As 2019 draws to a close, it has given me a chance to reflect a bit on what I have done since the election in May. I have been involved in some important initiatives, but there is a lot to do in 2020 to finish the initiatives we have started, as well as starting new ones that are in the priority list. Still, some progress has been made.
I am glad that domestic abuse and violence against women and girls have been addressed several times in Council, and made it to the front page of the Congleton Chronicle. We have good start to The CTC Climate Emergency initiative. I am pleased with some excellent priorities in our new Business Plan (see below). I have got to know my fellow Councillors better and, although we don’t agree on everything, they are for the most part hard working and dedicated to making a difference in Congleton.
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 I am doing in the Council or indeed 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 13th January. 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.
Congleton Town Council Business Plan
For the last couple of months, I have been working with fellow Councillors developing the new Congleton Town Council Business Plan for 2020-23. This is important as it sets out the priorities, strategic objectives and high-level action plan for the next three-and-a-half years, and summarises how the Council would like to improve Congleton for everyone, based on what we have learned from people who live here, both formally and informally. You can read the entire Business Plan on the Council’s Website.
I am very happy that the Council voted to appoint a new officer to oversee and manage some of these priorities. Sustainability will require some focused effort, especially as we assess our current carbon footprint, and we will need resource to support many other initiatives too.
The strategic objectives in the plan are as follows:
- Ensure growth of the town is matched by adequate services and infrastructure
- Ensure transport infrastructure is integrated and sustainable
- Reduce economic, social and health inequalities within our community
- Ensure that the town centre is fit for 21st century
- Greater promotion of Congleton as a place to work, live, visit and do business
- Congleton Town Council will be sustainable and carbon neutral
- Ensure we effectively communicate with all sections of our community
- Ensure a high standard of operational quality and asset management
All of them are very important to me and indeed the whole council was aligned around them. The strengthened focus on equality and sustainability is particularly welcome to me. I will expand on these below.
Equality and Inclusion
I am very happy to report that the new Business Plan has equality as a strategic objective:
Strategic Objective 3: Reduce economic, social and health inequalities within our community
I was on the sub-team that developed this objective with several councillors from all parties and independents, and I’m delighted to report that it has some promising actions behind it. Many of these will require working with other agencies as they are not CTC-owned services, but we can certainly lobby and influence.
The details behind this strategic objective are as follows:
By 2025, Congleton will have measurably ‘narrowed the outcomes gap’ for members of our community so that Congleton has some of the best social, economic and health mobility indicators of any Cheshire East town.
Actions and activities:
3.1. To establish a benchmark for social, economic and health inequalities
3.2. To strive for first rate mental health services for our town and surrounding areas
3.3. Promote existing services and support the development of additional support for families and young people
3.4. Improve provision and enable access to affordable childcare for people in Congleton
3.5. Support the requirements of an ageing population
3.6. Support the requirements of people with disabilities or complex needs
3.7. Promote the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce
3.8. Support and promote initiatives to close the Gender Pay Gap in Congleton
3.9. Work to increase the provision of social housing in Congleton
3.10. Empower and promote agencies supporting those living with addiction and abuse e.g. of drugs, alcohol, gambling
3.11. Promote initiatives to improve the health and wellbeing of people in Congleton
As you know from my previous blogs, I am already working with council colleagues on several of these:
Support for families affected by Domestic Abuse
Following the presentation of Saskia Richie, the CEO of Cheshire Without Abuse, and the Council’s unanimous vote to support a Domestic Abuse Support Hub in Congleton, I have been working with Saskia and others to try to source funding for this Hub. It has been agreed that one of our Connected Communities venues may well be available, and we need the funding to staff it. This is a work in progress and we have applied to a number of funding sources. If you know of any potential funds we can apply to, please let me know! Thank you.
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. We ran another White Ribbon stall at the Christmas Lights Switch on in support of White Ribbon Day, 25th November. Sadly, Christmas time is a peak time for domestic abuse, and we had over 70 more people come to make the White Ribbon Promise not to commit, condone or ignore male violence against women. If we missed you on the day, you can make the promise online here – please do so: https://www.whiteribbon.org.uk/promise
The Health and Wellbeing Working Group, of which I’m a member, met with the Cheshire Clinical Commissioners and learned that adult mental health support is indeed being stepped up across the county with national support, including the idea of ‘hubs’ in each town – which is what we want for Congleton! We will lobby for Congleton to be one of the first. In addition, Cllr Suzy Firkin from that group has been talking to Visyon to see what can be done about getting their service extended to 25-year-olds, as previously. They currently only provide services for up to age 18 and would very much like to extend this, subject to funding.
I went along to meet the ‘Nailed It’ Group, set up by Gaz Lewis in Congleton as a peer-support mental health group. An excellent initiative, and I invited Gaz to come and meet our Working Group in the New Year to see how we might collaborate.
A page of the CTC Website is called ‘Where to go for Support’ and we plan to continue to update this page with local groups and services specifically for Congleton.
Environment and Sustainability
The new Business Plan has the following objective which I’m happy to say is much stronger on climate change and sustainability than the previous plan:
Strategic objective 6: Congleton Town Council will be sustainable and carbon neutral
Congleton Town Council to reduce its carbon footprint to zero by 2025 and work towards creating a sustainable and carbon neutral town.
6.1. Reduce the carbon footprint for the Town Council’s assets and Streetscape service
6.2. Through partnership working and engagement with the adjoining parishes plant and maintain 30,000 new trees by 2024
6.3. Review existing facilities for recycling and develop new where necessary
6.4. Develop and deliver a campaign(s) promoting the need and facilities for recycling
6.5. Create awareness of training opportunities
6.6. Maximise opportunities for the retention and enhancement of Green Open Spaces
6.7. Support the development and delivery of the Congleton Sustainability Group’s initiatives
6.8. To work with partners on recycling initiatives
6.9. To improve the air quality in Congleton
As I have previously informed you, CTC has declared a Climate Emergency and set up a Working Group with Cllr Margaret Gartside in the Chair. I’m on this group as the Community & Environment Committee Chair. We have had our first Green Fayre and there is already a tree-planting initiative underway, supported by Congleton Partnership. More on this will be communicated in January.
We had a presentation on Streetscape which I found very interesting, especially the information about more sustainable planting and management. I made notes, some of which made it onto the new page about Streetscape on the Council Website.
The Congleton Green Working Group – consisting of Councillors (including me) and experts from the community – will meet early in the New Year to agree on next steps.
The CTC Business Plan has this objective which I am very happy with:
Strategic Objective 2: Ensure transport infrastructure is integrated and sustainable
A sustainable, flexible transport system that meets the needs of all residents and creates a cleaner, better connected Congleton by 2030.
2.1 Development of a Sustainable Transport Masterplan for Congleton and surrounding Parishes
2.2 Promote existing infrastructure for sustainable modes of transport
2.3 Review current bus and train provision and develop proposals with CEC for integration
2.4 Review provision for car drivers including electric charging points and Car Parking strategy
2.5 Safety campaign and educational programme for motorists, walkers, cyclists and wheelchair users
2.6 Reinforcing the need for high quality transport plans from developers of new housing
This huge subject has been discussed several times in Council, especially in the Planning Committee in relation to transport provision for all the new housing in and around Congleton. I and other councillors have already given input to the Cheshire East Transport Strategy and will continue to work with the Transport Strategy Group led by Cllr Suzy Akers-Smith, to achieve these ambitious goals.
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 have voted in the last two months to take the ‘Services’ part of this committee away and added it to the Town Centre & Assets Committee – so that they look after all our service provision, including, now, the Streetscape service. However, the C&E Committee will still retain an interest in Streetscape from a sustainability point of view.
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
· White Ribbon Working Group
· Congleton Sustainable Transport Working Group
· Congleton Green Working Group
· Congleton Museum Trust
· Congleton Pride Steering Group
For those interested in statistics, of the statutory meetings I am expected to attend, in the 6 weeks since my last blog I have attended 86% of them (6 out of 7).
In addition to the above I have been working with Council Officers on communications and marketing. I believe the team already does a great job, but there are always opportunities to keep everyone better informed and involved, to drive more transparency and hopefully get more people participating in the life of the town. As a marketer and digital specialist, I can help out so have been providing a bit of time towards this, and will continue to do so.
I have joined the Congleton Pride Steering Group and attended two meetings, discussing the date (18th July) and location (town centre) of the Pride event in 2020. I can’t wait to do more with this enthusiastic and hard-working team.
Aside from the Council, I have continued to be part of Elizabeth’s Group which is campaigning for a statue of suffragist Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy in Congleton. We have recently launched the website www.elizabethelmy.comand are planning a heritage trail about Elizabeth around the town.
As you may know (and this is nothing to do with the Council) in my capacity as Women’s Equality Party Branch Co-Leader in Cheshire East, I also helped to run a General Election Hustings in Congleton Town Hall, which the WEP paid for, with the support of Jeremy Condliffe and the Congleton Chronicle. It was a very interesting debate, the outcome of which I’m sure you are now aware of.
I was particularly pleased that at the hustings all five Congleton parliamentary candidates, including Fiona Bruce, signed the Women’s Equality Party pledge to amend the Recall Act so that MPs found guilty of sexual harassment, abuse and bullying can be removed by their constituents. I will be writing to Mrs Bruce in the New Year to ask how this is progressing.