By Bernadette Fisher / Environment / 0 Comments

I was invited by the students organising the action today (Friday March 15th) to receive their demands on behalf of the City Council at the end of the march.  I was the only Councillor able to make it and frankly relished the opportunity. 

 I was standing at the start of the march with local activists Mary Kerr when a group of school students started chanting ‘What do we want?  Climate action.  When do we want it?  Now.’ I, we, could hardly hold back the tears of joy and sorrow as seasoned campaigners, hearing the cycle of radicalisation of the young and feeling very strongly how we, as a generation, had failed to turn back the tide of climate change.

 And that was just the beginning…

 There are some great photos on our FB page showing the wonderful spirit of the march.  Any student I talked to knew much much more about climate change than I do and was very clear about what they wanted from politicians at local, national and international level.  Just look for the speeches of Greta Thunberg and you’ll get the idea.  She is exceptional but there are many similarly able students closer to home, of all ages.

 Outside the Marlow, protesters gathered around a large blank sheet and wrote their demands.  ‘A comprehensive and effective recycling system.’  ‘This is our last chance.’  ‘No more car parks.’  ‘Water fountains in the City centre.’  ‘Bring the voting age down.’  ‘More public transport.’  ‘Half a billion climate refugees by 2050!  We need a plan.’   Reasonable? I think so.  Urgent?  Undoubtedly.

 In Dane John, at the band stand, there were speeches including mine thanking the students and inviting them to bring their demands to the meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee at the Guildhall on Weds April 17th at 7pm.  A motion asking for a Climate Emergency to be declared by Canterbury City Council will be debated there.  Reading Borough Council declared one just a couple of weeks ago.  I told the students that they had a right to expect that it would be approved by all councillors.  I sincerely hope they do.

 

By Bernadette Fisher / Justice / / 0 Comments

I don’t agree with Cllrs Clark and Spooner that PCSOs are ‘as much use as cardboard cut-outs’.

Concerns around crime and anti-social behaviour are often raised with me by residents in my role as a district councillor at Canterbury City Council.  Where I differ from Ashley and Colin is that I think the problem lies with the chronic lack of resources, not just in the police but also in all other local support services.  Austerity is really evident to me as I try to help local people cope with their daily lives in our community.

Our local PCSOs are deeply embedded in Whitstable and very aware of what is going on.  They have helped me to deal with the most acute problems caused by neighbours, of all ages, who are inconsiderate.  They have intervened, on a sustained basis in the face of great difficulty, to steer vulnerable young people away from local gangs and into more productive ways of behaving.  They have signposted where older people who find it hard to cope with isolation and loneliness can get support.  I know this because I have worked with them on individual cases.  I have also met with them, with members of our MP Rosie Duffield’s team, and enabled discussion about their work with concerned residents.  You’ll no doubt appreciate that this kind of long-term, preventative work does not make it into the local press, nor should it, but I hope you can appreciate that it does make a difference.

Having said that, whether you call it old-fashioned policing or ‘an overt high-visibility community presence’ we do need more ‘Bobbies on the beat’ in this town as in all parts of the district and country as a whole.  The loss of this visible presence means that there are not enough living reminders that we need to behave ourselves in public, and in private, so that our community can be welcoming and stay safe.  After all, as with most crime or anti-social behaviour, the victim is very likely to be close to home.

For this reason I am part of a local campaign for the reintroduction of town-centre constables in Whitstable which will be launched soon.  These constables would be part of the community policing team, working alongside PCSOs and with a close knowledge of the community. I know that local people are reluctant to criminalise the behaviour of those they probably know or know of.  They have said to me that they think the solution to anti-social behaviour amongst the young must lie with providing support and guidance so they can help themselves become successful citizens.

With this in mind, Whitstable people are forming residents’ associations or neighbourhood-watch schemes so that our streets and other public spaces are safe and attractive places for all of us, old and young, to meet and chat.  Local police and PCSOs are very supportive of this and encourage them just as they encourage people to report any possible criminal activity they witness via 101 or, in an emergency, 999.

PCSOs are just one hard-pressed community service and they are often the last remaining safety net as individuals and families spiral out of control.  I would encourage local people to engage with and support them.Personally, I’d like to offer them my sincere gratitude.

By Bernadette Fisher / EnvironmentServicesSpeeches / / 0 Comments

 

Local residents will have noticed that our green waste collections are due to restart in March after two months of suspension. These collections help keep our gardens, driveways and pathways clear by removing surplus green material at a time when gardeners are often busy improving their immediate environment for the approach of spring. Yet the Council’s decision to interrupt these collections has created an unnecessary backlog of waste, to the irritation of many local residents. Having represented Gorrell district on the Canterbury City Council since 2015, I’ve tried to raise my concerns about green waste collections being suspended. Often, I’ve found my voice blocked.

It’s the older and less mobile residents that concern me the most here. When this suspension first came into effect, I asked whether the Council have considered its impact upon this particular demographic? Recent complaints to the Labour Group have highlighted the winter clear-up of gardens and the difficulties many residents have in just putting garden waste into a car and taking it to the tip. Some are not mobile enough to drive, or cannot afford to run a car. This is a cut which particularly affects the older generation, with the correlative impact upon their immediate environment and, potentially, on their spirits.

My query at the last meeting received a response from Conservative Councillor Nick Baker, who told me that when proposing “the short-term suspension of the green waste collections, the needs of all those residents who use this particular service were considered, and balanced against the need to ensure the general, dry-recycling and food waste collection services received by all residents were effectively delivered.” The view was taken that during the eight-week period, (January and February) as there was a large drop in usage at that time, residents could take garden waste to a local household waste recycling centre, or, particularly if older and less mobile, start home composting if space allows or wait until their green waste is next collected in March.

My reply to Councillor Baker highlighted that no equalities impact was recognised in the reports to Community and Policy and Resource in January and February last year and no Equalities Impact Assessment (EIA) was carried out, despite this constituting a reduction in service. I asked what measures had been put in place to reduce or ameliorate the impact of the loss upon those with the protected characteristics, including those in receipt of ‘assisted collection’? Councillor Baker replied that the decision to cease the green waste collection during January and February was taken by officers, who would be asked to provide a written response to the councillor.

I waited for this written response, but eventually had to chase it up. When I received it, baldly stating that “the garden waste collection service was only temporarily suspended, and as a consequence an EIA was not required,’ I didn’t find it satisfactory. The lack of care and detail apparent here, spurred me to consult an expert who carries out frequent local authority
EIAs, who confirmed that “if a proposed change was likely to be short-term in nature, or have limited negative impact, then a full-blown EIA would probably not be required.” However, she added, “it would still be necessary to undertake an initial screening exercise, and it is through this screening, that you are able to identify whether the changes are likely to have a negative impact and how to mitigate against any such disadvantage…’

I had done a bit of screening myself, regarding the older and less mobile residents who can’t just put their garden waste into a car and take it to the tip, as well as those we have already identified as needing ‘assisted collection’. To these I’d add Councillor Baker’s suggestion for starting home composting, although this is clearly not possible or reasonable for all. A 90-year-old lady in my Ward recently informed me that she imagined another bin was going to be provided, as she had double the garden waste already. ‘It’s almost as if they think old people don’t do gardening’, she remarked.

So what are we going to do, at the very least, to deal with the triple amounts of waste that will need to be collected in March, however and wherever, our unfortunate residents may have stored them? Councillor Baker did confirm to me in January, after all, that the needs of all those residents who use this particular service were considered in Jan 2018.

The bigger picture here is the Council’s repeated, though not consistent I am glad to say, failure to carry out EIAs on changes or reductions in services like this, in the spirit of the law. The Equality Act was designed to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable were considered in our decision-making and things were done to make any loss less painful. It was not designed to give councils another boring hurdle to pay lip-service to before decisions were made. I sincerely hope that the next Council is able to face decisions in the correct manner, focusing, as we always should, on the needs of those who need us most.’

Garden waste may seem like a relatively small issue (though I am pursuing it to see what can be done), but it is a good example of things that need to change in the City Council. My concern that the Council wasn’t taking its equality duty seriously has been building since I was elected. It first reached a peak with the cuts to Enhanced Care homes where an equality assessment was done nothing was considered at first to mitigate the effects of the cuts. We did have some success in the end by working with residents of the homes for older people and their families, but it had to be pushed for repeatedly at successive meetings and with demonstrations to show just how upset people were. A Labour-run City Council would put the needs of the most vulnerable first in all our decision-making, and would assess the impact of any change in accordance with the spirit, as well as the letter, of the law, in this case the Equality Act 2010.