Saturday, 12 February 2011

Hexham Big Society Summit 11th February 2011

My previous blog entry highlighted that I would be attending the Hexham Big Society Summit 11th February 2011. Inevitably perhaps I have to say something. It is not easy. I gave it 0930-1400 although a later timetable change saw it starting at 1000. I had to omit the afternoon sessions in the interests of child care. Maybe a rabbit was pulled from the bag, but I rather doubt it. I have no doubts about the enormous good will that was represented in the meeting. Nor in the interest; mid week I was told 100 people were coming. In the event there were 145 delegates and some stretching of the organisation thereby. Guy Opperman as MP did an excellent job in making clear that he was present as a constituency MP determined to listen and represent all views. A series of snapshot showcases of good practise were given. As many people remarked the Big Society is already well recognised in Tynedale. Huge numbers of people already give generously of their time. Community groups from Wylam, Prudhoe, Allendale, Tarset, Humshaugh, Bellingham and Hexham all came forward with heart warming tales of progress. But over it all hung the cuts and no clarity about how that might be solved. Time and again people gave chapter and verse about how the key partners volunteers needed in order to be effective are shutting up shop. The concrete tales of this were the Forestry Commission redundancies in Kielder, the Tyne Rivers Trust worried about The Environment Agency. Housing trusts and health campaigners all had actual tales of how volunteering was being adversely effected. I don't know what to say. Hours later and David Cameron was billed as doing a U turn over the Forests and then immediately Ken Clark was telling the middle classes they had seen nothing yet by way of cuts and that the economic situation of the country is calamitious. What can one say? I think the Big Society will struggle to be more than a fig leave over the pain. We will be left holding onto the Victorian author Samuel Smiles' Self Help or about the Roman Empire's retreat from Britain when it told the soldiers left here to look to themselves. A common thread for some anger was the unimpressive start that the new unitary authority has made. Northumberland Council in West Northumberland is no match for the Tynedale Council which worked geographically and actually. In a wonderful piece of sublimeal advertising which a county hack swiftly denied when he overheard me, the wallpaper for the Powerpoint projector consistently showed a "Putting People First Tynedale Council" image nearly two years after the district's abolition. Now, not far down the road, Guy Opperman is going to have to do some convincing that the existing constituency is retained despite the rough arithmetic suggesting Northumberland's present four MPs will become three? Democracy in Northumberland has not been well served of late and it is probably not surprising that a Northumbria Party has appeared.

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