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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
Closure of Railway Station Ticket offices - consultation and implications
Q and A - KGV and some others
Out of the box ideas
IOU - Blue Pool and Assembly Hall update
Say "Hello" at the Splashpad
Wiltshire draft local plan for Melksham
How green are our walkways?
Project Assembly Hall and Blue Pool
Council questions and payment procedures
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Some other pages on this site:
Home page and • town diary
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.

Soundbites - about me

This was originally published to help the electorate learn about me a couple of years back when I stood for Town Council. Since that time, I have made many new friends and contacts and a re-introduction may be useful to some of you. I am not changing any wording in here - I stand by what I said, though some things have moved on and a great deal more knowledge has been gained. Original at The supporting image is more recent - you won't want to see what is now a vanity picture from years ago.

In April 2021, I wrote:

* I have lived in Melksham for over 20 years (Wiltshire for 40 years) and love the town and people

* I also ran a business here in the South Ward from which I am recent retired

* I live in the ward I am standing to represent (no parachute to a "safe seat"!)

* I am only standing for the town council as I beleive that role will take a great deal of my time to do properly. Even though retired, I am aware that I could take on too much and be too thinly spread, which is not my style.

* I am standing as an Independent candidate; I have no electoral connection or arrangement with other candidates, but I will work closely with all others over the term of office - I have a track record in doing that for the good of Melksham.

* Since my wife and I moved to the area in 1999, we have been actively involved with community and projects of immediate and ongoing benefit to Melksham. I am best known for my work on public transport, helping to regain a more appropriate train service and ensure buses were not slashed back. This work has brought me national awards, but the real reward is seeing people benefitting from the improved service - with 25 times the number of journeys being made

* I was elected President of the Chamber of Commerce (usually a one year term) and held the post for seven years.

* I am looking to represent you for the full term of the next four years with a view to carrying on for the following 4 years too. We are going to see changes like we have never see before during this period.

* I have never stood for election to any town, parish or county election before, nor served on any through co-option. I have, though, attended many meetings and worked well with councillors of all political colours, partnering, promoting and achieving causes for the common good.

* Running a council is running a business - looking after staff, volunteers and customers. And I have run a customer facing business in Melksham with an incredibly low staff turnover, which rose to be no.1 out of 16 in customer reviews in Melksham.

* During the campaign, I delivered information door to door, happily talking with people I met when out and about, wrote to the local newspaper, make my case online. I was available on the phone or in person if people want to meet ("my garden or yours?", during covid). I was Delighted to hear from people and become better informed. But I did not knock, uninvited, on doors. The same avaialbility applies, now, after the election. I am very much available; it would be exceptional for me to leaflet everyone again, but please get in touch - I'm often around on foot or bicycle and I'm one of your two councillors who lives in the ward.

* I openly publish my views, my philosophy (see top links on this page). Rarely a turncoat, I can be swayed by good logic, changing times and circumstances, and the common good. Unlikely to change my views or standards just to win election!

In July 2023, I remain here and approachable

Published Tuesday, 11th July 2023

Closure of Railway Station Ticket offices - consultation and implications

With my public transport passenger "hat" ...

Dear Wiltshire Town and Parish representatives, parishes and towns with Railway Stations,

Station booking offices at Chippenham, Bradford-on-Avon, Trowbridge, Westbury, Warminster, Pewsey, Salisbury and Tisbury stations to close by the end of next year. That would mean that no station in Wiltshire would have a ticket office any longer. A three week consultation was launched on 5th July - so that's until 26th.

I am writing to a known contact or clerk in each town / parish in Wiltshire to alert you to these proposals and to invite you to attend online sessions later this week organised by TravelWatch SouthWest, who co-ordinate passenger groups across the region, and I encourage you to come along. Email from their secretary below includes meeting booking link at

The consultations are organised train company by train company - in Wiltshire responsibilities are as follows:

Great Western Railway -
Chippenham, Bradford-on-Avon, Trowbridge, Westbury, Warminster, Pewsey, Bedwyn, Avoncliff, Melksham and Dilton Marsh

South Western Railway -
Salisbury, Tisbury and Dean

The Rail Delivery Group tells us than only about 12% of railway ticket sales are now at a ticket office counter, and if ticket offices close staff can then be more customer focused

Passenger concerns and early comment includes:
* Reduction or removal of help at a fixed point at a station is a barrier to the timid traveller
* By using ticket machines, customers may end up paying more than they need
* All staff (not just the former ticket clerks) will need to know all about the fares system
* Although most current users will be able to cope, new users will be put off trying the train
* Ticket offices reform IS overdue, but fare systems and alternatives for all should be deal considered first
* Changing ticket offices into staff rooms would result in less rather than more availability
* Reduced staffing will reduce support available to disabled passengers
There are also concerns from staff representatives that the way this helps the rail industry save money is by reducing headcount in customer facing roles - through natural wastage and staff being unhappy or unable to fit new roles initially, as "no compulsory redundancies" has been promised only until the end of next year.

My nearest station (Melksham) does not have a ticket office, and I frequently speak with occasional rail passenger who will travel to Chippenham or Trowbridge to speak to a real person there. This shows time and again that the lack of a customer facing staff member is a real barrier to rail travel; it's not only about ticket sales but about information and re-assurance too, and about helping when trains are disrupted and alternatives have to be provided. At Melksham, I was involved in the successful campaign to have our service increased and I'm fairly well know; on almost every visit I make to the station, people use me as an advice point and may people learn about new travel opportunities, or are re-assured that they may join the train to pay in cash / because they need one of the myriad of tickets not available on the machine, or can't find it, or because the machine is not useable. The lack of staff is far more than the lack of a ticket office, and ticket office staff do far more than just sell tickets. Everyone - for every station - should make an input.

I believe that the decision to close most or all ticket offices is already made, and the consultation is more geared to working out how it can best be done - part of "best" being how to minimise customer anger and to minimise loss of passengers. But the 80/20 rule is in play here - 80% of customers cost 20% to sell tickets too, and the remaining 20% cause 80% of the costs, and the decision is already taken to cut the ticket selling cost.

* Please inform your council and councillor of these consultations and make your local inputs relating to the station in your parish/town. All our stations are important to our local economy.

* Please come along to the TWSW session(s) this week

* And - please - respond to the consultation itself and let your residents know you are doing so.

Any questions - please ask at the session, or please ask me. And please feel free to share to other who may wish to make an input.

Graham Ellis

Melksham Town Council, South Ward
Blog at
Facebook at
I only visit other social media occasionally.
Graham Ellis -

Email: or
Phone: 01225 708225 / 0797 4 925 928
Home: 48 Spa Road, Melksham, SN12 7NY



Graham Ellis -
48 Spa Road, Melksham, SN12 7NY
01225 708225 or 07974 925928
* Melksham South Ward Town Councillor
* Webmaster, Coffee Shop Rail Passenger Forum
* Acting Chair, Melksham Transport User Group
* Option 24/7 rep for Melksham
* West Wilts Rail User Group (Committee)
* Ukraine2Uk Webmaster and Facebook Group Admin

Published Monday, 10th July 2023

Q and A - KGV and some others

A Facebook post of this morning (9.7.2023) raised a number of question about projects that are mostly in the park. I have always found it difficult to get information out of The Council's Teams system, so I took the opportunity of a visit to KGV at lunchtime to ask a few question and get some updates, with permission to let the readers know what I have written up below.

Please note as you read this that I am NOT a councillor for the ward that includes KGV - they're Tom and Jack, Pat, Sue and Claire. Nor am I on the Parks Working Group - that's Jon, Saffi and Colin. All seven of them will be more up to date on strategic plans and what's happening there, though as I'm up at the Spashpad on Wednesday afternoon or Thursday (all day) each week, I will sometimes know the short term stuff. (next - 12th July, 13:00 to 17:30. Then 20th July, 09:30 to 17:30)

Some of the answers below are outside the KGV area; in the cases of the Assembly Hall and Blue Pool, they ARE in my ward so I have an inside track to answers. Other councillors for the ward are Colin, Jon and Jacqui. The Assembly Hall Working Group is myself and Sue, Colin, Gary and Pat

Q: What has the council actually done? This question a somewhat accusatory "you have done nothing"
A: A lot of things including
* New Pipework just completed for drains from the pavilion to the mains sewer
* Zipwire replacement and significant work on the slide to ensure it's available for this year
* The Cafe is open - initially as an outdoor stand.
* Public toilets near the cafe, and near the skatepark, are now available.
* Training and robust planning should ensure the Splash Pad is fully staffed this summer.
* Allotment excess produce may now be gifted to recipients of a charitable nature.

Q: What is happening to the derelict maintenance shed?
A: It is now out of use with nothing stored in there; the council now has assets stored in a number of locations including on the Bowerhill Industrial Area and in and around the Town Hall and Assembly Hall. The maintenance shed will be demolished - probably in a couple of months once a final bat survey is completed to the satisfaction of all parties. Although the council decided a few months ago to stick with the Bowerhill unit, that may be reviewed should a better alternative be available.

Q: Assembly Hall Roof - when will it be done?
A: Before Autumn. Proving hard to get people to quote though

Q: When will the dog run improvements be done?
* Fencing to include a double gate (airlock) - this summer
* Water - also soon but awaits check on availability to connect so not 100% sure it will happen
* Agility equipment - no update / outside my contact's brief

Q: When will the park lights be installed?
A: Don't know. We (as a Town Council) have put our officers in a very difficult position as we are far from unanimous; I would hope that lights to the Adventure Centre behind the MUGA and a light halfway between there and Bath Road toilets would be installed before the dark winter nights, but no promise.

Q: How long will the grass protectors be there (ecoLoos)?
A: For some months. Grass does not grow instantly

Q: When will the splashpad be open this summer?
A: From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily up to and including 3rd September
Then Saturdays and Sunday only - same hours - up to and including 24th September
These are scheduled opening hours with a robust staffing rota in place.
No major service upgrades that will effect the pad are anticipated this summer.
Technical issues occasionally close the splashpad, as does thunder, extreme rain and wind, etc

Q: Are there toilets in the park open?
A: Yes - there are two toilets on the "Bath Road" block - near the river and skate park on the main road side open daily. There are also two EcoLoos open beside the Pavilion near the splash pad open daily. These have only recently been installed and use new technology, so there may be some teething issues as they "bed in".

Q: When will water availability be improved at the allotments?
A: The taps are being replaced by water troughs soon to allow very quick container filling
It may be possible to lay in further plastic pipes on biggest sites to provide a second trough

Q: Some allotments are not well maintained / used. What is being done?
A: Tenants of unattended allotments will soon be asked to buck up or vacate.

Q: What's happening at the Blue Pool and Assembly Hall?
* At the Assembly Hall, lots of excellent things are happening - see July to September brochure. Further announcements in for September. Roof repairs before days get much shorter.
* Wiltshire Council has invited Melksham Town Council to take an interest in the Blue Pool [site - but perhaps the whole building]. Two groups took a look around last Thursday and I have requested an agenda item for 17th July to progress this. Following the visit last week, the friends have been working on "the possible" and hope to present initial thoughts that evening - looking at existing building use, with comments on demolish and rebuild, and do-nothing alternatives. The Assembly Hall Working Group is to meet (awaiting a meeting being called) to propose extended terms of reference to include the whole site.

Q: Do you get a chance to get a holiday?
* My wife Lisa and I took a long trip away in March and we are both around all summer. We do plan a break in the autumn while we remain of an age we can easily travel, and we have a cruise booked for next year.
* Town Council Staff, especially those with dependent children, are more constrained on when they go away. So there will be significant absences over the summer - but that's when there are less meetings anyway.

Published Sunday, 9th July 2023

Out of the box ideas

I've been visiting Weymouth (again!) today - taking a group but at the same time looking and learning. Some unconventional ideas for exhibitions, museums, ClimateFest, etc - modern (and replacable) objects that say "yes please, touch me" to attract a broader range of visitors including the young, and to engage with visitors and make it a memorable experience. Simple display boards that show not only the complex principles, but also how you are employing them.

Published Saturday, 8th July 2023

IOU - Blue Pool and Assembly Hall update

IOU - our residents - an update on matters Assembly Hall, Blue Pool an so forth - or on matters such as providing potentially for booking, indoor bowling, cafe area, citizens advice, civic centre, climbing wall, community base(s), community meeting place, community room, creche, enquiry desk, entertainment venue, exhibition area, first aid room, gift shop, heat-pump, hub, kitchen, lecture room, lido, loos, lounge, maintenance, mosque and support rooms, museum, OAP games room, polling station, pop up bank, public WiFi, rainwater collection, safe space, solar generation, stage, storage, support room, ticket sales, town hall car parking, venue bar and youth centre. That's from people want - Needs Assessment last December, the Town Centre Masterplan, Priority for People, as well as the other more empirical data like what people are saying and asking, and also work done in the life of the previous council. There's a frightening number of elements, options, and data sources. And the Blue Pool has now been declared as surplus to Wiltshire Council's requirements ...

On Monday of the week before last, the Town Council voted to take a very serious look at the possibilities offered by the Blue Pool and Site - through an enhanced working group to involve the Friends too On Tuesday just gone, the Friends Committee met, with councillors invited, and on Thursday both councillors and key friends toured the pool. The group I was with included friends people with significant technical knowledge, and we took a good look at the detail of the building, condition, measurements, etc.; we really have an excellent and committed bunch of volunteers and there are other key people who could not make it at short notice but for whom further access can be arranged. And it comes back for full council a week on Monday (17th). I don't know what the outcome will be, but I know we have a superb team and the outcome will be well through through both in what's done short term (within the life of this council) and for the long term (target date 2038 like the neighbourhood plan?) - looking at what is does for the community and its sustainability for the community.

This is something of an interim - holding - public message to let people know what's going on. Please - by all means - comment and engage. Anything I have missed from my "benefits" list above, tell me. But if I have anything to do with it, there will be real public input as we go through with this, but then decisions made and we'll all follow the emerged best path and get it done.

Finally - a big "thank you" to everyone more widely involved, including those in official posisition who are behind the scenes, for helping us start this process; we are delighted to be working with you.

Published Friday, 7th July 2023

Say "Hello" at the Splashpad

Spashpad - open. I've been on external course, trained internally, and can now open, close, and test and make daily adjustments. Of course, the Town Council has a team of people doing this to help ensure it's open, 7 days a week, until the end of the school holidays. The role is a safety one, making sure that the water is safe through the day, and maintaining records of that. We (those of us who do this) job are not, however, lifeguards and it's the responsibility of parents and guardians to look after their own charges.

Water tests are made every 2 hours, and in between those tests I am more than happy to chat with folks. With the absolute understanding and proviso that the pad's operation and safety come first; please do not think me rude if I need to walk away from a conversation. Others who on duty at other times will probably not have the same ability to stop and chat, as the Council's team has many other tasks around the park to perform which are beyond me, and which are a part of their jobs.

Please say "hello" if you're here on Wednesday of next week (12th July) or Thursday the week after (20th July) - 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., or if you're quick today as I'm passing over to others at 2 p.m. and going off for a tour of the Blue Pool - but that's another story ...

Published Thursday, 6th July 2023

Wiltshire draft local plan for Melksham

Wiltshire Council have just published (as a draft in cabinet papers) their local plan for each of the towns in the county for the next decade. I have mirrore it at - and note that Melksham is on pages 394 to 468. Map from the document illustrates this article and I quote:

"What development is proposed?

"Sites 1 and 17 are considered more than capable of meeting the scale of residual requirements for both new homes and employment that should be planned for."

Huge amount in there over Melksham as a whole.

The Local Plan covers all of Wiltshire. The NEIGHBOURHOOD Plan look at other more local issues and development, and ouf neighbourhood plan team has been waiting for this document to that - as required - we can fit around it. As deputy chair of the neigbourhood plan steering group, I have a very great deal of reading in to do - in particular in relation to our own site selection.

At this stage, the local plan is a draft only. Your Wiltshire Councillor can make inputs to the cabinet (or directly at the cabinet meeting on 11th July if he sits on there ...

Published Monday, 3rd July 2023

How green are our walkways?

How much should we be clearing road and paths of weeds, and how much should we appreciate the greenness, the softening of hard edges and the environmental benefits it might bring? But then when do we get to the point of things being overgrown, interfering with sight lines, and in the case of brambles and nettles being distinctly antisocial when brushed against?

There is a complex setup of county, town and neighbour responsibilities for keeping the roads clean, and wide options as to what the most appropriate level is - for greenery, remaining footpath and road space, and for the consequential leaf mould and how that should be dealt with.

Walking to the station yesterday morning, brambles are encroaching onto both footpaths on Bath Road and overhanding the path down to the underpass. Something I haven't noticed in previous years. Is this because they haven't been trimmed as much as usual, because they're growing stronger this year, or because I have not been around as much or as observant in past years?

Published Sunday, 2nd July 2023

Project Assembly Hall and Blue Pool

What's happening? - Let me share an email just sent

Invites to:
- Town Councillors (14)
- FoMAH Committee (15)
- MTC Officers (7)
- If you are reading this on a public copy (where the Zoom code is redacted) but would like to be involved, please let me know. In particular, I am aware that the FoMAH group nominated its team quite a number of months ago, and since then staff changes at Melksham Town Council have meant that a number of people who love Melksham and have skills as volunteers we would welcome.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Graham Ellis is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
(This email in my role of hosting the Zoom meeting)
Topic: Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall and Assembly Hall Working Group informal meeting
Time: Jul 4, 2023 19:30
[redacted from public copy]

2. Small Groups to see / examine / measure Blue Pool property
Time: Jul 6, 2023 14:00 and 14:30

3. Week of 10th July and leading to full council on 17th July 2023.

Last Monday (26th June 2023), the Town Council voted to reform the Assembly Hall Working Group with an additional remit to look at the future involving both the Assembly Hall and the Blue Pool as well as the ongoing business of price setting and marketing for the Assembly Hall. The Working Group will report to Full Council, and will consider not only the idea of (and ideas developed from) the proposal of 22nd May 2023 at and similar options of meeting those and other needs by updating exiting infrastructure, but also other options of building anew on the whole site, and "do nothing". The way I proposed it, the working group will have very strong community representation; that to be formed / developed from the Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall. There is a great ensuring enthusiasm and experience there in the volunteer community and let's use that as part of the Melksham team.

Part of the proposal I put last Monday was a combined AHWG and FoMAH Committee meeting next Tuesday (4th July) - carefully timed to allow statutory notice of meeting to be issued, yet as promptly as possible bearing in mind our nervousness that the Blue Pool building could be demolished by Christmas. Re-assurances from Councillor Alford, who's also the Wiltshire Council Cabinet Member for Housing, Strategic Assets and Asset Transfer, that it will NOT be demolished until we have had time to consider and that it could be "even be years" take a little off the panic, and it was Councilor Alford's friendly amendemnt to my proposal that was passed unanimaously. But for FoMAH committee members, and with an invite to all Town Councillors and staff, we'll meet at 19:30 on Tuesday as proposed

[zoom invite link redacted from public copy]

There is an enormous decision for the Town Council coming up with regards the Assembly Hall. That could just be that we walk into doing nothing - but far better if "nothing" is the answer that we do that with knowledge. If we pick up an alternative, then we do so with planned knowledge, and I am delighted that the coucil has allocated a budget of £10,000 over the next three months to get full structural and archirect's ideas evaluated, and of top importance to look at the options and business cases to help ensure that what comes out of this are possibilites that will work, and in a sensible time, and in a sustainable way, for the community - joined up thinking. At the early stages, ideas and inputs welcome - as a member of both FoMAH and AHWG I can feed them in but better YOU join in if you have an idea and want to help us carry it through to realisation and sustinance over coming years.

In order to work out the art of the possible and practical, we all need to know what's where in the buildings concerned, what condition it's in, and what is structural and what's fixtures and fitted within. In following up meetings prior to last week, our Town Clerk has expressed an interest for us to Wiltshire Council, and conveyed our request to them to gain access to look, learn and survey; we asked to borrow a key - thank you to our clerk who has been able to arrange two tours on the afternoon of Thursday 6th July for a maximum of five people on each. The invite went out at 4 O'Clock yesterday to councillors, and I passed it on to key FoMAH people; we have put forward a project specialist, a building specialist and a marketing and promotion specialist. Councillors Pat Aves and myself have also expressed an interest, which leaves five more places for councillors and (I would suggest) one or two key members of staff.

On Tuesday, we should all introduce ourselves, plan for what we need to achieve during our Thursday visit, look to the setup of the AHWG/FoMAH for confirmation at the next full council. We should recommend routes forward to help and inform town council staff - work in such a way that we maximise the effectiveness of the work done and use of experts an miimising the load on staff - purpose to help ensure best outcome. We really should be setting up a management overview structure and GANTT chart in parallel with structure to full council.

I am not presuming any steps beyond next Thursday until we have met on Tuesday, but I would welcome the early adding to the calendar by the council staff a formal AHWG meeting that will lead to its consideration and refinement for full council to confirm on 17th July.

I look forward to seeing FoMAH committee members and Town Councillors should they wish on Tuesday evening.

Graham (Ellis)
E&OE :-)

P.S. I will have a couple of slides on Tuesday looking at Project Frameworks and much more - far better explained than in a document like this that is already getting long

Melksham Town Council, South Ward
Blog at
Facebook at
I only visit other social media occasionally.
Graham Ellis -

Email: or
Phone: 01225 708225 / 0797 4 925 928
Home: 48 Spa Road, Melksham, SN12 7NY

Published Saturday, 1st July 2023

Council questions and payment procedures

Questions asked on Facebook in answer to yesterdays's blog (scroll down to read that blog)

1. "What would be good is if when questions are asked by the public, which more often than not get a ‘we will respond in writing’ answer that those answers are actually published so everyone knows the answer given - if they are already I’ve never managed to spot any."

2. "What’s worrying is seeing ( on last Mondays now deleted meeting ) a Councillor asking a pretty valid question about the signing of cheques / payment authorities being potentially rushed through and not actually checked by the signatories which is presumably the entire point in that system, being told he’s wasting people’s time by the mayor for questioning it."

1. The answers / follow ups do usually happen and are copied to relevant councillors (sometimes all of us). The team (councillor and staff) are aware that for most people to stand up and ask a question in public is quite a challenge and they're unlikely to let something go if they then don't get an answer. So the team will look to answer to the satisfaction of the enquirer. Sometimes, that is indeed a written answer that's published but sometimes it transforms into an explanatory meeting or a phone call. Sometimes, where there are multiple questions asked, there has been a tendency for our team to answer the easy bits and perhaps hope the more difficult bits go away, and at other times some things take so long to research and answer that the connection between question and answer is lost - there is an answer, but is it identified as being an answer?

Where a relevant councillor gets an answer, (s)he is able to share them / publish them in most cases and although you've "never managed to spot any", they are sometimes out there. For example, which I felt worth passing on as general interest. But there is so much data out there that it doesn't prove possible (not just a council thing) to ensure the right data reaches the right person and is noted and taken in at the right time. We (team) can try and do better - to a very great extent this blog's intent is an attempt to help; ask any relevant question and I will tackle it - though time is limited (and freely given) and the answer may be "I don't know and don't have time, nor do our team have the time, to take it further".

One of my fellow councillors proposed, and got through council, and we implemented, a tracking system - went live last summer. But almost all the staff who were trained, involved in setting it up, and running it, have left the council. I'm an IT person and I found it a difficult system and from what I can see it now contains a view of how things were a while ago. I am open to correction on that. I do feel that a straightforward live tracking system that's routinely kept up to date and fed as an automatic part of process, and that has a "push" facility to inform people of changes and updates rather than have interested parties having to keep coming back to see if there's been an update would make sense. More work? Only a bit if properly done, and the savings on time spent answering councillors and members of the public would more than compensate. The problem (if you like) is how we get to this from where we are today, and how we update our work ethic to trust one another and share data rather than feeling that everything we say is a risk, and the more we say (as I'm doing here), the less others will trust us out of the fear of their actions being questioned in detail. Sorry - I have gone off on a tangent there!

Anyway ... answers are there sometimes. And although the questions are asked in public, the answers may not be; even if they are, the answers may be lost in a flood of data or posted un-noticed. I *try* to come back where I have noted a question so if anyone comes back after the answer's there - example at - but clearly I'm failing to be noticed or satisfy if you never manage to spot anything.

2. I was a "cheque signatory" until last December, at which point I stepped down from that role having been informed that my availability was insufficient. We have had a system in which far too much time passes between an invoice being submitted and payment being made, and the latter stages of that involve two councillors attending at the Town Hall and going through the paperwork, initialling the paperwork for each payment in two places and signing if it's a real cheque rather than a BACS payment too. It's a process that takes a number of hours, and very often it's been late in the process so some of the payments are urgent / overdue.

Each payment ... the invoice comes in to the officer responsible for the expenditure, and is signed off. It goes to the finance officer who sanity checks it and puts it on the internal system. Two councillors then go through the paperwork and each sign it off. If the payment is by BACS, it's then entered into the bank's online payment system by the finance officer and councillors who are authorised for online banking are invited to go on and press the green button to have the payment actually made. In my view, there are sufficient steps in there is it's properly operated to safeguard the system, and all evidence is that my fellow councillors are trustworthy in how they enquire into odd things they spot. I know that when I was in that checking and signatory role, I asked questions; the answers usually satisfied, the common point where they did not was "why has this bill taken so long for us to pay?". BUT - it would be impractical / overbearing to understand every line item on every invoice. There's a degree of pragmatism here; I compare this, perhaps, to checking train tickets - sometimes it happens, and the security of the system is in never knowing when it will happen, so the passenger getting it right (for the most part) in the first place; in the case of putting through bad payments, if someone tries it and gets caught, the penalties are high enough to dissuade them.

We do have a number of spending / payment elements I would question, though:
• Some of our expenditure looks for actions / solutions that add elements to satisfy every councillor and bring them on board. Good, except that often things get so complex that the price goes up, the utility goes down, and the time taken is way beyond the original thought if it even gets done.
• It's good that the process as described above goes through a series of checks, but it can take far too long. An expenses cheque for a volunteer that was submitted in February arrived with that volunteer last week (I'm writing on 30th June). Most bills are paid much quicker and staff expenses are typically "fast"tracked - but that very fast-tracking is itself a risk; one I am happy with because the amounts involved are small.
• Routine payments need review from time to time, and my personal view is that in a couple of areas, payments that were set up a while back should be reviewed. Suppliers and grant recipients need an assurance and a continuity (to employ staff and buy capital resources) and the decision in the very early days of this council to protect for the life of the council, with an annual report, was fine in principle. But there are one or two that I personally feel have gone a bit soft. My own view, I must emphasise; enquiries suggest it is a minority view.

Image - an old cheque, on display at the British Museum. Perhaps we should have a banking section in our museum to reflect the long history of banking in Melksham?

I am surprised that last Monday's meeting is no longer online; whether it has been deleted or the link changed, I don't know. It was my understanding that meetings should remain online until the minutes have been approved at a following meeting.

Council meetings are long ... and in the cut and thrust, comments on the fly about "wasting time" may be made which could in review be seen as inappropriate. I'm sure our mayor does not consider himself perfect, and I know I did far worse when I chaired meetings at a committee level. Of course a system of checks and balances is important; as I recall, what was meant that it was something that should be looked at in the finance committee rather than have the entire council working the minutiae. I know it didn't come across that way - the comment I'm answering has also been echoed to me by someone else.

Congratulations to anyone who has read all of this! A classic illustration, perhaps, of too much data and whilst the content is important, it's hard to see the wood for the trees. Please feel free to ask me further questions if you dare.

P.S. Time take to answer the above takes (my) volunteer time away from allotments, lighting, assembly hall, buses, virtual hub alternative, blue pool, local transport plan, museum, climatefest ... not so much a grumble from me, but rather a flag of just how much falls onto a parish councillor's plate if (s)he chooses to let it.

Addendum - public minutes from Monday's meeting just published. To give readers an idea of just how seriously we take our financial role, I going to quote here the vote on the accounting statement for the last year. This from 5 pages of printed notes, with the votes of suffient concern in two cases for it to be a "recorded vote":

Accounting Statements 2022-2023

Members requested to approve, by formal resolution, the accounting statements as outlined in Section 2 of the Annual Return. The Annual Return must be signed by the Town Mayor, Councillor S Crundell, or in his absence, by the appointed Chair of the meeting. The document must also be signed by the Town Clerk/RFO. Full statement attached.

It was proposed by Councillor Oatley, seconded by Councillor Alford and

RESOLVED to approve the accounting statement.

There was a recorded vote on this item as follows.

Councillor Alford – For
Councillor Aves – For
Councillor Cooke – Absent
Councillor J Crundell – Absent
The Town Mayor, Councillor S Crundell – For
Councillor Ellis – For
Councillor Forgacs – Absent
Councillor Goodhind – Abstain
Councillor Houghton – Absent
Councillor Hubbard – Against
Councillor Mortimer – Against
Councillor Oatley – For
Councillor Price – Absent
Councillor Rabey – Absent

Totals. For 5, against 2, abstain 1.

We are sometimes asked to make difficult calls; my own vote in favour was made with an element of trepidation in that there are a couple of technical issues which are not ideal but pragmatically we should be moving on. The amounts involved are a tiny proportion of the budget, but I can understand accountants on the council being never the less strongly concerned. There was no indication of any intentionally naughty stuff, nor of any council failure to meet obligations.

Published Thursday, 29th June 2023

Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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