February, and the last of the Christmas Decorations are finally taken out of the Church on Candlemas, 2nd February. Candlemas was the time when the church candles for the coming year were blessed. It was, or is, also a day when in the countryside farms changed hands, rents were paid and we moved forward into a new planting season.
Local government is also moving forward as I said in my last blog. The closing date for comments on the proposed new Unitary Structure was the 8th January. Eight of the nine Dorset first and second tier councils support the new structure of one Rural Unitary Authority and one Urban Authority, with Christchurch Borough Council preferring the existing two tier structure. In my opinion my Christchurch colleagues seem to have decided to turn a blind eye to the impossible financial situation which their alternative proposal would place the Dorset local authorities in. If the unitary structure is not adopted the rural District and Borough Council’s will struggle to stay afloat for long with the financial restraints being tightened upon them and the County will struggle even more, with the risk of not being able to balance its budgets. The savings we hope to make will come from reductions in central and management services and in premises, which can be shared between the authorities. In the event of the County in effect going broke, the presumption is the government would take over its responsibilities for a period of time – whether it would give itself more money to do so with more money is unknown.
The County is working hard to reduce the costs of child care by recruiting more of its own foster parents and making less use of the considerably more expensive private agency foster parents. There are also to make more provision within the County for children who need special care. In particular there are plans to reopen Bovington School as a special needs school to complement those already in the County. Anyone interested in fostering our Dorset children should contact Children’s Services at County Hall.
All of us , as we age, need to think about how we keep ourselves fit for longer, and the care we need as we grow frailer. The County Council is promoting a campaign at present to make us all more aware of how we can help ourselves under the heading “My Life, My Care”, planning for our future care, and it is never too early to start looking after our health and our finances. Elderly care is the biggest item in the County’s budget and it is dictated by people’s own demands, beyond the control of the organisation. The only thing that can be done is to endeavour to persuade people to think about how they can help themselves, with the County being the last point of call, rather than the first.
On a more positive note, thinking of the other end of the age spectrum, there is good news that Stepping Stones, the pre-school based at The William Barnes Primary School in Sturminster Newton, has been awarded almost £75,000 towards its target of £93,000 to build an extension to its premises. With other funds the staff have raised this will enable to extension to go ahead. The aim is to increase the number of places available for local children, although the demand is likely to still outstrip availability. More children to enter the pre-school will also mean more children coming to the William Barnes and in turn to more on to the High School which is important for the future of our local schools. The money comes from the North Dorset LEADER Funding, which is European Union funding. As well as more places for children, three more jobs will be created plus the offer of apprenticeships.
I have been in discussion with the Sturminster Newon High School about the possibility of acquiring a multi-use astroturf pitch on their site. The idea would be a surface which can be used for a range of ball games, in particular hockey which the High School currently do not have a pitch for. It would not be suitable for football matches but could be used for football practice. It could be used by the school in school time and the community for the rest of the time. Funds would be raised by charges for its use. It this is to go ahead it will have to be a partnership between public and charitable bodies, in this case the High School, Football Club and SturFit. It will be necessary for the funding to come from a variety of grant sources and for a charity to apply for them. These are early days but I think this is not unreasonable to achieve.
I have written before of the work being done by some hard working enthusiasts to promote the idea of a National Park for Dorset. They have now achieved the next stage of Natural England formally assessing the proposal later this year. My own view is that we have much to gain in North Dorset, providing that the market towns and surrounding area are included in a National Park, as well as the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The experience of those living in the National Park in Sussex would seem to support the view that this has benefitted the area economically and also, perhaps surprisingly, has increased the amount of social housing for local people.
I have decided that I will no longer do monthly surgeries in Glanvilles Wootton and Hazelbury because virtually no one ever comes to see me, preferring to phone or e.mail or make arrangements to meet rather than just dropping in. Therefore in those villages I will set aside the time as now but go and knock on doors – if people will not come to me, I must go to them. The Surgeries in Pulham and Sturminster Newton do work, as people do drop in, and also in Pulham, Okeford Fitzpaine and Ansty I am able to meet people at their coffee mornings.
Surgeries in February:
Saturday 3rd Feb. – 9.30 a.m. Glanvilles Wootton door knocking; 10.30 a.m. Pulham Village Hall; 11.30 The Exchange, Sturminster Newton.
Saturday 10th 10.30 a.m. Hilton Coffee Morning
Saturday 17th – 9.30 a.m. Hazelbury Bryan door knocking; 10.45 a.m. Okeford Fitzpaine Village Hall
Preferred e.mail address – email@example.com
Phone 01258 472583
Post – Elvlyn Cottage, Glue Hill, Sturminster Newton, Dorset, DT10 2DJ
Twitter @paulinebatstone Facebook Page Councillor Pauline Batstone