Author Archives: Kirsten Johnson

Notes from a new councillor: opposing Conservative cuts to children’s centres

One of the key elements in my campaign for election as Oxfordshire County Councillor was the cut in funding many of the Children’s Centres throughout Oxfordshire.

The closure of the Maple Tree Children’s Centre, Wheatley, in my patch inflamed the local community. Many parents and carers relied on the services and support provided at the Children’s Centre for health advice, parenting support, breast-feeding counselling, and meeting other local parents/carers.

This has been a big local issue. Our new Oxford West and Abingdon MP, Layla Moran, secured a debate in Westminster Hall on Children’s Centres. She moved that, “That this House has considered the role of children’s centres in tackling social inequality.”  You can read the full debate here.

Of those children’s centres slated for closure, communities were given the opportunity to keep their centres open. Residents of Wheatley rallied and a group was set up. The hope is that they will re-open the Maple Tree Children’s Centre from September, albeit with more limited services.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 23 Comments

Notes from a new Councillor: Taking Action

Many residents have contacted me with road concerns. I was warned before the election that roads would take a lot of my time! The list goes on and on: potholes, drainage, dips in the road, worn surfaces, pavements, kerbs, broken bollards, street-lighting, etc.

Is it worth my time? Yes. Getting a pavement cleared so that a mum with a pushchair can get through makes a difference. Getting a cycle route tidied of overgrown hedge keeps cyclists on the cycle path and safe. Working for new street-lighting protects young people as they walk home from school in the winter months. Improving drainage means people can access a recreation ground rather than walking through standing water to the gate.

I think I underestimated how much little things can have a big impact on people’s lives. And how, by sending an email or meeting with a county officer on a particular issue, not only will it improve the situation for one resident, but for many.

One reason I got involved in politics a couple of years ago was because of inequality. I think what I like most about being a county councillor is giving local people a voice. Listening to their concerns, hearing their concerns, and representing them. We live in an unequal world at many levels, socially, economically, educationally, opportunity.

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Notes from a new Councillor: My maiden speech

Both nervous and determined, I stood to make my first speech at the full Oxfordshire County Council meeting on July 11th. In fact, I spoke twice.

First, I supported the motion for the County Council to move to a committee system of governance rather than the existing cabinet system. I spoke about working together, across party lines, for the common good. And how this could be best achieved through a committee system, encouraging round-table decision making, than the cabinet model of top-down governance. The motion, with amendment to investigate the options available and to change the structure as soon as practicable, was carried.

I also spoke in favour of a motion to invite all Oxfordshire MPs to come to a meeting of County Council to discuss how we can work together to better serve our local residents. When this happens, I plan on asking questions about school funding, local bus services and protecting the Green Belt, amongst other issues. All elected representatives have a duty to their electors. Integrating our local and national efforts to achieve the best outcomes for Oxfordshire residents makes sense.

My appetite is now whetted, and I have mental drafts of three motions I wish to put to full council in September. Of course, our Lib Dem Group will work through all of our ideas and choose the best ones to present to council. It is great to be part of a team of 13 Lib Dem County Councillors. I’m learning a huge amount from my colleagues who have served for many years, and also enjoying the company of fellow newbies like the wonderful Liz Leffman, who brings a wealth of experience into the role.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 7 Comments

Notes from a new Councillor: The beginning

I was elected as Oxfordshire County Councillor in the May elections, my first time ever being elected to public office. What a whirlwind the first two months have been! Complicated by the small matter of being a parliamentary candidate in the GE for the first month of being County Councillor.

Would I recommend being a councillor? Yes!

For any of you out there thinking about putting yourself forward for next May’s local elections, do have a go. I have always felt passionately that politics is about a range of people getting involved, with various backgrounds and expertise to bring to the role. I’m a musician – and yes, we need more politicians from the arts. We need people of all ages and interests to take part in order to have true representation in democratic decision making.

What’s great about the job is the difference you can make in people’s lives. One of my first successes was supporting a family who had made an application for their child’s Special Educational Needs placement back in November. They still hadn’t heard back by June where their child would be starting school in September 2017. I got onto the case, made a phone call, sent some emails, and found out what was holding up the situation. It was sorted, and the family was given their answer, within a week of my asking. That has made a huge difference to this family. They can now enjoy the summer holidays with the assurance of knowing where their child is going to school in September.

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International Women’s Day – Who cares?

Today we are celebrating International Women’s Day.  For some, it is a chance to recognise the achievements of women in the arts, sport and science; to others it is an opportunity to highlight inequalities. I wish to do both: to celebrate the contribution women make up and down this country although that contribution causes them more inequality. I speak of caring.

In the world of caring, women are indispensable. And undervalued. 58% of carers in the U.K. are women, but in relation to the number of hours worked the percentage is higher. European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality commissioned report found that European women spend an average of 26 hours a week on caring activities, whilst men spend only 9 hours.

In the U.K., 73% of those who receive Carers’ Allowance (giving care more than 35 hours a week) are women. 38% of carers are caring for over 100 hours a week.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 4 Comments

Compassion Fatigue? Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children

On Wednesday there was the announcement that we would not take any more child refugees. Noticeable that the government released this statement the same day of the Brexit vote! And this story was not even on front pages yesterday.

Lib Dems had campaigned for the UK to take 3000 unaccompanied minors. Many others lobbied, including Lord Alf Dubs, and this resulted in the so-called Dubs amendment to the Immigration Act 2016.

Where is our compassion? Should we not be taking in the most vulnerable victims of horrendous conflicts that have caused children to flee their own country? This saga has gone on for too long, and now the news that the UK will not accept more. The 350 children we will have taken by the end of March is far fewer than other countries have done. Based on our size and wealth, we should feel an obligation to take so many more children. But we don’t seem to have a heart anymore.

I was at a seminar on Wednesday convened by Lord Roberts in the House of Lords about how to better support unaccompanied asylum seeking children. Representatives from the Refugee Council, Amnesty, UNICEF and the Immigration Law Practitioners Association all spoke. This was before the news broke on not taking any more refugee children. The ideas of what the UK should do (and the assumption was that we would be taking more children) were:

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 39 Comments

One mental health first aider per school is not enough

I welcomed Theresa May’s announcement on Monday in which she said “every secondary school in the country to be offered mental health first aid training”. MHFA England has campaigned for many years to get school staff trained in Mental Health First Aid and are thrilled that there will be at least one Mental Health First Aider in each secondary school.

But it doesn’t go far enough. Every single teacher, as part of their teacher training course, should be trained in Mental Health First Aid.

Poppy Jaman, CEO of MHFA England, said:

Mental ill health in young people is a growing health concern, with half of all lifetime cases of mental health issues starting by the age of 14.

There is a bespoke MHFA England course called Youth Mental Health First Aid which could be modified for teacher training. A short course could change a young person’s life.

A teacher overseeing a class of 30+ pupils needs to have the skills to recognise early warning signs of mental ill-health. One first aider per school can help in moments of crisis, but cannot possibly pick up all the mental health warning signs within the school population. A large part of the MHFA course is in learning about various mental health problems (such as stress, anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicide ideation, psychosis) and how to intervene early on.

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  • User AvatarYeovil Yokel 19th Aug - 9:18pm
    Very good opening speech by Vince, delivered without notes. At one point whilst answering questions he said that he'd altered his view on the role...
  • User AvatarPeter Martin 19th Aug - 8:26pm
    @Joe Bourke, There's plenty I could say in reply - like that we shouldn't be quite so accommodating- but I think we've moved too far...
  • User AvatarDavid Becket 19th Aug - 7:34pm
    This is a poorly written motion that is going to make us a laughing stock. Yes we should restate our commitment to the EU, but...
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 19th Aug - 7:34pm
    @ Julian Heather. My comments were addressed to David Evershed about the issue of pot holes in Buckinghamshire - and not to the good work...
  • User AvatarJane Ann Liston 19th Aug - 6:31pm
    Having now read the full Herald article, I see that the 'attack' was a criticism by an SNP MP. I think I have now answered...
  • User AvatarJackie CHARLTON 19th Aug - 6:11pm
    Sadly the sound quality is so poor (and I did persevere) that I cannot hear. Am deaf anyway so always difficult but this is very...