Tuesday, 27 February 2018

A Taste of West Sussex – celebrating the food of our county

Ten years ago we launched our very own Taste Magazine. The idea was to promote all the wonderful food and drink in West Sussex, this was a positive way to support some small and often rural businesses and I am pleased to say Taste continues today and has a loyal following.

West Sussex was originally a very rural and agricultural area, the benign climate and rich soil means we have some fantastic local produce which we should all be proud of. This is nothing new, the Romans came here and saw the South East as a productive area to grow food and wine and they certainly knew a thing or two!

We at West Sussex County Council are actively promoting the tourist economy through a website which pulls together all the great things to do in the county; Experience West Sussex.

We know there is a real interest in artisan and high quality local food. People like to know the provenance of their food when in a restaurant or at home on a special occasion. Whether it is South Downs Lamb, Selsey Crab or local grown potatoes and asparagus or spinach – it all counts and says much about the area. Added to that the food can be eaten with some highly acclaimed wines and beers as well. A lovely thought when the weather is as cold as it is at the moment!

That was one of the reasons that we held a ‘Meet the Buyer Event’ for our food producers. This was a chance to bring together people who make the food with the people that get it on the shelves of our shops. I have to say it was such an inspiring afternoon meeting and talking to some very dedicated and committed producers. From delicious artisan cheeses - Brighton Blue was very tasty - to pies, chocolates, brownies, chutneys, honey, breads and not forgetting ice cream as well (who could forget ice cream?!) For me it was a first to try sheep’s milk Ice Cream and milk – which was really good. Then there were a range of beers, gins, wines and water as well fruit juices.

For me the afternoon demonstrated how much West Sussex has to offer and the committed food professionals who take such a pride and delight in all that they produce - they are West Sussex food heroes and I hope that the help we give them will ensure they grow and develop to showcase all the great produce here in West Sussex.   



Tuesday, 20 February 2018

A brave new world

It was an exciting week last week, not just our Full Council meeting where we approved our budget for the year ahead. It was quite an action packed meeting aside from the budget with a nod to the hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage and a visit from some of our fire fighters to show us their new 32 meter aerial platform – a ladder which can extend a ladder and fire fighters up to great heights to rescue people from buildings like blocks of flats or direct large quantities of water onto a fire from above.

However another part of the day was the delivery of the first West Sussex drone. Now you may well wonder what we, in local government, need with a drone?

For me this is a real example of how we can take advantage of new technology and equipment to make a real difference to people’s lives.

So this new drone could be used to carry out surveys on our buildings, which can be quite an expensive and lengthy process. A drone can fly over a roof taking clear pictures in order for us to see what needs to be done or not.

The drone has a heat sensor so in the event of heathland fires our fire crews could use them to get on top of problems quickly or prevent fires spreading or could be put to use surveying solar farms to check all the solar panels are in order.

One place they could be used which really struck a chord with me, if we have someone who goes missing, perhaps through ill health such as dementia, a drone is a quick and easy way of getting out to look for them; much easier than, for example a helicopter or extensive police searches. Just imagine the positive impact that could have on the person who is missing but also on their family.

A few of our Fire and Rescue staff in our Technical Unit have carried out the specialised training to fly our drone and know how to use them in a range of applications. Currently there is further legislation about drone usage going through parliament which will help us in how we use the drone effectively and efficiently for the benefit of our tax payers.

Thinking about technology leads me to another area which my colleague Amanda Jupp, Cabinet Member for Adults explained at the council meeting.

She described her experience of trialling virtual reality headsets – a headset which puts the person wearing it into a computer generated world where you can programme whichever scene works for you. These are being trialled in our day centres. Research has found that such technology can have a significant beneficial effect on people suffering from dementia. By putting on a virtual reality headset they can go to the beach or the countryside, all without leaving their armchair! This triggers happy memories and can make them feel calmer and happier without the often worrying and frightening journey which they find difficult to deal with. We are looking at whether this, and other new technology, could support us in what we do here – it’s early days but I find it extremely exciting.

The application of modern technology is changing every day, more people use and experiment the more uses they find. We can all feel slightly threatened sometime by the speed and advancement of technology. However where we can see really positive outcomes it is up to us to explore how we use this innovative  technology for the benefit of our residents.

It’s a brave new world and I, for one, think that’s a good thing!

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

A very significant day for all women

As both a woman and a politician I am acutely aware of the privileges I hold by virtue of when I was born and what I owe to those who have come before me.

This week holds a very significant day for all women - the 6th February.

A date which has real significance for all women because of what it led to.

100 years ago when the 1st World War was coming to a close, an Act of Parliament was passed known as the Representation of the People Act 1918 – 4th Reform on the 6th February.

It acknowledged that all men over 21 should have the vote; at the start of World War 1 only 60% of the men had the right to vote so millions of men returning from the 1st World War, many with life changing injuries mental and physical, would have had not had a vote.

Included in the Act was the right for Women over the age of 30, or if married or a member of the local Government Register or home-owner, could vote – not true parity but a start anyway. In November of that year was a qualification for Women to stand as MPs and councillors.

The significance of this was giving women a political voice as well as a vote. One without the other simply wouldn't work.

The legacy of World War 1 was not only that we remained as a free nation, but it changed the social order and this Act of Parliament was the first step in how our world has changed. In the 1st World War women became a more visible part of society. They were driving our buses, working our land, they were on the production line in our factories, another kind of front line.  Women played an important  part on the home front and it is right their work was acknowledged by having the vote.

The Act was passed by 385 to 55 not unanimous!

On the 1st December 1919 Nancy Astor became the first woman to take a seat as an MP, it must have been quite something to be the only women amongst more than 500 MPs at the time.

At West Sussex County Council two women were elected to the County Council in 1919; Ellen Chapman from Worthing and the Honorable Evelyn Gladys Cecil from Bognor Regis. I can only imagine the stir that must have caused in the Council Chamber!

Over the years more women County Councillors have come forward from all parties, but at present we are still no way near 50% representation or 35 Women – in May 2017, 22 women were elected.

In 2001, when I was elected on to the County Council we elected a woman Chairman for the first time, the Late Margaret Johnson, an exemplary County Councillor and role model. She encouraged and supported all the new councillors and was very kind making sure all women councillors settled into their roles.

Today we have made such great strides, it is rare I consider my gender as I make decisions, set strategy or plan a way ahead, it is rare but it is not non-existent. With the crucial roles women play in every day life it is of paramount importance that we continue to make sure our voice is heard, in parliament, industry, health across all the employment areas. That's why I have been so insistent that a celebration of the suffrage movement must not be a look back but a push forward to make sure we make the powers women in history fought so hard for, continue to mean something today.

Best wishes,