November was been a busy month with County Council Committees and Parish/Town Meetings and that continued Into December. In particular, as well as keeping the “day job” going, work is also underway to prepare for the new shape of local government in 2019 .
The County has set up a Special Education Needs Delivery Board to endeavour to improve the service to given to parents and children with Special Educational Needs. I found myself standing in for the Chairman of that Board at the beginning of November. We have an increasing number of young people being put forward by their parents/carers for assessment as having special educational needs but the amount of money we get from central government to help those young people remains the same. Therefore the finances are spread more thinly. In particular more parents and carers are asking for education health and care assessments to be completed which is a complex process requiring the input of Educational Psychologists of whom we do not currently have enough for this purpose . An additional one-off grant of £1.4m has now been promised which will enhance what can be done. There is also now a banding process to decide what support should be given, which I have yet to get my head around. My own view is that the whole system is increasingly complex and I admire any parent who manages to navigate it. I have the same view of the process for applying for school places and the ensuing process of getting school transport. It was all so much simpler when you simply went to the nearest school. Even more difficult is the problem of young people being required to stay on in education or training for the years 16 to 18 where there is no help with transport. Therefore the decision of what courses to follow may be swayed by the availability of transport. I have every admiration for parents trying to find their way through the labyrinth of a system. What I would advise anyone struggling with the system is to ask their County Councillor for their help and support, especially with Appeals.
On a much lighter note, we have had fun here in Stur. before Christmas with a Living Advent Calendar of Shop and Business windows. Each night a different shop or business has unveiled a festively decorated window, generally launched with mulled wine and mince-pies within the premises. This has led to what I have called a “peripatetic party”, meeting each evening, some people always there, some new faces, following the windows round. Hopefully this will lead to some extra business for the shops involved and certainly makes for some good window displays during the Christmas period. The Christmas Producers Market this year was run by the Anonymous Traveling Market which made things much easier for those of us who have been promoting this event over the past three years. There was a range of foodstuff and craft goods in the street, complementing the regular Craft Market in the Exchange. The profits from the Craft Market, on the first Saturday of the month, have gone towards the Christmas tree lights, and again the tree looked very lovely, thanks to the business “Christmas Decorations” who provide the lights and keep an eye on the tree during that period. We did not have garlands across the road because of the enormous cost of being compliant with the requirements of the insurance company. The shops put up their Christmas trees but we hope to make the process easier for them next year by offering a package to get them in place. Each parish has had its own events which add to the fun of Christmas in the countryside.
As winter settles in the complaints about floods on roads, blocked drains and potholes increase in number. I would urge people to report any complaints or concerns directly to the County Council Highways Department either via dorsetforyou or over the phone to Dorset Direct at County Hall on 01305 221000. That way it gets directly to the iPad of our Community Highways Officer, Paul Starkey, who will be onto the problem with the tenacity of a terrier. It also goes into the database of the Council which it has used successfully to get additional grant funding from central Government into Dorset. Move roads funding has recently been promised by government which should help us.
We now move forward to an exciting New Year. Dorset, particularly North Dorset, is a lovely place and we are hoping to promote our area more effectively to those who wish to visit and spend their time and money here by setting up a Tourist Association. We intend to develop a branding for The Blackmore Vale, which businesses can engage with to promote themselves. I keep reminding my colleagues that the Blackmore Vale is not just the property of Dorset but also runs into South Somerset and we need to be working with colleagues there as well.
I wish you all a happy New Year and a good, healthy and prosperous 2018 to come.
Surgeries in January 2018
Saturday 6th January 9.30 a.m. – Glanvilles Wootton knocking on doors; 10.30 a.m. Pulham Village Hall; 11.30 The Exchange, Sturminster Newton.
Saturday 13th 10.30 a.m. Hilton Coffee Morning
I shall not be doing my surgery at Hazelbury Bryan in January as I hope to be in India at that time.
I hope to visit the Mud Pie Café in Okeford Fitzpaine when I return.
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