Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Behind closed doors?
"Why do we not hear from our council(lors)?" ... "Why are so many things done behind closed doors?" - repeating questions in social media, in the local paper, and from meeting residents on the street. There are a plethora of reasons.
1. It takes time to write up issues, and that's time that only some of your councillors have. I am personally lucky that I'm retired and have more of my own time than many, and I'm only on one level of council - Town - rather than both town and unitary, for example. Not only the time to write up, but also the time to learn into the issue being written up, formulate views, and respond to follow ups. Should limited time be spent informing, or be spent getting on with the work of the council?
2. There's no one way of communicating. I recall being on the SCOB (Shadow Campus Operations Board) and looking at our communications - we spoke in ten ways and still got complaints we had not reached people. So even those who DO speak are not always heard. You'll find my blog, you'll find my Facebook feed, you'll find me quoted in the MIN from time to time (their editorial choice). You'll find me in public council meetings and on Zoom and YouTube nearly every Monday. You can phone me or catch up with me at events or in the street. But I don't have the time / resource to routinely visit other social media, I don't run a mailing list, and you won't found me sat routinely in any of the pubs in the ward (West End, Kings Arms, Hiding Place, Parsons Nose, The Grapes and The Bear), nor do I volunteer at the TIC.
3. The public don't seem interested in many of the things the council does. There's just a small proportion of items from the flood of data with IS published that catches the public interest - I would estimate over 100 pages per week in agendas and supporting documents are available for public council meetings. Some of that data is filtered out and used by the Melksham News and in part by a few others but largely it's unread the the public. To some extent that's a lack of interest, but in another way it's down to the council in that the information is not particularly easy to access, nor are alerts generated to tell people it's available, nor to provide running updates on things that are not happening or delayed.
4. There are some early discussions to explore possibilities which are ideas to be explored before they make any formality of publication. "Have we thought about ..." and a quick chat around councillors can help us rue out ideas that would have little or no support. Remember that none of your councillors can be an expert in everything, and it makes sense for us to triage options before we go public.
5. You have 15 councillors and we are all different to a greater or lesser extent - different motivation for being on the Town Council, and differing philosophies leading to differing opinions. Talking through and publicising issues early can lead to better informed and stronger decisions, but sadly it can also lead to those with differing views being able to prepare stronger cases to the ones aired in public and then "spring" them away from the glare of publicity. Although agendas need to be published three clear working days ahead of meetings, there is no such limit on supplementary data / papers, which can be prepared (should alternatives be in the public domain) in the context of those alternatives, with unfair advantage. There are also occasions where councillors come to meetings with views and proposals not made public at all prior to the meeting, even though invited ahead of time.
6. Residents and businesses and guests have views and ideas I love to hear them. However, a proportion of those ideas are impractical, mutually incompatible, or outside our mandate. Some of them are expressed in less than complementary terms, and polite explanations to the correspondents can result in no acknowledgement at all, cherry picking part of the answer out of context, or a torrent of not not logical criticism (which I can take), but abuse (which is tough and puts many of my colleagues off commenting too much in public). To complete this point, the next elections are in May 2025 if you are one of the people who write in this way and want to vote me out (as 'you' say you do), may I suggest you stand for council too and let the electorate choose. In the interim, many meetings do welcome public attendance and we would love to see you there, in person or on Zoom.
7. Some matters (such as staffing, and "commercial in confidence") are discussed in private - on staffing especially even the councillors who aren't on the staffing committee don't know - so we cannot share. Other things told in confidence such as personal issues cannot and should not be made in public either.
8. I am not a fan of "Grandstanding" and neither are some of my fellow councillors - you will not find me shouting about my personal part in achievements, nor taking the opportunity to take a public stand against fellow councillors in order to boost my popularity. That may make me quieter than others. And remember I'm the one out of 15 councillors elected on my own independent ticket - so you might only expect a fifteenth of your councillor feedback (just under 7%) from me.
9. I am a councillor - I am not allowed to speak on behalf of the council as a whole, and there other all sorts of other rules and regs. I have already been hauled into the headmistress's office (it felt like that to me, anyway) and put straight a few times too. I have relinquished my £1 share in TransWilts so a no longer have a financial interest there, and I'm 'clean' on other things that would require me to declare an interest or not speak, except for owning my home at 48, Spa Road. Other councillors do have interests they need to declare or elements where they are best to abstain, even if there's not a declarable interest.
10. Sadly, so many things come up and then seem to fade away or go on the back burner, and there's a limit as to how much I should say just to disappoint - a meeting in January promised a report by March that eventually arrived in June and is being significant updated for August. A visioning day that should have happened a couple of weekends ago but did not. A public consultation on the Cricketers that I had in my diary for late June. Little point in filling the airwaves with things that don't happen.
In spite of the above issues, I remain committed to being as informative as is practical and allowed to the voters of Melksham South Ward and to the wider area around of the town and beyond. That is a longstanding personal commitment and not a commitment you'll automatically find from all other councillors, for good reasons including those listed above.
Image - see Wikipedia Copyright attribution at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Closed_door_02.jpg
Social Media Discussion
Published Thursday, 7th July 2022
Assembly Hall - looking forwardThere's a lot happening (or not, some have suggested) going on in Melksham, including with the Assembly Hall. An update "committee" level meeting for the Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall tonight at 19:00 - on Zoom at
Topic: FOMAH (Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall) catchup
Time: Jul 4, 2022 07:00 PM London
Join Zoom Meeting https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85395569988?pwd=5MG6WlJbO6tERL6fqmP6DmMwvIVnjP.1
Meeting ID: 853 9556 9988
Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kbFmJKQ28j
and "in real life" at 48, Spa Road, SN12 7NY - please let me know ahead of time if you're coming as our cottage studio room needs to be arranged to suit numbers.
* Where are we now?
* What of the future - options and desires?
* How can we help towards an appropriate future?
This meeting has been touted on the FOMAH Facebook group for a few days - publicity here as a last-minute trawl to make sure it has that final wider reach
Social Media discussion - ((here)) ... Published Monday, 4th July 2022
Public owned estate in MelkshamIt's common knowledge that the Town Council and Wiltshire Council own and operate the following buildings in Melksham Town:
* The Blue Pool (WC)
* The Assembly Hall (MTC)
* The Old Library Building (WC)
* The Town Hall (MTC)
* The Cricketers (MTC)
* The Maintenance Shed (MTC)
* The Roundhouse (MTC)
They also own and will soon be opening:
* Melksham Community Campus / Health and Wellbeing Centre (WC)
And are working on:
* Melksham House (WC)
And also there's the following well know land for other use:
* Various Car Parks (WC)
* The rest of the Melksham House site (WC)
* Parks and Play Areas (MTC)
* Highways and verges (WC)
You can add to the list of public property in the area the various bits of land and buildings in the Melksham Without area (such as the Christie Miller site), other holdings in the public domain such as schools and NHS owned facilities, and some other pockets of land and properties that remain with the councils for other reasons, and you realise the "the public" in various guises own a lot of Melksham.
The (Old) Library closes in a couple of weeks, and the Blue Pool around the end of the month to transfer operations to the new Campus - and I look forward to that. But a question for this morning - what's to become of the old buildings no longer required to loan you books, or places where you swam?
The question is not un-asked but it is un-answered as yet, at least in any coherent and full way, and in public. There is a significant resource that is changing and a window of opportunity provided by those changes to set the picture up for decades ahead. The opportunities include repurposing land and buildings within the public domain (but cost and need must be high up the consideration list) and disposing of the land and buildings for others to take forward in new uses, to the benefit of the public purse in terms of income and reduced operational liabilities, and in such a way that the changes maximise benefit to the town's residents and businesses.
You can read in the draft minutes of the Town Council Meeting of 16th May (1) that the "Publicly Owned Assets in Melksham Working Group" continue for a few weeks with Councillors Aves, S Crundell and Ellis representing The Town on this group, which is organised and run by Wiltshire Council. If you attended that meeting on 16th May (or watch it back on YouTube) you'll note that there was considerable interest from other(s) in joining the group, but as it's a Wiltshire Council group the best we could do was go away and ask if others can join - and indeed we are still waiting on that.
Standard procedure when a property becomes surplus to requirement for its current purpose to any public body is for it to be offered around within that body to see if it is of use to another part of that body, then to ask other public bodies too if they would like to take it on, before looking wider at its future.
I have no answers here - this piece is written to correlate publicly available information and procedures. Much of the discussion needs to be along the "how about x" and "what about y" lines between a small team - sanity checking the possible and weeding out the plain impossible, before the outline of the do-able options are considered wider, each with much wider implications for the town and indeed for adjoining businesses and commercial operations similar to those that are are will be happening, or perhaps release by or ceasing, from the councils.
I have no answers here - but your thoughts and comments would be welcome even at this "early" - and it should not be early - stage. If past form and requirements are anything to go by, I would suggest that as things move forward there will almost certainly be public consultations on various issues, but the opportunity exists at the moment to ask "what about" and that might - just might - result in such consultations being moulded by options suggested by public input. As I recall, original ideas for the swimming pool and library (and other things in the new Campus) were for them to move out to a site outside the town on the Devizes road, but public input helped retain the facilities within the town.
(1) The draft minutes are ((here))
Pictured - The Blue Pool from 13th June 1959, opening day gala
Social Media discussion - ((here)) ... Published Sunday, 3rd July 2022
Reasons why progress is slowDear Electorate
A year ago, you elected a new Town Council sweeping away all but two of your previous councillors, with thirteen new councillors selected. Within a few weeks, twelve out of the fifteen councillors voted to make two members of council staff redundant.
Frustration has been expressed by members of the public, and indeed even by a number of councillors, at the very slow progress if any on a number of projects in the last year. I think that was only to be expected:
1. Reducing the staff headcount, in particular taking away roles held by established professionals, means that either their work is no longer being done or it falls onto the shoulders of others who may already be busy with their own workload and will almost certainly take longer to do things that are new to them
2. New council members (13 out of 15, remember) will typically need additional help, training and support from the now-reduced council office-based staff
3. New council members will (there are one or two exceptions) look to learn into their roles and the current work and issues with the council before plunging in - learning the job before making decisions. And that's especially the case - rightly so - with potentially big changes to implement new policies.
There are other issues which follow on as corollaries
4. Redundancies and re-arrangement of roles can lead to more stressed work environment for those remaining, lowering effective staff availability further.
5. A need to tidy up / complete / close out projects and issues which were ongoing from the old council but perhaps no longer enjoy support
6. A need at council meetings for us all to learn about other people's positions - so some of your councillors may have been talking for far longer than they naturally would or will in coming years - long meetings, things postponed to a later meeting, and a domino effect.
And then there are world issues from which Melksham is not immune
7. Inflation, leading to some budget issues
8. Staff who have been very busy indeed through two years of extreme pressure from Covid now catching up on vacations held over from previous years
9. Shortage of some supplies and resources leading to longer lead times, and in some cases busyness of staff members delaying quoting and ordering processes
10. Things done in haste / rushed have perhaps not been as clean and error free as they should have been, and that too has generated time-consuming activity needed to sort out the issue.
All those things said, as I understand it the council has not failed in any legal duties it may have, and the remaining staff team has been remarkably effective and professional in their work - we have some real gems, including some who perhaps are not visible to the public.
Where do we go from here? It has been suggested we need another couple of admin staff. As one of the three councillor who did NOT support redundancies a year ago, I would have to agree with that suggestion, and that we need carefully selected staff bringing with them the ability to fill gaps we can identify.
As an electorate, you voted for the tickets which have changed the council and reduced the headcount last year - so is the current apparent lack of much happening going to carry on, and who should take responsibility for that, if you feel anyone should?
I'm not as depressed about the situation described above as you might expect. Firstly, us 13 new councillors are very much learning in and now forming very much more informed views than we had at the start. Secondly, a significant change involving long term projects is inevitably going to lead to something of a gap in projects being delivered, but that is a transient gap. Thirdly, as we head for the next set of elections in 2025, time is already ticking away for councillors who want to make a positive impression on you and present real achievements.
P.S. A council or public body will always be slower than a company which will always be slower than an individual ...
48 Spa Road, Melksham, SN12 7NY
01225 708225 or 07974 9250928
* Melksham South Ward Town Councillor
* Webmaster, Coffee Shop Rail Passenger Forum
* Acting Chair, Melksham Transport User Group
* Ukraine2Uk Webmaster and Facebook Group Admin
Social Media discussion - ((here)) ... Published Friday, 1st July 2022
KGV Park - Status of various projectsLast night, I sat for the first time on Melksham Town Council's Asset Management and Amenities Committee - a new appointment made last month.
Much of the discussion related to issues concerning the King George V Park. Concern was expressed (by myself and some others) at the lack of progress in the last year; in May 2021, the Parks Working Group was formed to take over the final completion of the works on the park, but it's only met twice - in July last year, and then again in May this year. They are to meet again soon with a view to speeding up progress. I understand that other issues have also contributed to the slow progress, such as severe supply chain issues brought upon us by such things as Covid and the distortions of markets and inflation.
Looking at park issues raised:
1. Various lighting options were reported back to the committee, but with an absence of recommendation from officers or working group as to which we should select. We asked for the working group to meet soon and provide recommendations rather than just a long list of options for us to choose from on whim
2. A Sensory garden in the park is another remaining project for the park. There are lot of ideas from 2019 and early 2021, but this item has gone no further since. The Committee asked its park working group to come up with an outline specification for competitive bids from expert contractors - once again, we have really not been provided with full information for the committee to make a robust decision, and it would not have been right to just make a snap decision without any skills of our own
3. The public toilets to be placed near the Cricketers will now be installed in mid August rather than this month. They are high tech, very green and we excited to be having them - "worth holding on for" I understand.
4. The double gate proposal for the Dog Bark (to provide a secure entrance through which loose dogs cannot escape was generally supported as a good idea, and will come back to the committee once the long term future of the Dog Bark has been confirmed. The dog bark itself it reopening very quickly (it may even be open now as I write) but that's a temporary solution and it may be (for example) that we end up moving some fences around, in which case £2000 on barriers which are then left isolated as the dog run moves away from the current fence would have been money wasted
5. A request for a one day music festival in a marque in the park, with an area around it for catering, etc, was presented by a local organiser. The committee was impressed by the early work done, and is supportive in principle.
6. The continued none-operability of the Zip wire and slide was raised. The zip wire has been delayed because of a long lead time on parts (no, I don't know when the parts were ordered, etc) and the slide is due to wear-out of the grass as children run round for another go - it was / is too popular.
7. There was a meeting at the start of this month concerning the public provision of facilities and use of the Cricketer's Cafe, and recalling my notes from that meeting there was expected to be a public consultation there today; key person sickness on the preparations for this meeting lead it to be postponed a while back (I just failed to update my diary so have been waiting in pointless anticipation)
8. Other matters at last night's council meeting were taken in confidential session due to the commercial issues involved, and I am not at liberty to tell you whether there was anything there which effects the park.
But there is much good in the park
Apart from those 8 (or 9) points, we have much to celebrate and use in the park. But it's the nature of these things that if they're working they're not flagged up. So celebrate the lovey park, the trees and grass and plants, the skate park, teen and children's play area, exercise equipment, the splash pad, and our team of staff who help keep the park and the rest of our resources clean, safe, operational, and available for all to enjoy.
You could say that as a councillor, I should have raised some of the issues above earlier and been better informed - indeed, I was criticised last night for failing to read all the detail in the agendas, which run at times to over 200 pages. One reason we have committees is to help reduce the load on each individual, and as someone who was not selected by my fellow councillors for Assets and Amenities last year, I feel only a peripheral involvement in the items reported above - so far.
Social Media discussion - ((here)) ... Published Tuesday, 28th June 2022
Area Board - priorities for the next yearLast night's Melksham Area Board of Wiltshire Council appointed Councillor as chair, and Councillor Holder as deputy chair. These appointment are for one year.
For the next year, the Area Board will concentrate on 5 priorities. These (with lead councillor noted against each) are
1. Reducing Isolation and Lonliness - Councillor Holder
2. Youth Engagement - Councillor Oatley
3. Environment - Councillor Seed
4. Reducing Antisocial Behaviour - Councillor Sankey
5. Supporting Lower Income Families - Councillor Alford
It's good to see that the environment is one of the priorities, as are issues of income, isolation and lonliness. With my "Ukraine Support Group" hat, I note ythe mention of support for that group and guests within the slides for several of the groups, sitting alongside (of course) a very great deal of other good plans.
Should you be confused as to who to ask about what in Parish (Town) and County (Unitary) terms, please ask me and I should be able to direct you.
Social Media discussion - ((here)) ... Published Thursday, 23rd June 2022
Campus opening August - big THANK YOUsGood to hear of Campus opening plans at the Area Board this evening - early August, exact date yet to be announced. I'm of no doubt this will be a very good facility in the heart of Melksham, and look forward to supporting and using it.
The current library will close in mid July for their resources to be transferred across to the campus, and the Blue Pool will be closed a week before the Campus Pool is opened. As well as resource transfer, the closure will allow time for staff training on the use of the new building and changes in how they do their jobs. Staffed library opening hours will be as at present, but being within the campus, resources that can be used without staff will be available from 06:30 to 22:00 (Monday to Thursday), 06:30 to 21:00 (Friday), and 08:00 to 18:00 on Saturdays and Sundays. Gym membership applications are already invited.
Whilst wishing the project well, I will admit to choking a little at some of the comments made:
* "We're opening ahead of schedule" felt like a bit of a joke, when the project has taken over a decade, and many other dates have been missed.
* In amongst the, rightful, thanks to Wiltshire Council staff and contractors for all the work done there was just the briefest mention of "community support" - it might have been nice to have remembered those community members no longer with us, or retired from active life, who put thousands of unpaid hours in during early days. Credit was taken only by Councillor Seed for early activities, though my recollection is that whilst he did indeed contribute, there were others who did a great deal more, and in very constructive ways. And, yes I was on the "SCOB" through that time with the likes of Brian Warwick and Roy While.
Social Media discussion - ((here)) ... Published Wednesday, 22nd June 2022
Safeeguarding those around you
Yesterday, I attended Safeguarding Awareness Training - triggered by my de-facto role as a co-ordinator with the local Ukraine Support Group. A valuable afternoon both in learning and networking - a big "Thank You" to Wessex Community Action for running the session, Carolyn for preparing and presenting it, and Wiltshire Council for funding it.
Message for YOU reading this:
* If in any doubt - report to or ask your main contact / coordinator or direct to MASH
* In emergency situations, call 999 or for immediate issues where your don't need "blue light" call 101.
* Keep your eyes and ears open at all times to people you come into contact with.
* Watch for patterns and changes
* If someone confides in you, listen and make notes. Do not ask leading questions. Refer quickly if you see red flags. You cannot promise "I won't tell anyone" as it is your duty if you feel that there is perhaps a very real problem to flag it up - especially for children or vulnerable people.
* Be aware that a safeguarding need may be physical, emotional, neglect, or sexual. By far the most common is neglect, and second is emotional.
* "Abuse" is a subset of safeguarding need. There may be a failure of system - there is not necessarily a knowing abuser, or even an abuser at all.
* There is no need for you to categorise safeguarding need - the types are flagged up to help you be aware.
* Be aware that the authorities tell us that they will do everything they can to help "in situ" if they can and will only intervene to remove people who need safeguarding as a last resort.
* If you report something, be aware that you will get little or no feedback. "Thank you for reporting this" is probably the best you will get BUT your report, potentially with others making up a jigsaw, are important
* In the current specifics, all guests from Ukraine should be considered to be vulnerable people. They are far, far from home in a very different land with their regular life gone or suspended.
* In the current specifics, be aware that hosts may be in need of safeguarding too, and that the need for guests to be safeguarded may arise from the actions of others within their own community, and spoken in a language other than English.
This post / message is one of my most important in a long time. It covers but is not limited to guests from Ukraine and their hosts. I am personally not a professional in any way in this area, but I can be a listening ear and I can help point you to other resources.
Published Friday, 17th June 2022
Planning Applications coming up on MondayEconomic Development and Planning Committee, Monday 6th June, 2022, 19:00, Town Hall and Zoom
I am now chair of Melksham Town's Economic Development and Planning Committee (*). The Committee meets every three weeks to look at planning applications submitted to Wiltshire Council; the Town Council is purely a consultee - it cannot make decisions, but for the most part Wiltshire Council are in line with us. Members of the public are welcome to come along and put their views before the meeting, and we can also "suspend standing orders" if we would like further inputs during our discussions.
This Monday, we have applications ranging from a small extension through to an estate of 160 new houses - I have marked them on a map to help prepare myself, and looked at the plans - the agenda ((here)) provides reference under which you can look them up.
By Zoom: ((here)) - Meeting ID: 854 0755 5058 Passcode: 414802
As well as looking at planning, we look at local development (such as suggested local road and footpath improvements) too. On the agenda this time around is the A3102 / top of Snarleton Lane / path to Maple Close - a dangerous corner where there have been near misses, and where various budgets are being put together to sort out issues. Not really the Town Council's responsibility, but we have before us a pragmatic decision to match fund before we have a fatality on our hands.
There's the Neighbourhood Plan, the Local Plan, the Local Transport Plan, the plan for a bypass and more - and "Econ Dev" needs to look at and respond to those too. But we also need to be pro-active for the town too and not just be reactive. I have added an agenda item to look forward with a strategy for taking things forward all together, where the things that we do fit into a pattern rather reacting to things in isolation.
A "thank you" to both the Town Clerk and the Deputy Town Clerk for helping me prepare for this meeting last week.
All welcome to the meeting - this is the part of the council that looks forward outside the council's own operations at the Town Hall and Council operation, and outside the operation of our own assets such as play areas, parks, and buildings such as the Assembly Hall.
I'm aware that this will be the first public Town Council meeting I will have chaired (and I know some of my colleagues are nervous!) .. we will see ;-). My philosophy is to be very much the chair, making sure that everyone's views are heard and that excellent, rounded decisions are reached. There will be times that a strong lead is needed and matters rollered to a conclusion, but those should be on carefully thought occasions and not a matter of course.
* - Deputy Chair is Gary Cooke, other members are the Mayor (Simon Crundell), Pat Aves, Colin Goodhind, Jack Oatley and Saffi Rabey. Linda Roberts, the Town Clerk, supports this committee.
Published Saturday, 4th June 2022
Local Heritage AssetsAre these street scenes part of Melksham's heritage? Which of them should be given special consideration in future development of our town and the surrounding area? For the next edition of the Neihbourhood Plan, the "heritage subgroup" which met last Wednesday is putting together a list of place of special character. Listed buildings are automatically there, but how about consideration for other special things and places - anything from pieces of street furniture up to whole areas of the town - be they of design or archirectural merit, or for fond memories of the history of the town and surrounding area.
You can nominate Locally Valued Heritage Assets on the online map by adding a pin with a short description and a photo (if you have one). You can also support nominations already made (there are thumbs up and down buttons) or add your own thoughts about a nomination. See https://www.melkshamneighbourhoodplan.org/local-heritage-assets ... please do so. That way, we on the subgroup will know what you value ... or write to me, or to the clerk of Melksham Without or Melksham Town. And please let me know if you would like to help the subgroup too.
Published Saturday, 28th May 2022