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Being A Local Councillor

David Grugeon

One of the ways Let's Fix Britain can improve Britain is by encouraging members to become part of the machinery which runs our society. With this in mind, we present a series of articles describing the work of our public servants. If you are a public servant, please consider joining, and writing for us.

Over to David.

I first stood as a Councillor in a London Borough. I thought there wasn't much point being an armchair politician; you needed to see if you could understand people, to listen to their concerns, and to see if you could help to improve things.

At that time some of the most urgent need was for decent housing. I remember having to take the case of a family of five children in a two bedroom flat to the Housing Management Committee, to see if they could get higher up the list for re-housing. They were given a 4 bedroom flat on a new estate and their lives improved dramatically. However the new estate had no play facilities, no shops, poor transport links and totally inadequate parking. It took us years to repair the problems of inadequate planning.

More recently, on Bedfordshire County Council I've specialised in education. This has meant hundreds of hours visiting schools, talking with teachers and support staff, listening to parents, and sitting in working groups. One of the highlights was in the late 80s, being able to work in a joint way with Labour and Liberals to open up 50 units in Bedforshire Lower Schools for 4+ youngsters to have a year of nursery education. At the time this was not supported by central Government, but it became very popular in Bedfordshire. We now get the benefit of central funding to expand preschool for all 3 and 4 year olds, and to support the setting up of seven new Children's Centres in areas of greatest social need, for 0-3 year olds and their parents, with combined help from health, social services, employment and education. All this is a long term investment to enable far more youngsters to start their formal schooling without the huge disadvantages that many of them have today.

The life of an elected councillor is what you make of it. In Bedford, we co-operate across the Borough and County Council Labour members so that, for example, there is always a Councillor on duty at the central library every Saturday morning. Last week I had enquiries about cycle ways, town centre redevelopment, the possibility of opening a new post office, traffic calming and new boundaries for next year's County Elections. I attended the funeral of an old friend who helped me in my patch to keep in touch with local electors by delivering leaflets and answering telephone enquiries, I attended a splendid cream tea for Labour members in Kingsbrook Ward and I had a couple of phone calls from the MP about education and social services.

August is often a little quieter for politicians, but it's a good time to think ahead and consider what we should be aiming for in the next few years. I'm drafting an education piece, which has the interest that it looks back to 1985 in Bedfordshire and forward to 2010. As soon as September starts we'll be back on the daily stuff, including the current review of services for children and families with special educational needs.

So, if you like having a grasp of local strategy and are prepared to do the necessary slog of maintaining contact with up to 6000 people locally, stand for the Council and give it a whirl!

David Grugeon
County Councillor for Castle Ward,Bedford.

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