You are invited to an exhibition on a roundabout

... and a very busy one at that!

. . .

A few weeks ago I mentioned the plans that are being developed for Tolworth Broadway and the roundabout over the A3. There was quite an extensive consultation at the time, but there is now another opportunity to see the latest plans and give your views on it to the Council.

On Saturday (10th) the plans will be on display by the footpath inside the roundabout. Just turn up any time between 10am and 4pm. Fortunately the weather forecast looks benevolent.

3000 Quest Seekers

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to stand in for the Deputy Mayor who was unable to attend a function. I'm always delighted to do these events - I had such a great time as Mayor and loved meeting all the people who are contributing to the community.

I've now got a photo to share with you from the Library Service, and we have to thank the librarians for another hugely successful project. Over the summer 3000 children in the borough enrolled on the Summer Reading Challenge, which this year was titled 'Quest Seekers'. They were encouraged, with sticker books and posters as incentives, to borrow books from the libraries. The challenge was to read six books over the summer holiday and around 1000 children managed this.

That is pretty impressive - I'm pleased if I manage three books when I'm away on holiday, so six books is quite a lot.

All the children who completed the challenge were given a certificate, and some lucky winners were invited to the Rose to receive prizes. The youngest age group was 0-3 years!

Government threat to Freedom Passes

If you have a London Freedom Pass you may know that it is partly paid for through a £55 million grant from the Government to local authorities like Kingston. Up until now the Government has funded two thirds of the cost and the London councils have found the other one third.

And now, it seems, Labour is planning to reduce the grant so it only covers a half of the cost. The only way the scheme could continue would be if London Councils could find £50 million.

The unfair thing about this is that outside London the Government covers the full cost of concessionary passes.

If you want to keep Freedom Passes then please sign the petition which has been organised by Caroline Pigeon, Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee.

The picture shows Caroline Pigeon (fourth from left) standing next to Cllr Derek Osbourne, Leader of Kingston Council who is supporting her campaign.

Honesty box

Yes, I do have a Freedom Pass myself ...

Chessington Community College - celebration as new building is formally opened

The new building for Chessington Community College was formally opened by Edward Davey MP on Monday.

Of all the 100 Pathfinder new school projects in the country this was the only one to have been built on time and within budget. And it's not just a bog standard school building, but probably the best new school building in the country.

Enjoy the photos...

Kingston's presentation at conference

The presentation that Kingston Liberal Democrats made at Conference is now ready for your viewing pleasure.

Part 1 ...




Part 2 ...



The regulation of friendship

When some ghastly crime against children, such as the Soham or Baby P murders, clobbers the nation's conscience, the first guilty reaction is to bring in new regulations.

The problem with trying to legislate against evil is that it can also legislate against good.

The response to the Victoria Climbie case in 2000, was, as I've said before, one of the most humane government reports that I have seen - 'Every Child Matters'. It called for agencies that support children to work together. Obvious, really.

In parallel, the Criminal Records Bureau was set up in 2002, amid growing concern and some scaremongering about paedophiles. This had come to a head with the murder of Sarah Payne, also in 2000, who it must be said, was taken by a stranger, not by a professional. Nevertheless there had been enough coverage in the press about abuse in children's homes for parents to believe that their children were constantly at risk from predatory adults.

The response to the Soham murders, which happened just months after the CRB was launched, was to tighten up the regulations, making it essential for anyone who had been offered a job with children to have a CRB check done before they started work.

All well and good.

But every regulation is a curtailment of an individual's freedom, so needs to be both justified and proportionate. Liberal Democrats have liberty as a core value; this does not mean that we should all be free to do whatever we like, but rather that any restriction on liberty must be for the general good.

This must involve a careful assessment of risk. We cannot remove risks completely, and indeed some element of risk is essential if children are to grow into confident and courageous adults. The important thing is to balance the level of risk against the restrictions created by regulations.

The use of CRB checks on people who work with children has always seemed to me to be a sensible thing to do. Parents hand their children over to professionals in schools and nurseries, some of whom may be completely unknown to them, so they need to be sure that their children are not at risk from people with a criminal record.

Further laudable legislation in the Children's Act 2006 means that childminders have to be registered and follow certain rules.

But once a regulation is unleashed on society it tends to take on a life of its own. Job's-worth employees tell us that we can't do something that is completely harmless because 'it's the regulation'.

And that is what seems to have happened with the regulations around child care.

The case in the press this weekend concerned two police officers who were job-sharing. When each was on duty the other cared for both sets of children. This is an eminently sensible solution and I've known other pairs of friends who have done the same thing. It has huge benefits - the children are cared for in a consistent way and with the same companions, each parent is confident that their child is being well cared for, and no money needs to change hands.

But it appears that this arrangement falls foul of the regulations, and the police officers face prosecution because they were not registered as childminders.

Now family and friendship lie at the heart of our society; but the importance of friends is often overlooked. When family may be far away, many parents rely on their network of friends for support. Friends make us laugh, help us to keep our sense of proportion, listen to us, confide in us, share our interests and generally make our lives better. We choose our friends, and we take the consequences if we make bad choices.

So it is entirely natural for parents to trust their friends to look after their children. And indeed, society simply wouldn't function if we didn't have all kinds of informal arrangements between friends.

My first step into community activism was to set up a babysitting group when my first child was a baby. We invented our own currency, in the form of vouchers that we exchanged for each hour of babysitting that we did or received. We all met up once a month with the children, developing a strong support network for each other. Each parent chose who to ask to babysit, so we each remained in control.

Lifelong friendships have developed from that group, both between the parents and between the children. It was altogether beneficial, and one of those informal, unregulated activities that make a community work.

It seems that such arrangements could also be 'illegal' under the Children's Act, although I guess it has yet to be tested in court.

And yet, all the evidence suggests that children are at far greater risk from family members (who are not covered by the legislation) than from family friends.

The balance has gone wrong - regulation and legislation must be proportionate to the perceived potential for harm.

We must remain free to choose our friends, and to choose to entrust them with our children.

Update

There is an online petition to No 10 on this very issue, so do sign it if you agree with me.

Blogging councillors

Random fact - well, not so random really.

In the UK ...

  • 7% of all Liberal Democrat councillors have websites/blogs.
  • 2% of all Conservative councillors have websites/blogs.
  • 1% of all Labour councillors have websites/blogs.
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Published by Mary Reid, 126 Clayton Road, Hook Chessington KT9 1NJ
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