Friday, 24 March 2017

Guilty by Association!

by John Wilkins
ON reading Andrew Wastling's character assassination of Rochdale Councillors in Northern Voices, I was inclined to make a plea of mitigating circumstances for a tiny minority of them. However I, like several thousand residents, have already told the Council Leader in a petition and many in letters, how concerned we were to hear they (the councillors) had agreed to accept pay rises between 34 & 51%.  Basic Maths (without the need for a calculator) shows that equates to a rise of 4.25% pa. rise over the eight years when there has been minimal change in allowances. Surely a compromise of 8% now and implementing the full rise in allowances when the number of councillors is reduced from 60 to 40 might have been acceptable to residents.
Sorry I used a 'C' word there, compromise, which along with other 'C' words consultation, co-operation and compassion appear missing from the vocabulary of many councillors.  The 'd' word, democracy, is also missing from the Council Leader's vocabulary.  Why else would he stifle his Labour colleagues opinion on the issue by imposing a whip to make them vote for the rises without even the option of abstaining?  Andrew's description was more colourful bullying air of entitlement & arrogant self justification.”   The word arrogant is an appellation is one which does fit some, but not all councillors, perhaps spineless at worst or lacking an independent mind fits a few others though.
I will make a case for the defence of some councillors because it is oh so easy for us to criticise people in public office when, as with myself, they have not tried to get elected.  Two Liberal Councillors voted against the rises. I understand four Labour councillors were 'indisposed' and one, there may be more, councillor has told me he voted on party lines but has informed the leader he would not be taking the increase personally.
Ability to listen to residents and even seek out their views should be a requirement for all politicians.  When have canvassed in the past for would - be councillors, the candidate and myself always sought out resident's views and used questionnaires as a tool to find out their concerns. In nearly 10 years residing in Middleton South Ward I think I might have seen just one leaflet asking for my views. This has not stopped me asking THEM questions and inviting them to meetings on important issues such as TTIP and Inequality. Possibly too complicated for them to have an opinion! One of my councillors has never replied to 6/7 letters I have sent, another responded once after I visited his constituent's surgery. The third, bless him naively being new, replied to me when asked if if the immense cost of developing Rochdale Town Centre was warranted and if so would Middleton, Heywood and other satellite towns have similar funding for projects. He also quickly responded to a more mundane request for leaves to be cleared in a stretch of pavement used by the elderly.
A Community hub in Middleton Town Centre called the Lighthouse Project had to re-locate twice in 12 months firstly from the Warwick Mill and then from the Cromer Mill in North Middleton. The Lighthouse offers activities for a variety of people from elderly, single dads through to unemployed. The latter have benefited hugely from the free use of computers to do their job searches, getting a warm welcome (including a cuppa!) and advice. The Lighthouse along with other community centres in the town means there has been less strain on social services and fewer 'I Daniel Blakes'.  Why is this relevant you ask. Well its original location was in my ward and none of the councillors I mentioned have been of any real help to the enterprise and surprise, surprise, none of them replied to my letters of concern nor to other Middleton residents I know. Common courtesy would say these councillors should at least acknowledge receipt of correspondence, even if they feel unable to help or disagree with comments. There I go again I used a 'C' word Courtesy.
Fast forward to the recent Open Day to show the facilities in the Lighthouse plus the Foodbank and a wheelchair hire facility which share their premises.  The only councillors I saw there during the 4 hours I was there were two of the councillors I previously said were indisposed for the vote on allowances.  One of these showed his vocabulary had the 'c' word compassion, spending time advising a woman who had been made homeless.  The other renewed his commitment to raise money for the venture.  The Monday afterwards this councillor attended an open meeting on Mental Health organised by our non politically aligned campaign group.  The councillor who said he would not take up his increased allowance also fulfilled a promise to attend. For Andrew's benefit all three of these councillors also work full time so they are not 'de-skilled' as he puts it.
Andrew said:  'Many (Councillors) appear to  have little or no respect for anyone but themselves and their evident contempt for the voters will without a doubt cost many of them their seats to independents in the next local elections'.
Sorry Andrew, Richard Farnell does not agree with you, as he thinks the electorate have short memories and will have forgotten about the issue by next May's elections.
Andrew you and I and other like minded residents need to find suitable candidates whether independents, or from parties other than the current ruling elite.  They need to be supported then to rid the Council of some of the 'dead wood' there at the moment.  I hope we can find candidates who can LISTEN and can claim to have most of the c' s: compassion, ability to co-operate, a belief in consultation, blessed with courtesy and the ability to compromise.

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