As is customary at the beginning of a new year, we look back at the year that has passed and forward to the year ahead. This often leads to us making some changes and resolving to do things to make the new year better than the last. This is slightly worse for me, as my birthday falls in the first week of the year too. I hit 44 this year. Hit it like an egg hits a politician.
2010 was a shocking year for me. I lost a lot of things as the year went on and I leave it in a much worse state than I entered it. That is the first failure of any year in my book.
Several key events defined the year. As a local politician, the general election was of course significant and we all know how it turned out. On a personal level, the election was also preceded by a bruising period of uncertainty around a local parliamentary selection. It was a period that made me re-evaluate a lot of things.
Last year also saw the death of my cousin Joanne. She was a year younger than me and had suffered with a number of health problems over the last few years. It still came as a shock when she died and as time went on I came to realise that it had affected me more deeply than I knew. Her son and my eldest were born only a few weeks apart and have always been mistaken for twins, something which continues 10 years on. Naturally this sort of thing gets into your head and reminds you just how fleeting life can be. Nothing can be taken for granted in life and we only get one go at it.
As we approach the new year, the prospect of looming cuts and the dismantling of much of the public sector, so important to places like Barnsley, it’s difficult to muster up much optimism for the year ahead. It’s going to need some help.
So what can I do? How can I set about leaving 2011 in a better place than I entered it?
I can only thank my brilliant officer colleagues at Barnsley Council for presenting me with the answer to that question. An opportunity to do something positive, something I can be proud of and something that is going to make a difference. That something is, of course, climbing Kilimanjaro!
The most important reason for taking on this challenge is the cause. The trek is a charitable activity, seeking to raise money for a great local cause. Barnsley hospice is a fantastic place, peopled with fantastic individuals. It does a magnificent and important job and is a huge part of the lives of people who use it. It is not a place anyone would wish to go to, but if you find yourself there, you could not wish to be anywhere better either. I speak from personal experience of course, my wife Tracey having spent a lot of time there during her cancer treatment. We met a number of wonderful people at the hospice, some of whom are no longer with us, but all of whom benefited from it’s care, facilities and surroundings. So an opportunity to raise much needed funding for the hospice gives me a chance to make some repayment of, what I consider to be, a very personal debt.
It is however, also a personal challenge and each of us will have our own reasons for making the journey. Mine is relatively simple. All of us in local government will be faced with doing things this year which we find abhorrent. We are already being forced to make decisions and take actions which are the exact opposite of the things we entered local government to do. Cutting services, cutting jobs, making things worse not better for the people we want to help. There isn’t much we can do to stop that sadly, though I will fight it with all my strength, the government hold all the cards (and the purse-strings). But in amongst it all, just for a few days in October, we can do something else. Something that does help. Something that does make a positive contribution. Something we can feel good about.
This is why I am making this trip so that, when 2012 arrives, I can look back at 2011 and say, “At least I did that!”