It was my annual cycle camping trip and I followed national cycle route 68 from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Derby, passing through the Northumberland National Park then down the backbone of England, the Pennines. It passes through big and tiny councils, some remote and rural, some intensely urbanised and industrialised.
Besides finding out I can sleep even when there is frost on the inside of my tent, it reminded me of all the things we do for our communities, how some of us do it better than others and the difference we will always make to the wellbeing of our residents.
In one village I stopped for a pee. The local toilets were impeccably clean. There was a sign saying they were now being run by the local parish council because the district council was going to close them due to cuts. It costs £8,500 a year to keep them open and there was an honesty box where you could make a contribution to their upkeep.
Having recently had a 50p pee in Westminster, I was impressed. I can imagine the debates at the parish council. Should they take over responsibility? Should they charge for their use?
It would have been an informed and serious debate.
I am sure the outcome was driven by a strong sense of public duty.
In the local cafe I earwigged on a couple of locals discussing a proposed one-way system in the village. They were not happy, especially as the councillor proposing the change wasn’t local - he was born in the next village. That’s localism.
It wasn’t all good. Passing from one local authority to another you could see the difference in the number of potholes and the amount of litter and graffiti. I may have imagined it, but people did look happier the better the council was visibly performing.
We shape places by what we do and how well we do it. However battered we are by central government we will continue to provide important services. Remember, the smallest things are often the most important.
The one thing he won’t comment on is his identity…