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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
Arranging facilities for Melksham
Questions to Council
Assembly Hall - rates unchanged
Why has the station planter gone?
Assembly Hall hire rates 2023/24
Melksham Town Council - who's who
Melksham House - for SEND
Headline look ahead
Stepping back from chairing
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Some other pages on this site:

Graham Ellis - blog and • blog index
Graham Ellis - background and • views
Philosophies of working as a town councillor
The Role of the Town Council and Councillors
How YOU can help and • Contact me
Links to other web sites and • pictures
Through April 2021, I posted most days. Thereafter (elected) you hear from me here at least once a week.

Trip report - Weymouth

A wonderful seaside trip today (27.5.2023) - on the direct Saturday train from Swindon, Chippenham and Melksham to Weymouth. I joined the train with 50 other people at Melksham, on time at 09:10, and we picked up more along the way - train was pretty well full but not uncomfortable by the time we reached Weymouth at 11:10 - a few people choosing to stand, but then a few open seats too - so 300 people all of whom melted into the vast enjoyment that is Weymouth.

The return train was less busy - almost certainly because many of the people we picked up on the way down at intermediate stations had enjoyed their days out and returned home on earlier services. We left on time at 19:40. A delay at Yeovil Pen Mill (trespassers reported on the line ahead of us) meant we didn't pull in to Melksham until a quarter past ten (rather than twenty to ten); I counted 98 passengers on the final stretch from Trowbridge to Melksham, of whom 49 got off at Melksham. Big "thank you" to the train manager who kept us informed, and to passengers for their patience during the delay - most of you were tired, but stoic about it and were relaxing or snoozing after a great day, and from Melksham station almost everyone walked home - a couple of groups being picked up, and a couple of cars parked at the station.

The train runs next on 10th June - same time, same fare of £21.50 return, or £14.15 per person in a group of three or more or on a railcard, or £10.75 for a child aged 5 to 15 - buy on the day at the station (on the train if you're doing a "groupsave" or paying in cash) or ahead of time online; GWR run the train and the tickets can be purchased from commission and delivery charge free.

I (personally) love going to Weymouth. Yesterday, I took the trip partly to update my seaside pictures, but got enjoyably sidetracked and ended up with just a few - so I'll be going again next month. In the meantime, sharing just a few of the quick snaps I took later in the day (the headline picture taken on my sidetrack to the heritage railway from Wareham to Swanage!)

There is an important story here - the train service is key to Melksham. Not just seaside trips but our daily travel. There are 9 trains each way per day, and thousands of other stations you can reach - it's our link to the network. Download the summer timeable here. Yesterday's passengers were not just to Weymouth, and the trains were bringing people in for the day as well as taking them out. Even when we got back, there were people joining the train towards Chippenham and Swindon.

Just arrived in Weymouth - crowds off the train and it's just 100 yards to the beach!

The beach at Weymouth is huge and sandy, with sheltered bathing and all the fun of the seaside

The harbour is picture-postcard pretty, and the are lots of places to eat, drink, sit out, go crabbing, walk and take it all in ...

Traditional "rompers" on the sea front, as well as a penny arcade and rides for the tinies and also the more robust

Ice cream, Candy Floss, Fish and Chips - or a pie and a pint (or two) if you prefer

And so boarding the trains home, under the watchful eye of the train manager to ensure you're on the Melksham train.

Published Saturday, 27th May 2023

Arranging facilities for Melksham

Looking at Melksham House, the Blue Pool, the Assembly Hall and the Town Hall, I think there is space for the Town Council offices (A), a council chamber (B), a venue where it is at the moment (C) with an enhanced access and facilities, a museum (D), a maintenance shed for the Town Council (E), and also SEN / SEMH needs in Melksham House (F), where work is underway to, in seems, make it suitable for that use. It will all fit, and indeed it would allow Melksham Town Council to move its amenities base and store from the rented unit on Bowerhill, and also to demolish the maintenance shed in the KGV park without building a replacement.

The goal posts were moved in February with Wiltshire Council's responsible officers giving the SEN team "favoured bidder" status and hindsight that since that time, works at fitting out Melksham House have been with their use of it in mind. What was a bit of a shock was that this moving of the goal posts wasn't picked up by the Town Council who were encouraged to put in a serious bid for it, to avoid it being "lost to the community" and at an extraordinary meeting at the end of March voted to do so. Personally, I'm learning that Melksham House might be a pretty darned right place for the SEN facility, leaving the historic building in public care are providing for the people who need it in our area's society. It's almost a blessing we don't have to "find" £2.1 million to buy it for the town and then find a use for it and money to maintain it, when we may well have what we need available close by anyway.

So - what do we do? We leave the Town Hall as it is. We take the old Blue Pool reception and one of the changing rooms and make in into a much bigger reception for the adjoining Assembly Hall. The former gym in the Blue Pool becomes a museum and exhibition area with a shared reception with the Assembly Hall. The former pool becomes the maintenance store / shed. Click on the plan to see it full size

OK - that's the broad brush strokes - now let's look at the associated works. The start of this was introduced by Howard Jones in a public question at the full council meeting (22.5.2023) and handed around. It's on line at http://Melksham.Town/BluePool

• The wall from the Melksham House Gate separating the Assembly Hall and Blue Pool from the Melksham House grounds can go, apart from a small section that protects the electric substation. And that will give a great open frontage to the Assembly Hall - both pairs of the double doors to the back of the hall and the new reception replacing the current one wedged between parked cars and the Town Hall.

• The Blue Pool water tanks upstairs in the Assembly Hall need to be removed and / or made long term safe (and while I'm asking, have Wiltshire Council been paying to rent the space from the Town Council, and if not, why not?)

• I do not know about the condition of the main building housing the pool itself, and some sort of decking or infill would be needed.

• Extra parking could be provided in the former outside terraces of the Blue Pool

• The Assembly Hall bar and lounge area could be extended into the old reception - it's been tight for space

• The Cheese Store building, currently holding the water tanks and caretaker cottage could - well - provide a caretaker cottage.

• Plenty of roofs that may well be fitted with solar panels; the immediate work needed on the main hall is probably not a complete reroof.

Much work remains to be done to fill in these very broad outlines, and to work out who owns what, and how any assets are transferred. But looking forward to having it operational, it makes huge sense for all six of SEN, for the Town Council's main offices, for their amenities team, for councillor meetings, for the Assembly Hall and for the museum.

Published Thursday, 25th May 2023

Questions to Council

UPDATE - 6th June 2023 - Answers to Rob Carter at /lib/may23_ftc.pdf

Before each meeting of Melksham Town Council, there is an opportunity for "Public Participation – To receive questions from members of the public". The opportunity is not frequently taken up - there's the occasional question asked from time to time. Typically, the chair and / or lead council officer at the meeting will promise a written response; that's perfectly reasonable as the typical request is looking for a considered answer. This not a circus of the form of PMQs (Prime Minister's Questions) for the entertainment and motivation of the party and public - it's a real opportunity for the public / electorate to reach the town's leaders and get a response.

I am delighted that question were asked by speakers both last week and this at full council.

From the (now) approved public notes on the meeting of 15th May 2023:

Mike Saunders remarked on the fact that a couple of officers have left the council who were part of the Environment and Climate Working Group. He was disappointed that the wider membership had not been advised. He asked if it was possible to have a list of officers’ names and contact details.

Terri Welch wanted to bring to council’s attention the situation with the Weir gate which is currently owned by Cooper Tires. Terri reported that the Environment Agency were not willing to take on the responsibility. Terri thought the town council should be aware as it is a key element in preventing the town centre from flooding.

Robert Carter asked some questions on responsibility for:
* Footpath clearing
* Events and carnivals, particularly the Jubilee Celebrations and the Coronation Event, asking how events were planned
* Public consultation
* The decision to cancel the Sunday (Coronation) event
* Ceremonial aspects of the town
* The union flag on the Town Hall not fitting for the Coronation, adding that it is important that the Town Hall is kept looking at its best
* The planting on the roundabout
* Weeds in the Market Place
* Decisions on weeding and trimming
* The budget spent on lights in the park
* Engaging volunteers to assist with events etc

From my notes on the meeting of 22nd May 2023:

Lisa Ellis asked, bearing in mind rumours that are rife:
1. Can it be confirmed that the purchase of Melksham House by Melksham Town Council is now off the table because of Wiltshire Council’s decision to accept their internal offer by SEND on the 14th of February 2023?
2. Can it be confirmed that the Melksham Assembly Hall will remain at its present location, with necessary repairs made urgently to fix faults?
3. Can it be confirmed that Melksham Town Hall will remain an asset of the Town Council?
4. Will the Town Council work with interested community members in an open way to help take forward the town’s assets for the benefit of our community including establishing a policy of having at least two members of the public on each working group?

Howard Jones asked
1. Through asset transfer or other means if required, would the Town Council consider acquiring the Blue Pool building in order to enhance the attached Assembly Hall with facilities such as:
• a suitable entrance and reception area
• increase the number of available men’s and women’s toilets, add an accessible toilet
• establish a museum
• provide dedicated parking to ease the strain on the parking in the Melksham campus?
• add an additional emergency exit
2. Can you include the suggestion being handed out into the minutes of this meeting so that it can be given full and serious consideration at the next meeting of the appropriate committee?
3. Can I also ask the three Wiltshire Councillors, representing Melksham, take this request to Wiltshire Council, for their consideration?
4. Why was my Freedom of Information request (mid April) passed on to an organisation that is not subject to FOI when I chased it up having had no answer in mid May?

Mike Saunders asked about the councils' real committent to the environment and climate, bearing in mind its failure to call the scheduled meeting of that working group, or to provide support for the informal event then set up by members. Also bearing in mind the officer's advice to that meeting "ClimateFest wasn’t a confirmed event for this year, due to shortage of officers to plan and organise this event. The complement of available officers and their capacity is currently vastly limited."


Although Howard's third question asked something of the three Wiltshire Councillors who also sit on the town council, only one of them was actually present. Two other councillors were also absent - so that was 10 out of the 14 of us there.

The document that Howard handed around is at http://Melksham.Town/BluePool

I do not normally name people in my blog. However, the above reports what they said in public, and they may be seen online asking these questions.

I am not going to pre-empt the written replies that have been promised at both meetings. I did ask that the minutes from 15th May 2023 be amended to include that promise to respond in writing to the official record, and that was agreed but with the proviso that the public questions are not a part of the meeting - they precede the meeting - and so do not actually form a part of the minutes of the meeting.

Once I have the promised written answers, I will share them

Published Tuesday, 23rd May 2023

Assembly Hall - rates unchanged

Headline conclusion / vote at the Town Council - hire rates for the Assembly Hall are UNCHANGED for the next year.

The difference between expenditure and income ("support cost" or "loss" depending on how you look at it) has shrunk from a feared amount north of £140,000 to around £70,000 (target was £80,000) and hall usage has been good though patchy as we recover from Covid. The raw finances are only a part of the story - the hall is there for PEOPLE and not for its financial consequences. And we hear of staff busy with customers and looking at the bookings, we see that most of them do require a larger hall such as ours - events would simply not fit into alternative venues.

The financial success was attributed to the top management of the hall and, yes, they have kept a tight ship. But it's also due to others. To the excellent hard work done by the staff on the Assembly Hall team, and their very positive interaction and can-do attitude. To the volunteers and casual team who do so much to help with events, both on-the-day and in promoting what's going on, on line, around the town and door to door, and to those back room supporters who put the materials they use together. Also due to you, the public, who have been using the call. Good to see how, exceptionally, we've had staff on the door counting people in and out because it's so popular.

With inflation at around 10%, one councillor suggested we consider raising prices, though perhaps not as much as that 10%. This suggestion was considered and rejected after debate, with "unchanged" passed unanimously. We have been through significant storm on prices and usage over the last year, with the price setting model last summer being an untried new algorithm with little real data - just arithmetic modelling to see how it would work. The algorithm and rule were found to have some rough edges and a number of regular users walked away based on affordability under new rules. With users voting with their feet, the pricing rules have been fine-tuned (yes, I have been party to helping with that) and most but not all of the usage is back or in the process of restarting, with the model and attitude being "steady as she goes".

One of the reasons that there was such a "crash" in the finances in recent years was Covid, another the loss of our event manager in May 2021, and a third was the fact that prices had remained unchanged for a decade. We cannot get into that stagnation of income again, and next year there will be a stronger case to look at for a price rise bearing in mind inflation of our costs, raising the money required to cover maintenance, and also looking at alternative venues, competition, what the market will stand, etc.

And I mention "maintenance" there. As a headline "the hall leaks"; if it were my home, I would have been looking to get it fixed PDQ, bearing in mind that not only do the people inside get wet, but also the fabric of the building that is not intended to get wet gets damaged, and the problem rapidly gets bigger. The council HAS passed a motion allowing for the leaks to be fixed - a bit late IMHO, but it has been passed, but then these things tend to move so slowly as the council officers find time to get competitive quotes, evaluate those quotes, recommend to council, get the go ahead, etc. It's frankly frustrating and chances are than the damage gets worse as the process proceeds, with extra costs being in excess of the difference between the quotes. And the council is looking at all repairs to all of its buildings with a surveyor telling us what we need to make sure that the spending is in line and necessary and (presumably) best done as a separate job. My own view - we should use JFDI ("Just ******* Do It") in this case. At this cycle, catching up in fixing the roof is coming from a reserve, but over time it needs to be considered in the bottom line of that hall, with notional funds building up so that we don't find ourselves in a "near to breaking point" position again.

So - summary - prices unchanged; steady as she goes; roof to be fixed "urgently" and pricing and repair stability to be looked at over years ahead. With thanks to the team who look after the hall, the volunteers who support it, the people who hire it, and all those people who use it for having us in that position.

Published Monday, 22nd May 2023

Why has the station planter gone?

I have been asked why the planter at Melksham Station has been removed and tarmacked over. This planter brought a welcome touch of green to the station, which is now devoid of anything natural; the planter was also a loving memorial to Gordon Dodge who looked after it for so many years.

The first pictures are from Spring 2020, showing the planter in use and bringing a burst of spring colour to station, and helping bring us local pride and volunteers into caring for the place.

The following picture shows the planter, now with a TransWilts poster board in font of it; a useful board which is being used to show the line timetable now that GWR no longer provide a conventional timetable - though I do question why it was sited directly in front of the planter. The board is double sided for some reason, and sited abutting the planter was difficult to access and change the displayed poster in, and visibility of the poster in there was limited due to the natural growth of plants.

I understand that a Department for Transport official audit checking how GWR are looking after their stations highlighted the access and visibility issues, and an out of date poster in their lead to questions being asked. And as a result under health and safety concerns for the person changing the poster, the decision was made and implemented to remove the planter. I confess I am disappointed, both at the decision and the lack of any feedback to the stations friends group - it just happened. Considering that the display on the back of the board has never been anything more than a generic poster extolling community rail, might it not have been sensible to simply replace the poster with a blank panel, and leave us with our memorial garden?

Published Saturday, 20th May 2023

Assembly Hall hire rates 2023/24

Hire rates for the Assembly Hall and Town Hall for the next year come up for discussion at the Town Council meeting on Monday next (22nd May 2023). It is natural and sensible to set them annually, but I am surprised that this has come directly to the Full Council rather than giving the Assembly Hall Working Group the opportunity of review. This is in the published Agenda - item 12, pages 87 to 91 of the 172 page document that was added to the council website a couple of days ago, and flagged up to councillors. I have mirrored the pages at to make them easier to find.

"The Head of Operations was tasked with creating a proposal based on the same methodology as the previous year.

"The prices were reviewed for the last financial year and anecdotally have been well received with the addition mid-year, of an off peak rate for the Assembly Hall, to accommodate daytime shows which give the opportunity for an evening hire.

"Councillors are requested to consider and approve the pricing structure for the Halls per the attached spreadsheets. I suggest that we retain the pricing structure from the previous Financial Year."

Reports to me indicate that our two excellent "Deputy Facilities Managers" - Kevin and Bruce - are very busy. Their job involves lots of non-standard hours of work, being present to set up, during, and after events and I would like to add a huge Thank you to them - they are wonderfully helpful. We may well be moving to a situation where they / the council would benefit from extra help in addition to that which they get already in order to allow full(er) use of the hall to be made rather than being constrained by staffing.

I would love inputs ahead of the Monday meeting, and non-councillor residents are welcome to come along to the start of the meeting and ask questions relating to this or any other item on the agenda. I applaud the addition of the off peak rate - I was instrumental in some of the tuning during the year that allowed us to recover such hires as the Roller Disco and Neil Sand's Christmas show and I would like to see it better defined / documented; I don't understand whether quoted figure are last year actuals, or forecasts for this coming year.

Published Friday, 19th May 2023

Melksham Town Council - who's who

Update - 29th December 2023 There have been a number of changes and I have posted an updated list at The staff roles below should be regarded as an archive and you should contact staff or councillors on my new list for early 2024.

The staff are paid employees of the Town Council and each have their areas of expertise for which they have been selected via normal recruitment procedures. They are responsible for day to day council activities.

The councillors on the Town Council are volunteers who were voted in (May 2021) to represent the four wards of the town. They are responsible for the future direction of the council working via resolutions which give direction to the staff team through the Town Clerk.

Melksham Town is a parish within the Unitary council of Wiltshire. It looks after the part of Melksham broadly within an area bounded by Western Way and the Eastern Relief Road, and extends to include Melksham Forest and the area to the north as far as Dunch Lane. Most council services are provided by Wiltshire Unitary Council, to whom the council tax payer contributes around 10 times what they pay to the Town Council. Melksham Town Parish is almost entirely surrounded by Melksham Without Parish Council, which covers areas such as Berryfield, Bowerhill, The Spa, Oakfields, Sandridge Common, Woodrow, Beanacre, Shaw and Whitley. The Town and Without work closely together on appropiate projects.

Melksham Town Council's web site can be found at A calendar of meetings can be found (here). You can explore committee by committee from (here) including agendas and minutes. You can find how to contact individual councillors (here). Contact the Town Council on 01225 704187. Address: Melksham Town Council, Town Hall, Market Placei, Melksham, Wiltshire, SN12 6ES. Public Council opening hours are Monday to Thursday 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM (closed for public holidays) and for council meetings.

Melksham Town Council Staff - office and admin team as at 16.5.23 / anticipated for 6.2023

Linda Roberts - Town Clerk
Andrew Meacham - Committee Clerk
Gloria Delves - Events and Communication Officer
Sara Land - Administrative Assistant
Mel Rolph - Finance Officer

Staff - assets and amenities team as at 16.5.23 / anticipated for 6.2023

Hugh Davies - Head of Operations
Kevin Farrow - Deputy Facilities Manager
Bruce Burry - Deputy Facilities Manager
Dave Elms - Amenities Team Manager
Paul Wallace - Amenities Team
Reese Coward - Amenities Team

Councillors in office as at 16.5.2023

SC - Simon Crundell - Mayor - East Ward
TP - Tom Price - Deputy Mayor - Forest Ward

PAv - Pat Aves - Forest Ward
PAl - Phil Alford - North Ward, also Wiltshire Councillor
GC - Gary Cooke - East Ward
JC - Jacqui Crundell - South Ward
GE - Graham Ellis - South Ward
CF - Claire Forgacs - Forest Ward
CG - Colin Goodhind - South Ward
CH - Carl Houghton - East Ward
JH - Jon Hubbard - South Ward, also Wiltshire Councillor
SM - Sue Mortimer - Forest Ward
JO - Jack Oatley - Forest Ward, also Wiltshire Councillor
SR - Saffi Rabey- North Ward
There is a vacancy in East Ward for which a byelection is to be held
For East Ward, your Wiltshire Councillor is Mike Sankey.
All Town councillors sit on the full council, which meets about once a month (for this year)

Detailed work is done by a number of committees usually open to the public:
Economic Development and Planning - SR, GC, GE, PAl, PAv, JO
Asset Management and Amenities - TP, CG, GC, CF, GE, PAv, SC, JO, JH
Staffing - SC, TP, PAv, JC, JO - subs SR, PAl
Community Development - CH, SR, PAv, SM, JO, JC
Finance, Admin and Performance - SM, SR, CG, JC, CF, GE, JH
In each case, chair listed first, then deputy chair, then other members
Committees usuaully meet 4 to 6 times a year, except "Econ Dev" - every 3 weeks
Committees typically have one or more staff who support them. Allocations unclear at present.

Not generally open to the public, specific tasks are looked after by working groups:
Assembly Hall - PAv, GC, GE, CG, SM
Budget - PAv GC, JC, GE, CF, SM
CCTV and Community Safety - PAv, CG, SM, JO
Joint CIL funding projects - GE, JH, PAl
Cooper Tires - TP, PAl, SR, CF
Environment and Climate - PAv, SC, GE, SM
Events - TP, CH, PAv, CG, JO, SM
Neighbourhood Plan joint steering - PAv, GE subs GC, SM
Parks - CG, JH, SR
Town Centre Masterplan incorporating Priority for People - GC, GE, CG, JO
Shurnhold Fields - PAl, PAv, SM, SR
Chairs to be decided within groups.
Note that some of these have very different characteristics!

The following working groups are scrapped or suspended:
Business Review; Canal; Community Art; Melksham House and Blue Pool Strategy; Melksham House; Public Owned Assets in Melksham; Virtual Hub.

Councillor representatives on outside bodies:
2385 (Melksham) Air Training Corp - SC, SM
Area Board - GC
Carnival Committee - SM
Melksham Adventure Centre - SM
Melksham Community Transport - GE
Melksham League of Friends - JC
Neighbourhood Plan - canal link group - CG
Neighbourhood Plan - climate issues group - GE
Neighbourhood Plan - design guides - CF, SC
Neighbourhood Plan - housing - PAv, SM
Neighbourhood Plan - heritage - GE
Neighbourhood Plan - local green space - GE
Neighbourhood Plan - proposed A350 bypass - GE, JH
Neighbourhood Plan - town centre - CG, GE, GC, JO, SR
Rachel Fowler - SM
Riverside Club - JH
Melksham Transport User Group - PAv
Wiltshire Association of Local Councils - JH
Wiltshire, Swindon and Oxfordshire Canal Partnership - CG and GE
West Wiltshire - Elblag - Twinning - PAv

The text above is from the best of my notes from the evening of 15th May 2023. Please let me know of any errors that you spot.

Some of the above is highly coded - a few letters hiding a great deal going on. Please ASK me for further explanations.

Pre-released for error checking, 16th May 2023.

STOP PRESS - Draft minutes on the Town Council web site at

Published Thursday, 18th May 2023

Melksham House - for SEND

It would appear that Wiltshire Council decided in February that their Special Education Needs and Disabled Department was the preferred future occupant of Melksham House, but the news did not reach the council and people of the town. Have we been wasting our time considering MH's use for the town these last three months?

Wiltshire Council have been looking for a future for Melksham House, which they bought from Copper Tires a decade ago to include in The Campus, but they then pulled back on the campus plans resulting in a smaller new-build facility on the site, and Melksham House being left with them without a future use. As is normal with surplus buildings and accommodation, Wiltshire Council cast around internally and asked if any department had a use for the place.

This is where the story gets a little complex and perhaps strange. Strong encouragement from last year from Wiltshire Council staff, and from our Wiltshire Councillors, has had Melksham Town Council looking at the possibility of purchasing Melksham House ... and yet at the same time, Wiltshire Council had an expression of interest from their own SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabled) department.

My thanks to Councillor Hubbard for this "gem" from Wiltshire council. He winkled it out through a Freedom of Information request, but was then told it was/is standard public data, so there was no need to FOI it! It would seem, however, that the original was so buried it went un-noticed in Melksham, or perhaps the coded decision was worded in such a way its significance was missed.

But this does start to explain some things - like:
* why the Town Councillors have not been able to view the works and make suggestions on tuning the fit out to consider our potential use
* why the closure of the Assembly Hall (to be replaced by Melksham House ?) has suddenly gone off the agenda with joint town/county councillors all now professing their commitment to the Assembly Hall

It also as me wondering things like:
* why on earth we went through the consultation for "Cluster 1" without the knowledge of this planned use
* why there was a need for an extraordinary meeting of the Town Council to decide to bid for Melksham House when the decision had already been made
It could be that these continued activities are of benefit to Wiltshire Council in helping their internal asset team maximise the internal payment for Melksham House - very much like in selling a house a seller might keep multiple irons in the fire. Rather like raising the price at auction. How appropriate is this behaviour between multiple branches of the public purse?

We are short of staff resources at Melksham Town Council and in my view it's very sad that so much time has been wasted on looking at a none-available Melksham House when the team could have been doing other things usefully - though of course it does help the profile of the people who are on both councils to have been seen giving Melksham "every opportunity".

This is a developing story - I suppose there is a possibility the the SEND deal will fall through, though seeing as it's an "inside job", I doubt that will happen. Much of my posting is to help the public understand what's going on. In this case, I fear I don't fully understand myself and the story at the moment is at a confused intermediate point. No doubt the fog of confusion will clear in time.

There is, no doubt, a need for SEND services and they need to be based somewhere. Melksham, situated midway between Chippenham and Trowbridge and with a quiet yet central location, with good bus access, probably makes sense.

Published Wednesday, 17th May 2023

Headline look ahead

And so looking ahead to the next year ... key outcomes from last night's annual Town Council reshuffle:

* I was delighted to see four groups of public participants at the Town Council's annual meeting last night, with good questions from the public prior to the main meeting. In each case, the clerk has promised a written answer (it would be amazing if random questions could be answered off the cuff) and I hope I may see and be able to have those published. Few surprises in the questions (to me) and I will continue to address some on my blog and elsewhere.

* It transpired during the meeting that (as I read it) Wiltshire Council as given "First Dibbs" on Melksham House to their own SEND department (in February!) so I am sitting here this morning open mouthed and wondering what the heck has been gong on with us looking at it and deciding to put in an offer for the last couple of months. This is an early story to be explored further.

* We come out of the meeting with the same mayor (Simon Crundell) who had near-full support; just one councillor failed to back him. We have a new deputy mayor (Tom Price) by the narrowest of margins (7 votes to 6, with one abstention) and a new chair of the Economic Development and Planning Committee (Saffi Rabey). I wish both of these new appointees well in their roles; both have a strong projection that may help them progress things along their visions. In both cases, they are younger replacement for retirees who perhaps have been softer in their approach, but have had the luxury of plenty of time to undertake their voluntary roles. Sue Mortimer remains as chair of Finance and Admin and I'm delighted that she'll be carrying on looking into Town Council finances and helping the rest of us understand them; I also look forward to continuing to see her around the town as one of the ones with her heart in the town, and time to be around and represent/explain the council too.

* Personally, I emerge happy from last night. I remain one of the town's representative on the Neighbourhood Plan steering group and some of their task groups - technical but important work. I remain a member of the Economic Development and Planning Committee, where I can now make my inputs (and yours) without the frustration of trying to lead with minimal support and bouncing along on long term stuff without a vision. And I remain on the Environment and Climate working group, though sad that only three other councillors see this topic as being important enough to put their time into it. I also remain on the Assembly Hall Working Group and perhaps with the Melksham House news just above, and with Sue looking at finances, we can now get on and FIX THE ROOF (image above) ...

More to come on these topics - headlines today, further write-ups and answers over coming days. Although it appeared to some of our public yesterday that we're separate at times from our community, in my case (at least) I do try to listen and inform, and will be continuing (environment, equality, information) along the same strategy for the next year.

Published Tuesday, 16th May 2023

Stepping back from chairing

I don't plan to promote myself for chairing positions of any formal groups within Melksham Town Council at the annual reshuffle on 15th May 2023 ("this evening" when I publish this)

It is just possible the meeting will ask for background. Whether that happens or not, here are my reasons:

1. As chair of "Economic Development and Planning", we need to look ahead and have a longer term strategy, but we have been waiting for that council vision to be completed since summer 2021. Over the past year, officers have been out of the office or if in the office have failed to progress projects. I need to be in a role I feel I can fulfil and be proud of what is achieved in common goal within a team [of staff and councillors], or if need be to have support to build the team, and that has not been the case. I feel I can do better without the constraints of being chair.

2. In the last year, I have chaired 6 grievance appeal panels. Of necessity, the details of these is not in the public domain, but I can tell you of many hours of meetings and many days of reading and following up. At times some of the individuals involved in the cases have overstepped norms. This is important work, but not at all what I signed up for nor what I enjoy, nor (most important) what I do well.

3. I have getting older and slower. And with my deafness in one ear I am unable to tell who is speaking and reducing sight also means I am no longer easily able to pick up everyone raising their hand in the room. I would like to thank officers for their assistance over the past year, but in listening to their concerns over the loads put on them by councillors, feel that now is the right time for me to stand back from chairing activities, and step back to let them get on with their proper role.

This is a decision for one year. I believe I can do best for the residents of my ward, for my family and other interests, for the load I put on other councillors and staff, and my own sanity by being an ordinary councillor. Things change (though my age cannot) and the balance of decision may differ next year; it's even possible that some overwhelming argument could be put this evening.

Background ... this should not come as a shock when you see how others have refactored or been refactored. Councillor Lewis had resigned, citing bullying. Councillor Oatley has joined a political grouping, stating his belief that it will help further what he can do. Four permanent members of staff have left or are working their notice in the last three months.

* The working environment at Melksham Town Council is alien and feels toxic to me. I can look back to time working, including managing and volunteering at Well House Manor / Consultants WHC, TransWilts, Railfuture, Megatek, CGL and First Alternative. They have usually but not always happy times, but they have never been like MTC.

* Everyone seems so much in their own positions and defence of it that there's no duty of care and little thought for working as a team. Personal or other interests are prioritised to the detriment of the role and in doing so hurt others around. No "how are you doing" which could make such a big difference.

* Some of the procedures, systems and practices in place are not appropriate for Melksham Town Council in 2023. Some need modernising to work best with modern technology and others were accepted earlier in our working lives, but we should shudder with embarrassment at them these days.

I refer to the last year, but some of these things are much older - they are inherited situations (as I hint at in my reference to summer 2021) and it's not a secret that some of the grievance material predates Covid.

Solution for the Town Council's woes? I'm given to understand that the staffing committee have much in hand, and as this takes time to pull back, I offer them my support. It would be good if the five councillors who have been working on that task can continue to do so.

I'm planning to be a useful voice for the community, and a useful interface and information provider and explainer, on the Town Council for the next year. And to look after myself too. And projects remain public transport, the Assembly Hall, and Melksham.

Published Monday, 15th May 2023

Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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