26 May 2014

Council’s Next Annual Meeting

The newly-built Public Hall of New Mills, paid for by local business and public subscription

The 41st annual meeting of New Mills town council will be held on Tuesday 27 May 2014, at 7:30 in the evening.

The meeting format is the same as any town council meeting, except that at the start of the meeting the Chair and Vice-chair of the council are elected for the forthcoming year.

In a memorable - for all the wrong reasons - previous annual meeting the then town clerk Mrs Susan Stevens chaired the start of the council meeting*.  This was and is against the law: only a member of the council can chair a council meeting.

We understand that this particular law-breaking inside the New Mills council chamber came about because Cllr Alistair Stevens and Mrs Stevens had personally fallen out with the elected councillor* who, under the law, was required to chair the start of the meeting.

The first thing of note about this year's annual council meeting is that there is no 'Confidential' section. Unless a councillor asks for any items to be heard in secret, and the law permits those items to be heard without the public present, the whole meeting is expected to be in public.

Appointing the council’s representatives to outside bodies is an early important item of business on the annual meeting agenda.

This year, this item will be of greater public interest than usual because the New Mills Higher Educational Trust is one of the outside bodies.  This registered charity’s affairs went badly wrong (see previous HPT articles) after the appointments to the charity of councillor Alistair Stevens and ex-councillor Steve Sharp, with ex-town clerk Susan Stevens as the charity’s principal point of contact.

In due course it might be wise to examine the arrangements for Trickett and Bowdens Charity and/or Poor’s Land and Ouff’s Charity.  Price inflation over the years has not been kind to the financial structure of these two charities, which were set up when £2 a week was a decent working wage.  Not even Ed Miliband thinks the cost of living is £2 a week.

While on the subject of financial house-keeping, Agenda Item 18 should properly refer to Asset Register - all councils are required by law to maintain an accurate and up-to-date Asset Register.

Two other agenda items that are relevant to the ongoing recovery from the recent serious town hall crisis in New Mills are appointment of a solicitor to act for the council, and an internal auditor likewise.

The Employment Tribunal hearing of the cases of the two employees recently dismissed from the town council for gross misconduct was scheduled for early June, but has been postponed.  As soon as we hear the new date, it will be published here on High Peak Transparency.

* The town council's Annual Meeting held on 16 May 2011.  The elected councillor unlawfully usurped from chairing the start of the meeting by the then town clerk Mrs Stevens was Chantal Hannell.

25 May 2014

Europa: ‘Local’ candidates invited to gravy train

The results of the European elections will shortly be announced.  The ‘constituencies’ are massive, there being twelve in the UK.  To give an idea of size, the whole of Scotland is one constituency in these elections.

Here in the High Peak, our constituency is called East Midlands.  The East Midlands constituency stretches from Glossop in the north to Northampton in the south, Loughborough in the west to Mablethorpe on the sea coast in the east.

East Midlands will send five elected MEPs.

Each winning candidate will take over a million pounds in salary etc over their short term of office. The word ‘take’ has been used: ‘earn’ does not seem a wholly accurate word here.

For each individual elected to Europe as an MEP it is financially better than most winning lottery tickets - and the chance of winning is far greater.

For the East Midlands constituency, we have 41 candidates to choose our five from.

Each party offers a list of up to five candidates.  The five European Parliament seats for the East Midlands are distributed among the parties in proportion to the number of votes cast.  As a candidate, the lower down your party’s list of five you are, the less likely you will get your winning Euro-lottery parliamentary pass.

There are nine parties and 41 candidates. If each party is allowed to put up five candidates, and there are nine parties, then why are there not 45 candidates?

Because Mr Steve Ward, who lives at Cornwallis Gardens in Hastings on the south coast of England wants your High Peak vote in this election.

Big as the East Midlands constituency is, the town of Hastings, East Sussex does not appear to be in it.  Mr Ward’s is the only name next to “Harmony Party” on the ballot paper.  We shall see later if Mr Ward is referring to Harmony the store purveying lingerie and sex toys, or whether some other meaning is intended.

What follows is a summary of the parties’ election literature for this area.  It’s not in alphabetical order but rather in order of recent media controversy and psephological excitement among the chattering classes:

UK Independence Party (UKIP)

Every week, an additional 4,000 people come to live in Britain from the EU (Source: ONS 27 February 2014).

The open door to cheap labour pushes down wages for ordinary working class people in Britain.

Since 1997, when Tony Blair became Prime Minister, there has been net immigration of about 4 million extra people into this country.  It is no wonder there is now severe pressure on school places, wages and house prices.

EU Commissioner Viviane Reding stated in January 2014: “We need to build a United States of Europe, with the Commission as government.”  When were the British people asked if that was what they wanted?

Only one of UKIP’s five candidates in this area is a career politician (Roger Helmer)

Labour Party

Labour's spin doctors dropped the 'more public spending' prescription as soon as the coalition's long-term economic plan was proved to be working.

It was a poor campaign for Labour - an opposition party should be much higher in the polls at this stage of a government - and the knives are out for Ed Miliband in his own party.

Ed’s new spin-doctor didn't know how to spell his name, the Labour leadership refuses to trust the British people with a referendum on the European Union’s powers over this country, and Ed believed that his family’s weekly shop in 2014 is “around £70 or £80”.  For a middle-class family of four.

If you are going to change tack and push the ‘Cost of Living Crisis’ catch-phrase, it’s best to know what your cost of living is.

Conservative Party

The Conservative election leaflet is the clearest of all.

Party election strategists have copied Tony Blair’s successful campaign tactic of a limited number of tangible pledges that can mostly be delivered.

In the election leaflet, the five items are under the heading “Our Long-Term Economic Plan”:

  • Reducing the deficit
  • Cutting income tax and freezing fuel duty
  • Creating more jobs
  • Capping welfare and reducing immigration
  • Delivering the best schools and skills for young people.

We now know from the Office of National Statistics that net immigration into this country last year was over 200,000.  A missed target on the Tories' Pledge List, and not one that is possible to deliver under current EU law.

Without serious positive reform of the European Union, any ‘reducing immigration’ target will remain unattainable for the foreseeable future.  Because, under present European law, the British government has no control over the numbers of people coming to this country to stay.

Liberal Democrat

Good local councillors are usually powerless against a national trend.  Many Liberal Democrats, including most left-leaning activists, are shocked at the leadership’s insistence on closely identifying with Conservatives in a coalition government.

Electorally, LibDems are now being squeezed badly from two different directions.  Firstly, they are suffering the unpopularity that is the legacy of all parties which have to take hard decisions in government.  Secondly, the “none of the above” protest vote that has always been theirs for the taking is now going to UKIP, the new protest party on the block.

Against this trend, last year LibDem County Councillor Beth Atkins won the New Mills and Hayfield seat at Derbyshire County Council.  This proves that good, effective hard work in a constituency can still carry weight.

Green Party

It is interesting to note that there is only local person from High Peak on the entire 41-name Euro ballot paper.  This is a Green Party representative: Peter Allen of Slatelands Road, Glossop, High Peak

This party’s policies are well-known; essentially a socialist utopia for all.  It would be like the 1970s Labour Party but without the fat white men.  Their prime candidate in this area of High Peak is a German lady:  Kat Boettge.

More seats and influence for the Greens has the effect of moving the political centre in the country to the left, in the same way that UKIP’s phenomenal rise is forcing the Conservatives to the right.

British National Party

Judging from their literature, this party is fixated on banning the Burka in Britain.  This garment-related proposal is top of the five policies on the front of their election leaflet.

Just one of the difficulties this party faces is that if, for example, anyone points out the fact that 14% of the prison population in this country is Muslim, yet Muslims are about 5% of the general population, that person is likely to be accused of Racism.

Cathy Duffy, the BNP’s primary candidate in this area, urges you to send the political class a message on election day and “Kick ‘em in the ballots.”

'Smile please'

An Independence From Europe - UK independence now

The name of this party has been chosen solely to be at the top of ballot papers - which list all parties in alphabetical order.

Their two primary candidates in this area are both called Pain.

UKIP has made an official complaint to the Electoral Commission about the ‘An Independence From Europe’ party.  A recent BBC article cites academic research that indicates parties listed nearer the top of ballot papers do better than those near the bottom, all other things being equal.

Reading the ‘An Independence From Europe’ party’s literature, featuring Chris Pain and Valerie Pain, it is largely indistinguishable from UKIP.  Therefore, all Mr and Mrs Pain’s activities do is split the Eurosceptic vote in those areas where this party stands.

English Democrats

No election literature arrived from the English Democrats.  However, they make the reasonable point that how is it right that Scottish and Welsh MPs vote on matters that only affect England, yet for some reason English MPs are banned from reciprocating.

Harmony Party

Last but not least, we come to the Harmony Party.

No literature has been received from the Harmony Party.

Its sole candidate in this area (all the other parties are putting up five candidates) is Steve Ward of Hastings.

Its message on the ballot paper is ‘Zero Immigration, Anti-EU, Pro-Jobs”.  So it appears that this party is indeed unrelated to the previously-mentioned chain of novelty chocolate willy shops.

02 May 2014

Forthcoming Annual Town/Parish Meeting 2014

On Monday 19 May 2014, at 7:30 in the evening, the annual public meeting of the town of New Mills will be held.

The venue is the Public Hall of New Mills, also known as upstairs at the town hall.  Ground floor and disabled access is easily available from Aldersgate, behind the town hall.

An annual public meeting for every area which has a parish or town council is a statutory requirement. It is a valuable part of the democracy of this country.

Drama cannot be guaranteed.  Indeed, one hopes for a quiet, uneventful time at this forthcoming meeting.

However, previous Annual Town Meetings in New Mills have produced the following notable - indeed sometimes startling - results.

Corruption in High Peak Labour Party

The 2002 town meeting provided the first proof of serious corruption in the local Labour Party.
The meeting voted for a town poll to be held on local Labour councillors’ plan to sell land to PFI developers to build a courthouse. The location of the new courthouse was to be next to the town hall.

The developers were Babcock and Brown,  New Mills councillor Martin Doughty, who was a director of PFI promoter Public Private Partnerships Programme Ltd, proposed and then pushed the property development, against the wishes of local residents.

Dishonest Ian Huddlestone (see previous Transparency articles) was both chair of the town council at this time and chair of the 2002 town meeting. The New Mills town council was controlled by the local Labour Party of which both Martin Doughty and Dishonest Ian Huddlestone were members.

When the town meeting called the poll to be held, the law requires that the chair of the meeting notify the Electoral Returning Officer for the area. The Returning Officer then makes the arrangements and the poll is held.

Instead of obeying the law, dishonest Labour councillor Ian Huddlestone refused to notify the Returning Officer that the townspeople had demanded the poll at the annual town meeting.

By this illegal device, Labour’s dishonest Ian Huddlestone prevented the poll from taking place, and opened the way for the big new courthouse development project of Labour's Martin Doughty.

The Runaways

The 2010 annual town meeting led to the then Leader of High Peak Borough Council, Cllr Tony Ashton, and New Mills town council’s then town clerk and Financial Officer Susan Stevens, fleeing the building.

Open-mouthed residents watched in amazement at this swift flight from the public meeting.  The sudden exit of Cllr Tony Ashton and Mrs Susan Stevens followed a very simple question from ex-councillor Gordon Allen:
“There’ve been allegations of a local council fraud in the past. The indications are that the allegations are about New Mills. So I’m asking the Council: which property is allegedly involved; who is being accused; have any investigations or legal actions taken place; or are any planned.”
The property being referred to is the site of a derelict brick and concrete effluent works, which Dishonest Ian Huddlestone had claimed was a “village green”.

Sadly, Gordon Allen recently passed away. Condolences are offered to his family.

Conflicting information given to the public, leading to crisis

The recent full-on town hall crisis in New Mills, which will reach its conclusion at the forthcoming Employment Tribunal which will hear the case of former town hall officer Susan Stevens, had its genesis at the annual town meeting of 2013.

High Peak Transparency had learned that the then town clerk and Responsible Financial Officer, Susan Stevens, had notified some councillors that she would not be meeting with any councillor except by advance appointment and only with a third party present.

This seemed a strange situation, so at the 2013 annual town meeting HPT’s editor asked the two councillors who were in a position to know the facts. These were the then Chair of the council Janet Carter, and the clerk’s husband Cllr Alistair Stevens.

Both councillors denied that the ‘appointment only’ system existed.

So this discrepancy led to more facts coming out, and then more information. In due course the town clerk was dismissed without notice for gross misconduct. (It is understood that the dismissal is unconnected with the ‘appointments only’ issue.)

Mrs Stevens has appealed the dismissal to the Employment Tribunal.  The case is expected to be heard in the next few weeks.

The point being made is that the chain of events which culminated in the recent town hall crisis started with statements made to the public by councillors at the Annual Town Meeting.

Defamation Issues

A letter setting out a defamation claim has been received (from former town clerk Mrs Susan Stevens and Cllr Alistair Stevens) in respect of some previous articles on High Peak Transparency.

It is therefore important to note that the above article principally sets out facts on matters of public interest. Furthermore, most of the facts in the above article are public domain facts.

If a defamation allegation were to be received from any person 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.