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.

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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.

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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... "

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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.