Just what does a Councillor do?
Hamish Watt from Branston Community College had the chance to find out this week. On work experience, he joined Independent Cllr Marianne Overton MBE for a week that included the Lincolnshire Show.
First listening to residents in Hammond Hall, Bassingham, at their weekly coffee morning, concerns were raised about the vast solar panel arrays proposed to surround the village. Unlike other energy applications, there is no community benefit and the foreign investors take significant Government subsidies. We have significant renewable energy already. Meeting the Parish Clerk and Parish Councillors and seeing the excellent facilities shows just how much our Parish Councils do to support our villages. We drove via some highway problems that Cllr Overton was working on, some now resolved.
There was a quick bout on the computer at Cllr Overton’s home before arriving at North Kesteven District Council in Sleaford. The excellent pool and leisure facilities are heated from the Straw-burning power station, thus using renewable energy. The District Council-owned Hub arts centre, Riverside park and café had an interesting art installation on Italian migrants. In the Sleaford Town Council, the Twinning Association meeting kindly interrupted work to invite Hamish to get involved in the German exchange, making use of his languages. Back at the District Council Offices, Hamish met the last Lincolnshire veteran of the D-day landings, Les Bunning, and his friend, Phil Collins, after a very successful Armed Forces Event. The Democratic Services Officer explained her role and more about just how much a District Council can do for the community. The Job Centre and Registration Service is hosted in the Council buildings, easing partnership working.
Cllr Overton went on to two more events that evening; Navenby Parish Council and a visit from a group of residents from local villages called “Plant for the Planet”. Her son, Michael Overton gave a tour of his four-acre rewilding project, now four years old and supporting families of both Barn Owls and Kestrels.
On Tuesday, Cllr Overton took Hamish with her to the Houses of Parliament and met Caroline Johnson, MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham. From the special side gallery in Parliament, they were able to watch in person, as the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, was questioned on what action he would take to help mortgage-holders with significant interest rate rises.
Cllr Overton, as Leader of the Independent Group and Vice Chairman of the Local Government Association, has an office nearby at 18 Smith’s Square. There the team met a group of young staff in “new careers”, lunching together and sharing ideas. Hamish met the staff in the Independent Group Office and learned about the work of a Political advisor. Cllr Overton had arranged for Hamish to attend the Staff briefing that followed, with almost 200 staff present, mainly online. Each of the lead officers of the four political groups, Labour, Conservative, Liberal Dem and Independent, gave their reflections on the recent elections in May. There was also discussion on the renewed contract to help Councils do the best job possible.
Wednesday and Thursday were at the Lincolnshire Show. The task was to greet and listen to residents over a cup of coffee in the County Council marquee. The duo were joined by the County Council Chief Executive, Debbie Barnes, the Leader, Martin Hill, the Deputy Chairman of East Lindsey District Council, Edward Mossop, Independent Councillors from Witham St Hughs, the Independent Mayor of Louth and a Conservative Councillor from West Lindsey who has moved to Southend on Sea and joined the small unitary Council there. Out and about, Karl McCartney, Conservative MP for Lincoln, stopped briefly to talk. In the Lincolnshire Wildlife Marquee, Chief Executive, Paul Learoyd and some key staff, were generous with their time, this year celebrating 75 years of the Trust. The Councils have a number of partnerships with the Wildlife Trust, including Whisby Nature Reserve and the Natural World Centre which attracts 200,000 visitor every year.
On Thursday, the day was swapped over, so the team visited the Woodland Trust and the Flood and Drainage marquees, finding out about the work of our Councils through partnerships and hosted residents in the Council marquee in the afternoon. A good look round the County Council stand showed a breadth of work on adult care, fostering, innovative recycling at school, heritage, road safety and the fire service. Hamish met the Lincoln City Footballers and got a signature for his Dad, honey for his Mum from the Beekeepers marquee and voted for his School’s exhibit in the Schools Challenge. Melvin Prior of BBC Radio Lincolnshire based at the edge of the main ring, was warm and friendly and a follow-up interview was agreed.
It is amazing just how much our Councils do. Councils either control or influence around 80% of all services, having a big impact on our quality of life.
Quote from Cllr Marianne Overton MBE
“Hamish was brilliant and found it easy to get on with everyone. I think he was surprised at the breadth of work we councillors do. The issues that bother us are tackled by all levels of Government, and here we see the connection right through from our village community coffee mornings to the Chancellor in Parliament. The work of the communities, Councils and National all fit together, each dealing effectively with issues that match their size. It was a pleasure to take Hamish behind the scenes to see how it all works, both from an officer perspective and as an elected member. The doors are open!”
Cllr Marianne Overton MBE
Leader of the Lincolnshire Independents. 07920 235 364