Any problems? A better way to conduct Colchester Council meetings

This morning I posted about last night’s Colchester Borough Council meeting, which took over four hours to (mostly) debate national issues it hasn’t got a hope of changing or influencing.

The reason? Because a sizeable number of councillors like to treat it as a party political playground – a sort of pretend Parliament for pre-schoolers. And sure enough, when you get exchanges like this, the temptation to stick one over on the other side is almost irresistible.

I wouldn’t mind so much if council meetings weren’t dominated by national issues. And I wouldn’t mind so much if even straightforward local issues weren’t so often the subject of partisan punch ups. Again, as Jason from the Colchester Chronicle put it. Continue reading

Going through the motions – a reflection on Colchester Borough Council meetings

Last night I took part in a full council meeting that lasted for well over four hours – and even then we failed to get through the agenda. 

Great news, you might say. A chamber full of elected representatives making a real difference for the people of Colchester.

Nope.

In fact, we spent most of our time debating things that the council is Continue reading

#Daphnegate – What I said at the Governance Committee

I’m my party’s local spokesman on Open Government and Transparency, so I thought it only fair to publish what I said at tonight’s Governance Committee – which voted unanimously that I had not breached the Councillors’ Code of Conduct.

I may have mixed up a few sentences and I clarified a few other things (like why I put a full stop before a tweet to reach a wider audience), but you will be able to check them against the recording of the meeting in due course (something that I campaigned for before I was elected as a councillor). But before you read on, pause a moment and give thanks to people like Kristin who help those in difficulty – she is an incredible barrister, and a kind hearted and true one.  Continue reading

Colchester market – the story behind the consultation

All consultations are valuable, but some are more valuable than others.

Especially when the data they gather is so skewed as to be worthless.

That’s the thought that went through my mind the other week as I completed an online questionnaire seeking views on Colchester’s market and street traders. It’s an emotive issue, particularly for street traders. So far this year Colchester Borough Council has tried to evict them from their pitches in Culver Street in favour of more expensive new stalls on the High Street.

The traders also objected to the fact that the online consultation questionnaire was only live for six days. ““It all seems a bit cloak and dagger,” complained trader Shahid Zaman. “It seems like there is a predetermined outcome.”

When I completed the questionnaire I felt the same. So I posted the following on the Facebook page belonging to Quarterbridge, the company hired by Colchester Borough Council to do the consultation. Continue reading

It’s people, not just the pills, that will cure my depression

There’s a touching scene in the pilot episode of House, in which Dr Robert Chase is at the bedside of a seriously ill patient who wants to die at home.

Diagnosed first with a brain tumour, then with cerebral vasculitis, she has endured seizures, heart failure and an emergency tracheotomy.

But the answer to her condition was simpler all along. Thanks to the detective work of Dr House, she is diagnosed with a tapeworm in her brain. As Dr Chase hands her the miracle cure – two pills daily – her eyes well up with tears of hope and relief.

As both a pragmatist and a sufferer of depression, the scene struck a chord with me. I’ve written before how two pills daily have affected me. How I took the antidepressant Seroxat – until my behaviour became manic and increasingly erratic. How its sister drug Sertraline lifted the poisonous smog of my despair – for one short month until I was slowly re-embraced by the tendrils of mental agony and suicidal thoughts.

And I wrote how, finally, I believed I had been cured by Continue reading

How love stopped my depression from becoming suicide

Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757-1826), Self-Portrait

 

Note: this post has been written as a pledge to share my mental health history, supporting Time to Change’s campaign to end the stigma of mental illness.

Do you know how to kill yourself painlessly?

I do. Five minutes research showed me how to slip from life to unconsciousness to death in minutes.

And last November I seriously considered doing just that.

Why? Continue reading

It’s shared stories that unite us, not ‘Britishness’

“If you two are going to spend all afternoon pretending to be Scottish,” said a friend as we made our way to meet a man called Angus, “I’m leaving.”

He had a point. Like me, Angus was born, raised and lived in England. And like me, he had a penchant for recounting family tales from north of the border. I could see why, to the outsider, it looked as though we were trying to out-Celt each other.

But our apparent plastic tartanry was nothing but genuine. In my case, I had never even been to Scotland until I visited St Andrews, which to my eternal gratitude had offered me a place to study at its university.

It was more a homecoming than a visit. Although a stranger, the bones of my mother’s family lay buried only six miles away in Dunino. Her grandfather had been brought up in a house called Grangemuir, just outside Pittenweem. The cottage hospital in St Andrews itself had been founded in memory of her great-great grandmother.

I knew all this, and took pride in it, long before I set foot in Scotland. Continue reading

New Homes Bonus petition update – residents’ meeting refused by Cllr Turrell

An update on my correspondence with Council Leader and Mile End Councillor Anne Turrell, regarding the petition to give Mile End and Braiswick residents a say on how New Homes Bonus Money is spent in our area.

1. Cllr Anne Turrell to Ben Locker (cc’d to Cllr Goss and Myland Community Council Chair, Cllr Peter Hewitt – 3 April 2014)

Hi Ben

Thank you for your e mail.

I often speak bad Spanish so I know the feeling not being sure you have said what you mean to say!!

If the residents you mention in your e mail also have questions they can like you send me an e mail and I will respond to them.

The meeting I offered you was a one to one between a resident and Leader. It was offered to you as I do with any resident who has lots of questions that need factual answers. I do this all the time as Leader as it the best way to help residents ask follow on questions, understand how things work at a Council and what Councils can and can’t do.

As we are coming to the time of the year when elections are upon us because the Council has elections there are electoral rules that I have to follow in my role as Leader. That date is fast approaching it is 6 weeks before the elections this year due to European Elections and you are a candidate in the Local Elections election.

I thought this would be a simple case of you a resident meeting the Leader fairly quickly but that doesn’t appear to be the case you seem to want to make this into something bigger.

I will pass your original e mail to an appropriate officer at the Council for an answer.

After the elections if you still want to meet we can get a date in the diary now as my diary is very full and it is not always easy to fit meetings in. If you would like that please let me know and I will ask my PA to find a suitable date.

Meanwhile I will consider with Cabinet something you said – namely having a Meet the Leader and or Cabinet session for residents. I know other Councils have tried this so I will find out whether they actually worked. I have done something similar with the Gazette, the Gazette asked readers for questions and I answered them.

I will await your response with regard to a meeting after the elections.

Regards

Anne

2. Ben Locker to Cllr Anne Turrell (cc’d to Borough Cllr Goss and Community Cllr Hewitt – 3 April 2014)

Hi Anne,

Thanks for your email. Again, sorry for the delay in replying. I wasn’t speaking bad French this time, but giving a talk in Oxford.

I was keen to bring along a small number of residents as they have worked with me on this campaign. If that’s not possible, it’s not possible – but it is disappointing.

I was unaware of any rule that prevented you from meeting a candidate during the election period. Mind you, I have yet to register as a one – though I am happy to confirm I will again be putting myself forward as the Conservative candidate for Mile End in the local elections. I would certainly enjoy putting forward my arguments about the New Homes Bonus in the council chamber!

Thank you also for passing on my email to the relevant officer. I will look forward to their response.

I’m very happy to meet after the elections. When they are over, are you willing to meet with the small group of residents I mentioned? Surely it would take less of your time than a series of individual meetings? If not, then I will meet you one-to-one.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t mention a Meet the Leader session or a Cabinet session for residents. What I’m hoping for in the short to medium term is proper consultation with residents on how to allocate at least some of the NHB money for our area. People in Mile End and Braiswick have a wealth of ideas for our community – it would be great to give them a voice and help shape the area’s future from the grass roots.

Kindest wishes,

Ben

I’ll keep you posted…

New Homes Bonus petition – Cllr Anne Turrell’s response

I’ve been working with people from across the Mile End and Braiswick community to petition Colchester Borough Council about the New Homes Bonus.

With 3,000 homes set to be built in our area over the coming years, the Council will receive millions of pounds as a direct result of the development in our area – development that few of us wanted.

The petition asks the Council to consult Mile End and Braiswick residents on how some of that money will be spent, hopefully allowing us to suggest ways it can be used to improve facilities, infrastructure and quality of life for people in our community.

This is a record of the correspondence I have had with Mile End councillor and Colchester Borough Council Leader Anne Turrell. I won’t comment on it at this stage, but simply put it here for information.

My personal view is that some other councils have had the good sense to put this money into communities affected by development. I would love our council to do the same – and for grassroots voices to be heard. If you agree, please sign this petition: www.givemileendasay.org.uk

1. Ben Locker to Mile End councillors Anne Turrell and Martin Goss (2 April 2014)

Dear Cllrs Turrell and Goss,

I am writing regarding the New Homes Bonus petition article in today’s Gazette.  Continue reading

More evidence the North Station petition is a Lib Dem sham

Recently I posted about  Mile End Lib Dems hijacking a petition to demand of Essex County Council that:

“Immediate action must be taken to relieve congestion at the North Station Junction”

Since then I have tweeted to Councillor Martin Goss to get his assurance that news of the petition won’t be plastered all over  Lib Dem literature in the run up to the Borough Elections.

Predictably I got no answer. This isn’t a petition about reducing traffic at North Station. If it were, it would offer solutions – not a vague aspiration of Something Must Be Done.

No. This is a petition to raise the profile of the Borough Council candidate the Lib Dems are likely to parachute into Mile End.

If it weren’t, why on earth are they asking for measures that will be addressed by something they’ve long campaigned for – a new A12 junction and the Park & Ride, both of which Tory controlled Essex County Council are currently delivering.

They must have very short memories. Here’s something they Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 18.52.33

Note that last quote.

Once all these road infrastructure projects are complete we in Mile End can look forward to less traffic through our area.

Quite so.