Countdown to Christmas
24/12/2014 16:20:00......Posted by Simon Brew
It's been another busy month.
On 1 December, I returned from a short break visiting relatives in Germany, so unfortunately I just missed the last full Council meeting of the year. I gather from colleagues and the Croydon Advertiser that it was a fairly rowdy affair, partly because of Labour’s policy statement (which was subsequently withdrawn) that the usage of playing fields in some of Croydon’s schools would be reviewed. There are plenty of other blogs on this topic, so I’ll move on.
Later that week, I participated in a really useful and enjoyable training session arranged for members and reserve members of the Licensing Committee. We held a dummy application hearing for the fictional Bar-a-cuda club which wished to extend its hours of licensing. The case study was led by a practising QC who specialises in this field; it was built from several real life cases and incorporated some tricky issues for the committee to deal with, as well as lots of irrelevant material which we had by law to ignore. To make it even more challenging, members of the committee played various roles, as applicant, objector, rival business, committee member and several others. The evening was entertaining and instructive at the same time.
The next day, I attended my first planning committee meeting as a contributor; I was there to offer my support to some local residents who were concerned about some aspects of a Purley development. There are many common elements in the assessment of Licensing and Planning applications, and it was interesting to see how the legal framework and Croydon’s local policies are applied in practice.
The political composition of all Council committees, such as Licensing, Planning and Scrutiny is determined by the election results, so the ratio of seats allocated to each party broadly reflects the political makeup of the Council (which is currently Labour 40: Conservative 30). As the election approaches and particularly at weekends, most councillors spend a lot of time and effort out on the streets in their own wards and also in the Borough’s marginal wards, trying to persuade just a few hundred voters to accept their irresistible argument as to why they should vote for a particular party. It’s hard work, but then no-one ever entered politics for an easy ride (or for the rewards!). On 6 December as an example, I joined many Conservative colleagues out on the streets for four hours, and then helped to staff a Conservative stall at Coulsdon’s Yuletide festival in the High Street in the evening; it was a bitterly cold day and we were frozen stiff by the end, but the stalls selling hot food and drinks did a roaring trade!
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without pantomimes, and I greatly enjoyed this year’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; the latter were all played by adult actors who had dwarfism and they brought the story to life very effectively. The dashing prince was none other than Gareth Gates, and of course no cast is complete without a wicked witch and a male pantomime dame wearing ever more outlandish costumes. I haven’t been to a pantomime for about 40 years so it was fun to relive my (and my kids’) childhood again. Later that week, I also attended the Council's Christmas celebration event which included good misical and choral performances from some of Croydon's children.
The bad news of Purley Pool’s potential closure broke during w/c 8 December, so I and my Conservative colleagues launched a campaign and petition, which has already attracted over 1000 signatures; further details are in one of my earlier blogs. It was particularly unfortunate that this news broke just as the Purley Business Improvement District (BID) team heard that they had secured funding from the GLA to take the concept further. Croydon’s BID has been running successfully for several years and is one of the largest in the UK, so as a Purley councillor, I’m delighted that Purley now hopes to follow in its footsteps.
I did my usual two hours IT buddy stint at the Whifgift Foundation's Carer Support Centre in George Street on 11 December, and the next day all helpers were kindly invited to an enjoyable Christmas dinner with a difference - a carry-out curry which was delivered piping hot to the office! It was good to meet the other volunteers in an informal setting and to swap notes.
I was delivering Neighbourhood Watch leaflets recently and unfortunately slipped and sprained my ankle on some steps. I needed physiotherapy and bandages etc, but my wife also persuaded me to try acupuncture and I have to admit that I was impressed at the speed of my recovery using a combination of ancient and modern healing techniques… and it wasn’t painful!
There were just two Council meetings in the final full week before Christmas; one was a regular planning meeting while the other was a full Scrutiny meeting; the closure of Purley Pool was not explicitly on the agenda but it was inevitable that it would feature prominently in the debate, with a large number of Pool supporters patiently waiting in the wings for a chance to speak. Unlike full Council meetings, there is no official speaking slot in Scrutiny committee meetings for members of the public or indeed councillors who are not members of the committee, but the Labour chair Sean Fitzsimons gave Fred Wallis the chance to speak, and he did so eloquently. Of course I’m biased, but I think most independent observers would say that Fred had the better of the argument in his exchanges with the Labour Council leader Tony Newman.
Last week, I and two other councillors were invited to see the Council's secure CCTV centre in action on one of the busiest nights of the year, and it was interesting to see how the staff use about 90 remotely controlled cameras actively to monitor what's going on in the town centre. In one case we saw someone trying to hide something in his shoe after being ejected from a club and the CCTV staff were able to help the police to find vital evidence when they conducted a search of the suspect. We asked lots of questions and really appreciated the opportunity to hear at first hand about the challenges of keeping Croydon's streets safe for its citizens.
And so to Christmas, and a break from blogging..
.. but I’ll be back in the New Year, no doubt with plenty to say as the race towards the General Election hots up!
With best wishes for a Happy Christmas and New Year..