Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cabinet in the Community

Getting Cabinet meetings out of the Town Hall was a key feature of the Labour administration's drive to open up the Council and engage better with local residents.

This evening we held our first meeting 'out on the road' at Holy Family Primary School in Prior Street, Cockerton. It was an occasion that few of those attending will forget.

The meeting coincided with a 'Talking Together' event, and was clearly well-attended from the number of cars jamming the side streets, and the packed gallery at the meeting.

Thinking laterally, an officer had taken 2 + 2 and made 4,000 by devising an introductory session where Cabinet members would be grilled by 7 and 8 year olds attending the school. Throwing, unscripted, politicians and young children (watched by their proud parents) into dialogue was an act of pure genius. It went something like this...

Questions ranged from 'what will you do about climate change?' to 'how will you stop motorbikes spoiling our parks?.' Whilst some councillors and senior officers instinctively replied as if they were addressing an adult, others tried (with varying degrees of success) to deconstruct their answers so they would be intelligible to a 7-year old.

The highlight for me was the first question, which was "why can't we have bigger pizzas at lunchtime?" and the Leader, chairing the meeting, promptly decided this was for me, with the Health portfolio.

It's fair to say that I gave a less-than-convincing answer as I waffled on about healthy eating, 5 portions of fruit and veg a day etc, and asked about the current mealtime arrangements. In stepped Cllr. McEwan, who manfully offered to help out, and began patiently explaining to the child in detail how they should seek out members of their school council, encourage them to conduct a survey, and then feedback the results to teachers.

At this point there was silence. Then one of the children piped up, "But we are the school council." Hilarity all round, whilst Cllr. McEwan asked that someone take the shovel off him, so he could stop digging.

In all seriousness, this was easily the most challenging Cabinet meeting I have attended, with members and officers questioned in detail not only by the children, but also by residents and opposition members too. It established a firm foundation on which to build for future sessions.


Anonymous said...

I like the question from the kiddie "why can't we have bigger pizzas at lunchtime?" Surely the question was asked of you due to your size, I'm mean seeing you in person the childs bound to ask about portion sizes as you clearly really, really, like your food. Portfolio for health, surely not another case of does as I say rather than leading by example!!

Ian White, EU rebel said...

How is the diet going, that was a serious question Nick not a dig?

I am suprised there is not a standard EU pizza size yet, in millimeters of course?

Oh **** now they have something to debate next week.

Back off Brussels....see from junk food to veg in on comment...lol

miketually said...

If you're going to be an idiot, don't be an anonymous one.

Darlington Councillor said...

Thanks Mike & Ian.

Actually, until about 10.30pm last night the change in lifestyle (the word 'diet' is banned) was going pretty well.

I've got a long list of things that I want to blog about, starting with the subsidy to parishes, but I'll return to this subject soon (and in a lot more positive frame of mind than before Christmas!)

miketually said...

"until about 10.30pm last night"

You didn't watch Jamie Oliver, then?