Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
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• First three months - interview
• FoMAH (Assembly Hall) Meeting - this evening
• Evening without a car
• Hollybobs and Cafes
• Welcoming to Melksham
• Event Spaces - working together
• Help ME to help THEM help YOU
• friends of Melksham Assembly Hall
• Town Hall meeting summary
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Climate Strategy Consultation
I have started to look at the Wiltshire Climate Strategy Consultation that opened on 1st September and runs until 17th October at href=https://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/ ... ... "people can comment on the draft strategy, which covers seven delivery themes: transport; built environment; waste; green economy; energy generation, storage and distribution; natural environment, food and farming; and carbon neutral council".
Until the end of August, I would have seen it as part of the job of the Economic Development Manager to advise councillors on much of the content, but that role is no longer needed (council decision, 28th June) with the encumbant leaving the role through redundancy. The consultation is on the agenda of the Economic Planning and Development Committee this evening - so clearly someone feel's it's of interest to us, but how we'll be informed, I honestly don't know. Looks like public participiation limited to those who come along in person. I am also unsure when we'll have online attendance running [again/properly]
On the transport side, personal background has helped me take a look and formulate early comments. The text of the strategy (from Wilts Council) on this element is at http://www.passenger.chat/25413 (that's on the transport forum I help run) and my thoughts are as follows:
Here are my "early days" thoughts. You are very welcome to comment / share / form your own views.
* Lots of really good stuff there including buses - embracing the government's Bus Back Better strategy, Bus Service Improvement Plan, etc. The Option 24/7 group looks forward to working further with Wiltshire Council on this - publication of the draft BSIP is imminent and we (speaking for that group) expect an ambitious and positive document; the devil will be in the detail of implementation.
* An understanding - even though we are public transport campaigners - that's it's not always the answer - "Is your journey really necessary" and "do you have to go that far" stuff. Pleasure / quality of life journeys by all means, but let's access local services better, arrange our towns and cities to have such local services, and embrace the online economy and working from home, even where that lessens demand for buses or trains and may break their business case
* Disappointment that there is no mention of rail. At present, every single rail journey starting at a Wiltshire station does so under diesel power. Network Rail's decarbonising strategy suggests the electrification of all current passenger rail routes in Wiltshire (mostly in their "core" set too) and it would be appropriate for strategic support for this strategy to be included in Wiltshire's strategy; partnership is mentioned though the WC document - just not this partnership as far as I can see.
* Transport section is also very light on talking about road building, even though WC has major ambitions relating to Melksham Bypass, Chippenham relief road, Yarnbrook, Stonehenge, and Westbury that I can think of.
* Good so see talk of last mile and combined journey elements. Looks good for a network to meet wide needs rather than a series of isolated routes which only join in a haphazard way. This "Good to see" extends to the cycle and walking comments. I note e-bykes (I have one and very useful!) mentioned as the future. Somewhat controversial, I would like to see e-scooters in there; there are short term issues with their current use and regulation, but they offer a potentially fast and efficient way of getting around which should not be discounted based on early version issues.
* There is a section in the document - "How National Policy Supports our Strategy" and includes "national policy and legislation are a crucial enablers of action at a local level ..." excellent; we are to be team players and partnerships all headed (or at least planned!) to be headed in the same direction, working together.
Adding early feeback from a correspondent:
"Routes should coincide with the Rights of Way network, canals, green open spaces and wildlife corridors where appropriate" suggests to me that they don't intend to spend much on new routes.
Wiltshire Council also say:
"At the same time, we will also be consulting on 'Our Natural Environment Plan' - A Green and Blue Infrastructure (GBI) strategy for Wiltshire, which looks at the future for Wiltshire's natural environmental assets and how the council can help protect and enhance them for the benefit of people and biodiversity.
"Find out more ...
To join these events, people must sign up online in advance.
9 September, 6pm, online launch event with Claire Perry O'Neill.
15 September, 10.30am - 11.30am, first engagement webinar.
30 September, 7pm - 8pm, second engagement webinar.
"Library drop-in sessions:
14 September, 10am - 12 noon, Salisbury Library
23 September, 10am - 12 noon, Devizes Library
27 September, 10am - 12 noon, Chippenham Library
7 October, 10am - 12 noon, Trowbridge Library"
Nothing in Melksham, of course, even though it's bigger than Devizes.
Published Monday, 6th September 2021
First three months - interview
"What's it been like - your first three months as a new councillor"? Well - not as much of a shock to the system as some have predicted.
"You won't be able to quickly nip round to the corner shop for a pint of milk - people will want to talk to you" they said ... ah, but since Lisa and I appeared on Four in a Bed, we've been pretty well known, and my public transport campaigning hasn't exactly been low-key. The changes is just that people want to talk about a few wider issues.
"You'll have lots of meetings to attend, some pretty formal" they said ... ah, yes, but what's new. I've attended a lot of meetings at the peak of transport campaigning, and indeed I had sat through enough council meetings to know what to expect.
"You'll have party / group meetings to plan strategy too" they said ... except that I'm your only independently elected councillor, and whilst I work well with other councillors (for we share 90% of objectives, and you have elected some excellent people) I'm rather on my own in sharing my thoughts and setting my direction.
"You won't want to be as involved in social media because that can draw you into arguments" said a fellow newly elected councillor advising all his new colleagues. Except - I WANT to inform and engage the residents in Melksham, and as an independent it's more important for me to do that than for the others who have the protection of an organisation with advice, experience and policy around them. And I've moderated social media sites for many years - happy to engage and inform, though I'm not a great one for empty sound bites or headlines - so you'll find lots of pointers to meaty articles.
"You'll find it takes a lot of your time" they said ... yes I know. I expected that - not only the meetings, but the preparations and follow ups. February was something of a turning point for me as it became increasingly obvious that the two or three days a week volunteering role I had been promised was no longer available to me. So I had, and I have, the time. For the next four or eight years.
"What motivates you?" asked a good friend the other day. It's a love of Melksham, a wanting to help it move positively forward, and for it to embrace, help and gain from challenges such as Covid recovery to a new world order, diversity and climate changes.
“So has anything surprised you?” Yes – the sheer speed with which major decisions were driven through at early meetings. At times they felt uncomfortably fast and clearly pre-planned – 100 pages of supporting documentation for a meeting of under 2 hours. But then these were things advocated and supported by the party and the group who you (the electorate) voted into 13 of the 15 seats, and the natural thing is to take any course-changing action early – “the first 100 days”, the “honeymoon period”. The cynic might suggest it’s done to get things through before the newcomers realise the significance. The pragmatist sees the logic of these things being done quickly and early so they have fours years to take full effect.
Same question (2) - “So has anything surprised you?” Yes - the desire of people to be informed - to listen to views in answer to questions they have. To be supportive and understanding of the needs of the future - big issues such as climate change, though nervous as to how it will effect them personally
Same question (3) - “So has anything surprised you?” - Not so much a surprised - more a delight that the forthcoming visioning document for the council will be requiring us to look at each decision we make for its equality / diversity and climate change implications.
As submitted to and published in the Melksham Independent News
Published Friday, 3rd September 2021
FoMAH (Assembly Hall) Meeting - this evening
* Objectives overview
* Who's who
* Where each person can help
* Initial Committee
* Overview of some of the options
* Next steps
Time and date
19:00 on 2nd September 2021
Zoom via https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84161451070?pwd=SmZXSVFPMDZJZTVNNElIbWtRejNyZz09
Or in person (get in touch for details - limited spaces in person)
About (See also http://www.fomah.org.uk/)
Melksham Assembly Hall - to provide live and recorded entertainment for public audiences of up to 400, and hire for events and groups commensurate with that space, for a customer base primarily in the West Wilts area.
This is our new (Summer 2021) friends group to look forward to how we gan help take The Hall forward in coming months and years
Published Thursday, 2nd September 2021
Evening without a carI have an invite as a councillor for Tuesday, 28th September. Late afternoon out of town, moving to 7 p.m. in town. Invite says "there is plenty of free parking at both [venues]". How lovely for those who have their own transport, but how exclusive for them is this event. And an organisation who should know better.
I take the bus and / or train, and / or I cycle or walk where I can, reserving car use for necessary trips where there is no viable alternative. Not only am I helping do my "bit" for the enviroment and congestion, but I'm also looking and learning the practical experience of travel by public transport. For longer journeys, the ability to relax or work along the way, relax, sleep when I'm tired makes this a preferable way to travel, even where it might involve a taxi ride at the far end.
The event on 28th is not a necessary trip. I could get there by public transport. I would need to leave to get back on the final bus less that halfway through the out of town element to be back for 7 p.m. - and as it's an invite I can turn down, I've chosen to do so.
On the wider picture, over this summer I've had a series of meetups that I've been invited to on Thursday evenings out and about - purely for leisure, and an informal groups of friends. By bus and bicycle, and on foot, really interesting to see which I could make. Brown's Folly and Box were possible, Bradford-on-Avon was easy to get to but I would have been home after midnight. Steeple Ashton would have been a very long walk or cycle, or back the next morning. Semington worked well on the bike. Sadly, other engagements meant I had to miss Devizes, Chippenham (back by train) and Bath which I could have made. And I just laughed when Malmesbury and Avebury were the venue. A really good illustration of how bus services currently serve limited markets (seniors, school traffic and some work runs) but need enhancing to provide a decent service all day, every day.
It won't be here overnight, but "Bus Back Better" and the Bus Service Improvement Plan being written by Wiltshire Council, with Enhance Partnerships to follow - does play well for modernising and extending our network of services. I look forward to the day when I can make a trip out and have a bus back afterwards too. 7 days a week, please. http://option247.uk - as I write, the public website needs an update; awaiting papers on or shortly after 7th September - watch that space!
Published Wednesday, 1st September 2021
Hollybobs and CafesOn holiday, but still online. Away from Melksham, but still thinking "Melksham" and "Wiltshire". I am limited (where I am) on what I can read and send online - a "full" internet package is far from full in reallity, but I can get a flavour.
I read that both The Cricketers in the KGV park and the Melksham Hub Cafe at The Station have struggled since they opened a few months ago. And it saddens me that in both cases, criticism is being levelled at the people who have been there, serving you and helping to make your visit a better one. For sure, they haven't been open at all the times they had planned, and some of what they have provided may not have suited you, but they have worked darned hard and deserved a big THANK YOU for their effort, for their hard work, and hopefully too for providing an understanding of the current local market so that a new team can do better. It is so tempting, but so wrong, to slag off the operatives on the ground either from the customers, or from the people who set up the arrangements in the first place. A wise friend of mine says "If you employ someone and they don't do as well as you hoped in the planned role, that's somewhat your fault for choosing them ..."
Published Tuesday, 24th August 2021
Welcoming to MelkshamAn old lady lived a few doors up from us. Her son lived and lives nearby. Now retired too, he is a very well known and respected member of our society, a former parish councillor who has thought, worked, done so much for our community.
One day - I think when Lisa was researching history, the old lady invited us in and started to talk. She described running from a burning city (picture - aftermath thereof). She spoke of loosing family and being the only one left. Honoured to have met her, glad that she found a new life here in Wiltshire, where she became truly a member of our society. She passed a couple of years later, in old age, and in peace, here.
I used to give niche training courses - people from all over the UK. Typically, delegates were the brightest of the bright. Wonderful people to be around - including analysts and research scientists, some of whom had made a very real difference.
I remember, over lunch as Lee's Chinese, a delegate opening up and telling us of his early childhood in Biafra. He described how they ran from their home and hid in the bush while the Nigerian army flew over and strafed their village on a regular basis. This gentleman was a medical scientist, his work and the outcome of his research saving lives of people here in the UK and indeed worldwide.
So we're taking 5,000 now, and 20,000 over a longer term, from Afghanistan?
A good step. Not sure it's enough - I make it just 3 families in our town of Melksham if the numbers are spread evenly. People fleeing from horrendous situations like this - it's not the first time - become valued members of our community and are "net positive". I look forward to welcoming them in our community. Yes, that will involve some trials and tribulations along the way, but I'm 110% behind people coming from persecution and danger to Melksham - to live in our streets, work in our town, relax in our parks and open spaces and to come into my home as friends. Honoured to have them; remember - these are people just like you and I.
Published Thursday, 19th August 2021
Event Spaces - working togetherWe have a rich mixture of meeting (including event) spaces in Melksham. But if you're arranging an event, you'll quickly find yourself down to a shortlist based on availability, size, cost (don't want a huge hall for a committee meeting), facilities (sports hall no good for hanging lights for a show), etc.
On the map, I've put some virtual pins into the meeting rooms I know of and in many cases have used in Melksham in recent years. The green pin is the Assembly Hall because that's what I'm posting about, the white pins are other venues that are currently open. Yellow ones are under construction or planned.
Many of the places have been (pre-Covid) busy and with good bookings - I don't see an excess of supply over demand. Having said which, a big sports hall at the Campus next year, a re-opened hall at Melksham House perhaps and a Hall at East Melksham that's coming to a future Town Council meeting could alter the metrics though none will be a direct alternative to the Assembly Hall for certain uses.
I am a friend of all these halls. Although heavily promoting and talking about the Assembly Hall, we need them all (or most of them). It's only natural for the few of us in Melksham who put our names forward to be Town Councillors (Only 23 stood, 15 elected) to be taking an interest in multiple venues - there's an element of Conflict of Interest there on occasions when we look at fundings and bookings, but there's also great scope for co-operation and sharing experiences and experience. I remember when Lisa and I ran a hotel in Melksham, we would recommend other hotels around if we were full, or people wanted to bring Children, or needed an on-site evening restaurant or bar. And they recommended us too when they were unable to well meet the needs of potential guests, but suspected we could. I see no reason why that should not be model for meeting and event space.
Published Wednesday, 18th August 2021
Help ME to help THEM help YOU Bus Service Improvement - SURVEY
Please complete the Wiltshire Council survey that's running until 23rd August to help inform them as they formulate BUS SERVICE IMPROVEMENTS. The survey can be found via a short link at http://option247.uk/council_survey(*)
Please complete the survey even if you are NOT a bus user at present - Wiltshire Council want to know why you don't use the bus.
Please complete the survey if you are a BUSINESS - there's a business section as well as an individual section
And please complete the survey if you are a regular user - your pattern of use and experience, and suggestions, will form a valuable input.
This Survey is not just a box-ticking exercise; certain information being sought is very hard to gather, and the inputs can and will make a difference. As buses move from being predominantly a "no choice" purchase back towards a natural choice for many of us, the shape and nature of the service needs to be modelled to fit not only our needs but also our desires.
From last night's Economic Development and Planning Committee at Melksham Town Council - I have circulated this to all at the council at the request of the Chair of that committee / the mayor. Please help me circulate further too.
BACKGROUND - from Wiltshire Council
In March 2021 the Government published its National Bus Strategy - Bus Back Better (BBB) - which aims to improve bus services across England but recognises that these schemes are best designed and implemented at a local level.
Wiltshire Council are in the process of developing a Bus Service improvement Plan (BSIP) and this survey will help us shape that, by finding out where the current bus service offering is working, where it could be better and where it simply doesn’t provide what you need.
THOUGHTS - from myself and the Option 24/7 team
Bus Back Better is a whole new direction. We are moving from government policy that squeezes bus support to a minimum, which outside cities and big towns has lead to a leaching of services down to bare bones towards a new policy which encourages (and financially supports, somewhat) service growth - looking to provide services when people want them, where people want them, with information easily available and at fares that are affordable and understandable. It's not a short term thing - it's initially a five year program. And it's not done on a whim - it's done to help towards zero carbon, and to help combat congestion that throttles our economy and drives roadbuilding harmful to our environment.
For many, many years our local passenger transport authority (Wiltshire Council) and the plethora of bus operators in the area have done their very best to provide services that are required, and to earn a living by so doing. They know their stuff. It's really good they're having the opportunity to move on in a far more positive environment, though they (and we all) are having to pinch ourselves and remind ourselves that it's no longer about getting more out of less, and of serving predominantly those who have no alternative but to use the bus for their daily life journeys.
Operators and transport authorities are key to a good bus service, and they know the whole wider picture. So are passengers - indeed, if there were no passengers there would be no need for any buses. But passengers, unlike officials and operators, are not transport professionals; passengers are bright and amazing and wonderful people but they don't know about Driver's rest breaks, the relative costs of double deckers versus more frequent minibuses, or how to organise public transport connections, fares and information systems. Typically, passengers know about THEIR bus. Wannabe passenger probably don't even know what's available - the stop outside my (personal) house has a 'flag' telling us that the 271 and 272 call there. But there's no timetable, no notice telling us that the 14 also calls there (and more often than either the 271 or 272), and certainly nothing about what it costs or confirming that the buses are on time today!
This deep and thorough knowledge with the authorities and operators, not reflected in the passengers (the third pillar in a bus system) has meant that the passenger community really hasn't been much consulted in the past - overlooked in planning, even though they are the ones with the bums to put onto seats.
I am - delighted - to report that our Option 24/7 team is liaising well with Wiltshire Council who are charged with putting together their "Bus Service Improvement Plan", and following on from that "Enhanced Partnerships" (EP) where they work far more closely in conjunction with the operators, and with community input, to have something that works. To the old objectives / designations of "Commercial" and "Socially necessary" services, add "Economically necessary" and "Climate Friendly" services - bringing business to towns by bus, taking people into the countryside, allowing for congestion to be reduced and improving air quality ...
Other liaison routes have been explored; Bus Users UK is a useful umbrella group for some, but is too thinly spread. There are some well informed Town and Parish councillors in Wiltshire, but many councillors and some complete councils lack knowledge. The Campaign for Better Transport does some good marketing and central work, but isn't hear at a local level. Option 24/7 does work with all of these where appropriate; we often find ourselves being the technical advisors and teachers ...
SOME OF THE POSSIBLE AND PROBABLE OUTCOMES from BBB, BSIP and EP
This is not intended to be a full list ... some elements will apply in Melksham, others may not. And I may have missed things.
* Buses that go to and from the Railway Station, new housing areas, Bowerhill business area, housing areas not currently served by buses
* Buses running early enough to get people to work, and later into the evening to get them home again, and indeed enjoy an evening out.
* Sunday buses - on more routes, into the evening, and up to a frequency level they're useful and not just a last resort buy.
* "Whippet" (a Wiltshire Council name) buses that provide faster end to end journeys with connections from byroads and residential mazes
* Demand responsive services to reach those parts not easily served by a frequent service
* Fares / tickets interchangeable between operators - Faresaver and FromeBus in the Town, Swindonbus and Faresaver to Bath, and even (!) tickets that let you use the train out and bus back (or vice versa)
* Marketing, promotion, information improvement including real time information
* Smoother and cleaner (electric?) buses with better facilities on board
* Bus gates, bus priority schemes
* Cycling hubs where you can leave your cycle safely when catching the bus
It won't all come at once - the whole is a multi-year plan with revisions as we go along. Increasing bus service calls for an increase in the number of bus drivers and there's a shortage there that's not going to be overcome overnight.
* - long URL is https://surveys.wiltshire.gov.uk/snapwebhost/s.asp?k=162679536235 .
Published Tuesday, 17th August 2021
friends of Melksham Assembly HallEnthusiasm, Experience, and Expertise. We have these by the bucket load, all ready, willing and able to make the Melksham Assembly Hall a thriving and loved venue for the next decade. But we need to temper the energy for just a while - think about our strategy. We're not running a hundred yard sprint - we have started a Marathon, or rather we're warming up for one. And we need to be sure not only of how we pace ourselves, but what course we and others take, and that those who own and maintain the course are happy with us using it - that we can help them meet their objectives too.
"Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall" is a co-ordinating name to help answer the question "what now?" for the Assembly Hall. It's improbable it will be the final operating or management vehicle, but it may help to define those, and by a partner along the way.
Personally (and at present as a Melksham Town Councillor) I'm looking to help the Assembly Hall finding a positive future - not (just) as a building but as - well - a point of assembly. Assembly for anything from a Cheese and produce market to a show with a big-name comic, from a historic talk through to a roller disco, from a local "am-dram" production through to a convention of electricity pylon experts, from "overspill" council meetings to Christmas Dinner, from bands through wedding receptions, and from charity fund raisers through to being the local polling station.
It's many years since I appeared on stage (and there's reasons it's so long!), or ran a theatre bar. More recently, some publicity, marketing, sales, and volunteer organisation and management and campaigning in partnership may be helpful. My IT background and daily online presence and familiarity with moderating social media feeds has made me one of the early active 'fronts' on Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall - see the web page at http://www.fomah.org.uk and the Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/fomah/.
If you are ready, willing and able (i.e. have the time) to help at a planning, negotiation and management level - back room as well as front of house stuff - please get in touch via the Facebook page or email@example.com. If you're looking to help as a supporter / volunteer along the way, please encourage us via the Facebook page and local press. Please help publicise and come along to events in the hall. Please share your memories and aspirations.
I have been heartened to see over 140 people actively interact to join our private, hidden (until now, while we seeded it) Facebook Group just over the weekend. Thank you. Now that there is sufficient content there to make the group a worthwhile read for the newcomer, we're no longer hidden. Let's look forward to a future of assembling in Melksham for all sorts of shows and events, supported by all of our friends - individuals, businesses and authorities - in the town and in the region.
Published Monday, 16th August 2021
Town Hall meeting summaryLast night was one of those very rare Town Council meetings where the public gallery was full. All the more remarkable as there were dozens more trying to attend virtually on Zoom. And, yes, I write "trying" because something went wrong with the online stuff and, like children, the mayor, his council and the public could be seen and not heard. With the council new(ish) to running such sessions, the issues weren't resolved ... and it was (to put it mildly) frustrating.
The audience was there because of their love of the Assembly Hall and the key part it plays in so many lives. The Town Council has declared their hall manager, and also their economic development manager, as part of a reduction package and a report published within the meeting agenda at the statutory minimum of three working days looking at options including closure (mothballing) and two reduced operations. Folks who have used the hall for 18 years, for 30 years, who have met and married there and who love the place spoke in its favour. The come and came from miles around - gravitating to the only hall anywhere around fit for their hobby or use.
Three working days from publication of the report to a major decision was always going to be silly-short. With the public who had been invited to Zoom in to hear or contribute it would have been a travesty for a major decision to be made - but then it would have been pretty disrespectful on that audience to send them away, leaving them in six weeks of limbo to the next meeting.
Early on in the meeting, the chair and the leader of the Conservative group proposed and seconded that we rule out, this evening, the closure or mothballing of the hall, reassuring existing users of it continuing. And that's where we ended up. I did look forward and point to ways of a new beginning but - probably right in the circumstances - no decision on how that's to be done, not even much thought, given. And in the circumstances it was probably the best we could do when let down by the technology. On a recorded vote, 15 out of 15 councillors voted in favour of ruling out closure or mothballing - a truly remarkable outcome considering some of the smoke and noise heard about the hall ...
We are not out of the woods. But, for this morning, "carry on as you were". Over coming weeks and months, the continuing (expect it's not, for staff are leaving) status quo is where we are. And we need to get our heads together. Or where I say "our", I'm going to say "you, the users of the hall"; I personally and as a councillor help oil the wheels - I believe I have done so over the last week and had the agenda item not been publicised as much as we did, we may not have had such an outcome last night - we could have had far worse.
I look forward to a vibrant hall in the future, managed and run excellently within a sensible structure for the future. No criticism what so ever of the team that's brought it so far - indeed the love and anger at the possibility of it going last night, in spite of technology favour, is testament to their very success.
Very long and excellent BYPASS discussion followed - report
Melksham Town Council's input to Wiltshire Council on the Melksham Bypass consultation that has just closed may be found at http://grahamellis.uk/mtc2wc_20210810.pdf. The response was been written up from notes taken during last night's meeting by the meeting's council staff member, with additional information from correspondence received by the council:
"The Town Council wishes it to be noted that the results of a straw poll carried out amongst councillors at the meeting of Full Council on 9 August indicated that of 15 councillors, eight are in favour of route 10c being the right route for the bypass at this point in time and seven are against. This suggests that at this early stage in the developmental timescale for the bypass, opinions are still mixed and open to reconsideration."
Hmmm ... we did take that straw poll, but as I recall the voting was on route 10c being taken further for much more detailed work and looking at it with updated and more complete data and methods. I would be surprised if the majority were certain that 10c is the right route - it was just that more work should be done on it!
We considered two tranches of answers. Firstly, we looked at whether or not we supported the bypass and its route in principle. Secondly, we went on to look at mitigating and additional measures we request should the bypass 10c go ahead.
There was a great deal of excellent input from a group of very thoughtful councillors on this issue - a real pleasure to take part. Having said which, ours is just one input of many and in the grand scheme of things may just be akin to a drop in the ocean. But then, some drops stick.
Addendum - the lead up to last night's meeting:
Good to see so many people at the Town Hall last night, and I'm so sorry that everyone else who wanted to hear what was being said, lured by a promise of being able to listen on Zoom, was denied the opportunity. For all the reasons given and excuses, it really should be properly in use by now.
I'm going to post here some background to help answer "how did we get here". I'll write separately to look ahead, as I don't want what should be a positive future to be damaged by any of this, some of which is less than brilliant.
For the confidential mystery item on 28th June Town Council meeting from which the press and public were excluded, the 12 councillors present were sworn to secrecy; 10 of those present voted for certain staff redundancies, and I agree that until those staff were aware and properly informed, it was correct to keep the session confidential. Clearly, one of the committees had previously been working on this, but as a full councillor not on that committee, I was handed papers (3 or 4 pages?) of data at the start of the agenda item, and invited to read, question as much as a I liked, and then a vote was taken. Papers were then collected. It is up to others to tell you, if they wish, whether they were present and how they voted.
I WILL tell you that I abstained on this vote. I have only limited knowledge as a new councillor of how these things work, and of the roles that we were voting to scrap and the consequences of so doing. And I was denied the opportunity to really think about it, or to learn and absorb. My view was that it may have been right, it may have been wrong, but my vote was certainly being indecently rushed on a matter that would effect livelihoods and future direction - yes - of the Assembly Hall, which was not the lead topic of the discussion but was certainly mentioned in dispatches. I was grateful (thank you, if you are reading this) for the support of a second councillor in an almost identical position. So ... the five days to consider the report on the Assembly Hall feels like luxury in comparison to five minutes on staffing and future staff structure.
The posts going are redundancies - lack of continuation of a role, or such a massive reduction that the remaining work fits in within that of another person. That change of required roles has been described as being brought about by a combination of covid changes, council policy changes including a desire to reduce costs to the taxpayer, and a need to structure and retain what's needed for the future. The staff in these posts have done excellent work, often over and above; huge thanks to them and wishing them really well for the future. I have personally been declared redundant twice in my career - in both case a huge upheaval and no little worry, but taking a longer view both times brought moves into new roles with other organisations where I was able to enjoy working and grow with expanding opportunities.
So - what now? Ah - a following post. Although the "Close it" and "Mothball it" issues on the Assembly Hall were unanimously rejected by the Town Council last night, it isn't possible to carry on as we were. We have declared staff redundant and need to be in some sort of new way - not yet fully defined - perhaps via some sort of holding pattern while we define that new way. For the sake of all those wonderful uses of the hall and the livelihood and business it can bring to Melksham, we need that holding pattern to really be that, and not just a quiet decaying of our assets.
Published Tuesday, 10th August 2021