Today I attended (as yet another civic duty) the Raising of the Red Ensign flag to commemorate Merchant Navy Day, at the offices of Cwmbran Community Council.
Since 2000, Merchant Navy Day on 3rd September has honoured the brave men and women who kept our ‘Island Nation’ afloat during both World Wars, and celebrated our dependence on modern day merchant seafarers who are responsible for 95% of the UK’s imports, including much of the food we eat, most of the fuel we burn and virtually all the products and goods we take for granted!
It was a nice little service that with a short speech from the chair of the council (Cllr Bob Jones) and then followed by refreshments.
Today was Jessica’s civic service, which is essentially a church service designed for the new Mayor to have her or his work blessed by the church. It harks back to a time when religion played more of a role in civic life than it does today (although it is still more of an active part than you might think). Its also an occasion to dress up and celebrate a great achievement with friends and family.
We were chauffeured to the church (Holy Trinity, Pontnewydd) and were escorted to our seats by the church wardens, where we engaged in many hymns and the usual prayers of exultation to god. I then gave the following reading from the book of kings:
“The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for it was the greatest and highest place in the kingdom, and there he offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar to god.
While he was in Gibeon, the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and said unto the king, “Ask what you want from me.”
King Solomon answered god by saying, My Lord you have shown great mercy to your servant, David my father, for he walked before you in faithfulness, righteousness, and with uprightness of heart toward You. And You have shown him great kindness in giving him a son to sit on his throne now this day.
Now, O Lord, my God, You have made, me, your servant a king in place of my father David, yet I am still a child, and do not yet know how to go out or come in. And I your servant am in the midst of your people, whom you have chosen. A great people. A people so numerous that they cannot be numbered or counted.
So My Lord God give unto me your servant an understanding heart to judge your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who else is able to judge among so great a people?”
And It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked for such a thing. God said unto him, “Because you have asked this and have not asked for such things as long life or riches or for me to take the lives of your enemies, but you have asked for yourself wisdom so that you may have discernment in your judgement,
I now do according to your words. I have given you a wise and an understanding heart, so that there has never been any like you in the past, and that there shall never come another like you.
And I have also given you that which you have not asked, both riches and honour, so that no kings will compare to you all of your days. And If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments as your father did, then I will lengthen your days.”
Solomon awoke and found it was a dream. But when he came to Jerusalem and stood before the ark of the covenant of our Lord. And there he offered up burnt offerings and offerings of peace and fellowship. he made a great banquet for all of his court, friends and followers and did so in the name of the lord.”
After I gave my reading it was followed by another reading from our local Member of Parliament and then a reading by Her Worship The Mayor, then we were treated to a performance by the Pontnewydd Ladies Choir before The Reverend Harald Thomas gave the sermon, there were a few more hymns, the collection plate went around and the national anthems were sung, Thus ending the service.
We were then bundled back into the car and driven to the reception and break neck speeds, so that Jessica, myself and the Mini Mayoress could greet everybody as they arrived at Mount Pleasant Hall, where the staff and the caterers had done a fantastic job decorating the place to make it, in Marianna’s words, Mum’s special day.
We were subjected to a lot of photo’s and a lot of small talk, but it really was a wonderful day, marred only by the fact that I didn’t get to take home our tables centrepiece bouquet.
Today has been a busy day. It started this morning with councillors advice surgery where the public basically comes and complains at their local councillors, and we then take these complaints and do something about it, hopefully to solve the problem for them.
After this was done Marianna’s Mother, Jessica, and I took a trip to Pontypool for Geekedfest’s Pontypool Town Takeover where we got to see all the wonderful cosplay as well as enjoy the entertainment provided, Marianna was pretty frightened of one chap dressed as a storm trooper, but was quite enamoured of the various princesses she got to meet, who were all equally enamoured of her Wonder Woman costume.
After returning home Marianna went to spend the night at her Grandmothers, and I’m about to don my dinner jacket and head to a friends wedding reception.
Today was the day of Cwmbran’s Big Event, hosted by Cwmbran Community Council (for which I am a councillor) and Torfaen County Borough Council (for which I am the Mayor’s official consort). The event itself showcases the best of Cwmbran, from entertainment and music, to fun and games, and highlights the works of local businesses, charities, community groups and even the council itself. I was there in both capacities as Mayors consort and as a community councillor. It was very nice to get to see the good work that is going on in Cwmbran.
Marianna went down a storm especially as she had her own Mayoral chain, she enjoyed herself, except being somewhat frightened, and by somewhat frightened I mean pants wettingly terrified, of the Torfaen Play mascot TJ Bear. We then moved over to watch the finals of the raft race on the lake where Marianna and her mother got hand out the trophy to the winning team the Parkrun Pirates.
Also, and possibly best of all I picked up enough free pens to last me a year, and I get through a lot of pens, seriously a lot of pens.
Today was the annual general meeting of Cwmbran Community Council, its the first major meeting since the election, it sees nominations to offices within the council as well as appointments to committees and outside bodies.
It was a fairly long meeting which has left me sorely in need of my bed, however during said meeting I was appointed to three council committees; The Events and Community Projects Committee; The Grants Committee and The Policy And Finance Committee. I was also selected as Vice Chair of the Policy and Finance Committee. As well as this I also found myself appointed to the board of directors of the congress theatre in Cwmbran, which should hopefully be good fun.
I was recently asked to consider standing in the upcoming election for my local community council (Cwmbran Community Council) and it really hit me, that I have absolutely no idea what it is that community councils do, so a little research later, here we are.
Community and town councils can make a significant contribution to the
localities that they serve. Community councils can provide facilities and support initiatives to respond to local needs, can organise and promote community events and can advocate and represent community interests. They work well within the structures of existing borough councils because due to their large nature, borough councils would have to take to broad a view in their decisions, whereas community councils have that local knowledge to know what needs to be done.
Community and town councils provide amenities that directly enhance the quality of life and visual appearance of Welsh communities – from floral displays to bus shelters and
Christmas lights. They played the leading role in organizing events to mark the Millennium and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, and are a vital source of funding for local community groups, sports clubs and charities, investing around £1 million in the
voluntary sector across Wales each year. A former colleague of mine who serves on a community council in The Vale of Glamorgan once described community councillors as the lords of small matters, because they were often dealing with things such as where to put litter bins, getting street signs moved, having bus stops cleaned and deciding how much money should go to the grandmothers choir and baroque ensemble. It does sound trivial, but you would soon notice if public bins were overflowing, streetlights weren’t working and bus stops smelled like urine.
Possibly the most important thing they do (at least from my point of view) is organise community events, anything from local village fairs and choir battles, to school plays, family fun days, outdoor cinemas and full on music festivals, community councils are the backbone for these events, the councillors and officers are the ones that give the funding and put in the hours to make sure their community is a better place live, work and play.
This is the third in a series of posts trying to de-mystify politics for everyday people.
What on earth does local government do? Its a tricky question to answer. There are 55 unitary authorities in England and 22 in Wales and whilst the duties of each individual council differs from council to council, most are responsible for the maintenance of highways, social care and education, as well as small schemes provision and local jobs creation schemes.
Councils will be made up of directly elected councillors which will then form a cabinet and decide on matters of education, social care, housing etc. Councillors will work with permanently employed officers of that council to set a budget and deliver policy for the areas that are devolved to that particular council.
Most people have the misconception that councils are funded entirely by council tax. This is wrong. Whilst council tax is my highest monthly bill after housing, in order to cover the entire cost of running a council I estimate that my council tax would have to go up by about 1000%. Councils, get somewhere between 75-90% of their funding from central government. So this is why it really annoys me when people complain about council services, using the old line “I pay my council tax” to justify whatever they’re griping about,because the majority of the councils money comes from Westminster or the Welsh Assembly and actually seems to be going down year on year, whilst council tax goes up and up, without being too much of a burden on the rate payers.
Hopefully this post answers some of the questions you have about local government, and with the elections coming later this year, you’re bound to have at least one or two that need answering.