I became a Congleton Town Councillor in May 2019 and thought it might be helpful in the interests of transparency and accountability to let you know what I’ve been doing as a Councillor, and indeed how we work. Before I joined the Council, I didn’t really know anything and this has been a very steep learning curve for me – one that continues!
Tell me what you think
If you want to chat to me about what we are doing in the Council, I’m having an informal ‘open house’ in the Young Pretender on the second Monday of every month at 7.30pm. If you’d like to talk to me in private, do let me know and I can set that up, but for now I thought a general, open discussion might be most helpful. Please come along.
Did you know that you can also submit a question to any Council or Committee meeting (dates are here), and come along to hear the answer? The Council requests that if possible questions are submitted a week in advance and you can do so here on the Council’s website.
Being a Councillor in Congleton
Almost every Thursday is a Council meeting, either the full Council, the Planning Committee (which is all Councillors) or one of the other Committees. I am Chair of the Community, Environment and Services Committee which has a large remit that seems to keep getting bigger! We also have regular meetings of the Chairs of the various Committees.
In addition, I am now a member of eight other Groups which meet at regular intervals, typically every couple of months, and do other work in between meetings of course:
- Health and Wellbeing Working Group
- War Memorial Hospital Working Group
- Anti-Social Behaviour Working Group (Chair)
- Congleton Partnership
- White Ribbon Working Group
- Congleton Sustainable Transport Working Group (just starting)
- Congleton Green (Joined August)
- Congleton Museum Trust (just joined)
For those interested in statistics, of the statutory meetings I am expected to attend, I have attended 85% of them so far (11 out of 13), missing the ones that coincided with my holiday in July (booked, to be honest, at a time when I had no notion that I’d actually get elected!). Adding all the groups I have volunteered for, there have been 24 meetings in these first months of which I have attended 20 (83%).
What I’ve been doing
As you know I belong to the Women’s Equality Party and so I’ve been focusing on the things I set out in my manifesto before the election. You can see my priorities on my Cllr page here.
The Town Council’s remit unfortunately does not include some things I campaigned on such as Social Services, Health, Transport – these are the domain of Cheshire East, where I didn’t get elected. However, we can put proposals to the Borough Council for the things that are beyond the means of CTC, and we do have scope to influence other service providers, businesses and so on. So I’m still working towards those goals as far as possible.
In addition, I’ve been responding to requests from the public for help and support with specific issues. Here is a summary, and I’ll blog a bit each month from now on to let you know where things are up to:
Equality and Inclusion
I have been working in the background reviewing the Council’s policy on Equality, because everything we do is guided by policies and I want to ensure what we deliver and provide is equally accessible to all regardless of who you are or where you live.
I submitted a proposal at my first Council meeting to change our titles to gender neutral ones – from ‘Chairman’ to ‘Chair’. It was more controversial than I thought it would be! But in the event I was delighted that the Congleton Chronicle also changed its style guide in a similar way – what we call things and the language we use, especially in the media, is important. I want girls and women to get a clear message that they can participate in our democracy on an equal footing.
I reviewed the Council’s Business Plan and have suggested some additional priorities relating to equality and inclusion, to ensure the maximum participation and diversity in our democracy and our Town. The Council is starting work on revising the Plan this month so more on that soon.
With help from my WEP colleagues I produced some street names of notable women from Congleton’s history and submitted them to Cheshire East for some of the new roads being built. (I bet the majority of our streets are named after men – Wagg, Lawton, Daven, Mountbatten…)
Support for Women and Families
Before the election I met survivors of domestic abuse and was amazed at their resourcefulness and ideas for combating this crime. I commented that they should be standing for local government, not me, and was met with a list of challenges that stop single parents, in particular, from participating in our democracy, and in working life too. I’ve got a few initiatives on the go to address this and the needs of women and families in general:
- I have met with Saskia Richie, the CEO of Cheshire Without Abuse, and we will be bringing proposals forward to help their service in Congleton, where they are supporting 150 families;
- I have distributed CWA’s ‘Open the door’ helpline posters and leaflets to the TIC, CAB, Library, Visyon and Meadowside Surgery in Congleton.
- I’ve conducted an online survey into childcare options and issues amongst Congleton families. So far, 95% of respondents are women and 83% of them have said that childcare issues impacted their career, financial situation and/or family life. The survey is still open if you’d like to complete it – here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/5PPNK23;
Initial results of childcare survey in Congleton
- I’ve interviewed childcare providers in Congleton to learn more about the challenges they and parents face when government funding does not cover the cost of childcare for full-time working. In addition, low incomes often don’t cover the cost either so ‘work doesn’t pay’ and the benefits system continually lets parents down.
- I have worked with some other Councillors, Richard Walton and our Chief Officer David McGifford, to move forward the process of getting Congleton Accredited as a White Ribbon Town. White Ribbon is a movement of men who stand up against male violence against women. Cheshire Police and Cheshire Fire & Rescue are White Ribbon organisations. You can learn more about this on the White Ribbon Website.
I met with Theresa Pass, the new CEO of Visyon (who provide mental health services for young people) to discuss how we should work together and put her in touch with Council officers. We have a number of potential areas of collaboration we are working on.
The Health and Wellbeing Working Group is prioritising adult mental health because we understand that service provision here in Congleton is less than that in some other towns. Many Congleton patients have to go to Macclesfield for services and support.
This also has impacts domestic abuse survivors, especially those with children, who frequently have mental health challenges due to what has happened to them and struggle to travel to another town to access services.
The Group is consulting on the requirement for adult mental health services in the local area to learn more about how it might be addressed as a healthcare priority.
I chair the Antisocial Behaviour Working Group and the good news is that we have seen a decline in ASB in the past three years in Congleton. The Police including the PSCOs have done a great job and this, combined with improved CCTV, some Public Spaces Protection Orders and stopping some of the perpetrators from outside our area, seems to be working.
I met with one of the ASB co-ordinators from Cheshire East to take advice on how to address the root causes of ASB and I am starting work with the Youth Council to look at how we might provide a ‘place to go’ in the evenings for young people in Congleton.
Environment and Sustainability
Congleton Sustainability Group came to the CE&S Committee with some strong proposals for driving the sustainability agenda in Congleton. I was delighted to hear of the work they have been doing for years – we really do have some amazing volunteers in Congleton!
As a result of that we set up Congleton Green, a new Working Group including myself and 3 other Councillors plus the CSG itself, to thrash out what we should be doing as a Council. I’m happy to say that some ideas for action will come forward to Council soon!
In order to have a sustainable town, especially with all the new housing, we simply have to have a more integrated approach to transport. It costs £3 to get the bus into town and back from where I live and less than £1 to park my car if I drive there. Meanwhile, who thought that charging £3 to park at Congleton Station for a day was a good idea? It is both deterring people from using the train and causing congestion as people park in the streets around the station.
Meanwhile, for walkers and cyclists, many parts of our town are either downright dangerous or just unpleasant to use, because our streets have largely been designed for car users.
Integrated and sustainable transport is now a national, and Cheshire East, priority and there is a lot we can do locally to address this. We have set up a CTC Working Group to look into this and our first meeting is coming up, but in the meantime, I have:
- Received a report on ‘Living Streets’ at the CE&S Committee from Cllrs Gartside and Akers-Smith, and supported it by suggesting the Working Group.
- Consulted with the Integrated Transport Foundation and Transport for New Homes to learn how we can improve transport strategy both in the existing town and new housing estates.
- Taken advice from the Green Party and the Macclesfield Transport Group on integrated transport for small towns.
- Proposed that the Council object to 3 planning applications relating to new housing (which it did) because the developers had not put in sufficient provision in their Travel Plans for walking, cycling or public transport usage. For example why are they not offering to support a bus service to the station so that fewer car journeys are needed?
In addition to the projects above I’ve been involved ad hoc to help residents with various issues:
- The people of Sheldon Avenue came to the CE&S Committee to request help to remove a good many bins belonging to other people (Hightown shops and Biddulph Road flats) from their avenue. To try to help them I have visited the area on several occasions, including with the Police, and talked to the various bin-owners to try to get a resolution. Some of them have moved their bins away, for which I’m very grateful. Some have not (yet). I have also written to Cheshire East relevant departments to ask for some help and support – various ideas are being discussed. I continue to follow up each week with the residents, bin owners and Cheshire East.
- I corresponded about Bromley Woods footpaths and asked officers to contact Cheshire East, who are responsible, to take action.
- I have interacted with several different people about planting in the town centre and Congleton In Bloom and directed them to the In Bloom working group.
- I volunteered for a town tidy up in support of In Bloom.
- I tried to help residents of Meadow Mill Court concerned about antisocial behaviour by liaising with the Police who addressed some issues in the area.
- I attended and helped on the WEP table at Congleton Pride, which was a wonderful celebration of the diversity and spirit of our town, a very happy day.
- I continue as a trustee of Elizabeth’s Group, and we are campaigning to spread the word about the amazing Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy and hopefully get a statue of her in Congleton. We have launched a project called WomenLikeUs in which we will make a mosaic of Elizabeth’s face made up of nominated women of today – you can join in at www.womenlikeelizabeth.com.
What is being a Councillor like?
The past few months have been extremely busy. I do about 15 hours’ council work a week and I have reduced my working week to accommodate this (I run Kanga Health Ltd in Congleton). In case you were wondering, being a Town Councillor is unpaid.
I am managing my time carefully as I’m enthusiastic about so many things, it is difficult not to ‘run after every issue that moves’ but I simply cannot do everything! So I am doing my best to let others lead on things they are passionate about and trying to focus my energy on doing a finite number of things well.
I am very grateful for the support of my Councillor colleagues who of course campaigned against me but have been extremely collaborative and positive to work with. The ‘pre-existing’ councillors have been on the whole welcoming and helpful. Some Councillors are key partners on the projects above and I am very grateful for their teamwork.
I’m especially impressed by the Council staff who do an incredible job and work long, hard and flexibly to support the workings of the Council, especially with so many ignorant newbies like me asking questions every five minutes!
The response so far from people in Congleton
I have had an interesting response from people in Congleton – both the general public and other service providers.
I’ve had some lovely emails and comments from some folks who have said, and I quote:
“may I say how well I thought you chaired the meeting, a breath of fresh air”
“Just to say how impressed we were with the meeting today.
There is clearly a real and shared concern amongst the Council for the environment, for sustainability, and for healthier and more appropriate lifestyles, and with your leadership we are sure there is a real chance of positive action that will be supported by residents and businesses alike.”
“Really lovely to meet you and so excited to hear about how the many causes you are fighting and how we can get involved.”
On the other hand, I was accused by someone in the Congleton Chronicle of ‘victimising’ Fiona Bruce (I criticised her for voting against women’s reproductive rights and gay marriage), but I think our local MP needs to answer for her voting record and I will continue to hold her accountable!
The same person accused me of just going to Sheldon Ave for a ‘photo opportunity’ when in fact I have done quite a lot – and continue to do so – in trying to get a resolution to that situation.
But I guess that is just politics for you. I can certainly roll with those punches as long as it doesn’t stop me getting on with things!