24 November 2015

Casual Vacancy at New Mills Town Council

We understand that Josh Gaskell has resigned from New Mills Town Council.

Assuming this information given to HPT is not a hoax, the vacancy will be notified to the public by the returning officer at High Peak Borough Council.

If ten electors in Mr Gaskell's ward demand a by-election then one will be held.  If ten electors do not come forward then New Mills Town Council will go through a co-option process.

Seasonal note:  the bickering over the last NMTC co-options has not even ceased, and they were in the summer.  In four weeks' time it will be the winter solstice.

To quote Bob Cratchit, who so far as is known has not stood for New Mills town council, "a Merry Christmas to you, sir!"

12 November 2015

Is this two bald men fighting over a comb?

As a public service, the following two comments, anonymously received by this website in the last 24 hours, are published.

The reason for publication is for local council taxpayers to see the extent and the costs of the internal strife currently within New Mills Town Council:

"The Chair does NOT take advice from the Clerk! If he did the Council would not be in the mess that it is in especially regarding the cooption process and all the nonsense that has occurred since.  He may be ok running visit new mills but he's shown, by his actions or inactions, that he is no good running the Council."

"The clerk is constantly undermining the chairs authority, she apparently didn't even tell him she had summonsed David lamb as a councillor, which he is not, to last Mondays meeting, she should be working with the chair not against him. It maybe time for her to go for the good of new mills. She has no loyalty or connection to the town."

There is no need for this problem.  But it is being continued ad nauseum by two factions on the council, neither of whom seem prepared to give way on this matter.

If neither the Chair nor the town clerk/proper officer is going to leave the council, or is going to give way on this specific issue, then is there any other practical solution than now obtaining the expert opinion of paid legal counsel (barrister) specialising in town/parish council law?

The issue is:  Is David Lamb a member of New Mills Town Council?

Both sides should put their own arguments independently, in writing, to the same specialist counsel. The town council's solicitor would find the appropriate barrister to give the independent opinion.

If possible, both sides should agree in advance to abide by counsel's opinion.  Even if that is not possible, then the counsel's expert opinion should still be sought by the council.

If the losing side is not prepared to give way after receiving counsel's expert opinion, then  they would lose all credibility. The winning side would then be able to go to the court, if the losing side is not prepared to give way, and seek an Order that Mr David Lamb is or isn't a councillor (according to which of those two positions has expert counsel's opinion on its side).

Alternatively, a new simple co-option (or election) of one councillor should now take place, with the council ward specified in advance.  The mechanism of this would need the approval of High Peak Borough Council.

It has already been six months since the local elections that gave rise to this situation.

How much longer is this paralysis of New Mills Town Council's public business - expensively paid for by the local council taxpayers - going to go on?

In this situation, there are costs of doing nothing.

10 November 2015

The Business of New Mills Town Council

New Mills Town Council ('NMTC') takes in over £300,000 of public money every year.  The editor of High Peak Transparency is just one of thousands of council tax payers in the town - in HPT Ed's case to the tune of almost £1,000 this year.  Many people who read this site are in the same position, sometimes with higher council tax bills.  All the town councillors bar one are in the same position.

Having placed the above central facts on the record, what follows is a neutral description of what happened at last night's duly convened New Mills town council meeting.

Councillors, public, and council officers assembled in the council chamber in time for the 7:30 pm meeting start time.

Cllr Sean Whewell, the chair of the council, opened the meeting by welcoming councillors and the public.

David Lamb interrupted as soon as Cllr Whewell started speaking.  Cllr Whewell told him to wait until the public participation section.  This is when councillors and the public can speak on all matters that are both on and not on that meeting's agenda.

The public participation section is always very near the start of every council meeting.

David Lamb would not wait.  He interrupted the chairman and said that the meeting was illegal.  The basis of this assertion was not stated, or at least was not heard by this observer.

A slightly worrying fact here is that the copy of Arnold Baker on Local Council Administration with David Lamb's papers was an out of date edition.  Only time will tell if this proves to be relevant to whatever the issue was.

The council meeting being unable to continue in an orderly fashion, the chair suspended the meeting.

Sean Whewell and David Lamb then went outside the chamber.  The council's town clerk/proper officer went with them. David Lamb came back and asked for witnesses to what was happening, and Cllr Rebecca Harman and a member of the public went out in response to this.  Cllr Barry Bate followed later.

At 7:57 pm the town clerk/proper officer came back in, collected her papers, and went out again.

At 8;07, Cllr Sara Atherton said, in broad terms, that there is a dispute here and it needs resolving. What is happening is both impractical and is disrespectful to the public.

HPT Ed adds that a large part of the council's business is effectively paralysed.

At 8:11 Cllr Whewell came in the chamber and stated that David Lamb has left the building.  The town clerk/proper officer has left the building.  There is a council meeting scheduled for 17 November, and this agenda will be carried over.

At 8:20, after various informal interactions between the public and councillors, the get-together was over.

Did I mention that New Mills Town Council ('NMTC') takes in over £300,000 of public money every year?


Note re comments:  Anonymous comments that are abusive are unlikely to be published.  Anonymous comments that make dubious assertions are unlikely to be published.  The best way to guarantee getting a point published is to provide your name.  Either put it on the comment itself, or make the comment anonymously while emailing HPT letting us know who is making that particular comment. If you ask for anonymity then your name will not be published.

email address:  highpeaktransparency@btconnect.com

02 November 2015

Courthouse dispute - High Peak Borough Council's viewpoint

The following is the official High Peak Borough Council statement about the government's insane idea of closing the High Peak's only magistrates' courthouse.  It is on the HPBC website:

In a formal response to the HM Courts and Tribunals Service consultation on future provision in England and Wales, the Council said it did not support the proposal to transfer the services to Chesterfield and felt that flaws in the consultation process left it open to potential legal challenge if a decision was made to close the Buxton facility.

Councillor Emily Thrane, Executive Councillor for Corporate Services, said: “This Council fully understands the pressures on publicly-funded bodies to make the most efficient use of their resources, to adopt modern technologies and the respond to citizens’ expectations but we cannot support the proposed closure of the Buxton court for several reasons.

“The assessment of the court premises is inaccurate and there is no evidence that the geography and climate of the High Peak or its transport arrangements have been properly taken into account. This has resulted in disproportionate weight being accorded to the unsuitability of the premises and inadequate weight to the unsuitability of the transport arrangements to Chesterfield.”

Magistrates have estimated that around two-thirds of the court’s business comes from Glossop, New Mills and Hayfield following the closure of the court in Glossop some years ago.

Councillor Alan Barrow, Chair of the Council’s Corporate Select Committee, added: “There is only one option presented if the court in Buxton closes – transfer to Chesterfield – and the only information on travelling times is for journeys from Buxton. This ignores the possible impact on the significant communities in the North West of the High Peak.

“Travel information in the consultation document states that 73% of journeys by public transport would take over two hours. Comparison with the data relating to other closure proposals shows these travelling times to be unusual and extreme but no attention has been drawn to this or the potential for this to act as disincentive to people attending court.”

14 October 2015

Magistrates Courts Problems Again

At the last New Mills town council meeting Cllr Ray Atkins alerted those present to a disastrous scheme proposing to close all of the area’s nearest Magistrates’ Courts.

In case local people think it will only affect crims, and therefore is not important, be aware that Family Justice and Child Safeguarding matters are often dealt with in courtrooms provided by these courthouses.  Council tax claims and consequent requests by struggling families for time to pay are also matters heard at the magistrates courts.

Our High Peak MP spoke on this emerging serious issue in Westminster Hall at 3:55 pm on 13th October 2015.  Here is an extract from the debate, which was about the closure of the Burton-on-Trent court:

Andrew Bingham (Con, High Peak):

I would have spoken in the debate, but it is only a 30-minute one, so I will settle for making an intervention. My hon. Friend is making a powerful point on behalf of Burton. I am here on behalf of Buxton court—there is only an r and an x between Burton and Buxton and when I saw the debate title I thought, “They have picked my court debate.” Does he agree that the consultation document on Buxton court in my constituency of High Peak is riddled with inaccuracies, errors, mistakes and inconsistencies that render it—I am sorry to have to say this—completely and utterly useless?

Andrew Griffiths (Con, Burton):

While there might be a letter or two between my hon. Friend and I, there is nothing between us in our view of these consultations and the validity of the evidence they contain. They are riddled with mistakes; he is absolutely right. If the Minister and her colleague are to stick to their word, and if this consultation is to be based on fact and on evidence, they must reconsider the glaring inaccuracies in the proposals.

Heather Wheeler (Con, South Derbyshire):

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. As the people of South Derbyshire also use Burton magistrates court, will he assure me that in his strong defence of keeping the court open, he will bear in mind the importance of South Derbyshire folk’s not having to travel to Cannock, which would be utterly ludicrous?

Andrew Griffiths (Con, Burton):

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention and her strong support for this campaign. She, like me, understands the impact of this court closure on our constituents. It is true that closing Burton magistrates court would leave nowhere in the south-east of Staffordshire that is suitable for, for instance, family work, which I know she is particularly interested in.

Let us get down to the nitty-gritty of the facts that the Ministry of Justice is using to defend this proposed closure. The proposal contains travel times for each court. The Tribunals Service has included a chart detailing what percentage of people will have to travel 30 minutes, 60 minutes and so on. In order to work that information out, it is necessary to know where each individual is travelling to and from. In other words, it is necessary to know what the new local justice areas will be and where the replacement court will be. Of course, the new local justice areas are not established in the proposals. That information is not there, so the Department is sticking its finger in the air and guessing.
It transpires that many of the estimated times are completely inaccurate. The Tribunals Service has included estimated times from Burton magistrates court to each of the replacement courts. As the proposal itself admits, not everybody lives in Burton town centre. For instance, my constituents would have to travel into Burton town centre and then get another bus to the replacement court, which would add a considerable amount of time. For the purposes of today, I have worked out travel times simply from the centre of Burton, where the magistrates court is.

Let us look at the travel times we would be considering for my constituents to reach Cannock magistrates court. By car, it would be 45 to 55 minutes, but of course, only
52% of my constituents own a car. That means that almost half would be forced to use public transport.

The Minister will be shocked to learn that we are talking about a travel time by bus of one hour and 56 minutes to get to Cannock, including two changes, and one hour and 53 minutes to return. That is a total travel time of three hours and 49 minutes. It is hard to see how that is access to local justice. By train, it is little better; it is one hour and 51 minutes to get there, including one change, and one hour and 49 minutes to return—a round trip of three hours and 40 minutes. That includes, importantly, a 60-minute walk time, because there is no other way of accessing the court. Derby, of course, is much quicker, with a total travel time of one hour and 32 minutes. The other proposal is to send court work to north Staffordshire justice centre, which is in Newcastle-under-Lyme. By car, that would be a 45-minute trip each way, but by bus, it would be three hours and eight minutes to get there and two hours and 57 minutes to get back.

Andrew Bingham (Con, High Peak):

This has an eerie ring of familiarity about it, because the document for my court in High Peak shows that 73% of public transport journeys for my constituents will take more than two hours. That is to Chesterfield, which is not practical. This is another example of inaccuracies and a lack of thinking in the consultation.


Editor's note:

The full debate about these disastrous Magistrates’ Courts closure proposals can be found on the excellent They Work For You website.

Link:  http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2015-10-13a.86.0&s=speaker%3A24748

13 October 2015

Initial Report on New Mills Festival 2015

Toyah be thy name

At last night’s New Mills Town Council meeting (12 October 2015) Cllr Barry Bate, who is a member of the independent Festival Committee, presented an initial report to council about the 2015 New Mills Festival.

Although this site is mainly concerned with politics and local politics, the New Mills Festival regularly attracts readers' comments.  Also, it has an economic and public impact on the town. Therefore, the following is an edited (by HPT) summary off Cllr Bate's report to the council meeting:

Visitor numbers

According the Festival organisers, the most visited events of the annual Festival (and the biggest draw for visitors from outside New Mills) are:

1)  the lantern procession;

2)  the arts events (which includes the art trail and open weekend);

3)  the live music.

An approximate number of attendances over the 2 weeks is 18,000.

Economic impact on New Mills

The initial economic benefit estimate is £5.00 spend per head per visit. This would give an estimated total turnover for the festival of £90,000.

A conservative guess (i.e. by the Festival organisers) would be that at least 75% of this stays, immediately, in the local economy but then re-circulates because of the multiplier effect. Using an average spend of £10 per head per visit, that would produce an estimated total income to the local economy of £180,000.

In addition there were approx £12,000 of art sales.

There were quite a lot of ticketed events were the price of the ticket alone (before people buy their drinks) was more than £5.00.

Funding brought into the town via grants from other agencies was approximately £2,000. This doesn't include funding from Town, Borough or County Councils.

The Festival organisation’s turnover (revenues) this year is forecast to be £28,000, with a spend of approx £25,000. There is an estimated overspend of £500.

Future planning and development

Aims for next year are to attract more funding from bigger funding pots via two main streams:

a) community funding via various streams including Lottery, and:

b) funding for the arts component via an Arts Council application.

In order to continue to raise the profile of the whole of the two week festival the Committee will continue to book nationally/internationally known artists.

Regarding the lantern procession, the aim would be to keep numbers attending the lantern procession as they are. Coping with higher numbers would be difficult, although it is almost impossible to try and promote the general events during the two weeks without people finding out about the lantern procession element.

The Committee is also considering expanding the arts component of the festival as this is the second biggest draw and could, potentially, attract a considerable amount of funding.

A major objective is to work on a marketing strategy with other agencies in town and, thereby, to maximise the collective impact.


Following publication of the above article, the following email was received from Lyn Bannister, one of the New Mills Festival leading lights:

"Dear Editor,

"Thank you for your very accurate report, just a couple of tiny edits. The figure for art sales and the comment about ticketed events were part of the rationale for using the £10 per head per visit equation (estimate rather than equation - HPT Ed) so would be part of the totals quoted not in addition.

"As an aside, the amount of work involved for the volunteers to run such a big event has become a huge task over the years and we are actively seeking extra pairs of hands, especially with the huge amount of admin required during the year.

"We are a very open and friendly group who very much welcome constructive feedback. With this in mind and in view of the comments that have been posted on this site in the past can we suggest that only named comments should be posted?

"We have never been approached directly for information by previous contributors and are unwilling to get into debates anonymously. However we are more than willing to discuss anything that people feel relevant good or bad. The festival is run in a very democratic way, all decisions are made by the committee and as such we have very broad shoulders.

"Yours etc... "


The above two contributions represent broadly the official Festival view.  Below are a couple of images giving an unofficial flavour of the town's centre during the last night of the enjoyable Festival:

Some Notes on New Mills Town Council Process Improvements

Some points arising from attending the latest NMTC meeting (12 October 2015):

Good points

This meeting was conducted in a brisk and efficient way by chair Cllr Sean Whewell, and therefore concluded all its public business at a reasonable hour.

Council meeting time wasters

The above improvement in meeting management was necessary; the council’s ordinary meetings since the last local election have been bogged down by, among other things, the following factors:

1.  One specific councillor (Cllr Lance Dowson) speaking at length on virtually every item on every agenda in every council meeting.  This extends meeting lengths unreasonably.  In the friendliest possible terms: ‘Give someone else a chance, Lance.’

2. The fallout from the co-option of councillors following the candidate shortfall in the May local elections.  This issue is seemingly interminable and is taking up too much time in council meetings.

3.  Not enough delegation of suitable non-controversial tasks to the council’s proper officer (town clerk) or other staff.

4. Often there are too many items on each agenda.  For this latest meeting there were 32 items.  It is a town/parish council, not NATO.

New developments

A new minute-taker has been appointed; Sue Mycock.  Along with Sue came a new dedicated digital recorder for recording the meetings.

The previous recorder used by the town council was faulty.  It would intermittently fail to record, but without that fault making itself obvious at the time.  The minute taker would then subsequently come to the recorder relying on it having made the recording, but find an unexpected gap or total absence of sound.  That situation is akin to a safety belt with an unknown fault, i.e. probably worse than not having the item at all.

Future improvements - Relegate the regular Development Control agenda item

The monthly Development Control (i.e. planning applications) item probably should be, in the normal course of events, placed at the bottom of Part One of the agenda.

The reason is that High Peak Borough Council and Peak District National Park are the planning authorities.  Town and Parish councils have no power to grant or refuse planning applications.

In the latest town council meeting, this item was number 12 out of 32 on the agenda.

Future improvements - Advance sight of meeting documents for councillors

The highly esteemed town clerk/proper officer must soon start issuing all supporting papers to councillors before the five-day deadline in advance of each council meeting.

'Supporting papers' include the financial statements, draft minutes etc which are referred to on that meeting’s agenda.

In order to make reasonable and informed decisions, it is the law that councillors must have all the necessary supporting information about agenda items a specified time before each council meeting. This time period is generally five clear days before the meeting.

There is a lot of latent and overt goodwill towards the current town clerk/proper officer.  She is doing a sterling job.  She came into office at a disastrous time for the town council and greatly helped to steady the ship.

Wrongly and unfairly, the current town clerk has had to put up with a lot from certain people intending her malice.  In addition, she has had to put in a lot of time to correct and bring up to date lots of missing necessary work that should have been attended to by the previous clerk and staff.  Some examples include (but are not limited to) Personnel Files, Health and Safety systems, new electronic banking arrangements; these all needed sorting out.

Staff shortages, unnecessarily frequent councillor visits to the town hall office, co-options haggling and dispute, and various unwarranted external complaints and emailed/verbal attacks on town hall staff have all wastefully taken up the time of the town clerk.

Therefore, in order to help the town clerk, this issue of all supporting papers coming out to councillors with the meeting summons and agenda has to some extent been left in abeyance.

If more officer work-time is needed, or more admin staff likewise, then this should be allocated properly by the council.  Not to do so would be unfair on the council staff.

17 August 2015

The Minutes Of A Council Meeting Are Not A Report Describing That Council Meeting

The following comment, received today, is typical of comments that have been sent in over the years about the minutes from time to time of our local New Mills town council.

Broadly speaking, these comments tend to be in the form of complaints:
'It is noted in the draft minutes that Cllr Ashton's admittance that he had received a phone call from the ex clerk's husband concerning David Lamb prior to the co-option process has not been minuted . The minutes are 31/7/15. Neither was the appalling behaviour of Cllr Atkins.'
Cllr Atkins behaviour was not appalling.  On the contrary, it was a wholly understandable response after years of having to sit in council meetings and watch as one particular councillor time and time again unreasonably hogs a grossly unfair amount of the limited speaking time available.*

As part of HPT's policy of increasing local knowledge about correct procedure and the rights and wrongs of council business , we print below what the authoritative textbook Local Council Administration** says about good local council minutes:

Minutes of proceedings of a council and its committees must be kept.(1)

They are intended to be formal records of official acts and decisions, not reports, still less verbatim reports, of the speeches made by councillors.

Minutes should, therefore, be as short as is consistent with clarity and accuracy.  The arguments used in the discussion need be recorded only if the decision cannot be clearly expressed in any other way.

(1)  Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 12, para 41 (1)


*  This syndrome known locally as 'Give someone else a chance, Lance'

**  The text about good council minutes is taken from paragraph 7.36 of Arnold-Baker on Local Council Administration, Ninth Edition