St Neots Cabinet Day
Yesterday the Cambridgeshire County Council Cabinet held its Cabinet Meeting outside of Shire Hall for the second time. Early in the year, readers, you may remember that Cabinet came to Wisbech (a trip which led to the Wisbech2020 project). This time cabinet headed to another corner of the county and to its largest market town.
The Cabinet day falls into two parts. In the morning there is the actual cabinet meeting which is a rules-heavy, procedural meeting with the tendency to send even the most engaged members of the public quickly off to sleep unless something controversial is on the agenda. This is necessary stuff, that must be discussed and decided as part of council business, but it’s not what any non-politico is likely to find exciting. Before the meeting the leaders of county and district councils, and the town mayor, gave short speeches and there was a public Q&A for them. After the meeting there were more public questions – handled in an informal and friendly way to promote discussion – with the full cabinet.
The second half of the day the cabinet members each zoom off around the town visiting groups, organisations, projects and sites which relate to their cabinet portfolio. This lets us see what is already happening in the area and talk directly to the people who are enacting, or affected, by what is going on. It also let’s people raise issues with us directly so that we can take them back to Shire Hall with a clear understanding of any problems or requirements.
First I went to the Ernulf Academy to meet the dedicated young people who are part of the KickAsh project (anti-smoking). I sat in on their training session and got to talk to them about the work they are doing and their views and ideas. These are some very bright youngsters doing some powerful work and clearly proud to be a part of it.
Then I walked about 100 yards to the One Leisure building (sports and activity centre) where the council Active Lifestyles team deliver subsidised healthy activities for older people and for people recovering from illness. There is a lot of great work going on here and I was impressed by the knowledge and zeal of the staff I spoke to. I had a very interesting discussion about the way these projects align with the council’s new Health & Wellbeing Strategy, most particularly in the area of Prevention and enabling people to live well and healthy lives. Some interesting ideas were raised which I will be taking back to the Health & Wellbeing Team at County.
I got a chance to look at the Adult and Family Learning opportunities available to people in St Neots and I was completely blown away by the wide range of interesting and useful choices – offered at very reasonable rates. These classes, which include everything from languages, to cooking, to exercise, to employment skills, are delivered out of the two schools run by the local academy – an example of excellent multiple use of buildings and connections between different organisations. I must admit, I was jealous. We need this in Wisbech. But I was there in my cabinet role – so I filed that little nugget away for later. I was teased by the ladies about my interest in something called PowerHoop, which is apparently fitness hula hoops. I expressed a view that men probably wouldn’t be good at hula hooping, but by men I did of course mean me. “You only need rhythm,” I was told. Ah. Right. Well that rules me out then!
I headed back into town to the St Neots Health Center and saw what I believe is a big step forwards in the way health services are provided. The drop-in center, which anybody who feels unwell can visit regardless of whether they are a registered patient, or have an appointment, or even live in the area, was bright and clean and sparkling with newness. There I met a whole team of health professionals dealing with everything from the work of a GP, through to mental health work, dietary advice, anti-smoking, sexual health and everything in between. I had a fascinating conversation with the ladies and gentlemen who serve the people of St. Neots medical needs and cannot express how impressed I was – both with them and the brilliant centre they operate out of. There was no griping or complaining or entranched-views – just a will to make people well and keep them well. There was even some excitement about the way the controversial NHS changes have played out – though you’d never believe such a thing could be true if you listened to some commentators.
Our wash up and debrief at St Neots Football Club made it clear that everybody was as taken with St. Neots as I was. This is such an awesome town! Yes, it has problems. No, those problems are not insoluble. Some political will at all levels, some collegiate working and a little elbow grease and I have every confidence that the wheels will begin turning. In some ways I had the easy bit – because in regards to health and wellbeing St Neots has a jewel in its crown already. But this bustling, exciting, busy town has a very great deal going for it. The Cabinet visit, I very much hope, will be a lever to push its gears into motion. The sky is the limit.
*A thank you is owed to Val Thomas, an officer who had was tasked with being my guide, which meant she spent the afternoon chasing around after me as I dashed from place to place like an overexcited puppy. I don’t envy her the task she had, but she performed it admirably and was a good sport and great company.