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The council had 8 main committees, so each of us 4 Liberals held two “spokesmanships”. In my case these were Education and Economic Development. Education was the largest committee, overseeing a service with the largest budget and the largest complement of staff. Membership included non-voting representatives from the teaching unions and from the Church, who were sponsors of many of the schools.
The committee was sub-divided into “Schools” and “Post Compulsory”. The Schools sub-committee dealt with everything to do with the many schools in the county; Post Compulsory dealt with everything else – FE Colleges, adult education, pre-school education. Membership of that sub-committee was delegated to one of the other three Liberals.
Economic Development included responsibility for Humberside Airport, the small regional airport in North Lincolnshire which was owned and operated by the County Council at that time. (It has since been privatised).
The council operated on a three month cycle. Each committee met once every three months; decisions made were ratified by a meeting of the full council, also four times a year. To begin with this did not seem too onerous: two committee meetings and one council meeting over a three month period – one meeting per month – should be easy enough to fit in. But that does not take account of the sub-committees or the airport committee. Still only 20 meetings per year. Soon it became clear that each committee or sub-committee had a number of working parties and consultative meetings, special sittings to deal with single major issues. Before long I was having to take a couple of days off work every week.
Meetings would sometimes be arranged at short notice. We had an agreement in place to allow for stand-ins but all four of us were in the same situation with more meetings than they could manage without adding a stand-in role. In any case, the stand-in would be unfamiliar with the issues to be discussed and would at least need a briefing which would take up additional amounts of time for both of us.
We could, and did, arrange such extra meetings so that they took place on a day when the members involved were in the meeting venue (usually County Hall in Beverley) for a pre-scheduled meeting, but that could mean that a morning became a full day. It was not unusual for me to spend an hour at work in the morning before setting off on the 45 minute drive to Beverley for a 10 am meeting then driving back during what should have been my lunch hour, eating a sandwich as I drove. Or the reverse – driving to Beverley during the lunch hour, eating a sandwich en-route. No wonder I began to have pains in my gut!
At work around this time, I was in charge of an interesting project to do with recycling. I have already mentioned that the company operated 4 coal fired boilers on the site. In the early 1980s the company entered a partnership with Grimsby Borough Council under which the council installed a waste separation plant on a site about a mile from ours. On our site a second waste filtering facility was installed and one of the boilers had its coal feed conveyor system modified to take combustible waste, sprinkled on top of the coal.
This was working reasonably well until it was decided to add chopped, worn vehicle tyres to the mix. These were supplied by a business based on a disused airfield several miles to the north. The problem that arose, and that I was asked to investigate, was that the pieces of rubber, being much larger than the crushed coal, tended to get caught up in the discharge chute at the bottom of the coal bunker. This was especially true when everything was wet, both materials being stored outside.
This was the only time I ever worked shifts. I did it throughout the month of January. The boiler house operatives had threatened to down tools because unblocking the chutes took up too much of their time. Adding me to the workforce was meant to provide the additional labour whilst allowing me to see the problem at first hand prior to devising a solution.
Shifts were worked 7am to 3pm, 3pm to 11pm, and 11pm to 7am, rotating 2 mornings, 2 afternoons, 2 nights so that you would, for example, begin the week on 7 to 3, have Wednesday morning off then work 3 to 11 on Thursday and Friday, have Saturday off then work 11pm to 7am through the rest of the weekend. A two day break would follow before the whole cycle recommenced on Wednesday. I only did it for a month and found it extremely disrupting. How people who worked it permanently coped I have no idea.
Through the month, rubber was only introduced to the mix whilst I was on duty. We tried different proportions of rubber to coal and reached the conclusion that burning rubber without coal was the best solution. However, the way that coal was delivered to the front of the boiler needed adapting in order to handle the rubber, together with a means of easily switching between the two. I worked with one of our draughtsmen to produce a design which we tested through several iterations over a number of months, eventually arriving at a solution that worked.
The emissions from our chimney were tested and found to be within legal limits for toxic pollutants, meaning the project could be declared a success.