Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Hire charges - Assembly Hall and Town Hall
Hire rates for rooms in Melksham Town Hall and the Assembly Hall have been updated in recent months - and by "updated", yes, in most cases I mean "increased". But an update has been long overdue, with rates unchanged for years, and with complexities and quirks for reasons lost in the fog of history.
So it's now simplified - for Autumn 2022:
* The Assembly Hall is £90 an hour for commercial hires.
There's a 50% discount for private bookings for Melksham Town residents
There's a 30% discount for private bookings from elsewhere
There's a 75% discount for Melksham Town not-for-profit organisations
There's a 30% discount for not-for-profit organisations from elsewhere
The Asssmbley Hall is let as a single entity
* The main Council Chamber and kitchen is £40 an hour for commercial hires
* The ante room is £20 an hour for commercial hires
Thers's a 60% discount for Melksham Town not-for-profit organisations
Thers's a 30% discount for not-for-profit organisations from elsewhere
The main council chamber and ante room are available for meetings only
Whilst the base prices and scales were set based on councillors's judgement, I noted that only two councillors were carrying on from before Covid, which has hit the use of the hall sigbnificantly, and no-one was able to advise with any certaintly as to the elasticity of bookings on price changes. And for that reason I proposed and it was accepted to set up the Assembly Hall Working Group to allow for things to be monitored and tuned.
The Assembly Hall Working Group, and the Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall (see (here) and Facebook Group which has over 200 members) are ... another story in other posts. A lot going on - my intent of this post is simply to pull the various rates from diffent Town Council publications so you have them all, as at September 2022, in one place
Published Thursday, 15th September 2022
Electric Bus Demonstration, 17.9.2022
We will have an electric bus (from The Big Lemon of Brighton) in Melksham on Saturday, 17th September, 2022, for route testing. I am inviting you to take a ride on the bus and see what the future may bring to the town.
On 17th, the bus will leave Melksham Station shortly after the arrival of trains at 10:00 and 11:30 (from Swindon and Chippenham) and at 14:30 (from Trowbridge and Westbury). It will also leave from the Market Place at 10:15, 11:45, 13:45, 14:45 and 15:45. Pictures and map at http://option247.uk/mkm16.html
RSVP - Please email to let me know:
1. Which service (from the Market Place or Station) you would prefer to ride on.
2. Whether you will be bringing a guest or coming along alone.
Our proposal for the near future (what we are testing) is for a scheduled public bus service to run hourly from the Railway Station via the Town Centre, Sandridge Road, East Melksham, Pathfinder Way and the Bowerhill and Hampton Park Industrial Areas to the Police Station, with the bus to arrive at the railway station to connect to and from trains, and to serve the industrial areas just before and after work (shift) times. There will be extensions to Asda and to Berryfield.
* Journeys on 17th will only pick up passengers at the Market Place and Railway Station
* Pre-booking necessary and capacity limited.
* There will be more space available on afternoon journeys.
* We will endeavour to run on time, but please bear in mind these are test journeys
* Test journeys include extra stops and will be slower than routine service.
ClimateFest (on 17th September) which this demonstration and route testing was scheduled to coincide with has been postponed to 2nd October, and the Melksham Transport User Group and Option 24/7 will be there too, to promote and answer your questions on public transport. We understand and agree the reason for postponing ClimateFest; our route testing proceeds, in muted form.
Published Tuesday, 13th September 2022
Passing of Queen Elizabeth IIRecording the passing of Queen Elizabeth II yesterday afternoon.
A very great deal will be written and spoken over coming hours, days and weeks and I will not presume to write of her in detail as others are more qualified to do so. I will see, though, add an admiration for the dedication and commitment of the lady herself, carrying on far beyond normal retirement age. And that admiration transcends our view of monarchy and the position on the role.
Rest in Peace, Your Majesty.
With the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, we enter a period of mourning. There and many protocols to follow in her honour - to express grief at her passing, to share her memory, and to remember and celebrate her life. As I write this, I don't know what will happen locally over the next few days and fortnight - today and perhaps into the weekend it will become clearer.
I understand that flags on the Town Hall will be flown at half mast, and the church bell will toll one time for each year of her reign. Meetings already called - such as Economic Development next Monday - will be opened and closed (I suspect business will be suspended). What happens with other working groups I know not, nor other meetings that are in diaries for the following week but have not yet been called. According to protocol, Her Majesty's funeral will take place on 18th September, but being a Sunday I question that date. I am awairing guidance from the organisers of ClimateFest on 17th.
Wiltshire residents are invited to share their thoughts and memories of Her Majesty The Queen in a special online book of condolence. The book is available until the day after the funeral. There will also be books of condolence set up in all Wiltshire Council libraries.
Published Friday, 9th September 2022
Melksham and District LinkLink is a charitable organisation run by volunteers and is part of a countywide Good Neighbours scheme that helps local residents get to medical appointments when they have no other way of getting there. Melksham and District Link operates in Melksham and the surrounding areas to help those who need it the most.
It was good to meet some of the Link team at the Food and River festival over the weekend, where they were looking to both let people know about their service, and to recruit additional volunteer drivers, co-ordinators and administrators. Read more on their website at https://melkshamlink.com
Published Sunday, 4th September 2022
Where should we spend your money next year?I have read comment that your (Melksham) Town Council hasn't really progressed on various fronts in the last year. And it certainly true that "big ticket" items that have been in the works for a while have slowed. That's part of a natural cycle with a new council on which only 2 councillors were re-elected and you have 13 of us new - big projects aren't instant. We have delivered on the Neighbourhood Plan, taken on the Friend's Garden, combined the roles of leader (chair of the council) and mayor (ceremonial and public representative) and reduced our senior staff / expert headcount by two. We have also been learning and planning, and are now looking ahead to our budget for next year - what we plan to do, and how it will be funded.
Here are upcoming major expenditure
• Up to £80,000 was approved late last month for a sensory garden in KGV park, on the higher ground under the trees alongside the A3012 Calne Road (pictured) ; multiple expect companies will be asked to design and bid based on consultations and ideas already mapped out.
• The maintenance shed in the KGV park, where the Town Council stored all its equipment, needs to be replaced and we've been told to look at a £200,000 demolitions and rebuild cost, with major extras on top of that for design, planning, project management and inflation.
• The Cricketer's [Cafe] was closed all summer, with catering in KGV limited to a van. A consultation is underway and realistically we're looking at a major spend there if we re-arrange and re-do the place in a big way - let's take a guess at £100,000. Hard to put a price on that until we know what's wanted, and the question has been asked as to whether we should be working with the Melksham Adventure Centre (charity no. 276692, with whom we have been engaging informally) and / or looking to a linked project with the maintenance shed.
• It is proposed to build a new East of Melksham Community Centre as a facility for the newer housing that largely comprises the East Ward, and estimated for that were a little over £800,000 taken from similar costs from Melksham Without for their new Berryfield Hall, but will almost certainly rise from that with planning, surrounds and inflation issues.
• If we choose to buy free parking for blue badge holders from Wiltshire Council, it will cost around £15,000 per annum, or free parking for all would be around £150,000 per annum.
I will now look to paint a broader picture, picking up figures from this year's budget
Staffing costs for this year are estimated at £225,000 for the central (Finance, admin and performance) team and £300,000 for Assets and Amenities, including parks and amenities; those are pure salary and National Insurance and pension contributions and a further £123,000 is spent on Town Hall costs ranging from accounting and insurance to computer hardware and licenses to gas, electric and rates. There's also about £150,000 of amenities costs - ranging from grass cutting to maintaining play equipment, leasing a depot while the maintenance shed is out of use, and so forth. While looking at this year's expenditure to see what other "continuance" items there are for next year, the council paid out £62,000 in grants to other organisations, £10,000 on community development projects and £54,000 on Economic Development, including CCTV, Floral displays, and highways projects.
Other major items in the current year's budget but which are not necessarily annual include: Play equipment maintenance £50,000; Assembly Hall maintenance £12,000; Skate Park Extension £10,000; also expect £34,000 to be paid out for the ecoloos to be installed soon in KGV park.
Total - £2,104,000 (or £2,219,500 allowing 12.5% inflation)
indications are an overrun of around £80,000 each on maintenance shed and east of Melksham village hall, bringing us up to around £2,380,000 allowing for inflation
What income can we anticipate?
From figures for the current year - budget figures
£966,204 from the precept on Melksham Town taxpayers
£82,250 from Assembly Hall bar, food and snacks
£45,000 from Assembly Hall Events
£38,500 from solar farm project
£38,000 from Assembly Hall Lettings
£13,000 from property rentals
£7,500 from Melksham Without towards cost of Market Place toilets
£5,000 from allotment rental
£4,000 from amenity services
£1,500 from letting KGV pavilion / cafe trading rights
£1,000 from Town Hall bookings
£1,000 from Melksham Maker's Market
Total income £1,203,000
I will comment further on these income levels in a further post.
Roughly a million pounds shortfall - however, £800,000 relates to the East of Melksham Community Hall where CIL / Developer funding brings in much of the funding and only the difference needs making up, and that will be income in the year in which the build is done. Our thanks to Melksham Without Parish Council who actually collect this CIL money (as the development was in their parish when planning permission was granted), but have formally agreed to transfer the money to us as the developments to the East of Melksham have now transferred to the town.
Income v Expenditure - projection from 2022/3 budget
As a council, we are here to provide a service to our residents and the town, and not run a business for profit. It is, however, instructive to look at each element of our activities and look at what they cost the council tax payer. (The cost per precept column tells you how much you pay if you are a Band D council tax payer)
|21600||7500||-14100||£2.47||0.38||Market Place Toilets|
|2500||6000||3500||-61p||2.40||Art House Cafe|
|1700||6900||5200||-92p||4.06||31 Market Place|
|733000||197250||-535750||£93.71||0.27||Assets and Amenities overall|
Published Saturday, 3rd September 2022
Is there a conflict of interest?A question was asked about comments made by councillors in the Melksham News, concerning the future of the Assembly Hall. We should remember that both the Town councillors quoted (ref Councillors Alford and Hubbard) are all unitary (Wiltshire) councillors too. And as they are unremunerated in their town roles, but receive public money for fulfilling their unitary roles (rates at the end of this article). It is reasonable to ask where their interests lie when the two roles do not align.
Melksham Town / Wiltshire Unitary
And there's a difference of interest between Wiltshire Council and Melksham Town Council - although they often work in parallel, they are not the same authority and have different mandates and objectives, and different ways of working towards their objectives which sometimes conflict. I am very concerned about individuals of any political colour who are on both councils, especially where the hold significant positions on one of them. Are they bound to have a conflict of interest?
From a Wiltshire Council viewpoint, it would be excellent news if the Town Council were to lease Melksham House from them, and sell the Town Hall and Assembly Hall, combine it with the Blue Pool site and have that new combination redeveloped for residential use by private new owners.
From a Melksham Town viewpoint, we have a significant resource that's a massive benefit for the town - and we need to look at the way forward with only due (not total) regard to what will be convenient for Wiltshire Council but perhaps not for the Town or Town Council.
May I suggest it would be a good idea if our three (volunteer) town councillors who are also (remunerated) Wiltshire councillors were to declare an interest and recuse themselves from this matter; the total remuneration between the three is over £60,000 per annum - no small change.
We were fed three options at the meeting last month - "Status Quo" at the Assembly Hall, A move to Melksham House, and a new build on the Library site. There ARE better ways for Melksham - a community that thrives on its spirit and volunteers, and we can (and I hope will) make a real success of the hall within the community, as per examples in Frome and Devizes and those options need to be investigated and offered; those of us who are Town but not Unitary councillors owe it to our voters not to tricked into chosing one of three options when a fourth could be better.
Unitary Councillor allowances: From https://cms.wiltshire.gov.uk/mgGeneric.aspx?MD=Members%20Allowances
The Basic Allowance
The basic allowance is intended to recognise the time commitment of all councillors, including such inevitable calls on their time as meeting with officers and constituents and attendance at political group meetings. It is also intended to cover incidental costs such as the use of their homes. Allowances are set following recommendations by an Independent Remuneration Panel.
The basic allowance for 2021/22 is set at £14,075 per annum. Up to the end of the period 2024/25 the Council has adopted the annual pay award to council staff as the index by which annual adjustments will be made to the basic allowance.
Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs)
As specified in Appendix 1 of the Allowances Scheme Councillors holding specific roles will receive an additional allowance to recognise the significant additional time commitment and responsibility required in undertaking those roles. With the exception of the Group Leader Allowance, no councillor may receive more than two SRAs.
Cabinet Member - £21,112
Other allowances include travel and subsistence allowances as detailed in Part 13 of the Constitution.
"Councillors do not get paid a salary, however they do receive an annual allowance which reimburses them for time they have spent on council duties, as well as telephone and other office expenses"
"Councillors are generally taxed and pay National Insurance on their allowances. Travelling expenses and other expenses incurred as part of a Councillors duties, including mileage and subsistence allowances are paid to levels agreed by the Council and are not taxable."
Published Thursday, 1st September 2022
Car Parking - Campus, Blue Badge, etcA. ON CHARGING for parking at THE CAMPUS
B. ON CHARGING for parking in disabled bays with a blue badge
C. ON CHARGING local council tax payers to let blue badge holders park free
D. ON HOW YOU CAN STILL PARK FOR FREE, Courtesy of Melksham Town Council
Feedback from Wiltshire Council is that the have taken the authority to be able to charge but won't be doing so unless people abuse the system. However, there was no note to that effect (that I could see) in the 70+ pages of data we had for last night's meeting which talked of charges that WILL be charged from 1st September (WILL, not might). If I were cynical, I would be worried that someone's waiting for an opportunity to slip the charges in. There is still no definition of what they mean by people abusing the system. Is it ...
1. A few people are observed parking there and not using the Campus
2. People are parking there and not using the Campus to the extent that Wiltshire Council are loosing significant income from other car parks
3. People are parking there and not using the Campus to the extent that there isn't enough parking available for legitimate Campus users
Charging for parking in disabled bays will start on 1st September. The question has been asked as to whether the provisions for payment are legal under the equalities act of 2010 - the machines are mounted high, not easy for disabled people to access, etc; over to Wiltshire Council, who's car park it is.
Melksham Town Council has been offered a "buyback" on the disabled spaces. The cost quoted is almost £20 per year for each residential property in Melksham Town; we could of course ask surrounding parishes such as Melksham Without to contribute, as it seems perverse for payment for parking to be paid by the residents who are most likely to walk or cycle because they live so close. At that sort of price, and not budgeted by the Town Council, this has been referred to full council next month.
News! Many people do not realise that you can park for up to two hours "for free" in Wiltshire Council car parks in Melksham. You pay at the machine, get a second part to your ticket which you take into a local shop in the scheme, and get your money refunded. The shop claims back from the Town Council. Of note:
1. This is open to ANYONE, not just blue badge holders
2. There is money in the Town Council budget to cover this
3. The budget will cover the raised rate from 1.9.2022 in full - still free
4. The cost to council tax payers in Melksham Town is tiny compared to the cost of buying spaces back - you could say that Wilts Council are looking to charge us a lot more for a lot less in their space leasing offer.
Pictured – parking stubs from my car. The fact I don’t have a Melksham one rather confirms that as a town resident, I don’t actually park in our town very often – though I do walk there multiple times every week.
Published Tuesday, 30th August 2022
Assembly Hall - looking forwardA frank look at where we are and where we might have been with the Assembly Hall last week. Notes from the meeting - thank you Howard Jones - at http://www.fomah.org.uk/fomah_notes_20220825.pdf . For background, the slide set I put together prior to the meeting (here) . And as a follow up, a very rough draft of what should go in a constitution a href=http://www.fomah.org.uk/fomah_consitution.pdf>(here) . Big thanks to Howard, Julie, Geoff and Paul for their inputs and follow up activities to be undertaken by each of them. I will be taking follow up actions too.
This is a £384,000 question set. £64,000 each for
•"what is needed",
•"where should it be provide",
•"who should provide it",
•"how do we harness the enthusiasm of users and community",
•"how do we ensure it is affordable to users and the community" and
•"how do we get to what is needed".
There is much to be said at times for "if it ain't bust, don't fix it". This is not, in my view, one of those times. Fees have been revised (long overdue) but than has been a jolt, and perhaps a terminal one, for some hires. Events are being planned, advertised and cancelled due to equipment failure and double booking. And there's an uncertainty into the future which further puts people off, and makes the current arrangement - well - in my view (and I believe it's a near universal view) bust and needing fixing. Views of how it should be fixed, though, are far from universal and some difficult decisions need to be taken very, very soon. Some compromise will be needed as they are taken, but with an innovative ideas the need to give way in compromise can be reduced, and the enthusiasm for a successful new start will be rich.
Next dates for your diary - 8th, 13th and 20th September - those in addition to the events at the hall and around Melksham. Join the FoMAH Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/fomah to be alerted / updated.
Published Monday, 29th August 2022
ClimateFest - 17th September 2022It's one of the most serious matters we face today- the future of our environment - including resources, pollution and climate. We have seen this summer the extraordinary weather changes which can only get worse unless we do something about it. And following on from that we have a drought water resource concern. As we deplete fossil fuel and it becomes otherwise unavailable to us, prices of all energy rise and we have serious economic and shortage issues.
But how do these issues relate to YOU in Melksham? How can you both help the environment AND help yourself? There are many ways from small to lifestyle changes which will help both the environment and your lifestyle, health and bank balance too. But it's a very complex area indeed!
ClimateFest Melksham 2022 on 17th Septmeber brings together lectures, stalls and demonstrations to help inform you, and we hope to make it a fun day too, on these important matters. It's overspilling from the Market Place into the Assembly Hall, with speakers through the day in the council chamber in the Town Hall. There's even an electric bus service showing what the future may bring. And the whole day is free.
See Facebook announcement and my share of this
Perhaps one of the most important town events coming up. Please come along; it'll only cost you a few hours, and it may help you see the way ahead for a lifetime.
Published Saturday, 27th August 2022
Planning for Melksham Town for next yearIt may only be August, but I'm already looking ahead to what the Town Council should be doing next year, and indeed beyond. Our first budget working group meeting was earlier this week - sadly, only Councillors Aves, Mortimer and myself attended (the group is supposed to be 7 of us) were there. It has got the three of us thinking, and listening carefully to the staff who were there as we looked at the Community Development Budget to help us understand if and how to update funding to help them in their roles.
Some questions ... on method
* How do we avoid budgetting so tight that we constraint our team from delivering fully. We don't want to have them spend needless hours looking after every last penny, costing us pounds in there time in doing so.
* How do we avoid budgetting so lax that our team's looking around for ways to spend it. We don't and to precept the council tax payer for pure frivollity
* How do we motivate our teams and enable innovation, allowing measured risks rather than stifling progress just in case something goes wrong.
Some questions ... on the way forward
* What do we want to achieve over the next three years? Ten years? How do we plan and fund it?
* How do we address / budget for issues we currently have where we seem to be so short staffed for what we are doing (or trying to do) that we fall short of time to do what we want, and our team is burning up more resources in fixing things that should not have needed fixing, or have been left so long that they are panic / expensive fixes?
* How do we ensure that resources are doing something, not simply lying out of use?
* How do we address inflation in planning, especially asymetic inflation where some things go up far quicker than others?
Some questions ... how do we measure up?
* Internal and external auditors (I must learn how they work)
* How do we ensure that our office and information systems work efficiently for our team, our councillors, our businesses and our residents?
* How does our bottom line compare to other Wiltshire Towns? Are we scrimping on precept so much that we're orchestrating that social media suggested idea that we do nothing - table below shows the precept for Wiltshire towns for this year.
* How do we get ourselves a good name so that we get re-elected (if we want to!!) in 2025
* How do we persuade more councillors than Pat, Sue and myself to get involved in the budgettng?
|Town/City||Tax Base||Precept||Band D Tax||Increase|
on previous year
|Royal Wootton Bassett||£4,713.35||£1,021,005.00||£216.62||2.36%|
I'm noting that Amesbury, Tidworth and Ludergershall are special cases in that they are MOD towns, where so much provision around is part of what the Army and Air Force do in the area.
The Band D council tax in Melksham is made up as follows:
£1638.16 (£1445.04 basic + £193.12 adult social care levy)
£241.27 Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon
£79.43 Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Authority
£169.00 Melksham Town
I'm also noting a wide range of year-on-year rises from zero up to 27% for this year over last. Is there a case for a significant step up in Melksham of the Melksham Town element - from 45p per household per day (which it is for a band D houshold this year) to, say, 59p - which allows for 10% inflation and around 14% real additional service spend.
Here are some of the "big ticket" items - very very roughly in order of the amount of money they could cost
* Staff Costs
* new East of Melksham hall
* Taxes, insurance, etc
* "Free" Blue badge and other car parking
* Maintenance Shed
* Utilities and building maintenance
* Assembly Hall
* Sensory Garden
* Organisation grants
* Neighbourhood and other planning
- a far from complete list.
* Solar farm benefit
* Community Infrastructure Levy
* "Section 106" developer funding
* Hire and bar income from the Assembly Hall
* Income from building hire
* Could be an income from investment of reserves
* Allotment rental
* Where we are investing long term capital, we have an option to borrow
- again, this may not be a complete list.
The graphic illustraing this article is from a totally different council at the same level as us - included here to give you a picture of just how important certain aspects are, and no matter how much we scrimp and save, or expand, some of the smaller items we will make little "bottom line" difference, even if we may make a huge difference for the community
Published Friday, 26th August 2022