Sunday, 31 January 2010

Local politics

I've had quite a quiet weekend, probably the last for some time.

I met John Lawrence on Saturday and we had a good chat about all the various things going on around the ward and particularly about Royal park and the excitement building around the bid to turn it into a community centre.

It was great to get to know him a bit better. We have quite different backgrounds yet seem to have a lot in common in the way we feel about Hyde Park and Woodhouse and about the idea of trying to get a candidate from the community onto the Council, someone who belongs to the community rather than to a political party.

I think local councils are generally too close to central government because of the way a party controls the policy of its officers.
For instance, how can someone in the labour party stand against the closure of City of Leeds when there is direct pressure from their own ministers, Ed Balls and Vernon Coaker, on the Council and on Education Leeds?

If we really want things to change on a local level then we have to try to separate local from national politics so that party policy doesn't stand in the way of Councillors supporting their communities.

Today I made some badges and spent a little time with my children; they're not going to be getting much of my attention for the next few weeks.

Friday, 29 January 2010

So cold today

A major hiccup today - the leaflets didn't turn up.

Everything is ready to go as soon as they arrive, it's just frustrating having to wait.

I went into school again to meet some of the staff.
They are working very hard and have produced a great leaflet.

It's very simple, mostly a quote from Education Leeds alongside a contrasting quote from Ofsted and a comment from the school:

Education Leeds says... "...we are not confident that attendance can improve."
We say... "Why then did they give us an award in 2009 for the most improved school in the authority with regard to attendance?"
Ofsted says... "Attendance has improved and meets the targets set by the Department for Children, Schools and Families."

I really enjoy going into City of Leeds, I always feel at ease and the staff and pupils are always welcoming. It was strangely quiet today though, it was a staff training day so no pupils.

Coming out of City, I walked past Quarry Mount Primary School where I used to work. It was lunch time and the children were playing outside. It made me smile to remember my last class there and doing playground duty on an icy cold day.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Working 40 hours a day

When I told my dad I was standing in the by-election he warned me I would be working a 40 hour day and I laughed!

Today I spent even more time on the phone but this time speaking to some of the people I want to reach rather than just organisational matters and business.

I was asked to ring an Asian woman who is really upset about the idea of City of Leeds closing.
She is a single parent with 5 children; 2 are already at City of Leeds and a 3rd is due to go in September. She is so worried about how she will afford bus fares of around £30/week, how she will get to meetings with teachers with no car and young children, and how her children will have to go away from the local area and their friends as their classes are split up.

She said she was really relieved to speak to someone who is trying to do something and who can represent her views at the public meeting on the 10th February at City of Leeds.
I think I was just as relieved to hear from someone coming to me fresh from the from the community asking me to do exactly what I plan to do - Stand up for City!

I had a bit of a walk over to see some friends in the Holborns down by Charring Cross and was noticing struck by how many cars are parked up around the area during the day. It's no wonder that residents are complaining about not being able to park. They often blame students but, although there are far more students with cars these days than there used to be, I think it is often people working in the city centre who would rather pay the bus fare from further out than pay for parking in the centre. I know that's a real problem in Little London but I'm beginning to realise how far out of the city it affects people. I'm not sure why we don't have the park and ride facilities on the outskirts like in York; I think that has to be something to look at if I win this election.

John Lawrence invited me to the presentation of the Royal Park bid on the 12th February.
The proposals look great and, even though I would like to see the building as a primary school for our community again, I can't help but be excited at the thought of what the Royal Park Community Consortium is planning to give us. The proposals are really imaginative and should go a long way to welcoming all the various people of the area together - community cohesion is supposed to be one of the central responsibilities of the council so I hope they can see the potential in this bid and decide to back it.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Leeds Schools Together

Another day on the telephone.
I used to avoid the telephone at all costs but now I can't seem to escape from it.

I'm getting to know a lot of good people though and bumping into a few old friends I haven't heard from in a while.
Today Trevor Bavage called from the AGS and it took us a good 5 minutes to figure out we knew each other from a club my son used to go to.

This evening was the last Leeds Schools Together meeting before the City of Leeds public meeting which will be at 7pm on February 10th at City of Leeds School, Bedford Field, Woodhouse Cliff.

Tonight was very well attended with a student and her parents from Primrose, as well people from Parklands both of which are going to become academies if Education Leeds goes through with the current proposals. Parklands will also lose its status as Leeds' only girls school and become a coeducational school to serve the new housing on that side of Leeds.

Kathleen Gallagher came from City to tell us what the staff are doing (which is a lot) and I told the meeting about our plan to advertise the public meeting on a leaflet going out with my election address so every household in the ward will know about the threat to City and the public meeting.

It really does feel like the campaign is getting off the ground now and I'm just about ready for it. I'm amazed at the level of support I'm getting, I think some of the political parties might be quite surprised how strong we are.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Standing up for City

Today my campaign flyer went to the printer.

No turning back now; I am committed to delivering 10,000 leaflets asking people in Hyde Park, Little London and Woodhouse to stand up for City of Leeds School and vote for me in the by-election on February 18th.

I had a great lunch with Sue at Orion on Hyde Park corner. I met several local customers and had an awkward moment or two being introduced as 'our local independent candidate'. I'm sure I'll get into the swing of it soon enough but it was quite strange.

This is not something I had thought of doing until Education Leeds decided, yet again, to close City of Leeds.
If City closes my daughter will have to go through the trauma all over again; she still talks about missing Royal Park after 6 years and this will be worse. It is just the wrong age to be moving school even if it wasn't going to be her GCSE year; all that teenage angst, the pressure of exams, and then being split up from her friends, having to travel across the City to much bigger school where she hardly knows anyone and have to get used to new teachers, new rules, new buildings.......

I know it's all about budgets and numbers and bullying from central government but sometimes it feels very personal. When a school has been targeted 4 times it seems like somebody has it in for the children and Royal Park too went through the battle 4 times before Education Leeds finally got its way.

And it's not just schools. The whole area feels more and more neglected.
There are so many people trying so hard to build communities in our area, trying to raise their families, study for their degrees, and just live their lives but something always seems to hold things back. Too often that something seems to be the council.

Take Royal Park.
I remember the public meeting where the community was told that the building would be retained for community use (I even remember the phrasing) as part of regeneration but no matter how hard people fought the council always seemed to have an excuse to block the bids.
But when Headingley Primary closed that building was leased almost immediately to the community for a peppercorn rent.

Why can the council do that for Headingley but not for Hyde Park?

And the flats in Little London, half empty because they were due for demolition, most boarded up but a few still lived in, some of them by families. It must be so bleak bringing children up round there just now, knowing that the new housing promised isn't going to materialise because the council can't afford it any more, just waiting, to move on or for 'refurbishment' - I wonder which will come first?

No high school, overcrowded primary schools, poor housing, not enough green space...............

The local people I met in the cafe were all really supportive and then I hurried off to the Stand up for City campaign meeting at the school.

The staff were very welcoming and liked the proof of my leaflet and the little badges I made.
They were full of ideas but at the same time so concerned about the children.
Apparently a lot of the kids feel completely rubbished by Education Leeds and the proposal to close their school. The document they all received last week is pretty damning of the staff and there seems to be a lot of upset about that too; children need to look up to their teachers and here they were being told that the people they respect and trust, for some of these children, the only people they respect and trust, aren't up to their jobs.

Why does Education Leeds have to do that?

Especially when it simply isn't true.

City of Leeds just had a great Ofsted and my experience is of caring and committed staff who work extremely hard for the kids in their trust.
For my own daughter I couldn't ask for any better.

So proposing to close City was really the straw that broke the camel's back, standing up for City and the whole community by standing in the by-election just seemed the right thing to do.