23 April 2014

Calling All Nimbys

The final consultation phase of High Peak Borough Council's current Local Plan has been announced.

Comments and submissions can be made on High Peak Borough Council's website.

The closing time for comments and submissions in this final phase is 5pm on the 6th of June 2014.

15 April 2014

Some new milestones on council's road to recovery

Last night's meeting of New Mills town council showed encouraging signs that progress is being made on leaving behind the bad old days.

There is still plenty of work to do, and complacency is always the enemy of excellence, but the stresses and strains that good councillors have evidently endured during the recent crisis are proving to have been worthwhile.

New town clerk appointed

The first milestone arising from last night's meeting was the appointment of the town's new town clerk. This is Lesley Bramwell, who has been doing the job for some time on a temporary basis.

A wise investment for the council, to build on the progress, would be to purchase the latest (ninth) edition of the excellent Local Council Administration if they haven't already done so.

This authoritative book is the 'bible' for town clerks, Responsible Financial Officers, and diligent councillors.

Separation of Powers

One of the issues faced by elected representatives in the past in this town hall was that significant power in the town hall was concentrated in the hands of one person.

The recent appointment of a new town clerk therefore also marks a formal change in council procedures. The roles of Town Clerk and Responsible Financial Officer are now split: the two important town hall office functions will no longer be in the hands of one person.

New Mills Higher Educational Trust

The three serious problem areas of council business that Councillor Alistair Stevens is currently intimately involved in may shortly be reduced to two.

This is because another milestone passed last night was that Cllr Stevens stated at the council meeting - for the first time in public - that he wants to resign as Trustee of the New Mills Higher Educational Trust charity.

A trustee resignation in these circumstances should be in writing.

For details of the New Mills Higher Educational Trust saga, and its suspension by the Charity Commission, see earlier HPT articles.

Cllr Stevens' previous public statements at council meetings on this subject were initially that he was unaware he was a trustee of the charity, and then at a later council meeting that he had been told 'on legal advice' not to say anything on the subject.

Councillors tried to establish the handover mechanism during last night's meeting, but charities and trustees are a specialist area of law and further information may be sought in order to ensure this is done correctly.

These new pro-active developments - so long as matters are carried forward carefully - mean that the substantial sum of money in the charity that is currently inaccessible may yet be recovered for the local good causes it was intended for.

The Company Question

The second problem area of public business that Cllr Alistair Stevens is currently involved in is that he and son Jamie Stevens formed a limited company with the same name as the human resources business which is advising the council on staff matters.

Cllr Stevens is married to the ex-town clerk Susan Stevens, who at the relevant time was a member of the council's staff.

What is the purpose of Cllr Alistair Stevens in having a company called Tall Poppies Consultants Ltd when the HR adviser to the council - of which he is a member - is also known as Tall Poppies Consultants?

What is the character of a person who would do that?  What is the character of a person who would conceive of such a thing as remotely suitable for a councillor representing the town of New Mills to be involved in?  Because Cllr Stevens is a councillor at a tax-raising local authority, these are questions of public interest.

When this company matter was exposed by High Peak Transparency, Jamie Stevens immediately resigned as director of the company.  On the company's formation documents, Jamie Stevens stated to Companies House that his occupation is "HR consultant."  These facts are in the public domain, as well as being of public interest.

This Stevens company matter came up, albeit obliquely, at last night's town council meeting.  Every time Cllr Stevens raises a question in a council meeting about 'Tall Poppies', one or other councillor has to ask for clarification along the lines of: "Does Councillor Stevens mean the genuine Tall Poppies company or the one that he set up?"

It is long overdue for the town council to put this matter related to council business on the agenda: "To ask Cllr Stevens what is the reason for him setting up a limited company using the same name as the HR adviser to the council?"

The law governing council meetings

The third problem area of public business that Cllr Alistair Stevens is currently involved in is that he stayed in, and took part in, council meetings when matters concerning his spouse - who at the material times was town clerk and a paid employee of the council - were being discussed.

This is a criminal offence contrary to Section 34(1) of the Localism Act 2011.

Defamation Issues

A letter setting out a defamation claim from Alistair Stevens (and another) has been received in respect of some previous articles on High Peak Transparency.

It is therefore important to note that the above article principally 1) sets out facts; 2) asks questions of evident public interest.  Furthermore, most of the facts in the above article are public domain facts.

If a defamation allegation were to be received in respect of the above article, which was published after 1 January 2014, it would fall to be judged under the Defamation Act 2013 which now embodies statutory defences to such claims.

An important part of this site's success (page views now over 100,000, well done Transparency readers and well done local government transparency supporters) has been the lively 'comments' section.

We therefore urge contributors to be thoughtful in their comments (if any) about the above article, to avoid the necessity of editing them before publication, or indeed blocking any submitted comments, for reasons of potential defamation.

09 April 2014

New Mills Labour Councillors Ignore Summons

Labour councillors Dishonest Ian Huddlestone (left) and Alan Barrow

Last night a second extraordinary meeting of High Peak Borough Council in quick succession was held.

The purpose of the meeting was to progress the Local Plan.  The Local Plan governs all future development in this area, both good and bad. The Local Plan is the most important task that is delegated by government to councils at this level.

When a council meeting is convened, a legal summons is sent to councillors to attend.

So what happened to the Labour councillors from New Mills who had been summoned to last night's important meeting?

Councillor Lance Dowson heeded the summons and duly attended. But there are three Labour councillors from New Mils.  The other two are Alan Barrow and Dishonest Ian Huddlestone.

Here, one is reminded that at a recent New Mills town council meeting, before Cllrs Barrow and Huddlestone resigned due to the recent town hall scandals starting to be exposed, these two Labour councillors also failed to attend.  What excuse did the two councillors offer for snubbing the electorate on that occasion?

They claimed they were “attending a meeting” of their local political party.  On that basis they refused to attend the council meeting.

That decision shows that these two councillors regard those internal local party political matters as more important than the councillor roles in which they have been elected to represent the public.

Representation at council meetings is one of the main reasons the public elects councillors.

Last night, Labour councillors Alan Barrow and Dishonest Ian Huddlestone again snubbed a council meeting.  This time it was a key meeting of the High Peak Borough Council.

What could be the explanation for the tandem no-show this time ?

One wonders. Are Cllrs Alan Barrow and Dishonest Ian Huddlestone soulmates?  Just inseparable buddies?  Or perhaps these two got married in secret, becoming the country’s first same-sex married councillors. Or maybe these two Labour councillors are Siamese twins, and nobody has noticed.

All sightings and information gratefully received.

03 April 2014

Seconds Out - Round 2

The next bruising round in High Peak's local plan saga will be at another extraordinary meeting of the Borough Council.  The meeting is at Pavilion Gardens, Buxton, on Tuesday 8 April starting at 7:15pm.

The term 'extraordinary meeting' does not mean it is amazing or without parallel: it's simply the term for a council meeting that has to be specially called for some reason.

If the length of the last meeting is anything to go by, you'd be well advised to bring a sleeping bag. Tell the babysitter she'll have plenty of time that evening to get the boyfriend in a vice-like grip etc.

There are some council documents that have been prepared for this meeting.  Along with the meeting's agenda, these can be found here.

A piece of new information from the last meeting concerns the manipulation of councillors' voting. Councillor Tony Ashton requested a recorded vote on the proposed amendment to reduce the annual housing target of 360 dwellings per annum to 325 per annum.

The result of this recorded vote and another one shortly thereafter appears to give the lie to local Labour's claim that its councillors' votes on the new Local Plan were not 'whipped' by its leadership.

Basically, all Labour councillors voted one way, while councillors of all other parties and of independent persuasion voted the other way.

Meanwhile, as local councillors try to manage house-building in their area, chaotic uncontrolled mass immigration into this country means that an unplanned 200,000 new houses a year - every year - have been needed and not built, along with additional new school places and so on.

How can any local authority councillors plan carefully when they've been undermined by central government failures on that scale?