Derby City Council

Interview – Alex Dann : Derby City Council Independent Candidate ; Oakwood

The 3rd in a series of 6 interviews with a candidate from each Party who has not served, previously, on the Council. The Derby Labour Party were contacted to be involved but chose not to respond.

Rob CooperUKIP – Mackworth
Marten KatsGreen Party – Darley
Alex Dann – Independent – Oakwood
Jonathan SmaleConservative – Chaddesden
Chris Fernandez – Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) – Darley
Robert Mason – Liberal Democrat – Alvaston


Alex’s Website

What’s your background?

I was born in Barnsley in 1979, and then moved near to Huddesfield when I was 7. I went to Birmingham and studied Natural Sciences so I have an undergraduate Masters degree in that. Then I did a PGCE in teaching primary school. I met my husband while I was at University, and he then got a job at Rolls-Royce, so we moved here and I got a job doing supply teaching in Derby City for a term. I then got a job in a school in Derbyshire and I still work there now. I’ve been there for 12 years.  I had a year’s sabattical where I worked in Eritrea for 9 months with Voluntary Services Overseas. I got married to my husband 6 months before I went – so he has been very supportive of me. Since then I have had 2 children, and literally this week I have returned to work – my little boy is now 1 year old.

When I went to Eritrea I was training teachers so trying to educate them in  more child-friendly methods of teaching, less “chalk and talk”, more child-centred learning. Eritrea comes with a whole host of democratic issues and it really opened my eyes to the political situation. Actually, what we have in this country, even if we don’t agree with it, was democratically elected, whereas in Eritrea they would claim it was a democracy but they have yet to have a vote. When I came back from that I was quite appreciative of our situation and I lost a lot of tolerance for the people who were moaning about the government. We live in a free country, we all get a say, we can all vote if we want to…there are people in this world that can’t. So in that sense I feel very lucky that I live in this country….under a democracy.

I’m actually a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator)  at school which I’ve been doing for 2 years.

Why do you want to become a Councillor?

I go to Woodlands church in Oakwood and we do quite a lot of community events to get people involved and I feel very passionate about that. I want to create a sense of community in Oakwood. I used to live in Spondon which has a great sense of community – there’s the shops where people meet, the cafes, the library – you can walk round and say hello to people. I think in Oakwood it’s a lot more difficult to get to know people other than your close neighbours. Trying to work out how to engage with people in Oakwood has become a bit of a passion of mine. I got involved with the Neighbourhood Board last November, and sat on that – I found that quite interesting. We have the devolved budgets from the Council, which were very restrictive on what you could/could not do with the money. I felt that the purpose of this board was to decide how this money was going to be spent. I thought that there was a massive opportunity to create more of a community feel around Oakwood and getting the people of Oakwood to pull together and have people helping clear streets of snow in the winter, having street parties in the summer, meeting together for picnics on the park – and that sort of thing.

I’ve also been a bit involved through the church by planning our stall at the Oakwood Gala. I went to a few committee meetings to see if we could help in any way, and they have a real issue with getting people to come and help, and I know they struggle with getting people to steward the gala. I’m sure that there are people in Oakwood that would help, just trying to find them, engage with them, and get them out of the houses to  help is the issue.

So when the Neighbourhood board came to an end, and I thought there was a massive opportunity to continue with something similar, even without the funding, to still create opportunity for the community and engage with the residents.  I don’t think that opportunity is being maximised.

I think that Oakwood requires a different personality and a fresh perspective. It is too passive at the moment. I don’t think the Councillors have a high opinion of the people of Oakwood in terms of their motivation and willingness to get involved.

I want to try and represent the people of Oakwood in a truer light.

So would you better represent the demographic of Oakwood?

Oakwood is a mixed demographic, as there such a large range of houses and ages – there is the Meadowlark retirement sheltered housing.  So I would say I’m more closer to the general demographic than the current Councillors. I can certainly listen to the whole demographic and be approachable.

What qualities / qualfications do you have ?

I have a lot of friends in Oakwood that do cross the whole demographic through the different things I do. With my scientific background I can do statistics, budgets, accounts –  I have an analytical mind, I’m quite good at seeing alternative ways to do things and thinking differently but to the same end.  I’ve had experience of the provision for the young family in Oakwood.

What about time, given you have a job and young family?

I have a very supportive family, and husband.  The people at church are very supportive of me doing this – they are very willing to provide childcare and help out in all sorts of ways. I actually thrive on being busy.

Why Independent?

Because I don’t want to be shoe-horned into a set of policies I don’t like, and I don’t agree with.  I’m happy to support Conservative Party policies that I think are good that are going to benefit the residents of Oakwood but I don’t want to have to be in a situation where somebody is going to make me vote in a way that I don’t want to vote.

Did you look at the options whether it be UKIP, Labour, Lib Dem etc?

No. If I’m going to stand, I’m going to stand independently. One of my pet hates about politics is that the reason that a particular party can’t do something is because it was the other party’s fault. I hate it. That is the one thing I don’t want to get involved in. It wastes a lot of time.

You said that you’re not going to promise anything you’re not going to deliver, so how will you protect library services?

It says, “I’m going to promise to work and vote to….” I’m very aware as an independent candidate I cannot make big promises. I can’t promise that I’m going to build a water park in the middle of Derby. I can’t promise that I’m going to repair the Assembly Rooms, and re-open it, and I can’t promise that I can get rid of the payments for the brown bin collections. I can’t do that on my own. What I can be is a vote for, or against things I think are right/wrong for Oakwood as an independent vote.

What caused you to pick this list of issues on your “manifesto”?

I felt that these were the things I could have some impact over and things that the people of Oakwood are interested in. There are consultations about the library and the children’s centre, the Youth club was highly subsidised by the devolved budget so it concerns me that  the Youth club will close and cause a lot of anti-social behaviour around Oakwood. We have a lot of green spaces on the edge which are being eyed up for planning permission. Bulky waste is leading to fly-tipping and there are always issusd about school provision in Oakwood, as well as the facilities for supporting the growth in the area.

I want to help empower people by sharing information and  encouraging them to fill in the consultations for example and to understand how they can influence the outcomes. I don’t think people are aware that they can have a say.  How much their say affects anything is a question but, as a Councillor, I can make sure that there say is considered.

What would you vote against?

I don’t agree with the fact that there is limited swimming provision in Derby, but I do appreciate that if the building is falling down it needs to be fixed,  so I would be looking for a common sense solution about when we’re shutting one  and doing the roof and closing one altogether.

I would like to be more involved in the spending of the Council. I hear a lot of people moaning about wasting money on various things without digging deeper, getting involved, and finding out what’s going on. I don’t want to be saying that they shouldn’t be doing certain things without knowing exactly what their reasoning is behind it. If things are being done which are wasteful then I would vote against them.

I want to be sure that vulnerable people have the services that they need, it worries me that there are homeless people in Derby, it worries me that people are going into debt and they haven’t got the support services that they need. I worry about the elderly having the right care facilities. Special Needs children…and all of those things. These are the people that need our support, and although cuts may be needed, I’d want to make sure that they’re done in the right places.

How would you work with other Councillors to increase your influence, recognising that you’re on your own?

I’m very open to talking to anyone regardless of political party. My approach would be to pro-actively approach other Councillors outside of the meetings to build a network and an understanding of the issues and particularly those areas that I am passionate about.

At all levels?

If I needed to, yes,…. including the Leader!

As an Independent – how can you be as effective as, or more effective than, someone from the main parties?

As an Independent candidate I have more ability to approach other parties and be listened to on a face-to-face basis. I think if a Conservative Councillor goes to a Labour Party Councillor and tried to suggest alternatives, the door would automatically shut in their face.  Whereas if I approached the Labour Party Councillor, say, with alternatives then my voice might be heard, rather than just having a party political door shut, which is where I would say I would be more effective.

Although I don’t have the numbers, today, a Conservative Councillor’s vote is ineffective, as it is whipped, and it is always outnumbered by the Labour Party. The opinion of that Councillor is not taken into account. This may be more significant if the position of the parties, after May 5th, are much closer.

I’m not a Vote against any particular Party,  I’m a Vote for the people of Oakwood.

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