Saturday, 28 April 2012

Frodsham Choral Society's War and Peace Concert

My wife and I have just returned from St Laurence's - she was in the chorus, I was in the audience.  This was one of the best concerts I've been to - and certainly the best concert by our Choral Society.

There were only two pieces performed tonight - John Rutter's Requiem and Karl Jenkins's 'The Armed Man.'

Howard Kane (the Conductor) and the Choral Society are able to attract great soloists and ensemble artists and tonight was no exception.  Eleanor Garside a 23 year old soprano was superb as was the Northern Ensemble.

Now Rutter is one of my favourite composers - so the first half performance of his Requiem was a well trodden road for me.  Classic Rutter.  Tunes and harmonies that are easy on the ear supported very typically with oboe, flute and cello.

Whilst Rutter for me was comfortable familiarity Karl Jenkins's The Armed Man was unknown territory.  I have a confession to make.  I bought the piece on iTunes for Dianne so she could practice- but never listened to it myself.  That is something I will be correcting.  I've come home and I'm still humming 'L'Homme Armee.'  

If you don't know 'The Armed Man' - it is certainly worth a listen.  It is haunting, it traverses the centuries and different musical cultures.  Having started with a tune and harmonies that evoked mediaeval France you are then transported to the east with a muezzin's call to prayer.  Farhan Abu-Hassan performed the call to prayer from St Laurence's pulpit.  An evocative juxtaposition.  An Islamic call to prayer delivered in a church dating from the time of the crusades - wow.  It certainly made you think.

Jenkins doesn't let his audience fall asleep - there were several moments of high drama, screams and shocks.  The piece constantly draws on militaristic themes of pipes and drums with the repetition and intensity you can find in Orff's Carmina Burana... and in the end as we all know 'better is peace.'

So tonight before going to sleep I'll be digging out that iTunes album.


Friday, 27 April 2012

One cheer for Peel and Covanta

'I come not to bury 'Peel' but to praise them.'  OK I'm no Mark Anthony and I'm not Peel's greatest fan - but there are some aspects of the Ince Resource Recovery Park that we should all, as locals, admire and respect.

OK none of us really wanted this development.  It was foisted on us by a Planning Inspector and the last Labour Government.  It is almost certainly going to be built - and it will bring around 2,300 permanent jobs to the area.

We know our transport links are not the greatest - and the prospect of 2,300 cars moving in and out of the site every day on to our local roads and even the M56 doesn't fill me with great glee. 

Peel and Covanta are shaping a 'green travel plan.' They want to encourage more of their workers to car share or arrive on foot, by train, cycle or walk.  This has got to be good news - especially if we all work together to secure some crucial changes.

I think I caused some surprise at the Ince park community forum meeting last Wednesday when I praised the scheme - although I did point out it wasn't sufficiently ambitious.

They suggested that people may not cycle to the site if they lived further away than Ince or Elton.  However if National Cycle route 5 was resurfaced and the previously thought of cycle route through Oil Sites Road was resurrected you suddenly open up cycling to residents of Ellsemere Port, Helsby and Frodsham to name but a few.

Then there is the question of rail travel.  Rail would work - that is providing we actually had a sensible rail service on the Ellesmere Port - Helsby line that serves Ince and Elton.  Then there is the related question of the Halton Curve.  If we got more people willing to travel by train Peel and Covanta's investment and job opportunities could greatly improve our rail services.  Peel are talking to Network Rail and others about a light rail solution to the Halton curve...

I also raised the question of electrical cars and bikes.  Installing charging points at work would remove 'range anxiety issues' - and encourage more sustainable transport use.

And the benefit of all this means that the jobs are likely to remain more local!!!

So Peel and Covanta - good start - a 'one cheer' for what you propose.  Please be more ambitious and join with the local communities in lobbying for better public transport infrastructure.  With your positive help we may get the change we want and need.

Growing up as a Council - Cheshire West and Chester

I think we are at a cross roads at Cheshire West and Chester Council.  Are we going to go down the route of nasty muck raking politics or are we going to try and ensure a high standard of debate and keep personalities out as much as we can?

I was Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny from the shadow year through to the elections in May 2011.  I made it very clear - that in my role as Chairman - I would encourage debate, build consensus and rule out and 'offside' unnecessary personal comment and criticism.  I have to say my colleagues from all parties responded very well to this and we were pretty good and focusing on policy and avoiding personality.

Not all the areas of council work functioned so well - but then two of our predecessor authorities had more robust exchanges than I was familiar with and comfortable with at Vale Royal and may not have made the transition to mature debate as readily.

Last night we had a debate at CWaC full council which skirted around Cllr Mike Jones's Leadership and whether his leadership was affected by the insolvency of his company.   You can argue the point either way - is this a personal matter or not?  However even if you argue it is a Council matter you can choose not to attack in that way.  Given that an investigation involving senior council officers, the district auditor and the liquidator had confirmed prior to the debate that there was no wrong doing or impropriety I believe the motion put should not have been debated.

I argued that we as a council should rise above such things.  Labour raised the fact that the insolvency was something that had reached Private Eye.

OK - well if reaching Private Eye is your benchmark - lets not forget Sam Harmer - our 18 year old Councillor in Frodsham who was hounded out of office when a failed Labour opponent took issue with his facebook page.  We too made it into Rotten Boroughs in Private Eye - who noted the manufactured indignation.  I still think it is a tremendous shame that we don't have a young person at FTC's meetings.  Surely we are better than this?  

Surely we want to be more inclusive and encourage greater participation?  If we are all democrats surely we should be welcoming of views - and debate?  A policy argument should effectively be personality blind.  I do accept that some people are 'beyond the pale' - but there are very few of them.   A matter of a failed company doesn't mean one is unfit - especially when the company failed in the teeth of one of the longest economic downturns we as a country have endured.

There is a nasty side to politics - and some people and parties are more comfortable with playing the man and not the ball than others.  Does that happen because they can't think of policy, or provide leadership?

Growing up as a council - Frodsham

Last Monday night we took the momentous decision at Frodsham Town Council to split the work load of our Mayor.  We see the Mayor as having two distinct roles - acting as Frodsham's first citizen and civic representative and Chairman of the Town Council.  Both roles are important - and can in part conflict.  

The Mayor must be absolutely impartial and be seen as someone we can all support in their important work.  The Chairman is their to provide leadership for the council and to guide its business.  Especially now that local councils like ours are gaining greater power and influence such a role is very important.  No matter how impartial one tries to be there will always be times when a Chairman has to take a lead on something that can be controversial.   It is also becoming more of a full time role.

We've also taken the decision - as happens at many other councils - for a convention to be drawn up to help us select our Mayor from year to year without controversy.  We've decided that the Mayorship should be offered to the member who has served the council the longest since last being mayor of from when they were first elected.  In reality the convention will help us pick our Deputy Mayor - as the convention also provides that the deputy mayor should be the mayor in the following year.  So assuming this convention is adopted our present deputy mayor Cllr Rita Shearn is likely to become our Mayor in May 2012 and Cllr Frank Pennington who was last mayor in 1992 when Frodsham became a Town (and was thus our very first mayor) will, all things being equal, become our Mayor in May 2013.  I will fall to the bottom of the list - having been mayor in 2011-12.  Now not everyone is comfortable in being a mayor - so just because the mayorship is offered to you doesn't mean you have to accept it!

So back to the Chairmanship.  You would have thought that making a split between the Chairman and the Mayor would have been easy and straight forward.  Unfortunately the Local Government Act 1972 in its rigid and simple rules makes this more difficult than any of us would like.

As a matter of law the Chairman - who must be elected every year by the Council - is entitled, as the Act says, to 'the style' of 'town mayor.'  This means that as the present mayor my title is actually 'town mayor' and not the courtesy title 'Mayor of Frodsham.'  The Act also provides that a council may have a deputy Chairman - who by extension for us is our deputy town mayor.  He or she is entitled to perform any of the Chairman's or town mayor's functions as a deputy.

The decision we have taken is in essence to allow the council with the chairman to determine at the beginning of a municipal year whether he or she should perform both roles or whether the representative role should be delegated to the deputy town mayor for that year.   If that delegation occurs we would allow the deputy town mayor to call him or herself 'Mayor of Frodsham.'

In reality this means that in some years we may operate as we have done for the last 20 years with the Chairman and the Mayor being the same person, and in others splitting the role.  Crucially this means we could have one person continuing as Chairman from year to year - providing consistent leadership - whilst letting others take a turn a being our first citizen.

I've worked really hard this year.  We've transformed the council.  I've already told my colleagues that I'm not seeking to perform any leading role with the council next year.

For those of you who like seeing information in tables we can operate in either of these ways:

The traditional model:

(1) Chairman and town mayor - known as 'Mayor of Frodsham'; supported by,
(2) Deputy Chairman and deputy town mayor - known as Deputy Mayor'

The split model:

(1) Chairman and town mayor - known as 'Chairman'; supported by,
(2) Deputy Chairman and deputy town mayor - known as 'Mayor of Frodsham' when conducting civic functions;
(3) Deputy Mayor of Frodsham


Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Town Champion Recruitment

Well four of us have just finished 2 days of interviewing candidates to be Frodsham's first Town Champion.  There were 24 candidates originally and we ended up interviewing 12 of them.

A big 'thank you' to everyone who applied and for the passion and enthusiasm displayed both in the application process and during the interviews and presentation.  It was really impressive - and especially for us in Frodsham to realise that we can attract such wonderful talent.  

We've still not decided who to appoint as Town Champion - but we have decided that we want to stay in touch with a number of the candidates we interviewed.  As in many job application processes you end up wanting parts of many of them!  The was tremendous creativity on display that I could see really working here. 

Cllr Lynn Riley and I have spent the day rounding up extra resources for the Frodsham Foundation - and we think we've laid our hands on more money.  I'm also delighted to report that we think the set up costs for the Foundation itself - that is a charitable social enterprise company limited by guarantee will be of the order of £900 plus VAT and we've already had the costs to meet two thirds of the set up costs pledged to us and with the other third an almost certainty too.

We've had the offer of free office space for the Foundation too... and CWaC have come calling offering grant monies in addition.

Ironically the Foundation process is not all about grant monies - although resources will be important.  It is all about us having a shared vision and a common desire to work together as a community to support ourselves and each other.

There will be more news about this very shortly.

Monday, 2 April 2012

An unexpected encounter

Cheshire Hikers on the Middlewood Way -
photographed whilst cycling!
After all the frenetic activity involved in the Portas bid it was nice to have a family weekend.  In the past I've been a moderately keen cyclist - and yesterday was the first day out for my bike since last autumn.  The whole family (minus the dog) cycled the Middlewood Way from Marple to Bollington and back.  I guess we did about 15 miles or so.

Today I am reminded of the classic line from Blackadder II - the Puritan's episode - where Nathaniel was reported as sitting on a spike!  However leaving aside my personal pain and my enjoyment of all things Blackadder I have to report it was good exercise if perhaps a little on the cold side. 

However little did we know when we set off that we would come accross many friends from Frodsham on the wrong side of Cheshire!  Yesterday was day two of the Scout's Cheshire Hike and we encountered many Frodsham Scouts!  Some looked weary others were still surprisingly sprightly!

The Cheshire Hike is a rite of passage for many of our youngsters and we should all thank the Scout leaders and volunteers who help put on the weekend and make sure that the only problems the youngsters encounter are blisters!

I was also impressed by the Middleton Way - an excellent route for cyclist, horse riders and walkers to get out into the countryside together away from cars!  Lets get more of them all over Cheshire!