15 April 2014

Some milestones on council's road to recovery



Last night's meeting of New Mills town council showed encouraging signs that progress is being made on leaving behind the bad old days.

There is still plenty of work to do, and complacency is always the enemy of excellence, but the stresses and strains that good councillors have evidently endured during the recent crisis are proving to have been worthwhile.


New town clerk appointed

The first milestone arising from last night's meeting was the appointment of the town's new town clerk. This is Lesley Bramwell, who has been doing the job for some time on a temporary basis.

A wise investment for the council, to build on the progress, would be to purchase the latest (ninth) edition of the excellent Local Council Administration if they haven't already done so.

This authoritative book is the 'bible' for town clerks and diligent councillors.


Separation of Powers

One of the issues faced by elected representatives in the past in this town hall was that significant power in the town hall was concentrated in the hands of one person.

The recent appointment of a new town clerk therefore also marks a formal change in council procedures. The roles of Town Clerk and Responsible Financial Officer are now split: the two important town hall office functions will no longer be in the hands of one person.


New Mills Higher Educational Trust

The three serious problem areas of council business that Councillor Alistair Stevens is currently intimately involved in may shortly be reduced to two.

This is because another milestone passed last night was that Cllr Stevens stated at the council meeting - for the first time in public - that he wants to resign as Trustee of the New Mills Higher Educational Trust charity.

A trustee resignation in these circumstances should be in writing.

For details of the New Mills Higher Educational Trust saga, and its suspension by the Charity Commission, see earlier HPT articles.

Cllr Stevens' previous public statements at council meetings on this subject were initially that he was unaware he was a trustee of the charity, and then at a later council meeting that he had been told 'on legal advice' not to say anything on the subject.

Councillors tried to establish the handover mechanism during last night's meeting, but charities and trustees are a specialist area of law and further information may be sought in order to ensure this is done correctly.

These new pro-active developments - so long as matters are carried forward carefully - mean that the substantial sum of money in the charity that is currently inaccessible may yet be recovered for the local good causes it was intended for.


The Company Question

The second problem area of public business that Cllr Alistair Stevens is currently involved in is that he and son Jamie Stevens formed a limited company with the same name as the human resources business which is advising the council on staff matters.

Cllr Stevens is married to the ex-town clerk Susan Stevens, who at the time was an employee of the council.

What is the purpose of Cllr Alistair Stevens in having a company called Tall Poppies Consultants Ltd when the HR adviser to the council - of which he is a member - is also known as Tall Poppies Consultants?

What is the character of a person who would do that?  What is the character of a person who would conceive of such a thing as a remotely suitable idea for a councillor representing the town of New Mills to be involved in?  Because Cllr Stevens is a councillor at a tax-raising local authority, these are questions of public interest.

When this company matter was exposed by High Peak Transparency, Jamie Stevens immediately resigned as director of the company.  On the company's formation documents, Jamie Stevens stated to Companies House that his occupation is "HR consultant."  These facts are in the public domain, as well as being of public interest.

This Stevens company matter came up, albeit obliquely, at last night's town council meeting.  Every time Cllr Stevens raises a question in a council meeting about 'Tall Poppies', one or other councillor has to ask for clarification along the lines of: "Does Councillor Stevens mean the genuine Tall Poppies company or the one that he set up?"

It is long overdue for the town council to put this matter related to council business on the agenda: "To ask Cllr Stevens what is the reason for him setting up a limited company using the same name as the HR adviser to the council?"


The law governing council meetings

The third problem area of public business that Cllr Alistair Stevens is currently involved in is that he stayed in, and took part in, council meetings when matters concerning his spouse - who at the material times was town clerk and a paid employee of the council - were being discussed.

This is a criminal offence contrary to Section 34(1) of the Localism Act 2011.


Defamation Issues

A letter setting out a defamation claim from Alistair Stevens (and another) has been received in respect of some previous articles on High Peak Transparency.

It is therefore important to note that the above article principally 1) sets out facts; 2) asks questions of evident public interest.  Furthermore, most of the facts in the above article are public domain facts.

If a defamation allegation were to be received in respect of the above article, which was published after 1 January 2014, it would fall to be judged under the Defamation Act 2013 which now embodies statutory defences to such claims.

An important part of this site's success (page views now over 100,000, well done Transparency readers and well done local government transparency enthusiasts) has been the lively 'comments' section.

We therefore urge contributors to be thoughtful in their comments (if any) about the above article, to avoid the necessity of editing them before publication, or indeed blocking any submitted comments, for reasons of potential defamation.


09 April 2014

New Mills Labour Councillors Ignore Summons

Labour councillors Dishonest Ian Huddlestone (left) and Alan Barrow

Last night a second extraordinary meeting of High Peak Borough Council in quick succession was held.

The purpose of the meeting was to progress the Local Plan.  The Local Plan governs all future development in this area, both good and bad. The Local Plan is the most important task that is delegated by government to councils at this level.

When a council meeting is convened, a legal summons is sent to councillors to attend.

So what happened to the Labour councillors from New Mills who had been summoned to last night's important meeting?

Councillor Lance Dowson heeded the summons and duly attended. But there are three Labour councillors from New Mils.  The other two are Alan Barrow and Dishonest Ian Huddlestone.

Here, one is reminded that at a recent New Mills town council meeting, before Cllrs Barrow and Huddlestone resigned due to the recent town hall scandals starting to be exposed, these two Labour councillors also failed to attend.  What excuse did the two councillors offer for snubbing the electorate on that occasion?

They claimed they were “attending a meeting” of their local political party.  On that basis they refused to attend the council meeting.

That decision shows that these two councillors regard those internal local party political matters as more important than the councillor roles in which they have been elected to represent the public.

Representation at council meetings is one of the main reasons the public elects councillors.

Last night, Labour councillors Alan Barrow and Dishonest Ian Huddlestone again snubbed a council meeting.  This time it was a key meeting of the High Peak Borough Council.

What could be the explanation for the tandem no-show this time ?

One wonders. Are Cllrs Alan Barrow and Dishonest Ian Huddlestone soulmates?  Just inseparable buddies?  Or perhaps these two got married in secret, becoming the country’s first same-sex married councillors. Or maybe these two Labour councillors are Siamese twins, and nobody has noticed.

All sightings and information gratefully received.


03 April 2014

Seconds Out - Round 2


The next bruising round in High Peak's local plan saga will be at another extraordinary meeting of the Borough Council.  The meeting is at Pavilion Gardens, Buxton, on Tuesday 8 April starting at 7:15pm.

The term 'extraordinary meeting' does not mean it is amazing or without parallel: it's simply the term for a council meeting that has to be specially called for some reason.

If the length of the last meeting is anything to go by, you'd be well advised to bring a sleeping bag. Tell the babysitter she'll have plenty of time that evening to get the boyfriend in a vice-like grip etc.

There are some council documents that have been prepared for this meeting.  Along with the meeting's agenda, these can be found here.

A piece of new information from the last meeting concerns the manipulation of councillors' voting. Councillor Tony Ashton requested a recorded vote on the proposed amendment to reduce the annual housing target of 360 dwellings per annum to 325 per annum.

The result of this recorded vote and another one shortly thereafter appears to give the lie to local Labour's claim that its councillors' votes on the new Local Plan were not 'whipped' by its leadership.

Basically, all Labour councillors voted one way, while councillors of all other parties and of independent persuasion voted the other way.

Meanwhile, as local councillors try to manage house-building in their area, chaotic uncontrolled mass immigration into this country means that an unplanned 200,000 new houses a year - every year - have been needed and not built, along with additional new school places and so on.

How can any local authority councillors plan carefully when they've been undermined by central government failures on that scale?




19 March 2014

Dishonest Postman Leaves Meeting Room - Pristine Green Fields Saved


Last night's extraordinary meeting of High Peak Borough Council was held to discuss and vote on Local Plan progress for this area.

The local papers on Thursday should carry the more detailed reports of the meeting, and formal press releases and meeting minutes etc will appear on HPBC's official website in due course.

In the meantime, here is an informal sketch of impressions gathered during the meeting:

It's the screaming baby that gets the attention

It appears the principal purpose of most Borough councillors in this area is to stop new homes for people to live in. There are some noble exceptions, but that is the generality.

The councillors and their friends have homes to live in. Most of them appear to see their priority as stopping others having the same basic human right so far as this area is concerned.

The homeless, the local young people who cannot afford somewhere of their own to live, the poor people.  These are all voiceless, or don't know how to make their voices heard. In practice they are therefore largely ignored by most local councillors.

Instead, councillors give attention only to the comfortable and noisy nimby lobby. They give the impression that nimbys and their inflated house prices appear to be the God that is worshipped by many - not all - of the High Peak Borough Councillors.

The national picture and a failure in social justice

That is the local picture.  Nationally, what has happened in recent years is as follows.

The Labour government of 1997-2010 did two long-term things that, taken together, led to the national housing crisis we have today and to the High Peak local councillors finding themselves in the difficulties currently presented to them by the planning framework.

During the Blair government, green zealots heavily influenced all planning and environment policies. The rules governing new home building were tightened and tightened by the influence of the green lobbies. In the end, the new homes being built nationally fell to as low as 80,000 per year.

At the same time, Labour recklessly dismantled the barriers to entering this country. Uncontrolled mass immigration rose and rose, and soon was running at 300,000 net immigrants per year. Not in total. Every year.

Labour government policies meant that the number of people living in the country kept increasing, and the house-building kept reducing.

If you take those two policies together in a relatively small country like this for two or three years, what do you get?  A shortage of homes for people to live in.  If you keep those policies for 13 years - the period of the last Labour government -  what do you get?

Dire shortage and a full-on national housing crisis, especially for young people and the working poor.

That part of the public who turned up

So the public area of last night's High Peak council meeting was like a Nuremberg rally for middle class nimbys. Councillors who objected to new homes were cheered wildly and applauded  from the public area.

For example, a relatively tiny number of noisy people from Whaley Bridge with placards claimed to represent the whole town of Whaley Bridge. Clearly they don't.

A succession of public speakers said they did not want houses to be built. Unfortunately, they were not made to declare if they lived in a house or not.

Councillors, votes, and unparliamentary language

Former songwriter Godfrey Claff
Councillor Claff was allowed by the chairman to say a particular word ("b***s") several times. He used it in a saying about hearts and minds that he attributed to former president Richard Nixon. He liked saying it so much that he repeated it.

After a while, Cllr Claff decided the meeting hadn't heard the b-bomb word for too long, so he dropped it again.

Several councillors bemoaned the following utterly ridiculous situation: High Peak tries to settle its local plan, then government planning guidance suddenly and utterly changes course - even while High Peak's plan is being carefully drafted. So a lot of the work and time is wasted.

Last night, the Local Plan got changed in respect of a big development that was proposed for Laneside, New Mills. The change happened by the narrowest of margins.

Due to dishonest Labour councillor Ian Huddlestone having declared an interest in this matter, he had to leave the meeting room.  All his Labour colleagues voted to build on the pristine greenfield land at Laneside. The rest of the councillors (Tory, LibDem, Independent) voted against.

The vote was equal. If Dishonest Ian Huddlestone had been present, he would have voted with all his Labour party colleagues and the Laneside field owner would this morning have his lottery ticket. But Dishonest Ian Huddlestone was outside the room and could not vote.

Candidate for Audiobooks
So the chairman Cllr Tony Kemp, who has a lovely speaking voice, had to make a casting vote.

Cllr Kemp voted against the Laneside proposed development.

Cllr Kemp's voice is so good that he should be offered jobs reading for audio-books.

Dishonest Ian Huddlestone was then able to return to the council meeting.

Beauty sleep requirements obviously meant that this reporter left the council meeting at 11:00pm. That is eleven o'clock at night. Yes, councillors were attending a meeting at that time. The meeting had begun at 7:15pm.

The councillors hadn't even started on dealing with the Buxton part of the local plan. We await hearing what time they finished, and the further details of their deliberations.

There's nowhere to build any houses

12 March 2014

Town Hall: Situations Vacant



At last night's New Mills town council meeting local resident Mr Tony Lawton, in the public speaking session, rightly complained that there were a lot of errors in the advertisement on the directgov website for vacancies at New Mills town hall.

There are currently two vacancies at New Mills Town Council. The following notices are from the town council's own website, where the absolutely outrageous multiple typos and errors of the directgov website advert have not been replicated:

Town Clerk

Job description:

25 Hours per week Monday - Friday between 9.00am - 5.30pm

New Mills Town Council is looking for a capable and constant Town Clerk. Previous experience is essential and a CILCA qualification would be advantageous. You will need to have an excellent understanding of Council process, have previously dealt with councillors from a range of political parties and will have managed a small team.

New Mills Town Council has undergone massive organisational transformation; therefore you will need to be able to build rapport, have excellent communication skills and be able to work within a challenging political arena for the betterment of New Mills' wider community.

You must be able to demonstrate a working knowledge of Town Council process, policy and correct procedure to correctly advise the Councillors at New Mills. A strong independent character with a good sense of humour would suit this role.

Handwritten cover letters and CVs to be forwarded for the attention of Deborah Garratt, Clerical Assistant, New Mills Town Council, Town Hall, Springbank, New Mills, High Peak, Derbyshire. SK22 4AT


Heritage Centre Administrator

Job description:

Up to 15 Hours per week Monday - Saturday between 8.30am - 6.00pm

New Mills Town Council is looking for a capable and competent administrator and organiser, to assume responsibility for the overseeing of the Heritage Centre.

This role requires a flexible and dynamic attitude as you will be coordinating the existing team dealing with the museum collection, organising volunteers, reporting and updating to both  New Mills Town Council, which is the Governing Body, and the Management Committee. You will also be responsible for cash handling, stock taking and locking and unlocking the premises on a rota basis which you will be responsible for organising and coordinating.

This is a very challenging and exciting role and previous commercial experience would be advantageous. Any previous experience in dealing with museum exhibits would also be beneficial but is not essential.

Handwritten cover letters and CVs to be forwarded for the attention of acting Town Clerk Lesley Bramwell, New Mills Town Council, Town Hall, Springbank, New Mills, High Peak, Derbyshire SK22 4AT


For both vacancies:

All applications to be received by Midday on Monday 24th March 2014.

Interviews will commence Monday 31st March 2014


Critical error in advertisements

Here is the contact address that has been used on the direct.gov adverts (this text is directly copied from the adverts):

"Handwritten cover letters and CVs to be forwarded for the attention of acting town clerk Lesley Branwell, Springbank, High Peak, SK22 4AT"

Notice anything missing from this important postal address?  A full, correct address is key to getting in a decent array of good applications and CVs from an advertisement.

The advertisement errors should be urgently corrected, especially the incomplete and incorrect address of the prospective employer, and consequently consideration should be given to the deadline for applications being extended.





11 March 2014

Town Council Announcement re Disciplinary Hearings Conclusion

An earlier announcement in a different country, unconnected with the High Peak

At last night's New Mills town council meeting, taking place on Monday 10 March 2014, a statement was read out to the meeting which contained the following information:

"On 14 February 2014, the Disciplinary Appeal Panel offered their final outcome.  This followed lengthy and unnecessarily protracted delays not of this council’s making.

This external appeal panel upheld the original decision of the council's internal disciplinary hearing panel. The decision was to terminate the contracts of employment of two staff.

Their final decision was unanimous.

The next stage will be Employment Tribunal.  At this time, NMTC are engaging with the legal team to put together the case to be heard at Employment Tribunal.

Once the dates have been set, councillors will be updated accordingly along with any need for further supporting information, statements or calling of witnesses."

Notes:

The above announcement that was made at the council meeting appears entirely factual. It is on a subject that is a matter of public interest.

Factually, the two staff who were dismissed from the council's employment for gross misconduct - and who appealed against that decision - were the former town clerk of New Mills and a clerical assistant working at the New Mills town hall. This is a matter of public interest. It is also information that is in the public domain.

It is a fact, with many witnesses present, that in the town council meeting referred to above Councillor Alistair Stevens asked for this item to be not dealt with in the public part of the meeting. However, the other councillors refused to hear the announcement in Part 2 of the meeting, which is the confidential part of council meetings at which the public is excluded. Council meetings are matters of public interest.

The public proceedings of an Employment Tribunal hearing have absolute privilege and therefore are immune from claims of defamation.

In view of recently threatened defamation proceedings against HPT Editor, the writing style in the articles on this site - which are virtually all on matters of public interest - may appear a bit more laborious from now on.

08 March 2014

Councillor Standards of Conduct: Senior Officer to Address Council Meeting In Public



Many of High Peak Transparency's posts concern the standard of conduct of local councillors.

Councillors are individuals who represent the public. All their activities and statements while in office are matters of public interest.

Some individuals have behaved very well, some individuals have behaved very badly, and some have a mixed record.

In New Mills at least one councillor has broken the law, during council meetings and while inside the council chamber.

The next meeting of New Mills town council will hear from Mark Trillo, who is High Peak Borough Council's Monitoring Officer.

The monitoring officer is the public official charged by the law to monitor and maintain high standards of conduct by councillors.

The meeting is at New Mills town hall on Monday 10 March 2014, commencing at 7:30 pm.  Mr Trillo's presentation and questions and answers will be near the start of the meeting. Therefore, members of the public who only want to be present for that session may do so and then leave the meeting to carry on with the rest of its business.

Other notable public interest matters at this meeting are:

Item 24 on the agenda: "Charities - feedback - Cllr Stevens".

If Councillor Alistair Stevens will satisfactorily clear up the large amount of missing or inaccessible money that happened while this councillor was a trustee of the charity*, and if the money is returned to the purposes for which it was donated to the charity, then it goes without saying that we shall be pleased to report all the circumstances of this recovery of the money for use by the good causes.

Item 26 on the agenda: "Announcement regarding the Disciplinary Appeals - Cllr Gadd"

If the ex-town clerk Mrs Susan Stevens - who was dismissed last year from the office of the town clerk of New Mills for gross misconduct  - has had that dismissal overturned by the independent appeal panel hearing the case, then it goes without saying that we shall be pleased to report all the circumstances of this reinstatement.


*New Mills Higher Education Trust  (registered charity)

18 February 2014

Poppygate: Council Response



Below is the New Mills Town Council press release concerning the recent remembrance poppies row that reached the national press and attracted comment from around the world.

It is reprinted here as issued to the local newspapers:


COUNCIL'S RESPONSE TO MEDIA COVERAGE

DUE TO THE MEDIA INTEREST THAT HAS BEEN SHOWN, OVER THE LAST TWO WEEKS, IN THE NEW MILLS TOWN COUNCILS RE-ORGANISING OF ITS STORAGE SPACE IN THE TOWN HALL THE TOWN COUNCIL WOULD WISH TO MAKE THE FOLLOWING COMMENTS:-

ALL OF THE OWNERS OR CUSTODIANS OF THE ITEMS FOUND IN VARIOUS LOCATIONS THROUGHOUT THE TOWN HALL HAVE NOW BEEN CONTACTED AND ALL OF THEM, APART FROM THE POPPY APPEALS ORGANISER, HAVE WORKED WITH THE COUNCIL IN AN AMICABLE MANNER TO SORT OUT PROPER STORAGE FACILITIES.

WITH REGARD TO THE POPPIES AND OTHER REMEMBRANCE DAY ITEMS. THE NUMBER DISCOVERED WAS SOME 23,750 POPPIES NOT THE 10,000 THAT WAS MENTIONED IN THE PRESS. IN ADDITION TO THESE THERE WERE ALSO HUNDREDS OF OTHER REMEMBRANCE DAY ITEMS, WREATHS, COLLECTING BOXES AND TINS ETC. TOTALLING, IN ALL, NEARLY 25,000 ITEMS.

THE COUNCIL DID OFFER TO CONSIDER STORING THESE ITEMS IN THE TOWN HALL AND DID INFORM THE POPPY APPEALS ORGANISER WHAT HE WOULD NEED TO DO TO FACILITATE THAT BUT HE CHOSE NOT TO ACCEPT THIS OFFER AND MOVED THEM.

THE COUNCIL HAS NEVER SAID THAT IT WAS GOING TO BIN, BURN OR DESTROY THE POPPIES IN ANY WAY AND WOULD NEVER CONSIDER SUCH A RIDICULOUS AND DISRESPECTFUL ACTION.

THE COUNCIL DEEPLY REGRETS THE AMOUNT OF UPSET THIS HAS CAUSED, NOT LEAST TO ITS OWN COUNCILLORS AND STAFF, THAT THE PROVIDING OF THIS INACCURATE AND POSSIBLY MALICIOUS INFORMATION TO BOTH LOCAL AND NATIONAL PAPERS, BY AN INDIVIDUAL WHO APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN ACTING WITHOUT THE AUTHORITY OF HIS PARENT ORGANISATION.

IN ORDER TO MAKE IT VERY CLEAR WHAT THE COUNCIL’S RELATIONSHIP IS WITH THE ROYAL BRITISH LEGION THEY HAVE PROVIDED THE COUNCIL WITH THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT TO ADD TO THESE COMMENTS.

A SPOKESMAN FOR THE ROYAL BRITISH LEGION SAID:

“THE ROYAL BRITISH LEGION HAS A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH NEW MILLS TOWN COUNCIL AND WE ARE GRATEFUL TO THE COUNCIL FOR ACCOMMODATING OUR POPPY APPEAL STOCK FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS. WE HAVE NOW IDENTIFIED OTHER PREMISES FOR STORAGE AND THE STOCK HAS BEEN MOVED’’


12 February 2014

MP Ousted In Attack Of The Doughnut

Before...
Today, High Peak's Andrew Bingham was amongst several male Tory MPs who lost their coveted seats immediately behind the Prime Minister at televised Prime Minister's Questions.

Straight, white men like Andrew Bingham make up less than 50% of the general population. But in the Conservative parliamentary party they are in the majority, and by a large margin.

Tory party managers are acutely aware of the importance of public image. And PMQs is the main part of parliamentary business that gets on the national TV news. So when a black man became a Tory MP, after they gave thanks for the miracle he was hurriedly placed immediately behind the Prime Minister for visual impact on the electorate at PMQs.

'Well I've got a black friend!'
It is not known who the party managers were trying to fool with this. The very rarity of a person of colour on the Tory benches made his involuntary prominent positioning for the news bulletins look ridiculous.

Andrew Bingham has been the undisputed champion of bagging one of the seats immediately behind the Prime Minister for the televised PMQs.

However, from today Andrew Bingham has more than a coloured friend to contend with in the competition to sit behind David Cameron.

Last week there was criticism from Labour that the Tories were a male-dominated party in parliament. So today four women (yes, there are that many in the Conservative parliamentary party) were press-ganged into sitting in a row immediately behind the PM. Along with some new women who were slid along the front bench to be nearer to the despatch box money shot, the desired 'doughnut' (or halo) effect surrounding the Prime Minister was achieved.

This particular doughnut/halo around the party's central figure on the screen - David Cameron - was intended to give the impression of a cuddly minorities-friendly party for the TV pictures that will be shown on the news.

Sadly for the party which gave us the first woman prime minister and the first Jewish prime minister, this all looks a bit tokenist.

... and After