A New Year’s Walk – Reflections

Walking through the trampled bracken on a hilltop overlooking the sea in Dorset on a New Year’s morning, I felt happy. Grateful to be able to walk independently, choosing what path to take, and feel the cold air on my cheeks.

Unexpectedly, a memory of struggling to walk to my kitchen popped into my head and reminded me of how lucky I was. Then, almost instantaneously the logical part of my brain started to kick in and told me to stop dwelling on the past.

For many years I’ve tried to self-monitor my thoughts, rationalising away reflection as pointless or morbid negativity. Why should you think of the past? What benefit does this bring when you should be thinking of the future?

Since I’ve recovered my health, I often find myself thinking about how lucky I am: when I walk into a café and have the freedom to spontaneously chose my own food, when I can go into a shop and buy whatever I want without having to leave without getting anything because I can’t physically queue at the till, when I can walk into work without fear of collapse, when I went to a conference and got the train on my own and didn’t have to ask anyone for special treatment.

These moments of thankfulness happen daily, and make me feel happy with my present. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a completely changed person, I’m back now to my usual self of planning for the future, whilst moaning about the mundane (the utility room needs painting and we still need a new bed).

However, this blog entry’s purpose is really about articulating a case in favour of healthy reflection over simply forgetting the past.

I’ve spent years wishing I could ‘live in the moment’. When I was fit and healthy one of the key ways I achieved this was through running. Now, I don’t need to do anything particularly special to have this sense of happiness and contentment every day, enjoying simple moments of pleasure from a walk in the park to cooking a meal.

I still have the same ambitions, hopes and dreams I had before my illness, but I’m hoping that my experience will help me retain a deeper appreciation of all the wonderful things I have in my life – my husband, family, friends, house and job.

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In defence of Councillors

I was reminded of how difficult a job it is to be a councillor, and hence this blog entry, by reading the social media comments made by some of the public in response to a contested local planning issue about a Waste Transfer Station in Milton Keynes, where I live.

I had a day off work and was idly sitting on my sofa surfing local news and then read a stream of comments criticising the councillors on the MK Council Development Control Committee who had voted to approve the development. What incensed me was not the criticism of the decision, but the fact that it was very personal, attacking the integrity of the councillors–with allegations of corruption and offensive personal insults. I then ended up in an online argument in defence of the councillors and the decision-making process.

Nationally an IPSO Mori Poll conducted in January last year found that just 16% of Britons trust politicians to tell the truth compared with 22% trusting estate agents and 31% who trust bankers, so social media abuse unfortunately isn’t surprising.  Social media has created amazing opportunities for councillors and councils to improve engagement with local residents (see blog here about how councillors are using social media https://johnpopham.wordpress.com/2016/02/19/councillors-and-social-media-could-they-be-youtube-stars/). Yet social media also makes it more obvious and visible that a real lack of trust exists.

I’m not a politician. I just work with them and wanted to share some of my own observations in defence of councillors.

3 Myths about local Councillors

  1. They get a massive salary funded by the taxpayer—wrong. Councillors don’t receive a salary. They get a basic allowance to provide some compensation for their time which is set locally. For example, where I live each councillor gets under £10,000 a year. This is considerably less than the UK average annual salary of £26,000.
  2. They don’t do much, just attend a few meetings—wrong. Councillors work long unsociable hours. One of the big differences between me as a local government officer and the councillors I work with is that I can leave the office and leave it all behind. Councillors don’t have that luxury. The public know where they live and have their phone number. Growing up, I got used to my mother, who was a councillor, having to deal with ward issues late into the evening and was trained in taking messages as well as making cups of tea for visitors.

It is hard for councillors to have any time for themselves, as the role is demanding—helping people find solutions and information on accessing services; campaigning on local issues; helping scrutinise decisions by participating in review groups on different issues from street lighting to care for the elderly; and serving on committees such as Development Control (who make planning decisions like the one that prompted me to write this post).

  1. They are in it for themselves, the status and glory—really? So, we have established that there are no excessive financial perks from being a councillor; we have established that the general public don’t have a high degree of trust in politicians; and that the role involves working anti-social and possibly long hours.

I have worked with many councillors, from all parties, and all carry out their role in slightly different ways depending on many factors such as personal style, expertise and interest. Some councillors focus their energy on specific campaigns or local issues; some on strategic issues such as joint working with the health sector or improving overall value for money; some on scrutinising policies and performance; some on doing the best they can to help individual residents in their local area—or some doing all of the above.

There is one thing that all of the councillors I have had the privilege to meet and work with, despite their differences, which is that all have had a passion for making a difference to help improve their communities.

Useful links

https://www.gov.uk/government/get-involved/take-part/become-a-councillorhttp://www.buckscc.gov.uk/about-your-council/be-a-councillor/

A Council’s Constitution – the foundation for good governance

Last week at full Council some changes to Buckinghamshire County Council’s Constitution were agreed unanimously, following detailed line-by-line scrutiny of the proposed changes by the Council’s Regulatory & Audit Committee.

The Council faces huge challenges and opportunities going forward so why does it matter whether the Council has an up-to-date Constitution?

In preparing to write this blog I searched online for articles setting out the benefits of a Council Constitution but could find little. As a local government officer it is one of those things you take for granted. Legally the Council has to have one, and generally (unless you work in my team) you can get through your whole career without having to actually read one.

Some might argue that the rules set out in the Constitution create unnecessary bureaucracy. Yet without these rules there would be little to prevent abuses of power. Decisions could be taken behind closed doors about long term contracts worth millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and about significant service changes without any public debate and scrutiny.

Constitutions are not just for lawyers, politicians and political anoraks. They are there for everyone.

A Constitution won’t build a road or heal the sick, but it provides the foundation for ensuring that the Council’s power is used effectively in the best interests of the public.

Three key benefits of the Council’s Constitution are:

1) Safeguarding & protecting the public interest—The Council’s Constitution provides a single online source of authoritative information on the key rules of how the Council should be run. It is available for everyone to see and hold the Council to account for implementing. It can be used as tool for democracy by residents; a checklist for officers to ensure the right processes are followed and a reference source for all Councillors to ensure all decisions are taken in the public interest.

2) Improved outcomes for Buckinghamshire residents—The requirements in the Constitution for transparent decision-making help improve outcomes for residents. This is because it means that residents and local communities have the opportunity have a say before decisions are taken. It means more debate and scrutiny of issues by service users, Councillors, interested groups and taxpayers. Public debate leads to better decision-making. It provides a driver for ensuring that decision-makers fully consider all implications, risks and alternatives.

3) Better value for money—The Constitution includes rules on how Council finances and contracts are managed. Rules to ensure competition to get the best value for money as well as ensuring that there are clear lines of accountability and responsibility for how Council money is spent on behalf of Buckinghamshire residents.

 

Having an accurate and up-to-date Constitution is not a guarantee of good governance and local democracy. No document can achieve these things, only people can. Yet, it is an essential prerequisite for good governance. The rules set out in the Constitution are all designed to help ensure the principles of good governance are followed so that decision-making is democratically-led, open and accountable.

Whilst a Constitution should not be changed a whim, it should be regularly reviewed to ensure that it incorporates and reflects legislation so that it can remain the single source of authoritative advice for the organisation. That’s why it mattered that full Council agreed an updated Constitution.

 

 You can access a copy of Buckinghamshire County Council’s Constitution here: http://www.buckscc.gov.uk/about-your-council/council-structure/constitution

 

Dry January

And so it ends. I’ve learnt many things this month.

Firstly that I shouldn’t try and spread myself too thin and attempt to do too many things that I’m not actually that committed to doing. Generally, I couldn’t be bothered to exercise every day; not because it was too hard, just simply because I didn’t feel like it.

Secondly, that when I do really set my mind to something then I do always achieve it in the end ( even if it does take me many attempts and many years).

31 days without a drop of alcohol. I had moments of weakness and desire, but they were just moments until I had a cup of tea or lemongrass & ginger cordial. Any longings were mainly because of entrenched habits built up over many years, for example the association of a long committee day with a glass of wine to relax in the evening or of course being out with friends.

It was particularly helpful to break old habits by engrossing myself with other things I enjoy. In my case running and a new job.

Thirdly, I think I’ve learnt that I can change old habits as and when I want.

Looking forward to new challenges and wine in  moderation!

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Running in the snow at Beachy Head. Continue reading

Janathon day 16 & 17

Day 16
Busy day at work today so afraid I didn’t do any exercise but made up for it the next day..

Day 17
Got up at 5.30 am to start our weekly late group run at 7.30 am. I hate these early starts but I know it’s good for me! Felt like a bad start as had to walk up the massive killer hill. At that point I wanted to go off on my own as I know I’m so much slower than the group but once we were on the flat I wasn’t too far behind the others.

It was a red dawn this morning and watching the light on the branches made it all worth while. Then it started snowing and was just perfect. I’ve never seen snow and a red sun at the same time before. This is why I love trail running.

On the way back got to the car and was 10 mins short. Didn’t have any of the coaches there to shout at me to keep going but continued nevertheless so got my 2 hours in with 11.8 miles done.image

Janathon – day 15

Nearly didn’t want to leave the sofa tonight but made the effort much to the disappointment of my two cats. Went out for a tempo session with the club. Forgot my watch so not sure what I did but over 8 miles and maybe around 9 to 9m 30 pace. Managed to just about keep up with a few people tonight so went well and I quite liked not having a watch as I just relaxed into it and forgot about the time. Only hard part was running through my estate as was very tempting just to give up and go home.

January healthy living month (formerly Sara’s janathon blog) 12, 13,14

Day 12

Ok so I’ve now officially failed janathon. Mon night I attempted core exercises and it was painful to do anything as I’ve strained my stomach muscles. So I took a night off.

Day 13

Tuesday night went to the late group and did a timed mile. Julie and Steve organised chip timing for us which was fun. Managed to do 7 m 38 for a mile which I was pleased with as it works out at my target marathon pace.

Day 14

It’s 9 o’clock and I’ve done no exercise again so doubtful I will do any ( I walked from my car into the office and back if that counts?). No proper excuse I’m just tired from work etc…and I like sitting on the sofa with my cats.

Decided to give up janathon/readjust my goals (see the new rebranding of the blog posts, in local govt this would probably be referred to a ‘reprofiling’ exercise and nothing to do with me simply failing to meet my target).

I’m still committed to dry January and my marathon training which includes going to all mklr late group sessions. These running sessions always push me every time as I’m the slowest runner and i really value my rest days to relax. I may keep up this blog just until end of jan though as it will help me to reach my remaining targets. 10 miles tomorrow!

Janathon – day 11

Today I went out for a bike ride with dave which lasted approx 15 mins! Basically I spent ages adjusting the breaks on dave’s bike and then went out with cheap wholly gloves. My fingers were frozen and I just wanted to come home. After that failed attempt at exercise then went to the woods and did a decent 5.5 mile or so circuit which was nice. Did 30 mins workout as well so a good exercise day.

Janathon – Day 10

Today was a proper exercise day. Went to the woods with the late group and was definately very tough. Started as usual from Bow Brickhill station and then ran up a killer massive hill into the woods. Generally on these runs I’m at the back but today was particularly hard as it was my first long run back with the late group for a couple of months really. The conditions were interesting–strong winds and heavy ran for the second half of the run. Luckily Dave had bought me this amazing lightweight minamilist waterproof running jacket so gave me an opportunity to try it out.

It was pretty muddy conditions and also managed to fall over twice so have a few bruises. Did 12 miles in 2 h 11 which is slow but with the weather and hills was pleased with that.

At the end of the run I couldn’t breath properly, just for a minute, but only has happened a few times on races/long runs so definetly an indicator that I made an effort. Got home, had a nice bath and then went straight to sleep for 2 hours as well!

Really enjoyed the run and would never have run half as fast on my own so thank you for all the support from MKLR late group.

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