|Council Chamber, Ebley Mill|
I have not had a chance to catch up on this blog with a whole host of meetings I've been to in the last couple of weeks - a few mentions but a lot of misses - like the Full Council meeting on 23rd Feb - that was more a rubber stamp of what had been decided at the previous Council meeting re Council Tax rates - see here and minutes on the SDC website.
One issue did make the news after the meeting - that of prayers - following the court ruling re Bideford it was said we could not have prayers as part of meeting - well Stroud argues they are before the meeting but this time started with an option to leave the chamber if you wanted while prayers were said. I have to say I do not think Christian prayers are an inclusive way to start a Council meeting. The prayers that are said are indeed full of meaning and are a great way to focus on why we are there but even though I personally am happy to say such prayers privately I am much less happy that we are foisting such prayers on all councillors or asking them to walk out and come in later.
I do not believe this is about destroying Christian heritage but rather about a separation of religion and politics - surely far better would be to start with a few short words of reflection? In the past attempts have been made to change the prayers but unsuccessfully - I hope perhaps Council will think on this one. We are there for all sections of the community regardless of religious beliefs or indeed lack of them.
Comment in email to me on this issue: "For local democracy to be representative, it is vital that a council reflects and serves the diversity of a community and moves away from practices that could deter full involvement from all sections of that community."
Another comment sent with a different view that could be another way forward: "In multi-faith environment like modern Britain we should encourage a varied approach to prayer and reflection times. Each Councillor in turn who so wishes should be given the opportunity to lead a reflection rooted in their own worldview or faith, but which seeks to connect to all. As a Christian I can benefit from a Muslim, Jewish, New Age or humanist perspective without having to agree with it all."
Other meetings (without prayers)
Since then there have been a whole host of other meetings - a couple of evenings two meetings! Among them were the local Allotment meeting at The Star, a policy panel for councillors on Risk Management, Stroud Community TV (more elsewhere on this blog), Members Training and Development group and several meetings with officers including one re an update on the Stroud Standard (no not a newspaper).
Stroud Standard makes progress
This Standard was one of the recommendations in an inquiry I chaired into the standards of our council housing. We recommended that it was developed with tenants - basically a ‘Stroud Standard’ which will set out what the quality of our homes and their surrounding areas should be.
At the end of last year SDC sent out a questionnaire to every tenant asking what their priorities were. They asked them to choose their priorities from a menu of options. This was so they could get their feedback on what they want the Council to do over the next couple of years. Over 12% of tenants responded. This is a good rate of return especially given the time of year.
SDC have now collected all the responses and these are the results re priorities:
• 1st Completing the catch up works
• 2nd Improving insulation
• 3rd Improving security (doors/windows/lighting)
• 4th = Improving standards for Kitchens and bathrooms
• 4th = Building New Homes
In addition to these, there were also comments on some environmental issues such as security and parking.
What next? Under the new finance arrangements SDC have budgeted to spend around £23 million on improvements or catch up works over the next few years. The Council are also starting to work on the priorities to create the Stroud Standard. This is a clear quality standard which should apply to all our homes and the surrounding areas based on their responses. As part of this they will also work on developing the works programmes based on the Standard and then work out how much it will all cost. They will make sure that all the data is up to date so that future proposed spending is effective and efficient. They will also be working with contractors to make sure they have enough staff to do all the work!
Later in the year SDC will go back to tenants with a proposed ‘Stroud Standard’ and seek their further views on this and a programme of works. All good stuff.