25 September 2016

A Good, Clear Road Map Out Of The Swamp




Background

Since the last full New Mills town council meeting (12 September 2016) all the correspondence and argument into High Peak Transparency has been about one subject: the horrible mess that the council has got itself into about the empty council seats that were left unfilled at the last local elections.

Those local elections were held in May 2015. They left six council seats unfilled out of twelve seats in total.  As at the date of this article, the council has either two vacancies or three vacancies. The number depends on whether David Lamb is co-opted onto the council.

At the 12 September meeting, a report was presented to the council.  The text of the report has been published here on HPT a few days ago.  The audio of the part of the council meeting dealing with the report is likewise on HPT.



Way forward

If one accepts that the key issue now is for the New Mills town council to put all this horrible mess behind it and move forward positively, then here is a road map:


1.  Lynne Allen is a councillor.  Cllr Allen was co-opted by the council.  it was done in public.  Her co-option by the council is specifically and clearly recorded in the audio of the meeting.  The council resolution co-opting her is publicly recorded in writing, in the minutes of the council meeting.


2. The council resolves in its next meeting to appoint the 'floating' councillors to the wards they applied for.  If they didn't apply for a specific ward then the 10 October 2016 council meeting can decide which ward, in consultation with the councillor concerned.

This would require a carefully-worded standalone agenda item, just for this one issue of 'warding' the known councillors.


3. That only leaves the issue of David Lamb. At the next council meeting a vote should be held whether to adopt the report recommendation and co-opt David Lamb. Or not.

(Note:  a ward needs to be specified for David Lamb's co-option vote, on the same basis as the wards were earlier specified in the vote that 'warded' the floating councillors.)


4.  Whatever that David Lamb co-option council vote decides, that will be the end of that issue. There cannot be a tie, because in the event of a tie, the Chair of the council has a second, casting, vote.

In the interests of transparency and simplicity, this specific 'whether to co-opt David Lamb onto the council' decision should have its own carefully-worded standalone agenda item



Consequences

If David Lamb is not co-opted at the 10 October NMTC meeting, there will be three vacancies on the council that must be filled.

If David Lamb is co-opted, there will be two vacancies that must be filled.

There is no need for any councillor to resign over the result of this decision, whatever that result may be.  If one or other councillor does resign, then that is their decision.  It is essential that this council now moves on positively from this mess.



Filling the remaining vacancies lawfully

These two or three vacancies will then be filled in the way specified by law:

The council's proper officer notifies the Borough Returning Officer of the vacancies and the wards that have the vacancies;

Notices go up inviting any ten electors to call a by-election if they want to;

If ten electors call a by-election to fill a vacancy then a by-election is held.  If not, then the council can co-opt the required new member(s).


20 September 2016

The Horrible Co-option Mess. When Will It End?




Facts

At some point the town council has to decisively move on from this horrible co-option mess.  It is both stopping the council from functioning efficiently and also damaging its public reputation.

The body that will make the decision is New Mills Town Council.  If the October 2016 meeting agenda item is worded carefully and thoughtfully, this will result in the final decision of the council on this saga of the 2015 co-options.

The report has faults.  This means that some people don’t like it and want to reject it.  But a different report by different authors would have a different set of people not liking it and wanting to rejecting it.


Becoming a town/parish councillor

There are only two ways to become a town/parish councillor.  Either one stands for public election in a local government ward, wins the election, and the appointed Returning Officer makes a declaration that this person is a councillor.  Or one is co-opted by a council, in which case a council meeting records its resolution that this person is a councillor.

So far as David Lamb is concerned, neither declaration nor council recorded resolution has happened yet.

The council’s proper officer has signed David Lamb’s declaration of acceptance of office.  David Lamb was summoned to council meetings early in this saga and attended those council meetings. There is now an independent report, commissioned by the council itself, recommending that David Lamb be instated.

These would be relevant facts in his favour were Mr Lamb to apply for a judicial review of the October 2016 NMTC meeting’s decision, if it were to go against him.


Resolving the different issues, step by step

Let us now unpick this Gordian knot carefully, discrete step by discrete step.  Dealing with the easier issues first should mean that the other answers fall into place as well.


Lynne Allen

Some people are saying that if David Lamb is not a councillor then Lynne Allen is not a councillor either.  Some people are saying David Lamb is a councillor and Lynne Allen is not a councillor. Some people are saying Lynne Allen is a councillor and David lamb is not a councillor.

Trying to link the two issues is a fool’s errand.  Making that link is also sometimes used as a smokescreen.

Lynne Allen applied for co-option to the council.  The council discussed whether to co-opt her.  The council co-opted her as a councillor.  The proof is in the council’s written resolution to do so.

Apart from a transgression by not sending a necessary apology to the council’s proper officer (wrongly relying on another councillor to do it for her), in the main business of being a councillor Cllr Allen has done nothing to make anyone regret the council’s decision in co-opting her.

So let no one raise any further question or smokescreens re Cllr Lynn Allen’s office as a New Mills town councillor.


Wards

On the face of it, co-opted councillors appeared to be appointed ‘generally’ and not to wards.  If so, this was an error.

But does this view stand up to scrutiny?

Each co-option application named the ward that the applicant was applying for.

So why make problems where none exist?  Apart from the disputed David Lamb co-option, a formal resolution at the upcoming October 2016 council meeting confirming in writing the ward that each ‘not David Lamb’ candidate applied for, and then resolving and recording that Candidate A represents Ward B etc would settle this aspect of the matter.

If any co-opted councillors did not specify a ward in their application, Ollersett would presumably need to be specified in the new resolution, as that is where the main vacancies were.


David Lamb

Provided the issues itemised above are now simply concluded along the lines outlined, the remaining matter to be settled would be co-opting David Lamb onto New Mills town council for the appropriate ward.  Or not co-opting him, dependent on which way the council votes.

The council wisely commissioned an independent report.

This means that the council has been presented with a golden opportunity now to end this protracted, complicated, horrible, reputation-damaging, messy problem of its own making.

Some people don’t like the report, but that is not the point.  The point is to put all this mess behind the council and enable it to move on.


The way out

The body that was asked for its findings by way of a report was the Derbyshire Association of Local Councils (‘DALC’).

The report, which has DALC behind it, recommends that David Lamb be instated as a councillor.

As this cannot be done by magic or superstition, but only by co-option at this stage, if the council votes to accept the recommendation then the resolution needs to say something along the lines of:
‘By accepting the recommendation of the report (details) the co-option by New Mills town council of David Lamb to x ward is hereby confirmed’.


And finally...

Pragmatists please now come to the aid of your local council.



Audio from the New Mills Town Council meeting of 12 September 2016


By popular demand here is the entire audio of the part of the New Mills town council meeting which dealt with what the council should do about the DALC report that was presented to the council on 12 September 2016.

video



19 September 2016

Co-option D-Day Monday 10 October 2016


Another page from the Time Waster's Manual


Some notes about concluding the very time-consuming councillor co-option issue, ahead of the next regular New Mills Town Council meeting.

An independent report was commissioned from Derbyshire Association of Local Councils by New Mills Town Council.

Its purpose was not to be perfect, but rather to help the council settle its protracted dispute over co-opting David Lamb onto the council.

The report has faults, but it is like a referee's performance in a cup final or an arbitrator at a hearing: all parties to the process just have to accept the rough with the smooth.

The report clearly recommends to the council that David Lamb should be instated as councillor.

This decision would settle the matter and the council could then move forward and stop wasting the time of councillors and everyone who attends meetings.

The town council, and the town, has a lot to be grateful to David Lamb for.

In the upcoming council vote on the report, the fewer cop-outs, oops I mean abstentions, the better.

The agenda item and council resolution need to be worded clearly and to leave no room for ambiguity.

There has to be a point at which any dispute is settled.

High Peak Transparency probably won't be covering this matter again, after the council's 10 October vote on the issue is made, reported, and respectfully commented on.  Reason:  it has all become rather negative, time-consuming and sometimes silly.  It has to end somewhere.

Re the time-consuming aspect of all this, a comment came in directly asking HPT Editor "Haven't you got anything better to do?"

The answer is yes.

Surely, after the town council meeting on 10 October 2016,  the same has to apply to all the parties to this dispute.  It definitely must apply to the town council of New Mills, which is paid for out of public money.

15 September 2016

In full: DALC Report to New Mills Town Council





"Feedback Report from attending the New Mills Town Council Meeting, held on Monday 8th August 2016

INTRODUCTION

The credentials for CH Diana Ruff are as follows: - Present Chair for Wingerworth Parish Council, (a post held for the last 4 years), one of 2 Vice Chairs for DALC Executive Committee and a member of the Standards Board for North East Derbyshire District Council.

The credentials for CU Sue Bean are as follows: - DALC Executive Member, Parish Councillor for Brimington North and a Public Governor for the Chesterfield Royal Hospital.


BACKGROUND INFORMATION

On behalf of DALC, Councillor Sue. Bean and Councillor Diana Ruff attended the New Mills Tow Council meeting held on Monday 8th August 2016.

This follows a request from the Chair of NMTC to help resolve a problem they are facing, with regard to Co-option of members to the Council. This problem has been rumbling on for the past fourteen months, and closure / advice is now being sought.

Before attending the above mentioned meeting, we were both furnished with minutes of previous meetings, dating from Monday 8th June 2015 to 16th May 2016. These had been compiled and sent by the present Chair, Cllr Barry Bate, to the DALC offices.

After reading these minutes, many concerns regarding the practice of both the past and present NMTC members became apparent. These will be addressed at a later stage within this report.


STAGE 1:  THE MEETING HELD ON 8 AUGUST 2016

On our arrival at the Council Chamber, we were met by the Clerk, Lesley Bramwell, who made us very welcome. The Clerk informed us that she had not been aware of our attending this meeting until she received a telephone call from the DALC office. The Clerk then supplied us with a sealed package containing information regarding the matter in hand.

This is certainly unacceptable behaviour from the Chair towards his Clerk.

The Chair introduced himself to us on his arrival.

The meeting was attended by 6 other members of the Council, the Clerk, the Minute Taker, and several members of the public. Before the meeting started we were given a letter from a member of the public. This letter expressed their considerable concerns relating to the NMTC.

The meeting started several minutes late, following the Clerk’s action of pointing out the time to the Chair.

The Chair introduced us as visitors from DALC, as a result of his request to the DALC offices, asking for some guidance to help bring closure to the problem of the Co-option of Candidates to NMTC. He then asked for there to be a variation in order of Agenda business, so that the main item on the Agenda (this being the Co-option process) could be brought forward. This was proposed and adopted by those present.

As the meeting progressed, it became very apparent of differing attitudes and grasps of the correct procedures that this Council should have followed. The one person who has the correct knowledge and experience, “the Clerk”, was apparently being either “sidelined or simply ignored”.

Cllr Lance Dowson did appear to have a good grasp of the correct procedures, but this did not sit well with many other members present.

During a heated discussion regarding the reference of previous policy to be adhered to”, the Clerk asked for a copy of this policy, as she does not hold one.

It then became apparent no member of the Council could supply a copy of said policy. During this discussion the Chair did suspend the meeting for comments from the public to be heard. Once again the meeting continued with further discussion relating to the problem in hand.

The closing comments from the Chair proved to be of great concern to us - not least to be made aware that the Council did not have the correct training or working knowledge for the Co-option Procedure does beggar belief!

To re-iterate, our view is that this meeting was not handled very confidently by the incumbent Chair.
It was also clearly evident that the people attending the meeting in the “public gallery” were most dissatisfied with how NMTC conduct their affairs.


STAGE 2:  READING OF ALL THE MATERIALS SUPPLIED AND LISTENING TO A RECORDING OF THE 22 JUNE 2015 MEETING

Since this meeting (i.e. the 8 August 2016 meeting), we have both been through all the other documentation provided, and have listened to an Audio recording of the meeting held on the 22 June 2015.

The Co-option process had started off quite correctly, with an advertisement for the election for Councillors to represent both Ollersett and Thornsett Wards.

After receiving letters of interest from several candidates, the Clerk then sent out formal, letters dated 9 June 2015, accompanied by the Application Packs.

Further, follow-up letters were sent on the 10 June 2015, clearly stating the date and time for the interview process, also asking the candidates to indicate for which Ward they would like to be considered. This letter clearly states that there were 5 vacancies for the Ollersett Ward, and a single vacancy for Thornsett.

Once the forms had been returned to the Clerk, it became apparent that seven candidates had applied for the 6 vacancies, with just one candidate nominating themselves for the Thornsett Ward.

On the evening of Monday 22 June the set date for interviews, only 6 of the Candidates attended the meeting, the seventh candidate being on holiday (sic).  This led to a discussion regarding the way best to continue the process of co-option.

This is the point where the whole process starts to break down.

Items under discussion were - should the said Council continue to vote for the separate wards, and should they still include the absent candidate?

The Council decided to not vote on Ward allocation, and also to include the absent applicant for the interview process.

At this point, The Council are now in breach of their advertisement.

The Council, having decided to include the absent applicant in the interview process, should have informed the attending candidates that they also had the opportunity to not participate in the “formal question” session, and that they would be judged by the merits of their returned paperwork. This clearly did not happen.

The recording represents probably the most interesting and worrying item of evidence with regard to this meeting and its process.

At one juncture, an unspecified person present does pose the question - “After listening to this discussion, why would anybody want to join this Council?”

The Clerk also asked a very pointed question — “Would all the Council members have dealt with all the candidates in the same manner, had they not have attended this meeting?”— she did not receive a satisfactory reply.

During the final stages of this recorded process, the “Clerk” is heard to alert the members that a candidate has left the meeting. The meeting is suspended whilst the Clerk leaves the room to locate the missing applicant. Clerk returns to the meeting to inform members that the candidate had left to walk her dog!

The recording continues to ‘hear’ the “Chair” closing the meeting, only to be asked by the Clerk “should the Chair not announce the Candidates by name?”.

The “Chair” agreed that he should, but did not reconvene the meeting in the proper manner, just announced the names and once again stating that ‘The meeting is closed’.

At this point, one of the applicants vocally withdraws his application but is simply reminded by the Chair that “The meeting is closed.”

It is our joint opinion, as representatives for DALC, that this meeting was severely flawed from the outset.

Subsequent to this meeting, the Clerk did receive a written letter from Andy Bowers, stating that he had withdrawn his application and nomination.

Also at this stage, but on a later date, the Clerk endorsed the paper work for David Lamb to become a member of the Council, on the basis that it is clearly recorded that all the applicants were suitable candidates for NMTC. She did not endorse the paperwork for Lynn Allen (absent candidate), because she felt this might breach Standing order 7a, but the Chair had subsequently signed Lynn Allen’s form.

After reading and listening to all the evidence presented our conclusion is that this Council as it stands is not fit for purpose.

We would like to make the following recommendations.


Recommendations and WaYs forward for NMTC.

1.            David Lamb should be instated as a full member of NMTC; it is clear from the SCORING sheets (he had the second highest score) and his credentials that he is an experienced and knowledgeable member to have on board. He was also the one candidate to stand for the advertised Ward of Thornsett.

2.            That NMTC should all undergo a “full training session” from DALC, so that everyone on this Council is fully conversant with the up to date procedures and how they should conduct themselves within meetings. The Chair should attend the DALC training for being a CHAIR.

3.            That NMTC reviews and where necessary define and update all their working policies. We would suggest starting with clear and precise instructions for the Co-option Process and the Standing Orders Policy.

As a matter of good practice the Standards Committee working with the Clerk should review policies on an agreed timescale. All policies should then be presented to the full Council for discussion, and if no amendments are required, they should be signed off and dated by the present Chair and Clerk, with a review date agreed.

A copy of all working policies should be kept by the Clerk in her office.

4.            That NMTC should fully value the Clerk that they have, and should work with her and not against her. The Clerk is one of the most important members of this Council, having the knowledge and experience that this Council requires, and with that in mind, she should be treated with the respect her office/position holds.

5.            And finally, That if NMTC cannot reach a satisfactory conclusion from any of the above recommendations, that they should have the courage to dissolve the present Council and put the decision making back in hands of the electors and hold a new election.


These are recommendations jointly made by Cllr Sue Bean and Cllr Diana Ruff but the final  decisions will  have to be  made by the present NMTC.


We sincerely hope that the above recommendations will be acted upon as the residents of New Mills District certainly deserve better from their Town Council."

13 September 2016

DALC Report: Recommendations and ways forward for New Mills Town Council


In advance of the full report by the Derbyshire Association of Local Councils ('DALC') being transcribed for publication on HPT, exclusively for High Peak Transparency readers we now publish here the final and most important section of the report.  This is the report's recommendations:



"After reading and listening to all the evidence presented our conclusion is that this Council as it stands is not fit for purpose.  We would like to make the following recommendations.

Recommendations and ways forward for NMTC

1.  David Lamb should be instated as a full member of NMTC; it is clear from the scoring sheets (he had the second highest score) and his credentials that he is an experienced and knowledgeable member to have on board.  He was also the one candidate to stand for the advertised Ward of Thornsett.

2.  NMTC should all undergo a "full training session" from DALC, so that everyone on this council is fully conversant with the up-to-date procedures and how they should conduct themselves within meetings.  The Chair should attend the DALC training for being a Chair.

3.  NMTC review and where necessary define and update all their working policies.  We would suggest starting with with clear and precise instructions for the co-option process and the Standing Orders policy.

As a matter of good practice the Standards Committee working with the Clerk should review policies on an agreed timescale.  All policies should then be presented to the full council for discussion, and if no amendments are required they should be signed off and dated by the present Chair and Clerk, with a review date agreed.

A copy of all working policies should be kept by the Clerk in her office.

4.  NMTC should fully value the Clerk that they have, and should work with her and not against her.  The Clerk is one of the most important members (sic) of this council, having the knowledge and experience that this council requires, she should be treated with the respect her office/position holds.

5.  If NMTC cannot reach a satisfactory conclusion from any of the above recommendations, they should have the courage to dissolve the present council and put the decision-making back in the hands of the electors and hold a new election."


Later on, the authors of the report add:

"We sincerely hope that the above recommendations will be acted upon as the residents of New Mils certainly deserve better from their Town Council."


11 September 2016

Town council membership below par - next steps

New Mills town hall, before living accommodation was added to the property


Is New Mills town council about to settle its co-option problem, and the knock-on effect of a shortage of councillors?

Like one of Roald Dahl's imaginary creatures, this issue has grown and grown and finally become preposterous.

This long-running problem started at the spring of 2015 local election, and has still has not been concluded at the time of writing, heading into autumn 2016.

At the New Mills town council meeting of 12 September 2016, the report on this subject from the Derbyshire Association of Local Councils will be presented.

Presumably a discussion by the council about this matter will follow.  It is early on the agenda, being Item 4, even ahead of the 'public speaking' session which usually starts a town council meeting session.

There is a backlog of decisions needed by this council, which is paid for by public money.  Agendas are not being finished, even with council meetings running on later than they should.

This co-option and council membership issue now needs to be concluded.

Let us all hope that the council meeting of 12 September 2016, at the town hall in New Mills, will be a milestone on the road to settlement.


19 July 2016

Letter to New Mills Town Council from the council's internal auditor




Following requests to HPT from members of the New Mills public, we publish here the letter that accompanied the report on the Internal Audit of New Mills Town Council’s accounts for 2015-16.

The letter was read out during the council's 11 July 2016 meeting.

The letter is from the council’s internal auditors, Butler Cook of Codnor in Derbyshire and is dated 24 June 2016:


'We write to confirm that the internal Audit process has now been completed and again we are pleased to report that the accounting system under the Sage program continues to improve and strengthen, albeit with some notable lapses that should not be happening if the periodic results are subject to a reasonable analytical review.  We also note that changes in administration staff have not helped the situation this year.  This is discussed in more detail further on in this report.

'It is pleasing to see that the NALC Model Operating Standing Orders and Financial Regulations have been adopted but we would recommend that they are personalised to a much greater extent (e.g. Reference to Welsh Regulations are not appropriate).  Both these documents should be brought to the attention of all Council Members on at least an annual basis.

'However, we need to explain why it has been necessary to make some negative observations on the Internal Audit Report a follows:

'B:  We note that whilst minutes of the council meetings have been published the Financial Regulations have not been met in that NO MINUTES have been signed off at the following meeting by the Chairman of the Meeting and as such gives no authority to any decisions made during any of the meetings.

'It is also evident that on a number of occasions the technical advice of the Clerk has not been adopted or due regard taken of it.  It will follow that if the Clerk is advising on fact then that advice should be followed as it will be founded on your own Standing Orders and potentially Councillors could be leaving themselves open to personal liability or even a possible Constructive Dismissal Claim by the Clerk.

'E:  We identified an issue over VAT which, a mentioned above, could have been avoided with a more robust analytical review.  A large VAT input claim was coded to the wrong part of the Sage system resulting in an underclaim of over £3,600.  this has now been amended but could have been avoided if the balance on the VAT Control Account had been properly reconciled.

'In all other respects all other E objectives have been met.

'We trust the above comments will be useful to you.  If at a later stage you would wish me to address the Council on any of these matters that can be arranged.

'Yours sincerely etc…'



Note from HPT Editor:  the references to 'B' and 'E' refer to sections in the standard Annual Report for town and parish councils.

18 May 2016

St John Ambulance in High Peak




The following has been received from a High Peak Transparency contributor as a comment, but its content deserves to be more widely known so here it is on its own stand-alone page:


'New Mills St John Ambulance group are disbanding, it would be interesting to understand who owns their assets and also what has happened to the financial contribution from NMTC bonfire fund earlier this year.
Given that the group haven't covered any events recently I think they should pay the money back.
Hopefully they publish accounts and everyone can see where all their donations go, or perhaps that is why they are disbanding.'


This is not unconnected with the ownership of the caravan that New Mills Town Council ratepayers' money, unknown to the town councillors at the relevant time, was used to pay insurance on.