26 June 2014

An All Too Literal Stock Take



Following an anonymous comment received by this site, without pleasure we now reproduce the following dismal item from the draft Minutes of New Mills Town Council's meeting of 9 June 2014.

The commentary in italics has been added to the official minutes text by HPT:


SECURITY AT THE HERITAGE CENTRE
(Agenda item 28)

Fact or Apparent Fact:

It was reported that a stock take had been taken and there was a £9,000 retail value loss of stock at the Heritage Centre.

Speculation:

There was information (what information? - HPT Ed) that the Heritage Centre had been accessed by persons unbeknown to the Council.

Facts:

There was uncertainty over who had keys to access the centre.

The insurance companies would not look favourably on any claims unless the situation of key holders was managed appropriately.

As such, the Locks need changing as a priority.

Resolution of the Council:

RESOLVED:- That all locks be changed as a matter of priority.

----------------------------------------

High Peak Transparency offers the following initial comments:

1) This is a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs for the people whose money is used to maintain the Heritage Centre - i.e. the council taxpayers of New Mills.

2) The Chairman of the Heritage Centre Management Committee is understood to be Councillor Alistair Stevens.  No inference is intended or is to be drawn from this statement - it is simply a fact. Responsibility has to rest somewhere.  Let us see in due course where it rests in this case.

3) This council minute leaves out more information than it reveals.  A full, detailed, authoritative report on this loss of the public's money - i.e. whether it has happened or not and if so then the extent and causes of any loss - should be compiled and published as soon as possible.

4) The regular recorded stocktaking that all retail enterprises have to undertake as part of proper financial accounting should not be a problem to carry out here:  firstly, there is not really a great deal of stock at any one time; secondly, volunteers man/woman the centre, and so any two trustworthy ones can carry out the regular recorded stocktakes in the Heritage Centre at times to be agreed.

5) It's good practice for two people to carry out a retail stocktake per a detailed checklist and agree on the valuation, not for the same individual person to always do it


12 June 2014

How 'Sound' Is High Peak's Proposed Local Plan?




We very rarely get something in the inbox concerning far-away local authorities that resonates strongly with a current High Peak hot issue.

When High Peak's Local Plan was recently approved by the council as the submission version to go forward for the planning inspectorate's examination, some Labour councillors warned their political opponents that it risked being rejected because there was not enough housing in it.

A housing shortfall means that a council's Local Plan may be judged as unsound by the planning inspectorate.

Godfrey Claff, the relevant High Peak Borough councillor for this issue, astutely called this the 'unsoundness' danger. Some councillors in opposition parties accused him of scaremongering.

'Soundness' is a key consideration in acceptance of any Local Plan by the government's planning advisers.

We now learn that planning authorities in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire - two areas with large rural landscapes like High Peak - have just had to agree to put the examination of their local plans on hold. The reason? They have been told to undertake a further and better assessment of housing need.

This follows critical assessments from the planning inspectors examining the councils' housing strategies. Both strategies have just been declared unsound on the basis of insufficient housing being included. The two authorities involved are Stroud District Council and Cherwell District Council.

Needless to say, just as in Stroud and Cherwell. nimbys in the High Peak area have opposed virtually all proposals for homes.


Employment Tribunal News




At the New Mills town council meeting on 9 June 2014 it was announced that the hearing date for the Employment Tribunal has been set for March 2015.

The Tribunal will hear the cases of former town clerk Susan Stevens and a clerical assistant, who were sacked from New Mills town council for gross misconduct late last year. Both ladies have made an appeal to the Employment Tribunal.

An earlier date of early June 2014 had been set for the Tribunal, but only two days had been allocated for the hearing.

We understand that the hearing is now scheduled to last 7 days.

A time-out during the 43rd World Stare-out Championship
At the start of the council meeting that announced the date, Susan Stevens tried to engage the HPT Editor in a staring match. There are two points about this. Firstly, the stylish geek spectacles and attractive heavy fringe rather undermine any such attempt. (One is anxious to point out it’s Mrs Stevens who has the heavy fringe, not HPT editor). Secondly, HPT has exposed wrong-doing, but some in the Stevens camp seem to blame High Peak Transparency rather than take personal responsibility and look honestly at their own actions.

If they hadn't committed the actions, then those actions would not have been reported.

The central issue

The above actions include Mrs Stevens, when the town clerk of New Mills, deliberately lying to all the members of New Mills town council. She did this in a letter she sent to them on 26 June 2008, using New Mills town council's letterhead.

The purpose of Mrs Stevens' letter was to mislead councillors. No town clerk in any town, or at least in any respectable and decent town, is ever going to survive in public office after being found out lying - deliberately - to her council employer.

Standards of Conduct at High Peak Borough Council

Dishonest Ian Huddlestone asked the town clerk to write the letter to councillors containing the false statement.

Ian Huddlestone is a member of High Peak Borough Council.  What is that council's position on their member's dishonest conduct in public life?

The Labour Party

As a councillor in the High Peak branch of the Labour Party, which is traditionally meant to represent workers, Dishonest Ian Huddlestone has questions to answer about why he asked a worker - the town clerk of New Mills - to lie to her employers.

Is the Labour Party in High Peak proud of what their councillor did? Getting a local worker sacked from their job?

What is Labour's Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Caitlin Bisknell's opinion on the matter of what her close Labour colleague Dishonest Ian Huddlestone did? When her statement on the issue has been obtained, nearer to the General Election, her view on this issue will be widely publicised.



11 June 2014

Old Local Charity's Money Is Recovered, But It's Struck Off At The Charity Commission


We are pleased to report that one of the scandals involving local LibDem councillor Alistair Stevens has now concluded.

It was announced at last night’s New Mills town council meeting that the money in New Mills Higher Educational Trust will now be returned to local trustees.

In the meeting, the council appointed new trustee councillors. These will be David Lamb, Gwyn Bowers and Rev John Baines.

The sum under management is about £26,000. It has not been invested in high-yielding assets, so the income is currently below £5,000.

New Mills Higher Educational Trust used to be a registered charity. The charity was struck off by the Charity Commission last year, following the term of trusteeship of Cllr Alistair Stevens and ex-cllr Steve Sharp, with ex-town clerk Susan Stevens as the charity’s principal point of contact.

Today, a charity needs an annual income of more than £5,000 in order to be eligible for registration with the Charity Commission. So as a result of the problems with the recent management of the charity, New Mills Higher Educational Trust has lost that status.

One down, two to go. The remaining known current scandals involving local LibDem councillor Alistair Stevens are as follows:

Cllr Alistair Stevens’ fake HR company, passing-off as the HR company that advises the town council of which he is a member.

Cllr Alistair Stevens was present in council and committee meetings which discussed matters concerning his spouse’s work issues etc.  His spouse is Susan Stevens, a council employee at the relevant times. Each time Cllr Alistair Stevens did this, he committed a criminal offence contrary to Section 31(4) of the Localism Act 2011.

10 June 2014

Local Town Hall Corruption: Lessons Not Learned by High Peak LibDems



During the New Mills town council meeting on 9 June 2014, the Liberal Democrat councillors - of which there are two on this council - were adamant that Cllr Alistair Stevens must be appointed to the Personnel and Finance Committee.

Cllr Alistair Stevens is very insistent that he be appointed to this particular committee. Why is Cllr Stevens so insistent?

This is the committee which is dealing with the employment and financial dispute his wife Mrs Susan Stevens has with the council.

Another main business of this committee is dealing with the council's appointed HR consultants, Tall Poppies.  As revealed by High Peak Transparency, Councillor Alistair Stevens has set up a specious business in this regard. Cllr Stevens has formed a limited company with the same name as the genuine HR company that is advising the council about his wife’s dismissal.

Estate Agent and New Mills councillor Alistair Stevens has still not publicly given his reasons for doing this.

The decision over the make-up of the Committee was deferred and no decision was taken at this meeting.

In the future, after the Employment Tribunal has delivered its verdict regarding Mrs Stevens, and after Cllr Stevens has dissolved his specious ‘Tall Poppies’ HR company or changed the company name, there probably would be no objection to Cllr Stevens going on the Personnel and Finance committee.

It is not set in stone that there must be party proportionality on this committee, as the LibDems are advocating.  The committee has only very recently been established.

However, if the LibDems wish to maintain party proportionality on this committee in advance of the necessary improvements in the situation mentioned above, then there are at least three obvious, easy alternatives to Cllr Alistair Stevens' attempts at pushing himself onto this committee:

a) appoint LibDem town council member Ray Atkins;

b) appoint an outside member to the committee, nominated by the local LibDem party.  This could be Beth Atkins the County Councillor, who lives in New Mills, or it could be one of the LibDem High Peak Borough councillors, or it could be any other suitable LibDem supporter or party member;

c) the LibDems nominate one of the independent councillors who currently sit on New Mills town council.

In the current circumstances, whilst the council's employment and financial dispute with his spouse is live, and whilst Cllr Stevens has a fake HR company impersonating the council’s serious HR adviser business, then Councillor Alistair Stevens is self-evidently grossly unsuitable to be appointed to the Personnel and Finance committee of the council.

The appointment of Cllr Stevens to this council committee, were it to happen, would show that both the local Liberal Democrat party and New Mills town council are seriously failing in the battle to restore and maintain integrity and probity in local public life.



New councillors on New Mills town council




During the New Mills town council meeting of 9 June 2014, three new councillors were appointed to the council.  The method of appointment was co-option, the publication of the vacancies not having produced ten electors who wished to call for a public election.

The new councillors replaced Tony Ashton, Alan Barrow, and Dishonest Ian Huddlestone, who all resigned late last year.

There are now ten councillors on New Mills town council.  A further two are needed in order to bring the council up to its constitution of twelve members. These two are to replace ex-councillors Jacqui Gadd and Mark Gadd, whose resignations from the council were announced at the meeting. Of course, Transparency readers were already aware of the resignations.

The new councillors are Megan Davies, James Hall and Sean Whewell.  Megan Davies is semi-retired but very active, James Hall has a full time job in computing/IT, and Sean Whewell is already part of several formal local groups such as Carnival and Torrs Hydro.

All have stated that they are independent, so far as party politics are concerned.







06 June 2014

Four into Three Won’t Go





At the next New Mills town council meeting the subject of co-option of new councillors is on the agenda.

The local government legal term for this is 'casual vacancy'.

Current vacancies

No council decisions are required by the meeting agenda before its Item 15, which reads ‘To consider the co-option of members to the council.’

Three new council members are needed. These new councillors will be the replacements for Ashton, Tony;  Barrow, Alan;  Huddlestone, Dishonest Ian.

We understand there are four candidates for co-option to the three vacancies. It would therefore appear sensible for there to be negotiation between these candidates, to see if one is prepared to drop out.

If one candidate volunteers to drop out, then the remaining three are voted onto the council by one simple composite resolution of the council.

Otherwise, it’s an open vote in the council chamber. Successful candidate(s) must have received a majority vote of those present and voting**.

Future vacancies (where arising before 8 November 2014)

Two councillors have resigned this week.

There has been a flurry of comments to this site in the last couple of days. These include one snide comment, sent in before the two resignations were widely known, that clumsily invited this website to give an inaccurate answer to the question ‘How many councillors are needed?’

In due course, the town council will make the public declaration* of the two vacancies.  This does not have to happen straight away but has to be within a reasonable time following the resignations.

When the council makes the public declaration of two casual vacancies it must then also immediately make a public notification setting out the requirements for a by-election (public poll) to be triggered*.

The period in which a poll may be claimed by ten local electors begins with the date of public notification as above.

If no poll is claimed by ten electors, then the council may co-opt two new members to fill the casual vacancies.

Future vacancies (on or after 8 November 2014)

A by-election poll cannot be claimed within six months of the day when the councillor whose office is declared vacant would ordinarily have retired.

All members of New Mills town council (apart from the councillor who is Chairman of the council on that day) will retire on 7 May 2015.

Therefore, as there will be local elections in New Mills and High Peak on 7 May 2015, once 7 November 2014 has passed no poll can be claimed in the event of any further vacancy on the town council.

A lesson from history: waste of council taxpayers' money

Incidentally, this review of local council law throws up another case of the local Labour Party in New Mills fiddling the hard-pressed local council taxpayers.

They demanded a poll after LibDem councillor Glynn Jennings sadly died in office.  The names on the poll demand were all Labour Party members or friends of Labour Party members.  This was within the six months period before Cllr Jennings' forthcoming statutory retirement from the council anyway, because full local elections were due to take place.

That is how local Labour's Dishonest Ian Huddlestone got back onto the New Mills town council.  The cost to the council taxpayers of New Mills of these particular local Labour Party antics - i.e. the cost of holding that unlawful and unnecessary by-election - has been estimated variously from £3,000 to £5,000.  He took part in one town council meeting.






* Local Government Act 1972 Section 87 (2)


** Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 12, Paragraph 39

03 June 2014

Annual Meeting of New Mills Town Council 2014



In May of every year all towns and parishes in England are required by law to hold two separate annual meetings that are open to the public.

These are the Annual Town/Parish Meeting for electors and the local council’s Annual Meeting.

Here are some brief notes on New Mills Town Council’s Annual Meeting of 2014, held on 27 May in the council chamber.


Attendance

There were more members of the public present than councillors. Only five councillors were present at this year’s annual meeting.

Due to low attendance, the subject of quorum came up during the early part of the meeting.  In town and parish councils in England the necessary quorum for decisions is either three or one third of councillors, whichever is the greater.*

The quorum for New Mills town council decisions is therefore four.


Disqualification alert

So far as can be established from the record of council meetings, Councillor Reverend John Baines has not attended a council or committee meeting since 3 February 2014.

Where a councillor fails to attend meetings for a consecutive period of six months, he or she automatically ceases to be a member of that council**


New Council Appointments

For the forthcoming year the new chair of the council, and town mayor, is Cllr David Lamb.  The vice-chair is Gwyn BowersGwyn Bowers was proposed as vice-chair in order to ensure some continuity in the courageous and strong decisions which have recently reformed this local council in which a culture of corruption had taken hold since May 2002.

The necessary serious reforms of the council began in May 2013.

Both Cllr David Lamb and Cllr Gwyn Bowers have been stalwarts in restoring the council's good reputation over this last year and moving New Mills town council away from the bad old days of falsified minutes and corrupt decisions taken by individuals in secret.***


New appointments to outside bodies

There is a substantial list of charities and other outside bodies to which the town council appoints members.

Because only five councillors were present, it was decided to defer the decisions over appointments to outside bodies to the next council meeting.

The next meeting will be on Monday 9 June, with the meeting agenda required to be affixed in a conspicuous place in the town on or before next Wednesday 4 June.


Personnel and Finance Committee

Councillor Alistair Stevens asked to be considered for membership of the Finance and Personnel Committee.  While his spouse and family member - former employee Mrs Susan Stevens - has a legal dispute against the council it seems hardly credible that Cllr Stevens should ask to be on the Committee which deals with that matter.

The council will make the necessary appointments to the Committee in due course.


You've got to have a system

Previously, the dates selected for full council meetings were ad-hoc and therefore chaotic.  They could appear at any time and with no rhyme or reason to them.

Order has now been brought to this. Town clerk Lesley Bramwell proposed that there should now be a system.  Until further notice, full council meetings will now be on the second Monday of every month, excluding bank holidays where these would clash with a meeting.


Appointment of new solicitor

The council is to seek a new solicitor.

For many years, Chafes has been the council’s solicitor.

Why the change? Hopefully, an informative stand-alone HPT article fully illuminating this subject can be written in such a way that any defamation experts employed by Chafes cannot get any traction on it.

High Peak Labour's Dishonest Ian Huddlestone (third from left)
Individuals have made use of the town council credit account at Chafes, with bills for legal services going to the town council.  It is known that these individuals include Dishonest Ian Huddlestone, Labour Party councillor at High Peak Borough Council.

It is not suggested that the relevant partner at Chafes knew that the individuals did not have the authority to use the council credit account.

It is understood that this practice was recently stopped by the town council, in writing, as part of the comprehensive clean-up and reform of the New Mills town hall that has been taking place over the past year.

A large quantity of historic property deeds etc is held by Chafes on behalf of New Mills town council/High Peak Borough Council, and arrangements will need to be made about these.

A further complication is that land transfers to New Mills town council for nil consideration (price) include some High Peak Borough Council valuable freehold property assets - not parks - whose title should not be being transferred out of its ownership without investigation.  (Current New Mills town councillors are not involved or implicated in this.)


Health and Safety gone mad

Not every council has the spending item ‘To decommission one machine gun - £335’ on its spending budget for approval.

The machine gun that was brought to the town from the First World War has been found, and in order to now permanently show it at the Heritage Centre, it had to be decommissioned.

We are told it used to be kept at the library on Hall Street but disappeared into storage many years ago, being replaced by a display photograph and descriptive written article.  This centenary year marks a great opportunity to now exhibit the lethal device.

All of which reminds us of a great socialist slogan from the time of the first world war:  'A bayonet is a weapon with a worker at each end'





*  Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 12. paragraphs 12, 28, 45

**  Local Government Act 1972 Section 85

***  The years of corruption which started with the refusal of Dishonest Ian Huddlestone (Labour Party) to notify the local Returning Officer that a referendum had been called over local Labour’s courthouse scheme in New Mills, and the falsifying of minutes over a spurious claim that a family’s privately-owned property was a “village green”.

02 June 2014

Annual Town/Parish Meeting of New Mills 2014


In May every year every town and parish in England is required by law to hold two separate annual meetings that are open to the public.

These are the Annual Town/Parish Meeting for electors, and the local council’s Annual Meeting.

What follows is some brief notes from the New Mills Annual Town/Parish Meeting of 2014, held in the Public Hall of New Mills on 19 May:

Attending the meeting reminded this observer that when the local Labour Party was in dispute with the town - about their mad grandiose courthouse scheme - they arranged for the town’s annual meetings to be held away from the Public Hall.

The local Labour Party would use its town council majority to rubber stamp the preference of a few of their councillors to hold the annual meeting in out-of-the-way places, rather than in the main central building in the town, which was built for the purpose: the Public Hall of New Mills.

At around the same time, Labour’s Dishonest Ian Huddlestone started going around calling himself Leader of the town council.  There is of course no such position in town and parish councils.  The real life fact is that Dishonest Ian Huddlestone is a postman.

This latest public meeting for the town was poorly attended by councillors. Only three were there: Cllr Lance Dowson, Cllr Mark Gadd and Cllr David Lamb.  Cllr Dowson was the sole Borough or County councillor there - a fact pointed out by local resident Graham Boardman.

Resident Paul Mitchell told the annual meeting about an extraordinary verbal exchange with Councillor Alistair Stevens that took place one Saturday in April as Mr Mitchell was walking along Hall Street.  Cllr Stevens lives on Hall Street.  Cllr Stevens appeared unhappy that Mr Mitchell, who is a local elector, had raised a question at a council meeting about the town clerk’s pay.

Unfortunately, given that we only have Mr Mitchell’s side of the story and Cllr Alistair Stevens has made a defamation claim against this site, we are not able to give further details of this fascinating encounter at this time.

The town council's Personnel and Finance Committee presented its annual report to the meeting.  The following is the report:

‘Report of the Personnel and Finance Committee – Cllr J Gadd, Chairman

During this past 11 months the Personnel & Finance Committee has been very busy putting in place a handbook for the council containing policies and procedures.

The council appointed an H R company to assist with the policies and procedures and recruitment.

We have advertised, interviewed and appointed several new members of staff including a town clerk, admin assistant, minute taker, Heritage Centre administrator and a key-holder for High Lea Park.  We will soon be advertising for a Responsible Financial Officer which will complete our staffing establishment.

An apprentice was taken on in the Parks Department.  Three members of the Park Staff have been on H & S Training and First Aid Training.  The clerk has been on Legionella testing training.

Appraisals of all staff will take place twice yearly.

During this time we have created personnel files and established staff meetings which will be bi-monthly with a management meeting in the alternate month.

Several procedures have been put in place on the advice of our acting Responsible Financial Officer. All invoices are checked by two councillors and initialled confirming that they are genuine invoices – cheques are then signed by three councillors or two councillors and a member of staff (not the clerk or the RFO).

Registers of key holders are being put in place following changing of all the locks and we are creating a secure office environment.  A safe register has been set up recording all items put in safe and taken out and by whom, the safe keys are not kept on the premises overnight.  All filing cabinets are now locked and secure.

A signing-in system for visitors and badges for  contractors has been established on recommendation of the new clerk.  We are now looking at all our staff having name badges identifying them as our employees along with asking CAB to wear some form of identification.  DCC employees i.e. library staff and registrars already have identification.

New computers have been ordered and installed after several breaches of security were discovered.  All are now protected externally and our documents are secure ensuring data protection and total confidentiality.  An Internet Acceptable Use policy was also ratified.’