Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Questions to a Town Councillor
Yesterday, I picked up on concerns from the public about the Splash Pad, and about speeding on Spa Road, about sound and content on Council Zoom sessions, and information requests about trains to Birmingham.
As a Town Councillor, I get asked all sorts of questions and I take it as a part of my job to help inform people or point them in the right direction of information. Additionally, to help oiling the wheels to help towards solutions to issues. It's also very important, I feel, to be pro-active in planning ahead and making sure that things are right and best long, long before they every become issues. That we help provide quality of life for our community and wider community in what we do. Grand stuff - but what does it mean? After all, I am just one of 15 elected volunteer councillors - totally unpaid (and only the mayor gets an expense allowance), with only a power to persuade things along through discussion and to have a 7% say in council decisions?
Helping the councillors is a team of staff - excellent people with their hearts in the right place. In many ways their job is an unenviable one, having to implement decisions made by the council of 15 elected, well intended, often well informed but sometimes perverse ladies and gentlemen who got those positions through the qualification of public appeal.
I was elected a year ago this month - one of 13 out of 15 new councillors. Employing staff is an expensive business and within the first six weeks the council decided to remove two full time posts from our payroll, declaring two people redundant, ceasing some of the optional work they did and shifting what remained onto other staff. Was this a good idea? 12 of your councillors (not including myself) thought so, and indeed you (the voters) had selected these people over others to look after your interests. Inevitably, then, some of the tasks that were undertaken by the experts lost are sorely missed, and other tasks are now in the hands of excellent people but who are overloaded and/or not really right for some elements of the roles they now find themselves with.
There's a saying "you get what you pay for" and to some extent that is true - actually the Town Council gets a lot more than it is paying for from most of its team and they deserve 110% thanks and support. However, things inevitably take longer than they would wish (human nature and shortage of time), and answering residents queries and getting information out is one of those VERY time consuming jobs which can really frustrate (both sides) too. We have also had issues with a higher staff turnover that I like, and at present have a significant part of the team away from work for multiple weeks in the lead up to the Jubilee weekend, at what's perhaps the busiest time of the year getting things running sweetly for the summer.
I have a lot more to add - look out for tomorrow's "exciting" next instalment - but for the moment I will answer yesterday's questions:
The Splash Pad was closed yesterday because of technical issues, and whilst the team hope and plan for it to be open today, that is not guaranteed. I will follow up further as and if I hear, and I have flagged up a need to see if we can be more informative. Other issues - Zip wire, Ice Cream Van, Toilets all noted; I have personally only been on the Committee that looks after the park for a week, and there's no meeting until next month; any little help I can give in steering will take time, though having run a customer facing hotel / cafe in Melksham for a decade, I may have some helpful thoughts and ideas. Update - Splash Pad also closed 22.05.2022 and for a few days while technical issues are sorted
Speeding on Spa Road - this is Wiltshire Council's responsibility, and for the police to enforce. However, we can (and have) installed speed indicator devices to tell people when they are speeding to provide at least some help, and we nag the unitary council too on all sorts of roads and in all sorts of ways. We have some (very) limited funds to help with measures through LHFIG (formerly CATG) and perhaps can look forward to more radical solutions such as pedestrianing the High Street to move traffic away - but doing that would just move the problem unless we take a holistic view, which we need to do when we come to climate change.
I live on Spa Road, and it's dangerous in places. People have been killed, and accidents in certain place are so frequent that I have high-vis jacket which I wear to direct traffic when I hear a collision. My background, many years ago, as a lollipop man!
Council Zoom sessions - I love having the public able to see and participate in parts of council meetings from home. It's never going to be broadcast TV channel quality; we don't have a team of directors and crew dedicated to giving you BBC quality, and nor would you want to pay for that. It has been a massive struggle to get where we are and the lack of follow cameras and some microphone issues are something we need to accept. In the Council Chamber, I would like as an ordinary councillor to be able to see the people at home throughout to have them far more included like the public gallery, and we are getting there as we learn the system so that our audience can see the screen we are looking at during presentations. Pragmatic view - it works and you can hear and say what you need, and see most of it. So it's "fit for purpose".
Trains to Birmingham - far from the Town Council's remit, but I happen to know with another hat on - anytime day return Melksham to Birmingham International - £32.40 with a railcard or £49.10 without. Must travel via Cheltenham Spa and Birmingham New Street to use that fare. From Melksham at 07:21, arrive Birmingham 10:19, return at 16:13, back into Melksham at 19:16. Change at Swindon, Bristol Parkway and Birmingham New Street outbound, and at Birmingham New Street, Bristol Temple Meads and Chippenham on the return. More at http://www.passenger.chat/26374
More to follow ... tomorrow's blog on town council committees - who does what?
Published Sunday, 22nd May 2022
Learning basics - life in Melksham, UKThe last week has been educational - back to basics and learning so much about our country from the ground up. Things we have grown up with and take for granted are new to, or not there, for our guests from Ukraine who arrived with us last weekend (14.5.2022). They are lovely people, but restarting with no more than Ukrainian passports (and that is one step more than many). There has to be a "shout out" too to the wonderful people from Melksham and around, and to the unitary council officers too, for their welcome and support.
For others going though the process of welcoming guests, I have written up as a diary our admin experience post-arrival at http://ukraine2uk.info/91 (updating there each day). Additionally, there is the welcoming of four new people into our family - a very more personal experience, and diverse across different host and guest groups, I understand. But there is much to consider in things like emotional support, lonliness, getting around, language, diet, how to relax, being in touch with family still in Ukraine, weather.
If YOU are registered with the governement under "Homes for Ukraine" especially if you are a couple who can support an individual refugee, or have multiple rooms available, please get it touch - the local group I am actively helping has contacts in Ukraine who need your help, and local support for the process and when they arrive.
Graham Ellis with my “Homes for Ukraine” hat
Ukraine Support Group - Melksham / Corsham / Lacock & Chippenham
Events and help in west and north Wiltshire
01225 708225 or 0797 4 925 928
48 Spa Road Melksham SN12 7NY
Published Friday, 20th May 2022
Welcome to the new Mayor, and CommitteesCongratulations to Simon Crundell as our newly elected Mayor of Melksham and Sue Mortimer who was selected overwhelmingly as his deputy. Simon has reached out across the council chamber and has the support of councillors from within every grouping and independent. He speaks of work to be done, interfaces well with our staff team, and yet has a wide vision to look at working for the residents rather than just the council. A promising start and he has my full support with major issues to steer us through; he talks of bringing us (councillors) forward as a team rather than personality politics dominated by big characters, and I welcome this. Simon - you have my support, and good luck - not that you'll need "luck" with a good team.
Sue Mortimer brings a huge knowledge and massive enthusiasm to the deputy role; she has an ability to read and analyse and enquire on financial figures second to none of us, and such a positive, well known and well liked position in the community itself. A superb choice.
Real council work is done in committees and working groups. Personally, I have stepped up from being involved with just one to being on three, which will fill most Monday nights.
Economic Development and Planning meets every 3 weeks, looks at planning applications and policies and a whole raft of future direction for the town - long term stuff that is hard work, rarely easy, rarely appreciated, but vital. The planning side is purely advisory, but our advise is listed to and our debates help inform the public and the unitary authority on town views. I move up from being a member to being chair of this committee - still "just a member" though; chairmanship to ensure all views are well heard, yet sometimes to guide from a position of a knowledge I have gained over many years
Asset Management and Amenities meets about 9 times a year - looks after the Town Hall, parks, the Assembly Hall, the round house, play areas. I join that committee for the first time and look forward to 'picking up' a more informed role in these areas
Community Development meets just four times a year - looking at our support of community groups, interfacing of information, and at times seeding, sponsoring or running event. I also join that committee for the first time.
I remain off the other key committees - Finance, Admin and Performance, and Staffing as I want to do what I can well. It's would be so easy to take on too much in a fit of enthusiasm and to then have to pull back. Happens all too often.
Working groups: CIL funding, Canal, Public Owned Assets, Environment and Climate, Priority for People, and Assembly Hall. Canal and Assembly Hall are new for me. Working groups typically include wider community members, but are not public meetings allowing details, ideas, thoughts to be discussed and the best ones put forward without "silly stuff from the council" seeing the light of day. If you look back for a history of the Assembly Hall working group you won't find any as it was only proposed last week, and populated from councillors last night. It needs (IMHO) to meet soon and broaden out to include the huge expertise and enthusiasm we have in town for the hall.
Finally - I'll be representing the Town Council on certain external bodies such as the Wiltshire Swindon and Oxfordshire Canal Partnership (along with councillor Goodhind) and on heritage and bypass matters on the neighbourhood plan. Readers may know of my deep involvement with public transport, and I welcome councillors Aves and Mortimer to represent the council on the Melksham Transport User Group, where I am vice chair quite separate from being a Town Councillor.
Published Tuesday, 17th May 2022
24 hours - a long time in local politicsCandidates for election declare their candidacy, proposer and seconder some time in advance - be it six weeks for a general election or a week for a local club or society. This allows voting papers to be printed and distributed, and an election set up or not if there's - as is often the local case - no contest.
I am beginning to understand another reason too. Candidates in our election for Town Mayor - which happens tonight - don't have to be proposed until the meeting itself. And an effect of that has been an unseemly round of jumping in and out and back in to the race, politicking and campaigning which I suspect will continue today. So much of it is negative - talk of voting for X to keep Y out. Councillors professing support and encouraging me to talk about plans, but (it turns out) fishing on behalf of someone else. And I won't go on; as one of my closer friends on the council wrote "The advice I was given by a Councillor friend when I started is to trust no-one. It's a nightmare" ... I don't think that was code for "don't trust me" nor "I don't trust you, Graham" but I have just that seed of wonder.
We have a couple of declared candidates this morning, and in addition I would be ready, willing and (I believe) able to do a good job for the town. Legions are gathered behind their candidates and counting votes asking "how do we win this for our person".
My personal style is to look for an overwhelming support in what I do, and if I were to stand and win, I don't think it would be by more of a whisker. If I were to lose by a whisker in a three way vote, the other losing candidate and his/her legions would likely consider that I had split their vote.
For the good of the town, I intend to vote this evening for a candidate who I feel will be one of the best on offer for the town, and who has a sporting chance of winning the vote. Bearing in mind that the Town Council has two major affiliation blocks, that's almost certainly going to have me aligning with one of those blocks.
The nature of elections is that there's twists and turns along the way. But after the election, people unite for the most part behind the victor. Let's hope, for the Town's sake, it happens this time. Both lead candidates (at the time of writing) are young councillors in their first term on the council. I look forward to working with and supporting whoever is elected over the next year for the good of the town. Both have great potential, but they need to be really great in how they blossom in what would be a difficult role even if these were the best of times.
Image / copyright Erochelson
Published Monday, 16th May 2022
"Would you stand for Mayor?"Backround - over the last week, I have heard multiple names mentioned as potential candidates for the next mayor, and indeed I have been approached. The email below is to all councillors - copied to you, the public, so you can be in the picture and make any inputs you wish to me or them prior to the vote tomorrow evening.
If all the energy that has been spend on competing for votes and favours over the last week was consistently put into the Town we could be doing so much more in our work. You do have, mind you, an excellent and committed team of councillors and I'm sure that whoever gets the role will do a grand job to the best of his or her ability.
To: the 5 Melksham Town Councillors elected as "Conservative", also copied (and reply encouraged) to all other councillors. Nothing in here is private - please feel free to share wider. Picture - a street in Melksham. Hard to find just ONE picture to represent our wonderful town.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Management summary - I would be delighted to be mayor next year - reasons given below. I am not prepared to stand to be a part of playing for position in the current election for the role
Earlier this week, one of your (Conservative) number approached me asking I would consider being Mayor of Melksham for next year, promising me their vote. I promised an answer in a few days. Here it is, and in answer to all councillors no matter what platform they were elected on.
The mayor's role is a key one in the town. It is not something to be taken on lightly. It is to be taken on primarily for the good of the town, its residents and businesses, during the mayoral year or two and way into the future too. It should be a decision we can all feel comfortable with, even if our first "group" choice would have been one of our own.
A great deal of excellent work has been done across the town in the past year by the new council, staff and volunteers. But there remains a great deal to do, as you would expect with 13 out of 15 of us "learning in". The task is not to be undertaken lightly, not to be undertaken alongside other roles which lead to time constraints, and not to be undertaken without a stable and supportive family / home and friends network.
YES - if nominated, I am prepared to stand for the role of Mayor for the sole purpose of actually being elected and taking on the position to lead a positive support from everyone - staff and volunteers, including councillors who are a very special class of volunteer.
Being a Town Councillor should not be about blowing your own trumpet - so there are things you may not know about me. Unusually this email IS somewhere I should outline my experience and achievements so you know what you are voting for.
Planning - running a business - looking after customers - developing and maintaining quality - staff relations - community campaigning - setting agendas and chairing meetings - getting the best of people.
* I have lived in the Melksham area since 1999, when my wife and I bought a derelict listed building which we restored - or rather project managed the restoration by those with the skills needed.
* Our IT training business transferred in to that building, and we then expanded into our current property on Spa Road where we also had major works done, and provided accommodation for visitors to the town from all over the British Isles and the rest of Europe.
* Full utilisation or resources was achieved through opening also as a hotel to fill rooms at quieter times. And we became (and remained) No. 1 on Trip Advisor for the area right through until we retired and closed the business on plan.
* From my early days in Melksham, I was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, holding the role of president for a number of years during a very difficult period for all Chambers. A lot I could talk about there, including key behind the scenes work and pivotal meetings relating to the Campus - without those meetings I calls, I am pretty sure we would not have the new facility in the town at all.
* When Melksham's rail service was cut back to just 2 trains each way per day (as a step, probably, towards closure), I picked up and lead the campaign to have the relevant authorities work out and provide what was appropriate. At first glance, that could have been closure but we now have 8 trains each way per day calling. As the Transport Minister said on Radio 4, "we can't provide a train just for Mr Ellis"; he was right - I was at the station yesterday and in the quiet middle-day, there were around 20 people getting off or on each train. I spoke with many of them who make full use of it though this is very much an ongoing project out of scope for this email (please ask me!)
* My transport hat has expanded to include buses - very much work in progress - but we have set up the community representation to the local transport authority across the county, and have a number of successes in that strategy with community support - thank you, for example, to the current mayor who loaned us his meeting space for a meeting that confirmed the community view on Bath to Devizes services, informed the Unitary Council and Operator into support of what we now have on that route.
* Also on expansion of public and sustainable transport, I was invited to join the board at TravelWatch SouthWest - the co-ordinating body for user groups, and have chairs meetings with passionate members on some massive issues.
I stood for Council as an independent and I hope there's no question that I am my own person. I have an openness, equality and environmental slant and you can read much more at http://grahamellis.uk/perm.html - no hiding plans or views where they may be necessary but unpopular.
I do not have higher political ambition.
I have a very supportive partner; our children are no longer Children and independent
I believe in partnership rather than presidential role, and would welcome and nurture a [deputy/vice] both to take a significant part of the load in those areas I am less strong, and with a view to that person being developed as one of our future leaders.
I have a clear(ish) diary for the rest of 2022; vacation plans are back into next year at present. I am retired so don't have scheduling issues with a day job.
I am approchable and will guide and help if I can. Has always been the case - "when you become a councillor you'll find things different" I was advises - "people will stop you in the street and ask questions". Not really the case; I have been stopped in the street for a decade on public tranpsort matters ... happy with it, used to it, enjoy it, used to getting results!
We do have a family of guests from Ukraine living with us - and in the early days of this, they will be some "pull" on my time. And it is very early days at the moment - they arrived in Melksham less than 12 hours ago. We will be learning about Job Centres, setting up Bank Accounts, Biometrics, Social issues of a new county and much more - though we have some prior experience with Lisa being an immigrant, and also my daughter-in-law.
For the next year, the issue that need to be addressed include ... * Campus Opening; * Bloom; * Car Parking; * Staffing; * Mayor's awards * Assembly Hall; * Parks, gardens and Cafe; * Safety and security; * Cafe in the park ... and they need to be addresses in a way that takes then forward for the future. Sticking plasters are sometimes needed, but a third best.
Beyond the year and not in that short term list ... * Environment and Climate; * Bypass; * Planning; * Priority for People; * Neighbourhood Plan; * Local Plan; * Public transport; * Ongoing stable staffing system; * Budget prudence for future years; * Visioning
These lists subject to review including additions - this message put together in answer to the request to me to consider standing.
I would love to be your mayor next year. I have the time to do it. I have experience to apply. With your support, I could do an excellent job. My heart is purely for the town and, should I be mayor, you have my 110% committent to that.
Graham Ellis - email@example.com
01225 708225 or 0797 4 925 928
48, Spa Road, Melksham, SN12 7NY
* Well House Consultants
* Webmaster at Coffee Shop forum
* Melksham Town Councillor for South Ward
* Vice Chair Melksham Transport User Group
Published Sunday, 15th May 2022
Far away, but still learningSubject line says it really - Lisa and I are catching up on holidays, recharging our batteries, but still with an eye open to how things are done elsewhere so we can learn lessons to bring home.
Well - that was the theory.
In practice, we have been helping behind the scenes with the local Ukraine Support Group - helping under the "Homes for Ukaine" project to connect hosts in North and West Wiltshire who are offering accommodation to guest with families fleeing from Ukraine. See http://ukraine2uk.info/65 for my summary letter to hosts over the last few days.
Published Wednesday, 20th April 2022
One year on - Environment Part Three - Environment
I have last what is potentially the biggest subject to last - the Environment. I believe that we need to take care of this planet of ours - use our resources carefully and work with natural cycles - in order for the planet to be sustained through our and future lifetimes. Over the last couple of generations, scarse and valuable assets, many of them irreplacable over millenia, have been used to excess and in the persuit of modern life that continues to this day. There is very much a need to reset and reconsider - and urgently - but this has only become an agenda item very late in the day and it is now very popular to support in principle, but most unpopular where it's going to put a burden on people's lifestyle.
Your new council, last May, suspended their Environmental and Climate working group ("don't know what they did"), but I am relieved to report that the council's overall policy in every decision now places the environmental effect on the table for us to consider. And I am happy to report that the Environment and Climate Working Group (ECWG) was reformed late last year and has hit the ground running - at least as far as documenting all the subjects in hand. Of around 60 line items, three have been selected for initial concentration; I was asked to take a look at the subject of messaging with a sub-group ... various pitfalls in there; and we have reported, but been asked to go back and suggest something which meets a very wide range of aspirations and views as to how it should be done - so wide that I find it hard to see how they can all be accomodated. There's an elephant in the room too - the "Virtual Hub" project - see http://grahamellis.uk/blog424.html - which should be so good to work with, but has slipped in timescale and as I write I'm unsure as to when it will be ready, what data feeds it will take, what data it will carry and what it's publication policy will be.
So - "Environment" is very much a subject that needs urgent attention, but the council is only realistically able to turn a few of the wheels and feels to be doing so frustratingly slowly - delayed in getting started last summer but headed in the right direction. In my opinion, needs to do so faster, and I will press for more effective work and communication, somehow.
Published Saturday, 9th April 2022
Assembly Hall - name and rate change?
Monday's full Town Council agenda included the following (item 7.1), but time ran out and the item was deferred to a future meeting.
"To receive the report of the Acting Head of Operations regarding the operation of the Assembly Hall for the coming financial year, and to approve the revised pricing structure."
I have mirrored a copy of the report (five pages of it) (here)
In addition to hiring rates, the report suggest a rebranding to "The Assembly -the Place where Melksham meets" and describes how the team is catching up on maintenance. It also talks of VAT issues, and state "We propose to operate the Assembly Hall this year within the budget set on 13th December 2021 and minimise the costs wherever possible". No discussion was invited on the items.
Please take a look at the five pages. What do you think? Looks like the item may come up at an extra meeting next Monday which is on the Council web site tonight, but for which no agenda has been published.
Stop Press. The full council meeting shown on the council website for next Monday has been removed and there will not be a full council meeting that evening.
Published Wednesday, 6th April 2022
One year on - OpennessPart Two - Openness
A year since I started campaigning in public for the Town Council. Today's post in this series is on transparency and openness. I believe that local government should be made accessible to the electors and general public as widely as practical. There have been too many times that I, and others, have learned about things too late to make inputs to a process and perhaps help that process along for the better.
I wasn't shocked - but I was disappointed - when a fellow councillor "strongly recommended" at our first meeting after election that we be silent on social media. A firm lecture rather more recently has strengthed my resolve to keep the public informed - and to listen to the valuable feedback that results. I'm also keen on guiding the system so that information is more easily found; much of it is around and published, but buried. I had to go through 4 pages to get to the link for tonight's meetings at 7 p.m. when I think the next meeting should be featured on the front page. Here you go, from 19:00, Today, 4th April 2022
It took a long time - in my view, longer than it should, to get our Council meetings on line. And we are still learning - but getting there. And I look forward to other projects in the pipeline which should bring far better waymarking of information and resources.
Published Monday, 4th April 2022
One year on - EqualityIt's a year ago this week that I first let people know that I was standing for Town Council. I didn't expect to get in, but plan in place in case I did - to do a good job in representing the people of Melksham's South Ward, and at the same time being true to my own values.
Funny how you remember little things, isn' it? During campaigning, I offered one gent my second leaflet, and he politely declined. Market research, I asked him why and he told me he would never vote for anyone who had supported the Black Lives Matter ... and I thanked him for letting me know. On just a few topics (the environment is a second, and openness of government the third) I'm uncomfortable representing opposing views at Council for my electors. I am very happy to help any of the electorate with other issues, but if it's supporting opposition to equality, count me out - perhaps Councillors Crundall, Goodhind or Hubbard would be better to support you.
Part One - Equality
I was going to post about the other topics today, but I got a reminder of the equality issue. Lisa and I have been working hard for the last week putting together a web site, forms and database to help match up potential hosts and guests under the Homes for Ukraine program, and help share information so that experiences of one person may prepare others. And so that we know where local resources are to be found locally. As a sponsor or host, we'll be entitled to a payment of £350 per month for a family staying with us if it happens, and it has been suggested we're only doing it for the money. No - it's basic humanity, and we have the resources to help.
I got a second reminder too. "Well - if you take them in, good luck getting rid of them" said another correspondent. Err - I'm speechless. We have no time limit and next steps will be by mutual agreement; we don't know what the future holds but we do know these are real people just like you and I (well - not "just like" - they have been through horrors that we have not)
I look forward to helping further with the matching, help and support site for Stuart. I look forward to welcoming [I'll give you names later] if the pieces fall in place. And I look forward to them being with us for as long as it mutually suits.
I have been asking myself why I am really confident in what we're doing here. So many people we know and respect and know are doing the same. We used to run a hotel and we're very used to guests from all over the world. We have provided emergency "fleeing" accommodation before - and it has worked out and enriched. And we feel we have the capacity to do it. Yes, of course there are risks - but there are risks in everything - nothing ventured, nothing gained. Back to the beginning of this piece - standing for council. There was a risk there too but I'm so glad I took it.
Find out more - (here)
Published Sunday, 3rd April 2022