Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Councillors - Knowing me, knowing you

At the risk of making many of you click off this post, I am beginning with the line, "as a local councillor..." but please, stick with me!

As a local councillor, (see, I warned you I was going to do that!) I am frequently pulled from pillar to post.  I have a wide range of issues to deal with on a daily basis and I combine this with a full time job, volunteer positions and a family of three children, plus @CllrTim

Being a local councillor is often challenging, the public needs to know who is representing them and what it is we do as their councillors.  Sometimes people only find out who you are when they need assistance, which means that people who may not need direct and specific advice, don't appreciate how the more general work their local councillors do affects them.

When tackling an issue, it is sometimes necessary to give people news they would rather not hear and sometimes, you work for hours, try your absolute best and just cannot get the resolution someone wants.

So yes, you get it, it isn't easy. 

BUT! Those occasions when you have done all that and it works, when you have helped to solve a problem that has caused misery for a family or has felt impossible for someone to get to the bottom of, are brilliant! When you answer the phone and get a thank you, or when someone stops you in the local supermarket to say that issue you took up on their behalf has been resolved...that is when you realise it is all worth it.

That is not the point of this post though.  For quite some time, being a councillor was something that someone did when they retired.  I am not suggesting they didn't do it well, or that they were not fully committed to the job; I am however glad that is changing.  When I was first elected, aged 39, I was the youngest person in the council chamber, prior to that it had been Tim - who upon his election, had brought the mean councillor age down too.  Some of those councillors proved to be a fantastic source of information and support for those of us who were newly elected.  Their experience was brilliant and their patience and kindness in advising and mentoring was invaluable.  Their guidance on how to avoid common pitfalls, what we should ALWAYS prioritise and how we should conduct ourselves in meetings and with members of the public still forms the basis of how I work.  I value that advice to this day and am fortunate to still have some of those councillors advising and helping me still.

That said, the reason I am glad that the mean age is reducing is because it makes the council chamber more reflective of the communities we represent.  Our council chamber obviously has councillors who are retired, but we also have councillors who also work full time, who are parents of school-age and grown-up children, grandparents, working parents, stay-at-home parents, union members,  seasoned travellers, business owners, people with disabilities, some who have experienced serious illness and relied on our local hospital and health services, former teachers, former and current students and a hugely broad range of experience from life and work.

It is incredibly important that councillors are representative of their communities and understand the issues that are important to the people who live there.  Councillors will receive queries and deal with casework on a vast array of subjects that affect people from all demographics, there is no 'typical' enquiry or one-size-fits-all response.  There is however one common theme - everyone who you represent lives in one area. For me, that is my area too, which is an advantage for me, in that I am sometimes also affected by the issues that matter to the people I represent, whether it is a contentious development, an issue of pollution or anti social behaviour. I know of many brilliant and effective councillors who do not live in the ward they represent, so it is not a necessity, but it can sometimes help.

The main point I am making here is that no matter what your age, background, education, world or work experience, family background, or where you live... Understanding and knowing the people you represent is a key element of getting it right and this must be the basis of everything you do.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

One Year, Four Million Children #VaccinesWork

It is almost impossible to believe that it was a year ago that a small group of us travelled to Mozambique with Save the Children, to highlight the desperate need for child vaccines.

Thanks to the wonderful Liz Scarff and along with Chris Mosler and Lindsay Atkin, I was privileged to see first-hand, just some of the work being done to save millions of children's lives. 

Mozambique is an incredible place but after a history that left the country wracked with deprivation and poverty, so many people there are fighting the odds.  Unfortunately, children are among the worst affected; Mozambique has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world and most of those deaths are from easily preventable diseases.

A year ago, we were using Twitter and other social media, aiming to #passiton, to highlight the need for world leaders to commit funds at the GAVI Summit, in London.  The summit took place exactly one year ago today (June 13th) and saw $4.3bn pledged by the UK, the Gates Foundation and countries from around the world.

This plugged the gap that had developed in the funding and risked the very existence of GAVI's programme of vaccination.  In real terms, it meant that 4 million children's lives were saved.

Looking to the future, it now means that 8.5 MILLION children in up to nineteen countries, by the end of the year, will be protected against preventable childhood illnesses, such as pneumonia and diarrhoea.  Tragically, these diseases are to blame for almost a third of all child deaths across the globe.  That statistic will now change; children will be saved, thanks to the world leaders pledging these vital funds.

Save the Children scrutinised every pledge, making certain that every world leader stepped up to the plate and kept their promise.
Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive of Save the Children said:

“Commitments made at summits are often treated with a healthy dose of scepticism. But our research shows that one year on from the London Vaccines summit, every single donor has kept their promise.
“We believe that in the last 12 months, up to a million children could have been saved by this UK-led initiative, showing the power that life-saving aid can have. The Prime Minister and Secretary of State for International Development deserve real credit for their leadership on this.”
What is essential now, is for us all to make sure this issue remains in the spotlight.  So that children in developing nations get the same standards of health care that we are fortunate to take for granted for our own children.  Whilst our children are just a short trip away from a Doctor or hospital should they get ill, children in countries like Mozambique are often days away from medical assistance.  This is why vaccines are so essential for these children.

I am incredibly proud to have been part of the #passiton campaign and even more proud of what we achieved - reaching millions of people and making sure the issue became a globally recognised issue.  Remember, #VaccinesWork!

You can see my video diaries of the trip, produced in Mozambique by the very talented Mike Sunderland, for ITV and We Are Barnsleyhere and here.  My blogposts, written during the trip, are available via the below links:


#Passiton - Mums in Mozambique


Into Africa; Barnsley to Mozambique


Have Vaccines Will Travel


No Child Born to Die