Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
"Town Council" or "Town Councillor"?
"The Town Council" [says/requires/wants/cannot/doesn't]. So many times we heard those words last Thursday evening at the public Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall meeting that I, in some exasperation, asked the deputy clerk to clarify just who she meant when saying "The Town Council". After all, I am an elected Town Councillor and she was neither speaking for me, nor about things than I knew. And in the 3 days since, three people have thanked me for asking the question, because it was not clear to them what she meant by "The Town Council" in this context either.
I now understand. "The Town Council" when spoken of in the form of a persona means the "proper officer" - that's the Town Clerk, as directed under law and as instructed by resolutions and decisions of the Town Council, or members of her team as tasks and responsibilities are delegated. It is not shorthand for "The Mayor", "The Mayor or his deputy" who however will naturally work with the officers of the council day by day, helping implementing resolutions passed at council meetings.
So saying "The Town Council says" or "The Town Council cannot" or "The Town Council thinks" is not the same thing as saying "Councillor Graham Ellis says/cannot/thinks". I abide by the decisions of meetings, accept them, work with them, and do my best to explain them. I do not agree with them all - after all I am and always have been an independent from when I first stood. Only if I'm very, very sure of something can I speak for the council - indeed there is a jealously protected separation which means I cannot do things for the council (like help in the bar at the Assembly Hall) which I could do had I NOT been elected. Yes, I know that may sound and feel perverse.
Melksham's Town Council has combined some roles and shed a number of posts since the elections in May. Before I had been on the council for a full calendar month, we had several full council meetings with agenda packs of over 100 pages of supporting documentation to be considered and changes voted on within a couple of hours. Readers may question how that came to be on the agenda quite so quickly (I certainly didn't put those things / changes there); it's "The Council" again, perhaps, including preliminary work done prior to the elections by the teams elected to 13 out of the 15 seats. We are now, very much, seeing the effects of those changes.
The previous council had a "leader" and a "mayor", with deputies for both. The separation of the four roles wasn't all that clear (to me, anyway) and a proposal was made, and overwhelmingly approved, to merge the leader and mayor roles, and the two deputy roles. So at full council meetings, and on committees on which he sits, you now have the mayor both leading the discussion, and chairing the meeting with all conversations formally required to be through him. That's in addition to his ceremonial role of appearing in chains(!), in public, all over the press to promote the town, and in addition to his other elected role as a Wiltshire Unitary councillor.
This council has also dispensed with three managerial and admin roles, declaring two staff redundant and loosing a third experienced person, to be replaced by a new apprentice. There is no requirement on a town or parish council to have experts in such things as economic development and planning on their team. However, such a resource has previously helped your councillors be well informed when making inputs on your behalf to planning applications, local area plans, bypass consultations, and the like. Phil Alford, chair of the area board (and a town councillor too) spoke last week of the consultations - "crucial as we move forward" - Climate change, green and blue strategies being "crucial as we move forward" and yet we (as a Town Council) have declared redundant the expert we had to advise us. A request for advice from the officer who has taken over any of his role still being performed elicited the reply "I am in no way an expert on climate change, I understand the implications and what we should be doing to mitigate it but I am not qualified to give a detailed briefing to members." So - there you are folks - you DO have an excellent staff and many good councillors, but really we are going to be amateurs (volunteers!) now as we say and press forward for the town's future. By taking this onto ourselves, we have saved you about 3p per resident per week on next year's council tax.
Short term, I hope, there is some concern in the ranks as things are being re-arranged to take account of the staffing and other changes. The Town Council (see my definition at the top of this article) tells me that "nothing could be planned" until the redundancies were completed for the start of this month, and since then one of the remaining key players - a more-vital-than-ever cog in the wheel has been on vacation. And we have been in a sort of limbo. Some positive things HAVE been happening but, goodness, others have not progressed as we might have wished.
I promised I would be open and informative during the election campaign, and also that I would not break confidences. That latter, of course, needs to take priority where it relates to an individual's employment and process and law. But I can now fill you in.
1. I did not vote against the combining of the mayor and leader roles - it was just one vote on a very busy evening and I was not long enough in post to appreciate the significance. Note that new councillor training (which was very useful) was not conducted until a later date, after that vote (and item 2. just below) had gone through.
2. The redundancy package came to a confidential council meeting in June. Papers and a proposal were handed out - printed sheets - and we were given a few minutes to read and digest them before a vote was taken. The Clerk and 12 councillors (you can see who on the public web site) were present, and there was an opportunity to discuss and question. Whilst the chair offered us the ability to "ask as many questions as you like, take as long as you like", he declined my request to postpone the decision - at least overnight - so those of us who this had been sprung on could go away and think about it. In the circumstances, my personal decision was to abstain on the redundancy vote - I was not fully informed and whilst a number of councillors, for whom I have a great respect, clearly were, I was not going to be bounced into making a rushed decision that would effect individuals (and their families) livelihoods. I was also not in any position to sound out any of the people I represent on the matter - forcng me into a dereliction of my duty as a councillor!
Should any other councillor make their position on those two votes public, I will come back here and amend this post for the public record. Public record already shows that Councillor Aves and the Councillors Crundell were not present at the votes.
On neither of these items was my vote decisive - but going back to where I started this long and rather technical item, you will see that whilst I am a Melksham Town Councillor, I am not Melksham Town Council. And that differentiation applies to all 15 of your councillors. Where I am, and what I do, can be influential in persuading and informing my colleagues who sit on the council, and in helping and informing members of our community, and making connections and smoothing things out for them too. On 90% of things, it's probably fair to say that the councillors are unanimous - it's just where we come to things like bypasses, redundancies, and the future of Assembly Halls that there are differences to be compromised.
Published Monday, 27th September 2021
FoMAH - changed meeting venueI owe people an apology. Ten to five yesterday afternoon was absurdly late notice to switch the venue of the meeting of the Friends of the Melksham Assembly Hall from The Hall itself to an alternative venue a few hundred yards away. Previous (formative) meetings of the group were also held off site, but for this particular meeting we felt that it would useful to learn in the hall itself, and understood this had been agreed.
and meeting report
During the week, I had tested my IT kit in the hall to ensure that it would work well (enough) for all. The hall network proved to be fantastically improved from previous experience (thank you, team) and all seemed in order. Mistakenly perhaps, I considered our little gathering, who's whole and only purpose was/is to help the hall, to be an internal meeting in support of the hall's operation, to be held at a time we did not displace any revenue earning bookings. Only yesterday afternoon was I alerted that there is no mechanism for such a hall-supporting meeting to be held at the hall without formal booking and payment ... and as a big hall, for 2 hours plus setup and breakdown time, the rate would have been personally significant.
Thank you to everyone who came along in person or on Zoom and to those who helped me let everyone know. In real life, we were close to my comfort level in the room we used, and indeed at least one attendee was outside in the garden, and another electronically from the next building. We learned, somewhat, how the venue blew up in the afternoon - sounds like a misunderstanding between a report (to be filed) and questions and issues for attention, that attention to which would have flagged earlier. Never mind, we're moving on, and it would be a miracle if the Town Council with reduced staff, end-of-summer vacations, re-arrangements ongoing, didn't have a few glitches, or if FoMAH ran totally smoothly as a group of newcomers to this.
* Now that the questions to the council are known to be questions, we're asking for answers so that we can progress things.
* FoMAH progress on council interaction - talking to staff - is to be undertaken purely by FoMAH members who are NOT Town Councillors. That will help ensure there is no conflict of interest. It also means that the job will be done by key members who can make every meeting and not (as happened last night) have our reporting member unable to make it (apologies received later in the evening)
* With a reduction from 3.5 to 1.5 staff members on the Assembly Hall team, we were able to ascertain that their key need will be people to help at and around events.
|- Bar staff especially are needed - on a casual / as required basis - note these are zero hours paid roles - get in touch with Bruce or Kevin if you are interested. |
- Help with publicity is needed too, though we have established / helped unlock the advertising budget, but note that it's just a quarter of what it was last year. At least it's open, and another of the council's staff team has been tasked with some of this role. FoMAH members can really help here with things like social media shares, talking to people, putting up flyers around their community, etc
- Tasks like checking people into events are thing FoMAH members can help with too
Good to see last week some members of the amenity team helping with decoration (and it's looking fantastic - thank you). It makes sense in a "small" council such as our Town one for there to be some floating around between roles as some are seasonal and the peak time in the park is different to the peak time in The Hall.
There has been an issue (I need to check whether it's been confirmed as resolved in some way) with volunteer help and insurance, and there are also issues with volunteer training, and the reliability and effectiveness of some volunteers. Please forgive that comment - I project manage the Santa train, totally with volunteers, but I know I need a dozen to get 8 effective on the day, and there are some jobs that are easier to do myself - and it remains that same way for Assembly Hall Staff. That's where we want (and it's sensible) for them to make the best of their 1.5 staffing to carry on with those tasks, including organising help
Also to note:
* FoMAH could apply to the relevant council committee for a grant to pay for hall hire for our meetings (and in the circumstances, this might be possible on 11th October rather than waiting for the normal cycle) or ask them to consider uncharged hall use where it's in the interest of the hall. Concern has been expressed (anonymous, relayed by a council manager) that a precedent could be set with all sorts of organisations looking for free use.
* I (personally) have bar work experience - in a 200 seat theatre. Long time ago, mind. Thoroughly enjoyed it and would be happy to help occasionally / be even on emergency call for the Assembly Hall. Not going to happen, though. As a councillor, I'm not allowed to take any role that would be paid as these roles are. Not right to have unpaid volunteers and paid people on the same job. And comment made "as a councillor, others on duty would think you were watching over them". Hmmm ...
Next meeting - THREE weeks time rather than 2 as some of us have a full day on 7th already - so it's 14th October 2021, but we'll be much in touch in the meantime. See the FoMAH Facebook group page, for example. No wish to make trouble - really here to help, so (ironic though it is) meeting at "same place as last time" rather than pushing the surprising bounds we have found at the hall until they are better understood.
Image - picture from a meeting I attended in 2016 ... my copyright, for illustration
The above report is not "minutes" - it's just my own meeting notes, comments and explanation to help inform. Please get in touch if you notice any errors or omissions.
Published Friday, 24th September 2021
Area Board - Summary, 22.9.2021From last night's Melksham Area Board - summary notes I took during the meeting, telling you the headlines of topics that came up.
The Melksham Community Area no longer includes Atworth, nor Seend and a number of other parishes that were included on the southern flank before. This is part of boundary adjustments designed to keep the population of each area roughly the same; with the growth of Melksham itself, some of the villages have been transferred out to balance Illustration - old (left) and new (right) community areas - changed, May 2021.
* Riverside Path - resurfaced; safety and flooding
* Campus Swimming Pool - fitting out under way
* KGV / Police activity continues
* Primrose Drive - removed as a priority. 98% residents not concenred. Just one incident of misuse of path
* Confirmation that Campus budget used for Skate Park and Oakfield stadium which are described as "part of the Campus offering"
* Discussion on CCTV at Skate Park.
* Ash Dieback. Risk of injury from falling trees and branched near public rights of way. Looking at replanting by WC
* Public Consulations - "crucial as we move forward" - Climate change, green and blue strategies.
* WC acknowldged issuse 2.2019 to be carbon neutral by 2030. WC can influnce 1/3 of emissions. Encourage Town and Parishes to engage.
Dave Thomas of Wiltshire Council:
* 5 years highways maintennce plan. Around £400,000 per annum. Useful background to be aware of.
* State of roads program. Why is it that roads get resurfaced can ne undone by utilities? e.g. Nick Holder asking for Semington Road. A: 12 months notice needs to be given to then have a 12 month moratorium. Only applies to longitudional. Not protect transverse connections. "We try as much as possible but they have a right. And we try voluntarily to work together. Problem is high profile locations."
* JH - is that all the works planed? A: No - there will be reactive works. If we insprect and find others, there will be reactive and they can be fairly large patching areas. Purpose - shock at how little of Melksham Town. JH - often new roads but challenging pavements. Can be machine laid rather than had laid - different groupings. Different program, different materials.
* Vacinaion update - as of yesterday started boosters at Spencers. Patients will be contacted directly. Health and social care. Only allowed 180 day after 2nd vacination.
* Older persons champion. 2 expressions of interest. Need to agree as an area board. We have a dedicated area board coming up.
* Older persons special on 22nd October. Hoping Assembly Hall
* To include transport with a view to gatering pririties for action. Also to announce who the champion would be.
* To ensure due process, invite others via MIN. JS - support special meetimgs. [but 2019 all the norms only]
* 8th December board - priorities for action. Want to focus on a small number of areas.
"Votes by disent" right though evening - so an assumption that all concillors were in agreement. Probably correct as references were made to the "premeeting meeting" where councillors discuss the issues witout the public present.
* 2385 Melksham Squadron - £5014 (50%)
rest from volunteer time, fees, etc
JH - talk of "pre-meeting".
* WW Model Car Club - £955 for Assy Hall
Karen Potter for new computer
ALSO for hire car for newcomers to try.
* Keevil PC - £379 for paved area.
Q - is there a parish contributon
A - we have spent £900 on a table
* MTC - £345 for defrib cabinet
ONLY 50% request - this is a correction
Ask by JH, propose by PA
* Youth Grant - JH asking for £5000
for team talk service.
Ask for specific delivery at Canberra.
Explosion of use.
Seed funding for addnl councillor
* Celebrating Age Wiltshire for £1500(?)
* Melksham Talking Newspaper for £500
"Chippenham TN" group, MKM edition
MIN to tape for partially sited
There were no questions from the public (indeed - apart from answering a coupl of questions on grants - I don't think a single member of the public spoke all evening!
Next business meeting - 8.12.2021
E&OE - all above as understood by Graham Ellis
Published Thursday, 23rd September 2021
Neighbourhood IssuesI am one of your four town (parish) councillors in Melksham. As a Town Councillor, I have no statutory authority, but you have elected me to help look after some of your interests for four years, to inform and advise and offer help and oil wheels if I can. Town and parish councillors are unique in that they have responsibilities (if you call them that) over a very small area, and unique in that they receive no remunerations for their efforts - it's purely a voluntary role, unlike the unitary council or MP levels.
I put together this map yesterday - dropping pins onto specific places where issues have been raised. Some resolved (road issues on Spa Road, footpath near the bypass), some refusals (church gate) and many more still under way; it's a pleasant surprise when there are 'instant' results.
Please do get in touch if I can help. Where something is already being looked after by another councillor, I should (and will) defer to them, and I would really appreciate it if you don't ask lots of us councillors separately to do the same thing. Working together, yes, by all means - Colin, Jacqui, Jon and me are all different people and if appropriate can bring a far wider experience than just one person.
P.S. Neighbourhood issues are so often about us all living and working together and involve consideration and compromise for the best long term and happy solutions. Yellow lines on the road, bollards and gates on public rights of way, etc, are rarely the way to go.
P.P.S. I personally stood for town council with some prior knowledge from public transport campaigning, and my time as president of the Chamber of Commerce, of just how much time it would take; being newly retired and with another volunteer role not happening, I have the time (and it was planned) to do these things. We do not want a council packed with retired people - we want young blood and dynamic thought, but how on earth those younger councillors could cope if they took on things to the same degree I can, I do not know. Please do not assume that just because I can offer to help that other councillors can do so in the same way. Family and paid work has to come first for all of us, and there may be some who have bitten off more than they expected to chew.
Published Tuesday, 21st September 2021
Options to get to the station To catch the 11:30 train on Saturday, I had a choice. I could have left my front door (on Spa Road) at ...
* 10:47 to catch the bus to near the station
* 11:05 to walk to the station
* 11:10 for a taxi to the station (allowing a few minutes slack)
- 11:15 to cycle to the station and secure the cycle there
- 11:15 to drive to the station and pay for the car park
- 11:18 to cycle to the station and take it on the train
* 11:20 for a lift to the station
There should have been time at the station from the 10:47 bus to grab myself a quick cup of coffee to take on the train too. In all other cases, I would have allowed an extra five minutes for that, and a little longer if I wanted to grab a freshly made sandwich or breakfast.
I was headed for Yatton - a chance to catch up with old friends - with a change of trains at Trowbridge, through Bath and change at Bristol. Cost me £8.40 return (would have been £12.80 without a senior railcard), giving lie so the rumour that all rail fares are exorbitant.
On my return, the train I was on from Bristol would have missed the connection at Trowbridge to Melksham by 9 minutes - next one not for another 2 hours. I could have caught an alternative train and changed at Chippenham - still the best part of an hour to wait somewhere - so I took the Faresaver bus from Bath Bus Station (unlike Melksham, Chippenham or Trowbridge, the main bus hub is close to the station) - 15 minute or so change in Bath, and the 272 dropped me directly across the road from my home.
Interesting to note ... only four of the seven options available to me in the morning allowed me to go out by rail and back by bus (those marked with a "*" - the others would have left me with a cycle in Bath that could not come on the bus, or a personal vehicle at the station which needed picking up.
My train ticket did cover the bus fare. You would think, wouldn't you, that it would be sensible for the public transport operators to work together on routes that are infrequent at times so that customers can have the benefit of going on the next available service, be it bus or train - but apparently not. With a senior bus card, and my journey during the hours of validity, I did not have to pay what I believe would have been £6 for the journey.
Published Monday, 20th September 2021
Alternative Path?The path from Place Road (just off the Market Place) to the Cricket, Bowls and Tennis clubs behind Melksham House is closed for just over six months while work is done on the new Campus car park, with a signposted diversion all the way round via the Centre of town and Church Road, other routes via the Melksham House gates also being closed at present.
I have been asked (in my Parish Councillor Role) to see if the gate on Place Road to the Churchyard could be opened - not as a public right of way, but as a "permissive path" for just the duration of the closure - it would save a long walk around, and using permissive path methods it would not become a public right of way permanently. And that seems like a good idea - a temporary diversion, if you like. When I've asked about this (informally) before, I've heard various stories. The sad answer is that it's up to the Church, and they have said it can't be done, offering me this explanation to clarify why it is not possible:
|We have already received enquiries with the same request as yours, that is to open the gates between Place Road and the Churchyard to reduce the length of the re-route of the current footpath.|
In answer, firstly, you may already know but Place Road is a private road.
The situation with the access is that currently, all the Place Road residents have a key to those gates and can use them at any time, but lock them afterwards. The Church also has keys and the legal situation when Place Road was constructed in the late 19th Century was that the Church had access through the gates “either side of divine service for those attending”. This arrangement is still technically in place.
Also, in much more recent times our Insurance Company has requested that these gates be locked, certainly during the hours of darkness to deter thieves, in an area not easily visible. We have had lead stolen off the church roof twice in recent years.
So you see that all is not as simple as it seems, as we do not have “control” of the access.
I agree that in principle a “permissive path” arrangement would seem be a solution, but regret that in this case this is not possible.
I have written back to see if the gate could be unlocked during daylight hours to next spring; I really don't see much call to go to the sports clubs at night (though the Melkshas Amateur Photography Group and others do meet at the Cricket Club all year) and I will update this post if I hear back with a positive but limited (in this way) outcome. In the meantime, Thank You to the Church authorities for considering the request from the residents of South Ward.
Published Wednesday, 15th September 2021
FoMAH - This Week (13.9.2021)Terri and Paul meet with the Town Clerk this week, then (Thursday evening 16th September, from 19:00) will be briefing the group in a combine Zoom/In-Real-Life meeting. We don't know what the outcome of that meeting will be, and that makes it hard to set an agenda with any certainly, but indicators are excellent that the Town Council team, Together for Melksham, our MP and the Conservative Group are all looking for a positive route forward with a vibrant, yet "affordable", and sustainable future.
On Saturday 18th, Lisa and I are going to see "ELO Beatles Beyond present The Lynne & McCartney Story at The Hall - Tickets ((here)) at £16. Click on the image for links to upcoming events bookable via TicketSource. Those are just the tip of the iceberg - something is happening at The Hall every Saturday into next year, and many days between too.
The Zoom code for the Thursday meeting is:
That's Meeting ID: 869 3157 7325 Passcode: 979528
One tap mobile: +442034815240,,86931577325#,,,,*979528# United Kingdom
All are welcome by Zoom. If you came in person last time, it's going to be the sae venue (NOT The Hall yet) - if you didn't please let me know and I can send you details in a message; we have plenty of space on Zoom, but are limited in the room itself.
One of the elements I see as key to this working is positive partnership. Everyone working together for shared goals. And especially valuable in achieving that are the skills already on the council team, and in the hall's current users and supporters. I am delighted to see from and answer to a voter's questions: "The council has been assured by the Town Clerk that the Assembly Hall will be managed properly, council has the utmost confidence in the operation line management of the officer team in all aspects of running the Assembly Hall. Council also welcomes the opportunity to work with the community (FOMAH) to secure the long term future of the Assembly Hall and how it can be better utilised."
I can't speak for FoMAH - we're not yet properly constituted, and on that basis no-one really can (except Paul and Terri to the Town Council) - but I am going to personally re-iterate my desire to work with staff, user and volunteer skills, and I want to remind everyone (and record it here for posterity!) that FoMAH in no way was suggested / set up in order to displace any staff; I would be very unhappy indeed if it were to do so in the foreseeable future too. It was / is being set up after staff reductions are a fete acccompli - and indeed after the Town Council received a report from its own officer stating the the status quo was not an option, bearing in mind that staff levels have already been reduced.
Agenda for 16th September.
1. Introduction around the room, and welcome
2. Report back from Paul and Terri
3. Where we go from here
?5. Committee / officers / etc
?6. Date of next meeting
Last time, as a first meeting, I offered a guiding slide set (URL just below) to help bring everyone up to speed. Some have indicated that this was stuff they knew already and didn't feel their time on it was well spend for them. Well - tough - others had gaps filled in, and we have that starting "checkpoint". However, there is no need for such a set / session at this second meeting. Newcomers are encouraged to read ahead, and the group is a friendly group (heck, it's in the title) so one of us can fill you in before hand or after if you are new to this.
2nd September meeting report - informal write up by Graham Ellis
Slide set from 2nd September meeting (including a review of where we are and where we should be looking) at http://www.fomah.org.uk/2021902slides.pdf ... recording of meeting at http://www.fomah.org.uk/zoom_20210902.mp4 (huge file - until 16th Sept only)
There were around 20 people present at the meeting, split almost equally between those present in real life and those on Zoom, and it was a real "quality" gathering.
Whilst there was some concern as to how we got to this point (and some present expressed a lack of trust in the Town Council) the overall view was to see the current discussions as an opportunity. We are ALL moving forward whilst being aware of the concerns.
Good groundwork, common goal wanting to see positive outcome, vibrant hall needed, sustainable economic model, wide range of events to be held way in to the future. The meeting appointed two members (Paul Seemayer and Terri Welch) to liaise with Town Council meeting was unclear as to who and how to talk and what the new setup is now that staffing at the Assembly Hall and elsewhere on the council has been reduced. There was a universal desire to work with and in partnership with the council - help fill gaps, perhaps, but not to take over.
We note other town / models working well - mention made of the Cheese and Grain in Frome. Suggestion made to get in touch - but we already are and have some really useful feedback. Suggestions made about running / working as a CIC, and we have experience in the group at that. And we have ... so much rich expertise and enthusiasm.
Within those present, all agreed to sharing of names and email addresses WITHIN THE GROUP so we can easily communicate.
Next meeting - 19:00 on 16th September, same venue in real life, online link for Zoom
Published Monday, 13th September 2021
Melksham Transport User GroupThe Melksham Transport User Group ( (MTUG) ) looks after the interests of Melksham's public and sustainable transport user. We (I am vice chair) are a community group with limited funding, but we have an excellent and well established link with partners in local government and the transport indusrty, with whom we interface for better and better-tuned provision for our residents, visitor and businesses.
Calling for volunteers - we are the "Station adoption" group for Melksham, and we attend events, organise special trips and surveys and - well - enjoy ourselves too. The last 18 months have been like no other, but this autumn we're able to start to revert back to more normal activities, with every expectation that - in leisure travel especially - we'll be going above and beyond what we achieved before.
Our next Melksham Transport User Group meeting will take place on 15th September 2021 at 19:30. It will primarily take place online (via Zoom) but we will have a physical presence too - at this stage my place, where we have a limited room set up and tested for these joint online/offline meetings (details on request)
The code for the Zoom meeting is ((here))
that’s Meeting ID: 837 4199 6693, Passcode: 120080
Full Zoom invite ((here))
If you are coming in person, please let me know head of time so I know numbers
1.1 Introduction and test of technology.
1.3 Apologies for absence
1.4 Notes of previous meeting and note-taker for this one
2.1 Train and bus running over the summer
2.2 Station and bus friends activities
2.3 Reports from partners (TransWilts, Council reps, WWRUG, Option 24/7, etc)
2.4 Treasurer’s report
3.1 What's happening to Melksham and Wilshire train services in December?
3.2 What's changing on Bus services before next April?
3.3 Next steps for buses and trains
4.1 Consultation - Priority for People
4.2 Consultation - Wiltshire Climate Strategy
5.2 Other "specials" and events
6.1 Any other business
7.1 Date of next meeting
Published Sunday, 12th September 2021
Staff and role changes at MTCThe roles of Economic Development Manager and Hospitality and Facilites Manager have been declared "redundant" and the officers in those roles left the Town Council at the end of last month. Huge "thank you" to David and Tim for all the work you have done for the town - it's appreciated far more than may have been apparent at a time like this.
Which leads to the question "what now"? I'm not the only one to be wondering - a letter from a resident asked some questions of one of his councillors (different ward) who has circulated all councillors. I'm copying the answers here, with prior permission of the resident, I will add my comments in footnotes.
Q: Who will now take responsibility for economic development in and around Melksham, and how are they qualified to do so?
A: The Town Clerk, who has a proven track record in economic development and therefore will take responsibility for economic development. (1)
Q: Equally, who will now take responsibility for managing the Assembly Hall, and how are they qualified to do so?
A: The Amenities Manager who has a track record of working in this field. (1)
Q: Given that both the posts were full time, how is it proposed that council officers will be able to assume the responsibilities of two full time roles into their current jobs?
A: The Head of Paid Service (Town Clerk) has assessed the work and has shared some aspects amongst the rest of the team. (1)
Q: Also, would you explain how the council will ensure that the management of the Assembly Hall will continue at the same standard, given that it was previously considered to be a full time position?
A: The council has been assured by the Town Clerk that the Assembly Hall will be managed properly, council has the utmost confidence in the operation line management of the officer team in all aspects of running the Assembly Hall. Council also welcomes the opportunity to work with the community (FOMAH) to secure the long term future of the Assembly Hall and how it can be better utilised. (2),(4)
Q: Would you also explain the council's rationale in making redundancies before the future of the Assembly Hall was decided?
A: The roles were made redundant post covid. An ongoing review of all services is currently taking place. (3)
Q: Finally, would you let me know which councillor(s) proposed the closure of the Assembly Hall, and who proposed mothballing?
A: This has never been proposed by a councillor. The report before council on the Assembly Hall was authored by officers who presented all possible options. This demonstrates the neutrality of the officer team and that council were given the option to consider dismiss these options. (5)
Footnotes - these are my comments in addition to the other's above
(1) As well as existing staff with appropriate qualifications taking on some of the work, some of the things that previously happened will no longer be done. I already have examples where previous staff help / input is not available in the same way. This may be right; there is no obligation on a Town or Parish council to do anything very much, and the balance if what is done from 2021 to 2024 is up to the new councillors you have elected - 8 on a "Together for Melksham" ticket, 5 on a Conservative ticket, one as a LibDem and one as an independent. Much of the answer to the direction of what will be done should come, therefore, from what you were presented with as policies before the election.
(2) There is no promise that things "will continue at the same standard", nor really should there be. It should be to an appropriate (in my view "high") standard. I have every confidence in the team we now have (right across the staff) but it would be unrealistic to expect all the same things to be done to the same standard and level that they were.
(3) My fellow councillor has provided an excellent answer to, I'm afraid, a different question to the one that has been asked (at least as I read it). On the original question, I'm not sure that this was fully worked out ahead of time - I certainly did not feel informed one way or the other when it was voted on. I only had 5 minutes notice of what we were to vote on, and felt I had no honourable option but to abstain once my request for time to go away and think abut it was denied, and some of the answers being given were less than immediatley convincing.
(4) I am delighted with FoMAH (Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall), the initial objectives of the group, and the door being very much open for it to partner with the Town Council. Also very encouraged indeed to see support from our MP. However, I feel that it would be useful here for me to make very clear:
a) The group wasn't formed - nor even thought about - until after the redundancies had been decides upon and made public. It is / was a reaction to the Town Council's report and meeting to discuss and "decide" future options for the hall in early August, and the strong adverse public reaction to the option of closing or mothballing the hall that was listed in the possibilities. I would be very worried indeed if FoMAH was about helping to put existing staff out of work.
b) We don't know what FoMAH will be doing yet ... a superb initial meeting, and two more set up for this week - the objective of working "with" is superb, agreed, common sense. "How" is being explored during the day, then in the evening, on Thursday
(5) According to the Melksham News in mid-February, one of the councillors at that time (who is still a councillor) suggested that one of the options for the hall would be to close it. He did not (from what I have read) propose that as the way forward - rather more alerting people to the possibility, and perhaps getting a feel for views in watching reactions. The officer's report in early August listed closure / mothballing as a practical option, and discounted carrying on as we were because we would no longer have the same staff level, but it did not recommend any option that councillors should adopt - it left it to us.
Having answered these questions, let's move on in various partnerships with the hands elected and dealt. 95% of the time we are all in agreement, and on the other 5% we can discuss, work out real objectives, and come up with good outcomes.
Published Saturday, 11th September 2021
Dog Bark - KGV ParkThe "dog bark" in King George V park has opened, with an article published by the Melksham News ((here)) to announce it, and lots of comment on social media.
I welcome provision for pets. The PDSA tell us that 51% of UK adults own a pet. 26% of UK adults have a dog with an estimated population of 9.6 million pet dogs. For many of us our dogs are family - very much loved, going with us whenever they can, changing our choices when they can't. There are so many places where they cannot go - some obvious, others by the choice of a business which has placed other matters (extra cleaning, customers who don't like dogs perhaps) ahead of the dog owner. So in many ways, the more provisions the better, provided that there are still enough areas where dogs are not allowed, or are required to be on a leash.
Two questions have arisen about the "Dog Bark" - the rules (*), which are far from suiting everyone, and the amount of work (and money) put into the provision.
* Original rules at the base of this post
* Amended within a day [due to public reponse to some elements?]
The voters elected 13 out of 15 councillors in May on platforms of tight financial control - we are in the process of loosing four members of the staff team with only one of them being replaced. And in this environment, something quick and cheap is in-line. It doesn't suit everyone, but of the 10 councillors present at the committee that made the decision to go ahead this way last month, at least three (probably more) have mid-sized dogs of the Labrador / Retriever type in their families for whom the facilities and rules will work. Looking at the stats for "the most popular dog breeds in the UK", the area will probably work for most of these types"
1. Retriever (Labrador) - 39,905
2. French Bulldog - 39,266
3. Spaniel (Cocker) - 25,565
4. Bulldog - 11,594
5. Dachshund (Miniature Smooth Haired) - 10,369
6. Spaniel (English Springer) - 9,123
7. Retriever (Golden) - 8,653
8. German Shepherd Dog - 7,067
9. Pug - 6,033
10. Staffordshire Bull Terrier - 5,010
For those of us with other dogs such as longdogs (e.g. greyhound), lurchers, or miniature (e.g. chihuahua), the boundary fence may be inadequate (I need to take a look) and with any dog (just with any child) there are some who will mix well and others for whom the whole idea of free mixing is fraught with concerns. I don't think the Town Council Committee that put this together ever intended (nor, perhaps, should they) to provide a secure field for use including that by dogs that don't mix, and they have (rightly in my view) placed ultimate responsibility on the dog owner or guardian.
* We have three dogs. The "dog bark" is probably suitable (right away) for Billy. Until I know more, I don't think it will be suitable for Lulu and Lightning (Lulu would be fine on-lead).
* As ever, some initial issues and tuning will no doubt help bed the system in, and I'm sure the Town Council will welcome feedback via your councillor (choose yours on the Assets and Amenities Committee)
* Although I'm a Town Councillor, I am not on that particular committee - I could pass messages on, explain as I understand things, but I'm not a direct contact on this one.
Illustration – not every dog can run offlead in the Dog Bark. Our Lulu, recent picture. She can walk, but not run free.
The rules we are discussing are as follows:
1. All users of the dog park do so at their own risk.
2. Dog owners must be inside the fence in the vicinity of their dogs at all times.
3. YOU are responsible for your dog.
4. Your dog MUST be 'off-lead' once in the dog area
5. Dog poo MUST be scooped and binned appropriately.
6. DO NOT take young puppies (under 16 weeks) into the dog area.
7. Do NOT take young children, toddlers or babies into the dog area.
8. DO NOT physically intervene in a dog fight.
Later on 10th September - a new set of rules has been published:
Published Friday, 10th September 2021