Sunday, 29 April 2018

Reaching out from Buckingham to Ghana

The Social Academic Club (SAC) organised an event last week and kindly invited myself and Julie along. This was the first of the "Buckingham International Talks' arranged by this student association. We were treated first to a presentation from Anthony Nyame-Baafi (Director for Bilateral Trade Ghana and former Ghana trade representative to the World Trade Organisation and to Switzerland and Austria) who spoke about the trading and financial links between the UK and Ghana. Obviously as we approach Brexit such links are going to become more and more important.

Then I joined him, Dr. Juan Castenada (Director for International Institute for Monetary Research and lecturer at the University of Buckingham) and Ronnel Lehmann (CEO Finito and former student at the University) on the panel. We were posed a series of questions by the facilitator Richard Dela Sky (who is a student and works for citi fm 97.3 in Ghana) and students present in the audience. The event was introduced and concluded by Professor John Drew (Dean of Humanities).

It was a fascinating evening and great to meet so many students, presenters and academics. My thanks to La Tess Bartlett, Alakhiwe Ndlovu and Kwasi Nyame-Baa from the SAC to organised this excellent event. Thanks also to Maciej Bochynski for the pics below.

In the front row, Professor Drew, Ronnel Lehmann, Julie and myself

Anthony Nyame-Baafi on the panel with Ronnel

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Buckingham Big Day, Businesses and MK Dons reception

Last night I had the greatest of pleasures to listen to Baroness Karren Brady give a presentation to assembled Buckingham business and sport leaders at the University. She is such an astute, witty and powerful woman who makes a mark wherever she goes, I am sure. Her main message chimed with my own: we need more ambition in the UK because ambition drives us forward whether we are in business or sport or indeed anything!

She and Andy Cullen (MK Dons Executive Director) answered some great questions afterwards. I was particularly impressed by their answers to my question about how Buckingham can develop both more ambition and imagination. Karren emphasised the importance of mentoring young people while Andy focused on creating the space for people and businesses to allow themselves to be creative - and find new solutions to old problems.

In the party afterwards, I had some good conversations with Chair and Treasurer of Buckingham Athletic, and a man from Bicester who has just started up a consultancy advising firms on how to manage mental health issues. And many more people too.

Thanks to the University and MK Dons for this event.

The Garden of Ideas

I feel so lucky to have the National Trust's Stowe Gardens on my doorstep and I would hope that every single person in Buckingham has enjoyed its sweeping vistas and stunning buildings at least once, if not several times.

And so it was a great pleasure, last Friday, to attend the Community Reception hosted by the Rt Hon John Bercow MP and General Manager, Jane Greenhaf. We heard about Stowe's successes and plans for the future. It was a glorious evening amongst many friends, colleagues and staff of Stowe. It was fascinating to learn more about the carp and otters in their lakes from one of the ecological rangers.

I am looking forward to working with Jane Greenhaf and all the team at Stowe, finding new ways in which Buckingham can benefit Stowe and Stowe can benefit Buckingham... Watch this space!

Thanks for the pics below, provided by Julie Child, Stowe's Fundraising Manager.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The importance of caring for carers

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to meet a most inspiring bunch of people who run the Carers Trust (Thames Branch) which was formerly known locally as the Crossroads Care Service. They are doing a very fine job, supporting people who care for others. As many of us know, caring for an infirm or vulnerable relative or neighbour can be both extraordinarily rewarding and very stressful. And it is great that this organisation exists to support carers in our community through respite care and in lots of other ways.

The organisation is very focused on ensuring that the care they deliver is of the highest quality and are intent on recruiting only the best possible people, and making sure they are trained well. They tell me they are paying the rates recommended by the Living Wage Foundation, for example. And they are always looking for new staff! (So if you are looking for a good job, please contact them:

Below are some of the slides they presented to me when I joined them for lunch. There is some illuminating information that I think deserves to be known. I wish the the whole organisation well!

Monday, 23 April 2018

The spirit of adventure!

I was a scout a long time ago (indeed I played the tenor drum for a while in the scout band) and it was a huge pleasure to welcome beaver scouts, cub scouts, scouts and explorer scouts, and all their helpers, leaders, supporters and families to Buckingham on Sunday afternoon. We were lucky to have weather so that all the colours were on fine display for the St George's Day procession!

Along with the Lord Lieutenant Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher, his wife Sara and the Mayoress, my wife Julie, we welcomed them to the church. The service including some stirring songs (e.g. "When the Saints") a fantastic video about the joys of being part of the scouting movement (see link below) and short vignette of the story of St George.

Having taken the salute outside the White Hart, everyone retired to the Community Centre for tea and cake. A perfect afternoon!

My thanks go to all the organisers and scout leaders who work so hard to provide great opportunities for young people regardless of race, creed or class.

This would seem to be good for all of us whether we are scouts or not!

The Scout Law
  • A Scout is to be trusted.
  • A Scout is loyal.
  • A Scout is friendly and considerate.
  • A Scout belongs to the worldwide family of Scouts.
  • A Scout has courage in all difficulties.
  • A Scout makes good use of time and is careful of possessions and property.
  • A Scout has self-respect and respect for others.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Respect, trust and working relationships

On Thursday, along with a large number of other town/parish councillors and clerks from across Bucks and MK, I attended a conference in Aston Clinton. It aimed to explore how to improve the working relationships in Parish/Town Councils, and between Councils/Councillors and their Clerks. It was an excellent day which featured presentations from some very notable people of national repute (see the list further on down).

So what did I learn... what struck me?

There is a small but significant minority of councils where there are great tensions present either between councillors, between councillors and the clerk, or both! This is about 15% at the last count from a survey carried out by Hoey Ainscough Associates and the Society for Local Council Clerks (SLCC) last year. Indeed some 5% of parish councils are entirely log-jammed with conflict, it would appear.

As always, the best form of cure is prevention although sadly often conflict creeps up inside a council until it reaches a point where there can be no easy return. Paul Hoey who gave one the presentations said that he felt he  and his colleagues were often called in too late to resolve the conflicts in the councils who hire him.

Whilst there is an extensive and detailed standards regime and a Code of Conduct, the sanctions are mostly toothless. The Government in 2012 installed a much lighter touch set of policies in the belief that the ballot box sorts out the recalcitrant and bullying councillors. Unsurprisingly, the SLCC thinks this is not enough as what happens if a new councillor is elected and quickly found to be obnoxious to fellow councillors or staff? Waiting another three years may not be the best option. Also the voters often have no idea about what is happening at this level inside a local council.

The presenter from the National Association of Local Councils countered by saying that sometimes Clerks don't help situations of conflict and it is not always down to awkward councillors.

Some of  stories (given anonymously) were both horrific and humorous. For example there is one council that has not met in 5 years because the first item on every agenda is for one councillor to issue an apology. When he does not, the meeting is suspended. This happens time after time. In another council, a councillor from a council that had just been successfully sued for constructive dismissal had a letter from the County Council saying he was not a bully. The letter asserted this because (and I quote) this was his normal behaviour!

The SLCC are compiling a list of case studies. Although have a read of these from a training programme offered by Hoey Ainscough Associates. I am guessing they are based on real events!

Many councils run significant human and financial risks either by having inadequate procedures to regulate staff management, or ineffective chairing of meetings which allows councillors to get away with (for example) insulting and impugning the integrity of the Clerk, or by not sufficiently investing in the training and development of the members or all three and more! And sometimes the warning signs are ignored and the conflicts grow. Paul Hoey presented this slide for example:

All in all this was a very thought provoking day which left me pondering on what more I and we in the TC can do to ensure that everyone (every Councillor, the Town Clerk, and all paid and voluntary staff) is treated fairly with dignity and respect.

List of the contributors
  • Julie Openshaw - Monitoring Officer from Wycombe District Council
  • Paul Hoey - former strategic director of the English Standards Board (now a private consultant)
  • Jonathan Owen - Chief Exec of the National Association of Local Councils
  • Rob Smith - Chief Exec of the Society of Local Council Clerks (SLCC is the professional body for local clerks) 
  • Vicky Jacomb - Came & Co (insurance company that specialises in working for local councils)
And this excellent day was convened by Carole Burslem, the County Officer of the Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Association of Local Councils. The day was sponsored by CCLA (represented by Mark Davies) and Came & Co. Thanks to Carole and all for this learning conference. 

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Celebrating our Commonwealth in Buckingham

I spent a glorious sunny Big lunchtime with students & staff from Commonwealth countries & beyond yesterday afternoon. I feel so lucky to live in a town which benefits from the rich insights, culture and vitality that these staff and students bring. The food was also a fabulous way to celebrate this diversity too: my tandoori cauliflower, sweet potato curry and apple & blackberry crumble perfectly spanned the world!

(thanks to Justine Kibler for this photo)

Here is the speech I delivered to them as part of the festivities:

Thank you for inviting me to this ‘Big Commonwealth Lunch’. I am honoured to be here to represent the Town and continue my quest to do what I can to build stronger and stronger links between all who study, live, work, visit and play in Buckingham. We have so much to learn from each other. We have so much that we achieve together.

We meet at the same time as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London. When I raised the Commonwealth Flag on 12 March, I read out this, The Commonwealth Affirmation:

“Joining together as members of one worldwide Commonwealth community, and valuing the personal dignity and worth of every citizen, we raise this flag as a symbol of the ties of kinship and affinity that we cherish. 

We draw inspiration from our diversity, and the opportunities for working together, as a rich source of wisdom and a powerful influence for good in the world. 

We affirm our commitment to upholding the values set out in the Commonwealth Charter, to serving one another in a spirit of respect and understanding, and to advancing development, democracy and cooperation locally, nationally and internationally.”

There are some very important words and phrases in that affirmation that I want to link to our Town of Buckingham and the theme of my Mayoralty.

When I became Mayor last May I said that would make ‘ambition’ the theme of my year as Mayor. I chose this theme because I believe we should all be working for a world in which everyone (and I mean everyone!) has dreams and ambitions and the wherewithal to achieve those. Throughout these last few months I have been looking for all ways to support, nurture, celebrate and rejoice in the dreams and ambitions that people in Buckingham have, or even maybe are just beginning to cradle. 

Ambitions and dreams are fragile things and they can be so easily crushed rather than helped to fly.

And this is where the words of the Commonwealth Affirmation come in for me. Unless we each value “the personal dignity and worth of every citizen” in every word we say and every action we take, then there is every chance that person will feel diminished, and worse bullied and oppressed. Only when we serve “one another in a spirit of respect and understanding” do we actively help create the wherewithal for people to use to shape and realise their dreams and ambitions. 

Indeed I would contend that by serving others, we serve ourselves: we help ourselves achieve our dreams and ambitions by helping others to do so.

We don’t just live in interesting times, we currently live in febrile and tempestuous times where, perhaps stoked by social media, people find all manner of ways to oppress and bully others. But as we have learnt in recent days regarding the human stories that have come to be called the Windrush affairs, such oppression and bullying can happen with legislation too. And let us not forget how the casual remark can, even without malicious intent, can devastate another person. Sometimes, it is even the absence of a remark…  

Some years ago, I was chosen to buddy a black American police officer from Seattle who was visiting the UK on scholarship. We are still in touch and exchange Christmas cards. One weekend during her secondment, Fabienne came back to my home in Oxford to meet my wife and family. As we climbed into my car after alighting from the coach, Fabienne said to me “did you notice how the bus driver said goodbye to everyone who got off the coach, except me?” And of course, I had not noticed this. But I have never forgotten her remark.

And another few years ago, another good friend of mine, who has since died sadly, told me about the research that she and her partner were doing into anti-discriminatory practice. And she enlightened me with a concept that has remained deeply with me: “there can be no hierarchy of discrimination because that adds even more discrimination to discrimination”. 

But let me try and bring all this together. 

I believe we all have a responsibility to help create a world (a country, a town, a community, a family) in which everyone gets to be an author of their own lives, shaping and imagining ambitions, and having the wherewithal to achieve those. A big chunk of that wherewithal are the opportunities provided by good education (and you have lots of it here of course!), community safety, economic prosperity and good all round health. Some of these happen naturally or by dint of individual action, and some the State, on our behalf, puts in place for us.

But a huge part of the wherewithal includes our cultural and political milieu as well. And we all have a part to play in that, in terms of how we treat each other, and what government policies we support or allow to continue. In my view, we cannot allow ourselves to use language, take action or support policies (wittingly or unwittingly) that discriminate against any of the ‘protected characteristics’ (as defined in the UK Equality Act 2010) which are: age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation or marriage/civil partnership.

It is, I believe, our job (to cite the Commonwealth Affirmation again) to serve “one another in a spirit of respect and understanding”. When we are actively  “valuing the personal dignity and worth of every citizen” we are helping to create a world in which everyone can nurture their dreams and ambitions, achieve them and become true authors of their own destiny (and not walk on parts in other people’s stories).  

And we can do that in so many different ways. From my links with the University, I know that many students are already actively involved in the Town in a whole variety of ways and likewise many residents are involved with the University too. 

Many people are already building our commonwealth of Buckingham and it is wonderful to be a part of that. Thank you for being a part of that. Let’s see what more we can do together!

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Tackling ambition

Julie and I enjoyed our BRUFC VPs' lunch on Saturday and we were delighted to receive a cheque from them for £1000 for the Mayor's Charities. Buckingham Rugby Union Football Club is an inspiration for the town. Below is the speech I gave them after accepting the cheque from Club President Alan Leach

Esteemed President, glorious Vice Presidents, honoured Co-Chair and all wondrous supporters and friends of Buckingham Rugby Union Football Club, thank you for inviting me and my wife, the Mayoress to this Vice President’s lunch. Julie and I are most delighted to be here. 
Moreover, I am most grateful to receive your cheque for £1000 as your collective contribution to this year’s Mayor’s Charities. This is a stunning amount of money and will mean that each of the three charities will now receive a cheque well in excess of £1000 at the annual Mayor Making on May 4th. Thank you.
Sincerely, thank you.
I am now nearing the end of my year as Mayor of Buckingham. Although I should say that my fellow Town Councillors decided unanimously back in February that they would like me to serve a second year. And I will be honoured to do so.
Throughout this first year, I have been relentless in searching for all ways to help Buckingham become an even better place in which to live, work, study, visit and indeed, play. 
And it has been an amazing, fascinating and inspiring year for me and indeed for Julie. We have got to go to many new places and meet lots of passionate and committed people who are each in their own way, doing something powerful for our Buckingham community. And here we are today, finding out more about how BRUFC is providing fantastic sporting opportunities for hundreds people of all ages.
My connections with Rugby are limited to having a Dad who played for his home town of Burnham-on-Crouch long before I was born and a regular sofa slot supporting Wales in the six nations each year! (My mother is Welsh and I was born there! And of course, it is well established and known Wales has the fastest and most graceful rugby players in the world!)
But let me turn to why I think your club is so brilliant and why I am so glad you are part of our Town. 
When I became Mayor last May, I set ambition as the theme of my Mayoralty. And I have been pursuing this for the last few months. Ambition is a very important word to me. When I review all of what I have sought to do in my life: professionally, personally and politically, I have arrived at the conclusion that ambition lies at the heart of it all. I have always aimed to do all that I can to help create a world in which everyone has dreams and ambitions, and the wherewithal to achieve these.
Ambition is a very precious thing and I think we need more of it in our world. Ambition, hope and dreams are good for our health and well being, and they good for our society too as they drive our economy and improvements in community spirit. 
And so as your Mayor, I have been focusing on ambition: I have be looking for all ways in which I can support, nurture, recognise and rejoice in the ambition present in all those I have met and the places I have visited. 
And I see lots of ambition here! Through your excellent Rugby Union Football club, you help people shape and realise their ambitions. And not just on the Rugby pitch. I am firmly of the view that the skills and attitudes needed to be a great Rugby player and have a winning team are many of the same skills needed to lead ambitious, successful and healthy lives. So what are these skills?
Well, we all need to work on our fitness - some probably more than others! We all need to work in teams and understand give and take. We all need to respect and admire other people no matter who or what they are. We all need to delight in our own successes, and delight in the successes of others. And we all need to be able to pick ourselves up when we are down, and help others to do so too. We all need to know that we are complex thinking beings and why we succeed some days and not others is down to wide range of factors which are not always easily understood.
We all need to remember that almost everyone is engaged in battling more than one demon… and that the battles on the Rugby pitch are more limited than the battles that we fight in our heads. And through Rugby and sport in general, we learn that we can engage in raw and sometimes brutal contest and still shake hands at the end. 
One of the major things I have learnt this year, is a greater appreciation and understanding of how much sport adds to our community and the well being of our town. Thank you for bringing our growing town together: rugby does that so well.
So thank you for being part of all that. Thank you for being part of making Buckingham an even more ambitious town full of confident people. Just as the world needs more peace, kindness and prosperity for all, so it also needs the ambition and confidence to get us there. 
And whilst ambition is something for all ages of course, the three charities I chose are ones that support children and young people to lead ambitious and fulfilling lives. By your donation you will be helping our local Buckingham Youth Club, the NSPCC and UNICEF. Children and young people here in Buckingham, nationally and around the world will benefit greatly from your generosity. 
And I will end with paying tribute once more to all of you, to all of your families and indeed to everyone engaged with this glorious Rugby Union Football Club - thank you for helping to make Buckingham an even better place! 
May you win every league, every shield and every championship! 

Friday, 13 April 2018

Launch of UoB and Ten-D collaboration

Earlier this week, I was invited to celebrate the launch of a new partnership between the University and Ten-D Innovations. The Centre for Data Science, Computer Vision and Machine Learning has been established as link between Buckingham and Shanghai.

Here I am talking with Mrs Weiying Cui General Manager of Ten- D Energies. (Thank you to Louise Stoner for this and other pics) The UoB has entered into a research partnership worth £1.3 million with an additional donation towards up to 5 on-campus electric vehicle charging units.

I am particularly happy that as part of this initiative the University has instituted
The Diversity Scholarship: To encourage more females into computing an automatic scholarship, worth £2,000, is available to talented undergraduate students to encourage more female students wishing to study Computing at Buckingham. This scholarship is funded by our most generous and distinguished alumnus, Mr Weiyou Cui. We are most grateful to him for his kindness and generosity, and we hope his donation will have a very positive impact in improving diversity in computing at the University of Buckingham
There were many people present from across what the University is now choosing to call the Oxford - Buckingham - Milton Keynes - Cambridge arc. Here I am talking with the MP for MK South Iain Stewart who is the government's champion for the arc. (We had a very interesting conversation about the likely route of the of the proposed expressway..) Also in the picture is Dean of Law Professor Susan Edwards with whom I expect to working closely over 'town and gown' matters.

I wish I could have stayed longer. I wish the University well in this new initiative.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Spring is sprung

The Spring Fair happened on Sunday. Julie and I popped in to talk with the stall holders and learn about their business. It was great to see the Woodland Trust there as well as our own Edible Woodland which has been growing and growing... (Did you know that we had one... would you know where to find it...? Do visit the website and discover this delightful corner of our town)

And of course the WI were there in good spirits and numbers offering their (sort of) lucky dip of wrapped second hand books... Julie bought one and I bought another for a pound each. With the 'mystery' synopsis on the outside packaging we enjoyed finding out what was inside!

Julie has already begin reading 'The Help' and I gave away the copy of the JK Rowling book to someone I know. (I know the story from the TV adaptation and got irritated by the errors in what Town Councils have the powers to do!). But a great idea for wrapping the books nonetheless! (Watch this space for a possible new and exciting initiative to get people reading and listening to books more...)

This was another fabulous event coordinated by the Town Council for Buckingham. If you would like to be involved next year please contact Amanda Brubaker at the Town Council and she can let you have the details. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

A great local business!

Nigel Walton, Manager Director of Abbot Fire Group invited me to meet his team and have a tour of his business last week. What a great company they are, helping the world stay safe from fire. The invitation came because I was not able to make the previous event where the Right Honourable John Bercow MP congratulated Nigel and his colleagues on achieving LPCB approval. (All the information is here and here if you want to know what this means for the company)
"Abbot Fire Group are delighted to have been approved by the Loss Prevention Certification Board, LPCB, for LPS 1531 Appendix 1; the installation and application of passive fire protection products. This approval follows a rigorous assessment process. During this process LPCB reviewed products, projects, and documentation relating to Abbot Fire Group’s installation and application of passive fire protection products. A review of a number of on-site installations was also completed.Abbot Fire Group LPCB approval certificate passive fire protection. LPS 1531 Appendix 1 from the LPCB gives third party approval, and reassurance to clients that passive fire protection work has been undertaken by a competent company."
It was good to meet everyone and hear about Nigel's journey to where his company now is and his plans for the future.

During our conversation, Nigel made an interesting observation which struck a chord with me. On social media we often celebrate the retail ('B2C' - business to customer type services and shops in our town) but we often overlook the B2B firms that employ lots of people (like his) and are providing great products and services to other businesses in the town and beyond.

So this got me wondering, do we need a local Crucible of Commerce that can bring together both B2C and B2B firms and build better links, local business opportunities and chemistry? Is there scope for more mutual trading to the benefit of all, not least the people of Buckingham?

What do you think? Please let me know.

Dates for your diary: Buckingham Dementia Action Alliance

I sat down with Eileen Winston who chairs the Buckingham Dementia Action Alliance last week to help plan an event coming up soon. I am going to be chairing a panel discussion about building a dementia friendly town:
Wednesday 16th May
BDAA Open Meeting with speakers - topics on ways to improve quality of life for people living with dementia
Tea & coffee 6pm.  Meeting 6.30pm
Venue:  Buckingham Library
This is one of three events that Eileen and her colleagues have planned with assistance from our great library team:
Tuesday 15th May
Dementia Information Event 10am to 1pm - support and guidance available for people living with dementia and carers;  information on dementia for the general public
Also 12 noon to 1pm a Dementia Friends session
Venue:  Buckingham Library
Thursday 17th May
Human Story Theatre - 'Connie's Colander' by Gaye Poole
Tea & coffee 6.30pm.  Performance 7pm. Free
Venue:  Buckingham Library. 
I will be attending all three. Last year I went along to a Dementia Friends workshop and frankly, it changed my life. My Mum has memory problems these days and the workshop put many things into perspective.

The play 'Connie's Colander' comes highly recommended and praised. Sincerely, if there is someone in your life (including you) that has some memory issues, this is a play for you!

And do pop in on the Tuesday too, there will be many helpful organisations there to point you in various directions - even bigger and better than last year.

But back to the meeting on the Wednesday: the speakers include

  • Professor Marion Lynch will be speaking on 'How the Arts can improve dementia care.
  • William Bennet-Lunch will speak on 'Dementia Friendly Grandchildren.
  • A person with dementia will speak on what it is like to have dementia and take questions from the audience.
There will be lots of audience participation with a particular focus on what more can be done on our streets and roads and in the town centre towards helping people living with dementia or caring for someone who does. Do come along!

Friday, 6 April 2018

Building up to the BIG DAY!

MK Dons held their Football Forum in Buckingham last Wednesday, hosted by our own local club Buckingham Athletic. It was a lively evening with challenging questions and good humour. The panel comprised George Williams (2017 Player of the Year), Dan Macciche (Team Manager), Andy Cullen (Executive Director) and Tony Checkly (Chairman of Buckingham Athletic) who all answered the questions about tactics, transfers, queues and Bovril (etc) with enthusiasm and grace.

The 100 or so fans of the club and the game left with renewed understanding of how the Club works (on and off the pitch) and with even greater hope in the hearts that one day MK Dons will join the Premier League!

I asked a question: what can local politicians learn from football? And there were some great answers from both Dan and Andy. They talked about the importance of talking with all the people who have passion for the game and the club in order to make good decisions - and how that has got to be important in local politics too. They also talked about the speed at which some huge decisions in football need to be made and why it is so critical to ensure that as much information needs to be gathered together as quickly as possible. This is a lesson for local politicians too on many occasions.

So don't forget - anyone with an MK18 postcode can get a cut price ticket to see the game on 28 April, the last (and crucial) home game of the season against Scunthorpe United. Come along and support our local league one club! I will be there!

Buy your tickets here

My last post on this blog

Last night I handed on the Buckingham Town Mayor's chain of office to my very worthy successor, Cllr Mark Cole. This marks the end of my...