Friday, 28 July 2017

Working together

For me one of the very best things about being a Councillor is working with communities.

Over the years I have witnessed many examples of where communities have come together and have made a real difference.

Many years ago in my division the community came together to save the local Post Office. Churches, local politicians of different persuasions, the MP and the wider community, worked together. All united that every stone should be turned to save Parklands Post Office. 

The community was told they could use the main Post Office in the centre of Chichester but this was just too far for many. A good call as it turned out, as we know, a few years later this Post Office was closed. So after a determined battle the local Post Office was saved, it continues and is much used by everyone  today.

There are countless examples where community-led action has solved local problems. What I have seen in these examples has cemented my belief that in working together sharing experiences and skills, communities can and do make a difference.


Last year we saw a different side to community action. The proposed Chichester A27 improvements have elicited strong feelings all round. When things do not start on the right foot they continue to present problems – and so it was. A consultation withdrawn, schemes removed certainly raised concern and lack of transparency caused more worries– as did the options when finally presented.
 
Earlier this year we were told the money for a Chichester improvement was off the table for any scheme. That, of course, caused a great deal of worry – but the community came together and the BuildaBetterA27 Community Schemes got underway.

After all the rancour it was good that everyone got in the room – started working together on the art of the possible and good progress has been made. Looking at how people have engaged I really think such working should be part of any highways consultation!!

With two community workshops and one business workshop done both groups came together on the 24th July, at that time we had confirmation from Highways England on potential money on the table – but with a limited time span – until September.

While absorbing this news – the group were given one man’s personal revision of improvements to the A27. To say it caused a stir would be an understatement – and once again the community felt done unto so more comments and more concerns – it was a lost opportunity for the community to further explore.

The short timeline is simply not enough time for the community to find the right solution and I will certainly be making that case to Highways England. Gillian Keegan our new MP has also said she would help and as you can imagine I liaising with her.

There is no easy solution to the A27 but I have faith from the work we have done that we can find a way forward which will be right for this magnificent city and area. But more importantly for those who live in and around the Chichester area.

We will all have to live with the A27 – but surely that cannot be at any cost? Residents have a right to voice their concerns and I think they should have the chance for their ideas to be heard and developed to build a  better A27  for those who live in and around the area.


This is all of our city, let us build our own legacy.

Friday, 14 July 2017

We’re so glad you’re here

It’s Friday afternoon, not my usual time to write a blog but I wanted to let you know about my huge sigh of relief today.

In a meeting that has just finished Katy Bourne, Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Sussex, has told us she plans to leave the governance of West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service with the County Council.

Last year Government asked police and crime commissioners across the country to look at the governance of fire services to make sure they were efficient, effective and collaborative.

Since the announcement we have been sharing with the PCC our plans for our fire service and our reasons as to why it absolutely should stay where it is in its home at the County Council.

I am delighted to report that Katy has listened to us on this.

So why did it matter so much and why am I so very relieved and delighted that our Fire and Rescue Service is staying here?

Back in 2014 we made a conscious decision to fully embed the service within the County Council. So much of our preventative work is carried out by our fire service; they go in to see residents to carry out home safety checks but, while they are there, they can do so much more. Their work around flood prevention and resilience has helped so many communities which have had their lives blighted by flooding; something lauded nationally. Trading Standards is part of the service to help protect residents from some terrible scams. Their FireBreak sessions - activity courses with the fire service for young people who need support and help - are so appreciated by their families. These are just some examples of the list of things our Fire and Rescue Service does daily for our communities.

As a fully integrated service it is efficient and effective and our residents praise it. It offers good value for money. Yes, we have had to take savings out of our Fire and Rescue Service and have redesigned the way the service runs – but we are now in a period of stability and have some innovative plans for the future.

Last year we did a consultation where we asked our residents ‘what matters to you?’ The top priority was residents want to feel safe. If we did a survey tomorrow that message would probably be the same – these are uncertain times and at such times we need stability – not change for change’s sake.

And of course our Fire and Rescue Service is always there in an emergency.

Certainly, in August 2015 that promise was tested like it has never been tested before. The tragic Shoreham air crash was devastating for everyone involved. Being a close observer I was so humbled by the utter dedication and selflessness of fire fighters; being there for the communities they serve, no matter what.

Even as I write the memory of the tragedy, their response and the support long after the news cameras had left is so very emotional. I learned that in tragic times fire and rescue services across the country are a very large family, they come forward with offers of help and support.

I saw how all our brilliant emergency services worked together to make sure we are there for our residents when they need help.

I recall standing on the Old Shoreham Toll Bridge for a minute’s silence; a moment I will never forget. I witnessed the role our Fire and Rescue Service played in the aftermath – the recovery phase - and again I remain so proud that what they learned from that experience meant they could recently extend help to London in the wake of their own tragedy.

Fire and rescue services across the land are a united group serving residents when they most need it.

Our Fire and Rescue Service is there for you in an emergency, there to serve you so you don’t have an emergency and there to support the communities in West Sussex every hour of every day.

That’s why I love our Fire and Rescue Service and why I am so very glad we are keeping it close to home – home in West Sussex County Council.

Best wishes,

Louise.

 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

A taste of something special

They say you never stop learning and I can certainly testify to that as I have just been reading Taste Magazine; our County-wide magazine promoting local food and drink businesses and producers, venues and more. In the summer edition which has just hit the shelves of local businesses there’s some great articles. In the ‘Weird name but tasty all the same’ article I came across the intriguingly named Rumbledethumps – main ingredients potato, cabbage and onion – similar to bubble and squeak but so much more interestingly named. Another delight that caught my eye was Grassy Corner Pudding a 19th century cream dessert composed of layers of strawberries, cream and vanilla custard – sounds delicious and I am certainly going to try out before the strawberry season ends.

That’s the joy of our Taste Magazine -  lots of interesting articles all based around West Sussex and most importantly focused on the excellent food and ingredients produced and sold in this County. Throughout the County there is a range of wonderful food producers taking a real pride in the food they produce and through our Taste Magazine we are able to showcase what’s good and delicious and in doing so help the food economy. We do know that many people like to visit the county and one of the attractions is the variety and quality of food.

Cheeses, chocolates, cakes, pies are all made with care in West Sussex and of course we produce beers, sparkling wines, gin and fruit juices as well so there is something for everyone.

This autumn we will be celebrating ten years of Taste. Over the decade it has built a really strong following of readers and I was delighted recently to receive a message from one of those readers congratulating us on another excellent edition.

But some may ask why is the County Council bothering with this magazine? Well, it helps our local food and tourism economy. We hope those readers of Taste will be encouraged to buy and try some of the great food on offer.  We promote our lovely countryside, we always feature a walk – and after a walk there is nothing like visiting one of the many traditional pubs across the County.

I’ll let you in on a secret. Our next edition is a 10th birthday special and I’ve seen a sneak preview of some of the ideas going in; it’s going to be another great one.

My thanks to all the loyal readers and staff who produce this great little magazine. If you haven’t read it yet do take a look. You can pick it up on many shops and businesses throughout the county or read it online here.
 
Best wishes,
Louise.