The leaves are beginning to turn, the children are back at school and there is a chill in the air every morning. Yes, the summer is now over and it’s time to concentrate on work and the long run-in to Christmas. And my to-do list is filling up quickly.
Locally in Elmbridge we are now in the final year of our existence as a Council of 60 members. As the administration, we are delivering on our promise to reduce that number. There is no justification in a small borough of 130,000 souls for representation by 60 borough councillors, 9 county councillors, 2 MPs and a Police and Crime Commissioner. It’s overkill, and we as Conservatives have asked the Boundary Commission to do something about it. They have agreed, and we will be reducing to 48 members in May next year. This could mean that I lose my seat: that is a risk I am prepared to take. Even of I hang on, the Leader in May next year, if he’s a Conservative, may well reduce the number of Cabinet members and I may be for the chop. Again, it is still the right thing to do. I have heard opposition members complain that there is too much work for 48 members to cope with. That is balderdash. I represent a ward which contains an area which shows up on the national indicators for deprivation. I have a full time job and a young family and I can still cope with the demands my ward and my Cabinet job place on me. Any councillor who believes that they are over-worked is either taking too much on or should perhaps make way for someone else.
Next, I am working on trying to find a permanent home for the Cobham Free School’s secondary department. Earlier this year the school applied for permission to erect 2 demountable classrooms on their existing site on Portsmouth Road. This application was rejected on what I am assured were valid planning grounds. Fortunately, they have found a temporary home in Molesey: without it the senior department would have faced closure. There is not a wealth of possible sites in Cobham: there were discussions about sharing the St Andrew’s site but that was vetoed by the local diocesan board of education. Any new school will involve further traffic being generated and there is no such thing as an uncontroversial site: were there such a location it would have been found by now. The people of Cobham and their elected representatives and community groups are shortly to be faced with a difficult decision. Do we want a secondary school in Cobham or not? There’s no doubt that projected pupil numbers demand a new school and local parents each year face a lottery as local school places are allocated. The Free School is the only game in town (and it is a very good school indeed). We need to make progress.
Next Saturday it is Heritage Day and as usual I will be donning a high-vis vest and patrolling the riverbank for the Duck Race in the afternoon. The Heritage Trust, which organises the day, are a fantastic organisation staffed wholly by local volunteers. They work tirelessly to protect our local environment and Heritage Day is their main annual fund-raiser (and is lots of fun). It starts at 11am and finishes with the Duck Race on the Mole at 4.
Finally – my annual report from Spain. I’m delighted to tell you that the economy there is much stronger, although youth unemployment is still high. The sky is once again filled with cranes as the construction industry responds to increased demand from ex-pats for homes in the sun. The local English-language magazines are now writing stories about the glamorous life to be had on the coast, rather than offering advice to Brits on how to sell up and go back home. Partly this is due to the British economic recovery and partly it is due to the austerity measures instituted by the PP government. Here in Britain David Cameron reaped the rewards for his “austerity-lite” policies; the current polls in Spain suggest that his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy will lose the forthcoming election.