I’m currently doing some work in a local authority elsewhere in the country, hopefully helping them improve their (already good) community safety function. Inevitably you draw comparisons with your own experiences and the quality of what you provide. Of course, it’s impossible to do, because each partnership has different needs and priorities – what might be important to the residents of a London borough like Wandsworth might not be important to the residents of a rural district or an urban unitary council.
But it did remind me of my visit to see Wandsworth’s Safer Citizen scheme in action during April. Because it was in an election period so I couldn’t really write about it; now, however, it’s something I want to flag up because it’s something of which Wandsworth should be really proud.
The Safer Citizen scheme is an extension of the Junior Citizen scheme, developed to give children in the borough’s special schools their own Junior Citizen that is adapted to their particular needs, so, for example, children with hearing problems are taught different to children with mobility problems to ensure they are getting the benefits of fire safety training.
We’re lucky to have excellent partners helping us. As always the local police were there along with the fire brigade and Leonard Cheshire (who host the scheme). On the day I visited the London Fire Commissioner, Ron Dobson, and the Chief Executive of Leonard Cheshire, Eric Prescott, were also there to see the scheme in action.
Both left incredibly enthused by what they saw, with Ron Dobson particularly keen for the knowledge and experience of what Wandsworth are doing to be spread to other parts of London. It is a scheme that ensures everyone benefits from our services by recognising that equality is not about equal treatment, but ensuring everyone has the opportunity to benefit equally; a distinction that is all too often lost.
With all the negativity around politics at the moment I can easily forgive people who think we’re all as bad as each other and in it for ourselves. And with that attitude, it’s easy to start wondering why on earth I still persist in my politician-lite role as a councillor – unlike Stephen Byers it has never given me the opportunity to earn £5,000 a day and never will. But if I was wavering then last Saturday was a superb illustration of why it’s worth doing what I do.
The council and partners hosting a Junior Citizen ‘fun-day’ for young carers at Battersea Fire Station on Este Road. I’ve written about Junior Citizen before, and it is incredibly well-developed in Wandsworth. We’ve been running Safer Citizen for a few years and this, we believe, is the first scheme aimed at young carers.
There are 170 young carers registered in Wandsworth, that is, 170 people under the age of 18 who have some responsibility for caring for a family member. There are probably a few thousand more who aren’t registered. And it’s quite humbling for the vast majority of us who never have to think about a caring responsibility until well into adulthood to think of those children who are taking on responsibility far beyond their years.
The day on Saturday was for carers aged 5-10 (and yes, there are five year olds taking on that sort of role) and along with the usual Junior Citizen safety scenarios, teaching the children how to keep themselves and their homes safe, there was an element of fun. So the children did some cooking, saw a simulated fire rescue from the tower and got to throw wet sponges and try and soak some of the volunteer firefighters (and one unfortunate councillor, who at least got to dress as a firefighter and got a picture of me out of the deal).
And it the day the children were given wasn’t enough, the work of all the people involved topped it. Although it was council funded (and supported by some incredibly dedicated and able officers) it was supported by the Fire Brigade, who assisted with premises and huge numbers of firefighters and senior officers, the Metropolitan Police, who sent along plenty of SNT officers (and police cadets) so the children could meet their local team, the Ambulance Service and plenty of volunteers.
And that’s the point of councils, and politics, the opportunity to make a real difference.
We had our visit last week and, after they had a look around the house, we were left with some tips (we really shouldn’t be using double plug adapters at all, and we need to be a little more conscious about escape routes) and two new smoke alarms – one of which replacing the old one that went off every time we made toast.
Well worth it for the smoke alarms alone, and you never know, the fact we’ve replaced the double plugs with strip adapters may have saved us from a fire.
Things are getting quieter as we get close to Christmas. While we don’t have a ‘recess’ like Parliament (since we don’t sit, but meet every six weeks or so) the council carries on, there are no formal meetings over the Christmas period.
That’s not to say we do nothing. Obviously all the council staff have been working away providing their usual excellent service. And I’ve been doing various bits and pieces, but it makes for a fairly sparse end-of-week posting.
A lot of the stuff I’ve been doing is in preparation for the start of the year and the first committee meeting – discussing the agenda and reviewing and amending the reports.
I’ve also had some of my general meetings to discuss the broader issues and progress on specific projects and this morning had a fascinating session with the fire brigade on how they target their prevention work. Like crime and ill-health we are not all exposed to equal risk, so the fire brigade do a lot to target their prevention work where it will have the biggest impact.
But generally the week has been quiet from a council point of view, giving me a great opportunity to catch up, get on top of things and start preparing for 2010.
Although I usually use this last post of the week to witter on about the past week I’m going start off with an event two weeks ago.
Battersea Police Ball
I can’t believe I forgot to mention this last week, but on Saturday 28 November I attended, along with about 1,500 other people, the Battersea Police Ball. This is a fantastic annual event organised by the Battersea Crime Prevention Panel to raise funds for their work throughout the year.
As ever it was held in Battersea Park, and was a truly fantastic evening. It’s my 13th year of going and in all the time have never had anything but a great night out.
My congratulations to everyone involved in the organisation of the event.
Community Safety stall
Returning to the past week I spent some time on Saturday with the Community Safety Team who were manning, with the Shaftesbury Safer Neighbourhood Team and London Fire Brigade, a stall at Clapham Junction Asda. The purpose was to get out and offer advice (and a few freebies) to local residents. I posted earlier today about one incredibly positive aspect of their work and this is another.
Wandsworth Employment and Skills Partnership
In the middle of the week I chaired the Wandsworth Employment and Skills Partnership. The Partnership was set-up to try and improve joint working between everyone and to achieve some very challenging targets for getting people off benefits and into work.
Frankly, the recession has had a massive impact (the body and targets all pre-date the recession) but the body still serves a purpose. For example, during the meeting we discovered that Jobcentre Plus is ‘poaching’ people from a service we use to help long term unemployed people people back into work.
There’s nothing sinister about it, Job Centre Plus are now required to work more closely with the long term unemployed. But while that is a positive it means that the work that had already been done is lost as the Job Centre start from scratch. We’re now looking at whether we can prevent the poaching altogether, and if we can’t how we can ensure the unemployed person sees a progression, rather than getting halfway through one service to then have to start afresh with another.
Wednesday was the year’s last full council, and the year ended not with a bang but a whimper. It has to be said that the formal meetings of the council can be a bit, well, dull!
I’m tempted to suggest that it’s because the council is so well run it’s hard for anyone to disagree with what we do. But that isn’t the case. Despite only having one-sixth of the council seats the Labour group get, effectively, half the time of the council meeting to ask question and debate their issues. I don’t think the lack of spark at these meetings is for want of opportunity – but am at a loss to suggest why it isn’t there at the moment.
Police Borough Commander
I also had one of my regular meetings with Chief Superintendent Low, the borough police commander. These are useful catch-ups, making sure we both know what’s on each others minds and both sides are working together as well as they can. I believe (and I hope that he would agree!) the working relationship between the council and police has continued to get stronger over the years, and the fact that we are inner London’s safest borough reflects that.
And finally, last night was the council’s ‘Architectural Tour’. I did ponder whether I should include this or not, since it could be seen as cliquey or worse – but decided transparency is by far the best way to avoid that. Besides, on reflection I’m rather proud of it. I was one of the people who started it in 2002 and since then it has raised thousands for various supported by the Mayor each year, this year’s beneficiaries were the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades, Scouts and Guides
The evening is, fairly simply, a tour combined with a quiz around various sites of architectural merit in Wandsworth, which all happen to be pubs. The council divides into tribal loyalties, with department pitting themselves against department (and councillors) and being able to host the trophy – and even the wooden spoon – for a year has become quite an honour to a department.
Congratulations this year go the Housing Department, who are not only one of the country’s biggest social landlords, but also fairly hot on music, literature history and able to take a good guess on how many animals in London zoo are of unknown sex!
It isn’t unique to being a councillor (although it might be exacerbated by the lack of structure) but I struggle to think of the things I have been up to this week! So when I can look to my diary to remind me of what meetings and appointments I’ve had I find myself thinking “was that really this week?” So, in a slightly different format, this week’s wrap-up.
Stuff I missed
Annoyingly I missed two Christmas light switch-ons this week – Tooting last Tuesday and Northcote Road yesterday. I like to attend them where I can, partly to show support for our Town Centres, but also because it appeals to the child in me!
A prior commitment meant I also had to miss one of the regular meetings between the council and Chamber of Commerce. These are useful meetings, if only because it means we get to hear directly from local businesses. And I would have loved to hear how the season is going. We did, of course, get the good news that Wandsworth is going to benefit by £52,000 from the Department for Communities and Local Government. An early Christmas present (although probably too late to use before Christmas) that will help us with our plans, which are already fairly well advanced, to ensure Wandsworth’s high streets are blighted by the recession.
Stuff I did, but didn’t mention
I’ve had a few of the fairly ‘routine’ meetings this week. Next week sees a Full Council meeting, the last before Christmas and New Year, so we had our usual Conservative group meeting to discuss it. It has an element of smoky rooms to it, since while we’re sat talking in one room the Labour Party are having the same sort of discussions just down the corridor. And afterwards the two whips compare notes to agree the agenda of council meeting!
I also had one of my regular policy meetings with the officers in my portfolio area. Checking on how things are going (a much nicer task as the recession seems to be easing and the spate of gun crime has ended) and discussing how various projects and ideas can be taken forward. Or not, if you’re of the Yes, Minister school of government.
Finally, I was at the inaugural meeting of the national Advisory Panel on Tackling Worklessness. I was a little surprised, as a councillor from a borough with fairly low unemployment, to be asked onto a body like that. I often wonder if I’m wheeled out as a token cynic because I do like to focus and concentrate on the deliverables, if you will allow me a little jargon. But an interesting body and one I hope will be productive, not least because, as a national group made up of many fairly frontline people, so many different perspectives can be brought to bear on the problem.
Stuff I’m not going to mention
A fairly self-defeating headline. But I occasionally worry I give the impression that everything is blogged and, therefore, if it’s not on here I didn’t do it. As usual the week has been peppered with reading, emailing, casework and small meetings and discussions; none of which ever get close to a blog post. While I’d love to pretend it’s because they are important and super-secret, it’s mainly because they are quite dull!
I went out with local firefighters (and Martin Johnson, the council’s Executive Member for Housing) to Copeland House on Garratt Lane this morning as they visited local residents offering a fire safety visit and free smoke alarms. They are running a programme of visits to housing estates around the borough.
Recent tragedies have highlighted the need for fire safety, the Camberwell fire perhaps the most high profile incident recently, but here in Wandsworth a tragic fire over the weekend claimed the lives of a young mother and her daughter. Wandsworth has a good record on fire safety, for example council flats and houses will have smoke alarms fitted before any new tenancy. However, many still live without even that most basic protection.
What the fire brigade were doing today was a fairly simple exercise. Having written to residents previously, they knocked on their doors today offering to fit free smoke alarms and give fire safety advice.
I was amazed, however, that people were saying no! I’m not quite sure why some people were hesitant, there’s no catch and no-one is bothered about your home being a mess. Personally, if I was offered something that might save my life, and offered it for free I’d be taking the offer up.
In fact, I am taking that offer up. Chatting with one of the fire-fighters I realised that our house probably isn’t adequately covered, so I’ll be booking in for a fire safety check. You can either book online, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0800 028 4428 to get one for free.
I seem to be using the blog to advertise weekend events quite a lot lately, and this weekend is no different.
Battersea Fire Station (11 Este Road, SW11) will be open tomorrow (4 July) between 11am and 5pm for their annual Fire Fete. The day will have fire and rescue demonstrations, refreshments, raffles as well as the chance to meet your local firefighters and get free home safety advice.
The day will also be raising money for The Fire Fighters Charity and Leonard Cheshire Trust.
I did ask the borough fire commander if visitors could have a go on the pole. Sadly the curse of health and safety prevents it, but it will be a great day even so!
I popped down to the annual Tooting Mela yesterday. I really should have advertised the event last Friday. The afternoon, organised by London Fire Brigade was a fantastic session of entertainment, demonstrations and free food.
The London Fire Brigade have been done a fantastic job in recent years of getting out of their fire stations and promoting fire safety and prevention – with the aim of reducing the number of times they are leaving their stations to put out fires. As the tragic fire in Lessingham Avenue the previous night showed the Fire Brigade are an essential emergency service, but we should all do our bit to make sure they are used as little as possible.
One great service they provide is a free fire safety check and smoke alarm. If you want one you can book one via the London Fire Brigade website. Smoke alarms will give enough warning for a householder to escape without serious injury, and when you can get one installed for free there really is no reason not to have one.
They also demonstrated the potential dangers of tackling fire yourself – the video below shows them demonstrating the effect of using water on a deep fat fryer.
Unfortunately the video stops before the fire blanket they used failed to put the fire out! Instead the fat from the pan overwhelmed the blanket and continued burning. Not how they wanted the demonstration to go, perhaps, but a good lesson that it’s best to let professionals deal with this sort of thing.