I was double-booked on Wednesday night, so I had to dash from John Buxton's retirement event at the Dolphin Centre to the Talking Together session at Hurworth Primary School.
Firstly I should say a word about John Buxton - he has been a Director at the Council since the late 1980's. Together with colleagues like Cliff Brown, he played a central role in steering us from being a minor district council to a successful and ambitious unitary authority. For the last 10 years or so, John and I worked together closely together as Director and Lead Member - whilst toys were sometimes thrown out of the pram, I like to think that we achieved a lot together. It was instructive that his leaving do was packed with members of staff both past and present, as well as stakeholders and councillors from both the main political parties. He will be missed.
Then on to Hurworth with Chief Executive Ada Burns. As I've blogged previously, Talking Together is intended to give residents a chance to talk with and question officers from various Town Hall departments, as well as other public services. So whilst there were stalls for the Youth Service, transport section and sports people, for example, the Police and PCT were there too.
Given the event was on Hallowe'en. there was a good turnout from parents and their kids. These early Talking Together sessions have been planned very much with parents in mind, and there was a corner for children to get done up in suitably ghoulish make-up.
Perhaps less successful was the Q&A session (which I chaired). Only a few residents came through for that, and they may have felt rather intimidated by the phalanx of Council officers and other stakeholders sat with them. Still, we chatted for about half an hour, and it was good, I think, for the Chief Executive to have to answer some very direct questioning from two residents from Mowden about services in their local area.
These are early days as far as Talking Together are concerned, and no doubt lessons can be learned - more advance notice of the meetings, for example, and better publicity. From the reams of questions which I saw the officers taking away with them to answer more fully later, it seems there's is no lack of willingness from local people to engage with the process.