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.