Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
|Links in this page:|
• Searching my blog
• Our Town - 7.8.2022
• Friends Garden - a quiet oasis
• How come it's just one standing
• Planning for our future
• AHWG - Terms of Reference
• Opening of Melksham Community Campus
• Assembly Hall Working Group - setup
• Council Projects - systemic update
• (Back to top of page)
|Some other pages on this site:|
• Home page and • town diary
• Graham Ellis - blog and • blog index
• Graham Ellis - background and • views
• Philosophies of working as a town councillor
• The Role of the Town Council and Councillors
• How YOU can help and • Contact me
• Links to other web sites and • pictures
Extrordinary meeting report (1) - 9.8.2022
Extraordinary in name, and extraordinary in what happened. Last night's full Melksham Town Council meeting was agenda-ed as being a private session on "public owned assets". There was disquiet amongst councillors at it being a confidential session, and indeed more public turned up to "be excluded" than turn up to take part in our regular meetings. A number of people spoke in the public participation session which precedes all council meetings, including requests to remember the hall users and reminders of unique characteristics which mean that other meeting places currently in Melksham are not alternative venues.
The mayor sensed (and shared) the disquiet, and we quickly carried on to the main business of public owned assets in open session after a unanimous vote amongst the 12 councillors present to do so. And, going around the room, each of the 12 councillors agreed / confirmed that we have work to do, in particular relating to the Assembly Hall. "Doing nothing" would, it was generally accepted, lead to a worsening of the condition of the hall to the extent that it had to be closed down, and that's not what any of us indicated that we want to happen.
As well as councillors in the room, we had a number of people attending the meeting on Zoom and we were live streamed on Facebook - at https://www.facebook.com/melksham.town/videos/610869710447679 ... as I write, 206 views. How many extras came along because they expected to see fireworks as we went private, I don't know. How many with an interest in the Public Owned Assets didn't come along on the basis of "no point, we'll be chucked out", I don't know - "If I'd known it was going to be public I would have come" already in my incoming data feed this morning.
One effect of the confidentiality proposal was what the document we were to discuss was not available to the public prior to the meeting. We ended up NOT discussing the document, which said nothing about what the users wanted, but rather looking ahead at what the users, and people who do not use the hall at present, might want, how to reach those people to see what would encourage them along, and to look to use that baseline of information to progress things. There is a separate article to write on that (tomorrow's?) once I have shaken off / written up the events of last night and am looking strategically forward. For completeness, the document - no longer confidential - was handed around (in an annotated copy) to member of the public present in person, and there's a copy I have scanned(here).
Published Wednesday, 10th August 2022
Searching my blog Since I started writing a Melksham Town blog on 31st March 2021, I have written 176 articles (this is the 177th). What words have I used?
Public in 94 out of 176 articles
Community in 67 out of 176 articles
Staff in 51 out of 176 articles
Assembly in 43 out of 176 articles
Climate in 39 out of 176 articles
Buses in 32 out of 176 articles
Trains in 31 out of 176 articles
Environment in 30 out of 176 articles
Planning in 29 out of 176 articles
Campus in 29 out of 176 articles
Bypass in 26 out of 176 articles
Elector 23 out of 176 articles
Politic 23 out of 176 articles
Strategy 20 out of 176 articles
Canal in 17 out of 176 articles
KGV in 13 out of 176 articles
Equal in 11 out of 176 articles
Ukraine in 11 out of 176 articles
Splash in 5 out of 176 articles
And ... support in 80 but oppose in just 1 ...
To help me (and readers!) find the wood for the trees, I have added a simple search to the blog - if you go to my site ( http://grahamellis.uk/ ) you'll find a "look for" box at the top right corner. Type in a word or number and press Go!
Published Tuesday, 9th August 2022
Our Town - 7.8.2022A letter in the Melksham News that asked if our town is the dirtiest in Europe has brought a flurry of indigation on social media. People are entitled to ask - this is a country of free speech. My answer is a resounding no it is not - it is far from it, and that's very largely due to the people of Melksham itself. Yesterday, I took a walk around our town and took random pictures. A few indeed show places where attention is necessary, but most are of things we should be proud of.
Can you place where each picture was taken?
Published Monday, 8th August 2022
Friends Garden - a quiet oasis Today saw the opening in our ward of the Friends Garden now in the trust of the Town Council, gifted to us for the sum of 1p by the Spiritualist Church and formerly in the care of the Quakers. Along with Councillor Goodhind, I represented our ward; the current Town Council also represented by the mayor and deputy mayor (Councillors Simon Crundell and Sue Mortimer) and Councillor Pat Aves and three council officers. Good to see (and here are the people who really got this off the ground) former councillors such as Terri Welch, Pam Wiltshire and Richard Wiltshire. And so many other friends too.
The Garden will be open daily as a quiet place to reflect, close to the Town Centre - very different from the crowds at yesterday's event which is why I have chosen to illustrate this piece and other posts mostly with my pictures from a week or two back. For that's how you will find the garden if you visit a week or two, a month or two, or we plan a year or two or decade or two into the future.
Published Saturday, 6th August 2022
How come it's just one standingChanging scene at the Town Hall
On 10th May 2021, the first working day after local elections, we had nine full (or almost full) time admin staff in the centre of town - * Dxxxx * Txx * Lxxxx * Pxxxx * Cxxxxxxxx * Jxxx * Hxxx * Mxxxxx * Txxxxx *.
How things have changed! Of the nine staff noted when the new council came in, just one was available for duty yesterday. Four have moved on or been moved on and there's no replacement in post. And a further four are sick, or on leave. It means that the Town Council team cannot do as much as they could before, and when working are under a pressure to get things done; less time for checking or doing "nice" things, more temptation to cut corners and certainly more likelyhood to be fraught and stressed, which in turn leads to a spiral of more things not going right, adding to the workload and to things being more fraught and stressed! How has this changed in just fifteen months?
This week, the Town Hall has been closed to the public in the afternoons to help with the workload. My councillor suggestion made last week that for the month of August we open for public walk-in from until lunchtime only (as Bradford-on-Avon do) to give our working team some headroom did not gain any traction and at the time of writing I can't give you any predictions for coming weeks.
How did things change
On 11th May 2021, we had a new council with an absolute majority of councillors elected on the "Together for Melksham" ticket, organised and promoted by Jon Hubbard. A hurricane of changes in following weeks lead to two members of staff being declared redundant; we lost the "head poncho" for the Assembly Hall , and our Economic Development Manager. And around the same time, we lost our apprentice at the end of her secondment to the council and there hasn't been the full-year replacement which I understand usually happened under previous councils, neither has there been an apprentice assisting with Assembly Hall admin and marketing as there used to be. Finally, at the end of July we wished our Communications Officer a fond farewell on his move to Canada.
So here we are in summer 2022, with half the centre team we had last year. They're asked to cover around the same number of council meetings (next week, for example, I have evening meetings on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) - and "covering" involves meeting preps and agendae, clerking and advising at the meetings, minuting and circulating notes and following up on actions which can be substantial work. For the time of the meeting itself, the council runs a TOIL (Time off in Lieu) system - so three hours at Full Council converts to an afternoon off. And at this time of year, community events such as the Jubilee weekend call staff in at the weekend - again time in lieu giving time off rather than overtime payments. We have some team members who are very professional and committed - but there's a limit to what even they can do, and by piling so much onto them we are push them towards a breaking point.
Staffing matters are looked after by The Town's staffing committee of five councilors and due to individual confidence elements, other councillors are very limited indeed in access. As a former employer of staff in Melksham, I can appreciate some of the issues they'll come across, and in some ways wish I could help. But perhaps I am doing so by publishing this explanation comprising elements which are in the public domain, but bringing information together in a way that may help readers be clearer about where we stand.
Where are we now - with a personal thought
We (councillors) are asked to carefully consider requests made to avoid unnecessary loads being put on officers. We should (and perhaps have always been) doing so in the past, but now this is all the more highlighted to us. And projects that require significant officer support may not happen where they would before.
I personally take a great interest in looking ahead, planning for the future. And that's not the future for next year, but for the next ten years. But that interest is not without cost - it doesn't go down well in some quarters to invest in planning for the future, and at a time of staff shortage it's the urgent and immediate that will get prioritised over the imporant.
As chair (this year) of the Economic Development and Planning committee, it's my role to help guide that group looking ahead, and I sorely regret the lack of an Economic planning expert, and Assembly Hall promotion expert, and an established Communications Officer to help inform me. I've been around a while, I can listen, but we don't have the team of advisors for me and the committee that we would have had a couple of years ago. I question whether our decisions will be the best ones possible, and on long term matters that's important as we're looking at year after year of implications and not just a single event or even our own popularity on 8th May 2025 when we may ask the voters to re-elect us.
So - where are we going and how do we go there?
Information systems have been updated to give councillors direct access to project statuses - I wrote about this a few days ago. Good move - better information for the public and less need for staff to be fielding bitty casual questions - however, outcome will only be good if system is used and kept up to date. I worry that with the departure of our information officer we have no local champion, but look forward to learning that's a needless worry
Reduced Town Hall hours and cut our cloth in so doing. I'm far fom convinced that we need to be open 5 full days a week for walk-ins and we already went some way to admitted the cost in terms of work interruptions of widened services when we decided not to put a public PC there but delegate to Library/Campus. Interaction with the public is vital, but we should be able to reduce the need for it in routine enquiries and data entry through the virtual hub project, at the same time providing an "open all hours" service to the residents.
Delegate Assembly Hall and other elements too. Perhaps to a CIC or Community group? Perhaps delegate ticket sales and bookings to the Campus front desk, the very purpose of which is a "one stop shop" and indeed Melksham Without PC are already served by it.
Make use of consultants of which we have some on board or available. We do need to manage and direct carefully as they could so easily run ruderless without our own managers in place to provide a framework.
Employ assistant(s) - be they apprentices or enthusiastic people looking to help the town - taking pressure off the current team though not looking for the pressure of learning into the complexities themselves. We're four senior staff down from a year ago. We should be able to have two at intermediate level to replace two of the leavers, though we cannot take on people to replace those made redundant, as that would suggest that they weren't really redundancies at all.
Robustness / Inheritance planning. Too much now relies on one individual - "it'll have to wait until XXXX is back" when that should not be the case. Emails to roles (e.g. "clerk") rather than by name, and where a role is already used in emails, it should be picked up by the standin person for that role and not wait for the return of the "regular". Consideration should be given in planning this that "Gardening Leave" can take a while, as can recovery from stress or an operation, and these things cannot be scheduled ahead of time.
Published Friday, 5th August 2022
Planning for our futureWhat's changing in Melksham? Next MONDAY (8th August 2022) - Melksham Town Council looks at planning applications (right hand map). And on TUESDAY (9th) we look at a spread sheet concerning "public owned assets" in the town centre (left hand map). Both meetings have a public participation ahead of the main meeting and you can come along and tell your councillors what you think.
Click on the maps to enlarge them
On Monday evening the Economic Development and Planning Committee looks at applications for planning permission, with a view to providing local input to Wiltshire Council's decision makers. We are purely advisory in this role, but more often than not we're in line with the Unitary team - and inputs discussed at our meeting can be used to inform the public and help them with their inputs. To look at any of the plans on the map, go to Wiltshire Council Planning and search for PL/2022/[number]/FUL
On Tuesday evening, we take a look at full council at a spreadsheet looking at options for some public owned assets in Melksham. The map show some of the public owned assets in Melksham - in Green for Wiltshire Council and in Blue for Melksham Town Council. With changes come with the opening of The Campus and closing of the old library and old swimming pool, and work starting on Melksham House, now is the time to review the wider facilities (beyond the campus) - what both councils want to provide for the future, how to provide it, how to afford it, how to afford it, and what public assets should be sold off. Well - I say it's "time to review" - frankly it's rather late; it should have been looked to a strategic plan level at least five years ago by the previous council or the council before that, and being so late opportunities may have been lost.
Tuesday's Agenda has been prepared with a "confidentiality" motion before the main business, meaning that councillors will be asked to vote on whether to consider the spread sheet in private. I am minded to vote against the secrecy, as I have yet to hear any reasons we need to do so. As far as I can see, there are no staff issues and no commercial-in-confidence elements.
Please do not assume that the motion WILL be discussed in secret, and come along in person or on Zoom to see.
Link for Monday:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87360610508?pwd=QlNUODZNN3BkSEJlUWo0bTk4Q3k1dz09 and you will be taken straight in
Link for Tuesday:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84366113552 and you will need passcode: 270598
It is unfortunate is that members of the public have no chance to look at the papers / spreadsheet ahead of the meeting even if (in the end) it ends up being held in public, and whatever happens we are unlikely to be able to benefit from considered public views next week. Balancing against that, it is pretty unlikely that any final conclusions will be reached on what is a complex set of choices concerning public owned assets in the town, and (critically) what we should be providing and supporting into the future. Readers may have noted my blogs talking about sleepwalking, long grass and shutting stable doors. Time to wake up, mow our grounds, and provide for a secure future.
Tuesday's meeting agenda says "To consider the Wiltshire Council spreadsheet annotated by the Head of Operations providing three options for the future of publicly owned assets in Melksham and decide upon next steps." and I would strongly suggest that the "decision" will not be a final one to select one of the three options on the spreadsheet.
Published Wednesday, 3rd August 2022
AHWG - Terms of ReferenceLast night - initial meeting of the Assembly Hall Working Groupi (AHWG) - Councillors Aves, Ellis, Houghton and Oatley of the original five selected in attendance, councillors Cooke and Goodhind added to the group by unanimous vote of the other four. I find myself as chair; no votes against though one abstention. I took the role early in the meeting on the understanding / proviso that if the terms of reference the group agreed were inappropriate, I would step aside.
I am happy to report that the terms of reference we have set up have been strengthened by the discussions and different views last night.
1. We are taking it upon the group to look (far, far) wider than just hire charges for 2023. This will allow up to explore, comment on and inform decisions for the future of both the physical building and the intellectual property, goodwill and activities and community it supports, and their implications.
2. We are strengthening our working group by welcoming others who are none-councillors and where appropriate not just as guests to a single meeting. This brings in / taps in to hall users, staff and experts in a way that has been lacking, both in and beyond our meetings. And we have modified the terms to allow any member to add something to the agenda, not just the clerk and chair.
3. We will meet frequently - at least initially. We need our terms of reference ratified by our parent committee which meets later this month; following meeting then within a fortnight, mandated minimum of every 2 months and we expect monthly though the Autumn. Having said which, meetings are a route to an end, and not an end in themselves.
We discussed which committee we would like as our parent - we stuck with Assets and Amenities, although we have a discussion as there's significant crossover to Community Development and then to Economic Development ... and I would hope we can liaise with them too. Finance may come "big" into this in the future too.
These terms of reference are - in my view - appropriate and a way that we can help things forward for the Assembly Hall and its users (no point in having a hall without users!) and there will be difficult decisions ahead. In a changing world, the Hall (as an enterprise) needs to change too - and it is a changing world. Yesterday, the Community Campus opened and it's a delight - but it's also a new kid on the block that we must work with; I was informed that the Melksham Area Board of Wiltshire Council are holding their September (in town) meeting in the library space at the Campus, with the books pushed aside, where in the past they have used the Assembly Hall when meeting in Melksham itself.
After the AHWG meeting, I and another councillor who are not on the (following) Parks working group took a look in The Campus - lanes set out for swimming, nets in the sports hall, and the library pleasantly in use on self-serve mode. We took a look in the Assembly Hall too - filled with the model car club's track, members on the stage controlling cars at break-neck speed around the hall itself. Lots of controls, electronics and many more members is what was in effect the pits and spectator stands.
A fellow councillor described the role of AHWG chair as a "poisoned chalice". Thank you! There are hard decisions to be made, and a vision is needed - a strategy that can be agreed and can then lead us to the tactics of how we get there. Much more about that needs to be written, but that's for a following chapter; perhaps sooner rather than later, being in mind next Tuesday's full council meeting which is proposed to be held in confidential session, but for which the public agenda tells you that we are considering a spread sheet of options for community owned assets in Melksham, and those assets include quite a number of buildings clustered around and behind the Market Place and elsewhere in town.
Published Tuesday, 2nd August 2022
Opening of Melksham Community CampusSome first day pictures - automatic slide show
Lots of pictures and comments on my Facebook page. Looks really good.
Published Monday, 1st August 2022
Assembly Hall Working Group - setupInitial meeting of the Assembly Hall Working Group tomorrow (1st August 2022) at 6 p.m. - set up in May to look at pricing for the following six months. Hasn't actually appeared on the council's calendar nor list of working groups yet, but this first meeting will be a scene setter as to how it will work.
1. Appointment of Chair
2. Welcome and Introductions
3. Terms of Reference
4. Regular meeting date and date of next meeting
I Suggest Five Town councillors, four community reps / unelected expert members and one Without councillor invitation. Guests to attend by invitation. Other Town Councillors welcome to attend. Clerked by a member of the town staff, and with other staff supporting as appropriate.
Recommendations of Working Group to Community Development or Assets and Amenities? Agenda and meeting note conclusions to be published, but not normally to be in public or live streamed
Perhaps beyond the terms of reference ...
To balance income versus expenditure whilst ensuring service and quality and breadth of product
To facilitate and make best appropriate use of community and volunteer input
To help make it a venue that people want to support, use and work at into the future.
To make best of Assembly Hall and it intellectual property and customer base
To ensure that provision for all activities is considered into the future
To properly account for all hall use including that by the Town Council itself
To look to future models for the provision of current, new and refreshed activities and used
Published Sunday, 31st July 2022
Council Projects - systemic updateLast year, 12 of your 15 newly elected Town Councillors reduced administration staffing levels, re-arranging tasks and making two staff redundant. At the same time, the workload on staff of a new set of councillors who looked for more support as they learned into their roles, and bought a new enthusiasm for matters not previously high on the agenda, brought more work for the remaining staff.
We are now in the summer holiday season, when overall staffing is stretched with outdoor requirements, and many of our staff are looking to take their vacations. Add to that the inevitable need for staff to be absent for physical medical reasons from time to time, added to stress pressures which reduce availability. And on top of that you have a natural and positive move to a new job and life elsewhere for at least one skilled team member.
Our Town Staff are for the most part "Full Time" - worked out as Monday to Friday daytime. But many council meetings are in the evenings and so they attend them, taking Time off in Lieu. (TOIL). With remaining limited time, some decisions may be made with less thought that ideal, and rushing can lead to mistakes which cost time to correct - and time is money for staff, and goodwill for volunteer councillors. How to break this cycle?
Firstly, the Town Hall will be closed next Thursday afternoon. It's normally open Monday to Friday all day, busier (I understand) in the morning, and I see no huge problem in a very occasional afternoon closure. Actually I suggested to the deputy clerk and my fellow councillors that we close afternoons through August for people without appointments to give us a real firebreak, but of 14 other councillors only one replied in support. Ah well - I asked.
Secondly, the town team has been switching to a new online workflow system which allows councillors access to project statuses, and to ask questions and make suggestions efficiently. It needs to be used by all of us with a co-operative maturity, and indeed this was discussed at a recent council meeting, with an extra confidential session that allowed us to learn from specific historic cases in as positive a way as possible.
There are 57 projects on the workflow system, and I have been taking a look through them - the word grid hows you the breadth of things there, with their being "ACTION" labels on about a half of them. Routine daily stuff is not logged as a project, and of course the system is only as good as the data entry, but early signs are good. I an NOT about to start copious sharing, but please ask me or any of my councillor colleagues for updates, and we should now - or as the system beds in - be able to help better than we have been able in the past.
Published Saturday, 30th July 2022