Here is an update on what I’ve been doing in the last two months since my previous blog.
It has been a busy couple of months. Overall, my meeting attendance for the two months has been 93% for all meetings and working groups (13 of 14) and 83% for statutory meetings (4 of 5). In addition, I’ve attended the Finance & Policy Committee twice, although not a member. Being a Councillor is so much more than meetings though, there is stuff to be done, too!
Tell me what you think
If you want to chat to me about what I am doing in the Council (or about the Women’s Equality Party), we have an informal ‘open house’ in the Young Pretender on the second Monday each month at 7.30pm – the next one is 9th March. 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. You can see my priorities on my Cllr page here.
Equality and Inclusion
I am very happy to report that the Finance and Policy Committee of the Council voted unanimously to approve a new Equality and Inclusion Policy for Congleton Town Council which I presented to them on 13th February. At the same meeting the F&P Committee awarded Congleton Pride a grant to support their event in 2020, which I also spoke for.
The new Equality and Inclusion Policy sets out how the councillors and staff will behave with respect to people with different characteristics, including the legal ‘protected characteristics’.
The old Equality Policy met minimum requirements in terms of mentioning the protected characteristics but did not describe many of them in detail. Furthermore, the policy had an emphasis on discrimination and what we ‘will not tolerate’ and protective actions, rather than portraying equality, diversity and inclusion as a positive aspiration that CTC will embrace and promote.
I consulted the Local Government Association guidance, The Cheshire East Equality and Diversity Strategy, national government guidelines, Citizen’s Advice documents and the policies and practice of award-winning local authorities to develop a new Equality and Inclusion Policy for CTC. I worked with Cllr Suzy Firkin, who proof-read and improved the text for me from her experience as a professional equality and diversity consultant. Thanks, Suzy!
The new Policy states “We want Congleton to be a place in which everyone’s hopes and aspirations can be made real. We want to ensure that no one is held back or excluded and that our Town’s success is shared… Our policy sets our vision: recognising the contributions that people from different backgrounds make, actively tackling inequalities and fostering good relationships across our communities.”
The new Equality and Inclusion Policy differs from the old in that it:
- Recognises that including more diverse groups of people will help our decision-making, democracy and the success of our town
- Says that CTC will show leadership in equality and inclusion for Congleton
- Commits to listen to and understand the diverse needs of all people to make our information, services and products more accessible and inclusive
- Sets out the legal protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation, and identifies additional characteristics that we will protect – these are: people in care/with caring responsibilities and people of different socio-economic groups
- Gives examples of ‘types of discrimination’ (from case law) using each of the characteristics.
- Says we are determined to continually measure our performance and improve, and that we will share good equality and inclusion practice.
You can read my report to the Finance & Policy Committee and the new Equality & Inclusion Policy in the meeting papers from 13th February (starting pg. 65).
I was very happy that the Congleton Chronicle put the news of the new Policy on their front page, together with a report about the council’s support for Pride (which I also spoke in favour of). I was less happy that the Chron called me a ‘LibDem Councillor’! My LibDem colleagues (and other friends) enjoyed this apparent switch of allegiance! But the paper did print an apology this week.
I have written to the respondents of last year’s Childcare Survey who agreed to work with us further, and invited them to a workshop to discuss childcare challenges and potential solutions for Congleton. This will take place at the Town Hall on 14th March. If you’d like to take part, get in touch!
CTC White Ribbon Campaign
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.
Congleton Town Council has agreed to try to become a White Ribbon Accredited town. Our Working Group consists of 4 councillors (Paul Duffy, Mark Rogan, George Hayes and me), the Council Chief Officer, David McGifford, and two volunteers from the community – Richard Walton and Peter Munro. We have all completed White Ribbon Training so they are now Ambassadors and I’m a Champion, as they call women.
You can join in by making your Promise here: https://www.whiteribbon.org.uk/promise. If you’re involved with boys/men at work or in a social sense such as a sports club – perhaps you’d like to help? Do get in touch.
The next step for our group is training for our council employees and councillors.
The Health and Wellbeing Working Group, of which I’m a member, is prioritising adult mental health services for Congleton – for which we must lobby other agencies like Cheshire East Council and the NHS.
Cllr Mark Rogan and I visited ‘Number 71’, a new ‘Crisis Café’ in Chester to learn how it is set up and the services it provides. It is intended to be a place to go if you are in mental health crisis, instead of going to A&E. There will be qualified mental health professionals on-hand, and the facilities include consulting rooms, group-work rooms, activities and areas to relax and have a coffee and chat.
This is the sort of facility we want in Congleton. We have been told the Clinical Commissioning Group is rolling these out all over Cheshire so we will continue to lobby for Congleton to be the first in Cheshire East!
Some councillor colleagues met with Mentell who provide a service primarily for men with mental health problems. There is Cheshire East funding to support and train facilitators of mental health peer groups, so we will connect this with people like Mentell who have set up groups in Congleton.
I was pleased to learn via this Working Group that for the last 2 months of 2019, antisocial behaviour was down 50% year-on-year. Cllr Robert Moreton has been working with local venues and Bamboogy have agreed to run an ‘under-18s night’ on 9thApril to give young people something to do in town. We will see how this is received.
Support for families affected by Domestic Abuse
We are continuing to support Cheshire Without Abuse in their efforts to get funding for a domestic abuse hub in Congleton and several bids are underway.
We were asked last year to suggest street names for a new development off Back Lane, Congleton. Since I believe more than 90% of Congleton’s streets named after people are named after men, I suggested 5 names of prominent Congleton women, and I’m delighted to say these have all been accepted as new street names! they are:
- Ormiston Way (Dr Margaret Ormiston, who set up Quinta hospital for wounded soldiers)
- Elmy Avenue (Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy – suffragist, women’s rights campaigner)
- Turner Drive (Theodora Turner OBE, President of RCN)
- Williamson Close (Margaret Williamson MBE, local Councillor and life-long volunteer)
- Burgess Place (Jessie Burgess, first woman mayor of Congleton, 1945-47)
Environment and Sustainability
The Congleton Green Working Group has got going and has had a couple of meetings, the first one with a Cheshire East Officer who explained where things are up to with the CEC Environment Strategy.
It became clear that they are not going fast enough for us, so two of the Congleton Green Members (Barry Speed and Mark Rogan) will be calculating CTC’s own carbon footprint and from this we will set some clear objectives for our group.
The objectives will not be limited to carbon footprint – we will address all areas of sustainability including waste, plastics, consumption etc.
Plastic Free Congleton (Heather Seddon) came to request the formal support of Congleton Town Council, and I spoke in support of that group, which is doing great work.
I welcome the Young Pretender’s initiative to show a ‘climate change’ movie night each month – a great idea. This week I saw ‘Chasing Ice’ which was fascinating and sobering.
The Congleton tree planting initiative continues. I haven’t been out for a planting day yet, but intend to! If you’d like to join in you can learn more here.
Our Integrated Sustainable Transport Working Group has met and started to set its objectives. I have been looking into the new funding for bus services that is coming from central government. Cheshire East will be entitled to some of this assuming it puts together a bid, which I’m sure it will as Craig Browne of CEC states they will in this week’s Congleton Chronicle.
I am also interested in the idea of the ‘All-Electric Bus Town’ which is a large government fund for a single town to go to all-electric buses. CEC have not committed to bidding for this but I believe Congleton could be a contender so will continue to pursue it. If you’re a transport or bus expert and would like to help, please get in touch!
I met with the Congleton Museum team and Cllr Suzy Firkin to discuss how to raise awareness and get more people coming to the museum. I put together a ‘comms calendar’ so we can regularly tweet and post about ‘heritage days’ and other important dates, and share images of our artefacts. This will start in March, in addition to the usual museum communications, so see if you notice the museum is more visible in your social media feeds!
I got trained as a Dementia Friend, along with other Councillors. If you’d like to be trained (it only takes an hour) please contact Dementia Friendly Congleton.
I wrote yet again to Cheshire East officers to ask what is being done about the bins on Sheldon Avenue, but did not get a response.
I corresponded with the residents of Bath Vale about a dispute with the developers and CEC because their road has not been finished off properly and is full of potholes.
With council colleagues I attended a meeting with Canalside Radio to discuss their increased broadcasting for/in Congleton and the potential for a ‘Congleton App’. More on this soon!
Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy
I’m a member of Elizabeth’s Group, which is raising awareness of suffragist Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy and all the great work she did in/from Congleton for women’s and girls’ rights.
I attended the Elizabeth’s Group fundraiser ceilidh, which was great fun. I also helped out at the Olive & Stitch market in January. Elizabeth’s Group is planning to launch a new Heritage Trail about Elizabeth on 2nd May and has lots of other activities planned for 2020.
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 Committee which has a large remit.
We also have regular meetings of the Chairs of the various Committees.
In addition, I am 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
- Anti-Social Behaviour Working Group (Chair)
- Congleton Partnership
- White Ribbon Working Group
- Congleton Sustainable Transport Working Group
- Congleton Green Working Group
- Congleton Museum Trust
- Congleton Pride Steering Group
- Elizabeth’s Group
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 in these areas.