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Town Council Watch: Bonfire Night Special

Local Democracy Sketch

Jimmy Young Published: 01 November 2023

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Remember, remember the third of October - because that’s when Wymondham Town Council met for their most recent full council meeting, the sixth since elections back in May. Time really does fly when you're enjoying yourself. With just a few items on the agenda, it falls to good old TCW, Wymondham's closest thing to Guy Fawkes, to bring you up to speed with all the developments. So get ready to go ooh. Get ready to go ahh. It's a Town Council Watch bonfire night special.

But who will provide the fireworks?

Chandler's Hill

A question from Cllr Todd Baker (Lab) about a large payment to a building contractor gave the group a chance to acknowledge the completion of works to create a Queen Elizabeth II gardens at Chandler's Hill. The project had been the baby of former councillor Kathryn Cross (Con) and its completion had been overseen by current deputy mayor Cllr Annette James (Lib Dem).

Kathryn wheel be pleased. Yep, that's the level of joke you're getting this month.

Mayor Nuri-Nixon (Lib Dem) found time to congratulate the latter but not the former for delivering the project.

Party Politics

After last month’s explosive by?election fevered meeting that saw a member of the public bemoan the tribal party politics on display, another respected member of the public stepped forward this month with a plea for this month:

“Could I invite individual councillors, who are individually elected, to make their decisions based on their own views rather than some kind of herd principle that might apply?”

Well, let’s not be too hasty in calling for an end to the antics, TCW’s got an entertaining column to write here.

Manpower Plot

They say you should never return to a lit firework but Cllr Tony Holden (Con) fancied another pop at a proposal he'd pitched to the last council but had been unsuccessful with - to set up a full Committee to look at personnel, staffing and health & safety at the council. This would replace the informal working group it transpired hadn't met in 15 months.

Would the Flagbearers Of ChangeTM on the new council embrace it or would Mr Holden be burnt again? Place your bets now folks.

Arguing against setting up the committee, Cllr Annette James listed a reem of reasons this was too serious an issue for councillors to touch alone:

“It's very easy to fall foul of employment law, health and safety law, equality law and we could go blundering into something, without actually having expert advice to help us.” “... it's a very broad topic that covers employment law, appraisal skills, health and safety, equality, how to set kpis, induction, employee motivation and engagement, change management, even as far as a professional CIPD qualification.” “perhaps we need to look at considering outsourcing some of our HR needs and until we actually get some needs analysis done, we don't know exactly what we want.”

Great points. Get that lady on the committee!

For Cllr Todd Baker, that list of reasons “suggest[ed] the even greater need for this proposal, because here we are talking about what do we do about training and what do we do about HR and do we really have a handle on that now?”

Cllr Joe Barrett (Green) voiced wariness about conducting staff appraisals “I think in many cases they are counterproductive. I find them quite a hostile environment myself. The power dynamics rarely are pleasant to say the least... Being autistic that does come into it. That's the reason that they are so damaging to me… to put that in as a blanket policy of ‘everybody must have appraisals’, well then you're going to be looking at the Equality Act and people saying as a reasonable adjustment ‘I shouldn't have the appraisal’.”

Some potentially useful perspectives to consider there. Get that man on the committee too!

Cllr Todd Baker had the obvious rebuttal to the possibility of never giving employees appraisals :

“…it's vitally important that we conduct performance appraisals on all staff for the council. I absolutely appreciate the need to make reasonable adjustments in terms of what format that may take. But I think it's important that, in the same way we scrutinise the monthly accounts, in the same way we pore over the words of every proposal, I think it would be remiss of us to then say well we don't do that in terms of the performance of staff”.

Newly elected South Wymondham councillor, Dave Roberts (Lib Dem) argued for a conservative approach:

“We need to have a proper in-depth discussion about this rather than this current proposal.”

If only there was some kind of official forum like a committee where they could have that discussion.

Ultimately, the proposal was rejected when all bar the Greens voted on party lines: all 7x Lib Dems + 1x Green voted it down, the 3x Labour councillors present and 1x Conservative voted in favour, Cllr Joe Barrett abstained.

Another idea to change something that fizzled out faster than an underwhelming pound shop sparkler.

New accounting software (Ooh!)

On a related note, we'd later hear the Clerk will soon be armed with an extension to his accounting software, to allow him to produce more-frequent financial reporting for the council. A previous Finance Committee meeting had heard the paid staff member raise concerns about the time impact of monthly reporting, before Cllr Rosen (Lab) pointed out software could easily be doing the task.

Not having the tools or training to do one’s job quickly and efficiently? Sounds like the sort of thing to bring up at one’s appraisal...

Fawking Out

Next, the council spent 20 minutes deciding not to have a conversation about something.

Cllr Michael Rosen had submitted a proposal to ask the council's Finance Committee to look at whether it could re-direct funds it was holding for its new cemetery project, to other schemes like town centre regeneration, which were expected to need the money sooner.

But from the reaction of many councillors around the table, even the idea of discussing that, needed discussing - and ultimately rejecting.

Cllr Lucy Nixon (Lib Dem) described allocating money from one Town Council account for the cemetery, to another Town Council account for town centre improvements, to attract co-investment from South Norfolk as: “being asked to gamble our savings on an unknown amount of money that just doesn't work for me as any kind of sound investment.” - something Cllr Rosen described as being a “fundamental misunderstanding”:

“If we do find the money to put into place with South Norfolk,” he explained. “it's not a gamble, because it's still our money. We don't have to agree to anything unless they match fund it. We're not giving it to them!”

He went on to voice frustration that his motion to let the Finance Committtee discuss options “in a proper professional way” had descended into an all-council debate about finances there and then, warning later against the Town Council behaving like “some sort of, I don't know, Mickey Mouse council”.

Perish the thought.

Final Fizzbanger

After 5 months that have seen the new Town Council vote to throw multiple ideas onto the bonfire like a playground improvement plan, more-compassionate burial fees, tighter controls on staff spending and appraising staff performance, there was a burning question on Cllr Tony Holden’s lips:

“Unless I'm mistaken, the only proposals that have come before the council have come from myself or from the guys from Labour or the Green Party and I was just wondering when we might see something from the Liberal Democrats.” he mused of the majority party at Town Council, “Or are you so happy with the way the Conservatives left it that there's nothing for you to change?”

This is getting like Prime Minister’s Questions. They’ll be roaring “mooooooore!” next.

Welcome to Dave Roberts

“Before I close this meeting,” concluded Mayor Nuri-Nixon. “I did forget to welcome councillor Dave Roberts to the council, so I do apologise, Dave, for that.”

No hard feelings I'm sure. With the frenetic pace of the council rolling out its fizz-cracking change agenda, it’s easy for these things to get overlooked.

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