The woman who made it her mission to attend a council meeting

By Amy Orton
Local Democracy Reporter

  • Published
Jean CollinsImage source, Leicester Mercury
Image caption,
Jean Collins put together a PowerPoint presentation to show families what is being proposed

When plans to reform local government in Leicestershire were outlined at a series of public meetings, it's fair to say that not many people turned up. But Jean Collins did, and she meant business.

The 78-year-old checked into the Premier Inn next door to Leicestershire County Hall - which is three buses away from her home - so that she could attend every meeting about proposals to replace the county, district and borough councils with one authority.

On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, she was the only member of the public who took up a seat in the public gallery at County Hall to listen in on discussions about how things will change if the plans go ahead.

Afterwards, she put together a PowerPoint presentation to show families where she lives what is being proposed.

But why was she there?

Mrs Collins, who lives in sheltered housing in Burbage - about 15 miles from County Hall - said: "I read about the plans in the paper and felt like I wanted to know more.

"I called up County Hall and got the agendas and decided I wanted to come along.

"Living in Burbage I'd need to get three buses here and three buses back every day so I decided to stay at the hotel instead.

"I've been going through my notes each evening and writing it up, and I've put together a PowerPoint presentation so I can show people living with me what's being proposed and how it will change things for them," she told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

What did she think of plans before the meetings?

Mrs Collins, a widow, read through Leicestershire County Council's cabinet papers outlining the case for change and sat, pen and paper in hand, as councillors debated the pros and cons of a new council.

She explained: "I came here with an open mind and leave with an informed mind.

"I'm going to go back home, there are 36 other families in my complex, and I'm going to tell them to listen to me.

"I'll say this is what I've been doing for the past week and I think that by me telling them about it, they'll want to know more.

"I hope I can help them understand more about how it all works now and who to go to if they have issues."

Image caption,
Children and families, adults and communities, health and environment and transport were all discussed at the meetings at County Hall, in Glenfield

What did she learn from the meetings?

Four meetings about the plans have taken place at the county council's Glenfield headquarters, with officers from different departments spelling out how the new council would affect services provided.

Children and families, adults and communities, health and environment and transport were all discussed as well as the finances, the structure and model, as well as time set aside for councillors to quiz officers on any more general issues.

Mrs Collins said: "As a retired maths teacher I like to make comparisons. I like to look at how the financial issues have been put together.

"I've made a flow chart and the fact that there is only one pot of money and that money is running out so I understand why councillors are saying something must be done."

Mrs Collins, who is also secretary of Together for Tenants, a group for council house residents living in Hinckley and Bosworth, said: "One thing I'm surprised hasn't been talked about in more detail is housing. I'd be interested to know how that would work if there is a unitary authority."

What does she think needs to happen now?

Mrs Collins spoke about the importance of the option being explored publicly.

She said: "It's interesting that the MPs and districts are against it already.

"I think they should be more involved.

"It's the same with the public - if they don't know about it or have their say, they can't complain. Similar to what they say about voting - if you don't vote, you can't complain.

"It's important that the information is made available to people and that they can make an informed decision about what they want to happen."

Image source, Leicester Mercury
Image caption,
Mrs Collins thinks a single unitary is the best option

And the killer question. After more than eight hours sat listening in on the discussions, what does Mrs Collins think?

"At this moment in time, I'd say a single unitary is the best option.

"The fact that it would mean more power, more clout, is one of the big advantages.

"But also if there's only one place for people to go to then the confusion disappears.

"Joined up working, that has been talked about a lot, and that makes sense to me."

But does she have any concerns?

"My only worry is that we need more 20 and 30 somethings to get involved - they need to join parish councils and represent their communities.

"Parish and town councils will play an important role in all of this, it would be nice to know that they were well set up to take on the extra responsibility."

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