Tape 160. Mrs Joan Lyon (nee Mott, later Smith), sides 3 and 4

Tape 160

Mrs Joan Lyon (nee Mott, later Smith), was born in 1922. She was interviewed on 14 August 1992, when she lived at 5 Silver Street, Silver End. John Gyford of Blanfred, Chalks Road, Witham, was also present.

She also appears on tapes 159 and 162.

For more information about her, see Lyon, Joan, nee Mott, later Smith, in the People category

The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk or 033301 32500.

[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]

Side 3

Q:    When was it, what made you go, what made you stand for the County?

Mrs L:    Well, a promise to my father actually, that when I retired or was due to retire, because it was obvious I couldn’t do it while I was working for GCHQ because I couldn’t have the time off, so it happened to co-incide that they decided to split Witham into two seats a year before I was due to retire. I mean I was conscious of the fact that, you know, John [Gyford] had held the seat previously, and I didn’t really want to tread on John’s toes but he seemed quite happy for me to stand in the north, you know, which was my sort of village in the north of Witham, and it was a year before I was due to retire in 1981, so it was quite amicable between the two of us that John stood for south and I stood for north, and he nearly pulled it off for south too, didn’t he, it was [???] about 70 or 90 something, so we nearly won both the seats. So I, I knew that I’d only got a year to work, and so once I was elected I said well I’d need to be on Committees which met on Mondays and Tuesdays, because I couldn’t have Wednesdays and Thursdays off which were very busy days in London. And so that was what really what made me … and to a certain extent as a say I wouldn’t have done had they not split the seat so there were two seats, cause I would no way have opposed or challenged John for it, and I felt at the time it was amicable that I should stand in the north and John should stand in the south, I don’t know whether it really it was, I mean maybe he did resent it, he didn’t show it if he did, anyway. So as I say it was really a promise to my father that when I was due to retire, meaning that I couldn’t do it when I was working, that would have a go, and it just happened to co-incide, just a year before I retired. So having pulled it off, I, to a certain extent I kept a fairly low key that first year, cause I couldn’t commit myself to doing lots of sub-committees and things, and in any case I’m pretty certain, thinking about it, although I haven’t checked, that we were a very small group, and it was really dominated, I expect John found the same, it was very much dominated by the three big Labour areas, Basildon, Thurrock and Harlow in the Labour group, and I think, I don’t know whether Ralph actually won his seat then, and Roy Smith, or whether that was subsequently at the next election, but they may well have done, I think possibly they did, actually, it was ’81 when we won the three seats in the north. But I felt very much then that the whole concentration of the Labour group anyway was on the three big Labour areas, and I know that I had to start getting a bit forceful and saying ‘Well there are other areas of the County other than …, and started plugging for the things that Braintree District needed really.

Q:    What sort of the things were the Labour Group concentrating on before that then?

Mrs L:    Well I really think, I don’t know whether John found this when he was there, I think my father once or twice said well, you’ve got to fight your corner to a certain extent, and it was very much, I suppose when you were there John it was Labour controlled for some of the time wasn’t it, oh not in the time you were there, oh cause you were after the GLC was formed, weren’t you, and, but when Dad was there and John Tabor and Ken, of course there was every three years it changed hands and they took control.

But I always got the feeling from ’81 on that we were very much sort of tolerated, but not listened to with a great deal of recognition in a way, although they were very polite to you always, but they were very much in control, and of course they very much dominated everything and there wasn’t a question of anybody else being involved in briefings for Committees, you were just left to go to the Committee cold, you would discuss it in the Group as to what we would try to do, but they’d got the whip hand cause they’d got very much an overall majority, so that first four years really, even though there were quite a lot of us who’d had a lot of experience as Councillors in District level, we were treated as if we were nonentities. That’s the feeling I got anyway, in the first four years. And you had to fight your corner about things you knew were important to your area all the time. Fortunately, there was a fairly strong grounds for an opinion that Braintree should have its by-pass, and every opportunity I, but of course they’d already had their meetings I think, that they should abandon the inner relief road and have the by-pass first, because there was a very strong lobby of opinion in Braintree that they didn’t want the inner relief, they wanted the by-pass first, and this is why they’re now left with all sorts of problems within Braintree, because we said at the time, and the District said the same that we needed both really, but, I say, the decision was taken after a big public meeting in Braintree that they would go for the by-pass first, and then of course having got that into the programme, I told David Fisher, I said ‘We won’t get any’, by that, that was after the first four years I got onto Highways, I wasn’t on Highways for the first four years.

Q:    What were you on?

Mrs L:    I was only on Libraries and Education. Which as I say, the pattern was set cause I could only have Mondays and Tuesdays off, Education was Mondays I think then, and Libraries Tuesdays.

Q:    Were you allowed them as leave, or did you …?

Mrs L:    Well, I used to take all my annual leave as well as the eight- I was allowed. I was allowed eighteen days actually (Q: For Council work?). For Council work. But I used to take all my annual leave as well, you see, I didn’t have any holidays and stuff, I just took all my annual leave, together with the eighteen days, for Council work. Which just about worked out all right, cause I think by that time I had, oh I don’t know how many days it was, I suppose it was the full amount cause I’d done over twenty years as a Civil Servant, and the grade I was in, I suppose, having got up to Executive Secretary by then I was on, I don’t know whether, was it six weeks, I can’t really remember now. Near enough that I suppose. So anyway, after, the next election, I’m pretty certain it was the next election, it must have been, when we had a hung Council, that we won a lot of seats, and I think we increased our number to twenty, I don’t know whether it was twenty-six, but anyway, and the Liberals had about the same amount, which meant we were a hung Council. That was ’85. And of course the reason that this Governing Body thing [for schools] has thrown up now was because it always seems that they appoint Governors the year before the Council elections, for the four years, so of course in ’85, ’84 I suppose it was, was when were able to get quite a few appointments, I was consulted about nearly all the Governing Bodies in my Division, and we were able to get quite a few people on, which of course now they’re redressing by turfing everybody off, but they had to wear that for the four years, cause it was done, no it was ’89, where are we (John G. ’88). ’88. No wait a minute, it was ’89 when they got control again wasn’t it, cause we we’re onlh in ’93 at the next election, so it was ’89 when they got control again, but the Governors had been appointed as you say before that in ’88, when we were still a hung Council.

Q:    And was that the first time there’d been an allocation of Governing Bodies?

Mrs L:    Well, yes, previously it was a three-one, the previous allocation they’d taken three to one either Labour or Liberal, now this is what they’ve reverted back to. When we had the hung Council it really was quite a rewarding time, because they had to allow us to attend briefings, so our leaders on the various Committees, and the Liberal leaders on the various Committees, had to be involved in the briefings, it was quite anathema to them, but they had to because, in the same way, the rules for a hung Council, you’ve just instigated at Braintree, this applied to the County. Although the Group leaders weren’t in quite the same position as you are in Braintree.

Q:    Who decided that this should apply at the County, how was it arranged?

Mrs L:    Well I suppose it was the Group leaders, the Liberal and the Labour Group leaders, by that time Mr Desormo[?] had handed over, I don’t think he stood again in ’85, and so Bill Archibald took over, and although Bill’s very quiet, but at first, he’s quite a strong character and would hold his own, and, he’s very well respected too, by the officers and I’m sure by most of the leading Tories, some of whom of course have been there, like Dixon Smith and Geoffrey Waterer have been there a very long time, but we didn’t take any chairs of Committees, no we didn’t attempt to take any chairs of Committees, because, it was a very close thing really, I mean, they left themselves short in some Committees and we were able to get appointments to outside bodies and things because they left themselves short, for instance on Libraries, thinking that wouldn’t be very controversial, which has resulted in me being on the Museums in Essex Committee, which is anathema to some of the Tories, because ‘Why’s she on on that?’, that sort of goes back to the hung Council, and some of them didn’t turf us off, but to a certain extent perhaps they recognised that we do know what we’re about some of us on the other side. But that four years with the hung Council was really very rewarding, because you did feel that you were making an input really.

Q:    Can you remember some of the things that were done that might not have been done otherwise?

Mrs L:    Well, one thing is that over the education, getting children in  the term that they’re five, in the summer term, now we tried to get it so that they could go in at the beginning of the year that they were five, but the Liberals didn’t support us on that one so we didn’t get that through. We also tried to get more nursery provision through, and although the Liberals supported us when it was in the Education Committee as such, when it came to putting the money in the budget, I’m afraid that they didn’t support us on that, and that happened in several instances where we were trying to get more money to do more things. And the same with Social Services, that they unfortunately when it comes to the crunch they don’t support putting extra money in. But we’ve worked better together I think, funnily enough over the, often I used to say to David Grice, [Liberal?} if only we got together a bit better, that we could defeat them on all sorts of things. But there was quite a bit of, what shall I say, personality clashes with the two parties, and that … It isn’t the case with Braintree now, John, is it, but we did have in the past, when you first came on, I think there was quite a clash between some of the Liberals and some of us. But I can’t really think of any specific things that we did achieve really in the hung Council, not as much as we ought to have done.

Q:    So was there any discussion at all between the Labour and Liberal …?

Mrs L:    Oh yes, they used to have meetings, the leaders, you know, to discuss various things, and I suppose to a certain extent we did get put in a bit more money put into the budget, as a result of the hung Council. It always seemed to me as if the officers were very pleased to be able to have more to do with the Labour and the Liberal groups rather that just be completely dominated by the Conservatives. But of course the last three years they’ve been well and truly back in control, and the interesting thing is that the only Committee that they still continue to have Labour and Liberal on, briefings, is the Environment Committee, and that’s as a result of Peter White being very forceful in saying ‘Well we’re coming’, and ‘I’m appointing people’, because none of the others do. I think that it may well be that they have separate briefings, I rather think that Rene possibly has briefings with Mr Sharpe on Education, and I think Ron does on Highways, with Mr Self.

Q:    They’re the leaders of the Groups?

Mrs L:    They lead on the other Groups, you know, the other Committees, but they’re not included in the actual main briefing that the Tory chairman is given. And we had some very right-wing young Conservatives get on three years ago, who were very sort of, what shall I say, I don’t quite know how to put it, I don’t think any of them had ever been on a Council before, anyway, and they obviously came on thinking that they were going to revolutionise and make things much more a Thatcher-style Council, really, and oddly enough it was very obvious that some of the older guard weren’t very happy about it, but I mean they had tolerate them obviously as they were in the Group, and there were also several sort of take-over bids behind the scenes, with one or two of the Committees, not that the younger ones actually did sort of get any chairs of Committees, but there was a take-over in Highways, because David Fisher had had it for quite a long time, twelve years I think, Chairman and Vice-chairman, were both very long-standing members, and there was a bit of a coup from the south end, Rochford area that they wanted Chairmen from that area to try and push the case for what they wanted done to their roads down there, so there was a sort of coup within the party, and ..

Q:    If, by what mechanisms do new policies at the County come about? Presumably when there’s a Conservative majority they’re just decided on in the Group, that …

Mrs L:    They’re mostly carrying out the directives they get from the Government, you know.

Q:    Assuming there are such things, I was just wondering how anything new was instituted when there was a hung Council, cause presumably your Group had just as much, were in a position to institute an idea of some sort as the others? But on the other hand if the Conservatives had all the Chairmanships, would they still in effect have more power do you think to take the initiatives that you did?

Mrs L:    Well, yes, because they, having the Chair is a certain advantage isn’t it, and they made sure that they organised the Committees so that the most powerful ones such as Education and Environment, Planning as it was then, and Highways, had a Conservative majority.
But as I say they left themselves short in Libraries, which meant that we got one or two of the outside appointments, but ..

Q:    I suppose they were the biggest group by quite along still …

Mrs L:    Oh yes, it was still the biggest group.

Q:    Do you think looking back there was any way things could have been done differently and you would have had more …?

Mrs L:    I think we could have done differently if we’d worked more closely with the Liberals, but as I said there was unfortunately a few personality clashes, where certain members wouldn’t talk to the others, beforehand, to get that sort of concerted … particularly say in Education, and of course there’s always a difficulty over closures and amalgamations of schools, cause one of the very controversial ones was the Ongar Comprehensive School, and of course it would have had a knock on effect you see, if Ongar hadn’t closed, it would have meant that Basildon would have been affected, and one of the schools in Basildon should have closed. Now we in the rural areas felt that it was far worse for Ongar to close, being a one school in a big rural area, than for one of the Basildon schools to close, but of course the Basildon members didn’t agree with that, so we were defeated on the fact, we said Ongar shouldn’t close. (Q: When you say we?) Well, the Labour group and the Liberal group had, the Tories were in favour of it, and we had some abstentions and so they passed it to, they didn’t exactly vote against the Group but they did abstain (Q: the Basildon?) because they felt it ws going to be detrimental to their schools, so, and this is one of the things you’re always up against, with people being a bit parochial about things.

Q:    Normally would the Group …

Mrs L:    Oh yes, there was very few occasions where we, where we didn’t stick to the Group’s decision, but there’s always certain things where you have to concede that people have got to fight for their own corner. Because unfortunately, it had never necessarily been a, how shall I put it, closure of schools, had always been something that as, not being Labour policy to oppose the closure of schools, because certain people in the group have always felt that the small school was not beneficial, though those of us who are in a rural area feel that if you take away the school from a small village … but of course the educationalists will look at it from the point of view that if you’ve got a school with only three teachers and the full range of children from five to eleven, that they’re disadvantaged, but that’s one of those things that … I’ve just had someone talk to me tonight, one of the officers, about, she went round all the schools, the one that she should have sent here child to, which shall be nameless, was the absolute pits, she said, cause it was an old building, and they were sitting in all sorts of corners, with desks, only it doesn’t necessarily mean that they weren’t being well taught, because they were in that sort of … but of course she’s one of them that can take her child to take to school in the morning before, can run them around to where they need to go to, so they’ve got a choice, haven’t they.
But … it isn’t necessarily a criteria is it, that if a school is in an old building that it’s a bad school.

John G:    Presumably Will Primmer took a firm line about it.

Mrs L:    I wasn’t going to mention him actually, John. Cause he prided himself on the fact of how many schools he’d closed, and of course he and I, I mean I love old Will really, but I said, ‘Well don’t keep on boasting about it, because you ruin lost of [???]’. But anyway, you’d better edit that bit out!

Q:    [???]

Mrs L:    You have interviewed him?

Q:    I think Vic has. [Vic Gray, County Archivist]

Mrs L:    Oh Will took great pride in the fact of how many schools he’d closed.

Q:    Did he continue that when he became a Councillor?

Mrs L:    No. Well, yes to a certain extent, the attitude was the same, he didn’t consider it was, that he should fight for keeping small schools, because educationally it’s far better for them to be in a bigger school and have a separate teacher for each age.

Q:    I suppose that’s one of the areas where there was scope when it came to it, to actually decide something, as you said, [???] it was really a matter of the Party in Government … has that become more so?

Mrs L:    Well, it’s become more so since they got control again, because I mean they just, I mean they’re just implementing the whole of Government policy and cutting expenditure, aren’t they. Even to the extent in the last two budgets going, well, 35 million below what the Government said they could have, last year, and the year before 40 million below. And of course we always get adverse press because we say that, well normally we say in fact, we didn’t the year before, we sort of said that we should reduce it or something, take more money out of reserves, but of course the County always say they’ve got to have millions in reserves, you know, Brian made a very good case, actually, Brian Stapleton, but they didn’t get anywhere.

Q:    So they’re not actually just following Government lines, they are actually taking a choice …

Mrs L:    They’re going beyond doing it.

Q:    And is that different from the previous time when ..

Mrs L:    Oh yes, I think when we had the ..

Q:    When it was the previous Conservative …

Mrs L:    Yes I don’t think they ever went below, I don’t whether we even had this Standard Spending Assessment in ’81, I don’t think that we did. I think that the County just decided on what they needed, by each Committee putting in its bid, and I don’t think that there was any actual directive from the Government ten years ago as to exactly what you could spend. It was just based on what they felt was reasonable. And of course two thirds of it went on education anyway, two thirds of the rate. So for the future well I don’t really know what it’s going to be really. Anyway, on the whole, I’ve enjoyed my ten years there, it’s been challenge, because it’s obvious we’ll never have overall control because Essex is basically a Conservative area, in the rural areas in particular, they get massive majorities don’t they, all around, it’s just a question really of making your presence felt, and I suppose in a subtle sort of way, you get things achieved by nagging away at people, I mean over getting the Motts Lane [Witham, proposed road over the railway from Cypress Road.] even into the programme, I said to David Fisher, well, now we’ve got the Braintree by-pass in the programme, I shan’t give you any rest until I get the Motts Lane in, because we’ve known we’ve wanted that just as long as we’ve known they wanted a Braintree by-pass, and now we’ve got it into the programme, should have been started this year, with the Government cut-backs it’s now put back another four years.

And with all the other things that are going on, sometimes I feel that we never shall get it built, and of course the difficulty now is that you’ve got so much opposition to it from the people living up there, although, they, well they say they didn’t know, a lot of them, when they bought their houses, and as I said the other day when it was discussed, well I’m in the ironic position that I’m supporting relieving people of traffic who basically aren’t my supporters, in the centre of Witham, against those who should be my supporters in the north of Witham. But I’m sticking to my guns and saying that we should still do it. Though of course when we had the members’ tour of highways recently we looked at it from the industrial side first and then came round and went up Cypress Road, and of course, several members said, goodness, those flats are jolly near to the road, aren’t they. That was a mistake, wasn’t it. So said ‘Well, the estate was basically planned so most of the houses backed onto the road, but that block of flats were built, and I don’t remember exactly, and they were built for, possibly people who had come from, who were used to having roads quite near to them, who wouldn’t have objected if we’d built the road earlier, but admittedly now it is going to cause a problem, particularly with all the other developments, but there you are. With all the other suggested road links, it may well never come to fruition anyway. But one thing I do know is that they’re going to very reluctant to carry out a public inquiry, where I think they will have to won’t they, because it costs so much money, I mean this is what they’re saying over the Bradford Street by-pass, that they don’t want to have a public consultation cause it costs £40,000. And so they’re hoping that the District’s going to agree that we should abandon it. But I don’t really know what the four members who are coming from the, Braintree will have to say about it. I think the officers are more or less inclined to feel that we should agree with the County and abandon it. But as long as we can persuade them that they should take some measures in Bradford Street to make sure the lorries can’t go through. But you see the trouble is that every time you get fairly near, and then you get objections, people who are clamouring for the money to be spent on their roads say, ‘Oh well, there’s no controversy with our road, so, put ours in’ and this is really what’s going on all the time with highways. I mean we had the Leighs people there, and whenever it’s anything in this area Ron Kennedy always says, cause you know he’s still working, he drives a train, ‘Well you deal with it in, you represent the Highways, Labour Highways group on that’ and you see wherever you suggest you’re going to build a road there’s going to be somebody object to it. They asked the Chairman ‘Well when, if we can get agreement on a route, how long do you think it’ll be before we get it?’ So he said ‘Well if all the other roads that we’ve been trying to get for the last twenty years are anything to go by, it’ll be at least ten years’. And, this is Great Leighs. There’s a fair amount of unanimity amongst people on that sort of thing you know, there’s, as I say the only thing that there’s a great controversy going on at the moment is over Social Services.

Q:    When you say unanimity you mean in the whole Council?

Mrs L:    Well, in the whole Council over roads, and environment and those sort of things, there’s not very much controversy but there is on education obviously, although funnily enough there’s a mixed feeling in the Conservative group because some of them are not happy about Grant-maintained, going down that road, because they can obviously see that it’ll be the end of the Local Education Authority.

But then there’s the other element, the more right-wing ones, that say ‘Well the sooner it’s all under the Government the better’. But Social Services are the big bone of contention at the moment. The closure of homes, and the home help service and, I’ve taken up quite a few cases actually, but they’ve just decided that they can only really provide home helps for people who need help with their personal hygiene and so the home helps are only going to sort of see to the bathroom and the kitchen and not do any other housework and they’re getting up schemes for it to be done through Age Concern, and of course Age Concern are lapping it up, they think this it wonderful, you know, that they’re going to be given some funding to find people who’ll go and clean people’s houses, but …

Q:    I hadn’t realised that was what was happening.

Mrs L:    Yes, oh they’ve got a scheme going in Witham with Age Concern, and, it doesn’t make any sense to me. It just depends on the home helps, because I’ve got some in the village who say ‘Well I can’t go in and see Mrs so and so, and see the place covered in, you know, dirty, without doing it’, you know, they’ll put more hours in to do it, or they’ll go and do it for them some other time, but, and over the closure of homes, well, we’re in a very difficult position over that, as I said at the Constituency [Labour] meeting or the Branch meeting one or the other, I think it may have been the Branch meeting, that you can’t argue against closing places like Stisted Hall, which were taken over in 1949 or 50 or whenever it was and used for residential care, because the people who went into residential care in those days weren’t anywhere near as frail and incapable as they are now. I mean my cousin’s now there, been moved there from Park View because they’re bringing Park View up to a better standard, which is strange, because that’s only been up twenty-five years, but you see when they opened that there were four to a room, and the whole sixty all ate together in the bit dining room, and the philosophy today is that you’ve got to make it more homely with units of ten, so there’ll only be, there’ll be five units of ten when they’ve finished it, but they’ll all have much more individuality, now my cousin was sharing a room with another lady and the room was only ten by fourteen, well the criteria laid down for private homes is that they should have ten square feet each person, well you can’t achieve that in a room that’s ten by fourteen, and if you, having set the standard for the private homes, the County have got to conform, and to do Stisted Hall, although the rooms are fairly big, they’ve got the problem that the toilets aren’t suitable for people in wheel chairs and on frames, I mean when I was there, my cousin’s been moved there now, I saw them struggling to try and get somebody into a toilet near the lounge which is not suitable for somebody, and to bring that up to standard is going to cost one and a half million pounds or something. Of course, it’s far, the argument we’re having to use is that they should re-provide, not just because most of the people from Stisted have been pushed out into the private sector.

Q:    They have, you say?

Mrs L:    Yes, and you see I had a real battle with St Michael’s Hospital over my cousin because they just said ‘Oh well we’ve got a place for her at Hatfield Peverel’. I said ‘Well that’s a private home, she’s not going there.’ They said ‘Oh but, there’s nowhere else’. I said ‘Oh, isn’t there?’ I said ‘There are still County Council homes’. ‘Oh there’s a long waiting list, you’ll never get her in there’, cause I hadn’t told them I was on the County Council, and I’d already alerted them that I had a cousin who would need to be in care, she would pay the full whack because she’d got money, but I’d prefer her money to go into where they were paid the rate for the job and they were properly cared for by trained people. But, as I say, I’ve had one or two other people who I’ve succeeded in getting into County Council homes as opposed to private homes. But I mean, we as Councillors on the Labour Group, all we can do, unfortunately, is to go along with it, but pressurise them into re-providing.
But at the moment I don’t, I think they are building one somewhere but I’m not sure where it is.

Q:    So you’re not opposing closures then?

Mrs L:    Well we can’t oppose the closures because I mean it’s not logical really is it?

Q:    Are there going to be any others provided, then?

Mrs L:    Well, one of the things is of course is providing more care in the community and allowing people to stay longer in their own homes, but of course that falls down because there isn’t sufficient money to, but again it’s a Government philosophy and of course the County Council, Tory County Council’s philosophy that well, the private sector can provide. And they’re even talking about inviting people to come in and run some of the County Council homes on a private basis. It’s a very difficult one really.

Q:    So for instance with the home helps, coming back to the home helps, could they [???]

Mrs L:    Well, yes, they’re in a difficult position, because this is what the officers have been trained, to recommend, it seems to me anyway, that this is the whole philosophy of social work now, that there shouldn’t be their, they’re only interested in people that need help with their personal hygiene, but the others, the private sector can provide. Because when we discussed this actually in the Hospital Group, I mean Gillian Gibbs said ‘I don’t know what you’re all on about, because’ she said ‘I’ve been given a list of people who can help my parents’, and apparently her parents are ninety odd, they’ve just had their diamond wedding is it, or even sixty-five years or something I think. But yes, at a price, you see. It’s all right for Gillian because her parents can presumably afford to pay eight pounds an hour or whatever it is. But I’ve got another case that’s come to my notice, someone at Coggeshall Road to me, I mean strictly speaking I shouldn’t be taking that case, in Coggeshall, but they tend to, because they can’t get much support from their member, and, cause he’s too busy elsewhere. And as it’s turned out, somebody, I think Winnie Drake or someone has found somebody for him you know, to do his housework. But of course although I took the case up and they’ve re-visited him, he’s just told them that ‘Well, I don’t need any help with my personal hygiene so you can go away, I’ve got somebody privately, it’s not costing me as much as you would have charged me for a home help’ [laugh] So you’re in a bit of a cleft stick then aren’t you?

Q:    Do a lot of individual cases come to you then?

Mrs L:    Yes. (Q: Not just in …) Well, I get it in the village because I go and help at the luncheon club, you see, and so I had it all there a few months back when it all started, and I said, ‘Well, just insist that you do need some housework done’ and fortunately of course, quite a lot of our home helps in the village are people in their middle age, or even getting on for sixty-year olds, or even over sixty-year olds, who’ve been going to these particular people for several years, and they wouldn’t leave a house dirty.

Q:    What other sorts of cases do you get, what particularly?

Mrs L:    Well, I get quite a bit of stick from various parish councils, in particular Cressing, about their roads, and, they never seem to be, whatever we do, for Cressing, won’t be right. And I was supposed to have gone to their parish meeting and said that I would get them a crossing at Cramphorn’s, well I didn’t say anything of the sort, you know, I just said ‘You can apply for social crossing’. Someone interpreted that I’d said I’d get them a crossing. But I’ve now found my list of all the social crossings in the pipeline
But you know, you get onto the officers and say ‘Well, will you look into it, and will you write and tell Cressing Parish Council’. And then this other person is, you know, how they have to go about applying for a social crossing, cause I can’t apply for it, it’s up to them to, and I also get, I mean I go into Cressing quite often obviously because I represent Cressing, so I go into the local pub, which is mostly frequented by Tories, but I go there deliberately to put my oar in, and they’re critical of the amount of traffic they now get through Cressing because of the by-pass, and I said ‘Well, we built the Galley’s roundabout’, I said ‘We deliberately marked Cressing on it’, oh that was one thing they said, why wasn’t Cressing and Silver End marked on the Galley’s roundabout, I said ‘For the simple reason we don’t want to direct the traffic through Cressing and Silver End to the A12, we want it to stay on the B1018, you know, and go through to Witham’, which sort of helps our case to get the Motts Lane link built. And the other thing I get, all from the parish at Silver End, you know, all about, ‘Well the roads aren’t adequate and the parking is appalling’, and I mean coming out of the village tonight down Temple Lane, I mean it really is a nightmare down there, but what can you do …

Side 4

Mrs L:    [192]6 when the village was built, there were only five people in the village had a car. I think Ken [Cuthbe] had one fairly early on, but not right at the beginning, he had his bicycle to begin with, you know, when he was the Constituency agent [for the Labour Party]. But, he used to cycle from Silver End to Burnham on Crouch and all the villages in between, but there was only as I say, the five, but now of course I mean my, I’ve got friends with four cars to their family cause the wife, the husband and the two sons have all got a car each, you know. But fortunately they’re in one of the private houses that have got a long drive way so they can get them off the road. Oh and then of course you get all the same business of all schools about people driving their children to school. I even had someone suggest to me the other day that why didn’t we allow the cars to drive into the school, make a … I said ‘What, take all that lovely green at the front of the school, I should think!’ But people are so thoughtless. I mean, we’ve got all the zig zag markings on the school side, but nothing in Valentine Way, and, but there again I’m not very popular when I say ‘There’s no need for you to drive your child to school, you should walk, it would be better for you and for the child’, so, unless of course they’ve got a job to go to and that’s different, then, this is the problem with quite a few that they do need to go out to work, pay their mortgages, if they can get a job. But don’t have much in the way of people unemployed in the village, there’s only one or two, and they’re difficult to employ anyway. We’re very fortunate really that Cego’s is still doing quite well. Crittall’s. Cause they’ve diversified quite a lot and they make fittings and things for other companies you know, that make windows. (Q: Not just Crittall’s?) No.

Q:    That’s unusual then isn’t it, compared to Witham or Braintree. They’re doing better.

Mrs L:    I think they are actually, yes, there’s very little unemployment in the village at the moment. One or two that have been made redundant from Braintree Crittall windows, chaps over fifty that don’t stand much chance of ever getting another job really. But that’s not through the fault of the County Council is it?

Q:    Let’s just have a quick look at these notes and make sure … oh, details, I [???] ask you what Committees you were on, well you said that the first …[County Council]

Mrs L:    The first year I was only on Libraries, in fact the first three years I think possibly I was only on Libraries and Education. But I got very much involved in doing headship interviews in particular, because, well after the first, when we had the hung Council I don’t think I got involved that much in the early, in the first four years, certainly not the first year, cause I couldn’t do them anyway then. But after, from the hung Council onwards I got involved in not only North West Essex, in all the interviews, cause they had to have a Labour member and a Liberal member as well as a Tory for the three County members. But also had to do Mid-Essex, cause there weren’t any Labour members in Mid-Essex, so I used to get those as well. Often I’d do Colchester as well, because Brian Stapleton often couldn’t do them, and so he used to ask me to take his. I got involved with a lot of. Fact I’ve been in nearly every school I should think in the North-West and Mid-Essex areas, and North-East actually.

Q:    Have you been on Education all the time?

Mrs L:    Well I was, until, I suppose it was three years ago now, and we had, well two years actually, Margaret Hutton’s only been dead about two years hasn’t she. And when she lost her seat the Liberal won it, and we, it was ironic, we had to lose a seat on Education, while strictly speaking it should it have been one of the Thurrock members. But I knew there’d be quite a lot of acrimony if, between the three Thurrock members if one of them had to relinquish it.

So, half past seven I think it was, the morning of the Group meeting, I rang Ron Kennedy, and, he was the Chairman of the Group, and said ‘Oh all right I’ll come off it’ I said ‘Save a lot of upset, I’ll come off Education and go on Environment’. But I said ‘I can still be involved in the Area Committee anyway’, you know, which I have been, except I’m not, haven’t been consulted over these governor things except for one vacancy at Elm Hall, that’s all. So, but I was quite pleased to go on Environment really, because, and particularly on the sort of Heritage, so I can get involved with Cressing Temple and all the other … so I sort of more or less lead the Labour Group on Heritage and Tourism, which they’ve amalgamated recently. They used to have, Tourism used to be separate with something else, oh no, Countryside, that’s always, Heritage and Tourism, and it was Countryside and Landscape or something, but they’ve amalgamated those, I mean this last two, well I suppose it’s a year really, they’ve decided to sort of do a lot of amalgamating and reduce the Committees. But oddly enough they’ve set up a lot, they’ve reduced the number of Sub-Committees but they’ve increased all the sort of Working Groups and Panels and things.

Q:    And what else is there, you were on Libraries to start with?

Mrs L:    Yes, which was Museums you see, so I’ve been very much involved in Museums.

Q:    And have you been on that all the time?

Mrs L:    Yes. There’s also the sort of Museums in Essex Committee which was set up to have all of the Museums which mostly are run by the Districts, I mean the County don’t run any museums. And …

Q:    So that was all the main Committees?

Mrs L:    As I say I went on Highways when there was a vacancy about five years ago now, so I’m actually, still on three, I’m on three Committees, you know, I mean on Highways, might be more than five years.

Q:    So what sort of workload, I mean how many days or hours or whatever a week would you say you take ..?

Mrs L:    Well, mostly I suppose I suppose it’s two to three days, I mean they just vary really.

Q:    And has that been the case all the time, or is it getting more or less, or …?

Mrs L:    Well, oddly enough I seem to have got more, because there’s all sorts of Panels. I mean I sit, having gone on Environment, if there was any possibility of being on the Mineral Working Group I want, I’d like, if we were given another seat, I mean, Peter was on it you see, and then we were given another one and although there was someone from the Pitsea area very anxious to get on it, Peter said ‘Well, you know, you’re faced with a lot of it round your area’, so he agreed that I could go on it, so I’m, this has meant four whole days going round all of the sites that have now been more or less put into the next Review, but, and I’m on, there’s various ones with Highways, on traffic, and looking at, I mean there was the A120 for instance, I wouldn’t like to say how many days we spent in the coach going round all the possible routes, for that, and in the end you know we chose the route which was a compromise in a way. But now they’re asking for more of a compromise because of the Rayne aspect of it, when they put that roundabout in. And Thursday I’m going for this joint meeting with, basically we don’t have any main Committees in August, or any Sub-Committees, but I don’t seem to have really had a week when I haven’t had something, even, through this six weeks period where normally there seems to be so many things that just can’t be left.

Q:    It’s very demanding for somebody who was trying to hold down a job.

Mrs L:    Well this is the whole problem, this is the whole problem really, I mean you can only really cope with it if you, if you’ve either got your own business or you’re a farmer, or, but what the other members do is, they don’t go on all these Sub-Committees and Working Panels and what have you.

But you’re very much not part of it unless you do. I don’t know how you found it, John, when you were there. I mean perhaps there weren’t so many Working Groups and Panels and things, that they …I mean we’ve got Libraries Panel, you see, we have a Panel that sits to go through all the refurbishment of libraries and the possibility of providing new libraries, I mean we have a panel that meets regularly every month to go through … and of course there’s lots on Education, course I haven’t got those now, in fact I’m not even on the Area Panel, cause they only allowed us one seat on that which Peter obviously takes for North-West. But certainly some weeks I go to Chelmsford four times. In other weeks, I mean I haven’t been, the last month I’ve only been perhaps once a week.

Q:    In the Labour Group for instance then, are there many people who are working as well, how does that all …?

Mrs L:    Well there’s Brian, and he leads on Social Services, well of course he’s got his own business, I think that he can sort of get the time that he wants, or he works it. I don’t know quite what Chris Pearson does, but Chris is on Education, but I’m not sure what other Committee, but he doesn’t get involved in a lot of Working Groups. There’s another young chap from the Thurrock area, but he seems to have got a sort of job that’s flexible, he’s more or less self-employed I think, I’m not quite sure what he does. But the rest of us more or less are retired now, which is a pity really, because you lose so many people that could, could be contributing but can’t because they, as has been said many times, that it does restrict you really, because meetings are all day-time. But if the Districts take over as the Unitary Authorities then I think the Districts will have to face having day-time meetings, don’t you John.

John G:    Not necessarily. I don’t think so.

Q:    Why do you say that?

Mrs L:    There are certain things that happen in the day-time now, aren’t there.

John G:    Yes, but not many. Most of the London Boroughs and most of the Metropolitan Districts which are the nearest thing to what the new Districts might be, they meet in the evenings.

Q:    But then they’re smaller areas physically, aren’t they. If they’re in a city. They haven’t so many miles to get there and back.

John G:    Yes, that’s true. It might depend on how big the new Districts were, yes. If there were only twelve to fourteen Essex Districts rather than …[???]

Q:    Is it statutory, is there anything laid down in law about when they should be, or is it just the policy of the individual …?

Mrs L:    To meet you mean. No I don’t think so, it’s just that it’s always been the case, hasn’t it, that the County’s met during the day, and …

Q:    Cause I used to feel the same with Governors’ meetings, School Governors, they were all in the day time when I was on, but I think it was mainly the decision of the body itself, wasn’t it?

Mrs L:    Oh yes, cause I said when I went on, I said ‘Well I can’t come to day-time meetings’, and one or two of the others said the same thing. So. I’m not sure whether my father was Chairman then, or whether it was, no I don’t think he was. I think it was David Nash, the Rector. And so they agreed that they’d have the meetings in the evening, so we do. But I don’t think there’s that many around here that have that. I mean they have it at the end of the school day, don’t they, most of them. Rivenhall is three thirty or three forty-five and so is Templars and so is Cressing, but as I say Silver End there were so many of us who said we can’t get to day-time meetings, and so we have it in the evening, and should stick to that.

Q:    What do you think about the considered changes in Local Government ?

Mrs L:    Lots of people have tried to tie me down as to whether I think we should abolish the County or the Districts, and I’m afraid my answer to that is, ‘Well I think that each of them have their own sort of importance, and I think you need an overall structure for the whole of Essex. And I don’t really feel that there’s any necessity to re-organise, but I know they’re going to, but I don’t know. I think they work very satisfactorily as they are.

Q:    So you think basically that the County is quite effective, apart from the fact that of course you’d prefer to have a majority, but you think that as an actual organisation that it’s quite effective, do you?

Mrs L:    Oh yes, I think, I mean it gets knocked by all the Districts, you know, and the Parish Councils. Nobody every has a good word to say for the County Council, but I think it’s a pretty efficient organisation actually, and I think that the officers are all pretty experienced and qualified. I mean there’s some I suppose that you could say that are inefficient, but same in any organisation isn’t there. They’ve been doing a lot of re-organisation and getting rid of some of the chiefs and, but I don’t know, I just don’t know. I think that the upheaval that we had seventeen years ago when we had to go into some other District, I mean Witham were very jealous of what they’d achieved, although it was always a bone of contention with the Braintree members as to that, what Witham got up to. And we didn’t really want to go in with anybody you know, but we were forced to. Certainly didn’t want to go in with Maldon. I mean Roy Berry was the only one, cause he was on the Council then, who said that we should go for Witham being on its own, and take in the areas around us, but that wouldn’t be looked at anyway. I mean it was worked out on a sort of numerical basis from County, that we should have gone with Maldon. But we succeeded in persuading them that we more affinity with Braintree and should go with Braintree. But it’s strange how often it raises its head, doesn’t it, John.

John G:    Well there’s rivalry between the three towns basically.

Mrs L:    Yes, still there really, isn’t it. But I mean once the decision was taken, I and many others said ‘Well, we’re now a District and we must be concerned for the whole District, we mustn’t just be parochial for Witham. And I indeed have done just that, being on Planning. I have taken an interest in the whole of the District, and I know every inch of the District, I should think. But I’m afraid we’re going back now to this very parochialism, with Halstead and the Witham members at the moment, that’s how I feel anyway, that most of the Witham members, present company excepted, are only interested in Witham. In the same way that Halstead members are only interested in Halstead. Which I think is a great pity really.

Q:    I suppose that’s just a smaller version of what could happen on the County, easily, isn’t it? Does that happen at the County, are there some members who …

Mrs L:    I think they were, as I said, when I first went on, I felt that there was a lot of parochialism, but that doesn’t seem to be quite so prevalent today, I think that, cause there’s been some fairly strong members from the other areas, I mean Peter in particular is a very strong, and he’s listened to. I like to think they listen to me a bit, perhaps I’ve made my mark a bit.

Q:    You mean in the Group?

Mrs L:    No, the rest of them, you know.

Q:    So you think that’s changed in the ten years.

Mrs L:    Oh yes, I think so, I think that …

Q:    Has anything else changed particularly during your time?

Mrs L:    I think to a certain extent things are changing in that we’re losing quite a lot of the Chief Officers who were the old school, Local Government Officers, you know, and we’re getting the sort of bright boys in, who are more business orientated shall we say.

And I mean maybe we, I mean we obviously have got to be more business orientated in a way, I suppose, because that’s what the Government have decreed, and you’ve got to make it work, you’ve got to make sure that we’re not wasting money, and we’re not carrying staff who aren’t pulling their weight, cause I think that Civil Service and Local Government have been guilty of that in the past, but I suppose I’m old-fashioned enough to be very jealous of the old-fashioned Local Government officer who believes that they’re providing a service, and I say this to people, that, well, we’re providing a service, we’re not actually in it for making profit. We shouldn’t be wasteful, but on the other hand you know … And I’ve always been very honest with people that there’s only one way of paying for the things that one needs, and that is through whatever tax is levied, either nationally or locally. And as the speaker that we had to try and explain the Council Tax to us, who upset the Tories because he was critical of the Government, it’s a great pity that they didn’t leave the rating system as it was. Although, people felt that was unfair, the rating system, but certainly what they’ve come with since has been even more unfair. You’ve got gainers and losers and you’re going to get the same thing under the Council Tax. I’ve always been perfectly honest with people and said, well, you can’t get as old John Howe used to say ‘owt for nowt’, and you’ve got to pay for it.

Q:    So on the whole are you suggesting[?] the Labour Group have pressed the County to spend more, to put it crudely, if they could, is that the Labour Group’s …?

Mrs L:    Well, yes, because we feel that we’re not providing the service that people need.

Q:    Are there any of the Conservative people you think are sympathetic to that idea at the moment?

Mrs L:    No, not really. No. No I don’t think any of them. I mean they’re all pretty loyal to their cause actually. Some more so than the others, you know.

Q:    So when somebody comes and says they need a home help …?

Mrs L:    Oh, they listen sympathetically, you know, but at the end of the day they just say well, you know, it’s a question of who’s the most needy, we’re only going to provide those who are most needy. And of course, I’ve already said on the Education thing, well, the majority of them are quite happy to go down the Grant Maintained sort of road, but, and there was actually a suggestion of a coup in getting rid of the Chairman of Education, because he was too moderate and because he wasn’t encouraging people to go Grant Maintained. But at the end of the day there were two contenders for his post, both of whom were more or less in the private sector of Education, and he got back actually, because the old guard supported him, that’s Mr Abbey, yes, the last time. We’ve also achieved quite a bit actually over the Arts since I went on, because when I first went on, I, at every meeting said, well when are the County going to pay their dues to the Orchestral Association. They paid it to Eastern Arts, so that we can get some feed-back from them, cause they weren’t full members, and that was one of my planks that I was going to keep on and on until they became full members, and we achieved it just before, Margaret Hutton was very supportive.

She was very keen on getting more art and music into the County. We achieved it just before ’89, and so for the Centenary of the County Councils we had some super concerts. Again that’s all in the melting pot in a way, cause they’ve now set up these Boards, and it’s not quite so democratic as it used to be, cause they’ve only got one representative on it for the whole of Essex, but Essex have set up some separate forums, and indeed they’ve even appointed an Arts Development Officer at County level, who’s done a lot of liaising with all the Districts to get more Art provision. And also they’ve appointed this Museums Officer too, so there’s been quite an upsurge of, but you still get a lot of the Philistines who say ‘Why do we spend any money on the Arts?’ But unfortunately we get that within the Labour Party as well. Cause we’re weird, we people who like to go and listen to queer music and one thing and another, aren’t we.

Q:    How do you think that’s happened, then, in the present climate? You’ve managed to get more [???] standing. Or is there in fact a majority in favour on the County? Or is it that those who are in favour are the ones who …

Mrs L:    Yes, I think that having got there, they wouldn’t dare rock the boat now, because there’s a certain element in the Conservative Group who do appreciate art and music, but they chunter a bit, the chunter a bit about it, in the same way they did over Cressing Temple. I mean there was quite a battle to get them to take over Cressing Temple. But now they have, of course, oh it’s a great prestigious thing, you know. And …

Q:    Do you think, was that a close-run thing then, the decision to take over Cressing Temple?

Mrs L:    Yes, well, the top people weren’t in favour of it.

Q:    So how did it come about that it …

Mrs L:    Well, I think that there were so many who felt that they should. They had offers, they were pretty certain that they would get grants from English Heritage and then of course there was the big grant from the EC. And as I say, I do have a smile now and again when there’s something on there, thinking how some had fought dead against it. [laugh] But no I think things have certainly … And Mr Sharp, in particular is very supportive, he was when he was the Deputy, it was him that was always encouraging me to carry on the battle, with Renee and the others, and George Miles, who was very keen, keep on battling, we’ll get there in the end.

Q:    So, tell me who Mr Sharp is?

Mrs L:    Mr Sharp’s now the Chief Education Officer, but he was the Deputy, and he was dealing with the Arts side of things before we actually appointed the Arts Development Officer.

Q:    Did some of these initiatives actually come from the officers would you say? How’s the balance of influence …

Mrs L:    Well I think the museums thing came from the officers, yes, they felt that, you see we only put money into the budget of Libraries for the Saffron Walden Museum and for the East Anglian Museum of Rural Life at Stowmarket, and, cause they were very much educational things, and we didn’t give any sort of support to any other museums, that was a District thing. But the officers said that it would be helpful if we could have a Committee and co-ordinate things, and so that’s worked very well really, and so we have quarterly meetings of, not only the District museums but also the private ones as well, cause there’s quite a lot of those actually around, I mean, Burnham and Mersea, we’ve visited nearly all of those, and really, I’ve the greatest admiration for these people in the small places that have managed to, in fact Burnham is trying to raise an enormous amount of money at the moment, I must send them a donation, to get new premises for their thing.

And Maldon, there’s somebody at Maldon who very jealously guards her collection, but there’s a bit of controversy between her and the Maldon District Council over things, but then Maldon are … I shall never forget when we had the meeting about taking over the branch line, and that was right at the beginning of my term when Kathleen Nolan was sort of pressing her members to support, the County should take over the branch line, the Maldon end of it, and me at this end of the line. And I think we established quite a good relationship then, because one of the Tory ladies said to me the other day, ‘You get on jolly well with Kathleen Nolan, don’t you, she never speaks to me.’ So I said [laugh] ‘Oh yes, well, I barge in where angels fear to tread. But, so that was something that we did achieve, and I think at long last they have actually signed the agreement, but of course we’ve lost parts of it, and we’ve really got to get cracking now on, I think it’s blocked in places, so I think that we’ve got to try and get some … but of course the County were reluctant to put money into doing anything till they’d actually signed, British Rail had signed the agreement. And in the early stages there was problems over the bridges, that they needed strengthening.

Q:    How did that initiative come about in the first place, who actually said …?

Mrs L:    I think again it was the officers really that brought it forward, and also pressure from the Conservation people, I mean Helen [Pitchforth] was very much involved in it from this end, and the Ramblers, and various other wild life groups and things, so … but it wasn’t easy dealing with British Rail I’m afraid, over it. So, there we are.

Q:    {to John G} You know a lot more about local government than I do, John, I suppose there are important things to ask about what has happened and hasn’t happened in the last few years, that I haven’t …?

John G:    Well. You said that the Chief Officers had gradually changed from the old traditional sort to new managerial sort. What about the relationship between Councillors and officers at County Hall? How would you describe that, has that changed?

Mrs L:    In some areas I think it has. I mean I’m not saying that they’ve all changed, they haven’t, but they’re gradually changing. And some of the newer ones, I’m not going to cite any specific ones, I mean in Libraries in particular they’re all very much the old traditional Local Government Officer although the Chief Librarian is a much younger man, but he is the traditional type. And of course we have in Mr Self in Highways still, but of course he’s going now, and some of his younger ones are very much, well they’ll listen to you, but you get the sort of feeling that they’re not really taking much notice of what you’re saying. They’re going to go straight down the line on their technical aspects of things. (Q: The younger ones?) The younger ones, yes. (Q: You mean the older ones would listen?) Oh the older ones would listen, yes, yes. I mean they probably in the end would convince you that they were right and, you know. (Q: The old ones?) Yes. (Q: More subtle.) Yes. But by and large I suppose even some of the newer ones, I mean there’s a lot of changes coming about now actually, because a lot of people are being encouraged, I mean I really said that thinking really ahead in a way, that we’ve got the County Supplies Officer’s also going, because I think that he can see that County Supplies is, I mean already he’s made it very much into a commercial organisation, I think he can see the writing on the wall, that it’s going to, go over completely.

And the whole sort of set up on Supplies, I mean it’s no longer a full Supplies Committee, main Committee, it’s just a sub-group of Policy, and, well I don’t know about the Planning people, they haven’t changed a great deal actually, I don’t quite know about the Chief Planning Officer. As it happens he is my cousin actually, my third cousin, and I suppose he must be getting on for sixty, but I haven’t heard yet that he’s …, but he’s the old traditional type, Local Government Officer, and so are most of his Deputies. But I think in Education it’s changing a lot actually, though I don’t have that much to do with it now. Mr Sharp, although he is a much younger man than Mr Morris, he’s more of the old traditional type really, but of course in Education they’re really not their own masters, are they, because they’re so directed from the Government as to how Education has got to go. I mean we’re now losing Further Education anyway, cause that’s been taken over. But I’ve got that sort of feeling about it, that this has happened in the District Council. It’s all sort of marketing isn’t it, and Business Plans, and I mean I know we’ve got to be efficient and we’ve got to be seen to be spending our money wisely, but I’m, I mean the amount of stuff that’s turfed out at you now is just increasing all the time, isn’t it.

Q:    Meaning what, do you mean?

Mrs L:    Well, in glossy documents and Business Plans and Action Plans, I mean I’m afraid I was very disparaging the other day about one of the County’s Action Plans, I said ‘Well, what does this amount to’ I said, ‘because we get these out every year and we don’t carry it out so what’s the point of it?’. Mustn’t say things like that. You know, it’s sacrilegious, isn’t it. But I mean it’s happening all over, it’s not just at the County level, I mean it’s even happening at I mean, Town Councils are getting out their Action Plans, aren’t they, and I don’t think the parishes are that much, but I think that, Forward Plans, I’d say.

Q:    Presumably they’re doing that with the encouragement of the …?

Mrs L:    I don’t know, I don’t know how much input … I think it’s all officer directed to be quite honest. Don’t you think so, John?

John G:    Oh I expect it is, yes, yes. I think most of those sort of managerial changes tend to be officer introduced.

Q:    Because I mean, does it affect the relationship between the Councillors and the officers, because I mean, don’t you think in the past, there has been in some quarters, the Councillors to be rather condescending towards the officers? I’m not meaning you.

Mrs L:    Oh I think some of them are, yes.

Q:    Do you think that’s changed?

Mrs L:    Yes, I think some of them are, actually, yes. Specially those who are sort of in business, and are directors of companies and that, you know, yes I think they have been a bit condescending towards them.

Q:    Do you think that has changed?

Mrs L:    I think it has changed quite a bit actually. Cause I don’t think that we’ve got so many people now, who are high-powered business people actually, cause I don’t think they can afford the time, they’ve got to look after their own businesses, haven’t they.

John G:    One impression I got, compared with twenty years ago, when I first went on the County, that relations between members and officers were rather less formal than they used to be. Back in 1970 there was a certain sort of …

Mrs L:    Yes, I think was still the case in ’81 when I went on, John, very much so. Because I, yes, I think so. You didn’t sort of deign to approach a Chief Officer actually in those days.
You know they were sort of somebody up on a, very much higher plane and you didn’t talk to them on the same level, but that’s certainly been, I think the hung Council did quite a bit to wear that down, that they had to listen to more people than just the … because I think the Tories did tend to sort of leave it to the officers, didn’t they, but …

Q:    That’s interesting, cause I was thinking really more the other way round, you said you looked up to the officers, I was thinking more that the officers had to look up to the Councillors, in the past.

John G:    Whichever way it was, it was nevertheless a more formal relationship, it was always Mr this or Mrs that, whereas now, I mean I’ve been at meetings where I’ve heard County Members and County Officers use each other’s Christian names. I’m quite sure that would never have happened twenty years ago.

Mrs L:    Oh no, I’m sure it wouldn’t, no, I’m sure it wouldn’t.

Q:    But perhaps you were in awe of them?

Mrs L:    I think they always call me Mrs Lyon, you know, but certainly with the men it’s Ron and Mike, you know, Mr Self and Ron, Ron Williams and Ron Kennedy.

Q:    I suppose when you first went on the Council there would be a big difference between your attitude, as (a) you were new and (b) you were Labour, to the officers.

Mrs L:    Yes. I mean they well treated you, you know.

Q:    [???] compared to the people who’d been on the Council for twenty years and were probably in a different situation from what you were. They’d have a different attitude to the officers from yours, the longstanding Councillors.

Mrs L:    Oh yes, yes, I think so. But I think John’s quite right, that you know, there’s much more free, what shall I say, I can’t, well John’s right really that it isn’t very formal now, except in Committee of course, I mean the meetings you’ve probably been to, John, are sort of Working Groups aren’t they. I mean they’re very formal in the main Committee, particularly, with the …

Q:    Presumably the public, I’ve lost count now, the public come into the Committees?

Mrs L:    Yes, but not Sub-Committees. Well, yes, they do Sub-Committees but not Panels actually I think, but we brought that in actually when we had a hung Council, that the public should be allowed into Sub-Committees, but they’re not allowed into Panels, which are sort of like working groups.

Q:    Does that make a difference to how they operate?

Mrs L:    I don’t think so, I don’t think so, I mean you only get the public come when there’s some controversial issue such as Danbury by-pass, you know, I mean we had to, couldn’t get them all in to the Committee room, which is now like a lecture theatre isn’t it, Committee Room One. We had to go into the Council Chamber because there were so many people turned up, their placards were, you know … But we very rarely get the public there unless there’s some controversial issue. I mean sometimes people orchestrate it, I mean it was a bit naughty really, they orchestrated a whole group of people to come from one of the areas where there was a home closing, to the last full Council meeting, and there was television cameras and goodness knows what there filming outside and making their protest.

Q:    So really, although a lot of effort went into the sort of opening up of the Committees …

Mrs L:    It happened soon after I went on really, well, as I say, it was certainly directly we got the hung Council, because Kees Maxey was there, and it was Kees that sort of initiated, well put it across. I gather he’s standing again, actually. And …

John G:    I was going to ask you about the relationship between the County Council Labour Group and the County Labour Party.

Mrs L:    Well, I don’t think that the Members attend the County Labour Party as well as they might. I don’t think there’s a great deal of animosity really, but I think there has been on occasions a slight resentment you know, that so few turn up, but of course you get the leaders of, what they’ve been trying to do is to get a subject, haven’t they, and someone from the specific Committee to come to different Group meetings to get more of them to attend. I’ve always tried to attend as many as I can, but then I do represent the Constituency, don’t I, on it, so, I’ve always been a little bit disgusted actually, that not many of them do turn up. I don’t think there’s ever been a full turn-out, even at the Annual meeting, has there?

John G:    No.

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