Monday, 17 April 2017

Councillors are overwhelmingly decent - we should be grateful: My Coalville Times column

In just a few weeks time my term of office as County Councillor for Whitwick will come to an end and for the first time in the better part of a decade I will no longer be an elected representative of the people on a highly politicised, district or county council.

As I prepare to step down I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my time as one of your councillors.

I am sure that there are many things I will look back on over the coming weeks with fondness or a wry smile, who knows I may even mention some of them here?

I will remember battles over HS2 and the rail freight interchange near to Castle Donington; I will reminisce about the closure of Snibston Discovery Park and be hopeful for its rebirth in the coming months; I will ponder over the successes of bringing derelict buildings back into use whether that was The Fox and Goose, The Pick and Shovel or in the very near future Coalville’s bus depot.

I hope and believe that as Britain moves out of a decade long economic torpor I stand down, admittedly having played a very minor role, with our district being at the forefront of job creation and new homes. I believe, although others may well disagree, that North West Leicestershire is in a better position than it was at the end of the last decade.

But as I stand down it won’t be all of those initiatives that will be at the forefront of my mind. Let me explain.

A few years ago I was telephoned by a homeowner in my patch who just so happened to have made a planning application. We discussed his plans for some time, I wasn’t on the planning committee at that point, and I told him on a personal level that I didn’t think they should be approved.

The homeowner was incensed and started ranting at me about how the approval of councillors could easily be bought.

It wasn’t the first time that I had had similar comments made to me and I answered in the same way that I always did.

“If you believe that councillors can be bribed so easily then please give me some evidence. There is no room in local democracy for crooks and if you have proof of wrongdoing I will be the first to take the matter further.”

It came as absolutely no surprise to me, and shouldn’t to you, that no evidence was forthcoming. No one who has ever made allegations to me, that this councillor or that officer was ‘on the take’ has ever provided me with one scintilla of proof.

All of which brings me to my main point.

Most people don’t know who their elected representatives are; a few will have heard of them.
When you don’t know someone it is far easier to question their motives, I’ve heard it done many times.

But as someone who knows all of the elected representatives on our district and county councils I would like to make an observation.

There are many councillors with whom I have had disagreements; there are even a very small number I don’t really like (it’s OK the feeling is probably mutual); but I would stake my reputation that the vast, vast majority of those seeking election to the County Council in a few weeks time are doing it for the right reasons.

Most councillors are hugely public spirited, they want to make their communities better places to live.

The vast majority of any party aren’t doing it ‘for the allowances’ but because they want to drive change; they’re even prepared to put up with public ridicule to deliver it. Do you know how scary it can be to knock on someone’s door and ask for their vote?

So in a few weeks time when you go to the polling station to cast your vote please do stop and think for a minute. You may disagree with the candidate or their manifesto; you may think that some of them are stark raving bonkers (a few are); but please don’t for one minute think they are standing for election to pocket a few quid.

Over the past years I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing councillors of all parties; by and large we are very lucky to have the public spirited elected representatives that we do.

I really do wish that those who are so ready to insinuate about how poor our councillors are really took the time to get to know them.

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