22 May 2017

Witness Report From the Hustings Event




Thanks to 'Amos Hart' - which presumably is a nom-de-plume - who has sent in the following eye-witness account of the recent general election hustings in New Mills that has been commented on under recent HPT articles:



"At its best it was like scenes from “Animal Farm” or “1984”; at its worst I was half expecting Stormtroopers to burst into the room at any moment.

"The questions were wide ranging and seemed very balanced. The compere seemed absolutely neutral and fair. As he put the questions to each candidate, the compere reminded them of their party’s policy on that subject with a quick ad verbatim quotation from their manifesto. This was a useful mind jogger for the audience.

"However, when it was the Labour candidates turn to answer, the compere was repeatedly subject to loud and intimidating abuse from the floor accusing him of political bias, and demanding that he stops doing it.

"The Conservative candidate (Andrew Bingham), and to a lesser extent the LibDem candidate (Charles Lawley), were subject to repeated mindless heckling and interruptions. The annoying part was that a lot of the debate itself was really absorbing and the interruptions were often during an interesting point. For instance one major interruption was when we were hearing from a candidate about the fight to save New Mills 6th form.

"Another, quite amusing interruption, was when a candidate mentioned that the Liberal William Beveridge had been the architect of the welfare state. This was immediately howled down as being 'nonsense' and 'rubbish'.

"The chief culprits included the lady with the teenage daughter and also a lady sat near the side (back) door. The latter was an absolute pain. I don’t know if anyone knows who she is.

"I was talking to someone afterwards who said they had asked one of the protagonists which part of the High Peak they were from, but said they did not appear to know!

"I have tried to keep the above as factual and balanced as possible.

"All in all, it was not a good night for democracy."



HPT Editor adds:  I'm sure all HPT readers will be very interested in this report.  All comments welcome, as usual.  Additional factual info from the event itself would be especially welcome



20 May 2017

Report on the 2017 New Mills Annual Parish Meeting






The meeting took place in the upstairs hall of the town hall on 16 May 2017.

This statutory meeting demonstrated once again that these annual get-togethers of a town’s electors – which by law must take place at least once in every year – are a good barometer of the issues that are of interest to the council taxpayers of the town.

The local government law governing these meetings states that if the chairman of the local town/parish council is present at the parish meeting then s/he must chair the meeting.*

Accordingly, town council chairman Barry Bate presided.  As always, he carried out this duty with civility and fairness.  Occasionally, the patience of a saint also seemed to be required.

The public meeting got heated occasionally, as these things are sometimes apt to do, but it was chaired with good nature and everyone was allowed to have their say at all times.  Such is democracy and a free society.

The following is a summary of some of the areas of interest that came up during the meeting.


The million-pound offer to the town council for a lease of Ollersett Fields

Representatives of New Mills Football Club recently made an offer to the town council that would have resulted in a million pounds coming into public funds.

Although this particular parish meeting was fairly well-attended, there was seemingly a no-show from the pro-Ollersett New Stadium supporters.  If any were there at the meeting, they stayed silent during the meeting.

It has to be said that the first heads-of-terms written offer from the project’s supporters to the town council was a major tactical blunder. This is the notorious document which offered payment of an annual peppercorn for the whole of the Ollersett land.

This offer took town councillors for fools, and poisoned and unfairly prejudiced the subsequent much more realistic offer of a million pounds for a lease of the land.

The next move of the football club, if any, is awaited.


Towards greening the town hall

Large savings have recently been made on the annual energy bills of the town hall.  Under previous town hall administrations the gas bills were allowed to run wildly out of control.  The town hall’s 40-year old inefficient giant boiler was being run willy-nilly for 24 hours a day and regular payments were being made for a redundant meter that was serving no purpose.

Following extensive investigations, British Gas has been dropped as a supplier to the town hall.
Although the town clerk and councillors are financially cautious about replacing the antiquated and inefficient boiler, a modern efficient boiler system would be cheaper to run than the old one.  It would also reduce the greenhouse gases emissions.

Energy technology has moved on enormously since the 1970s, when the current boiler was installed. Subject to making the detailed calculations, a modern replacement boiler would pay for itself quite quickly and then lead to many future annual cost savings after the payback period.


New Mills Heritage and Information Centre

Issues concerning New Mills Heritage and Information Centre took up a decent part of the meeting’s time and attention.

Concerns were raised by Linda Kendall and others that the original constitution and management committee arrangements Heritage Centre (‘HC’) have disappeared and/or fallen into disuse.

The charge is that those original arrangements have in effect been replaced by an unaccountable and ad-hoc administration of the HC.

To counter the above accusation, it emerged from the discussions at this public meeting that the original constitution of the Heritage Centre may no longer be workable.

The reason for this is that the HC constitution as originally written requires councillors from Derbyshire County Council and High Peak Borough Council to be on its management committee. This requirement was imposed because those two councils made financial contributions to the running of the Heritage Centre.

However, those two councils no longer make any regular financial payments to the Centre.  Therefore, it would now be unreasonable for their councillors to be imposed onto the management committee.

The figure given at this meeting for the annual costs of the Heritage Centre, before sales and any other income is taken into consideration, is about £30,000.

New Mills town council is now responsible for all of that liability, provided the decision is made to keep the HC open.  Grants etc from outside sources are being actively sought, in order to mitigate the town council’s substantial financial contribution.

Installing a new EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale) system is in progress.  This is basically a fancy till that tracks the items that come into stock and are sold out of stock.

On the issue of accounting processes at the Heritage Centre, David Lamb alerted the meeting to HC stock still being valued at retail price in the accounts.  If that is true - and Mr Lamb’s statements of independent fact usually are - then this erroneous method of valuing stock should be corrected immediately.

The accounting policy of every professional retailer in the UK is to value all stock at the lower of cost or current valuation.  Also, this method is known best practice in UK accountancy firms.

The town clerk stated that Heritage Centre formal management committee meetings should be in the public domain.  What reasonable person could argue against that requirement for transparency?  All expenses and risks are borne by New Mills town council, which means the council taxpayers of the town.

During the discussion about the Heritage Centre and its potential museum status, the town clerk stated she had been informally advised (by an unnamed person) that the town council “does not have the powers to run a museum.”

The town clerk seemed sceptical of this advice. HPT goes further: any such ‘advice’ sounds like nonsense on stilts.  That opinion is of course subject to any such museum facility being in the town; exhibits etc at the museum being related to the town; and the site being intended to promote the town and/or benefit its residents.

Furthermore, HPT hereby challenges anyone who offers that particular ‘advice’ regarding Heritage Centre museum status and the town council to now put up the written proof, or shut up.


New Mills Annual Festival

Cllr Barry Bate reported on the Festival, which is growing year on year.  Attendance and events are increasing.  The annual Festival is proving to be a very popular tourist attraction for the town.
So far so excellent.

This year, both Market Street and Union Road will be closed to vehicle traffic on the Festival’s big night.

Last year’s night-time lantern procession attracted 10,000 people to the town.  An unsympathetic bystander might observe that any night-time lantern procession in a small town is perhaps reminiscent of the scene in Young Frankenstein just after the townspeople have a town hall meeting where they resolve to chase down and capture the monster that has escaped.

Anyway, just so long as the New Mills version is safe, exciting for the kids, and helps to promote the town and its businesses.


Visit New Mills

A small group of attendees at this parish meeting was accused of seeking to unreasonably attack the Visit New Mills organisation wherever they can find an excuse.

If VNM is not transparent then it would deserve criticism.  If it makes mistakes then of course it deserves some criticism.  But any such criticism surely should be proportionate and aimed at being constructive and helpful.

Visit New Mills is staffed entirely by volunteers who put in a lot of work, creative thinking and effort to benefit the town.

What a poor, sterile, miserable state of affairs would exist in the town without the people who have set up Visit New Mills and subsequently organised and run its events.  Big vote of thanks to all of them.


Agendas and supporting papers for council meetings

Elector David Lamb pointed out a case where a recent determination by the town council had been made in error.

In the May 2017 council meeting, a town councillor objected to only getting the town council meetings agendas and supporting papers by email, and being refused paper copies.

This was met by a refusal or reluctance to send the paper copies to the councillor.

The law** governing this issue states that every councillor must give their explicit consent to receiving electronic copies of agendas etc (if the council has resolved to send out these documents electronically).

If that explicit consent is not given by the councillor then the traditional paper version of the agenda and supporting papers must be delivered to their usual home address before the legal cut-off date for receiving that meeting’s documents.

This opt-out exists because not all councillors have the facilities at home either to receive or sometimes to print off bulky documentation.


Co-options progress, and the council’s current shortage of members

New Mills town council has twelve seats.  Currently, there are only nine councillors, leaving it three members short of a full, proper council.

The quorum for this council is four.  Therefore, it currently only takes a few genuine absentees for a council meeting to be unable to make decisions.

How things have got to this sorry state has been extensively reported in earlier HPT articles.

It is now clear that one of the critical errors was town councillors allowing new co-opted councillors to not represent a specific ward, but rather to ‘just be general councillors’.

The local government system is designed for, and relies upon, every councillor in England representing one specific ward.

But at the main co-option meeting following the last local elections, New Mills town council rejected this legal requirement.  The town council and the local council taxpayers have been living with the fall-out from this blunder ever since.

The question of how to move forward - or at least the question of how to resolve the co-options dispute - is about to be placed in the hands of the solicitor of the National Association of Local Councils (‘NALC’).

When the solicitor’s written response is received in the next few weeks, will there finally be resolution to this protracted dispute?




References:

* Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 12, Part III, paragraph 17 (1):

"In a parish having a separate parish council the chairman of the parish council, if present, shall preside at a parish meeting and if he is absent the vice-chairman (if any) shall, if present, preside."


**   The Local Government (Electronic Communications) (England) Order 2015 amends paragraph 10 of Schedule 12 of the Local Government Act 1972 to read:

"(b)  the reference to sending the summons to a member by an appropriate method is to—

(i)  leaving it at, or sending it by post to, the member’s usual place of residence, or

(ii)  where the member has given consent for the summons to be transmitted in electronic form to a particular electronic address (and consent has not been withdrawn), sending it in electronic form to that address."

16 May 2017

List Of Candidates In The 8 June 2017 General Election



In alphabetical order:

BINGHAM, Andrew Russell   (The Conservative Party Candidate)

GEORGE, Ruth Stephanie Nicole  (Labour Party)

LAWLEY, Charles Edward  (Liberal Democrat)

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

There are no nutty candidates on the ballot paper this time around. Election entities like The Monster Raving Loony Party (Official); Nick The Flying Brick etc.  Lord Buckethead of the Gremloid Party is sadly missed.

Of more seriousness is the fact that the Greens and UKIP are not putting up candidates here. Nationwide, those two parties are targeting their limited resources this time around.

The consequence in High Peak is that the centre ground is abandoned in favour of one candidate.

The "progressive" vote is likely to be split between Labour and Liberal Democrats.  This could hand victory to the Conservatives in this constituency.  It also benefits the Conservative that votes will not be peeled off by UKIP this time around.

The Conservatives' national election strategists have not yet pushed into the wider public limelight Jeremy Corbyn's virulently anti-NATO statements, his associations with enemies of democracy, terrorists, murderous anti-LGBT entities and so on.  Examples are his vocal support for IRA, Hezbollah, Hamas.

It will be interesting to see how prominent Jeremy Corbyn features on the Labour candidate's election leaflets.


14 May 2017

Democracy and Transparency in Action: 2017 New Mills Annual Town Meeting






The following timely reminder has been received as a comment to the bottom of an article.  Here it is given wider publicity:

"According to the Councils website it says that the Annual Parish Meeting is to be held at 7.30 on Monday 15th May and that the last thing is to consider any Parish matters that may be brought forward by any Town Councillor OR LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTORS.

"Which I think means that anybody can ask them questions so perhaps we need lots of the club's supporters to go along and ask them about why they wouldn't let us move to Ollersett and why the turned down the million ponds and see if we can get them to change their minds."




Information note by HPT Editor:

Every parish in England must by law hold a public town meeting in May of every year.

It is NOT a council meeting; it is a meeting held by and for the electors and council tax-payers of the town.

Decisions and votes in the meeting are not binding on the town council but these meetings are very useful for raising matters of public interest or public concern.

This year's meeting will take place in the Public Hall of New Mills.  This is the 'top floor' of the town hall.  Access is either from the front car park (far right-hand door of the town hall then up the stairs) or there is a ground level access to the rear of the town hall.

05 May 2017

4 May 2017 Local Election Result

The result of the Derbyshire County Council election in the New Mills and Hayfield division is:

Beth Atkins  Liberal Democrat  1,889

Mike Daw  Green 177

Samantha Flower  Conservative  833

Dave Gates  Labour  1,312


LibDem Beth Atkins has an increased majority over Labour of 577.  Congratulations to the winning candidate.


Overall, the County Council has passed to Conservative control from Labour.