One of the more taxing jobs that any Member of Parliament has to carry out is holding regular advice surgeries, where those with an issue to raise have a face-to-face meeting with their constituency MP.
Having held surgeries, firstly as a councillor and then MP, for over 44 years, you can imagine I have heard just about every possible cry for help, complaint or gripe in the book. But this is an essential way of keeping my feet firmly on the ground and reminding me of where I came from, and who put me in Parliament in the first place. Recently I was confronted with a dilemma. ITV1 are making a two part series for next year about the training and the role of guide dogs.
The programme makers felt my own experience of six different dogs was worthy of footage, as was my job in the House of Commons and, for a bit of light relief, my obsession with Sheffield Wednesday. One idea I was dubious about was their wish to film a session at my surgery. I pointed out that most people would run a mile, but said they were welcome to ask if attendees wished to take part.
To my surprise, and that of the film crew, this turned out to be easier than we envisaged. One visitor to my surgery that Saturday, was a guide dog owner. “Fixed”, I can hear you say, but no, it was out of the blue. This constituent came to ask for help, and he was prepared to be filmed, but the issue related to his dog and the condition of Sheffield’s roads.
Apparently when they used the bus along Petre Street, his new guide dog was being severely traumatised by banging and vibration as the bus negotiated potholes.
However, I was able to point out that along with fellow Sheffield MPs, it had been possible to get the previous Labour government back in 2009, to agree to a re-surfacing of all of Sheffield’s roads, it was going to take some years to achieve this
Unfortunately Petre Street is not due for attention until 2016 at the earliest. In the meantime the poor dog will continue to suffer, as no doubt do passengers. I am still working on the problem, and have promised I will ride the bus and test out the bumps with my own dog. Let’s hope that by the time the programme is screened, a solution has been found and my constituent’s dog is happily curled up on the floor of the No. 36 bus.