Author Archives: Kirsten Johnson

Notes from a new councillor: Why we need decent bus services

I attended my first Cabinet Meeting recently as Oxfordshire County Councillor. OCC is led by a coalition of Conservatives and Independents. The question I put was:

Many villages in Wheatley Division are suffering because of the cut in bus subsidies. Elderly and vulnerable people are isolated; younger people cannot get to college and apprenticeships; those who relied on buses for work are now using cars and increasing the traffic on our already congested roads. Does the member agree with me that saving up to £4 million pounds from cutting bus subsidy was a false economy, and will she work with me to find room in our forthcoming budget to reinstate bus subsidies?

Well the member did not agree with me, and proceeded to inform me about all the community transport initiatives underway throughout the county. I am already well versed in these grass-root efforts, having been along to a fair number of community transport meetings over the last two months.

My problem is that offering locals buses twice a week for shopping; or relying on volunteers to get people to hospital appointments; or telling village residents to cross a busy highway (A40) for the nearest bus; is not good enough.

Connecting Oxfordshire, Local Transport Plan 2015 – 2031 includes the vision behind providing local buses. Here are three of the key outcomes (p. 16):

1. To support the transition to a low-carbon future.

2. To support social inclusion and equality of opportunity.

3. To protect, and where possible enhance, Oxfordshire’s environment and improve quality of life.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 30 Comments

Notes from a new councillor: How to change things

I am frustrated about the bureaucracy I recently encountered as a County Councillor. Oxfordshire Mind, which provides many valuable mental health services throughout the county, has a new initiative to promote mental health awareness throughout Oxfordshire.

The question I submitted to the Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet Member for Public Health was:

Oxfordshire Mind is seeking £308K funding for Mental Health Awareness for children and young people. This investment in Public Health would potentially save the NHS and Social Care millions of pounds a year in Oxfordshire. Will the Cabinet Member meet with Mr Dan Knowles, CEO of Oxfordshire Mind, and me regarding funding this scheme of prevention, ensuring better mental health for young people in this county in years to come?

The written response was that the Cabinet Member cannot meet with us as that would be showing favouritism to one charity over another. She informed me there is bidding process to go through for funding.

Being a new County Councillor, I was unaware of this and so now I know better! But asking the question, and having it publicly documented, has already raised awareness. So it is not a wasted effort on my part.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 12 Comments

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.

Posted in News | Tagged and | 10 Comments

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.

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 11 Comments

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
Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarDenis Loretto 17th Oct - 1:04am
    @Martin I am only too well aware of the lack of any viable idea as to a way forward for the Irish border. What I...
  • User AvatarGlenn 17th Oct - 12:58am
    Frankie. I'm just pointing out the irony of these kinds of youth and internationalist orientated arguments . I don't see Brexit a cliff edge. I...
  • User AvatarKatharine Pindar 17th Oct - 12:33am
    Lorenzo is right to remind everyone of the diversity of reasons which caused people to vote Leave, but it follows that there are no easy...
  • User AvatarKatharine Pindar 16th Oct - 11:58pm
    You are right, Martin, I believe - the Irish Border question does not look capable of a ready solution, despite the fact that the finances...
  • User AvatarMerseyLib 16th Oct - 11:33pm
    One of the very few things I have in common with Jeremy Corbyn is that I've opposed every single "anti-terrorism" legislation since the 80s. Not...
  • User Avatarfrankie 16th Oct - 11:18pm
    Peter, You'd be surprised more poverty means more rough sleepers, he would have more competition and hard as his life is it would get worse....