An unacceptable imposition on hard-working councillors

Blackdown House, East Devon District Council's Honiton headquarters. Picture: Dan WIlkins

Blackdown House, East Devon District Council's Honiton headquarters. Picture: Dan WIlkins - Credit: Archant

You have heard this before from me, dear readers, so forgive me repeating myself. The best of your district councillors, and I think it is at least half of them, dedicate at least three full working days per week to their council duties. 
They do their best to get good things done in their wards and across the district, whilst being sitting ducks in the murky waters of social media. If a public loo is blocked, a bin is not emptied or the grass in a park has not been trimmed to suburban perfection by someone with nail scissors, they receive volleys of abuse. 
Now, some of them, but only a tiny few, see being a district councillor as a stepping stone to get them higher in politics, and this is all collateral damage they are prepared to take in their own self-interest. Another tiny few have a particular penchant for the realm of planning permission.
The majority, however, perform the role selflessly with the community good always at the front of their minds. For this, let’s call it 30 hour week, they are rewarded with around £2.60 per hour. Out of that they also have to pay for phones, stationery, IT etc.
This is one of the reasons I felt it was such an awful miscalculation by the Conservatives at EDDC last week to seek to force their colleagues to meet for every meeting in person. We all knew that 60 councillors plus officers could not possibly meet safely during the pandemic in the confines of the poorly conceived council chamber the Tories commissioned at Blackdown House. 
At the best of times, we are practically sitting on each other’s laps anyway in there. And the windows don’t open!!
But pressure was being exerted by their national party to toe the line and pretend it was all over. Ultimately, in the debate over this, they just didn’t care. We’ve all had two jabs, they insisted, even though they had already been told that his was a false assertion.
The group I lead at the council – the Democratic Alliance of Independent East Devon Alliance, LibDems, Greens, Labour and an Independent – is not made up of mostly over 70s retired gentlefolk like the East Devon Tories. We have working school teachers, mums and dads of young children, recovering people with compromised immune systems, community volunteers. What possible good would it be for 60 of us from across the entire district to cram into a crowded room, pick up an infection, and carry it back to every ward in the district?
The Tories emitted a tally-ho – the country is returning to the workplace, so should we. But this is also not true. It is the case of course that many amazing people have never left the workplace at all, from supermarket workers to the NHS frontline, waste and recycling collectors to the police. They had little alternative, and we must be grateful to them all, and others.
But then I look at two of my own very hard-working children, both in their 20s, now up in London. One works as a solicitor, the other as a manager in digital marketing. Both are “people-person” jobs, and they both work for progressive and successful firms. Yet even now, neither of them has been to their place of work for more than a working week in total since March 2020.
Why? Because for want of common sense from the Tories, smart, well-researched, successful UK white-collar companies have taken it upon themselves to keep their workforces and the communities they live in safe. 
Likewise, at East Devon, the majority of members want to minimise the risk to ourselves, our officers and our communities, and we will meet on Zoom until January. And every time I go to Tesco in Seaton, almost everyone is still wearing a mask. The public know best. Good, and thank you.

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