HANDING ON THE BATON - a message from Councillor Alan Cooper
Posted on 26th May 2021 at 11:00
As you will have seen elsewhere, my term of office as Council Chair has come to an end after one year and Council has elected Cllr Alan Dean to be Chair until its next annual meeting, I wish him success, luck and cooperation from Council in the job, all of which are essential if the development of the Council is to continue.
The past year has been challenging. We had to learn how to conduct meetings on Zoom and Teams. We have been pretty successful at this and I believe that our meetings have been no more and no less lively than they were in person. They have been shorter. We have targeted 2 hours instead of 3 and started earlier in the evening, so overrunning by half an hour has still left us with a more acceptable finishing time than walking home at gone 10 pm!
The main target we have pursued this year has been to find suitable ways to support the community and meet its needs in the time of a pandemic, something for which no one in the country was prepared 15 months ago. The initiative of some local residents to set up a volunteer group to deliver groceries for people shielding and make sure that isolating physically did not mean losing all contact with people was something that the Council was proud to support from the start. The group has decided to continue beyond the COVID period and I have offered them some ideas on how Council can build the relationship without stifling their further initiatives.
From last autumn onwards, I was pleased to persuade Council to support the community street corner pantries that had popped up around Kennington. It is great to see that residents are still contributing to these and others are drawing on them when they need to. Council has also started to make a small contribution each month to FareShare in Ashford which operates more formal foodbanks. This has been calculated by reference to the number of people in our area receiving support from them.
Cllr Dean has also been trying to secure a FareShare outlet in Kennington because several of us feel that making them more accessible will ensure that community needs will be met more appropriately. There has been a recommendation on the last two Council meetings to ask ABC to provide a premises in Kennington for community use, which could include use as a foodbank but it has not been discussed yet.
This of course highlights the need to persuade ABC to move ahead with the Bybrook-Bockhanger Community Facility on the site of the old community centre. COVID has given ABC other priorities in the past year but this Council has prepared a business case for the facility and begun to establish a significant reserve so that we are ready to play our part in fitting out and running it.
The Council has supported a campaign by residents to address the persistent odour problems at the Southern Water Waste Water Treatment Works on Kinney’s Lane. This pressure has forced ABC into requiring a programme of works over the next two years to solve the problem at its root causes.
There has been another major development during my year in office. This is the formal transfer from ABC of the Bybrook and Great Burton Farm allotments. It was postponed from the day we came into existence as ABC agreed to let us find our feet before handing over the management. Unfortunately time has been lost in preparing for this because some councillors were not convinced it was inevitable, and did not recognise the potential legal complexity of this change. But in a democratic system, you cannot move forward until you have persuaded the majority.
I have found similar frustration when certain councillors have been prepared to spend a quarter of a meeting arguing that the agenda is too long, without noticing that, in the time they have spent, four or five important decisions could have been discussed. But then there have been meetings such as February and March this year when Council has cracked on through a long agenda and the reports of those decisions have gained huge traction on social media. So there are ups as well as downs.
The Council has been going only two years. It has just completed an external review carried out by a qualified local council clerk who had been through the experience of taking a council from a standing start and increasing the budget from £44,000 to over £800,000 in 5 years. She consulted several other new councils on their experience to draw comparisons with Kennington’s experience. All of these underlined the need to establish sound governance and administrative arrangements, which broadly speaking we have. The report contains a range of recommendations and Council will decide which of these to prioritise.
I cannot finish this blog without thanking our Clerk Deborah Prior. If we went from a standing start in May 2019, she did the same when she joined us in December of that year. Her acceleration up the learning curve could be described to ‘dragster local government.’ I have appreciated the tireless support she has provided the Council, despite on occasions facing baseless accusation and innuendo. Her growing knowledge and confidence are assets for the whole Council.
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