’s garden and what could they do.
I asked them if they had access to the internet because they could search “Tree Preservation Orders” and follow the instructions. They don’t have access to the internet and of course that made me think how isolated from local information and, importantly, local Government information that makes them.
Some areas still get a copy of the local Guardian – in Beddington North, we haven’t seen one in ages – of course you can get an e-edition unless of course you haven’t got a computer.
So whether it is advancing years that cut you off from computers or financial hardship, this Council are just not communicating with volumes of residents.
But what about the those of us in the London Borough of Sutton who have computers?
Democracy says that we have a say in our lives but when only lip service is paid to public consultation democracy becomes dictatorship – remember the introduction of the Parking Strategy or consultation on planning issues from the Incinerator to the proposed school at Sheen Way Playing Fields.
The reality is that the media, politicians and Council officers are so wrapped in their own bubble that they misread public opinion because they don’t like the answers they are given when they do ask questions. They are also very happy to spend thousands of pounds hiding information, for example, trying to stop an elected Councillor from finding out the flaws in their financial planning of the SDEN heat network
In their latest brainwave on Safer, Active, Greener Streets, they didn’t even ask residents or affected businesses– no time for Public Consultation!
Around 80% of expenditure in the London Borough of Sutton is on Social Care – myself and my fellow Independents (along with the Conservative Councillors) were pilloried by the ruling Liberal Democrats after voting against adoption of the most recent budget. They said we didn’t care about “the frail and elderly and building council homes”.
I spoke at that meeting and made clear that I was objecting to the Councillors voting themselves a pay rise as well as spending over £3 million to provide schooling for 192 children who would have been educated by the Greenshaw Trust if the Liberal Democrats had not canvassed for the refusal of Planning Permission for a new school at Rose Hill.
This is a profligate and poorly run administration – I am sure that anyone who has worked hard to secure a mortgage would question Council Houses like those on Richmond Green that cost in excess of £7 million on top of the land values. That is not to argue the principle of social housing but rather how it is implemented – but this Council wanted to make the political point that it was building Council Housing. Never mind the 28 old peoples’ bungalows they demolished to make that point!
A Council that is spending £6+ million on transport for SEN children – just the transport – yet imposes ill thought out and ANPR controlled restrictions round other Borough Schools.
Today, I read a report about an old acquaintance of mine and his fight with a different, Labour run Council – Stevenage. The report was written by lawyers who represented Martin and his wife and some of the comments really struck a chord.
The case involved the Council applying for an injunction that was draconian in its inception and which they wanted to apply at their own discretion. This paragraph will be familiar to those impacted by the current chaos on our roads:
“A petition of some 2000 names was presented to the Council which was promptly rejected, (see you in court), this was backed by eloquent and well argued social media. It was left to Martin and Monica to risk all to oppose the making of the order.”
The report went on to observe:
“Councils need to recognise that Parliament and the courts and not unelected officials are the arbiters of these rights and that the council is not responsible nor elected to decide what should be criminalised.”
When we are elected as Councillors, it is made clear that whatever our political colours we are bound to serve all our residents, not just those who agree with us. At the same time, engagement with outside bodies, commercial entities or lobby groups should be open and beyond reproach.
The Ruling Group may have a majority in Council and an acquiescent Chief Executive and Monitoring Officer, but it should consult its residents, listen to its residents and act accordingly rather than act for short term revenue gains or political point scoring.
Big change today – Manual Abellan’s Committee that has given you Bingate, the Parking Strategy and now Safer Active Greener Streets as well as School Streets has a name change – no longer Environment and Neighbourhood Committee, from now on, it will be known as the Environment and Sustainable Transport Committee. I am sure that will make all the difference!
And many of you will be thinking – “What can I do about it?”- – well you can nail your colours to the mast of an opposition party, Conservative, Labour or other and hope they speak for you.
But speaking as someone who had seen enough of the Council riding roughshod over local residents and, hand on heart, not feeling that any political party stood for my values, I joined forces with Jillian Green and Nick Mattey in Beddington North ward and stood as an Independent.
We worked hard, got our message across and have worked bloody hard for the residents in our Ward ever since. When we arrived, there was no support network that Councillors from other parties have but we have learnt a lot along the way.
So start thinking now – support one of the Opposition parties or if you want to know what is involved standing as an Independent, get in touch with Nick, Jillian or myself – it is rewarding and frustrating in equal parts, but when you feel you have made a difference, it is a great feeling and makes the hard work worthwhile.
Let’s get democracy back in our lives and create some real change in this Borough.