After a lifetime of being tied to working a notional ’09:00 to 17:00′ type pattern the life of a councillor can feel a bit strange. Meetings of the Council, community groups etc can happen at any time but are often in the evening. Entries in the diary also appear for training, community events and of course for knocking on residents’ doors, which also aren’t constrained to the Monday to Friday pattern.
This weekend the whole of Saturday was booked for my attendance at the London Councils Summit which happens every year to give councillors from across London a chance to meet, attend information sessions and meet organisations of relevance to the local government sector.
The event was hosted by the City of London Corporation in the historic Guildhall in the heart of the City. Luckily there aren’t too many commuters on a Saturday morning so I had the luxury of a seat on the train from Worcester Park to Waterloo AND on the Waterloo and City line, or ‘the drain’ as it’s been known to generations of City workers. Regular Worcester Park commuters will be more familiar with a ‘cosier’ journey and probably don’t understand the concept of a seat!
I have worked in the City at various stages of my career so had walked past the Guildhall many times over the years but this was the first time I’d had cause to enter. It is a lovely historic building with modern additions to allow it to continue to fulfil its role in City life. It also has an interesting art gallery and the basement contains the remains of a Roman amphitheatre so I can recommend a visit if you haven’t been there. Maybe something to do at lunchtime if you work in the City?
My first stop was the Old Library exhibition hall for coffee and a pastry. I also used the time to explore the exhibitor stands and had a chat with some representatives from TfL. As a Worcester Park resident and councillor I used the opportunity to discuss the capacity problems on the X26 bus route before spotting a new Crossrail 2 leaflet and discussing the reasons why the new rail route should include the Epsom branch and a stop at Worcester Park. Those that know me will be aware of my strong views on the proposed service and may have signed the Crossrail 2 petition local councillors put together with our MP, Paul Burstow.
The day’s events then started in the impressive Livery Hall with the morning including a session of overviews and discussions which reminded us of the huge task London councils face in changing services to allow for the huge cuts in Government funding. We are well aware of this in Sutton due to the ongoing Sutton’s Future consultation with residents but it was comforting to know we are not alone and all councils are suffering. There was also an interesting, and at times amusing, overview of the political landscape from Steve Richards, chief political correspondent for The Independent, to give us a break from financial worries.
Following a break for lunch we could choose one of three breakout sessions to attend. I chose the session titled ‘Getting local people involved’ which, by coincidence, was chaired by Ruth Dombey, Leader of Sutton Council. Sutton tries hard to get residents’ views to guide its strategies but it was interesting to hear how other councils go about getting residents involved.
The final session included an interesting but light-hearted look at the forthcoming general election, including lots of statistics to see how the political landscape might change with different voter patterns.
It was dark by the time I left Guildhall but the weather was still pleasant so I decided to walk through the interesting historic back streets of the City of London and along the south bank of the Thames before getting the train back to Worcester Park from Waterloo.
A long day but an interesting and informative way to spend a Saturday. My family might have seen my absence, for the second Saturday in a row, in a different way!