Friday, June 04, 2004

Staffordshire's Links With Russia 

Staffordshire County Council has links with Ivanovo City, which is 350 kms to the east of Moscow in Russia. This week a delegation including the City Mayor – Mr Groshev- is visiting Stafford as part of this link. This morning members of the Council were invited to a seminar in the Council chamber where we were told we could compare the differences in the two communities.

The meeting was set to start at 10.30am, but it appears the Russians work on a different time system as the mayor did not appear until just after 11.00. I was disappointed that only about half the Council had bothered to attend, but as the morning unfolded it became clear that the missing Councillors must have been better informed than I was.

First of all Eddie Boden, the Council’s Chairman gave a brief outline of the way the County Council is structured and run. The Mayor of Ivanovo doesn’t speak any English so he was accompanied by an interpreter who followed Eddies presentation from a printed sheet and made the Mayor aware of the relevant details. After about two minutes one Councillor stood up and suggested that perhaps it would have helped if the Chairman had had his speech translated into Russian so the Mayor could follow it himself. To the great amusement of the assembled crowd Eddie said that that would have been a good idea but he had only been given his speech five minutes earlier!

The chairman was followed by a video presentation to show the Councillors what Ivanio looked liked. The only problem being was that this was run from a lap-top computer in the centre of the Council chamber which also produced the accompanying sound track. I have never seen the Council members being so attentive. Everyone leaned forward to try to catch what was being said and quite a few people made desperate attempts to increase the volume on the earring aids. This was an excellent opportunity that failed from the outset!

However the Russian guests were certainly not down hearted and the Mayor started on his presentation. However his interpreter needed to operate the lap-top so remained in the centre of the Council chamber with her back to the majority of the Councillors. The mayor used one of the microphones that dot the chamber – the interpreter wasn’t near one! Once again the audience struggled to hear.

What we did learn was that Ivanovo was historically a textile town but like most other industrialised towns in Europe has suffered through pressures brought about by far east manufactures undercutting the market. As a result Ivanovo were refocusing their economic base to include heavy engineering, expanding their education and university provision, and exploiting the grown Russian tourism industry. It was perhaps this point in the morning when the fact that a city many thousands of miles away was facing the same problems as Staffordshire suddenly struck home.

John Taylor, the Council’s Deputy Leader rounded off the session by telling us all that Staffordshire’s involvement with Ivanovo should be applauded. Drawing on EEC funding the Council had been training Social and Youth workers from Russia, who in turn have returned home to train their colleagues. This has resulted in Ivanovo becoming a leader in detached youth work in the whole of Russia. In return Staffordshire has rethought the way it trains some of its personnel using many examples it had found in Ivanovo.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Road Safety Working Group 

This morning I meet with two officers from the County Council to discuss plans for a working group to look at how the County Road Safety Department work with other service providers such as the police and fire brigade. The working group has been set up by the Council’s Environment Scrutiny Committee and I’ve been asked to chair it. As this is a subject close to my heart I jumped at the chance!

I think everyone is concerned that many of the road safety schemes put forward by the County Council rely on police to enforce the measures. One good example is the new double yellow lines which have been installed on the junction of Lowfield Land and the A518 in Gnosall. I’d been pressing for these lines for sometime as parents picking their children up from Heron Brook School, which is on Lowfield Lane, park on the junction and cause a real danger. However now the lines have been installed little seems to have changed because the parents know that the police are not going to be around and so still park there!

I spent nearly two hours taking about these problems to Graham Jones - Head of Community Programmes and Safety in the Development Services Department - and Tina Randall one of the Council’s Scrutiny Managers who will provide all the backup administration for the working group. It’s clear from this discussion that more could be done to encourage closer working between the County, police and Fire brigade and that perhaps this study should be widened to include the ambulance service as well. The first step now is to approach the other three organisations to seek their assistance and to invite them to send a representative to a meeting in a couple of weeks time to discuss if they think any thing can be gained by the working group looking at the possible co-operation in some detail. Depending on a positive outcome I hope the first real meeting of the working group will take place in late July.

Working in partnership is I believe the only way forward for all four organisations. This should not only insure the public get a better quality service and that costs will be reduced but also that accident numbers on Staffordshire roads should be reduced.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Staffordshire County Show 

I’ve spent today at the County Show. Over the years this event has become less and less of an agricultural show and more and more like a market. This no doubt reflects the decline in the agricultural industry in the County. It does not seem too long since the show was dominated by agricultural machine sales stands and other suppliers to the farming industry. Today I would estimate you could count the number of machinery sales of the figures on one hand!

As usually the County Council had the biggest big marquee on the field which was filled with displays and exhibits which the Council think will give the general public an insight into its work. Perhaps I’m a sceptic, but I do wonder how much this marquee and its content costs the rate payers of the County and whether it is good value for money. If nothing else it must take thousands of hours of staff time both before and during the show to get the display together, and while it is I suppose good publicity for the Council it will have no direct effect to the majority of local residents. I’m sure that if they were asked if they would want the Council to spend this money or reduce the rate of the Council Tax the answer would be clear and I think not in favour of the County Show!

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