Here is an update on what I’ve been doing in the last two months since my previous blog.
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 – the next one is 11th November. If you’d like to talk to me in private, do let me know and we can set that up, but these open ‘chats’ have been working pretty well so far. 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? You have to submit questions a week in advance and can do so here on the Council’s website.
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 things such as Social Services, Health, Transport – these are the domain of Cheshire East, but we can lobby for change in these areas.
Please note that this blog post mentions domestic abuse and sexual violence. If you need help, please contact one of these: Cheshire Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0300 123 5101. Rape Crisis: 0808 802 9999. Women’s Aid: 0808 2000 247. Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327. Galop (LGBT+): 0800 999 5428
Equality and Inclusion
Following our Council’s first business planning session in September I have worked on the ‘key issue’ relating to economic, social and health inequalities, working with Cllrs Martin and Holland. Our work will be input to the next business planning working session in October, and the resulting Business Plan will guide our Council’s work for the next 4 years.
Support for families affected by Domestic Abuse
I invited Saskia Richie, the CEO of Cheshire Without Abuse, to speak at the Community, Environment and Services Committee which I chair. Saskia gave us a good insight into the services provided by CWA and the challenge presented by domestic abuse in Congleton. Her presentation is here.
CWA offers practical and emotional support services to families including women, men and children and shows a measurable impact – for example they reduced the number of ‘high risk’ families (where serious injury or death is likely) by 27% in 3 years.
In Congleton, recent domestic abuse statistics are as follows:
- 200-250 families per year (2017-2019)
- 100 referrals for 62 families between 1st July and 25th September 2019 (1 male victim, the rest female)
- Linked to these families are 6 referrals for perpetrators and 24 for children
A major problem is the lack of a local service for families in Congleton. Service users must travel to Macclesfield or Crewe, which is often impractical, especially with children. CWA tried to initiate a centre in Congleton, but a lack of childcare facilities made it impossible to continue.
Saskia asked the Town Council to help her start up a new service centre with childcare, for one day and one evening per week.
Congleton Town Council voted unanimously to support this initiative and work is now underway to identify a venue and the funding to start this service here in Congleton.
Tackling male violence against women and girls – the White Ribbon Campaign
In September I came to the Council with the rationale for Congleton to spend an annual fee of £300 and invest in training and activities to become a White Ribbon Accredited Town.
The White Ribbon Campaign works with men and boys to challenge those male cultures that lead to harassment, abuse and violence. It has volunteer ambassadors who act as role models, engaging with other men and boys to call out abusive and sexist behaviour among their peers and promote a culture of equality and respect.
The White Ribbon Accreditation programme ensures organisations take a strategic approach to ending male violence against women by engaging with men and boys, changing cultures and raising awareness.
I presented to the full council the extent of the problem, for example:
- 3 women a week are killed by a partner or former partner
- 6 out of 7 victims of domestic violence are women
- 35% of girls have been sexually harassed on the street whilst wearing school uniform
- Rape conviction rates have recently fallen below 3% in the England and Wales (150,000 rapes per year)
The Council unanimously voted to support this motion and we are now implementing an Action Plan to become White Ribbon Accredited. Our White Ribbon working group is Cllr Paul Duffy (Chair), Richard Walton, Chief Officer David McGifford, Cllr Mark Rogan, Cllr George Heyes, Peter Munro and myself. (Many thanks are due to Richard Walton, by the way, who initiated this discussion before I became a councillor.)
As a first step we launched our White Ribbon Campaign at the Maker’s Market on 29th September.
I for one was humbled by the number of people who came to our stall and said ‘This happened to me/my sister/my daughter/my wife by her ex’. It was quite shocking and really brought it home to me how important this work is.
We were also delighted by the support from the public with over 70 people signing the White Ribbon Pledge and two men offering to become ambassadors – a Rugby Coach and a Boxing Coach. Thank you!
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 patients have to go to Macclesfield for services and support.
This month the Group agreed to invite the Clinical Commissioners to meet us and explain the new mental health strategy for Cheshire and how it may meet our needs in Congleton, and allow us to ask questions.
Environment and Sustainability
In September, on behalf of Congleton Green and the Community, Environment and Services Committee I presented a proposal that Congleton Town Council should declare a Climate Emergency and initiate steps to become carbon neutral by 2025.
The council voted unanimously to support this with the following specific eight resolutions:
- Declare a ‘Climate Emergency’;
- Publicise this initiative to at the Congleton Green Fayre on 26th October 2019;
- Appoint Cllr Margaret Gartside as Lead Councillor on Climate Emergency;
- Pledge to make Congleton Town Council carbon neutral by 2025;
- Call on Cheshire East, and the national government to provide the powers and resources to make the 2025 target possible;
- Continue to work with partners across the town and region to deliver this goal through all relevant strategies and plans;
- In all discussion, debate and decision-making procedures ensure that climate impact is thoroughly considered and recorded;
- Report to Council within three months with the initial actions the Council needs to take to address this emergency.
Please come along to the Congleton Green Fayre on 26th October and learn what YOU can do to save the planet. Thank you!
Integrated and sustainable transport, another ‘green’ issue, is a national and Cheshire East priority and there is a lot we can do locally to address this. We had our first meeting of the Congleton Town Council Transport Strategy Working Group in September. As a result, we are compiling Congleton response to the Cheshire East Local Transport Plan (LTP) and I have written the ‘buses’ section of that response.
In addition to the projects above I’ve been involved ad hoc with various issues:
- I have continued to work with residents of Sheldon Avenue to try to get a resolution to the bins and cars being left on their footpaths, and have written to CEC to try to get a resolution for this. Cheshire East Councillors from Congleton are now taking this on and Suzie Akers-Smith will submit CEC proposals about footway obstruction at Cheshire East Council.
- I was invited to join the Congleton Pride Steering Group, and did so.
- I met with Ian Doughty of Congleton Museum and became a Director of the Museum Trust
- I invited the Mayor to open Elizabeth’s Garden, in celebration of Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, our Congleton Women’s Rights campaigner. Many thanks to Patti Pinto and team for making the beautiful garden, and to Mayor Holland for ‘cutting the ribbon’.
- I took part in the Emergency Council public debate about Congleton Leisure Centre redevelopment. There is some strong feeling in the town that the consultation on this was inadequate. I was not on the Council when the redevelopment was originally approved, so it was a steep learning curve for me. The arguments I heard on each side were:
- The squash and badminton groups were annoyed that the new centre has fewer courts than the old one (to make room for spinning studio and other new facilities)
- The swimming clubs wanted an 8-lane swimming pool and a proper viewing gallery. However, some of the Cheshire East Councillors present mentioned that Crewe had requested and not been granted an 8-lane pool, for their town of 120,000 people, so the likelihood of Congleton (with less than 30,000) getting this was felt to be slight.
- The access to the centre was questioned including problems for the bowling club and facilities for cyclists and walkers.
- Some thought the plan was not ambitious enough and we should go back to the drawing-board and plan a centre ‘fit for the next 50 years’
- Others were afraid that if we went to the new Cheshire East Council with a suggestion to re-plan completely, this might risk the entire project.
Eventually the Town Council voted to ask CEC to re-look at the plans to evaluate if changes could be made to increase squash and badminton facilities, improve access for cyclists and for the bowlers, and consider adding a ‘stand’ for viewing the swimming pool, but not a complete re-plan. I voted for this proposal.
Being a Councillor
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 nine 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 Cross-Party Group
- Anti-Social Behaviour Working Group (Chair)
- Congleton Partnership Executive
- White Ribbon Working Group
- Congleton Sustainable Transport Working Group
- Congleton Green
- Congleton Museum Trust
- Congleton Pride Steering Group
For those interested in statistics, of the meetings I am expected to attend, in the 6 weeks since my last blog I have attended 100% of them (5 out of 5 ‘council committees’ and 8 out of 8 in total). For all meetings and working groups since May my attendance is 88% (28 / 32).