Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Reasons why progress is slow
A year ago, you elected a new Town Council sweeping away all but two of your previous councillors, with thirteen new councillors selected. Within a few weeks, twelve out of the fifteen councillors voted to make two members of council staff redundant.
Frustration has been expressed by members of the public, and indeed even by a number of councillors, at the very slow progress if any on a number of projects in the last year. I think that was only to be expected:
1. Reducing the staff headcount, in particular taking away roles held by established professionals, means that either their work is no longer being done or it falls onto the shoulders of others who may already be busy with their own workload and will almost certainly take longer to do things that are new to them
2. New council members (13 out of 15, remember) will typically need additional help, training and support from the now-reduced council office-based staff
3. New council members will (there are one or two exceptions) look to learn into their roles and the current work and issues with the council before plunging in - learning the job before making decisions. And that's especially the case - rightly so - with potentially big changes to implement new policies.
There are other issues which follow on as corollaries
4. Redundancies and re-arrangement of roles can lead to more stressed work environment for those remaining, lowering effective staff availability further.
5. A need to tidy up / complete / close out projects and issues which were ongoing from the old council but perhaps no longer enjoy support
6. A need at council meetings for us all to learn about other people's positions - so some of your councillors may have been talking for far longer than they naturally would or will in coming years - long meetings, things postponed to a later meeting, and a domino effect.
And then there are world issues from which Melksham is not immune
7. Inflation, leading to some budget issues
8. Staff who have been very busy indeed through two years of extreme pressure from Covid now catching up on vacations held over from previous years
9. Shortage of some supplies and resources leading to longer lead times, and in some cases busyness of staff members delaying quoting and ordering processes
10. Things done in haste / rushed have perhaps not been as clean and error free as they should have been, and that too has generated time-consuming activity needed to sort out the issue.
All those things said, as I understand it the council has not failed in any legal duties it may have, and the remaining staff team has been remarkably effective and professional in their work - we have some real gems, including some who perhaps are not visible to the public.
Where do we go from here? It has been suggested we need another couple of admin staff. As one of the three councillor who did NOT support redundancies a year ago, I would have to agree with that suggestion, and that we need carefully selected staff bringing with them the ability to fill gaps we can identify.
As an electorate, you voted for the tickets which have changed the council and reduced the headcount last year - so is the current apparent lack of much happening going to carry on, and who should take responsibility for that, if you feel anyone should?
I'm not as depressed about the situation described above as you might expect. Firstly, us 13 new councillors are very much learning in and now forming very much more informed views than we had at the start. Secondly, a significant change involving long term projects is inevitably going to lead to something of a gap in projects being delivered, but that is a transient gap. Thirdly, as we head for the next set of elections in 2025, time is already ticking away for councillors who want to make a positive impression on you and present real achievements.
P.S. A council or public body will always be slower than a company which will always be slower than an individual ...
48 Spa Road, Melksham, SN12 7NY
01225 708225 or 07974 9250928
* Melksham South Ward Town Councillor
* Webmaster, Coffee Shop Rail Passenger Forum
* Acting Chair, Melksham Transport User Group
* Ukraine2Uk Webmaster and Facebook Group Admin
Social Media Discussion
Published Friday, 1st July 2022
KGV Park - Status of various projectsLast night, I sat for the first time on Melksham Town Council's Asset Management and Amenities Committee - a new appointment made last month.
Much of the discussion related to issues concerning the King George V Park. Concern was expressed (by myself and some others) at the lack of progress in the last year; in May 2021, the Parks Working Group was formed to take over the final completion of the works on the park, but it's only met twice - in July last year, and then again in May this year. They are to meet again soon with a view to speeding up progress. I understand that other issues have also contributed to the slow progress, such as severe supply chain issues brought upon us by such things as Covid and the distortions of markets and inflation.
Looking at park issues raised:
1. Various lighting options were reported back to the committee, but with an absence of recommendation from officers or working group as to which we should select. We asked for the working group to meet soon and provide recommendations rather than just a long list of options for us to choose from on whim
2. A Sensory garden in the park is another remaining project for the park. There are lot of ideas from 2019 and early 2021, but this item has gone no further since. The Committee asked its park working group to come up with an outline specification for competitive bids from expert contractors - once again, we have really not been provided with full information for the committee to make a robust decision, and it would not have been right to just make a snap decision without any skills of our own
3. The public toilets to be placed near the Cricketers will now be installed in mid August rather than this month. They are high tech, very green and we excited to be having them - "worth holding on for" I understand.
4. The double gate proposal for the Dog Bark (to provide a secure entrance through which loose dogs cannot escape was generally supported as a good idea, and will come back to the committee once the long term future of the Dog Bark has been confirmed. The dog bark itself it reopening very quickly (it may even be open now as I write) but that's a temporary solution and it may be (for example) that we end up moving some fences around, in which case £2000 on barriers which are then left isolated as the dog run moves away from the current fence would have been money wasted
5. A request for a one day music festival in a marque in the park, with an area around it for catering, etc, was presented by a local organiser. The committee was impressed by the early work done, and is supportive in principle.
6. The continued none-operability of the Zip wire and slide was raised. The zip wire has been delayed because of a long lead time on parts (no, I don't know when the parts were ordered, etc) and the slide is due to wear-out of the grass as children run round for another go - it was / is too popular.
7. There was a meeting at the start of this month concerning the public provision of facilities and use of the Cricketer's Cafe, and recalling my notes from that meeting there was expected to be a public consultation there today; key person sickness on the preparations for this meeting lead it to be postponed a while back (I just failed to update my diary so have been waiting in pointless anticipation)
8. Other matters at last night's council meeting were taken in confidential session due to the commercial issues involved, and I am not at liberty to tell you whether there was anything there which effects the park.
But there is much good in the park
Apart from those 8 (or 9) points, we have much to celebrate and use in the park. But it's the nature of these things that if they're working they're not flagged up. So celebrate the lovey park, the trees and grass and plants, the skate park, teen and children's play area, exercise equipment, the splash pad, and our team of staff who help keep the park and the rest of our resources clean, safe, operational, and available for all to enjoy.
You could say that as a councillor, I should have raised some of the issues above earlier and been better informed - indeed, I was criticised last night for failing to read all the detail in the agendas, which run at times to over 200 pages. One reason we have committees is to help reduce the load on each individual, and as someone who was not selected by my fellow councillors for Assets and Amenities last year, I feel only a peripheral involvement in the items reported above - so far.
Social Media discussion - ((here)) ... Published Tuesday, 28th June 2022
Area Board - priorities for the next yearLast night's Melksham Area Board of Wiltshire Council appointed Councillor as chair, and Councillor Holder as deputy chair. These appointment are for one year.
For the next year, the Area Board will concentrate on 5 priorities. These (with lead councillor noted against each) are
1. Reducing Isolation and Lonliness - Councillor Holder
2. Youth Engagement - Councillor Oatley
3. Environment - Councillor Seed
4. Reducing Antisocial Behaviour - Councillor Sankey
5. Supporting Lower Income Families - Councillor Alford
It's good to see that the environment is one of the priorities, as are issues of income, isolation and lonliness. With my "Ukraine Support Group" hat, I note ythe mention of support for that group and guests within the slides for several of the groups, sitting alongside (of course) a very great deal of other good plans.
Should you be confused as to who to ask about what in Parish (Town) and County (Unitary) terms, please ask me and I should be able to direct you.
Social Media discussion - ((here)) ... Published Thursday, 23rd June 2022
Campus opening August - big THANK YOUsGood to hear of Campus opening plans at the Area Board this evening - early August, exact date yet to be announced. I'm of no doubt this will be a very good facility in the heart of Melksham, and look forward to supporting and using it.
The current library will close in mid July for their resources to be transferred across to the campus, and the Blue Pool will be closed a week before the Campus Pool is opened. As well as resource transfer, the closure will allow time for staff training on the use of the new building and changes in how they do their jobs. Staffed library opening hours will be as at present, but being within the campus, resources that can be used without staff will be available from 06:30 to 22:00 (Monday to Thursday), 06:30 to 21:00 (Friday), and 08:00 to 18:00 on Saturdays and Sundays. Gym membership applications are already invited.
Whilst wishing the project well, I will admit to choking a little at some of the comments made:
* "We're opening ahead of schedule" felt like a bit of a joke, when the project has taken over a decade, and many other dates have been missed.
* In amongst the, rightful, thanks to Wiltshire Council staff and contractors for all the work done there was just the briefest mention of "community support" - it might have been nice to have remembered those community members no longer with us, or retired from active life, who put thousands of unpaid hours in during early days. Credit was taken only by Councillor Seed for early activities, though my recollection is that whilst he did indeed contribute, there were others who did a great deal more, and in very constructive ways. And, yes I was on the "SCOB" through that time with the likes of Brian Warwick and Roy While.
Social Media discussion - ((here)) ... Published Wednesday, 22nd June 2022
Safeeguarding those around you
Yesterday, I attended Safeguarding Awareness Training - triggered by my de-facto role as a co-ordinator with the local Ukraine Support Group. A valuable afternoon both in learning and networking - a big "Thank You" to Wessex Community Action for running the session, Carolyn for preparing and presenting it, and Wiltshire Council for funding it.
Message for YOU reading this:
* If in any doubt - report to or ask your main contact / coordinator or direct to MASH
* In emergency situations, call 999 or for immediate issues where your don't need "blue light" call 101.
* Keep your eyes and ears open at all times to people you come into contact with.
* Watch for patterns and changes
* If someone confides in you, listen and make notes. Do not ask leading questions. Refer quickly if you see red flags. You cannot promise "I won't tell anyone" as it is your duty if you feel that there is perhaps a very real problem to flag it up - especially for children or vulnerable people.
* Be aware that a safeguarding need may be physical, emotional, neglect, or sexual. By far the most common is neglect, and second is emotional.
* "Abuse" is a subset of safeguarding need. There may be a failure of system - there is not necessarily a knowing abuser, or even an abuser at all.
* There is no need for you to categorise safeguarding need - the types are flagged up to help you be aware.
* Be aware that the authorities tell us that they will do everything they can to help "in situ" if they can and will only intervene to remove people who need safeguarding as a last resort.
* If you report something, be aware that you will get little or no feedback. "Thank you for reporting this" is probably the best you will get BUT your report, potentially with others making up a jigsaw, are important
* In the current specifics, all guests from Ukraine should be considered to be vulnerable people. They are far, far from home in a very different land with their regular life gone or suspended.
* In the current specifics, be aware that hosts may be in need of safeguarding too, and that the need for guests to be safeguarded may arise from the actions of others within their own community, and spoken in a language other than English.
This post / message is one of my most important in a long time. It covers but is not limited to guests from Ukraine and their hosts. I am personally not a professional in any way in this area, but I can be a listening ear and I can help point you to other resources.
Published Friday, 17th June 2022
Planning Applications coming up on MondayEconomic Development and Planning Committee, Monday 6th June, 2022, 19:00, Town Hall and Zoom
I am now chair of Melksham Town's Economic Development and Planning Committee (*). The Committee meets every three weeks to look at planning applications submitted to Wiltshire Council; the Town Council is purely a consultee - it cannot make decisions, but for the most part Wiltshire Council are in line with us. Members of the public are welcome to come along and put their views before the meeting, and we can also "suspend standing orders" if we would like further inputs during our discussions.
This Monday, we have applications ranging from a small extension through to an estate of 160 new houses - I have marked them on a map to help prepare myself, and looked at the plans - the agenda ((here)) provides reference under which you can look them up.
By Zoom: ((here)) - Meeting ID: 854 0755 5058 Passcode: 414802
As well as looking at planning, we look at local development (such as suggested local road and footpath improvements) too. On the agenda this time around is the A3102 / top of Snarleton Lane / path to Maple Close - a dangerous corner where there have been near misses, and where various budgets are being put together to sort out issues. Not really the Town Council's responsibility, but we have before us a pragmatic decision to match fund before we have a fatality on our hands.
There's the Neighbourhood Plan, the Local Plan, the Local Transport Plan, the plan for a bypass and more - and "Econ Dev" needs to look at and respond to those too. But we also need to be pro-active for the town too and not just be reactive. I have added an agenda item to look forward with a strategy for taking things forward all together, where the things that we do fit into a pattern rather reacting to things in isolation.
A "thank you" to both the Town Clerk and the Deputy Town Clerk for helping me prepare for this meeting last week.
All welcome to the meeting - this is the part of the council that looks forward outside the council's own operations at the Town Hall and Council operation, and outside the operation of our own assets such as play areas, parks, and buildings such as the Assembly Hall.
I'm aware that this will be the first public Town Council meeting I will have chaired (and I know some of my colleagues are nervous!) .. we will see ;-). My philosophy is to be very much the chair, making sure that everyone's views are heard and that excellent, rounded decisions are reached. There will be times that a strong lead is needed and matters rollered to a conclusion, but those should be on carefully thought occasions and not a matter of course.
* - Deputy Chair is Gary Cooke, other members are the Mayor (Simon Crundell), Pat Aves, Colin Goodhind, Jack Oatley and Saffi Rabey. Linda Roberts, the Town Clerk, supports this committee.
Published Saturday, 4th June 2022
Local Heritage AssetsAre these street scenes part of Melksham's heritage? Which of them should be given special consideration in future development of our town and the surrounding area? For the next edition of the Neihbourhood Plan, the "heritage subgroup" which met last Wednesday is putting together a list of place of special character. Listed buildings are automatically there, but how about consideration for other special things and places - anything from pieces of street furniture up to whole areas of the town - be they of design or archirectural merit, or for fond memories of the history of the town and surrounding area.
You can nominate Locally Valued Heritage Assets on the online map by adding a pin with a short description and a photo (if you have one). You can also support nominations already made (there are thumbs up and down buttons) or add your own thoughts about a nomination. See https://www.melkshamneighbourhoodplan.org/local-heritage-assets ... please do so. That way, we on the subgroup will know what you value ... or write to me, or to the clerk of Melksham Without or Melksham Town. And please let me know if you would like to help the subgroup too.
Published Saturday, 28th May 2022
2022/23 Town Council Structure I was elected to Melksham Town Council in May of last year, for the first time, and have learned a lot in 12 months. Full Council meets every month or two, and at our first meeting we appointed a mayor and deputy, who are now also the chair and vice chair of the council.
We also appointed councillors to various committees, in which much of the detailed council decision making takes place. Most of those appointments has been tentatively decided ahead of that first meeting within the "Together for Melksham" and Conservative teams; I found myself only on one committee - "Economic Planning and Development" which, however, I was happy with as I learned in to the roles. It did mean that I was not overstretched, nor had more than arms-length involvement with KGV park and recreation areas, the Assembly Hall, community groups, finance, staffing. This year, a new mayor and deputy, and changes on some of the committees. Big "thank you" to those who have put in hard work and are stepping back a little this year; I am stepping up a little in contrast.
Melksham Town Council Committees for next year
Asset Management and Amenities
Looks after all the things the council owns and provides - Parks, Play areas, Assembly Hall, Town Hall and adjoining buildings, the Roundhouse, etc, and operates most of them. Also equipment in the various buildings, and some activities on none-town owned land such a the decoration of the roundabout in the Market Place.
Meets six times a year. I have joined this committee.
Coordination with community groups and individuals - helping to provide resources and news, meetings, sponsorship, introductions. Arranging town events and data swaps and exchange points.
Meets four times a year. I have joined this committee.
Economic, Planning and Development
Looks at planning applications, and moving the town forward into the future - such things as attracting businesses, provision of infrastructure and services, the neighbourhood plan, and our vision for the future and people. So included are issues such as the bypass, re-use of Melksham House, etc.
Meets eighteen times a year. I have been on this committee for a year and am now its chair
Financial, Admin and Performance
Meets five times a year. I am not on this committee.
Looks after "staffing issues". Due to confidentiality issues, this committee's operation is private and most of its work published only on a need to know basis.
Meets as required. I am not on this committee.
Working Groups report to appropriate committees
(I have indicated with '*' those I sit on)
* - Environment and Climate Working Group
* - Priority for People
- Virtual Hub
- Budget Working Group
- Business Review
* - Canal
- Community Art Group
* - Public Owned Assets
* - Assembly Hall (This is a new group)
Outside Body representation
Around 25 outside bodies ask for council representation. I represent at
* - Melksham Community Transport
* - Neighbourhood plan, climate issues (with Councillor Goodhind)
* - Neighbourhood plan, heritage issues
* - Wiltshire, Swindon and Oxfordshire Canal Partnership (with Clr Goodhind)
More on the council web site ((here))
Published Monday, 23rd May 2022
Questions to a Town CouncillorYesterday, I picked up on concerns from the public about the Splash Pad, and about speeding on Spa Road, about sound and content on Council Zoom sessions, and information requests about trains to Birmingham.
As a Town Councillor, I get asked all sorts of questions and I take it as a part of my job to help inform people or point them in the right direction of information. Additionally, to help oiling the wheels to help towards solutions to issues. It's also very important, I feel, to be pro-active in planning ahead and making sure that things are right and best long, long before they every become issues. That we help provide quality of life for our community and wider community in what we do. Grand stuff - but what does it mean? After all, I am just one of 15 elected volunteer councillors - totally unpaid (and only the mayor gets an expense allowance), with only a power to persuade things along through discussion and to have a 7% say in council decisions?
Helping the councillors is a team of staff - excellent people with their hearts in the right place. In many ways their job is an unenviable one, having to implement decisions made by the council of 15 elected, well intended, often well informed but sometimes perverse ladies and gentlemen who got those positions through the qualification of public appeal.
I was elected a year ago this month - one of 13 out of 15 new councillors. Employing staff is an expensive business and within the first six weeks the council decided to remove two full time posts from our payroll, declaring two people redundant, ceasing some of the optional work they did and shifting what remained onto other staff. Was this a good idea? 12 of your councillors (not including myself) thought so, and indeed you (the voters) had selected these people over others to look after your interests. Inevitably, then, some of the tasks that were undertaken by the experts lost are sorely missed, and other tasks are now in the hands of excellent people but who are overloaded and/or not really right for some elements of the roles they now find themselves with.
There's a saying "you get what you pay for" and to some extent that is true - actually the Town Council gets a lot more than it is paying for from most of its team and they deserve 110% thanks and support. However, things inevitably take longer than they would wish (human nature and shortage of time), and answering residents queries and getting information out is one of those VERY time consuming jobs which can really frustrate (both sides) too. We have also had issues with a higher staff turnover that I like, and at present have a significant part of the team away from work for multiple weeks in the lead up to the Jubilee weekend, at what's perhaps the busiest time of the year getting things running sweetly for the summer.
I have a lot more to add - look out for tomorrow's "exciting" next instalment - but for the moment I will answer yesterday's questions:
The Splash Pad was closed yesterday because of technical issues, and whilst the team hope and plan for it to be open today, that is not guaranteed. I will follow up further as and if I hear, and I have flagged up a need to see if we can be more informative. Other issues - Zip wire, Ice Cream Van, Toilets all noted; I have personally only been on the Committee that looks after the park for a week, and there's no meeting until next month; any little help I can give in steering will take time, though having run a customer facing hotel / cafe in Melksham for a decade, I may have some helpful thoughts and ideas. Update - Splash Pad also closed 22.05.2022 and for a few days while technical issues are sorted
Speeding on Spa Road - this is Wiltshire Council's responsibility, and for the police to enforce. However, we can (and have) installed speed indicator devices to tell people when they are speeding to provide at least some help, and we nag the unitary council too on all sorts of roads and in all sorts of ways. We have some (very) limited funds to help with measures through LHFIG (formerly CATG) and perhaps can look forward to more radical solutions such as pedestrianing the High Street to move traffic away - but doing that would just move the problem unless we take a holistic view, which we need to do when we come to climate change.
I live on Spa Road, and it's dangerous in places. People have been killed, and accidents in certain place are so frequent that I have high-vis jacket which I wear to direct traffic when I hear a collision. My background, many years ago, as a lollipop man!
Council Zoom sessions - I love having the public able to see and participate in parts of council meetings from home. It's never going to be broadcast TV channel quality; we don't have a team of directors and crew dedicated to giving you BBC quality, and nor would you want to pay for that. It has been a massive struggle to get where we are and the lack of follow cameras and some microphone issues are something we need to accept. In the Council Chamber, I would like as an ordinary councillor to be able to see the people at home throughout to have them far more included like the public gallery, and we are getting there as we learn the system so that our audience can see the screen we are looking at during presentations. Pragmatic view - it works and you can hear and say what you need, and see most of it. So it's "fit for purpose".
Trains to Birmingham - far from the Town Council's remit, but I happen to know with another hat on - anytime day return Melksham to Birmingham International - £32.40 with a railcard or £49.10 without. Must travel via Cheltenham Spa and Birmingham New Street to use that fare. From Melksham at 07:21, arrive Birmingham 10:19, return at 16:13, back into Melksham at 19:16. Change at Swindon, Bristol Parkway and Birmingham New Street outbound, and at Birmingham New Street, Bristol Temple Meads and Chippenham on the return. More at http://www.passenger.chat/26374
More to follow ... tomorrow's blog on town council committees - who does what?
Published Sunday, 22nd May 2022
Learning basics - life in Melksham, UKThe last week has been educational - back to basics and learning so much about our country from the ground up. Things we have grown up with and take for granted are new to, or not there, for our guests from Ukraine who arrived with us last weekend (14.5.2022). They are lovely people, but restarting with no more than Ukrainian passports (and that is one step more than many). There has to be a "shout out" too to the wonderful people from Melksham and around, and to the unitary council officers too, for their welcome and support.
For others going though the process of welcoming guests, I have written up as a diary our admin experience post-arrival at http://ukraine2uk.info/91 (updating there each day). Additionally, there is the welcoming of four new people into our family - a very more personal experience, and diverse across different host and guest groups, I understand. But there is much to consider in things like emotional support, lonliness, getting around, language, diet, how to relax, being in touch with family still in Ukraine, weather.
If YOU are registered with the governement under "Homes for Ukraine" especially if you are a couple who can support an individual refugee, or have multiple rooms available, please get it touch - the local group I am actively helping has contacts in Ukraine who need your help, and local support for the process and when they arrive.
Graham Ellis with my “Homes for Ukraine” hat
Ukraine Support Group - Melksham / Corsham / Lacock & Chippenham
Events and help in west and north Wiltshire
01225 708225 or 0797 4 925 928
48 Spa Road Melksham SN12 7NY
Published Friday, 20th May 2022