Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
On the situation at Melksham Town Council
A fourth (of the fifteen) of your Melksham Town Councillors has resigned - I think all since the start of last year and you will be hard pressed to find anyone who was an employee of the Town Council who has been consistently at their designated place of work, vacations and short sicknesses excepted, throughout those 14 months. I have never served on another Town Council, but I am told it's not normal. As someone who's run a business in the town, with work across the UK and internationally, I can tell you that our team was key to our operation and a continuity of directors and staff, all working with a shared strategy which we all understood and tune over time, was key. I can also tell you that as a Town Council we could achieve so much more with an agreed collective strategy.
"When you are in a hole, stop digging". I believe that the situation I've describe says we are in a hole and shows you the great cost of being in that hole. It does not tell you the nature / characteristics of the hole, so it does not tell you whether any actions the council - staff and councillors - are taking is actually fixing things or simply still digging.
It does not help where those of us who want to help and perhaps have experience that would do the town so much good are not called on, or worse - ever heard the term "don't shoot the messenger?" - well, sorry folks, your messengers are being metaphorically shot and wounded. And many of them - councillors and staff - have said "I don't like being shot" and have walked away. And I don't blame them.
"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer". Yeah - we (as a council) don't seem to have heard that one and have been building up sh** loads of trouble. The Town Council has a staffing committee with 5 members; it meets in confidential session and until the last few days, meetings were confidential even to the exclusion of other councillors. For individual staff member matters which had risen above (or involved) the clerk, that may be justified. For the systemic issues it is not, and I would like to thank those members of the committee who opened up the meeting during the week to any other councillor who could attend. It's a step in the right direction - and I hope just not a flash in the pan.
There was a song "Three wheels on my wagon" and they kept rolling and more wheels fell off until the whole thing came to a stop. And the people in the wagon kept on going until all the wheels had fallen off and they had to thow themselves on the mercy of the surrounding crowds. We have elections - we all loose our seats next year, but have a chance if we choose to stand to be re-elected if we wish. I hope we can all rise above and get past the current issues so that all of us who wish to stand can hold our heads high. That is the hope, but the fear is that some will want to show how well they have being doing at the expense of others who have been equally of more helpful, but have been getting on with doing the job rather than in marketing their own contributions.
This is an ongoing story; for the last 10 days I have been following from my sabbatical journeys around Europe (carefully planned so that I'm home for full council meetings). This has been a post of some explanations where I am at liberty to explain. There is a lot I cannot explain - be it confidential, or because it defies explanation. More will, I'm sure, out in the fullness of time, and I do hope to come back and address the question "so what can be done about it" where "IT" is to have a fully motivated and happy team working for the Town of Melksham.
Published Saturday, 24th February 2024
On holiday, or no?
Am I on holiday? No, and yes, and no. And I'm happy with that.
No - The best way to style it is to say I'm on a sabbatical journey - a learning and enriching trip that primarily looks at public transport and the structure of when and why people need to move in places far from home. It allows me - already and into the future - to add personal experience having "seen things for myself" to what I do. And that give power to suggestions of what we might do into the future in our street, our town, our county and our country. Tragedy is that very few of those suggestions will lead to much, though similar experiences in the past have helped lead to campaigning accurately and practically that has made some of what I do effective. And being retired and independent speaking for myself, I can afford the gross inefficiency of time involved.
Yes - this is a chance to do something I enjoy which is a change from what I do on a daily basis. To tick places off a bucket list that I don't formally have. To go where the fancy takes me, planning just a handful of days ahead. To visit the tourist honeypots and obscure random villages that I hadn't heard of until I got on the train headed there. A holiday of this sort has no gain without pain, and, yes, I can find myself with several hours of waiting with little around, or rushing to make a connection when actually I would like longer in a place - so marking somewhere up as "I want to come back here" though so many such wants that I will never realise them all
No - I'm alone and would rather not be. Online helps and I am still very much in touch with Lisa; we've had this style now for just two years shy of thirty and it works, two ways, for both of us. And I am not alone / away from bus, train, home, council stuff with modern electronic comms. So I keep up the activities as normal, and you might argue that I don't need to do so; you would be correct in that argument perhaps but yet having taken on (for example) the responsibility of being a councillor, I want and should deliver on that responsibility. Morning before breakfast, and evenings after dark are taken up with these matter, and indeed on longer train journeys during the day one eye is on the scenery and what's going on around me, and the other on my keyboard as I write.
I'm in Budapest. I took an almost-tourist day yesterday, with a 24 hour Budapest card that gave me entry into so many places and public transport included. A lot of tram and metro hopping. And the odd bus. I ate in a traditional restaurant a traditional Hungarian meal of goulash soup, a main chicken and pasta dish, and sour cherry strudel (but took the opportunity there to recharge my phone). And I took so many pictures - not only of the "bore you friends at home" beautiful scenes, but of people and getting around and looking at ...
• How things are directed and waymarked for newcomers to the area.
• How information is provided on an immediate basis to people travelling.
• How public transport links up into a connecting network.
• How living, working, shopping, leisure and the green environment link.
• How history is integrated with today's life.
• How a place is being updated, maintained, modernised while still in use.
... each worthy of an article if anyone would actually read it, but yet experiences that will come to play in the future.
I bring you a picture from Budapest. It's on a train. It shows the real time information at the carriage end. The upper display switches between 3 displays - next station and following stations to destination with estimated arrival time, onward connections (tram, trolleybus, bus, train) at the next calling point with platform / place direction where that varies each day, and real time running data, and a map showing where you are. The lower display alternates between loading showing you how busy each carriage is to help you move through and find a seat, and a speed and how-are-we-doing display, and (I think - don'e speak the language) a promotional piece telling you about ticketing options and opportunities. And at the bottom is the rubbish bin. And, my goodness, there are some wonderful ideas here in mainland Europe that we could do well to follow to encourage better recycling of materials we no longer need. But that is a story for another day. Morning is breaking and I have a train to catch.
Published Thursday, 22nd February 2024
Is the environment important to Melksham Town Council?The environment around us is the very bubble in which we survive; in past times, it has had something of an equilibrium in which many of the effects of our species have been balanced out ensuring our climate has carried on much as it has in the past. However, population growth and a "quality of life" requirement means that in recent years we have been using resources much faster than they are regenerated, not only setting up a direct problem for the future but bringing problems for today too. That's just to set the background - this post is not intended to be an environmental lecture - but I needed to start by voicing concerns and setting the scene.
In 2019, Melksham Town Council adopted an environmental policy - and a good one at that time, almost "ahead of the game" and working very much in co-operation with Wiltshire Council's plan. And in 2022, the current council endorsed that plan through an "Environmental and Climate Working Group". A successful Climatefest was held - if you consider success to be bringing matters to lots of people's attention, but that's just one step and needs/needed to be just the starting point. This is a long term thing, and frustrated by the lack of activity several councillors and volunteers left the group about this time last year (February 2023) ... and yet since that time, through 2023, we built up something of a head of steam - a further ClimateFest, lots more public information, reviewing items on al council agendas and commenting on their environmental issues. I'm personally out of the UK (public transport, mostly electric trains!) until next week, but when I get back I'm looking forward to seeing the biodiversity planting that should be under way.
All good? Not quite. At the pre-Christmas full council meeting, to which apologies for absence had been sent ahead, a couple of councillors raised concerns about how the group was running. It wasn't even on the agenda, assumptions were made, and after what I understand was a heated debate your councillors voted to close the group. Based on here-say and without hearing the facts. A kangaroo court. Those who voted to disband the group should hang their heads in shame. Yes, it costs money to do the environmental thing. Yes, we need more officer support. But you - you know who you are - can't make this go away.
The "ECWG" was aware of issues in its operation by last autumn, and we re-jigged our meetings to make best use of officer time and council funds. I share some concern with the judges and jury who passed their verdict for Christmas. So lets all work together and build back better, with proper resources.
Let me offer you a carrot. There's an election coming up for your seats in 2025. Join with us, get your name out in public as someone who supports the environment and take away that reputation of being one of the ones who torpedoed Melksham's environmental concerns.
Supporting text (1) - 19.2.2024
Please find attached documents associated with new terms of reference for a new environment working group. These include both the latest notes from meetings with Linda Roberts, Town Clerk, in October and November last year, and the earlier terms of reference and the commitment that this council has made to the whole environmental issue, and not just the bio-diversity element - you have the biodiversity plan for a separate agenda item in my earlier email and copied below.
The issue was delegated to the Environment and Climate working group, and from a slow start that built up in line with the terms of reference through last year, with a small team of dedicated councillors and community experts / volunteers, who were shocked at the pre-Christmas decision to close the group as set up. The motion (for the record) was made without the matter being on the agenda, and without reference to many key members of the working group - myself included - who had previously recorded their apologies for absence. Things were said at that meeting that were incorrect guesses, and as a result I consider the decision taken to be a poor one, and indeed in my view it was taken against standing orders which require motions to be notified in advance. It was also made without reference to the documents available from months before, some of which are attached and are in the hands of the Town Clerk.
It DOES make sense to review the group. The environment has grown into a major issue that should be considered on everything we do as a council - in our own works, in the example we set, and in the encouragement we provide to our community. We started to talk the talk years ago, but when we started to walk the walk last spring, we found our tools wanting. Which is why ECWG Stepped up to meeting every 3 weeks ahead of EcDev (that schedule chosen for the convenience of officers and expense so that they did not have to commit to another evening) … with group members informally meeting to chat - openly, with anyone interested welcome to come along) in intermediate weeks. But even this was / is not enough, and the group (in my view) need to meet regularly, without a one hour time limit, and have officer support for activities such as climate fest and informing the public with such things as film show like the one we free licensed earlier this month.
Please enclose attach the proposed terms of reference from last November to the agenda, and let’s review them. I would hope that in the three months since then, officers have had a change (the clerk, or delegates) to top and tail them as promised and bring them back to council to make a stronger group for the purpose.
Closing down the group on completion of delivery of the biodiversity plan without resources and methods allocated to implement it, would in my view show Melksham Town Council in a very bad light - not only giving only lip service to what we need to do on biodiversity, but also turning our back - at least at the moment - on all the other environmental commitments we have signed up to.
I am out of town this week, but available to answer overnight online and will be back in time for next Monday. I do hope we can progress this.
Finally, a big THANK YOU to all the members of ECWG through the last year for your support and help to this point. The importance of our environment is hard to overstate and in our little way in Melksham we have started to set the groundworks for much more. Onwards and upwards, I hope with your support in a bigger, better, more effective role.
Melksham Town Council, South Ward
Blog at http://grahamellis.uk/perm.html
Email policy statement at http://grahamellis.uk/email
Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Graham4Melksham/
I only visit other social media occasionally.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Phone: 01225 708225 / 0797 4 925 928
Home: 48 Spa Road, Melksham, SN12 7NY
P.S. There is nothing “private” in the text above. Please share it in the agenda pack so that it’s commonly available fo everyone to consider for a full week before council.
Supporting text (2) - 19.2.2024
Please find attached the proposed Biodiversity Action plan for consideration and possible adoption by Melksham Town at Full Council on Monday 26th February 2024. Please include the attachments in the agenda pack; it includes both an overview and specific items which councillors should consider
Please note that Biodiversity is only one of a number of Environment and Climate issues which are of concern. Proposed terms of reference (for a new adoption) are being forwarded today under separate cover though the proposed set that was discussed with the Town Clerk last October / November should be available to you on the system and was pretty dared close to what is needed; a re-adoption / completion of these terms of reference would be sensible for the “new” group and if we can add that to be resolved it would be great.
Personally, please pass on my apologies to tomorrow evening’s Ec Dev meeting - away this week. Working with Simon / Tom to see if I can attend remotely the extra late-notice staffing meeting on Wednesday. I will be back for full council next Monday.
Melksham Town Council, South Ward
Blog at http://grahamellis.uk/perm.html
Email policy statement at http://grahamellis.uk/email
Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Graham4Melksham/
I only visit other social media occasionally.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Phone: 01225 708225 / 0797 4 925 928
Home: 48 Spa Road, Melksham, SN12 7NY
Published Monday, 19th February 2024
How do / should I work the council system?I've been elected to, and sit on, a Town Council that's in place to serve the town and the people of the town. And actually underneath a lot of the noise you'll see on social media, in the press, and in the council chamber it does pretty well for the most part in running things. But I can't say "perfectly" and human nature is such that we take an interest - perhaps a extreme interest - in where thing go wrong. Is that "extreme" though, or is it right for the directors / councillors / head of service because that is where we have scope to make things better?
Picture - from where I am at the moment, thinking of Melksham from afar and seeing how different things are in different places
Where things don't work as they should, human nature for those responsible is to keep quiet, do their best, and not "fess up". And for those who see (or think they see) things going wrong to criticise - fuelled often by a lack of knowledge and with the flames encouraged by the very oxygen of secrecy. Oh dear.
It is very easy to assume the worst. Some do. It is very easy to criticise. Many do. It is possible to make suggestion - a few do, but most of those few lack information and find themselves coming up against obfustarscation and secrecy when they try to work things out. Sadly, it's a very, very rare "bird" who's there to make suggestions and have them stick and be implemented and something with on the surface should tae just days takes weeks, months, years. And it needs a magic too - a move from being primarily a protester to being a partner, working with the players in the system, having them understand the logic of change, and then working together to make for better.
I have a conundrum.
** Do I knuckle down, let things pass me by, and ride out the remaining year of my term as a quiet and inconsequential councillor? Voting with all the others for a budget that I don't think will deliver what people want, and is so thin in places that it has no vision and tasks our staff with delivering results without the tools to do so - it's so thin it encourages mistakes if they try to be forward thinking and innovative.
** Do I look to get a weight of support, working with other councillors and staff and volunteers and businesses and press and social media to change things in a good direction, maintaining the good and working with everyone, even though I'm not in any of the three organised clubs working in the background at times (it feels) to defend the status quo and their interest in it?
** Do I come to a sad decision that the setup isn't fixable in my time, and that if I wish to do anything for the future I am best doing so from outside?
There is no simple answer here. A year ago, the Environment and Climate Working group was delivering little but a bit of background noise. Over the year, I took the chair and we grew it to a noticeable force with meetings up from every 2 months to every 3 weeks, and us getting together informally in between. But then at a council meeting I was away for, and NOT on the agenda, a pretext was found to pass a motion to disband the group. On the pretext that it had been working outside its remit by inviting anyone (including staff if they wished) to meet informally off council premises and that was a concern with their insurance. For the absence of doubt, the meeting was NOT as was suggested in my bedroom! Passing motions not on the agenda is against our working rules - and the mayor agreed at the next meeting - but said the decision must stand because this sort of decision has been taken on other things too, and if he upholds the rules in this case, goodness only knows what other issues would be re-opened. Mob / party / grouping rule in the wild west of Melksham??
You won't read much about some of this stuff in too many places. It has security through obscurity, and few have the time to find it out. And some of our local social media is great for the day to day stuff, but the admins refuse as "political" and "it's all your opinion" things that don't match their "let's not upset the apple cart" view. Their choice on what they publish - it would be good to have published guidelines and not just "I have said", and correctness in their logic for refusal. There were some opinions but it was far, far, far from ALL my opinions. Fact is only 2 of at least 6 councillors who stood for re-election in 2021 got it; that's not an opinion - it's a fact.
Perhaps I'm as bad? I choose what topics to start for discussion on my councillor page. And I am admin on "Melksham South Ward" and a couple of other groups. But at least I publish the guidelines. And, by the way, welcome views that do not align with mine. Where I have a problem is spam (including off topic posting), impoliteness, things that are illegal, false information and flooding.
I'll do myself a huge dis-service, I suspect, if I publish the above. But then openness of information was one of the three pillars I stood for when you elected me, and I have not changed my view on that. The other two pillars were the environmental issues (I have touch on that above) and equality.
It's a Sunday morning - 09:00 here in the Czech Republic and I'm on a train off for a day's experiences!
Published Sunday, 18th February 2024
UK Health and Safety, comparison with the Czech RepublicQuestion asked - why are things so hard to achieve and complex in the UK? I don't have a full answer, but yesterday travelling in the Czech Republic I was so conscious of many things here (near Prague) that would never be allowed these days in England. Rail stuff (of course - you know my speciality) ... in no particular order
* Foot crossings direct over the tracks
* Narrow Platforms
* Low level platforms
* People walking across the tracks (weeing behind trucks too!)
* Unguarded wheelchair / cycle ramps
* Unfenced lines and Unfenced platforms
* Trains so short that they cannot make economic sense at the proportion of the cost that has to be met from fare revenue
and not illustrated ...
* Unguarded level crossings
* Staff riding openly on moving trains
* and staff working on live parallel tracks - and there are lots of 2 way crossovers to allow services to continue while they are doing so.
There is a great deal of construction and rebuilding going on - on the still-operating railway - and so many things that would have people in England throwing their hands up in horror. And tickets are routinely checked on trains which means that stations are not gated making them feel much more friendly, saving staff, and allowing their facilities to be used not only by passengers but by the general population around.
Published Saturday, 17th February 2024
Melksham Town Council - on ProjectsSo, so many questions are raised about what the Town Council does, and how it does it.
Background to Melksham (and applicable to others) Town Council
Now before I answer points and questions, let me tell you that there are some excellent staff at Melksham Town Council, and you have elected some excellent councillors to represent you and in a body to direct decisions and operations of the staff, headed by a responsible officer - the Town Clerk - who answers to the council. The staff are paid employees, the Clerk recruited by the council and the rest of the staff recruited by the clerk or her senior team. The councillors are unpaid - not a penny - and we do not run expense accounts so if I print this out and give you a copy, I am paying for the paper and the ink.
I was very careful in what I said about excellent staff. That does not mean that they excellently cover every role which is thrust upon them, nor that every job of work that councillor's motions will create can find a staff member with the time, capability and motivation to do it, nor that (even if they have those three qualities) that they will necessarily be provided with the tools and organisational structure to do so.
Moving on from the staff - what about the councillors you have chosen? What motivates us? Who would WANT to be a councillor? Some see it as a stepping stone - an internship - for greater things such as standing for Wiltshire Council or even parliament. Some who are also Wiltshire Councillors (for which they receive financial compensation for their time) see it a way of consolidating support in their base promoting wider aspects. Some who are already active volunteers in the community see it being a way to help further, tempted perhaps by the suggestion by party/grouping leaders that "it's only a monthly meeting - you can do as little or as much beyond that as you like". Some had their own project motivation - specialist groups or interests they feel they can further forward by being a councillor. Perhaps some like the recognition and respect it brings them. And others who form parts of groupings might like the circle of close like-minded colleagues it brings them and the feeling of security that being in a group can bring. And there are those of us who stood and offered our services once we had retired and hopefully before we are too feeble and ga-ga to do anything. Something to keep us active into old age. What a wide collection of reasons - and there may be some I have missed - linked by a common arrogance to think that people might actually vote for us, and probably by a common lack of appreciation the first time around just how much work is involved if you want to do the job properly.
A Town (or parish) council has the power to charge a precept - a council tax on residents in its parish, and usually is the owner with responsivity for tangible assets in the area. And as a spender of the public purse and guardian of public assets, it comes under far greater scrutiny than any business would. This is both a blessing and a curse.
I ran a business - and I would judge it a success - in Melksham for several decades through to retirement. We had happy staff, happy and plenty of customers, and products that they wanted. All the folks involved were motivated as part of the team and we provided tools and training along the way and had good pastoral care for all involved. Just two of us as active directors but able to trust and very willing to listen to (and learn from) the team, the customers, and prospective customers too. We all "signed up" to a ten year strategy and, though tuned along the way, stuck with it. BUT we (or rather I, where the buck stops) made some mistakes. There were one or two items in our product range which didn't bring a return on investment / proved to not be what the customer wanted. A couple of folks who didn't fit in joined our team (briefly!) and we had to deal with the aftermath, and there were occasions where the hours worked far exceeded what we actually paid ourselves which was little enough anyway. But we loved what we did and we were all there to do more than just earn a wage.
So I have a great deal of business experience, but I would not want the overhead of having to run a Town or Parish Council. We gained so much from continuity - I understand that in the hospitality business there's a high staff turnover but we did not experience that. We had strategy, stability and strength of direction which is missing from a Town Council. Every spend is subject to scrutiny, every project that costs more than peanuts must be bid for, and every mistake will make the local press or social media. The chairman of the board (mayor) changes every year - or if you're lucky only every two years, and the whole board can change every four, with the selection process being a popularism one as your shareholders are the electorate - not because they choose to hold your shares, but because they happen to live here and are obliged to pay - something which seems designed to make them a bit resentful and crotchety. Into this mix (and it's the same for every parish) to need to add an amazing, motivating person as "head of service" who's "there" whenever needed, highly respected by all, and a great communicator who explains and tells it as it is, to all the shareholders, to the staff team, and to the board of directors who are likely to be pushing him/her for their own motivational reasons - see above - in a complex morass of laws and standing orders which are the rules of operation we set ourselves.
Nothing I have said so far is specific to Melksham Town Council ... but here we go ... in answer to Lisa's comments and questions on a Melksham News article
|In reading through these comments, I will stick to my suggestion that a better process for improving and maintaining town assets be implemented and followed.
Typically, a survey of town residents will be sent out to ask what amenities people want. This is a good first step.
Although this has sometimes been done, one problem I've witnessed seems to be stalled at this step. Send out questions, get feedback, ignore. New council. Send out questions, get feedback, ignore. New council. Send out questions, get feedback, ignore. New council. The kick in the teeth is sometimes quite a bit of money is spent on the surveys, only to never see light again. I'm not privy to the decision to have a dog agility area in the park, but I assumed it was a vanity project, rather than a survey result. (I put that out there to ask, rather than accuse because I owe an apology if my assumption is wrong.)
Answer - not a bad characterisation. In 2021, the electorate kicked out many and returned 13 of 15 new councillors. There will always be a turnover, but I can think of four who stood again but were voted out. With two rather that six continuing (and both of those two with county as well as town interest at the time) there was going to be a lack of continuity. Early decisions were taken before the 13 of us newcomers really understood the whole complex setup and implications of those decisions, and a strategy meeting in the summer of 2021 did not result in any agreed plan for this four year council term; you could say we are rudderless.
Many surveys WERE done by the previous council and money spent on them - a very great deal of useful work, slightly tainted by being voted out (though much of it excellent stuff that should apply to whoever's in power). But, oh dear, I find it very hard to find things on the council's web site and the role / person who I interfaced with so well in 2019 and 2020 was declared redundant in 2021. That's not only the person going, but the job role going too, with much of his work no longer done at all, and the remnants being passed to staff who may be excellent, but perhaps not trained for, not enjoying, and not with the time or vision for the extra role foisted on them.
As an example, lots of work has previously been done on the Assembly Hall / Blue pool but it's darned hard to find - or it was until Lisa and I trawled web sites, asked questions, and collated at http://www.fomah.org.uk/library.html ... and, yes, there is similar data available for KGV but (oh my goodness!) you just try to find it!
|Another step in the process has been to select a project and go to a few companies who have served the council in the past and get a couple quotes. This is another step failure. I suggest a proper working group of 2 or 3 councillors and then up to 6 residents who have a strong interest and/or expertise in the subject. This working group to meet once per week (or more often) to nail down what is wanted/required within three weeks, to return to the next asset meeting for a decision to be agreed by council. The councillors on the working group can advise procedures and budget, but because they themselves are probably not experts in the field, the decisions are made by the working group as a whole. Only until a proper plan is in place can bids go out to contractors.
If a concise outline is sent out to tender, it should be quite easy to get a return of quotes, and to then make a quick decision because you're basically looking at "for what you want, we will charge this amount and we can start on that date and it will take this long." And you have the benefit of knowing how much is in the budget, and how the timing works in your schedule. However, without a concise outline, contractors will either decide not to bid or they will send questions back. More delay.
Timing is where another failure can happen. Quotes go out, but there's too much time in between decision meetings for the final proposal to come to a vote. After a while the contractors either lose interest, or the prices have gone up, and the vote has to go back to restart at Square One. Or, as often as had happened, an incomplete or vague outline is proposed and questions come back which are not answered. It's almost like someone shrugs and goes "well, I don't know; it wasn't my idea." And the whole thing gets moth-balled.
Or, it goes ahead without proper consultation and advice from experts and it was too easy just to hire a company that has done stuff in the past but really hasn't done that thing before and wings it. And then you get a Dog Bark Fiasco.
Answer: Yes - as it's the public purse, lots more scrutiny. Need for loads of quotes. A double edged sword; in our own business we could "phone a friend" or have the options reduced to just one on our own decision. The only option the council has is "ask the audience" and sometimes (sorry) you get a poor answer due perhaps to poor background, lobbying, consultation manipulation, audience selection, etc; the audience is a good barometer.
And while all this humming and ha-ing is going on, the prospective supplier gets tired of waiting, and wonder if it was worth him bidding. A kindness of getting a quote in at a good price for the slack season may then be accepted by the council for the busy season with "can you still match this quote" and "we must be ready for summer". From what I see, we (as a town council) may not have been good at getting back with specialists who provide us with quotations to keep them informed, and from some of the cheques and balances I have seen as a councillor, we are really not brilliant at paying on time either.
Not just Melksham (in fact not Melksham at all - MTC never did business with my Melksham based business!) but as a company with business all over the UK, at our "Well House Consultants" we were wary - very wary indeed - of bidding for local authority business. Some local authorities were even on "payment with order" (I have see others do that to MTC) and we knew that our credit terms of "pay within 28 days of completion" rarely actually happened. The money always came through, eventually.
|I can tell you from my own experience being on the Assembly Hall working group that all non-councillors have been told they have no vote on any decision. And the residents on the committee who have a strong interest and bring expertise to the project are ignored when making suggestions. And it's quite obvious from comments made in the past about the Assembly Hall that... Okay, just take a look at which councillors actually attend events at the Assembly Hall. Only one Assembly Hall working group meeting has been scheduled in all this time and that was only because a motion had to be made in full council -- practically begging to set one up. Look out for Fiasco Number Two.
I want to make clear that I am not speaking for my husband who is a councillor. I attend council meetings, mostly by Zoom. My eyes are not closed to what happens in them. I do not witness a cohesive group of adults working together and transparently. No one reaches out for public advice. Nor do I see anyone holding their hand up to admit a mistake and then try to fix it. Problems don't get resolved, they just fester.
Answer: This comment has caused some confusion online; I don't think that you were asking for public or specialist votes at full council. What WOULD make sense is to listen to and have the specialist knowledge that's ready, willing and available to various working groups having a full say in the decision process of working groups so that recommendations may be made by experts back to full council.
I don't know about the dog park - I am not on the Parks Working Group and whilst I could attend their meetings I must avoid being spread too thinly on a project which isn't even in my ward and where I have no vote. And whilst we have dogs, I am aware that greyhounds are not "normal" dogs.
On the Assembly Hall group - my goodness me - it has been frustrating and continues to be so. The council voted £10,000 be put aside for initial work on seeing if we should take on the joined Blue Pool with first step being a structural survey, and we delegated the task to the Town Clerk. Three months was allocated to the task in late spring last year, looking at option of saying "no, thank you" to Wiltshire Council who were offering it to us for a tiny sum, of buying it and repurposing it, or buying it, demolishing it and the Assembly Hall and buildings complete new structure. What went it to any future building (new or old) to be informed by the December '22 needs assessment survey and the February '23 "cluster 1" consultation.
So - six weeks into the three months and the Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall put up a business case for all three options, and an example of what could be done with the repurposing option - to be knocked back by various councillors - "this is for us / staff to do, not for you". Except that they had not done anything - apparently, the £10k vote had been to allocate the money, not to actually spend any of it.
Moving on through the Autumn, we found a surveyor and have a report to say that the buildings are not falling down and in goodish shape. So next stage - "what can we do, then". A brief was prepared and send out to a selection of architects - by a councillor, not by the expert friends though all their work was available to her, and naturally the architects invited have come back with some questions.
However, our clerk who's overall in charge hasn't been available for a while, and the Head of Operations has just lost both of the Assembly Hall managers and there's no resource to progress this until more staff are on board and in post; existing staff are doing a superb day to day job in the hall, but it's not practical to look forward until we have more resource. What we really need is an experienced project manager to take this on and do a proper job for us, but we don't even have the resource to get bids for that job. And in the meantime, I don't think anyone has gotten back to keep the architects informed. I may be wrong on that - our information systems are poor - good staff, tools and perhaps direction lacking - and for next year a reduced IT budget as well.
|Graham Ellis, Melksham, Independent - I apologise for speaking out of turn, and if this puts you in an awkward position. I speak as a Melksham resident who cares and sees tremendous potential but gets frustrated over wastage -- money and time.
Answer: Quite the reverse - it's offered me a hook onto which to hang some explanations. I would caution you, though, that what I have written is purely my view as a councillor, based on what I see and public input (which is always welcome) and should not be assumed to be the view of any of my colleagues on the council, nor the staff there.
And let me be clear, we have an excellent set of staff at the "grass roots" level who are doing remarkaby with the tools and time they have. I thank them (if they read this) and can assure them of my support, which needs to be in helping provide them with what they need - time, training, tools ... support, structure and strategy.
Published Friday, 16th February 2024
Berlin - a lesson in man's inhumanity to manA fortunate error brought me to a stay in Berlin. A very carefully chosen word - "fortunate" and not "happy" because it brought me to a city which illustrates so graphically man's inhumanity to man through the last 100 years. Words cannot describe the atrocities and suffering from that inhumanity. But yet from the rubble of buildings, lives and trust in one another destroyed yet the city has recognised - and recognises atrocities up to the present day - and has rebuilt.
The documentation and interpretation provided is welcome. The scale daunting. And seeing so many people there - even on a cold February day, and with the next generation too gives hope that in the future at least some will have learned from the lessons of history.
If you want to see any of the images larger, open the in a new window on your browser. If you want to know what the first image is all about, it's later in the article.
Berlin's main railway station is amazing and modern and walking out, across the River Spree and to the modern Bundestag building one can't help be impressed. The park is maintained, and clearly regarded as safe, and people walk, cycle and scoot around freely. Everyone Well wrapped and moving today; seating gives a clear suggestion that it's rather busier in summer. And so between the new an old Bundestag buildings and down a wide series of steps to a bend in the river.
What's this I see? A series of white crosses on the railings, clearly cared for, and marked with a wreath? In memory of some boating accident here? But wait - the dates on each is different and the answer more macabre, for these are in memory of people killed - shot - as they were looking to escape from East Germany to the western sector of Berlin during the time the city was divided - the time of the Berlin Wall keeping the populations apart, with the river forming the division point here abouts.
Walking south, a wide boulevard gives lie to its past - or does it give a clue? For here I was walking along the course of the wall. In this section it has gone - and not just "gone" but been erased without any clue left, as if to be expunged from history.
The Brandenburg Gate. A symbol of the divided city, yet now at peace and with visitors milling around. Interpretation boards show the gate standing in isolation towards the end of the second world war when almost everything around had been reduced to mounds of rubble, and a interpretation / visitor centre on one side of the gate is mirrored by a room for quiet reflection on the other. Listen and you will hear many languages of the world spoken, look around and you will see people from our continent and clearly from others too. See them all taking their 'selfie' pictures to say to friends back home late 'I was there' and - one hopes - jog their memories of what the gate means and have them tell their friends about Berlin too. Read on, and you will find more of what there is to see, and learn, in the city.
These days, the Brandenburg gate is set aside from traffic to let pedestrians and cyclists freely pass, and it's part of the common travel network. Road, and rail lines too, cross the areas freely and are well used; good to see an integrated city these days.
Walking on and into what formally was the East, buildings proudly indicate they are the embassies of the United States, and of the United Kingdom, and others for example South Korea. But one big, big building was barricaded off - the footpath outside not available, in spite of the gardens in front. All looked quiet - what could this be? Ah - the Russian Embassy. No picture being posted.
Yes - look around and in multiple places you'll see the yellow and blue of the support for Ukraine and its people. The memorials in Berlin remind us of Hitler's rise to power with 1933 being a pivotal year, the atrocities from then. Of the Second World War. Of the vectorisation of the City and the Berlin Wall which was in place from 1961 to 1989 and the reunification a year later. That's what the memorials are about, but yet they also serve to remind us, and are used to remind us, of modern day conflicts and the horrors - Ukraine and Gaza were notable in their visibility but let's not overlook others - Africa (Sudan, Niger, and the Horn of Africa), Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria. I digress - or do I? The lessons of the past to be learned for today. And not only nationality - lessons for groups persecuted to this day for their sexual preference, for their colour, and for their gender. Read on.
And so to GlinkaStrasse and a walk further south. I am feeling full from the experience of the Brandenburg Gate, yet that turns out to be just a starter. (Even) I had heard of Glinka - a Russian Composer and there is a memorial plaque to him. Apparently he stayed a while in Berlin. The plaque is in German, but modern technology through Google Translate [other products available] held up to the words lets them be read in English. A boon in many places, though many of the later exhibits on this tour were in German and English - for which mucho thankos. And so on to the south.
After the second world war (from 1945) the city of Berlin was divided into American, Russian, French and British quarters. Check Points were set up between the quarters; having been allies in the war against Germany, relationships between the Russians and the other three fell apart - swung like a pendulum - and checkpoints were set up to ensure that only authorised people could cross. Families who lived just a few streets from each other were unable to visit. This picture is of Checkpoint Charlie - the most famous between the American and Russian sides, and indeed it nearly came to blows - it didn't, but rather became know as the "Cold War". There's a lot of history from that time.
Around Checkpoint Charlie, further interpretation boards and a number of "attractions" that will fill you in better than I can. But rather than going though any of those, I elected to sit down for a cup of coffee - and also to recharge my phone which I've been using for all these pictures. There's an absurdity of modernity around the checkpoint these days - careful how you take your pictures - you'll get a McDonalds sign in one direction or a KFC in the other!
While life for citizens of West Germany became better and freer, the citizens of East Germany remained poorer, watched by their secret police and not free. OK - I have probably simplified and given you the propaganda line but it was basically true. Those who wanted to escape from the east were shot at as they tried to cross the wall (more on that in a few minutes) and citizens of the east had a choice of one car - the cheap and mass produced Trabant. And in the heart of all this history, you'll find a Trabant museum, and "Trabant World", and you may see some of the old cars being taken around the streets in a driving experience. But that is just an interlude.
Walking West, I came to a section of the old wall, left there as a reminder of what it was like. Much rotted - or of rather poor original construction - the main wall was reinforced concrete topped with rounded (?) tiles so that grappling hooks thrown up would not find anything to hold. The remaining wall section in only a part of the barrier-that was - old photographs show an open area with barbed wire entrapments on the east side; venture into that an you were likely to be shot.
It is - utterly - amazing that humanity allowed the conditions for the Berlin Wall and the shooting of people who wanted to cross, but then history is littered with one conflict being followed by another. Should the people of the east have been given legal route to move to the west? I don't know - that's rather like asking if refugees from the war torn areas of Africa I mentioned above should be given safe passage to England, or have to risk drowning in the channel and deportation if they make it back to some other "Safe" (they tell us!) country in Africa.
Situated just in front of (the Western side) of the old wall section is the "Topology of Terror" - an inside exhibit and an outside set of exhibits too in the old undercroft of what used to be a part of the secret police offices and prison, where many were tortured and killed. Words fail me as I write this; I walked around the vast exhibit, wanting to read every panel but conscious I would need not a day but a week in Berlin to do so.
Maps, individual stories, picture of people being lined up, dead and hanging bodies. Panels covering Jews and Gypsies and the sick. Panels covering not only Germany but the Netherlands and Belgium and Poland and many more. I will let some of these pictures speak for themselves; other pictures I choose not to publish here as I don't have a "parental guidance" button on this page.
Moving on, getting dark and aware that I had only seen a portion of what there was to see, and that rushed, I moved (going in a circle) back into the park to walk via the Brandenburg gate.
Our society is not free from bias to this day and in the fading light a dark stone has a crowd around it and a lecture going on. "Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism" and whilst "persecution" might be a strong word in the UK these days, the persecution remains very much as issue in many countries, and there remains LGBTQI bias in the UK and - yes - close to home.
Back to the Brandenburg Gate - well, I thought I had seen that, but early this evening there was an equal treatment rally going on there. Skewed towards women's right a mostly female audience and performers, but it was not limited to that. My view from where I live and sit, we have made progress on equality over the years. But we aren't there yet and these are still causes to fight.
Pitch black by now as I cut diagonally across the park. My map doesn't define this final, lit exhibit in the trees that I passed, but it tells the life stories of perhaps half a dozen different people, some of whom were killed in concentration camps or police cells, other who survived the war to tell their stories. These were just a handful of the people. Multiply that ten fold, a hundred fold, a thousand fold and even a million fold.
I said when I started that words could not describe. But never the less, I have tried. I hope you have found this post thought provoking and if so, please share it. Is it relevant to us in Melksham? Yes, it is. Some things we do right with equality but others is we look carefully, perhaps we could do better - and there are those amongst us who could do much better. Whilst this is being published on my Town Councillor's blog, it transcends all political levels and all individuals, and it brought home to me today (oops - yesterday - writing past midnight) the importance of equality which is one of the three key principles I stood on and still stand on. The very first picture was a circle of light - a flame of friendship and identity with the unequally treated. It won't go out.
Thank you for reading. Now - if you have scrolled down and skipped a lot, please scroll back up and read the rest.
Published Wednesday, 14th February 2024
Guests from Ukraine in the UK - looking aheadFrom my inbox, having signed the petition as described late in 2022 (yes, around 18 months ago), I received an update email
The petitions was signed by over 20,000 people of whom 51 were from our Chippehnam Constituency.
In summary, some 200,000 people have fled from Ukraine to the UK, to be welcomed here in refuge from the war there. They have been given 3 years leave to remain from when they get here, and the right to work, etc. Many / most of them have settled well into the UK and indeed have become contributors to our ecomony (I was helping one of our own guests yesterday with a tax issue - they are paying in, including NEST pensions).
We are now nearly 2 years into the 3 year period granted, and that bring uncertainlty to these guests, but no assurances or indications given as to what happens when their visas expire. The government says it will provide further guidance in good time, but good time is running out (or indeed has run out). People need to plan their work, their housing, their education way ahead. Not only is it unfair of us to leave our guest in a state of unknown future, but it is also agaist out economic interest to not give them the assurance that they can remain as a key part of our society which they have each become.
In my view, the government should get its finger out and actually address the issue.
Dear Graham Ellis,
You recently signed the petition “Give Ukrainians on humanitarian visas rights to extend stay and settle in the UK”:
MPs debated the potential merits of extending the Homes for Ukraine Scheme on Tuesday 6 February in Westminster Hall. The debate was led by Pauline Latham MP. Tom Pursglove MP, Minister for Legal Migration and the Border responded to the debate on behalf of the Government.
Watch the debate at
Read a transcript of the debate at
And I have shared the text below
During the debate MPs discussed the need for certainty for people in the UK under the Homes for Ukraine Scheme over whether their visas will be extended. MPs also discussed the challenges for Ukrainians who want to continue their education in the UK, but didn't know if their visa would be extended.
At the end of the debate, the Minister said that the Government was considering whether visas would be extended, and said that all Ukrainians in the UK under the Ukraine schemes will be informed of the options available to them, well in advance of their visas expiring.
Here is the government's (now quite old) response to the petition:
The UK, together with our allies and partners, stands in solidarity with Ukraine and we condemn in strongest possible terms the Russian Government’s barbaric war against Ukraine.
Following the invasion on the 24th February 2022, the UK Government established three schemes to enable Ukrainians to come to the UK, or to extend their existing leave in the UK, for protection. Under all three schemes, Ukrainians are granted three years’ permission to remain in the UK with entitlement to work, and access benefits and public services.
Having launched one of the fastest and biggest visa schemes in UK history, as of 23 February 2023, 219,723 visas have been issued, 23,777 applications have been granted leave to remain extensions while in the UK, and 163,511 Ukrainians have so far arrived in the UK.
While we keep any future need for an extension of protection in the UK under review and in line with developments of the situation in Ukraine, we firmly believe that Ukraine will be safe again.
Therefore, and in accordance with the wishes of the Ukrainian Government, the Ukraine schemes are not a route for permanent relocation to the UK but instead allow for temporary protection until they can return home to rebuild Ukraine.
The Government’s objective throughout has been to provide a proportionate period of leave to remain in the UK through visas issued under the schemes. The leave period is purposely set at 36 months to ensure those granted leave under the schemes have enough certainty to settle into independent living, work and contribute to society during their stay and to protect Ukrainians against the need to renew permission.
And here is the text from the debate on 6th February 2024
Homes for Ukraine Scheme: Potential Extension
[Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair]
[Relevant Documents: e-petition 642280, Provide Ukrainian refugees with settled status to enable a stable life in the UK; e-petition 632761, Give Ukrainians on humanitarian visas rights to extend stay and settle in the UK.]
Mrs Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the potential merits of extending the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.
It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, I think, Mr Sharma. The United Kingdom established the Homes for Ukraine scheme in response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in March 2022—we are coming up to the second anniversary. We established three immigration routes to support Ukrainians wishing to come to or remain in the UK beyond their existing rights: the Ukraine sponsorship scheme, known as Homes for Ukraine, the Ukraine family scheme and the Ukraine extension scheme.
The Homes for Ukraine scheme allows refugees to join a UK-based sponsor willing to house them for at least six months. The Ukraine family scheme allows refugees to join UK-based family members already enjoying the right to remain in the UK. The Ukraine extension scheme allows Ukrainian nationals already in the UK and their immediate family members to apply for permission to reside in the UK if their current rights to remain are expiring. Each of the three routes provides temporary sanctuary for Ukrainians seeking refugee from the war in their home country.
The first visas issued under the schemes will expire in spring 2025, so we need to start thinking about what will happen next to those Ukrainians living in the UK, because they need security and certainty. It is not just the Ukrainians themselves who need that; employers, schools and others need to know whether the refugees can stay here for longer, especially as the war does not seem to be ending.
Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for eloquently outlining the schemes. The University of St Andrews in my constituency confirmed to me that it has 21 Ukrainian students currently studying there, and it is looking for certainty so that they can continue their studies. Does she agree that transferring to a student visa is not the right outcome for those students, and that the Minister should respond to that ask?
The main thrust of my speech will be about continuing education for Ukrainians, so if the hon. Lady waits a moment, she will hear what I have to say about that.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP)
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for securing this important debate. Many of our Ukrainian guests are highly qualified, but they rarely get a job that matches their experience or exceptional qualifications. Surely an extension to the scheme would give employers certainty that they will not be there just for a few months or a year. That would allow them to get a job, and employers to get the skills they require.
It is important that we have certainty that Ukrainians will be staying, not just for them but for employers who either want to employ them or are employing them. They have jobs to do, and they need certainty.
I will talk about the three most important topics that the Government must consider as they plan for the future of the schemes: education, homelessness and the rebuilding of Ukraine. My greatest concern about the schemes is the provision of education. Let me set out a case study of a Ukrainian family in the UK. Masha is sitting her GCSEs this year. In the summer, she would like to stay on in the UK, living with her 24-year-old brother—she will be 16—but her mother wants to return to Ukraine to support her husband. She believes she can get work there again as a nuclear engineer. I am sure Rolls-Royce would snap her up, but she does not feel that her English is good enough, so she is working in a takeaway restaurant, in a position way below her qualifications.
Masha has settled in really well. She is fluent in English, is an excellent student in all her studies and has made good friends here. She really wants to be able to apply to the sixth form or to sixth-form college; after that, she would like to go to university here, but she cannot—rather, she can, but she may have to drop out and leave, which she really does not want to do. Pupils like Masha need to plan and apply to universities, but with their visas expiring any time from March 2025, they are unsure whether they will have the right to stay here for the duration of their course.
Many of these pupils from Ukraine are very bright and incredibly hard-working, and have done exceptionally well to study in a second language. Many have been continuing their Ukrainian studies online, too. They go to school and do their education in English, and then come home to their home in the UK and study online with their teachers in Ukraine, so they will have double the qualifications at the end.
These pupils came to the UK at such a significant time in their lives and will prove to be a valuable asset to this country in time, following the completion of their studies. They have a lot to offer us economically, socially and culturally. If they are allowed to stay on, I am sure our country will benefit greatly from the education experience they have gained here. But currently, Ukrainians with three years’ permission to reside here under the Ukraine schemes will be expected to leave the UK from March onwards, depending on when their permission began. A student applying to university and starting their course partway through their visa could be expected to leave the UK at the end of the three years unless they apply for another type of visa before then.
The Government have said that they are considering whether to extend leave to remain under the schemes beyond three years, but they have not said when they will decide. A potential student like Masha, whose study would extend beyond their three-year Ukrainian scheme visa, would need to apply for an international student visa to extend their leave for the duration of their course. That is all well and good, but the usual requirements and application fees would apply to Masha at present, and applying for leave to remain as a student on such a visa could make her liable to pay international tuition fees and lose her access to student loans.
On multiple occasions, Ministers have reaffirmed that the Government are keeping an extension of leave to remain under review, but they need to make some of those decisions now. Masha and her fellow Ukrainian friends need certainty to plan their future. They need to know whether they can remain in the UK for the duration of their degree course, whether they are eligible for home fee status for the entirety of their course, and whether they are eligible for student financing for the whole of their course. Masha and her friends are motivated, bright, hard-working students. They are determined to do well in life and to create a better and stronger Ukraine once the war is over. The Government cannot stand in their way by creating uncertainty over the future of their education.
Our country has done so much to support the continuing education of Ukrainians. The UK-Ukraine twinning initiative is assisting Ukrainians whose studies have been disrupted. UK universities are partnering directly with Ukrainian institutions for a minimum of five years to mutually recognise credits so that English-speaking Ukrainian students, wherever they are, can take online courses with UK universities that count towards their final degree. Furthermore, Student Finance England has already paid student support for the 2022-23 academic year to 617 students who were granted leave under the Ukraine sponsorship scheme. The net amount paid out is just over £9.1 million, which pales into insignificance compared with the £2.5 billion package recently announced to support the Ukrainian defence effort. If we strongly believe that Ukraine will come out of the war victorious, it makes sense to invest in the future of their country by educating their future citizens while they are over here in our care. It would be a shame to fail the Ukrainian nation at this final hurdle.
I turn to my second consideration: homelessness. We should consider how we will minimise the risk for Ukrainians who are threatened with homelessness as the Homes for Ukraine scheme comes to an end. Sponsorship for the earliest Ukrainians housed under the scheme is coming to an end this March. Even though the Homes for Ukraine visa is valid for three years, the optional thank you payments to the sponsors who have offered their spare rooms or properties to the refugees last for two years under the scheme’s current design. Many sponsors cannot afford to continue to house the refugees, and many Ukrainian families would like their own home in order to become independent. I know of sponsors who are desperately trying to find private accommodation for Ukrainians, which is very hard because it is in short supply. Without a guarantee of renewal, it will become increasingly difficult as the expiration date for the visas draws ever closer. Landlords need certainty.
Beth Winter (Cynon Valley) (Lab)
The hon. Member is giving an excellent speech. In south Wales and Cynon Valley, many Ukrainians who arrived under the sponsorship scheme have thrown themselves into Welsh life, including by going to school and learning Welsh. They are very concerned at the moment about what the future holds, as she has so eloquently outlined. Given that the expiry date of the scheme is imminent, does she agree that we need confirmation about what will happen? What sort of reasonable notice is likely to be given? It would also be good if the Minister told us what discussions he is having with his Ukrainian counterpart on the deadline of the scheme.
Certainty is what is required—that is what I have been majoring on. Of course, when the scheme was first set up, everybody thought the war might be over quickly. It clearly will not be, which is why we now have to reassess things and look at how best we can help all Ukrainians who are here in the UK.
According to National Audit Office statistics, by August last year, 4,890 Ukrainian households had been assessed by local authorities as being homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in England alone. That represents 8% of the total number of Ukrainian families helped under the scheme. As if 8% is not a shocking enough figure, it is likely to be an underestimate, as a third of councils did not provide homelessness data to the Government. Charities such as Reset, other civil society organisations and local councils have been calling for concrete answers about the future of the scheme. What will happen to funding for hosts and guests this year?
Anyone who is following developments in Ukraine will know that the war is not coming to an end any time soon. It would be remiss of us not to take prudent measures to help stabilise the lives of Ukrainians in the UK. They have had to flee an unstable and unsettling conflict, and many have done so at a crucial time in their lives. We in the UK will breach our assumed duty of care towards individuals welcomed into our nation if we allow them to suffer the ignominy of homelessness.
I turn briefly to my third point: the rebuilding of Ukraine. I recognise that the Government wish to act in accordance with the will of the Ukrainian Government, who want citizens to return home and rebuild Ukraine when the war is won and over, and many Ukrainians in the UK want to do that. Ukraine remains home for the majority of them, so they will want to go back. It is a sensible attitude to adopt, and we should help them as much as we can, but the situation in Ukraine is getting worse and shows no sign of improving. The Government have said that the Ukrainian visa schemes are not routes for permanent relocation to the UK, but allow temporary protection until Ukrainians can return home to rebuild Ukraine. With that in mind, it has been and continues to be the Government’s objective to provide a proportionate period of leave to remain in the UK through the visas issued under the scheme. That policy position must be balanced with the needs of local authorities, sponsors, other resource providers and not least the needs of Ukrainian residents in the UK.
Local authorities need to know whether they must fund additional support services for Ukrainian speakers in local healthcare and educational settings. Local authorities, charities and sponsors need information now so they can begin to prepare for the future. They need to know whether they must provide emergency accommodation to Ukrainians who are threatened with homelessness, and they need to know whether additional support will be extended to local authorities, beyond initial tariff funding, to fund ongoing support for them. They need to know whether charities must stack up to co-ordinate any responses that local authorities or present sponsors cannot handle alone. While we can look forward to the day when we can assist the reconstruction of Ukrainian society, we must not discount the decisions stakeholders in the UK must make today. The least we can do is give them time to plan.
I call on the Government today to bear in mind Masha and so many other hard-working Ukrainian children in considering when and how to extend the Ukrainian visa schemes. I call on the Government to ensure that a Ukrainian on any visa scheme is guaranteed home fee status and access to student finance loans for the duration of any university course on which they are accepted. I urge the Government to consider extending the “thank you” payments for Ukrainian sponsors to prevent Ukrainian homelessness this year, and to consider how they may help local authorities to support Ukrainians who are already homeless. I urge the Government to publish their intentions for what will happen to the visa schemes when they start to expire in March 2025.
I am a huge admirer of the Ukrainian people in the UK for all that they have endured to get here, and I recognise that there is a big debate about the best and most effective way of continuing to assist those who fled and settled here. They have had to leave their home in very uncertain times, and we must start to give them certainty about their time here in the UK. The Ukrainians are hugely grateful to the UK for the assistance provided so far, and I hope the support will be ongoing for the foreseeable future. I welcome this opportunity to voice the concerns of those refugees whose future is uncertain, and I remain confident that, working together, the Ukrainian schemes can be developed in a way that will benefit all stakeholders and give greater certainty.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
It is pleasure to be called to speak in this debate so early, Mr Sharma. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham). I have enjoyed serving alongside her in debates since she came here in 2010, and I am very supportive of the debates that she introduces. She has been a stalwart advocate for the people of Ukraine and is deserving of the honour bestowed on her by that nation. In all sincerity and honesty, I have long admired her principled and compassionate stand, and I am very happy to stand alongside her and support her in this debate. I know that she is not running again at the coming election—she told me that one day in the voting Lobby—and personally I will miss her in this place. I thank her for her friendship over the years and the debates that we have done.
The clock has been ticking since the Ukrainian home scheme was due to close, and the Government advised that people would have a year to leave from the date of the letters, due to have been in spring. We are still in winter, but as the days lighten—and it is good to see that happen—it is clear that spring is on its way. For most of us, that is good news, yet for those Ukrainians involved in this scheme who have had to leave their homes, it will not feel like spring. It will feel like a decline into a long winter. The hon. Lady has outlined some of the cases in relation to that.
There are a number of Ukrainians in my constituency who are working. Their children are in school, and have settled into the semblance of a life with a home away from home. I am going to give some examples of their experiences, because I have seen their engagement in society. For them, the letter will not be as joyfully received as the end of the need for them to stay and the end of their pain, because the war is ongoing; their families are still fighting the Russian invasion and the munition fire continues. We all know of our Government and Ministers’ stalwart commitment to the people of Ukraine, and I put on record my thanks to them for that—nobody could doubt their intentions in that regard.
As my speech was being prepared, a notification came through that another four people had been killed by Russian artillery fire in the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine. The war is not over—why then is our help seemingly coming to an end? The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire is right: it is still needed. It will be needed for a longer time to give people the chance to progress their education at school and university, and it is needed by those who are making a significant contribution to society.
I could give myriad examples of such people in my constituency, where I have been very fortunate to have a very good working relationship as the MP for Strangford with people from Ukraine. I have sorted out lots of their passport and visa issues and their housing issues, and I have helped them to get placements in schools and employment. People from Ukraine work in the factories of companies in my constituency, especially in the agrifood sector, where their commitment, contribution and hard-working ethic ensures that they are an important part of the economic life of my constituency.
My heart aches for those young people in education who do not know whether their exam results will mean anything or whether they will have an opportunity to stay in education at university, which the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire outlined incredibly well. That is not a life; it is a temporary holding pattern. I am glad to see the Minister in his place, and I look forward to his contribution and his answers to what we have been saying. I ask him to consider very carefully those students whose lives are in limbo, which they find incredibly stressful and difficult.
There are lots of Ukrainian students in schools right across my constituency, including Ballynahinch High School. I visited before Christmas and am very friendly with the principal, who has just been appointed to a permanent post. When I went to see him and congratulate him, he said, “Jim, did you know we have got a great class of Ukrainians here?” I said, “Have you?” He said, “We have 12 in one class.” He took me to meet the 12 Ukrainians; most of them had a good grasp of the English language, and the others were learning.
The students had a classroom assistant, who was part of the teaching for that class of 12, and a teacher who was Ukrainian but who had a grasp of the teaching capacity in that school. The school had domestic staff who were from Ukraine. That school was quite clearly providing job opportunities, including an opportunity for the teacher to teach and for a classroom assistant to be a part of that teaching, as well as opportunities for those 12 students. It is for those 12 students, for that Ukrainian teacher, for that Ukrainian classroom assistant, and for those domestic staff that I make my plea.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful speech. Perhaps we should think about offering solutions to the Government on what they could possibly do to assist the cohort that the hon. Gentleman is so aptly describing. There is an extension scheme available, but it is only available for those who are already here on work visas. They can get the three-year benefits that those newly arriving in the UK have already secured. Why do the UK Government not just offer the same entitlement to those who are already here, as an extension of that scheme? The extension scheme is in place—we should make it available to everybody who is here now in the UK.
I thank my colleague for that. That is exactly what I wish to see, and I think all of us here today wish to see that too. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: this is about solutions. We can always highlight the negatives, but what we should do is highlight the positives and the solutions, and the solution the hon. Gentleman suggested is one I wish to see. I will say a little more and highlight that.
I say to the Minister that we have the opportunity to do this right. Let us make sure that those who are here on the three-year scheme have another three-year extension so they can get by in their education at school and university, and so they can make a contribution to all the businesses in my constituency that need them. I understand the pressure that the Home Office is under regarding asylum seekers. I admit to a sense of despair as we see what appear to be healthy, single young men coming over by the boatload.
It is clear that the scheme we are referring to, which was referred to by the hon. Gentleman, has been used massively by women and children. In Northern Ireland, there were three times as many adult women as men. I am going to speak for all those women and children and for the adult males who make a contribution. That is almost replicated throughout the United Kingdom. To me, that shows that this is not about taking an opportunity to come to the UK to live. It is about fleeing from danger at home, and I believe we need to continue to offer that lifeline.
Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
It is important that the hon. Gentleman stresses the point about mothers and children, who are the primary group of people coming to this country. In Newport West, we have a number of families. I would make the plea he has already made. Does he agree that we need certainty for the children in education and the mums who want to work? Would that certainty not help them in a difficult situation?
Yes, it certainly would. What does someone need when their visa is coming to an end? Continuity and the ability to say, “I am going to be here for my A-levels, or to finish my degree at university, or to make my contribution by teaching in this school, or at the factories where the opportunities are.” What we need and ask of the Minister today is reassurance and, if we get that, we will be happy.
Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and apologise for not being here at the beginning of his contribution. He was at the same event as me. The point about education is really important. I have many people from Ukraine in my constituency, and they are now part of our community. One of them interned in my office. The parents of a young Ukrainian in my constituency are very concerned about dual education. The uncertainty means they have to maintain two levels of education, and they need to understand what the future holds.
That is another case that I hope the Minister will add to the concrete case we are trying to make on behalf of the continuity of the scheme. I understand, accept and welcome the fact that the United Kingdom Government have been incredibly generous, but we need a wee bit of an extra hand at this point.
I note that the online scheme guidance points to an update due on 8 February. I look to the Minister to add my thoughts and those of others, through interventions and speeches. The Ukrainian people are under attack and we stepped in to say, “We have a place for you to send your women and children until it is safe.” That was the right thing to do, as every one of us here believes to be the case. It is still not safe; the war is ongoing. Quite simply, the scheme must be ongoing for another three years, as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) indicated.
I conclude with these comments. I support the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire in asking for an extension of the scheme. By all means review; I understand if that has to be done. Give certainty to those children and mothers, and those who are making incredible contributions to society. Give certainty to those children studying, so that their education will not be in vain. They can achieve their qualifications, I genuinely and sincerely believe, because of the compassionate nation we are. We can help them reach their qualifications and goals, to be in a better position to rebuild the Ukrainian nation. When that despot Putin is finally defeated and dispatched from this world, it will be a better day for us all.
Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) for bringing this important debate to Westminster Hall. This is all about certainty: certainty for the Ukrainians who are in the United Kingdom, certainty for local authorities so that they can plan for the future and, to a large degree, certainty for families like mine that are still involved in the hosting process.
There have been some wonderful speeches today, but I want to speak about a personal journey. I want to say to the Minister, “This is what I have gone through,” and say why it is so important that we make sure we look after these people until the very end. I will apologise now, because this will probably be quite a difficult speech for me.
As many hon. Members will know, I was the first MP in the country to bring Ukrainians into the United Kingdom. They came to live with me in North Norfolk on 3 April 2022. I could not be there on that day, unfortunately, because I had covid. My little six-year-old made it to Luton airport with my wife to pick up Anna, a Ukrainian mother—I always get her age wrong, and she gets very cross, so I shall not even try—and little Sviatik, who was six. He was just a couple of months younger than my little daughter. They bunk-bedded together for many months and formed a real bond.
Anna and Sviatik came from Kyiv and, like so many refugees—I hate that word, and I will come on to that in a moment—they came with the most terrible story. Little Sviatik was separated from his parents. He was in Melitopol with his granny and grandad when the war broke out. His father had to make a heroic journey behind Russian lines to extract him. There was then a 10-hour queue through Ukraine to get him into the United Kingdom. That was back in April 2022.
It was absolutely harrowing. They turned up with just a couple of rucksacks. The little boy had just one toy to his name. The mother did not even have a hairdryer or a pair of walking boots, which is something you need when living in my constituency. The outpouring of love from my constituents over 48 hours supplied them with everything they needed, as well as a box of toys that that little boy has had ever since.
Of course, they left behind their family. They left behind Vitali, who has become a friend. He is a botanist at the University of Kyiv. Luckily, he is not fighting, and hopefully he will not get called up to fight, but I see the pain in that woman’s face every time I see her, which is every other weekend, and I can see how hard it is to be separated. They have not seen each other for the best part of a year now.
People say that we are lucky because we have had a really good experience, and they say that we have changed their lives. Well, we are not “lucky”; they have changed our lives. Two thirds of people who went through the hosting process, as I have, have had the most wonderful experience. I would never change it. We have holidayed together. We spend every celebration, birthday and Christmas together. We have lunch together every weekend, if we can—
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his deeply emotional and personal contribution, which highlights the real scale of compassion and generosity of people across these isles. I hope he agrees that we are all keen to see that compassion and generosity extended for a longer period. Does he agree that it is vital that we can all continue to host Ukrainian people? Not only are they welcome, but they make a hugely welcome contribution.
I thank the hon. Lady for being so kind as to help me in that way. I totally agree with her.
I have been to Ukraine twice: in November 2022 and in February 2023. I remember meeting Vitali for the first time in November 2022. Handing another man his child, who he had not seen in nine months, was probably one of the most emotional things I will ever do. We went back in February 2024 and took 122 generators, donated by the people of North Norfolk, in three vans— I still cannot believe that we managed that. We could not take Sviatik that time, so he has not seen his dad for nearly a year. That was the time the Russians started to bomb energy infrastructure, so people did not have enough power to turn on a light or cook food. We decided to provide generators, because it was the right thing to do.
What pains me the most about this war—of course, there are many things that we find painful—is that I should not be the one teaching that little boy to ride his bicycle, taking him to his first day at school and taking him fishing. On Christmas day when he gets a football, I should not be the one he asks, “Will you play with me?” It should be his father.
If there is one thing this Government can do, it is to damn well help these people to the end. We owe it to them. We owe it to a nation to carry on. These people have problems of their own to deal with, including the trauma of being separated from their families for this length of time. They do not need more worry about whether the British Government will send them back home when it is not safe—and it is not safe. I know that the Minister is a good man and will follow this through to the end.
In February 2023, when I stood on the side of a road in Lviv, which was the safest part to go to, I made a promise to Sviatik’s father. I said, “I’ll look after your boy till it’s time to come home.” Please don’t break that promise.
Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
I thank the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) for securing this debate, for all her work on behalf of Ukraine—we travelled there together last year—and particularly for the hugely important work that she does on recognising the holodomor as a genocide. I also thank the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), whom I know well from my time on the Environmental Audit Committee, for his absolute and utter commitment not just to the family he is hosting, but to the Ukrainian people in general, particularly through the work he has done in bringing generators to Ukraine.
As we have heard, this is a time of utter crisis for the people of Ukraine. They will soon have been at war for two years. I went twice last year and visited many places that had been under Russian occupation. I saw the devastation that has been wreaked in Kherson region and Kharkiv, which is twinned with my city of Leeds. I saw destroyed apartment buildings, schools and hospitals, and devastated towns and villages along the road. None of the people who live in those places can realistically return, so it is our country’s responsibility to host them until there is peace and the Russian invader has been expelled.
I am really pleased that we have welcomed more than 140,000 Ukrainians into this country, but we are coming to a crunch point. Last September, at a local community centre, I hosted an event for Ukrainians and their host families in my constituency. It was absolutely full, and the two biggest questions that I was asked were, “What is going to happen when my visa runs out?”—some of them had visas dated until March 2025—and “My time is running out with my host. What will happen to me? What help can I get?”
I have also spoken to hosts who, understandably, have families or individuals—usually young women—who want to move into their own accommodation, but there are significant obstacles to that. I hope the Minister will address the postcode lottery. I praise the Government for giving councils the flexibility to use the local authority tariff to help Ukrainians to access housing, but the biggest issue is having money for a deposit, which Ukrainians clearly do not have. I do not know about other places, but in Leeds landlords sometimes demand six months’ or a year’s deposit before allowing somebody to move into a house. Who has that sort of money?
It is a little different when the local authority stumps up. There is also help to find the first month’s rent and help through providing furniture, covering moving costs, speaking to landlords and supporting crowdfunding arrangements and top-up payments to sponsors to prevent the homelessness that would be inevitable if these arrangements were not in place. Understandably, some local authorities have been able to do that, while others have not, or have been able to offer only part of that support. Even then, there are areas in which private rented housing is in shorter supply than it might be in my own city, where there has been demand for guarantors. I think it is unfair to ask hosts, who have already given so much, to then act as a guarantor for a Ukrainian for a second household.
These are really important issues. Perhaps not all of them are within the Minister’s purview, but I hope he can address them, because they are exactly the issues that Ukrainians are dealing with day in, day out. I do not think we can be at all critical of anybody hosting Ukrainians in their home, even if it is for six months, because they have opened up their home and taken people in, and everybody’s circumstances are different. The state needs to step in where they may not be able to continue doing that or where the Ukrainians want to live independently, which is absolutely understandable. Who wants to live in somebody else’s home indefinitely? I certainly would not if I were in their situation.
We also have hosts who want to carry on hosting, who are generous, just like the hon. Member for North Norfolk. Retention of hosts is also important, so there needs to be more Government support for hosts, including more training and financial support. There needs to be work with hosts to support their guests in finding jobs and school places and dealing with the social security system—things that put a strain on normal family relations, never mind relations with people who have been hosted for only a short time. In Leeds we set up a welcome hub, which has helped to provide some of the wraparound services, but not every local authority can do that.
The data is incomplete, but the figures I have say that until 31 August 2023, 4,890 households—8% of the total estimated households that had arrived on the scheme in England at that time—had been assessed by a local authority as being at risk of homelessness or as being homeless. That is not really acceptable, considering that we have been put in a position of trust for these people in a time of war. It might be far worse, because one third of local authorities are not providing homelessness data to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. We should perhaps press those local authorities for data, because that might give a clue as to how they are operating. As we are now seeing a much larger number of host sponsorships coming to an end, the risk of homelessness is likely to ramp up. That is why we need the Government to step in to extend the scheme, to provide additional support for hosts and to provide additional support for the Ukrainians.
Although the expiry of the visas might seem like a long time away, it is causing incredible stress for people who were already suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues. They have anxiety about their visas ending and a lot of them feel fear, although it might be unfair, that they will have to return to Ukraine in March, April or May 2025 as their visas expire. I want the Minister to give some reassurance to those people. I do not think anybody in this Chamber or in this place thinks that that is acceptable, but they have a real fear that it is going to happen. Hearing a Minister of the Crown reassure them that it will not would put so many minds at rest and would give such comfort.
My mailbox is filling up with requests relating to the Homes for Ukraine scheme and the visa scheme. It is so important that people feel that we are still as supportive of them as we were on 24 February 2022 when the invasion happened, and that we are not in any way walking back a centimetre our support for Ukraine and its people in this or any other regard. That is vital for so many people, both here and in Ukraine.
Lesia Vasylenko, the chair of the British group in the Rada, spoke to me only last week about the real need to put people’s minds at rest. There is an active debate in the Rada that goes as high up as the President’s office about the importance of the UK coming forward and supporting people through Homes for Ukraine and the visa scheme. I hope we can hear some reassurance from the Minister today.
Mr Virendra Sharma (in the Chair)
Order. I will call the Front Benchers at 3.28 pm.
Sir Robert Syms (Poole) (Con)
I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) raising some important questions, which I know the Government are starting to think about because we all have constituents starting to ask us what will happen.
I was touched by the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker). All the families that have come to this country have a story to tell, and all in their own way are different, but they all need a little certainty about what will happen over the hill. Most families in this country are always planning ahead for what is going to happen with their kids—university, jobs, houses, cars and everything else—but if someone is on a limited, fixed scheme, it is clearly difficult to plan or feel secure.
My first question to the Minister is, what sort of information do we have? The Office for National Statistics did a survey a while back of Ukrainian families who had arrived and to assess the number getting into work. There were particular problems with finding flats—not necessarily because of the deposit, but because most people need sponsors or guarantors on a flat, and they were not necessarily available to Ukrainians. We also have email addresses for a lot of people, because they had to fill out forms to come here. I wonder whether the Home Office or, indeed, the ONS might survey some of the families on who wants to go back and who, because of family reasons, wishes to stay, because that might provide some hard information about the intentions of these 100,000-plus people, who are perhaps all going in different directions.
The original intention, of course, was for those coming to this country to be a temporary thing and for them to return to Ukraine, and one can understand that the Ukrainian Government clearly want the asset of their people to return. If we can get beyond the war, with the bravery the Ukrainians are showing fighting for their independence, Ukraine will probably be one of the boom areas of Europe in the medium term. It has an educated population. It will need to rebuild a substantial part of the country. It will no doubt get large amounts of international aid. About a million Ukrainians were working in Poland before the war. There will probably be jobs and opportunities for many of those people to return to Ukraine and rebuild it. It will be interesting for Ukraine, and a lot of Ukrainians will want to return, but real life means that not every Ukrainian will want to, because people form relationships, get better jobs and get used to living in another country. In the short term, we need first to extend some of the schemes so that people can start to plan their lives, but we also have to turn our minds to the fact that quite a few people may not go back, because they have jobs or have taken the opportunities this country has afforded them.
I can perceive that there may be a slight problem if one member of a family gets a well-paid job and migrates, but the others—because their English or their qualifications are not as good—have to go back while the breadwinner of the family stays in the UK. We will need a sensitive and rather permissive regime in dealing with those families; otherwise, we will end up with families breaking up.
I have great confidence in the Minister. I have had a few conversations with him privately about this matter, and I know discussions are going on, which I presume involve the Foreign Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and, as always, the Treasury. The message of the debate is that we need an early decision to assist these families to plan their immediate future, so that they can get on with their lives, educate their children, pursue jobs and pursue their interests. If a decision is not taken, we will create quite a lot of problems for these people and, indeed, the families that host them. I hope that we will deal with this matter sensitively—I am sure we will—but we need decisions sooner rather than later.
Olivia Blake (Sheffield, Hallam) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship today, Mr Sharma. I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) on securing this important debate on the schemes the UK introduced in response to the war in Ukraine. I point Members to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests for the help I receive from the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy Project on this issue. I am also co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on migration.
It has been almost two years since the war in Ukraine broke out, and since then thousands of households across the UK, including many in my constituency, have opened their homes and welcomed Ukrainian refugees who have sought sanctuary here. Two years on, sadly, it is clear that the war is not coming to an end anytime soon, so why is there still so much uncertainty about the future of the scheme we are debating? That uncertainty needs to be addressed urgently, and the Government must act swiftly to provide longer-term leave to remain and to ensure that lasting protection of Homes for Ukraine is accompanied by free access to family reunification. Without longer-term plans to protect the scheme or a route to settlement, Ukrainians face integration challenges and mental health problems.
The risk of homelessness for Ukrainian refugees, which has been discussed in the debate already, remains particularly concerning. According to the Local Government Association, 8,900 Ukrainian households have presented themselves as homeless across England, and recent research by the British Red Cross found that Ukrainians are around four times more likely than the general population to face homelessness—a staggering figure.
With cost of living pressures continuing, it is imperative that the “thank you” payments to new or rematched sponsors are increased in order to widen the pool of new sponsors and to prevent the further escalation of homelessness. As the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire rightly highlighted, the importance of home status and student loans for those who need them should not be forgotten in this debate.
One of the key lessons from the Homes for Ukraine scheme is that, when given the opportunity, communities up and down the land open their arms, because we are a very welcoming country. However, as we sit here discussing the future of the scheme, I am dismayed by the continued lack of safe routes available for the majority of refugees fleeing war and persecution around the world. There are more lessons to be learned from the benefits of the scheme.
Last month, the Government released their “Safe and Legal Routes” report as part of their commitment under the Illegal Migration Act 2023. Despite its title, I was dismayed to find that the 37 pages of the report did not offer a single new safe or legal route for refugees to reach the UK, nor any real suggestions about how to improve the few resettlement schemes we have in place, including this one. While we discuss the merits of the Ukraine scheme, I would like the Minister to explain why such schemes have not been made available to other people, why we are not learning the good lessons from it and why we are still struggling with family reunion and resettlement, which has massively declined in recent years and is at the lowest level that it has been in the UK for a decade.
We are a proud country with a proud history of welcoming refugees, and I am proud to say that many people have decided to open their homes to support refugees fleeing Ukraine, but Ministers are not doing their part in continuing that tradition if they do not extend the scheme. Through the introduction of a lot of new legislation recently, they have made it their mission to openly attack that principle, and we need to be prouder of what we can do with this scheme. We must make sure that the Ukrainian people know we are on their side and will continue to be on their side while it is needed.
We need to step up and assure Ukrainians that they will have long-term protection in the UK. We need an urgent recommitment to introduce more safe and legal routes, so that refugees fleeing war and persecution can reach the UK safely. No Ukrainian should have to enter our asylum and refugee system as a result of the failure to increase the length of stay that people are allowed here.
Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Sharma. I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham), who is my in-laws’ MP, on securing this afternoon’s debate. It is certainly very welcome and timely, judging by my own casework and the uncertainty that many people are facing over their future. Ukrainians who came here would have hoped very much that they could have returned to their homes in Ukraine by now, but it is certainly not looking like that, so the Government must prepare for all eventualities and give people some certainty. The position of the SNP is certainly to support that aim.
As pointed out in the House of Commons Library briefing, and as I have seen in casework I have dealt with, some of the confusion here is because many Ukrainians in the UK are likely to have biometric residence permits with an expiry date of 31 December 2024, but that does not necessarily mean that that is when their visa expires; it is just when the BRP expires. Homelessness services in Glasgow have been quite concerned about this issue and have raised it with me in recent days. They worry that there will suddenly be a whole load of people who have no status.
I understand that the Home Office’s aim is to move to a digital biometric status. I have a lot of concerns about that due to errors I have seen with the Home Office systems for producing physical BRPs, and I do not have great confidence that digital BRPs are going to be any more accurate. Can the Minister confirm how exactly he intends to send out information to all who will be affected by this, including agencies that currently expect to see a physical BRP when they interact with those who hold one? They deserve more clarity on that.
In Scotland, we have done our bit in welcoming people from Ukraine. Our super sponsor scheme was incredibly successful and brought over 20,000 people to Scotland and to safety. That has been gratefully received by many, and people from Ukraine have put down roots in Scotland as a result. I pay tribute to the community of Ukrainians in my own constituency in Glasgow, who have done a great deal to ensure that Ukrainians feel supported in Scotland.
I agree with other Members about the need for support with accommodation and for those who are hosting people in their homes. As generous as people are, they are seeing increases in their own bills and pressures due to the cost of living crisis. Government support to help make ends meet was very valuable, allowing people to act as hosts without feeling any financial detriment, because there is only so long people can live like that. Given the pressures on housing in the UK more generally and the number of people facing homelessness in all our constituencies, the UK Government need to give greater consideration to how this issue is going to be managed. We cannot have a situation where people, from wherever they have fled, end up on the streets. That would be a complete failure in our duty to everybody we wish to support.
Scotland has invested in properties to try to help. The Ukraine longer-term resettlement fund has brought over 1,200 homes into use across Scotland and has approved 16 capital projects. As of January this year, 906 homes have been completed. People have moved into many of those, and that has made a huge difference. Should those Ukrainians wish to return to Ukraine, those houses can go back into the pool of housing stock in Scotland and be of long-term benefit to everybody.
Of the Ukrainians surveyed in spring 2023 who had been in the UK for between eight months and just under 12 months, 45% were still in accommodation with their initial host. Points have been made by various Members about what happens next and what happens with deposits. The hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) talked about the issue of deposits in his constituency, and there is real concern, because people cannot move on if they need a significant deposit to do so. What support have the UK Government given to rent deposit schemes, which have been operational in Scotland and have helped people in the meantime to get the accommodation they require, without being impossibly out of pocket? Further, what are they doing to ensure that there is complete data on the impact of homelessness on this group? It sounds very much as though the data that is there is pretty patchy and needs to be better understood before the Government go forward with it.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake) correctly spoke about the lessons to be learned from this scheme and about the benefits of safe and legal routes, which this Government do not yet have in mind for many other groups who are not Ukrainians. It is certainly true that we are not going to find Ukrainians in small boats, because they have a safe and legal route by which to travel to the UK.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made the point that it is primarily women and children who are coming to the UK. The reality of that, sadly, is that men are not allowed by their Government to leave Ukraine at all in case they are called up to fight. So there is a real reason why that is happening, but they should be supported regardless of their status. The hon. Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) spoke incredibly emotionally about his experience hosting a family, and I am grateful to him and to all the people across these islands who have been in a position to do that. It is an incredible act of kindness and generosity, and I know the support given will be greatly welcomed by those who have been hosted.
It strikes me that in many of the immigration debates that we have in this House, we often fail to recognise the individual cases of the people we are talking about. Every single person who comes here, whether they are from Ukraine, Eritrea or Afghanistan, does so for a particular reason. We must recognise the issues of separation, real pain and trauma. When we put ourselves in the shoes of those people, when we understand their plights, when we listen to their stories, when we recognise their situation, we must all commit to helping these people. Their stories all matter, they are all important, and we have an obligation and a duty to try to support them as best we can.
Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Sharma, and I thank the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) for securing this vital debate. I pay tribute to her excellent work in this area and the very powerful way in which she made the case to the Minister—I am sure he was listening carefully to her words and exhortations.
I thank all the Members who have spoken in this debate. It has been excellent, and many of the contributions were very moving, particularly that of the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), who really put over the human side of this issue. These are people and families who have loved and lost so much through this terrible conflict, and he put those points across very movingly. I also thank and pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) and for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake), who made their cases with such passion and conviction.
Everybody in this debate has made it clear that we all stand ready to support the Ukrainian people in any way that we can. I am very proud to stand here today and reaffirm Labour’s unwavering commitment to that cause. The Ukrainian people are on the frontline in our battle for liberty and democracy, and we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to President Zelensky and the bravery and resilience of the Ukrainian people in the face of Putin’s barbaric and illegal invasion. Our commitment to Ukraine, both on the Opposition Benches and across the House, will not waver. If Labour is fortunate enough to form a Government after the general election, we will be honoured to continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine in its fight for freedom.
The Labour party has always supported the resettlement schemes for Ukrainians, which is the topic of our debate, and we will certainly continue to do so. We are immensely proud of the generosity and warmth of the British people in opening their doors to Ukrainians, and we are very proud of Members across this House who have hosted Ukrainians in their homes. It has been truly inspiring to see 200,000 households offering to host Ukrainians, largely women and children, fleeing from the Russian invasion. The initial three-year visa offer comes to an end for the first of those Ukrainian refugees just over a year from now. Although we hold firm to our belief that the Ukrainian people will triumph and win the war, we are realistic that it might not be safe for Ukrainians to return to their homes as early as 2025. We therefore fully expect and urge the Government to extend the Ukrainian visa schemes well in advance of the general election, because, as every speaker in this debate has stated, families require certainty and need to be able to plan for their futures.
Many parents have children at school here in the UK and they need to be able to make appropriate plans. Children have been working hard to learn English and stay in school, and mothers have been working hard to ensure some stability in their children’s education. Other parents will need to address uncertainty about their jobs, but there are still challenges for them in the lack of co-ordination between the Ukrainian and British education systems.
I agree with every single point that the hon. Gentleman makes. Would it not be a remarkable and extraordinarily fantastic gesture, given that on Saturday 24 February, it is two years since the invasion of Ukraine took place, if the Government turned round and said, “We are now prepared to offer an extension to all those who have come to the UK”, along the same lines as that which they offered to those on the work scheme? Does he agree that that is what the Government should do?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that excellent point. It had not occurred to me, in all the thinking about this, that 24 February is indeed the anniversary of that dark day in Europe’s history when the invasion took place. It would be appropriate and fitting if the UK Government confirmed what we are asking for on 24 February, unless, of course, the Minister is prepared to do that here today.
To make another point about education, the Ukrainian teenagers who are now in year 10 will have exams next year. If their Homes for Ukraine visa runs out two months before they are due to take their GCSE exams, what will they do? They must be allowed to complete those qualifications. What about an 18-year-old Ukrainian taking A-levels this year who wants to train to be a doctor? Can they apply to university in the UK, or will their visa and the university support be taken away after six months? For the sake of children who have already faced a huge amount of disruption, I urge the Government to give them early reassurance by announcing plans for visa extensions and for what happens at the end of the three-year visa as soon as possible.
Labour Members and Ukrainians across the length and breadth of our country fervently hope that the Minister will give that reassurance—if not today, in the very near future, and perhaps, as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) suggested, by 24 February at the latest.
Unfortunately, the generosity and adaptability shown by the British people were not always matched by the performance of the UK Government. Initially, Tory Ministers managed to turn that story of generosity into a bureaucratic challenge for many of the Ukrainians who came here. In my role as a shadow Immigration Minister, I was alerted to the case of a family who were told that their visas were ready, but when they went to collect them, the one for their three-year-old child was not there. There were a number of other deeply troubling cases.
Members from all parties have told me how they were frustrated at the time by the speed at which the Home Office responded on casework. For too many, the so-called hotline went cold. On one occasion the queue for the MPs’ query desk in Portcullis House, which I am sure many colleagues will remember, was more than three hours long. Even though Ministers had taken caseworkers off the dysfunctional Afghan scheme, they were still struggling to organise a system for Ukrainians who sought refuge here from Putin’s barbarity. More recently there has been the deeply troubling report of 6,000 homeless Ukrainian families. It was always going to be the case that many British households would not be able to continue hosting indefinitely, yet the Government had no plan for what would be done in such cases.
I wrote to the then Refugees Minister, the noble Lord Harrington of Watford, in September 2022 to warn him of the emerging homelessness crisis. At the time, 1,300 Ukrainian families were already facing homelessness. I asked why more was not being done to match the huge surplus of hosts with the families who were becoming homeless, and I set out a number of other questions. Unfortunately, as has been the story of the last few years, the Minister promptly resigned, and I did not receive a reply. The ministerial merry-go-round continued, and a total of 6,000 Ukrainian families were later reported to be homeless.
It would therefore be extremely helpful if the Minister set out what he plans to do right now for those homeless Ukrainians. Perhaps he could answer the following specific questions. Does he know how many Ukrainians are homeless? What additional funding and support are central Government giving to local authorities to end all homelessness, including rapidly increasing refugee homelessness and, specifically, Ukrainian homelessness? What work is being done to increase the number of hosts on the Homes for Ukraine scheme and to raise awareness of the need for Britain to continue to play its part in supporting the Ukrainian people? Above all, could the Minister please be clear on when we can expect confirmation that the Government will do the right thing and extend the Ukrainian visa schemes? Thank you, and Slava Ukraini.
The Minister for Legal Migration and the Border (Tom Pursglove)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) for securing the debate, for the enormous passion with which she speaks about the issues, and for the thoroughgoing way in which she raises them with Ministers. She knows that I am very fond of her; I have many brilliant colleagues, but she is undoubtedly one of them who gets stuck into an issue, sees it through to the end and speaks with great passion when going about that work. She has shone a light on an issue that I know Members across the House are very keen to debate, and she speaks for a lot of people in the country on the issue of certainty. I thank colleagues from across the House for coming along in good numbers to debate it; I think it represents the strength of feeling across the United Kingdom about the future.
The United Kingdom stands in absolute solidarity with the Ukrainian people. We are almost two years on from the beginning of the conflict, but the implications and consequences of Russia’s barbaric war waged on Ukraine are felt every single day. The Government’s commitment to doing the right thing by Ukraine is as strong now as it was on day one. We have a responsibility to do what is right in the face of that unjustified and appalling aggression.
The three schemes that we have touched on today have welcomed or extended sanctuary to more than 230,000 Ukrainians, and remain open to new applications. The largest scheme, Homes for Ukraine, relied on the generosity and support of the British public, who welcomed more than 140,000 Ukrainians and their families into their homes. I thank officials across Government for the work that they have done to help to bring those schemes together and to operationalise them. That includes officials not just in the Home Office, but across Whitehall and beyond—officials out there in the country, on the ground, helping to make this happen and working with local authority partners and other statutory partners who have played such a big role.
The enormous pride we all have in our respective communities has been reflected in the debate. Certainly, as the Member of Parliament for Corby and east Northamptonshire, I am enormously proud of the voluntary work and the work done by the local authority and others to help make this a reality. It speaks to the very best of our national traditions. We can all think of remarkable people who have opened their homes, opened their community buildings, and stood up and been counted as part of the response to this most terrible of crises. As a country, we should be enormously proud of that generosity of spirit; it has been reflected not just in words, but in deeds at so many levels. On behalf of the Government, I would like to say a huge thank you on the record to everybody who has been involved in that response.
The comments of my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) were enormously moving, and really got to the heart of the depth of feeling across the country about the support that we are providing, the importance of that sanctuary and the very personal stories that underpin it. It is impossible not to be moved when we hear those stories, and about his experiences and the difference made to that remarkable family that he has been supporting, at a time in their lives that is virtually unimaginable for any of us.
Through our sponsorship efforts, Ukrainians have been integrated into our communities across the UK. The British public have welcomed new Ukrainian colleagues to their workplaces and classmates to their schools. That is one factor that we have tried to reflect in the “thank you” payments, which we are providing monthly to do exactly that: say thank you. We all look forward to the end of the fighting in Ukraine and for the Ukrainian people to be victorious, but while the conflict continues, we will do all that we can to support Ukraine and its people. That is why our Ukraine schemes remain open and free to apply for. The offer of sanctuary very much remains.
I will get through as many of the points raised during the debate as I can in the time available. On the substantive issue of visa extensions, I am cognisant—as are my officials and Ministers elsewhere in Government—that the first of those visas will begin to expire in March 2025, which is 13 months from now. I am very much alive to the need and desire for certainty, not only for sponsors and the Ukrainian people who are directly affected by this, but for the many services that come together to help provide a response.
I want to provide absolute assurance that we are actively working through this issue. I also assure hon. Members that all Ukrainians in the UK under the Ukraine schemes will be informed of the options available to them, well in advance of their visas expiring. However, I am keen that our approach takes into account all the many and varied factors that have been talked about today. There are a lot of issues that need to be properly thought through, with proper delivery attached. There are often real complexities that need to be thought through carefully before making policy announcements, not least because I do not want there to be confusion or uncertainty. I want people to be very clear-sighted about what the future holds for all the reasons that have been articulated.
Will the Minister give way?
I have a lot to get through, but I will gladly give way briefly.
The Minister is coming really close. I encourage him to take that further step and say that those who are here in one of the schemes will have the opportunity to remain in the UK if that is what they desire. Is that what he is edging towards? Can we go away from this debate and tell our constituents that the UK Government understand and are working with them, and that they will do everything possible to ensure that they get to remain in the UK if that is what they want?
The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Government have to go through processes before making definitive policy announcements. However, what I can say is that we are committed to letting everybody know, at least 12 months ahead, what the future holds in terms of the arrangements for any extension of these visas. I really do appreciate the real interest in this matter. The timeliness point has been well made time and again during the debate, and there is a desire to get that certainty as early as possible both from parliamentarians and further afield. I ask colleagues to take those comments in the spirit in which they are intended. It is fair to say that there is no disagreement in the Chamber this afternoon about that need for certainty; we speak with one voice on that point.
The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) asked about the steps we have been taking on engagement. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) recently asked me to meet with Ukrainian parliamentarians to discuss this issue. I have said that I am very happy to do that, and we will facilitate that meeting as quickly as possible. My officials are in regular contact with their Ukrainian counterparts, and Ministers regularly engage with their Ukrainian counterparts, and there has long been a recognition—a real appreciation—of the role that the United Kingdom has played on so many fronts in responding to this crisis. My understanding is that remains the case.
There is undoubtedly a desire for certainty, as we have highlighted this afternoon. However, there is also a clear message that speaks to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire at the start of the debate about what the longer-term future looks like for Ukraine. All of us are clear that Ukraine will win this war, and it has our backing and support in ensuring that that endeavour comes to pass. But it is also critical for the steps we take, and the support we provide, to lead to people being able to return to Ukraine to help to rebuild their country, recognising that Ukraine needs skilled people and wants a viable society with people of all generations. We will respect those wishes as we move forward with the steps we are taking.
On education, I am proud that, under our schemes, Ukrainian children and young people have been able to benefit from our brilliant education system. Whether it be starting out in school learning English and the fundamentals of education or studying for GCSEs and A-levels, our offer has always been to ensure that Ukrainians displaced by the conflict can continue their education where possible. That is also true for Ukrainians entering higher education and studying or looking to study at university in the UK. That is why we extended higher education support and home fee status to those here under the Ukraine schemes. Student support is crucial in enabling Ukrainians to attend education to improve their skills and enhance their ability to contribute to the UK or to assist in rebuilding their home country.
However, I recognise the concern of Ukrainians who have started a university course about whether they will be able to complete it. We of course want bright and motivated students across our schools and universities to continue their hard work focusing on their education. That is why, where a person’s Ukraine scheme leave expires during their course and they are granted further leave to remain under one of the standard immigration routes, they will continue to be eligible to access student support in order to complete their studies. We would expect providers to set their fees for such students accordingly. For those whose Ukraine scheme leave expires while they are at university and are granted further leave to remain under one of the standard immigration routes, we would expect home fees to be charged for the remainder of their course. By that, I mean that the starting position for a course and the associated fee status should be applied throughout the duration in any event. However, I hear the point and refer hon. Members to my earlier remarks.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am conscious that I have a lot to get through. If I get the chance, I will take the intervention.
On housing, this is a cross-Government effort, and colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities lead on the housing side of it. A number of points have been raised during this debate that I will gladly flag up to colleagues in DLUHC. They will perhaps be able to help to provide some additional responses to those points. We recognise that many Ukrainians here in the UK want to live independently. That is an ambition we fully support, while appreciating the difficulties some face in finding private rental accommodation. That is why we have provided tariff funding to councils and established English language support to help Ukrainians into independent living.
On homelessness, councils across the UK have been provided with £1.1 billion in tariff funding to support Ukrainians in their area. In addition, the Government have allocated a further £150 million as a top-up to the homelessness prevention grant. I can also confirm that an additional £120 million will be available across the UK next year. For those unable to find new accommodation, we have re-matching services available to help Ukrainians who have moved out of their sponsor accommodation to find a new sponsor. For obvious and important reasons, tackling homelessness and rough sleeping in all their guises remains a priority for the Government, and we are spending £2 billion over three years on that. Local councils have a responsibility to support Ukrainians who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, including by providing temporary accommodation where required to ensure that no family is without a roof over their head.
Will the Minister give way?
I am afraid I have too much to get through.
I want to reflect on the important point about rebuilding Ukraine. We are under no illusions about the situation in that country, but ensuring it emerges from the conflict with a modernised, reformed and inclusive economy, resilient to Russian threats, is as important as tanks on the frontline. Since February 2022, the UK has committed more than £4.7 billion in non-military support, including fiscal support for Ukraine’s vital public services and bilateral assistance. We are also working with the private sector and international partners to create conditions in Ukraine that will drive private investment at scale in support of its reconstruction. That includes initiatives on reforms, good governance, financial markets, insurance, business expertise, infrastructure and energy. The Ukraine Recovery Conference, held in London in June 2023, was widely welcomed as a success, and engaged partners across the international community and the private sector in support of Ukraine. I am delighted that the conference announced £60 billion in support of Ukraine’s recovery. Winning the peace is a long-term project that cannot wait until the end of the conflict.
The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) spoke about BRPs whose end date is the end of the year. I assure her that we will contact people from March to provide additional guidance on registering for digital status to ensure they understand what they need to do and what that means in practice.
In closing—I recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire needs to wind up—I reiterate my thanks to her and all other colleagues who participated in the debate. This has been a very powerful reminder of our national unity of purpose in supporting and providing sanctuary to our Ukrainian friends. We have supported 230,000 Ukrainians, but the mission is not complete, either in Ukraine or here in the UK through the sanctuary we are providing. I could not be clearer that the United Kingdom should always play a leading role in responding to such crises. The House has spoken this afternoon with one voice, and we will continue to play a leading role. Put simply, we will do what is right.
I will be very brief. I thank all those who have come to this truly cross-party debate. We have all spoken with one voice. My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) gave such a powerful speech about what he experienced. That is happening all over the country: many families are experiencing exactly the same thing.
I thank the Minister for his very thoughtful response. I look forward to working with him to ensure we come up with a good scheme that gives certainty to Ukrainian families and to employers and housing providers. In the end, it is important that we help to rebuild Ukraine. Ukrainians are fighting this war on behalf of all of us, so we need to support those children and mothers—it is mainly women who are over here—to the hilt. It is important that we support those children—the future of Ukraine—and help Ukrainians rebuild their country.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the potential merits of extending the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.
Published Friday, 9th February 2024
Environmental issues - the futureA really interesting evening (8.2.24) watching "Eating our way to Extinction" at the Assembly Hall. As promised, here is the text of my introduction to the film:
Notes for presentation – Graham Ellis – 8.2.2024
Welcome to our screening of "Eating our way to Extinction".
This film showing was arranged by the Environment and Climate Working Group of Melksham Town Council - a group of councillors and informed local volunteers created in 2019 to forward the environmental awareness and changes needed to help avert the environmental crisis we find ourselves in as a town council, locally and further afield.
The Town Council resolved in December to dissolve the group on completion of its work on the biodiversity Policy last month. This evening's film show found itself orphaned and left to fend for itself. Please excuse any shortcomings in our publicity and arrangements.
A time of change is a time of great opportunity to learn from the experiences with ECWG and to look forward based on the experience to more effective mechanisms to consider the environment in Melksham. Ironically, one of the concerns of councillors who voted for the group to be dissolved was our getting together at times without officer support - which we did informally to save help reduce the call on the very limited staff we have available at present; by saying "this won't do", those councillor who voted to dissolve the old group are implicitly saying that the council should consider something bigger and better. And indeed we will need that if the are to implement even just the biodiversity protocol that we are required to adopt.
Our film tonight looks at just one facet of the environmental crisis. I believe it's important for us all - be it as part of MTC, or at joint neighbourhood or area or constituency level, to be environment aware in what we do in all facets - food, CO2, water, noxious gases, Ozone, greening, biodiversity ... I believe there are 9 accepted measures of which the majority are approaching the point of no return. And that future might be lead as a council committee, another council structure, a joint group with volunteers, or a campaigning and partnering group.
Please leave your details afterwards - I have forms; if there are spares, please take one with you to include all the Ts and Cs - otherwise I will be posting this text and including them on my blog (and see over) at grahamellis.uk.
Sit back and watch, please, as we play the film
The subjects raised are of massive importance for the future, although I must question the impartiallity of some of the potentially selective presentation.. And we had a really useful discussion after watching the film on how best to inform and encourage ourselves and our fellow beings to look after our environment.
Published Thursday, 8th February 2024
Splash Pad - Opening days and hours for 2024Headline:
The Splash Pad will be open in 2024 from Friday 29th March to Monday 15th April, and from Friday 24th May to Sunday 16th September. Opening hours will be from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on all operational days. The Splashpad is a weather dependent feature and will not be open during inclement weather - at which times (in any case) few if any people want to use it.
Tne Splashpad will be resurface in late March. That work is weather dependent, and if there is a problem it will be postponed to the closure period in late April and early May, opening for Easter with the old surface.
Note that the Splashpad will open and close in 2024 an hour later each day than it did in 2023. Mornings are often cold and customer numbers have been relatively low, but people have been disappointed at having to leave the facility when it's closed in the late afternoon on warm summer days. The Town Council hopes that this change will align the opening more closely with what people want whilst not increasing council costs. During term times it will also allow people to use the pad after school.
Should the weather forecast suggest a top temperature below 11 degrees for any particular day, the splashpad will not be open and we would let you know the day before. The number of people wanting to use the pad on such days is very low indeed on historic data. There is a safe operating temperature for the pad itself too - it’s a few degrees lower, but we could be close to that limit at opening time if the high for the day might not even be in double figures.
During periods of heavy rain, high wind, or thunder storms, the splashpad is closed for safety reasons. And should the water quality or other technical issues cause concern, the pad will be closed while the issues are resolved. This is at the discression of the staff on duty and their managers who between them make the final decision. All staff who look after the splashpad while open are trained. Staff, however, are not lifeguards and it is the responsibility of parents of guardians to ensure the safety of their own charges. There is a limit on the numbers who can be in the splashed at any time, and on really busy days you may be asked to wait to use the facility - that’s pretty rare - it only happened a couple of times last year, but please be aware.
We are aware that there may be periods of good weather between 15th April and 24th May and if such good weather is forecast, the managers at Melksham Town Coucil will consider opening the pad at two or three days notice, subject to staff availability. We also plan a soft opening on 28th March that will include staff revision and the pad may be available on and of during the day.
Updated information on opening will be posted on a board at the pad, and on social media on a daily basis to help keep the public informed. In practise, unless there is extreme weather this summer, you should see very few closures.
And Also: (for those I met at the Splashpad last year)
I would personally be available some dates prior to 7th June and then more or less any dates from 27th June. However, councillor talk on Monday night was of "staff" rather than "staff or volunteer" operation. Whilst I (and there could be one or two others) am willing to be retrained, help and indeed be available at short notice, as I read it this is not a part of the plan. A pity personally was an opportunity for me as a councillor to meet a wider group of our residents, and a pity financially as the Town Council's officers have not been encouraged to make use of freely provided help. That said, there may be other concerns such as training and insurance issues that I am not privvy to and influnced their recommendations.
From the minutes - just published at https://moderngov.microshadeapplications.co.uk/MelkshamTC/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=821&x=1 confirming the above in council-speak:
Splashpad Opening Times for 2024
To confirm the Splashpad opening dates and times for the 2024 season.
Members were shown a spreadsheet showing usage details for last year. There had been comments last year about later opening and it was recommended that opening hours be changed to 11am to 6pm, with a decision on opening dates.
There was general agreement on opening times. There was discussion on opening dates and whether opening should be based on temperature rather than a date. DE noted that he had been advised there was a minimum operating temperature, below which there was a risk of damage to the machinery. How resurfacing work might affect opening dates was also discussed.
It was proposed by Councillor Hubbard, seconded by Councillor Oatley and UNANIMOUSLY RESOLVED that the Splashpad open for the Easter Holiday and then from half-term to mid September 2024, with officer discretion on opening between Easter and half-term. Opening hours to be 11am to 6pm.
Published Wednesday, 7th February 2024