I often wondered when I was on the council in North Norfolk, what have I actually achieved ? Perhaps I was naive, but like most people who get involved in politics, I did so for positive reasons, wanting to see change, put right things that didn't work, and essentially make a difference.
The problem is that local councillors, in the main, end up debating and implementing things that central government have told us to do, usually using up a great chunk of the council budget doings so, whilst local initiatives are effectively starved of cash.
I remember one full council meeting which lasted nearly three hours. At the end of the meeting, the councillor sat next to me (Cllr Virginia Gay, now leader of the council) pointed out to me that we were sat in a council chamber where there were no elected Labout councillors yet we had spent 90% of the meeting discussing dictats and matters from the Labour government whilst local matters were almost brushed aside.
As a political (and ruling) group on the council, we knew that we had to make local matters more of a priority, and so we made a conscious effort to ensure that local, low cost and easily implemented initiatives were given a real priority by the council.
So I was delighted, when visiting my old political stomping ground today in Fakenham to do some bargain shopping in Woolworths and other shops in the town, to find that one of the schemes we championed when I was a councillor is still in place.
Way back in 2004 councillors in Fakenham made representations to the excellent Peter Moore (a Lib Dem councillor in North Walsham and the man who knows North Norfolk's finances inside out) about how we could help boost the Christmas trade in Fakenham and other towns by reducing car parking charges in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Somehow, I had forgotten this as I rushed to stick my £1.20 in to the ticket machine this morning, and only when the machine refused to take my money did I see the sign saying the council was giving two hours free parking each Saturday in the run up to Christmas.
So I had a very cheap morning in Fakenham, bagged some great bargains in the chocolate factory, in Boots, in Woolworths and also in the excellent independent card shop in the precinct (I don't use the cheap "Card Factory shop next door - full of rubbish in my opinion), and I would heartily recommend a visit to Fakenham for all your Christmas shopping needs.