A Bedford Borough councillor has said she welcomes scrutiny so the council sticks to its role of making things easier for the people it serves.
Cllr Jane Walker (Conservative, Clapham & Oakley) is the portfolio holder for families, education and children’s services and recently spoke to Local Democracy Reporting Service about mayor Tom Wootton’s (Conservative) decision to add “families” to her portfolio.
She added that she was “quite surprised” when she was asked to be the portfolio holder, but understood that it would make sure families across Bedford “had a voice” when decisions were being made.
“I don’t really want to do such a big step-up job, but then I thought no, I’ve been on scrutiny for so long and I’ve had all these things bubbling under that I would love to do,” she said.
“I’ve sat in scrutiny meetings saying ‘Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we do that?’ to actually have some sort of influence from the inside I thought, yeah that’s an opportunity that I had to take really, so that’s why I said yes,” she added.
Now cllr Walker finds that her own actions are being scrutinised.
“I actually think scrutiny is good because I can’t possibly know everything about my directorate,” she said. “So to listen to what other councillors are saying and asking I find it really helpful in striving to make things better.
“Which is what we’re all trying to do. This administration has been working with the other groups, they’re putting in their ideas and we’re taking them on board.
“Because working together really does help to move things along.”
Cllr Walker said an example of the political groups all working together was her motion to make the term ‘care leaver’ a protected characteristic.
“Laura Church [the council’s chief executive] came to me and said ‘Jane we’ve got this gentleman. Terry, who’s going around to councils asking them to support his goal of making care leaver a protective characteristic. What do you think?’ and I said ‘absolutely’.
“I literally went to each of the other groups before I put the motion in and said to them, ‘I’m going to do this, will you support me? If you won’t, why won’t you? Is there something in there that I can change to make it so that you can support it?’
“But all the groups said ‘no. we’ll support it as it is’. I felt that was a really brilliant achievement and we’ve translated that into some action.
“For example, we have the care leavers support charity who we’ve promoted internally in the council so that everyone knows who they can ask for help for care experienced people,” she said.
Cllr Walker added she had been contacted by several other councils asking how the borough council passed this motion.
“And I’ve been contacted by loads of care leaders asking for help,” she said. “I’ve got some lovely emails from older care leavers who say nobody’s ever listened to them before and thank you for listening.
“So that makes me feel worthwhile, I want to develop this more through the corporate parenting panel, and we’re trying to get more employers involved.
“So that we can get our young people as they leave care working locally. I want to do more when we get the money, and the time to do it well.
“I have put quite a lot of things in the new budget. Whether they get knocked back or not, we’ll have to wait and see,” she said.
by John Guinn, Local Democracy Reporter
and Paul Hutchinson, Bedford Independent